"Justify My Love", the album's first single, became Madonna's ninth number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and was one of her most controversial singles due to its sexually explicit music video. "Rescue Me" was released as the second single and became the highest-debuting single on Hot 100 by a female artist at that time, entering the chart at number fifteen and peaking at number nine. It became Madonna's second album to be certified diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America for shipment of over ten million copies across the United States. It spent the second highest number of consecutive weeks at number one for a female solo artist in the UK, being at number one for a nine-week stint. The album has sold 30 million copies worldwide, making it the best selling compilation album by a solo artist and one of the best selling albums of all time.
The actual title of the album, The Immaculate Collection, is a loose pun on the Immaculate Conception, the conception of the Virgin Mary without the stain of original sin. In the booklet, Madonna dedicated the album to "The Pope, my divine inspiration". This led to many believing it was dedicated to Pope John Paul II, but it was actually dedicated to her brother, Christopher Ciccone, who had spent the year on tour with Madonna on the Blond Ambition World Tour and whose nickname is "The Pope". It became the first album ever to use an audio technology called QSound.
All the songs on The Immaculate Collection, with the exception of the two new songs, were remixed by Shep Pettibone alongside Goh Hotoda and Michael Hutchinson and some were also edited down from their original lengths in order to decrease the overall running time. While all the vocals remain the same as in the original recordings, "Like a Prayer" and "Express Yourself" feature different music backing Madonna's vocals than their original album release. Pettibone commented,
"Well, actually some of the songs we changed up a bit, but most of the songs we kept in their original form. Like "Holiday", "Lucky Star", et cetera, et cetera, those were all the original productions. The remix was just really to create the Q Sound, and make the song kind of envelop you when you listened to it in a certain sweet spot in front of the speakers [...] That wasn't easy to do. But then again, that was one of those -- you know, "Hurry up, this has to be out last week". That was a rush rush job".
"Ingrid had written some of the lyrics on the verses. For certain personal and professional reasons at the time, we agreed not to put her name on it. We signed a contract. She gets the royalties. It became a big hit and she tried to make like she did the whole thing".
Two new songs were added to the album along with Madonna's greatest hits. "Justify My Love" was originally written by Ingrid Chavez, Prince's protégé and friend, and Lenny Kravitz; he and producer André Betts composed the music while Chavez penned the lyrics based on a poem she had written for Kravitz. Kravitz added the title hook and chorus to the demo while Madonna corrected one line. Chavez was not credited for the song and later sued Kravitz in 1992: she received an out-of-court settlement, and gained a co-writing credit for her work. When the lawsuit was settled, Chavez's attorney Steven E. Kurtz clarified that Madonna's additional writing credit was not questioned in the lawsuit.
"Justify My Love" is a trip hop song which contains spoken word vocals by Madonna. A remix of the song, titled "The Beast Within", was included on some single releases. The remix uses only the chorus and certain lines of the original song, with the verses being replaced by passages from the Book of Revelation. The song first garnered media attention early in 1991 when the Simon Wiesenthal Center accused the song of containing anti-semitic lyrics, specifically the lyric "those who say that they are Jews, but they are not. They are a Synagogue of Satan". Madonna promptly responded: "I certainly did not have any anti-Semitic intent when I included a passage from the Bible on my record. It was a commentary on evil in general. My message, if any, is pro-tolerance and anti-hate. The song is, after all, about love".
An upbeat dance and house track called "Rescue Me" was also added to the compilation as a new song. Lyrically, "Rescue Me" expresses the extinguishing of deranged behavior in a relationship. The song opens with a heartbeat and thunder, followed by a prominent bass line, a piano, snaps, and percussion. Madonna begins singing "I'm talking /I believe in the power of love /I'm singing /I believe that you can rescue me" before engaging in the breathy, spoken word vocals, like on "Justify My Love". She sings "Rescue me /It's hard to believe your love has given me hope /Rescue me /It's hard to believe I'm drowning" over the chorus. At one point of the song, Madonna sings the line "And right while I am kneeling there I suddenly begin to care", which was likened to oral sex.
"Justify My Love" was released as the album's lead single on November 6, 1990. It became her ninth number one on the Billboard Hot 100, staing on the top two weeks, and the number two on the UK Singles Chart. Around the world, "Justify My Love" also topped the charts in many countries including Canada, Finland and the top five in many countries including Australia, Italy, and Spain. The black and white music video was banned from MTV, due to its explicit content, including sex, homosexual kissing, and nudism. Due to this prohibition, the music video was released as a video-single, and become the most-selling in this format of all time.
"Rescue Me" was released as the second single, debuting at number fifteen, becoming the highest-debuting single on Billboard Hot 100 by a female artist at that time, peaking at number nine. The single also reached the top ten in Ireland, Italy, and the United Kingdom. "Rescue Me" has sold 134,767 copies in the United Kingdom as of August 2008.
The Immaculate Collection received universal acclaim from critics. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic graded the album five out of five stars. He starts by saying that "On the surface... [the album] appears to be a definitive retrospective of Madonna's heyday in the '80s". However, his opinion is that remastering in Q-Sound, making some of the songs faster than the original versions and other changes, makes it so "while all the hits are present, they're simply not in their correct versions." Nevertheless, he concludes that "until the original single versions are compiled on another album, The Immaculate Collection is the closest thing to a definitive retrospective."Robert Christgau gave the album an A+ rating and called it "the greatest album of [Madonna's] mortal life". He said that the album features "seventeen hits, more than half of them indelible classics."
Jim Farber from Entertainment Weekly gave the album an A rating, saying: "More than a mere greatest-hits set, it's hands down the catchiest collection of '80s singles." Ross Bennett from Mojo called the album "truly the best of best of's" and stated: "This has to be right up there with Abba Gold as a collection of singles so deeply ingrained in the collective consciousness [...] But there is no denying the pop nous behind Ms Ciccone's first 15 years of hits, here brilliantly packaged in, gasp, chronological order.
In the United States, The Immaculate Collection debuted at number 32 on the Billboard 200 chart on the week dated December 1, 1990. It later reached number two, and remained 141 weeks on the chart, and has sold 10 million copies across the nation. The album was certified Diamond (10× Platinum) by Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) after its shipments. As of 2016 the album has sold over 5,992,000 copies in the US after the advent of the Nielsen SoundScan era in 1991.
On November 24, 1990, The Immaculate Collection debuted at number one on the UK Albums Chart, remaining there for nine weeks, becoming the biggest selling UK album in 1990, also breaking the record for the longest consecutive weeks at number one by a solo female artist, a record that would not be matched until 2011 by Adele's album 21. In the United Kingdom, The Immaculate Collection was certified 12× Platinum by British Phonographic Industry (BPI) for shipment of 3.6 million copies. In France, the album was certified Diamond for shipment of one million copies of the album. In July 2016, the album was confirmed by the Official Charts Company to have sold 3.7 million copies, making it the biggest-selling album by a solo female artist in British history, the fourth biggest-selling greatest hits album in the UK by any artist, and the twelfth biggest-selling album of all time in the UK.
CD Limited Edition Box Set — The Royal Box containing a Satin Digi-Pak CD with VHS containing "Vogue" (from the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards), a 24" × 36" color poster and postcard assortment, housed in a lingerie-inspired LP sized box.
CD Limited Edition Gold Edition — Rare 1995 Taiwanese exclusive limited 'Gold' edition in a unique gold-bordered slipcase.
CD Australian Tour Limited Edition - unique picture disc with a collectors number stamped on the front cover. Issued in Australia only in 1993 to commemorate The Girlie Show Tour, Madonna's first tour of Australia.
Cassette — containing the 17-track compilation album.
Cassette Limited Edition Box Set — The Royal Box containing the Cassette version with VHS containing "Vogue" (from the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards), a 24" × 36" color poster and postcard assortment, housed in a lingerie-inspired LP sized box.
Mini Disc — 17-track compilation, released October 25, 1999.
VHS — 13-track video compilation, contains "Oh Father", not included on the audio releases, and "Vogue" (from the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards).
Laserdisc — 13-track double disc video compilation, contains "Oh Father", not included on the audio releases and "Vogue" (from the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards).
VCD — Asia only, 13-track video compilation, contains "Oh Father", not included on the audio releases and "Vogue" (from the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards).
DVD — 13-track video compilation released in November 1999, contains "Oh Father", not included on the audio releases and "Vogue" (from the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards).
iTunes version — released digitally in 2005, contains different versions of: "Lucky Star" (U.S. remix) – 7:15, "Borderline" (remix) – 5:17 and "Like a Prayer" (extended 12" version) – 7:27; all other tracks are the same as the original release.