Like a Prayer (album)

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Like a Prayer
Studio album by Madonna
Released March 21, 1989
Recorded September 1988 – January 1989 at D&D Recording, New York City
Ocean Way Recording, Hollywood, California
Length 51:16
Label
Producer
Madonna chronology
  • Like a Prayer
  • (1989)
Singles from Like a Prayer
  1. "Like a Prayer"
    Released: March 3, 1989
  2. "Express Yourself"
    Released: May 9, 1989
  3. "Cherish"
    Released: August 1, 1989
  4. "Oh Father"
    Released: October 24, 1989
  5. "Dear Jessie"
    Released: December 10, 1989
  6. "Keep It Together"
    Released: January 30, 1990

Like a Prayer is the fourth studio album by American singer-songwriter Madonna, released on March 21, 1989 by Sire Records, three years after her previous studio album True Blue. Madonna worked with Stephen Bray, Patrick Leonard, and fellow icon Prince on the album while co-writing and co-producing all the songs. As Madonna's most introspective release at the time, Like a Prayer has been described as a confessional record. She described the album as a collection of songs "about my mother, my father, and bonds with my family." The album was dedicated to her mother, who died when Madonna was young.

The album uses live instrumentation and incorporates elements of dance, funk, gospel, and soul into a more general pop style. Madonna drew from her Catholic upbringing, as seen in the album's title track and lead single "Like a Prayer". The lyrics deal with themes from Madonna's childhood and adolescence, such as the death of her mother in "Promise to Try", the importance of family in "Keep It Together", and her relationship with her father in "Oh Father". Madonna also preaches female empowerment in "Express Yourself". Like a Prayer received critical acclaim, with Rolling Stone hailing it as "...as close to art as pop music gets."

Commercially, Like a Prayer became an international success like its predecessors, reaching the top of the charts in multiple territories. The album was certified quadruple platinum in the United States by the Recording Industry Association of America. Six singles were released from the album: "Like a Prayer", "Express Yourself", "Cherish", "Oh Father", "Dear Jessie", and "Keep It Together". "Like a Prayer" became Madonna's seventh number-one on the Billboard Hot 100, while "Express Yourself" and "Cherish" peaked at number-two and "Keep It Together" became a top 10 hit. Worldwide, the album has sold over 15 million copies.

With the singles' accompanying music videos, Madonna furthered her creativity and became known as a leading figure in the format. The music video for "Like a Prayer" was a lightning rod for religious controversy, using Catholic iconography such as stigmata and burning crosses, and a dream about making love to a saint, leading the Vatican to condemn the video and causing Pepsi to cancel Madonna's sponsorship contract. "Express Yourself" was the most expensive music video made up to that date. The album preceded Madonna's ground-breaking Blond Ambition World Tour. At the end of the 1980s, following the release of Like a Prayer, Madonna was named as the "Artist of the Decade" by media such as Billboard, MTV, and Musician magazine.[1][2][3]

Background and development[edit]

Prince collaborated with Madonna on "Love Song" and played guitar (uncredited) on other three songs of the album.

Madonna worked on the album with Stephen Bray and Patrick Leonard, who she collaborated with for 1986's True Blue.[4] She also enlisted the help of fellow icon Prince for their duet on "Love Song". Prince also played guitars (uncredited) on three songs—"Like a Prayer", "Keep It Together", and "Act of Contrition."[5] Madonna co-wrote and co-produced every song on the album. Recording began in September 1988 and continued until January 1989. Madonna and her husband Sean Penn filed for divorce in January 1989, following a nullified divorce filing in late 1987 and several publicized fights involving Penn, one of which led to a 60-day prison term.[6] The incident inspired the song "Till Death Do Us Part", which details the failed marriage.[7] Like a Prayer developed an introspective theme, utilizing confessional lyrics about personal issues. Madonna described the album as a collection of songs "about my mother, my father, and bonds with my family. [...] It's taken a lot of guts to do this."[8] It was claimed the album was her "most different" work to date.[8]

Like a Prayer was dedicated to Madonna's mother, who died when Madonna was five.[9] The songs "intertwine her search for faith with her search for her mother."[9] Madonna's struggle with religion inspired the album. "The theme of Catholicism runs rampant through my album", she said. "It's me struggling with the mystery and magic that surrounds it. My own Catholicism is in constant upheaval."[9] "The album is drawn from what I was going through when I was growing up", Madonna told Rolling Stone. She added, "I'm still growing up."[10]

Packaging[edit]

The album was titled for the influence of Catholicism on Madonna's early life.[8] The album cover has been seen as a reference to Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones.[11] The packaging on the first pressings of the CD, cassette, and LP were scented with patchouli oils to simulate church incense.[12] A publicist for Warner Bros. Records said, "She wanted to create a flavor of the 60's and the church. She wanted to create a sensual feeling you could hear and smell."[12] The inlays included pictures of a brunette Madonna. The album also included an insert with safer sex guidelines and a warning about the dangers of AIDS, to which Madonna had lost friends.[13]

Composition[edit]

"Express Yourself" was included in the Militar-Army segment of the 2004 Re-Invention World Tour.

'The album "teems with 60's and early 70's echoes – of the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Sly and the Family Stone – all pumped up with a brash, if occasionally klutzy, 80's sense of showmanship."[9][14] A press release said the album includes "a number of hot dance tracks" but noted, "much of the material [...] is of a personal tone."[15]

Madonna drew from her Catholic upbringing, as seen in the album's title track and lead single "Like a Prayer". She described it as "the song of a passionate young girl so in love with God that it is almost as though He were the male figure in her life. From around 8 to 12 years old, I had the same feelings. I really wanted to be a nun."[9] The lyrics deals with themes from Madonna's childhood and adolescence, such as the death of her mother in "Promise to Try",[7] the importance of family in "Keep It Together", and her relationship with her harsh father in "Oh Father".[7][9] Madonna also preaches female empowerment in "Express Yourself", "in which Madonna expresses a 30-year-old's view of life unshadowed by rebellion and lingering lapsed Catholic pain."[9] "Till Death Do Us Part" is about the violent dissolution of Madonna's marriage to Sean Penn.[7] The song was described as "an anxious jumpy ballad that describes a marriage wracked with drinking, violent quarrels and a possessive, self-hating husband. Its ending finds the couple locked by their unbreakable marriage vows into a miserable cul-de-sac."[9] Madonna noted that could have happened to her and Penn had they followed the Roman Catholic doctrine and not filed for divorce.[9] "Dear Jessie" was inspired by Patrick Leonard's daughter. It was described as "a musical fantasia about pink elephants, lemonade and the land of make-believe, offers a stylish swatch of late Beatles-style psychedelia."[9] The album also includes themes of love on "Cherish" and "Love Song", "a yowling come-hither duet" with Prince.[9] "Spanish Eyes" is said to have "confronted the still-taboo issue of AIDS."[14] Stephen Holden of The New York Times noted, "The songs, which deal directly and very emotionally with her failed marriage to the actor Sean Penn, her family, and her Catholic girlhood, transcend the brassy dance-pop of her three previous records to reveal Madonna as a vulnerable human being."[9] Jon Pareles of the same publication mused that the album "is largely a meditation on male power and love, from paternalistic religion to parents to partners."[16]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars[17]
The Daily Vault A[13]
Entertainment Weekly A[18]
Hot Press 10/12[19]
Q 5/5 stars [20]
Robert Christgau B+[21]
Rolling Stone 5/5 stars[10]
Slant Magazine 4.5/5 stars[14]
Yahoo! 5/5 stars[22]

Like a Prayer received critical acclaim upon its release.[23][24][25] Madonna was commended for her autobiographical songwriting, as well as her improved vocals.[10][14] J. D. Considine in an April 1989 review in Rolling Stone felt that her fame up to that point had been built more on "image than artistry", but that with Like a Prayer Madonna was asking, successfully, to be taken seriously, and that the album is "as close to art as pop music gets ... proof not only that Madonna should be taken seriously as an artist but that hers is one of the most compelling voices of the Eighties."[7] Considine also said the tracks "are stunning in their breadth and achievement."[7] Lloyd Bradley of Q said, "musically it's varied, unexpected and far from instantly accessible; lyrically, it's moving, intelligent and candid."[20] Robert Christgau awarded the album a B+. He felt that "the declaration of filial independence and the recommendation of romantic independence [are] challenging, thrilling—and they'll get more thrilling."[21]

Stephen Thomas Erlewine from Allmusic stated that Like a Prayer is Madonna's "most explicit attempt at a major artistic statement"; and that though she is trying to be "serious" Madonna delivers a range of well-written pop songs, making the album her "best and most consistent."[17] Sal Cinquemani in Slant Magazine described the album as "a collection of pop confections layered with live instrumentation, sophisticated arrangements, deeply felt lyrics, and a stronger, more assured vocal."[14] The review concluded by declaring Like a Prayer "one of the quintessential pop albums of all time.[14] Peter Piatkowski from Yahoo! declared it "Madonna's most accomplished and ambitious album of her career", writing that "every song works—there is no filler and she performs beautifully."[22]

Commercial response[edit]

The album debuted at number eleven on the Billboard 200, and within three weeks was number one, where it would stay for over a month. The singles "Express Yourself" and "Cherish" both reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100, while "Oh Father" was her least successful single since 1984, peaking at number twenty. "Keep It Together" reached number eight, and "Dear Jessie" became a hit single in Europe, with an animated video. After the advent of the Nielsen SoundScan era in 1991, the album sold a further 575,000 copies in the United States.[26] The album was also very successful in Asia and Oceania. In Japan, Like a Prayer reached number one on the Oricon weekly albums chart and remained on the chart for 22 weeks.[27] At the 1990 Japan Gold Disc Awards held by the Recording Industry Association of Japan, Madonna won three awards for "Artist of the Year", "Grand Prix Album of the Year"—which acknowledge the best-selling international artist and best-selling international album of the year, respectively—and "Best Album of the Year – Pops Solo".[28] It also became her sixth platinum album in Hong Kong, the most for any international artist of the decade.[29] Like a Prayer has sold over 15 million copies worldwide.[30][31]

Promotion[edit]

Blond Ambition World Tour[edit]

The Blond Ambition World Tour in support of the album was Madonna's third concert tour. Madonna performed a high-energy version of "Express Yourself" at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards as a preview for the tour, which initially known as "Like a Prayer World Tour". The tour reached North America, Europe and Asia. It was a highly controversial tour, mainly for its juxtaposition of Catholic iconography and sexuality. Rolling Stone called it an "elaborately choreographed, sexually provocative extravaganza" and proclaimed it "the best tour of 1990."[32] In 1991, a documentary film, Truth or Dare (aka In Bed with Madonna), was released chronicling the tour. The tour received the "Most Creative Stage Production" at the Pollstar Concert Industry Awards.[33] The tour was named the Greatest Concert of the 1990s by Rolling Stone.[34]

Remixed Prayers[edit]

Remixed Prayers was a remix extended play released in August 1989 by Warner Music Japan to promote the release of Like a Prayer album. It was released in Japan only, until July 1993 where it was released in Australia to celebrate Madonna's first concerts in the country on The Girlie Show World Tour.[35] The compilation includes five remixes of "Like a Prayer" and three of "Express Yourself". It was imported in the United States and United Kingdom (and many other countries), but never officially released anywhere apart from Japan and Australia. The cover art was done by Madonna's brother Christopher Ciccone and includes an 'MLVC' signature on the cover meaning "Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone" (her full name) and the falling "P" represents her recent divorce from then-husband, Sean Penn.[36][37] It reached number 24 on the Oricon weekly albums chart and was present on the chart for five weeks.[38]

Singles[edit]

The title track "Like a Prayer", "whose lyrics could be about carnal or religious transcendence", was the first single to be released from the album in March 1989.[16] Jim Farber of Entertainment Weekly said, "The gospel-infused title track demonstrates that her writing and performing had been raised to heavenly new heights."[39] The song was featured in a television advertisement for soft drink manufacturer Pepsi, although the ads were canceled following the song's controversial music video.[40][41] In the video, Madonna incorporated many Catholic symbols such as stigmata and burning crosses, and a dream about making love to a saint.[11] Holden of The New York Times said the video "surpasses Madonna's earlier music videos in its heady swirl of sacred and profane images."[9] The scandal led "Like a Prayer" to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Madonna's seventh U.S. number-one single. It also reached number one in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom, among other countries.

The album's second single, "Express Yourself", is "an unabashed groove tune" which is "smart and sassy."[7] Madonna preaches female empowerment, and advises girls not to settle for less than they are worth. It peaked at number two in the U.S. and was a top five hit worldwide. The music video was inspired by the classic Fritz Lang film Metropolis (1927). Its budget of $5 million made it the most expensive music video in history at the time it was made (it is currently the third most expensive of all time).[42] It was followed by "Cherish", an adult contemporary hit which also peaked at number two on the Hot 100. The song "manages a nod to the Association song of the same title" and "makes savvy retro-rock references."[7] The album's fourth single, "Oh Father", is "an homage to Simon & Garfunkel and tells the story of an abused child."[43] The video, inspired by Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941), reunited Madonna with "Express Yourself" director David Fincher.

"Dear Jessie", which "boasts kaleidoscopic Sgt. Pepper-isms", was released in Australia, the United Kingdom, and some other European countries.[7] "Keep It Together" is inspired by Sly and the Family Stone.[14] It was the sixth and final single to be taken from the album. In Australia, it was released as an double A-side with "Vogue", resulting in a number one hit.

Legacy[edit]

Nicholas Fonseca from Entertainment Weekly stated that Like a Prayer is "an official turning point" of Madonna's career, which earned her "a long-awaited, substantive dose of critical acclaim."[18] Mark Savage from BBC noted that the album's release "marks the moment when critics first begin to describe Madonna as an artist, rather than a mere pop singer."[44] Glen Levy from Time stated: "Madonna has always been a keen student of pop-culture history, and her creative powers were probably at their peak in the late 1980s on the album Like a Prayer."[45] Hadley Freeman from The Guardian felt that Like a Prayer shaped "pop stars, pop music, music videos, love, sex and the 80s were and should be."[46] Like a Prayer "defiantly grabbed Christian language and imagery", according to Jon Pareles of The New York Times.[16]

According to the list of "All-TIME 100 Albums" by Time magazine's critics, Like a Prayer is one of the 100 greatest and most influential musical compilations since 1954.[47] In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine named it the 237th greatest album of all time.[48] Apart from that the album was also featured in the "Women Who Rock" list made in 2012, at number 18.[49] Like a Prayer is also featured in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[50] In 2006, Q magazine placed the album at number 14 in its list of "40 Best Albums of the '80s".[51] In 2005, a poll of half million people on British television network Channel 4 placed Like a Prayer at number eight on list of "The 100 Greatest Albums in Music History".[52] In 2012, Slant Magazine listed the album at number 20 on its list of "Best Albums of the 1980s", saying: "By the late '80s, Madonna was already one of the biggest pop stars of all time, but with Like a Prayer, she became one of the most important."[53]

Following the success of Like a Prayer, Madonna was named as the "Artist of the Decade" by many newspaper and magazine polls.[54] MTV Networks honored her the special trophy for "Artist of the Decade: Mega Artist" based on a polls by MTV viewers. The honor eventually led to a rivalry between Madonna and Michael Jackson.[1][55] Biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli documented that Jackson telephoned his attorney John Braca to complain that Madonna did not deserve such an honor. He said, "See, it makes me look bad. I'm the artist of the decade. Did she outsell Thriller?"[1] In response to his client's agitation, Branca suggested that they approach MTV with the idea of a fictional award they could give to Jackson. They decided to name it as Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Artist of the Decade Award. Jackson liked the introduction of the award, and commented, "That'll sure teach that heifer", referring to Madonna.[1]

Author John Semonche explained in his book Censoring sex that with True Blue and Like a Prayer, Madonna pushed the envelope of what could be shown on television, which resulted in increase of her popularity.[56] Madonna tried to experiment with different forms and styles with the videos and in the process constructed a new set of image and identity.[57] The lead single from the album, "Like a Prayer", was featured in a television advertisement for soft drink manufacturer Pepsi, as a part of Madonna's endorsement deal with the company.[40] The video "set a media circus in motion, stirring up just those issues of sexuality and religiosity that Madonna wanted to bring up."[16] In response to the controversial music video, the Vatican condemned the video. Critics accused it of sacrilege and heresy.[11] Religious groups sought to ban the commercial and boycott Pepsi products. Pepsi revoked the commercial and canceled her sponsorship contract.[41] However, she was allowed to retain her fee of five million dollars. Madonna commented, "Art should be controversial, and that's all there is to it."[9] It was said that the video for "Like a Prayer" could be "read as an indictment of a white male patriarchal Christianity in the name of what has happened to 'white' women and to Black men."[11] The iconic images have "proven to be some of the most striking, unforgettable images in music video history and serve only to further the clip's condemnation of racial profiling and religious guilt."[43]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
1. "Like a Prayer"   Madonna, Patrick Leonard Madonna, Leonard 5:39
2. "Express Yourself"   Madonna, Stephen Bray Madonna, Bray 4:39
3. "Love Song" (with Prince) Madonna, Prince Rogers Nelson Madonna, Prince 4:52
4. "Till Death Do Us Part"   Madonna, Leonard Madonna, Leonard 5:16
5. "Promise to Try"   Madonna, Leonard Madonna, Leonard 3:36
6. "Cherish"   Madonna, Leonard Madonna, Leonard 5:03
7. "Dear Jessie"   Madonna, Leonard Madonna, Leonard 4:20
8. "Oh Father"   Madonna, Leonard Madonna, Leonard 4:57
9. "Keep It Together"   Madonna, Bray Madonna, Bray 5:03
10. "Spanish Eyes"   Madonna, Leonard Madonna, Leonard 5:15
11. "Act of Contrition"   Madonna, Leonard Madonna, Leonard 2:19
Additional notes
  • "Spanish Eyes" was re-titled "Pray for Spanish Eyes" on certain editions of the album and also on the "Oh Father" single release in 1989.

Charts and certifications[edit]

Chart procession and succession[edit]

Preceded by
Anything for You by Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine
UK Albums Chart number one album
April 1, 1989 – April 14, 1989
Succeeded by
When the World Knows Your Name by Deacon Blue
Preceded by
A New Flame by Simply Red
European Top 100 Albums number one album
April 8, 1989 – May 20, 1989
Succeeded by
Street Fighting Years by Simple Minds
Preceded by
Shōwa by Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi
Japanese Albums Chart number-one album
April 17, 1989
Succeeded by
Heart & Soul by Junichi Inagaki
Preceded by
Lōc-ed After Dark by Tone Loc
U.S. Billboard 200 number-one album
April 22, 1989 – June 2, 1989
Succeeded by
The Raw & the Cooked by Fine Young Cannibals

Album credits[edit]

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

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Sources[edit]

External links[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
New Jersey by Bon Jovi
Japan Gold Disc Award for Album of the Year
1990
Succeeded by
I'm Breathless by Madonna