Like a Prayer (album)
|Like a Prayer|
|Studio album by|
|Released||March 21, 1989|
|Recorded||September 1988 – January 1989|
(New York City)
Ocean Way Recording
|Singles from Like a Prayer|
Like a Prayer is the fourth studio album by American singer and songwriter Madonna, released on March 21, 1989, by Sire Records. Madonna worked with Stephen Bray, Patrick Leonard, and Prince on the album while co-writing and co-producing all the songs. Her most introspective release at the time, Like a Prayer has been described as a confessional record. Madonna described the album as a collection of songs "about my mother, my father, and bonds with my family." The album was dedicated to Madonna's mother, who died when she 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 on the album's title track, which was also released as its lead single. 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 universal acclaim, with Rolling Stone hailing it as "close to art as pop music gets." Commercially, the album was an international success, reaching the top of the charts in multiple territories, and was certified quadruple platinum in the United States by the Recording Industry Association of America. Six singles were released from the album: the title track, "Express Yourself", "Cherish", "Oh Father", "Dear Jessie", and "Keep It Together". "Like a Prayer" became Madonna's seventh number-one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100, while "Express Yourself" and "Cherish" peaked at number two and "Keep It Together" became a top-ten 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. The video for "Express Yourself" was the most expensive video at its release. Like a Prayer preceded Madonna's ground-breaking Blond Ambition World Tour. At the end of the 1980s, following the release of the album, Madonna was named "Artist of the Decade" by several publications.
1988 was a quiet year on the recording front for Madonna. Following the lack of critical and commercial success of her 1987 film Who's That Girl, she acted in the Broadway production Speed-the-Plow. However, unfavorable reviews once again caused her discomfort. Her marriage to actor Sean Penn ended and the couple filed for divorce in January 1989. Madonna had also turned 30, one year removed from the age at which her mother had died, and thus the singer experienced more emotional turmoil. She commented for the May 1989 issue of Interview that her Catholic upbringing struck a feeling of guilt in her all the time:
Because in Catholicism you are a born sinner and you're a sinner all your life. No matter how you try to get away from it, the sin is within you all the time. It was this fear that haunted me; it taunted and pained me every moment. My music was probably the only distraction I had.
She came to the realisation that as she and her fans were growing up, it was time for her to move away from the teen appeal to wider audiences, and en-cash on the longevity of the album market. Feeling the need to attempt something different, Madonna wanted the sound of her new album to indicate what could be popular in the music world. For lyrical ideas of the title track, she chose topics that until then had been personal meditations never shared with the general public; she told SongTalk magazine "In the past I wrote a lot of songs that [revealed my inner self], but I felt they were too honest or too frightening or too scary and I decided not to record them". She decided to take a more adult, sophisticated approach; thoughtfully, she sifted through her personal journals and diaries, and began considering her options. She recalled, "What was it I wanted to say? I wanted the album and the song to speak to things on my mind. It was a complex time in my life." She had certain matters on her mind, including her troubled relationship with her husband, actor Sean Penn, her family, her lost mother and even her belief in God.
Like a Prayer was named after the influence of Catholicism on Madonna's early life as well as her struggles with religion; "The theme of Catholicism runs rampant", she said. "It's me struggling with the mystery and magic that surrounds it. My own Catholicism is in constant upheaval." Recording sessions took place from September 1988 to January 1989. On January 27, 1989, a press release from The Albany Herald said the album would include "a number of hot dance tracks" but noted, "much of the material [...] is of a personal tone." The singer described it 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". She also said that it would be her "most different" work to date; "It was a real coming-of-age record for me emotionally, I had to do a lot of soul-searching, and I think it is a reflection of that [...] I didn't try to candy-coat anything or make it more palatable for mass consumption, I wrote what I felt". She told Rolling Stone magazine "In the past, my records tended to be a reflection of current influences. This album is more about past musical influences". She chose to collaborate with Stephen Bray and Patrick Leonard, with whom she had collaborated on her previous studio album True Blue (1986) and the soundtrack Who's That Girl (1987). Both Bray and Leonard wanted to bring their unique style to the project, and they developed completely different music for the title track. Eventually, Madonna felt that the music presented to her by Leonard was more interesting, and she started to work with him. According to the singer, Leonard was also facing emotional turmoil; "I was working with Pat, who was also in a very dark state of mind, and we worked in a very isolated place in the Valley". On January 6, 1989, following a nullified divorce filing in late 1987 and several publicized fights, one of which led to a 60-day prison term, Madonna and Sean Penn filed for divorce. This incident inspired the song "Till Death Do Us Part". The rest of the songs were written within two weeks; with "Like a Prayer", "Cherish" and "Spanish Eyes" being written the first week. According to Leonard, "we wrote a song a day, and we didn't change them. And oftentimes the vocal that she did was the lead vocal, we didn't even change the lead vocal. That was it. She sang it. It was done".
Recording artist Prince played the guitar on three songs from the album, "Like a Prayer", "Keep It Together", and "Act of Contrition", though he remained uncredited. Prince and Madonna also worked together on the track "Love Song". The song was recorded at Prince's Studio on Paisley Park; "We were friends and talked about working together, so I went to Minneapolis to write some stuff with him, but the only thing I really dug was 'Love Song' [...] We ended up writing it long-distance, because I had to be in L.A. and he couldn't leave Minneapolis, and quite frankly I couldn't stand Minneapolis. When I went there, it was like 20 degrees below zero, and it was really desolate. I was miserable and I couldn't write or work under those circumstances", Madonna recalled. For the artwork, the singer chose to work with photographer Herb Ritts. Initially, photos from the session with Ritts were also to be used for the lead single's packaging. For the photoshoot, she decided to dye her blonde hair brown; she commented "I love blonde hair, but it really does something different to you. I feel more grounded when I have dark hair. It's unexplainable. I also feel more Italian when my hair is dark". The cover art features a close-up of the singer's jean-clad midsection and bare midriff. The cover has been seen as a reference to Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones. The packaging on the first pressings of the CD, cassette, and LP were scented with patchouli oils to simulate church incense. A publicist for Warner Bros. Records revealed this had been the singer's idea; "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". Initial pressings also included an insert with safe sex guidelines and a warning about the dangers of AIDS, to which Madonna had lost friends. Its inclusion was decided after Warner Bros. had agreed to release an album by stand-up comedian Sam Kinison the year before, although he had stated that AIDS came from gay men involved in bestiality. Madonna dedicated the album to "My mother, who taught me how to pray".
—Madonna talking about the songs in Like a Prayer.
According to Stephen Holden, 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". In Madonna's own words, the songs "intertwine her search for faith with her search for her mother". The opening track is "Like a Prayer", which was also the first song developed for the album. Once Madonna had conceptualized the way she would interpose her ideas with the music, she wrote the song in about three hours. She described "Like a Prayer" 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." It's a pop rock song with elements of gospel music. A choir provides background vocals that heighten the song's spiritual nature, and a rock guitar keeps the music dark and mysterious. The second track, "Express Yourself", talks about rejecting material pleasures and only accepting the best for oneself; throughout the song, subtexts are employed. According to the singer, the track is a tribute to Sly & the Family Stone. The third track, "Love Song", is a duet with recording artist Prince. The song was co-written by Madonna and Prince and features the artist's "signature scratchy disco guitar breaks through Madonna's synths". Originally titled "State of Matrimony", the song Till Death Do Us Part" talks about the violent dissolution of Madonna's marriage. It was described as "an anxious jumpy ballad that describes a marriage wracked with drinking, violent quarrels and a possessive, self-hating husband". The next song, "Promise to Try" talks about the death of Madonna's mother. In one part of the song, she specifically asks "Does she hear my voice in the night when I call?". Later, an adult seems to admonish a child with the lines, "Little girl, don't you forget her face/Don't let memory play games with your mind/She's a faded smile frozen in time".
The sixth track, and third single from Like a Prayer, is "Cherish". Built around the themes of love and relationship, with William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet being one of the major inspirations, the song includes a line from "Cherish" by the 1960s band the Association. The lyrics of "Cherish" make it a simple love song, where Madonna talks about devotion and having her lover by her side, whom she would never leave. Following "Cherish" is "Dear Jessie"; according to Rikky Rooksby, the song sounds more like a children's lullaby than a pop song. The lyrics encourage the little girl Jessie to use her imagination. It summons up a psychedelic landscape, where pink elephants roam with dancing moons and mermaids. It references fairy-tale characters and creates an image of children playing with each other. The nexus of the album's eighth song, "Oh Father", talks about the presence of male authoritative figures in Madonna's life, most prominently her father, Tony Ciccone. Author J. Randy Taraborrelli held that "Till Death Do Us Part", "Promise To Try" and "Oh Father" were songs where Madonna tried to "purge herself of certain personal demons". The lyrics of "Keep It Together" talk about the realization of how important Madonna's family has been as a form of stability in her life. The final songs on Like a Prayer are "Spanish Eyes" and "Act of Contrition". "Spanish Eyes" is said to have "confronted the still-taboo issue of AIDS". Carol Benson and Allen Metz, authors of The Madonna Companion: Two Decades of Commentary, described the song as "a cross between Ben E. King's "Spanish Harlem" and something by Billy Joel". The final song, "Act of Contrition", features Madonna reciting the Catholic prayer Act of Contrition, then, the vocals deteriorate into a monologue in which Madonna grows obstreperous over being denied a restaurant reservation.
A track that did not make the album and in fact never made it past the demo stage, called "Angels with Dirty Faces", was released in full by Patrick Leonard free of charge on his YouTube channel in 2019, in what he explicitly said was an effort to stop that and other demos from being auctioned by an unnamed third party.
Madonna performed an energetic version of "Express Yourself" during the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards. She started the performance by descending from a flight of stairs, wearing a pin-striped suit and a monocle. Later she removed the coat to reveal her bustier, and together with her backing singers Niki Haris and Donna De Lory, performed a dance routine called voguing. Ian Inglis, author of Performance and Popular Music: History, Place and Time noted that the historical importance of Madonna's performance at the Video Music Awards was due to the televisual venue. Inglis explained that since Madonna's performance was striking primarily as a high-energy, provocatively choreographed, dance production number, it went on to highlight the 'TV' part of MTV, and in a way heralded her and the network as a cultural arbiter. On August 1989, in order to promote the release of Like a Prayer in Japan, Warner Music released a remix extended play titled Remixed Prayers, which included several remixes of "Like a Prayer" and "Express Yourself". It was released exclusively in Japan until July 1993, when it was released in Australia to celebrate Madonna's first visit to the country as part of her Girlie Show World Tour. The EP reached number 24 on the Oricon weekly albums chart and was present on the chart for five weeks.
The title track was released as the lead single on March 3, 1989. The song was acclaimed by critics, and was a commercial success. It became Madonna's seventh number-one single on the United States' Billboard Hot 100, and topped the singles charts in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Japan, Sweden, the United Kingdom and other countries. "Express Yourself" was released as the second single from the album on May 9, 1989. The song received positive reviews from critics, who applauded the gender equality message of the song and complimented the song for being a hymn to freedom and encouragement to women and all oppressed minorities. Commercially, the song peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and became Madonna's sixth number-one hit on the European Hot 100 Singles chart. It also reached the top of the singles charts in Canada and Switzerland, and the top five elsewhere.
"Cherish" was released as the third single on August 1, 1989. After its release, the song received positive feedback from reviewers, who were surprised by the change of content and the lighter image of Madonna's music, unlike her previous singles from Like a Prayer which incorporated themes such as religion and sexuality. It was a commercial success, topping the singles chart in Canada and reaching the top-ten of the charts in Australia, Belgium, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the combined European chart. On the Billboard Hot 100, "Cherish" became Madonna's 16th consecutive top-five single, setting a record in the history of the chart. It also featured the b-side, "Supernatural", previously unreleased from the album sessions. Released on October 24, 1989 as the fourth single, "Oh Father" received positive reviews from critics and authors, but commercially was less successful than Madonna's previous singles. In most of the countries where it was released, the song failed to attain top-ten positions, except in Finland, where it peaked at number six. It ended Madonna's string of 16 consecutive top five singles in the United States.
"Dear Jessie" was released as the fifth single from Like a Prayer on December 10, 1989. The release of "Dear Jessie" was limited to the United Kingdom, certain other European countries, Australia and Japan. Upon its release, "Dear Jessie" received mixed reviews from critics, who complained about the overdone fantasy imagery of the song, but complimented its composition. The track was a moderate success commercially, reaching the top 10 in the United Kingdom and Ireland and the top 20 in Germany, Spain and Switzerland. "Keep It Together" was released on January 30, 1990 as the sixth and final single from Like a Prayer. The song received mixed reviews from critics but was commercially successful; reaching a peak of number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 and Canadian charts, while topping the dance chart in the United States. In Australia it reached the top of the charts along with Madonna's next release, "Vogue".
Like a Prayer, alongside Madonna's following album, I'm Breathless, was promoted in her third concert tour, the Blond Ambition World Tour, which visited Asia, North America and Europe. Originally planned as the "Like a Prayer World Tour", it consisted of 57 dates and was divided into five different sections; the first inspired by the 1927 German expressionist film Metropolis, the second by religious themes, the third by the film Dick Tracy and cabaret, the fourth by Art Deco, and the fifth was an encore. The show contained sexual themes and Catholic imagery, such as in the performances of "Like a Prayer" and "Oh Father”, which were based in church-like surroundings with Madonna wearing a crucifix and her backup dancers dressed like priests and nuns. Lighter moments included the performance of "Cherish", which featured dancers dressed up as Mermen and Madonna playing the harp. The concert was criticized for its sexual content and religious imagery; in Toronto, Canada, Madonna was threatened of being arrested for obscenity, and Pope John Paul II later called for a boycott, with one of the three Italian dates being cancelled. Despite this, the tour was a critical success, winning "Most Creative Stage Production" at the 1990 Pollstar Concert Industry Awards. Two different shows were recorded and released on video, Blond Ambition: Japan Tour 90, taped in Yokohama, Japan, on April 27, 1990, and Blond Ambition World Tour Live, taped in Nice, France, on August 5, 1990.
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
|The Village Voice||B+|
Like a Prayer received universal acclaim. Stephen Thomas Erlewine, from AllMusic, said in retrospect that it was 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". In The New Rolling Stone Album Guide, Barry Walters wrote that with its more substantial songs that "covered topics such as spousal abuse and familial neglect", Like a Prayer "effectively upped Madonna's ante as a serious artist". Annie Zaleski, from the entertainment website The A.V. Club, praised the album for "being bold enough to delve into her parental issues", and called it "Madonna's first truly substantial record, the dividing line between her chirpy club-kid days and the mature sounds and themes that increasingly marked her '90s work". In Rolling Stone, reviewer J. D. Considine wrote that Madonna's 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; "Daring in its lyrics, ambitious in its sonics, this is far and away the most self-consciously serious album she's made. There are no punches pulled, anywhere". Considine concluded his review hailing the album "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." Robert Christgau from The Village Voice lamented the "kiddie psychedelia" of "Dear Jessie" and was unmoved by "Promise to Try" and "Act of Contrition", but felt all the other songs were memorable, especially the "cocksucker's prayer" of "Like a Prayer" and the "thrilling", independence-themed "Oh Father" and "Express Yourself". Lloyd Bradley of Q said, "musically it's varied, unexpected and far from instantly accessible; lyrically, it's moving, intelligent and candid." Edna Gundersen from USA Today wrote that album was "Lyrically [...] a confessional feast, with Madonna's Catholic upbringing as the main course. Songs are rife with religious overtones, spiritual and hymnal arrangements and a host of references to joy, faith, sin and power". NME critic David Quantick hailed it as "a brilliant, thoughtful, startling and joyful example of popular music."
Jonathan Takiff from The Philadelphia Inquirer praised the album for being "serious and reflective, at times heavily laden with psychic trauma. You might consider Like a Prayer to be [Madonna]'s Misfits...or her hour in the confessional box". Sal Cinquemani, from 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." The review concluded by declaring Like a Prayer "one of the quintessential pop albums of all time. Barry Walters from the San Francisco Examiner, named the album "[Madonna]'s best and most consistent collection yet [...] the album [where Madonna] crosses the line between craft and inspiration. From the start, she's had an intuitive grasp of how to put on a good show. Now she's got the guts to show us what's inside". Senior editor from The Cavalier Daily Chaz Repak, praised Madonna's "improved" songwriting; "her religious faith and her marriage to Sean Penn, are completely well written", however, he ended his review on a more critical note by saying: "Like a Prayer constitutes Madonna's best work to date. But after such work as "Material Girl", "Burning Up" and "Open Your Heart", that's not saying much." Negative criticism came from Spin magazine. Reviewer Christian Logan wrote: "On Like a Prayer your relationship to Madonna changes from to song to song, and it makes you uncomfortable. It's like sitting on a table with a friend who's telling too much about herself to people she doesn't know". Joe Levy, from the same magazine, was also critical, writing that "there's not a lot of old Madonna, nothing of the generation of women who grew up in her wake: Regina, Debbie Gibson, and Taylor Dayne", but highlighted "Keep It Together" as "the only great dance song on the record". At the end of 1989, Like a Prayer was voted the 18th best record of the year in the Pazz & Jop, an annual poll of American critics published by The Village Voice and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Engineered Album. Billboard has cited Like a Prayer as Madonna's best album. 
In the United States, Like a Prayer debuted at number 11 on the Billboard 200, on the issue dated April 8, 1989. It quickly rose to the top of the chart after its third week, where it remained for six consecutive weeks, making it Madonna's longest-running number 1 album. The album spent a total of 77 weeks on the chart. The album also reached a peak of number 55 on Billboard's R&B Albums list. It was eventually certified multi Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipments of three million units. After the advent of the Nielsen SoundScan era in 1991, the album sold a further 575,000 copies. Like a Prayer has sold over 4 million copies in the United States. In Canada, the album debuted at number two on the RPM Albums Chart on May 1, 1989. The album was present for a total of 37 weeks on the chart, and was certified five times platinum by the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) for shipments of 500,000 copies.
In the United Kingdom, Like a Prayer debuted at number one on the UK Albums Chart, on April 1, 1989. It remained on this position for two weeks and a total of 72 weeks on the chart. The album was certified four times platinum on February 1, 1995 for shipments of 1.2 million copies. In France, the album debuted at number one on the French Albums Chart on April 9, 1989, staying there for two weeks, then descending down the chart, having spent a total of thirty-six weeks on it. On July 1989, it was certified Platinum by the Syndicat National de l'Édition Phonographique (SNEP) for shipments of 300,000 copies, and once again on 2001, for shipments of 600,000 copies. In the Netherlands, Like a Prayer entered the MegaCharts at number four during the week of April 4, 1990. It eventually reached the top position, staying a total of thirty-two weeks on the chart. In Germany, Like a Prayer topped the Media Control albums chart for one month, and was later certified there times gold by the Bundesverband Musikindustrie (BVMI) for having shipped over 750,000 copies. In Italy, Like a Prayer reached the number one position at Musica e dischi and sold 550,000 copies by July 1989. Actual sales in Italy stands at more than 800,000 units.
The album was commercially successful in Asia-Pacific countries. In Japan, Like a Prayer reached number one on the Oricon Albums Chart and remained on the chart for 22 weeks. At the 1990 Japan Gold Disc Awards held by the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ), Madonna won three awards for Best Album of the Year – Pops Solo, Grand Prix Album of the Year, and Grand Prix Artist of the Year; the last two were given for the best-selling international album and the best-selling international artist of the year, respectively. It also became her sixth platinum album in Hong Kong, the most for any international artist of the decade. In Australia, Like a Prayer debuted and peaked at number four on April 2, 1989. It was certified quadruple platinum by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) for shipments of 280,000 copies. In New Zealand, the album peaked at number two and was certified double platinum by the Recorded Music NZ. Like a Prayer has sold over 15 million copies worldwide.
Entertainment Weekly's Nicholas Fonseca felt that Like a Prayer marked "an official turning point" of Madonna's career, which earned her "a long-awaited, substantive dose of critical acclaim". 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". 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." Hadley Freeman from The Guardian opined that Like a Prayer shaped "how pop stars, pop music, music videos, love, sex and the 80s were and should be". Jon Pareles, from The New York Times, said that " [Like a Prayer] defiantly grabbed Christian language and imagery". 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. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine named it the 239th greatest album of all time, maintaining the rating in a 2012 revised list. Apart from that the album was also featured in the "Women Who Rock" list made in 2012, at number 18. Like a Prayer is also featured in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. In 2006, Q magazine placed the album at number 14 in its list of "40 Best Albums of the '80s". 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". 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".
Taraborrelli wrote that Like a Prayer was a turning point's in Madonna's career; "Every important artist has at least one album in his or her career whose critical and commercial success becomes the artist's magic moment; for Madonna [...] Like a Prayer was. [Madonna] pushed onwards as an artist, using her creative wit to communicate on another level, musically." Kenneth G. Bielen, author of The Lyrics of Civility: Biblical Images and Popular Music Lyrics in American Culture, wrote that with the album Madonna began to be seen as a serious artist; "Five years earlier, she was a dance-pop 'Boy-Toy'. With Like a Prayer, she proved she was an artist who could think with more than her body". Thomas Harrison on the book Music of the 1980s, documented that Like a Prayer pushed boundaries by addressing "uncomfortable song topics". Similarly, Annie Zaleski from The A.V. Club, praised the album for "starting a conversation about religion—which remains one of the most incendiary topics a musician can address. [...] All of this pointed to Madonna establishing herself as a serious artist (emphasis on the "art") who had significant things to say". She also wrote:
The album's sustained run at No. 1 buoyed her self-assurance and bravery, and validated that people were willing to follow her even as she transitioned into adulthood. And even today, Like a Prayer remains provocative and progressive: The racial tension alluded to in the "Like A Prayer" video is striking, while the album's themes of religious and sexual oppression still feel all too relevant. Madonna dictated pop's future direction while also being firmly in control of her own fortunes.
According to Christopher Rosa from VH1, "Like a Prayer was the first pop album to evoke what female artists explore today: sexuality, religion, gender equality and independence. It was pioneering, and no woman in music has come close to doing something as groundbreaking." He believed that the album was her peak of cultural and musical influence, saying that "Madonna went from bubbly pop act to a serious artist who received her first bout of universal acclaim." Rosa also stated that Like a Prayer will be always more influential than the "definitive" albums of contemporary female artists, such as Blackout (2007), The Fame Monster (2009), and Beyoncé (2013). Madonna tried to experiment with different forms and styles with the videos and in the process constructed a new set of image and identity. With the release of Like a Prayer, Madonna's impact culminated during the 1980s, and many publications named her the artist of the decade. LA Weekly's Art Tavana opined that "Like a Prayer was the moment when Madonna went from being the voice of America's teenagers to the worldwide high priestess of pop". Singer Taylor Swift explained that with the album Madonna made "the most incredible, bold, risky, decisions as far as pop music goes", citing the title track as "legitimately one of the greatest pop songs of all time."
According to Douglas Kellner, the album and its singles were particularly influential on the music video field. The video for the title track "Like a Prayer", which depicted Madonna as a witness to a murder of a white girl by white supremacists, Catholic symbols such as stigmata, Ku Klux Klan-style cross burning, and a dream about kissing a black saint, was extremely controversial and gained a great deal of attention. Jon Pareles wrote that the video "set a media circus in motion, stirring up just those issues of sexuality and religiosity that Madonna wanted to bring up". The Vatican condemned the video while critics accused it of sacrilege and heresy. Madonna commented, "Art should be controversial, and that's all there is to it." Taraborrelli wrote that the song and its video also served to enhance Madonna's reputation as "a shrewd businesswoman, someone who knows how to sell a concept." Stewart M. Hoover wrote that the music video pushed boundaries by "bringing traditional religious imagery into the popular music context". Similarly, Daniel Welsh from The Huffington Post, wrote that the video "catapulted Madonna to the ranks of music video heavyweight, and proved to the world she really meant business". The music video for "Express Yourself" was also noted by critics for its exploitation of female sexuality and came to the conclusion that Madonna's masculine image in the video was gender-bending; authors Santiago Fouz-Hernández and Freya Jarman-Ivens commented that "the video portrayed the deconstructive gender-bending approach associated with free play and self-reflexivity of images in postmodernism." 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. In 2020, The Independent named it one of the 40 best albums you have to listen before you die. In a retrospective 2020 review, Spin magazine named Like a Prayer the eighth best album of the last 35 years.
|1.||"Like a Prayer"||5:41|
|2.||"Express Yourself" (writers and producers: Madonna, Stephen Bray)||4:37|
|3.||"Love Song" (with Prince; writers and producers: Madonna, Prince)||4:52|
|4.||"Till Death Do Us Part"||5:16|
|5.||"Promise to Try"||3:36|
|9.||"Keep It Together" (writers and producers: Madonna, Bray)||5:03|
|11.||"Act of Contrition"||2:19|
|1.||"Like a Prayer" (12" Dance Mix; remix/additional production: Shep Pettibone)||7:52|
|2.||"Express Yourself" (Non-Stop Express Mix; remix/additional production: Pettibone)||8:00|
|3.||"Love Song" (with Prince)||4:52|
|4.||"Till Death Do Us Part"||5:18|
|5.||"Cherish" (extended version)||6:16|
|7.||"Oh Father" (single version)||4:27|
|8.||"Keep It Together" (12" remix; remix/additional production: Pettibone)||7:48|
|9.||"Pray for Spanish Eyes"||5:17|
- "Spanish Eyes" was re-titled "Pray for Spanish Eyes" on certain editions of the album.
- In the album's notes "The powers that be" (Madonna, Leonard) are credited as the producers of "Act of Contrition".
Credits adapted from the album's liner notes.
- Madonna – vocals, synthesizers
- Niki Haris – background vocals
- Marilyn Martin – background vocals
- Donna DeLory – background vocals
- Ali Nadirah – background vocals
- Lynne Fiddmont – background vocals
- Rose Banks – background vocals
- Marcos Loya – background vocals
- The Andraé Crouch Choir – background vocals
- Jonathan Moffett – drums
- Jeff Porcaro – drums
- John Robinson – drums
- Luis Conte – percussion
- Paulinho da Costa – percussion
- Guy Pratt, Randy Jackson – bass
- Chester Kamen – guitars
- David Williams – guitars
- Prince – guitars
- Dann Huff – guitars
- Bruce Gaitsch – guitars
- Marcos Loya – requinto
- Jai Winding – synthesizers
- Stephen Bray – synthesizers
- Patrick Leonard – acoustic piano, Hammond B3 organ, clavinet, synthesizers
- Joe Porcaro – marimba
- Sandra Crouch – tambourine
- Chuck Findley – brass section
- David Boruff – brass section
- Steven Madaio – brass section
- Dick Hyde – brass section
- Joseph Mayer – French horn
- Richard Todd – French horn
- Larry Corbett – cello solo
- Chuck Findley – horn arrangements
- Bill Meyers – string arrangements, conducting
- Suzie Katayama – concertmaster
Production and design
- Madonna – producer
- Patrick Leonard – producer
- Stephen Bray – producer
- Prince – producer
- Bill Bottrell – sound engineer
- Eddie Miller – sound engineer
- Stephen Shelton – sound engineer
- Heidi Hanschu – sound engineer
- Michael Vail Blum – sound engineer
- Robert Salcedo – sound engineer
- Stacy Baird – sound engineer
- Joe Schiff – sound engineer
- Bill Bottrell – mixing
- Bob Ludwig – mastering
- Herb Ritts – photography
- Jeri Heiden – art design
Certifications and sales
|Australia (ARIA)||4× Platinum||280,000^|
|Austria (IFPI Austria)||Platinum||50,000*|
|Brazil (Pro-Música Brasil)||2× Platinum||710,000|
|Canada (Music Canada)||5× Platinum||500,000^|
|France (SNEP)||2× Platinum||770,300|
|Germany (BVMI)||3× Gold||750,000^|
|Hong Kong (IFPI Hong Kong)||Platinum||20,000*|
|Japan (RIAJ)||2× Platinum||414,390|
|New Zealand (RMNZ)||2× Platinum||30,000^|
|Spain (PROMUSICAE)||4× Platinum||400,000^|
|Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)||2× Platinum||100,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||4× Platinum||1,200,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||4× Platinum||4,000,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone
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- List of best-selling albums in Brazil
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