Like a Prayer — Madonna, April 22, 1989
Producers: Madonna, Patrick Leonard, Stephen Bray, and Prince
Track listing: Like a Prayer / Express Yourself / Love Song / Till Death Do Us Part / Promise to Try / Cherish / Dear Jessie / Oh Father / Keep It Together / Spanish Eyes / Act of Contrition
April 22, 1989
Things were decidedly different for Madonna when the singer went to work on her fourth full-length album in early 1988. For one, her marriage to actor Sean Penn had begun to sour. Also, having already dabbled in such films as Desperately Seeking Susan, Shanghai Surprise, and Who’s That Girl, Madonna decided it was time to take a stab at Broadway with a role in Speed-the -Plow. Meanwhile, on the recording front, Madonna and producer, Patrick Leonard agreed it was time to abandon the small home studios used for True Blue in favor of Leonard’s Johnny Yuma Recording in Burbank, California.
“It was a real coming-of-age record for me emotionally,” says Madonna. “I was at the end of my marriage and I was working with Pat, who was also in a very dark state of mind, and we worked in a very isolated place n the Valley. I was very lonely when I was working on the record. I had to do a lot of soul-searching and I think it is a reflection of that.”
Perhaps the most telling song on the album is “Till Death Do Us Part,” a track originally
titled “State of Matrimony,” which can be taken as an autobiographical account of Madonna’s ill-fated marriage to Penn.
Despite the troubles that were brewing in Madonna’s personal life, several of the songs on the album came together very quickly. “I would start working on the music and then Madonna would come in the afternoon and work on some lyrics, then we would do a vocal and that was usually the vocal we kept,” says Leonard. “In the first week, we wrote ‘Cherish,’ ‘Like a Prayer,’ ‘Spanish Eyes.’ ” The track “O Father” was written in New York, while Madonna was working on Speed the Plow, Leonard says.
Madonna also had her mother on her mind when she was working on Like a Prayer. “This album is dedicated to my mother, who taught me how to pray,” Madonna wrote in the liner notes. The singer’s mother, also named Madonna, died of cancer. Madonna was six at the time. “‘Like a Prayer’ is a very important song to me,” she says. “I felt the impact that it was going to make. That song means a lot more to me than ‘Like a Virgin.’ I wrote it and it’s from my heart. It’s a very spiritual song. I think I was much more spiritually in touch with the power of words and music by the time I was recording that album.”
Another emotionally charged cut on the album is “Oh Father.” Says Madonna, “it was like the second half of ‘Live to Tell,’ in a way. It was a combo package—it was about my father and my husband. I was dealing with male authority figures once again. That is a great source of inspiration to my writing.”
To give various songs the appropriate atmosphere, Madonna turned to a number of outside sources. On “Like a Prayer,” for example, the singing of the Andre Crouch Choir added an authentic hymn-like feel to the song, while “Love Song” is a collaboration between Madonna and Prince, recorded at the latter’s Paisley Park Studios. “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,’ ” Madonna says. “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.”
In all, Leonard says Like a Prayer is a better record than True Blue. “It is much more musician-oriented and much more live,” he says. The musicianship, however, took a back seat to controversy. The video clip for “Like a Prayer,” which crossed an interracial love story with religious imagery, raised the ire of fundamentalist groups and led Pepsi-Cola to yank a TV commercial featuring the song from the air. But Madonna had the last laugh, pocketing the money from the commercial and benefitting from the publicity, as the single went on to top the Hot 100. The same week Like a Prayer hit the summit in its third week on the chart, making it Madonna’s fastest-climbing album to date.
The Top Five
Week of April 22, 1989
1. Like a Prayer, Madonna
2. Loc-ed After Dark, Tone Loc
3. Electric Youth, Debbie Gibson
4. Don’t Be Cruel, Bobby Brown
5. The Raw & the Cooked, Fine Young Cannibals