Like a Prayer (song)

"Like a Prayer"
Madonna with her hands folded in prayer. Her image is enclosed in a square white frame.
7-inch single cover artwork
Single by Madonna
from the album Like a Prayer
B-side"Act of Contrition"
ReleasedMarch 3, 1989 (1989-03-03)
RecordedSeptember 1988
StudioJohnny Yuma Studios
(Burbank, California)
GenrePop rock
  • Madonna
  • Patrick Leonard
Madonna singles chronology
"Like a Prayer"
"Express Yourself"

"Like a Prayer" is a song by American singer Madonna, recorded for her fourth studio album of the same name. Sire and Warner Bros. Records released it as the album's lead single on March 3, 1989. It was also included on the greatest hits compilation albums, The Immaculate Collection (1990), and Celebration (2009). Written and produced by Madonna and Patrick Leonard, the track heralded an artistic and personal approach to songwriting for Madonna, who believed that she needed to cater more to her adult audience. Thematically the song speaks about a passionate young girl in love with God, who becomes the only male figure in her life.

"Like a Prayer" is a pop rock song and incorporates gospel music. It features background vocals from a choir and also a rock guitar. The lyrics contain liturgical words, but they have dual meanings of sexual innuendo and religion. "Like a Prayer" was acclaimed by critics, and was also a commercial success. It was Madonna's seventh number-one single on the United States' Billboard Hot 100, and topped the singles charts in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and other countries. Rolling Stone placed "Like a Prayer" on the 306th spot of its list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The music video, directed by Mary Lambert, portrays Madonna as a witness to the murder of a girl by white supremacists. While a black man is arrested for the murder, Madonna hides in a church for safety seeking strength to go forth as a witness. The clip depicts a church and Catholic symbols such as stigmata. It also features a Ku Klux Klan-style cross burning, and a dream about kissing a black saint. The Vatican condemned the video, while family and religious groups protested its broadcast. They boycotted products by soft drink manufacturer Pepsi, who had used the song in their commercial. The company canceled their sponsorship contract with Madonna, but allowed her to retain the fee.

"Like a Prayer" has been featured on five of Madonna's concert tours, most recently on the Rebel Heart Tour in 2015–2016. It has been covered by numerous artists. The song is noted for the mayhem surrounding the music video, and the various interpretations of its content, leading to discussions among music and film scholars. Alongwith the parent album, the track has been considered a turning point in Madonna's career, with critics starting to acknowledge her as an artist rather than a mere pop star.


Madonna had not recorded any music throughout most of 1988. Following the critical and commercial failure of back-to-back big-budget films, Shanghai Surprise (1986) and Who's That Girl (1987), she acted in the Broadway production Speed-the-Plow.[1] However, the unfavorable reviews once again caused her discomfort. Her marriage to actor Sean Penn ended, leading to the couple filing for divorce in January 1989. Madonna had also turned 30, the age at which her mother had died, and thus the singer experienced more emotional turmoil.[1][2] She commented in the March 1989 issue of Rolling Stone that her Catholic upbringing struck a feeling of guilt in her all the time:

Once you're a Catholic, you're always a Catholic—in terms of your feelings of guilt and remorse and whether you've sinned or not. Sometimes I'm wracked with guilt when I needn't be, and that, to me, is left over from my Catholic upbringing. Because in Catholicism you are born a sinner and you are a sinner all of your life. No matter how you try to get away from it, the sin is within you all the time.[3]

Madonna also understood that as she was growing up, so was her core audience. Feeling the need to attempt something different, she wanted the sound of her new album to dictate what could be popular in the music world.[4] The singer had certain personal matters on her mind that she thought could be the musical direction of the album. For the title track, Madonna chose topics that until then had been personal meditations never to be shared with the general public. She perused of her personal journals and diaries, and began considering options. She recalled, "What was it I wanted to say? I wanted the album to speak to things on my mind. It was a complex time in my life."[5]

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