Like a Prayer (song)

"Like a Prayer"
Madonna with her hands folded in prayer
Single by Madonna
from the album Like a Prayer
B-side "Act of Contrition"
Released March 3, 1989 (1989-03-03)
Format
Recorded
Genre Pop rock
Length 5:41
Label
Writer(s)
Producer(s)
  • Madonna
  • Patrick Leonard
Madonna singles chronology
" Spotlight"
(1988)
"Like a Prayer"
(1989)
" Express Yourself"
(1989)
Music video
"Like a Prayer" on YouTube

"Like a Prayer" is a song by American singer Madonna, from her studio album of the same name. Sire Records released it as the album's lead single on March 3, 1989. She co-wrote and co-produced the song with Patrick Leonard. The track denoted a more artistic and personal approach to songwriting for Madonna, who felt she needed to cater more to her adult audience.

"Like a Prayer" is 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. Madonna introduced liturgical words in the lyrics—inspired by her Catholic upbringing—but changed the context in which they were used. They have dual meanings of sexual innuendo and religion. "Like a Prayer" was acclaimed by critics, and was 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.

The music video, directed by Mary Lambert, portrays Madonna as a witness to a murder of a white 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 Catholic symbols such as stigmata, 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, which used the song for a commercial. Madonna's contract with Pepsi was then canceled, although she was allowed to retain her initial fee.

The song has been featured on five of Madonna's concert tours, most recently the Rebel Heart Tour in 2015. "Like a Prayer" has been covered by many artists. The song is noted for the mayhem surrounding the music video, and the different interpretations of its content, leading to discussions among music and film scholars. Alongside its respective album, "Like a Prayer" has been considered a turning point in Madonna's career, as she began to be viewed as an efficient businesswoman—someone who knew how to sell a concept.

Background

1988 was a quiet year on the recording front for Madonna. Following the critical and commercial failure 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 turned 30, the age at which her mother had died, and thus the singer experienced more emotional turmoil. [1] 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. [2]

But she understood that as she was growing up, so was her core audience. 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. [3] She had certain personal matters on her mind that she thought could be the musical direction of the album. For lyrical ideas of the title track, she chose topics that until then had been personal meditations never to be shared with the general public. 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." [4]