#LPLove– ‘Like A Prayer’ by Madonna
The revolutionary record from 1989 gets a reissue and now is as good a time as any to remember how the Queen of Pop broke boundaries
33 years ago, Madonna released her fourth album, Like A Prayer. While radio today fails to recognize her as a viable pop artist, and in the age of YouTube, the official queen of music videos hardly makes a dent even in the visual space, it’s hard to believe such an iconic presence is basically embroiled in social media controversies with yesteryear rappers complaining about her aging. That certainly wasn’t the case in 1989.
With the release of the title track “Like A Prayer,” Madonna seemingly revealed a very adult side of herself, and with the subsequent album’s release it was clear that she was evolving into one of the most insightful and adventurous pop stars. Done were the days of just recording bubble-gum pop or banking on her aging teenage sexuality. “Like A Prayer” undoubtedly highlighted Madonna’s maturity, and, for the first time, the music, the lyrics, the image and her budding voice showcased a genuine artist – calculated, maybe, creative, absolutely but also 100 percent in control.
Watch Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” video
It’s a shame there was no YouTube in those days. I can only imagine the number of views and comments her iconic music videos from the album, including the title track, “Express Yourself” and the Herb-Ritts classic “Cherish” would have garnered. Each song showcased a different side of the singer. While “Like A Prayer” explored her questioning her religion (and the video also being a lightning rod for what we now deem classic cultural appropriation), “Express Yourself” was a female empowerment anthem like no other, decades before Beyoncé and Lady Gaga tried to emulate this theme. The men in the video were being blatantly objectified and Madonna crotch-grabbing like Michael Jackson became an iconic moment. The one-two punch of these megahits proved that the singer wasn’t just taking what she wanted from others, she was making it her own.
Watch Madonna’s “Express Yourself” video
So as to not completely shatter the girl-next-door image she’d so perfected, the album also included tracks like “Dear Jessie,” “Keep It Together,” and of course, one of my favorites “Cherish.” A straight-up pop record with a Motown twist, the single highlighted Madonna’s softer side, almost like a reminder that she could be cute, provocative and sexy all at the same time.
In what chart analysts at the time considered her first career misstep, Madonna released the single “Oh Father,” a highly personal ode to her own father. While critically lauded, the song fumbled at radio as it was clear that radio programmers just didn’t know what to do with the song. They could accept the religious Madonna, the empowered Madonna, the cute Madonna, but the poignant, reflective one? “Oh Father” was the Madonna’s first single since “Borderline” to not have reached the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100.
Ironically enough, the song has managed to have a lasting impact, and in what could be considered the greatest compliment to the track, it was covered by Sia for her 2010 release “We Are Born.”
Watch Madonna’s “Oh Father” video
Like A Prayer was a revolutionary record and most critics rank it among Madonna’s finest albums. Constantly lauded in ‘Best Of’ lists of the Eighties, and even all-time charts, the album garnered four Top 10 Hits and has sold over 15 million copies worldwide. Shocking as it may sound, the album and any of its music videos, barring “Oh Father,” managed to score any love or respect at the Grammy Awards.
Madonna is no doubt the originator of the “visual album” alongside Michael Jackson. But her themes were far greater reaching and much less about spectacle compared to the gloved one. Her videos and her songs were more about culture, thus making her truly stand out among the legends. While we know there would be no Britney without Madonna, there would absolutely be no Beyoncé, and most certainly no Lemonade without the brave, brazen, bold and blonde Madonna.
Watch Madonna’s “Cherish” video
Production wise, Like A Prayer surprisingly stands the test of time and in particular tracks like “Cherish” and “Oh Father” still sound great. Tracks like the Prince-produced “Love Song” and “Keep It Together” haven’t aged as well but are perfect snapshots of that era’s style. The two most iconic tracks, the title track and “Express Yourself.” From Lady Gaga to Taylor Swift, the impact and influence of the song, lyrics and style are there.
In 2019, Madonna released her last album Madame X, almost 30 years after Like A Prayer. She’s still was talking about religion, sex, empowerment and like the best of them, still culturally appropriating. It’s unfortunate that her age and aging has led to her direct influence getting marginalized because she’s actually still got plenty to say, and while the album may not be as significant as Like A Prayer, it’s still pretty darn good.
Regardless of her impact today on popular music with the current slate of her released singles, her career, and in particular Like A Prayer’s impact on artists and their hits is more than evident. It is a bonafide classic and thankfully it is available again on vinyl in an exclusive re-issue. This is one Madonna record that should absolutely be a part of any collection.
Listen to Madonna’s Like A Prayer album