Like a Prayer
Writer(s): Patrick Leonard, Madonna (see lyrics here)
Released: February 27, 1989
First Charted: March 10, 1989
Peak: 13 US, 13 CB, 13 RR, 3 AC, 20, RB, 134 CN, 14 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)
Sales (in millions): 2.1 US, 0.85 UK, 5.0 world (includes US + UK)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 1.0 radio, 88.61 video, 218.0 streaming
Awards: (Click on award for more details).
About the Song:
Madonna’s return to the Billboard Hot 100 charts after a nearly year-and-a-half absence was marked by her third collaboration on a #1 song with Patrick Leonard. He had also worked on her hits “Live to Tell” and “Who’s That Girl?” He remembers “Like a Prayer” initially having bongos and Latin percussion. They abandoned that and went with a gospel sound with church organ and a choir led by Andraé Crouch instead. He also recalls that “it was written and the lead vocal was recorded within three hours.” BR
The song was intended for a more adult audience, thematically focused on a girl’s love of God as the only male figure in her life. WK The song was generally well-received by critics. In a biography by Mary Cross, she says “the song is a mix of the sacred and the profane…[that] still sounds catchy and danceable.” WK Medium’s Richard LaBeau called it “one of the…best pop songs ever made.” WK Still, the song’s mix of sex and religion raised eyebrows for some. For example, in the first verse she sings, “When you call my name/ It’s like a little prayer/ I’m down on my knees/ I wana take you there.” Leonard suggested changing the words so it didn’t sound like a reference to fellatio, but Madonna was determined to keep the double entendres intact. WK
The video proved controversial as well. Madonna signed a $5 million deal with Pepsi and used a commercial during the Grammys – which Pepsi said was seen by 250 million people – to launch the song. SF However, the Vatican condemned the “Like a Prayer” video and fundamentalists threatened to boycott Pepsi because of what they considered blasphemous images. BR Pepsi ended up pulling the spot. The video, which included images of burning crosses and Madonna kissing a black saint, portrayed a forbidden interracial love affair and was steeped in religious symbolism. The video won the Viewers’ Choice MTV Video Music Award and in 2005 was voted the most groundbreaking music video of all time. WK
The song was the top-seller of the year in Australia and Canada. WK It hit #1 in those countries as well as the United States, the UK, Japan, Belgium, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. WK
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First posted 11/1/2019; updated 4/4/2021.