Executive Produced by Roman Nurmemägi exclusively for Madonna Remixers United.
Design by Roman Nurmemägi. Photography by Herb Ritts. Release date: October 10, 2022
Writer(s): Madonna Ciccone, Patrick Leonard
Producer(s): Madonna, Patrick Leonard
Madonna's iconic song 'Like a Prayer' was released 30 years ago, and it remains one of the greatest pop moments ever.
What inspired the song? Madonna had not recorded any music throughout 1988, and following the critical and commercial failure of her films Shanghai Surprise and Who's That Girl and the Broadway production Speed-the-Plow, she was in a creative crossroads.
Her marriage to actor Sean Penn ended, and she had also turned 30, the age at which her mother had died.
She said in the March 1989 issue of Rolling Stone that her Catholic upbringing gave her a feeling of guilt 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."
She was also aware that her fanbase was growing up, and felt the need to record something totally different. She wanted her next album to dictate what could be popular in the music world going forward.
Madonna wanted to write about personal matters on her mind at the time, and for 'Like a Prayer', she chose topics she had never shared with the general public. She looked into her personal journals and diaries, and later 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."
How was the song written? Producers Patrick Leonard and Stephen Bray were experimenting with instrumental tracks and musical ideas, and both wanted to bring their style to the album and composed music for the title track.
Madonna felt that what Leonard presented was more interesting, and she started to work with him.
She then wrote 'Like a Prayer' in about three hours, writing and producing it with Leonard.
Madonna described 'Like a Prayer' as the song about a passionate young girl "so in love with God that it is almost as though He were the male figure in her life."
Inspiration for the track also came from the Catholic belief of transubstantiation, the change of essence by which the bread and wine offered in the sacrifice of the sacrament during the Mass, become, in reality, the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
She later changed the context of the song so that the lyrics had dual meaning. While the song may have seemed superficial and about sexuality and religion on the surface, the song actually had different meanings intended to provoke reaction from her listeners.
Leonard later explained that he was not comfortable with the lyrics and the sexual innuendos. Giving the example of the first verse 'When you call my name, It's like a little prayer, I'm down on my knees, I wanna take you there', he felt that this could also refer to someone performing oral sex.
However, Madonna refused to change the line, as she was adamant about keeping it in.
The gospel vocals were recorded by The Andraé Crouch Choir, who also appeared on Michael Jackson's 'Man in the Mirror'.
For the intro, Leonard used guitar recordings by Prince, who had been asked by Madonna to contribute to the track. In 2014, he said that no other music by Prince was used, but some effects around the choruses might have been his.