Holy shit! Thank you all for 500! Everyone on this site is so nice! I didn’t really have anything planned since I’m not even halfway reviewing Madonna’s discography, but I’ll tell the story of how I got interested into music. Before I listened to all sorts of music I listened to modern country music🤮. If I could go back in time to punch myself in the face I would. Around 2018, my Dad told me about the heavy metal and rock music he used to listen to a lot more decades ago. The first real album I listened to was ‘Ten’ by Pearl Jam, but I hold no sentimental value to that album. The first band I fell in love with was Nirvana, specifically the ‘Nevermind’ period. After starting out listening to grunge music, I spent all of 2019 listening to essential rock albums. Then in 2020, I basically started listening to every genre and then discovered AOTY.
Ever since I listened to ‘Like a Prayer’ I have loved Madonna’s music. There’s a certain charm to her music that I can’t explain, specifically on this album. ‘Like a Prayer’ is in my opinion Madonna’s magnum opus, the greatest pop album of all time, and one of my favorite albums ever. Every time I am stressed, I listen to this album, and all my cares go away. ‘Like a Prayer’ was released in 1989, a time where music trends were about to change. Strangely enough, the album barely sounds like anything in the mainstream at the time. The only dance-pop songs are “Express Yourself” and “Keep It Together.” The rest of the album is much more funk, gospel, soul, rock, baroque pop, and psychedelia influenced. ‘Like a Prayer’ also incorporates live instrumentation which largely benefits the listening experience, making it sound lively. Her vocals are also much more heavenly and smooth, avoiding the baby voice. The cover centers on Madonna’s waist with her wearing a Rosary, a symbol of Catholicism. At the very bottom, there are the words “A Digital Recording,” which to my guess is a statement saying Madonna wanted to make a real album. Unlike the rest of the 80s Madonna albums, ‘Like a Prayer’ is much more conceptual and personal.
The first song “Like a Prayer” deserves a whole review of its own and is the absolute peak of pop music. The song is funk, gospel, and rock music influenced with lyrics about a girl who loves God, and he becomes the only male figure in her life. The song was a major success, becoming Madonna’s most critically acclaimed single, while gaining respect as a true musical artist. However, the song was largely provocative with its controversy being attributed to its music video. The video starts with a woman (Madonna) being frozen in fear, seeing another woman being assaulted by a group of men. A black man goes to help the woman, but the murderers flee and the police arrive. They mistakenly accused him of murdering the woman. The group of men see Madonna and she runs to a church. Inside the church, she sees a statue of a saint that resembles the accused man. Madonna prays in front of the statue while it looks like the statue is crying. She then lies on a pew and dreams about falling in the sky with a strong woman catching her. She tells Madonna to do the right thing and then Madonna goes back to the statue. The statue then turns into the accused man and he kisses her forehead and she picks up a knife to cut her hands. She wakes up from the dream, goes to the police station, and tells the police that the man is innocent. Throughout the video, Madonna is dancing in a skimpy outfit in front of burning crosses, kisses the saint, and sings with a choir in the church. The video caused a public uproar, specifically from Christians. It was deemed blasphemous for its blending of religious and sexual imagery. The song resulted in Madonna losing her Pepsi endorsement and being banned from the Vatican. Looking back, I believe the song got a lot of flack. Additionally, the Vatican were being hypocrites calling a music video blasphemous even though they were covering up rape allegations at the time. While the video was a bit much, from my perspective, the video was about a woman asking an angel what to do in a difficult situation. She takes her advice and did the right thing, shedding a positive light on Christianity. Madonna is well-known for her complicated, yet devout relationship with Catholicism. As someone who has Italian ancestors and born into a Catholic family, I can relate to the song, especially for its blunt approach on the complex relationship between a person and God. Looking back, “Like a Prayer” is Madonna’s greatest artist achievement.
The next song “Express Yourself,” is a funky dance-pop banger. The song is a feminist anthem about one accepting what’s best for them. The song is one of Madonna’s best and is another example of her imploring more serious topics in her music. “Love Song” is a great track for anyone who is a big Prince fan because he’s a featured vocalist. If the song was released as a single, I guarantee it would have been one of the biggest hits of both the singers’ careers. The song is synth-funk inspired and has a will they, won’t they dynamic between the two singers. What makes the song more interesting is that Prince and Madonna used to have a private relationship for a short time. “Till Death Do Us Part” details Madonna’s divorce to Sean Penn and his abusive behavior. The writing is extremely clever and pack a lot of punches. Lyrics like “They never laugh, not like before/She takes the keys, he breaks the door/She cannot stay here anymore/He's not in love with her anymore” sound so mind-blowing. In my opinion, it’s one of Madonna’s most underrated songs. “Promise to Try” is a baroque pop ballad about her mother, who died when Madonna was just 5 years old. “Cherish” is a swing influenced pop song and the story closely resembles Romeo and Juliet. Compared to the other singles, “Cherish” is much more light-hearted. “Dear Jessie” is a psychedelic pop lullaby that was inspired by the daughter of Patrick Leonard, Madonna’s co-producer. The song is very Sgt. Pepper’s-like and is a direction I never thought she’d go in. “Oh Father” is related to “Promise to Try” as it is about Madonna’s relationship with her father after her mother’s death. The song continues the baroque pop direction of the previous tracks but is much more depressing. The chorus “You can't hurt me now/I got away from you, I never thought I would/You can't make me cry, you once had the power/I never felt so good about myself” is haunting. The music video makes the song even more depressing, seeing her mother die with her eyes sewn shut at Madonna’s side. This is one of the few songs that has made me close to sobbing, yet I think it’s one of her best songs. “Keep It Together” is a funk-dance track about staying together as a family, and the song’s instrumentation is fantastic. “Spanish Eyes” addresses the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and Madonna goes on to say if there is a god, we should pray for the infected. It is a Latin song which gives it a sophisticated edge.
The final track “Act of Contrition” is genius. In the beginning, Madonna recites the end of Matthew 6:13 during reconciliation, and then the guitar riff and choir of “Like a Prayer” is played backwards. She goes on to sing part of the Hail Mary and then the Act of Contrition. At the end, she repeats “I have a reservation” in an angrier tone the more she does. The album ends with her raspy voice shouting “WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT’S NOT IN THE COMPUTER?!” Madonna compared not getting a dinner reservation she expected to strict Christians who expect to get into heaven, even though they’re actions determine their fate more. The last track proved that Madonna had the lyrical depth to be a serious artist. Overall, ‘Like a Prayer’ is the finest pop album ever released, crossing into art pop boundaries. She writes about her divorce, childhood, and religion so well. I am especially impressed with her references to Christianity because CCM sucks, but Madonna does not sing about God in a place of love, but in a place of reason. CCM acts fail because they’re just love songs about Jesus that sound so musically generic, but Madonna sang about her own experiences with the religion. A person of any religion could enjoy the religion themed songs of the album because she does not force her beliefs. Furthermore, Madonna established herself as a force to be reckoned with and would continue to push artistic boundaries. If I would recommend any Madonna album, it would be ‘Like a Prayer.’ Fuck it, I’m gonna be based and give this a 100. This album means a lot to me.