Study Guide

Like a Prayer

Like a Prayer Introduction

In a Nutshell

Talk about controversy. 

When Madonna released "Like a Prayer" in 1989—or more accurately, when she released the "Like a Prayer" video—all holy hell broke loose in American pop culture. Critics charged that the video (which included images of Madonna singing in a field of burning crosses and frolicking with a black saint inside a church) was sacrilegious, a slap in the face to people of faith. What gave this pop singer, who had already offended some by co-opting the name of the Virgin Mary, the right to conflate the majesty of prayer with the ecstasy of sex? 

"Like a Prayer" set off a cultural and religious brouhaha of mammoth proportions. There was a great wailing and gnashing of teeth, and the cancelation of a $5 million Pepsi ad campaign, and the suggestion that Madonna ought to be excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

Decades later, "Like a Prayer" no longer seems quite so shocking. We've all seen a lot worse since. And removed from the hubbub of controversy that originally surrounded it, the song itself actually now seems more interesting. Truth is, there's not one word of "off-color" material in the lyrics; if you didn't know Madonna was the singer, "Like a Prayer" would sound perfectly at home on any Christian radio station:

When you call my name
It's like a little prayer
I'm down on my knees
I wanna take you there
In the midnight hour
I can feel your power

What preacher could object to that? And yet, if you want to hear it as a song about sex, that works just as well. Maybe Madonna was really onto something here. Could there really be something common in the human experience of rapture, whether it's experienced in ways sacred or profane?

About the Song

ArtistMadonna
Year1989
LabelSire Records, Warner Bros.
Writer(s)Madonna, Patrick Leonard
Producer(s)Madonna, Patrick Leonard
Musician(s)Madonna (vocals, keyboards), Prince (intro guitar), The Andrae Crouch Choir (background vocals), Randy Jackson (bass), Guy Pratt (bass), Chester Kamen (guitar), David Williams (guitar), Dann Huff (guitar), Bruce Gaitsch (guitar), Marcos Loya (guitar), Larry Corbett (cello), Patrick Leonard (keyboards), Jai Winding (keyboards), Stephen Bray (keyboards), Geary Lanier (keyboards), Jonathan Moffett (drums), Jeff Porcaro (drums), John Robinson (drums), Luis Conte (percussion), Paulinho da Costa (percussion), Sandra Crouch (percussion)
Learn to play
AlbumLike a Prayer

Music Video

Influences on Madonna

Karen Carpenter
Hall & Oates
Led Zeppelin
Marilyn Monroe
Nancy Sinatra
The Supremes

Influenced by Madonna

Christina Aguilera
Mariah Carey
Celine Dion
Beyoncé
Lady Gaga
Katy Perry
Britney Spears
Gwen Stefani

Like a Prayer Resources

Books

Carol Benson and Allen Metz, Madonna Companion (1999)
One of the best Madonna books out there, this book compiles reviews, interviews, and academic papers on Madonna in a very broad and complete way.

Lucy O'Brien, Madonna: Like an Icon (2008)
Lucy O'Brien chronicles the career of Madonna.

Matthew Rettenmund, Encyclopedia Madonnica (1995)
It is what it sounds like, an encyclopedic reference books with everything from "academia" to "eyes."

Albums

Like a Virgin (1984)
Madonna's breakthrough album, with the all-to-familiar "Material Girl" and title track, Like a Virgin won't win many critical hearts, but this is where the Madonna craze truly began.

Like a Prayer (1989)
Hailed as Madonna's most mature album at the time, Like a Prayer is distinctly confessional, largely danceable, and it's final track, "Act of Contrition" adds a little "Revolution Number 9" flavor into the mix.

Images

"Like a Prayer" Single Cover
The brunette singer strikes a pose for the single cover.

On Tour
Madonna sings into the mic during her Blond Ambition tour, which supported Like a Prayer.

Mostly Brunette
By the time Madonna had filmed her Pepsi commercial, Madonna opted for a Rouge-esque dash of platinum blonde—ditching the whole natural hair color thing altogether.

Like a Prayer Album Cover
This is the first Madonna album not to feature her face on the cover, focusing instead on her mid-section.

Movies & TV

I’m Going to Tell You a Secret (2005)
Follow Madonna during her 2004 Re-Invention tour in this Grammy-nominated documentary.

Evita (1997)
Madonna was Emmy-worthy in her best film as an actress, alongside Antonio Banderas.

Websites

Madonna's Official Site
Madonna's official page, with news, photos, tour information, and media.

Video & Audio

"Like a Prayer" Music Video
Madonna's music video to "Like a Prayer" caused a huge controversy which involved Pepsi attempting to disassociate themselves from Madonna, shortly after having paid her $5 million for endorsing them.

Mad'House, "Like a Prayer"
Mad'House covers "Like a Prayer," turning it into a—what else?—house song.