Aug 10

MADONNA – “Like A Prayer”

FT + Popular147 comments • 10,601 views

#625, 25th March 1989

A wonderfully simple, wonderfully dense record. “When you call my name / It’s like a little prayer / I’m down on my knees / I want to take you there”. That’s just the chorus: 21 words, and what’s happening in them? A pun on Madonna’s name, setting up her dual role as divinity and supplicant, receiving a prayer while on her knees, drawing a parallel between the (apparently) fixed relationship of worship and the mutual shifts of self and role in sex. Which is all “Like A Prayer” is, even before you look at the video: sex and religion, entwined like lovers all through the song, their identities melting.

The choice of “little” in that chorus isn’t accidental – it’s an Aretha call-back, Madonna putting herself in a tradition of women who steer a way in pop between the devout and the earthy (before exploding the idea of that ‘between’). She’s also inviting direct comparison between her stuff and the soul and pop canon 80s tastemakers have spent the entire decade working to sanctify. It’s easy enough to sit down and try and make a ‘classic pop single’, though – we’ll see plenty of examples of that, mostly hamstrung by caution. “Like A Prayer” bears some of the trappings of the intended masterpiece – hark! a choir! – and occasionally I play it and it feels too detached, missing the snap and bite of even a weaker early single. But those times are outweighed by the times I come back to it and end up transported. (My instinctive reaction as “Like A Prayer” starts to peak is to raise my eyes to heaven.)

Her voice has lost some of its rough, snarky hunger, but that was on the way out in any case: the roleplay of “Papa Don’t Preach” aside, none of her True Blue hits had much venom. One of the things “Like A Prayer” is doing is inventing a new voice for Madonna – contemplative, compassionate, but distant too. It’s the voice she’ll use on her ballads for the next decade at least. Here, working with the wash of organ and choir, she uses it to sound iconic in a literal sense – like a colour-saturated picture of her namesake on a mantelpiece, lips suddenly moving in miraculous benediction: “Life is a mystery…”

From that beginning “Like A Prayer” builds then falls back, establishes space then fills it – it’s perhaps the only pop song which actually deserves the term “sonic cathedral” – then breaks out halfway through to reveal an even larger scale. In the Immaculate Collection mix most of this build and release is ruined by a galumphing house beat: I love house music and all its works but on this occasion the hi-hat is the devil’s trick and the righteous should avoid it. (And let’s not even consider the “whoa – yeah!” guy.)

The danger of making something ‘epic’ is that the details get lost, but “Like A Prayer” avoids this. Take, as one touch of many, the way the beat comes in for the first time under that long “home” in the intro: faintly latin, all disco, discreetly dispelling the aura of kitsch the intro has teased us with. It’s also a hint that ‘home’ might mean the club, the party, the world that the song finishes so triumphantly in, with the gospel soloists and Prince’s guitar and a horde of imaginary dancers all joining in together. Or the way the rhythm guitars switch between low-end grind to high-end skip and jangle during that climax. By then the song is romping home, triumphant, and the switch is a memory of its undertow, a reminder that this release was earned.

Very few of Madonna’s other hits are quite so obvious in their ambition, very few as clearly personal. But if “Like A Prayer” was only interesting in the arc of her own life and career it wouldn’t be so good. It feels immense not just because it’s long, or addressing big themes, but because it manages to pull together the strands of a pop decade as rich and confusing as itself. New pop’s sense of the pop single as event; the rediscovery of soul and gospel roots; the power of celebrity; the continued evolution and relevance of club music; even and especially the skyscraping portent of stadium rock. Pop stars are always having to prove themselves – they rarely earn the right to coast, and while this is the most renowned of Madonna’s event singles it’s not the first or last. But it’s the best, even though I’m usually suspicious of great singles which seem designed intentionally to be that: “Like A Prayer” pulls off everything it’s trying to achieve, and it’s trying a lot.



  1. 1
    Tom on 23 Aug 2010 #

    Other points:

    1. This review was written while listening again, and again, and AGAIN, to the 7″ mix of LAP. I was not expecting to give this song a 10: a decade of listening to the Immaculate Collection remix – which now sounds almost impossibly cack-handed and stupid – had dulled it for me. The album mix is pretty close to the single one, so go for that (or the video I assume!) if you want to hear it again.

    2. I’m really sorry this entry was so late!

    3. I wasn’t really listening to the charts that much when this came out so its initial cultural impact, controversy etc. didn’t make a huge impression on me (which is why I’ve not addressed it in the review). It also explains why any sense that Madonna was courting or manufacturing controversy has never really bothered me.

  2. 2
    MBI on 23 Aug 2010 #

    Just about the only song Tom has given a 10 to that I actually like.

    Completely untouchable. One of the best songs of the entire decade.

  3. 3
    MikeMCSG on 23 Aug 2010 #

    I’ve never been a great fan of this. I was looking forward to some proper Madonna stuff after the fag-end “Who’s That Girl” singles but I just couldn’t warm to this. Tom’s acknowledged the artifice here; it is meant to be a BIG single (a la River Deep Mountain High) and it achieves that but I prefer her more low key stuff.

  4. 4
    Tom on 23 Aug 2010 #

    I think it’s probably the first record I’ve dealt with since “Good Vibrations” (maybe “Bohemian Rhapsody”) which you feel is self-consciously aiming to be the greatest single ever. (I don’t think it’s that! It’s around the middle of my 10s, if we’re counting ;))

  5. 5
    Billy Smart on 23 Aug 2010 #

    Doh! I was all ready to condemn this, and then Tom points out that I’ve been listening to the wrong version for *twenty whole years* – No wonder I was always disappointed when I heard it. There’s a lovely density to that instrumentation, and then the “like a prayer”s lift the singer and listener above it, like Madonna flying in the video.

    I had been thinking of it as being a gallumphing effortful monstrosity, trying too hard to attain significance, through imagery and attempts to sound overly contemporary. Making me realise how good this actually is may be the most useful service that Popular has yet served!

  6. 6
    Mark G on 23 Aug 2010 #

    ‘If this isn’t a 10, ‘ I thought to myself, ‘then nothing is’

    Favourit part of the video for me was the bows at the end: It’s OK everybody, we’re just a creative bunch of actor people, no need to get upset, no-one’s died….

    Also, that she’s clearly not ‘inviting controversy’ because the area that she works in regards this as free expression of ideas, and no-one else within the troupe of players is either uninvolved or subordinate.

    All that, from the closing seconds of the video…

  7. 7
    anto on 23 Aug 2010 #

    Excellent review of a song which isn’t the easiest to find an angle on. I find it’s one of those tunes that sounds a bit different every time you hear it as your ear picks up on another facet.
    The phrase “event single” seems right. I recall when it raced into the charts (at #4 I think) it was almost as if the rest of the top five was manouvering to let it through. The first new release in two years from a genuine star with a song to show up the wannabes.
    Can I also add the best she ever looked was in the Like A Prayer video.

  8. 8
    ciaran10 on 23 Aug 2010 #

    This was one of the first obvious “10” records that I thought of when i stumbled upon this over a year ago.

    Didnt care for it much then but like it now.

    History would recall this as “Golden Age” Madonna I assume.

    I thought Cherish was better but LAP still a fine record.10.

    More magic to come from Madge later on.oh hello bunny didnt see you there……

  9. 9
    23 Daves on 23 Aug 2010 #

    Oh damn. I never, ever really understood the fuss about this one, and having listened again I’m still not getting it now, although the intro may be the most interesting one I’ve heard on a number one record (so I’ll add one point for that – seriously, I’d forgotten all about that, and it’s damn odd. Some demonic guitar scrapings followed by a few seconds of whooshing ambient noises). Otherwise, there’s an utter lack of subtlety about the entire thing which slaps you in the face like a million dollar fizzy drink advert, or a very finely sculptured charity single. There again, I’ve never been one for gospel choirs being tacked on to pop records, even if in this instance the subject matter deems it more appropriate than most.

    But I’m making it sound as if I really don’t like it, which is unfair – the reality is I can take it or leave it, and find the overblown finish to the record to be slightly self-conscious, overly literal and gaudy. It’s never been my favourite Madonna single.

    Unlike Tom, though, I remember the build-up to this. The ITV Chart Show actually used to count down the weeks at the end of each show before they could play it – “Only three weeks until you can see the new Madonna video here!” they’d boast in flashing letters. Then there were the news stories about the blasphemy in the video (which may have shocked some conservative Americans in the end, but I don’t think it caused any British people to bat an eyelid). Then rumours came out that she’d “gone psychedelic”. The expectations built and built, until in the end a single arrived which sounded like a quite good Madonna record with an overblown production and a choir on the end. The problem with media hype is that it can cloud judgement and ruin the end result – it felt as if nothing could have survived that kind of attention. But even listening to it now, the earth isn’t moving. I just keep getting the urge to skip on to some of her other material.

  10. 10
    Billy Smart on 23 Aug 2010 #

    The single actually came into the charts at number two, and I would imagine would have gone straight in at number one most other weeks at this time – Jasonmania was a commercial force to be reckoned with, hence ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’ sticking at number two for all of Madonna’s three weeks at the top.

    I was 16 in 1989 and can attest that Madonna’s period of silence – fifteen whole months since her last record! – felt like an eon away from the limelight at the time, and made her comeback feel like a major cultural event, even without the controversy that surrounded this record. Thinking back, I can’t remember just who was offended though. I think that Pepsi abandoned their sponsorship. Perhaps Mary Whitehouse had something to say. Looking back, part of my retrospective misplaced hostility towards this record has been as its key place in the wearisome repeated cultural ritual of “Madonna’s latest controversial comeback!” (silliest example: ‘Erotica’. Or perhaps ‘American Life’), a tri-annual exercise in semiotics and marketing that one is supposed to have a position on.

  11. 11
    Hofmeister Bear on 23 Aug 2010 #

    She’s around the peak of her powers here but this is a song I’ve found myself caring less and less for over the years. It’s so huge and self-consciously aspiring for greatness that it soon fatigues. The chorus is great admittedly. A decade ago I would have gladly given it 9, now it’s a 7. On the other hand I’ve grown increasingly fond of the other singles off LAP, especially ‘Cherish’ and ‘Oh Father’.

  12. 12
    Paulito on 23 Aug 2010 #

    As Tom alludes to (which is why I’m so surprised he gave it a 10), this record is calculating, bombastic, overambitious and overproduced. Madonna’s vocal is overly mannered, and the song’s central conceit doesn’t move me (perhaps because I’ve never experienced religious fervour?). Yes, it’s very slick – while also sincere in its own way – but for all its hooks, its crescendos, its ebbing and flowing, it leaves me, if not exactly cold, then lukewarm.

    @#9 – 23 Daves expertly pinpoints the big problem with LAP, namely “an utter lack of subtlety about the entire thing which slaps you in the face like a million dollar fizzy drink advert, or a very finely sculptured charity single.” Touché…

  13. 13
    Tom on 23 Aug 2010 #

    #11 What of “Dear Jessie” eh? (Actually at the time I really liked that, it was tweepop! Now it feels like a bit of a failed experiment.)

    Totally understand the ‘epic fatigue’ on this one, and it’s a reason I’ve cited for giving sub-10 marks to ‘obvious’ choices before now so I can hardly complain!

    #5 The remix changes SO MUCH that’s good about the song – all the drive vanishes, most of that lovely Salsoul-y rhythm in the gospel section, which you really NEED to stop the gospel soloist sounding like a belting house diva… it’s kind of horrifying that the single mixes of these records aren’t readily available TBH (unless they are somewhere – Madonna is overdue a career-spanning double or triple it seems, but it’s possible I just missed it.)

  14. 14
    Tom on 23 Aug 2010 #

    #12 I think one of the reasons I like it is *because* I’m an atheist! It’s one of the few songs to make religious epiphany sound really exciting and awesome (if she’s intending to criticise religion in the song this makes it a kind of reverse Narnia effect). I sort of feel this is in the record too – the cathedral settings is what religion is “meant to” sound like, and then by the end it actually sounds like an amazing party with Prince playing. Actually this makes it sound like an awful evangelical wedding so I’ll stop now before someone breaks out the bongoes.

    “Calculating, bombastic, overambitious and overproduced” – naturally I would never give a 10 to such a record. ;)

  15. 15
    Hofmeister Bear on 23 Aug 2010 #

    Tom, it’s always seemed to be a bit embarrassing to admit anything but mockery for ‘Dear Jessie’ but I have vivid memories of it’s release during the Christmas of 89 having just turned 9 years of age. Because of this you’ll never hear me lay in the boot although your probably right about it sounding twee now. It’s hardly ever heard on the radio anyway so isn’t a major irritant. ‘Cherish’ as similar tendencies and apparently Rolling Stone described it as one of her ”most retarded singles”. They can bollocks! that bass keyboard that bobs along is genius.

  16. 16
    flahr on 23 Aug 2010 #

    I don’t like her voice on this one as much as previous records. Also I have an unfortunate allergy to gospel choirs on anything, even if there’s a good reason for their appearance :(
    Still there’s obviously something pretty good here – the chorus melody is damn catchy, for instance.

  17. 17
    Tom on 23 Aug 2010 #

    Cherish is great BTW, I agree. And “Express Yourself” is marvellous too.

    The NME gave LAP (the album) a 10 which impressed me at the time (more that the NME had done it than that Madonna had released a record worthy of their attention – I wasn’t TOTALLY under their spell). I don’t remember the letters page reaction, I suspect it wasn’t that pretty.

  18. 18
    Hofmeister Bear on 23 Aug 2010 #

    Yep, the gospel choir and hugeness of this thing makes it Madonna’s equivalent of Foreigner’s ‘I Want To know What Love Is’.

  19. 19
    lonepilgrim on 23 Aug 2010 #

    For me ‘Like a Prayer’ manages to embody both the sense of appeal and repulsion of religious epiphany. Consciously I know that the experience has been carefully contrived to provoke or simulate that experience and yet despite myself find myself getting sucked in. I know the gospel choir has been added to add extra ‘authenticity’ to a performance which is, as the video acknowledges at its end, pure theatre. With her Italian American heritage I’m sure that Madonna was well aware of the theatre of excess in both the Catholic and Black Gospel tradition so the song is ‘Like’ a prayer – but a prayer made on her own terms. It’s quite an achievement for a 5 minute pop song and for that deserves a 10

  20. 20
    thefatgit on 23 Aug 2010 #

    I’m so glad this gets a 10. This is by far my favourite Madonna single.

    Harder, rounded, so sure of herself and her place within the pop canon, Madonna comes to us with a statement of self. The pop starlet came of age with “Live To Tell”, but we know that arriving at a new place and actually knowing it are not the same thing. LTT addressed her past, her secrets. Never really giving away much, but allowing us a glimpse into the world of Madonna. LTT flirts with economy, by saying so much but revealing very little. “Like A Prayer” expertly plays with economy. How do you reveal so much by saying so little? “Life is a mystery/Everyone must stand alone” encapsulates the fundamental argument between faith and atheism in 8 words. Beat that Dawkins! Madonna has questioned her faith and continues to do so. She skips along that narrow margin between the divine and the profane, which brings us to the video.

    Madonna collaborator Mary Lambert (Holiday, Like A Virgin) directs the video.
    The common misconception with the video was that Leon Robinson’s character was a black Christ. The truth is that he portayed St Martin De Porres, the patron saint of mixed race people and television among others. Madonna displays stigmata and dances in front of burning crosses. Who is she provoking? Those who deserved to be provoked: the closed minds of racists and religious fundamentalists. A brave step in a conservative America. Controversial enough to force Pepsi to pull their campaign using LAP in their advert.
    Accoring to Wiki: “The video features Madonna as a woman who witnesses the murder of a white girl by three white men, and the arrest of a black man who attempted to intervene and save the victim, but was falsely accused of the crime. After his arrest, Madonna flees to the church for safety, and she prays to Saint Martin de Porres, then she kisses him and he, crying, comes to life. Madonna joins a gospel choir singing and dancing the song and afterward, she testifies for the black man’s innocence which ends with him about to be released. In the end of the video, we can tell that it was all a theatre play.”
    Of course this is a huge distraction from the song’s overall message: the blurred boundary between sex and religion, which Tom nails above.
    Personally, the song has been niggling away at my attitude towards spirituality for 21 years. Even when I have questioned the validity of religion or have been seduced by the cold logic of atheism (Dawkins again) LAP has been merrily cropping up on the radio or MTV, reminding me I LOVE THIS SONG! How could I buy into a world without mystery or the concept of a divine influence, even if I doubt organised religion is a legitimate conduit for belief. Madonna say it’s ok to believe and that’s enough for me.

  21. 21
    Hugh on 23 Aug 2010 #

    Vivid memories of ‘action dances’: ‘I hear YOU [points at you] call MY [points at me] name and it feels [crosses arms over torso] like hooooome [makes thatch above head]’ etc. etc. Would it be unfair to say her enunciation is a little Michael Crawford?

    And it’s her worst album of the 1980s. It’s a 7, you are totally correct about the Immaculate Version, the original version gets better and better as it goes on.

  22. 22
    ciaran10 on 24 Aug 2010 #

    # 1 (2) – this one took a while to post alright Tom.

    Let’s leave the long silence and big comeback to Madonna eh.

  23. 23
    loomer on 24 Aug 2010 #

    I was going to say, Tom, that many fans prefer the 7″ Mix. It’s very similar to the album version, just beefed up somewhat and when you mentioned the Prince guitar I knew you were referring to it since it’s more prominent.

    It’s not my favourite Madonna #1, I’d probably go for “Into the Groove” or maybe “Open Your Heart” from her US #1s. Sometimes I think it’s overrated but I only have to hear it again for the magic to return, like when she finally started doing it live again with the On The Stage & On The Record performance.

    #17 here is that NME review – http://madonnascrapbook.blogspot.com/2009/08/nme-like-s-prayer-review.html

  24. 24
    swanstep on 24 Aug 2010 #

    Very nice essay Tom. Well done, esp. about alerting people to the lifelessness of the Immaculate Collection mix of LaP (which is *still* better than the Immaculate versions of Into the Groove and Holiday – that collection is really a horror, systematically draining away peak pop moments).

    The hype/controversy about the vid. really did seem to overwhelm the song a bit if you were in the US. And while Madonna came out of that looking like a very sharp manipulator of all around her (maximizing her publicity, while pocketing Pepsi’s $5 million, while hardly having the ad. shown so she was never tainted by the association – ‘that’s some kind of evil genius at work’ is how it felt IIRC), I for one definitely kept my distance from the whole LaP album for quite some time as a result (I think it was a great soul-II-soul-y single mix of Keep It Together that finally won me over – the album version of that track is lame).

    Anyhow, I think I’m typical in finding that LaP has really grown on me. The self-importance and theatricality of the ‘Life is a mystery…’ opening irritated me at the time, but I like, even love it now (and I’m more sympathetic to people’s spiritually questing sides than I used to be. M. as f’ed up girl just trying to find her own peace of mind – I buy that sentiment from her now I guess.).

    I still find the stop-starts of the first minute or two of the song fumbling and somewhat musically unnatural (I think that when the drums cut out each time we need the ‘one’ at the beginning of the next bar to close the musical phrase.), so this can’t be a 10 for me, but the head of steam the thing builds up by the end is v. impressive. So, for me, LaP (single version) starts great, and ends (last 3 minutes really) brilliantly but has some wobbles in between. A solid:
    p.s. I’ve been listening to a lot of v.early ’70s Labelle for the last few days. Those guys and their unbelievable bands could have *killed* LaP. But they’d never have figured out a way to screw Pepsi out of 5 mill and come up smelling roses. M.’s a dominating, fascinating, so-big-and-famous-that-the-music-almost-doesn’t-matter pop presence at this point, so, really, it’s impressive that the music holds up as well to scrutiny as it does. LaP is a v. good song and record, one that’s grown, improved, acquired depth as time has passed. That doesn’t happen often.

  25. 25
    Alfred on 24 Aug 2010 #

    It feels immense not just because it’s long, or addressing big themes, but because it manages to pull together the strands of a pop decade as rich and confusing as itself.

    Not least because of the juxtaposition of that delicious synth bass against acoustic drums and the black choir. A miscellany of the decade’s musical tropes, from Scritti Politti’s of brittle electro syncopation to Eurythmics’ horrible indenturing of soul.

    It’s impossible to write coherently about this single, which is, after “Open Your Heart” and “Into The Groove,” the reason why Madonna is an essential part of my life. Madonna the Songwriter and Madonna the Vocalist achieves an enviable symbiosis as Madonna the Producer with Patrick Leonard: note how the thing builds confidently — the first couple of times I heard it, almost tentatively — to the moment at the 3:00 minute mark when her voice adds ballast to the guitar’s urgency (“Life is a myyyy-ste-rrry…”).

    As a Catholic with Cuban roots, there was no mistaking St. Martin of Porres for Christ. Watching the video with my great-grandmother in ’89, it was precisely Madonna’s appropriation of the saint (venerated by many Cubans) that offended her.

    (as a sidenote the only part of the video that turns my stomach is the moment when Maddie grabs the chubby black kid’s face at the 4:32 mark. Luckily it looks spontaneous, as if moved by the Spirit).

  26. 26

    […] is a mystery By humanizingthevacuum Another excellent Ewing review. This one, part of his years-long project of dissecting every British number one single: […]

  27. 27
    Izzy on 24 Aug 2010 #

    This is a great record. A worthy 10.

  28. 28
    punctum on 24 Aug 2010 #

    Maybe the idolators understand the magic of pop better than anybody else, even, or especially, the idols they worship; since where the idols can get rattled, depressed, uncertain, pig out on drugs, turn up four hours late for a concert, become negligent with regard to their duties to the Inland Revenue, make crappy records, or die, the idolators will happily accept and embrace all of it; because they are dizzy with unquestionable and unquestioned love for those they choose to idolise, whatever their idols may do, and however painfully they might hurt them. If the new album’s substandard, it’s because we aren’t quite worthy of it, we’re not advanced or close enough to appreciate what drove the artist to extract ten-year-old rejects from their bottom drawers and pass it off as new music. As with football teams, or parents, we stand by them, regardless. Not for idolators the exhaustive, exhausting schemata of the open to and sceptical of everything “critics,” those who can securely classify the differing degrees of their love for different aspects of the same anatomy, the people who just know that the Verve lost something vital when they gained that auxiliary definite article, who are fully aware that Morrissey or Björk are career variables whom the rational would only approach every five years or so. But then, what truck has pop ever had with rationalism, especially when it comes to adding up the total bill for territories gained or souls lost? After all, we idolise idols precisely because of their superhuman status; they can do things we can’t, or won’t. They are never like us; even with the alleged democratisation of punk it quickly became clear that only John Lydon could ever hope to be John Lydon.

    From her name upwards, Madonna knew that she had to be worshipped if she were to mean anything, and that another couple of years of “La Isla Bonita”s would lower her perspective to a curious over-shoulder gaze from newly disinterested consumers. So she had to come back with a blockbuster, something that Debbie or Gloria or even Belinda couldn’t have achieved, for all their various reasons. When the single of “Like A Prayer” came out it seemed to stop the rest of pop, momentarily but vitally; as with “Two Tribes,” it made everyone else in the Top 40 at the time seem like trespassers on newly privatised land.

    The perspective of Madonna aspiring to God(dess)hood on “Like A Prayer” – she gives a barely perceptible whisper of “God” at the beginning of the track before the backwards guitars flood in and immediately slam, smashed, into a decisive wall of steel in order to suggest that all “rock” had been leading to this – has to be considered in balance with the rest of the Like A Prayer album, which focuses, at times very sorely, on the fallacies and mortalities of mothers (“Promise To Try”), fathers (“Oh Father”), errant husbands (“’Till Death Us Do Part”) and Prince (“Love Song”). Along with Erotica it is Madonna’s most palpably human record.

    From the intro onwards – and the song may or may not have involved his active participation, as musician, writer and/or producer – it is also hard to imagine “Like A Prayer” without the immense precedent of Prince to inspire it; here is the dayglo Dadaism familiar from Sign ‘O’ The Times, mixed with peculiar logic into that brew of unquenchable spiritual faith (“The Cross”), although the influence of the Pet Shop Boys (especially “It’s A Sin”) can hardly be discounted. “Like A Prayer” is perhaps the only pop single of the late eighties which could use a gospel choir and get away with it; Andrae Crouch and his Disciples are an indispensable part of the song’s architecture, rather than a tacky addendum. The use of the church organ is as unarguable and definitive as, say, Scott Walker’s “Manhattan” or Arcade Fire’s “Intervention.”

    The song itself is all about worship, and Madonna seems intent on arguing passionately against the opening proposal of “Life is a mystery, everyone must stand alone” since she goes on to demonstrate how impossible it is to live a life of any description on one’s own. As the video depicted the tableau of the black saint and the sinner lady, so does Madonna blend spiritual and carnal with a recklessness comparable with the Spencer of Cookham; thus the line “When you call my name, it’s like a little prayer” could have been sung by the Ronettes or the Shangri-Las a generation earlier, but then we get the more explicit “In the midnight hour, I can feel your power” – and the question here is: who is worshipping, and who is asking to be worshipped? Note that it’s the “you” who is calling Madonna’s name but this is enough to get her “down on my knees.” And later, there’s the ambiguous “You’re in control, just like a child/Now I’m dancing” – so again the idol here could be parent as well as, or instead of, lover or God; and really the three (the Holy Trinity!) all merge into one (“Just like a dream, you are not what you seem”).

    The record really takes off immediately after the second verse, when the dual basses of Randy Jackson and Guy Pratt make their dramatic entrance underneath the church organ and the intensity of the “Life is a mystery” couplet is doubled; eventually it resolves into an epic call-and-response between Madonna and choir and absolution, or orgasm, is reached – but then recall the end of the video, after the burning crosses and the stigmata, when the black Christ figure is revealed merely to be a prisoner in a police cell; the curtains draw and reopen as Madonna and her cast take a bow (another clue to the future there). Illusion, a six-minute diversion – or can it be mistaken for transcendence?

    Despite the hopped-up controversy of the video and Pepsi’s precipitous cold feet, all that Madonna really does with “Like A Prayer” is amplify the age-old conflict between spiritual and carnal in art and attempt to resolve it by sheer force of will and personality. Of course, throughout the record we are kept aware that this worship is “like a prayer” rather than a prayer in itself, rather than, say, “My Prayer” by the Platters – a song and group whose roots both go back deep into an unreachable church. If finally “Like A Prayer” has to take second place to “Running Up That Hill” – not simply because Kate Bush is, in the end, the greater and profounder talent, but also because where “Like A Prayer” compares to God (passive), Bush is intent on making a deal with God (active). And it was far from the only radical single in the charts of the period. But it was, by necessity first and desire second, the biggest; it possesses a grace which “Hey Jude” couldn’t quite grasp, it drops the mask, just as Madonna drops the blonde in the video, and reveals its singer as someone who feels, breathes, cries and shits just like the people who idolise her. Pop was obliged to take a breath, and count again.

  29. 29
    Tom on 24 Aug 2010 #

    Great stuff Punctum! (My guilty confession is that the “Just like a child / Now I’m dancing” segue currently and inescapably brings to mind Old Spice Guy and his “I’m on a horse” antics. Understandably I did not find room for this in the review)

  30. 30
    The leveller on 24 Aug 2010 #

    After being over-exposed for almost the whole period of 1984 to 1987, she went away and came back as ‘artist’, hence this single and the album was an Event back in 1989. I remember the hippy rumours : the album sleeve smelt of patchouli oil and she did a few hippy-ish photoshoots (long Woodstock red hair).

    This is where Madonna began fusing her media manipulation savvy with a Bowie-esque set of identities over the decade – she started hanging out with Sandra Bernhard etc, doing an ‘are we/aren’t we?’ interview on Letterman. I remember Martin Amis, at the time the ‘Sex’ book came out on 1992 commenting how, given the nudity, the stuff about her marriage etc, the one thing Madonna never revealed about herself was the creative process – as someone else said above, the music was something to hang the star persona on.

    But this is about the music: it’s a great pop song, off a great album, which maybe in retrospect seems just a little too calculated, with not a chord, word or beat out of place, so I give it a 9.

    Btw that link/comparison with Running Up That Hill (which came out 25 years ago this month…) is inspired.

  31. 31
    Billy Smart on 24 Aug 2010 #

    I’ve just looked up the chart for 18 March 1989, and while its true that Madonna stands apart from everything else, it really was something of a golden age, incorporating;

    4. Donna Summer – This Time I Know Its For Real
    6. Paula Abdul – Straight Up
    9. S-Express – Hey Music Lover
    12. The Reynolds Girls – I’d Rather Jack
    14. Soul II Soul – Keep On Movin’
    17. Dusty Springfield – Nothing Has Been Proved
    22. New Order – Round & Round
    26. Bobby Brown – My Prerogative
    28. Alyson Williams – Sleep Talk
    32. Kon Kan – I Beg Your Pardon
    40. Holly Johnson – Love Train

    I am embarrassed to note that amongst this embarrassment of riches, my greatest enthusiasm at the time was ‘Who Wants To Be The Disco King?’ by The Wonderstuff, down one at number 29…

  32. 32
    swanstep on 24 Aug 2010 #

    @28, 30. But ‘Running up that Hill’ isn’t a relig. song as such, right? It’s about men and women not understanding each others’ perspectives. God just enters as a strictly hypothetical, magic amulet to effect the desired understanding. Kate could just as easily have said something like “If I only could/click my red shoes together/and get us to swap our places…” No genuinely active deal-making is anticipated, and, goodness knows, a gospel choir on the track would have been farcical. So the comparison doesn’t work.

    I understand that the point’s a tricky one, after all ‘God only knows’ isn’t officially a relig. song either, the endlessly repeated word ‘God’ notwithstanding. And yet and yet there’s an overall hymn-like, gloriousness to that tune and its backing so that some quasi-religious feeling sneaks in after all!

    XTC’s Dear God was a pretty big ‘college radio’ hit in the US throughout 1988 and 1989. And go here for what the President at the time (Bush I) thought about atheists.

  33. 33
    swanstep on 24 Aug 2010 #

    @31. Made of Stone enters at #90!

  34. 34
    Rory on 24 Aug 2010 #

    Wonderful reviews from Tom and punctum, which have me dithering over my score even as I write. “Like a Prayer” was certainly a watershed moment in my own appreciation of Madonna, whose work held less and less interest for me in the late 1980s. This demanded attention, though, and when I shared a flat in 1991 with a Madonna fan it became my clear favourite.

    I never thought of it as a 10, though, but now I know why: like Billy @5, I’m amazed to realize that I’ve been listening to the wrong version all along, thanks to my non-fan impulse to get the compilation rather than the original album. The single mix (on the video) is clearly superior, and has to bump up the 8 I was considering giving it.

    I’m still shy of a 10, I think. In comparison to many of the late-’80s number ones, it clearly stands out, but something about it just doesn’t push my personal 10 button. So, a 9 for now.

  35. 35
    will on 24 Aug 2010 #

    I’ve never understood why people rate this song so highly. For me, it’s the least accomplished of the four singles off that album and certainly one of her lesser Number Ones. Compared to, say, Into The Groove or even Who’s That Girl the arrangement sounds clumsy and ill-thought out and the gospel choir just feels cliched. And that’s before you take into account the whole boring ‘controversial’ Christ video yadda yadda yadda. Just a 5 from me, where as Express Yourself and Cherish would be both 9s.

  36. 36
    punctum on 24 Aug 2010 #

    #32: Why do you always have to be one of these people who searches to find the one wrong thing in any argument?

  37. 37
    thefatgit on 24 Aug 2010 #

    #32 maybe the comparison you’re looking for would be Candi Staton’s “You Got The Love”. It’s closer in sentiment to LAP than “God Only Knows” or “Running Up That Hill”.

  38. 38
    wichita lineman on 24 Aug 2010 #

    An excellent post and lots of excellent comments, worth the wait! Nothing to add other than, re-listening to the album right now, it’s extraordinarily varied (as Punctum points out, prob. influenced by Sign O The Times’ omnivorous appetite) and high end from start to finish. True Blue really pales alongside it.

    Speaking of pale, I’m sure other blondes had gone to the dark side to show their serious intent before this, but can’t think of any off the top of my head.

    Quoting “a little prayer” might be Madonna positioning herself alongside Aretha and strong women, but by singing “in the midnight hour” two lines later I’d guess she’s more likely to be signposting a switch to soulful ie serious pop, in the grand/dying 80s tradition.

  39. 39
    marna on 24 Aug 2010 #

    You heathens over here might not have batted an eyelid at the religious overtones of the video, but in Good Catholic Ireland it was headline news. The video was either banned or heavily watershedded – I can’t remember which – with enough loud scandal that every teenager in the country went hunting for it – those with BBC/ITV access were suddenly very popular.

  40. 40
    Billy Smart on 24 Aug 2010 #

    Re: 38. The first blonde to follow Madonna’s lead and go dark to signify a change of intent was, of couse, Tracy Tracy of The Primitives that summer, as ‘Sick Of It’ failed to capture the public imagination. I wonder if Chris Roberts was disappointed…

  41. 41
    thefatgit on 24 Aug 2010 #

    #38 Debbie Harry in Videodrome, or was she going back to her natural colour?

  42. 42
    MikeMCSG on 24 Aug 2010 #

    #38/40 Long preceding Madonna was Debbie Harry for the disastrous “Koo Koo ” solo LP in 1981. When that went down the tube she grabbed a blonde wig for the cover of Blondie’s next LP “The Hunter” but it was too late.

  43. 43
    MikeMCSG on 24 Aug 2010 #

    #41 Blonde isn’t Madonna’s natural colour either as those old Penthouse snaps made very clear !

  44. 44
    lex on 24 Aug 2010 #

    Great write-up Tom – especially considering that it’s something of an impossible task to sum this song up in such a short space, it’s weirdly hard even to write a comment that feels adequate. So much packed into it – the most impressive aspect of it, in terms of craft, is the ease with which it reflects its themes of religious and sexual rapture in its own sound – even more so than the inevitable (but gloriously so) gospel choir, it’s moments like that amazing key change entering the bridge.

    It’s one of the Madonna songs that I find most emotionally affecting – it’s almost cathartic, this huge resolution of all that sex/religion tension. So dismissing it as attention-seeking controversy isn’t quite the right angle for me, though obviously it’s part of it; what I hear isn’t Madonna starting (or continuing) beef with the Catholic Church, but her laying to rest the beef it started with her, freeing herself from the hooks with which it trapped her as a child. I hear it partially as revenge: a woman who knows that all eyes and ears are on her, and using her voice to conflate religious worship with oral sex in all those minds. And, from a more generous angle, affirming the purity and holiness of sex and sexuality, completely exploding the Church-fuelled idea that it was something to be ashamed of or guilty about. And I don’t hear this as mere controversy-seeking; taking on an institution in this manner is brave and gutsy, no matter how famous you are yourself.

    So, the song gets an easy [10]; the album, though, I find totally overrated. It has its moments – I love “Oh Father” particularly – but a lot of it lives in the shadow of the title track; it definitely feels like it got critical props because of a) critics making up for previously underrating or dismissing her, b) its defining characteristics being serious, critic-friendly ones. I’d put it beneath Erotica, True Blue, Madonna, Bedtime Stories and maybe even Ray Of Light.

    Tom also OTM about The Immaculate Collection; it was my introduction to all of M’s ’80s hits, and I loved them from the off so it couldn’t have botched them to the point of total wreckage, but compared to the originals those remixes really are travesties. So wrong that it’s the default entry point to her back catalogue.

  45. 45
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 24 Aug 2010 #

    Yes I think the ho-humming re SACRILEGE! is a generational diffidence also, maybe? those of us old enough to remember actual prosecutions for blasphemy were heartened and entertained by all this side of things — well, i was, anyway

  46. 46
    MikeMCSG on 24 Aug 2010 #

    #45 I think the UK response to all that stuff was a bit muted after Ken Russell, Life of Brian et al; it didn’t have that sort of impact. We had moved on to the Rushdie controversy at this point in time.

  47. 47
    swanstep on 24 Aug 2010 #

    @36. Everything else you wrote was right-on and pretty much wish-I’d written-it great. My quick mention of XTC and Bush was meant to contribute positively to your very good idea that there was a kind of resurgence in religious themes in culture at large at the time. (I spent the whole 90s in the US and this basic point became urgent – part of the peace dividend from the end of the cold war turned out to be spent on finding new enemies and fighting culture wars at home. Damn it!) Sorry if I came across as completely negative.

    @38. Other blonde->dark: Nico, Debbie Harry in The Hardest Part vid.. Not sure of the motivations in those cases. Mad. herself was very clear in interviews that she always felt more ethereal as a blonde, and now at least for this song she wanted to come down to earth.

  48. 48
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 24 Aug 2010 #

    yes i agree the battles had largely already been fought, what i mean is that there was a pleasure in they’re having been safely won over here — in our place for our times — as opposed to an active “bored now, this is old news” response, which seems a jadedness too far…

  49. 49
    thefatgit on 24 Aug 2010 #

    Interesting, this blonde vs brunette angle. Who exactly decided that blonde represented frivolousness and absence of gravitas, as opposed to brunette’s more seriousness and absence of fun? There are exceptions from the blonde camp like Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly. I’m struggling to come up with a ditzy brunette.

  50. 50
    LondonLee on 24 Aug 2010 #

    I like this but only up to a 6 or 7 as I’m another who finds it to be more than a bit overcooked as Madonna falls prey to “superstar comes back with BIG single” syndrome and does far more than she needs to with it. But, as the teachers say, full marks for effort. She does sound good on it though and I loved the LAP album (and wish I still had my copy with the perfumed inner sleeve)

  51. 51
    vinylscot on 24 Aug 2010 #

    I’ve not really got much to add here – lots of good comments, some I don’t agree with, but I find I can’t find a form of words which expresses why I don’t agree.

    10 might be slightly OTT, and I do think the song’s reputation is slightly inflated by the media’s reassessment of Madonna at that time, as an artist to be reckoned with, rather than a kooky weirdo with some good popsongs.

    Easily her best single.

  52. 52
    lex on 24 Aug 2010 #

    @48/46 – the battles may have been safely won in a culture-wide sense, but that “well, we all agree, don’t we?” complacency is only really the territory of those who never had a personal connection to the war in the first place; it wasn’t won then, as I can attest to w/my own religious upbringing over the following decade, and I don’t think it’s anywhere near won even now. It’s depressing to think that the last prominent pop star I can remember who tried to make a stand against the Church’s hypocrisy and harm, Lauryn Hill, got dismissed and silenced as a crazy lady.

  53. 53
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 24 Aug 2010 #

    #49 who decided = anita loos and jean harlow!

  54. 54
    Martin Skidmore on 24 Aug 2010 #

    Damn, Mark beat me to mentioning Anita Loos!

    This would be a rock-solid 10 from me too – I agree with I think every positive word said about it here.

  55. 55
    Matthew H on 24 Aug 2010 #

    Fantastic review of a real totem of eventpop. This still has muscle, heart and some winning chutzpah; the album too – with pretty much no exceptions – stands up today. The cassette still smells of patchouli as well, which is the surest testament to its longevity, right?

  56. 56
    MikeMCSG on 24 Aug 2010 #

    #48 yeah I get that. In Madonna’s case though she’d made that infamous remark about ” a naked man on a crucifix” at least four years earlier so the “blasphemous” content of the video wasn’t a complete surprise.

    # 49 I don’t think Ingrid Bergman was blonde actually.

    #52 lex, yes good point. It’s always worth reminding ourselves that the views of the metropolitan vanguard take a while to percolate to other sections of society.

  57. 57
    wichita lineman on 24 Aug 2010 #

    Re 53: Anita Loos! My all-time heroine. The book of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is off the scale, and ten times better than the film (basically a different story).

    Some nice quotes/pics here


    and I’d recommend A Girl Like I of her several autobiographies

    I think from the number of refs to Debbie Harry (no one’s mentioned Union City yet either) suggests it was nothing to do with “look, i’m an artiste now”.

  58. 58
    punctum on 24 Aug 2010 #

    #47: If KB had indeed invoked Oz (the Wizard/land, not the magazine, although I’m sure she remembers both) the song wouldn’t be remotely as powerful as it is; she could snap her fingers, say a little prayer or whistle a happy tune but it’s the dramatic personification that enables “RUTH”*’s punctum.

    (*that acronym)

    And since art is about approximating or becoming or even surpassing God it’s fair to say that “RUTH” did a better job of it than most; Madge approaches God on “LAP”** but she is uncertain about whether her prayer will be answered, as opposed to Kate, who, despite all her “if”s, pretty much demands that her prayer be answered (see also the reincarnation musings on side two of Hounds Of Love).

    (**that giveaway acronym)

    I gave this record a nine because it’s imperfect, like all of the chords in Vaughan Williams’ Tallis Fantasia except the first one.

  59. 59
    Alan not logged in on 24 Aug 2010 #

    Obligatory Ruby Trax ref – Marc Almond did the cover


    It’s the best track on the whole compilation, tho the Fatima Mansions cover (bunnied song) runs it close. (My personal fave is the Senseless Things’NEDs Atomic Dustbin’s cover of Never Been To Me, which is not to everyone’s taste. I am probably repeating myself there, sorry)

    The Stranger in Paradise is OK too ;-)

  60. 60
    wichita lineman on 24 Aug 2010 #

    Re 58: The second third and fourth chords are pretty great too (drop from first to second, truly beautiful). Best intro ever, along with Rock Your Baby. I wonder if Queen were going for something similar on I Want To Break Free.

  61. 61
    Kat but logged out innit on 24 Aug 2010 #

    My sister didn’t play this to me as much as ‘True Blue’ – as my main Madonna conduit I relied on her for all this stuff, but by now she was listening to De La Soul instead and Madge wasn’t hogging the stereo as much as in 1986. I remember asking her what Madonna’s natural hair colour was and not getting a satisfactory answer. Hmmm. Maybe I found it hard to get excited about late-80s Madonna as she was a bit too grown-up for me (if she’d had a cameo in Neighbours I might have thought differently). All the imagery stuff went over my head at the time and I only really understood what she was trying to achieve with that aspect of her image a few years later.

    Anyway, I appreciate there’s a lot going on in ‘Like A Prayer’ and it’s been very rewarding to listen (and dance) to over the years without getting boring. But it’s not in my top three Madge songs and definitely not my top Madge #1! I’d give it an 8, but mostly for the video.

  62. 62
    tonya on 24 Aug 2010 #

    In America, going blonde is also a way to divorce oneself from one’s ethnic roots. Madonna said she felt more Italian with dark hair; I feel less Jewish with blonde hair. Blonde is the color of the striver, the immigrant girl fleeing her roots to run music (or Argentina).

    My boyfriend at the time said “this sounds like Abba” and I replied “that’s a bad thing?” I think this chorus starts the Abba revival.

  63. 63
    George Tait on 24 Aug 2010 #

    This single and its accompanying album mark the end of Madonna’s imperial period as well as the moment where Madonna wished to be regarded as a serious artist. It’s all a bit studied and self-indulgent and has none of the charm of her earlier, more naive work. I lost interest in her after this album which, apart from the open letter to Sean Penn(‘Til Death do Us Part’) I never play anymore. Indeed, my vinyl copy of the album still smells of patchouli oil 21 years after I bought it. The smell has lasted longer than the songs, as far as I’m concerned.

    I read almost everything on here. A lot of my friends do too. I rarely contribute because I feel slightly intimidated by some of you who are obviously writers and very well-informed. I find myself agreeing with most of what Tom writes but I confess that I’m genuinely disappointed by the top mark that he’s given to ‘Like A Prayer’. Each to their own, I suppose, but I would have given a much lower mark(5) because, in my opinion, the song’s overproduced, self-indulgent and with wince inducing lyrics that would shame The Lighthouse Family. This is the first time I’ve read one of Tom’s reviews and not understood where he’s coming from.

  64. 64
    Steve Mannion on 24 Aug 2010 #

    I think Like A Prayer marks the start of a remarkable run of singles for Madonna in terms of the stylistic range represented. Gospel Rock, House, brassy big band/jazz melanges, orchestral tweefests and Hip-Hop beats all featuring over the next 18 months. What’s more remarkable is how well most of those dalliances came off.

    I’d suggest no other pop artist has matched that thematic variation in such a relatively short period while maintaining consistent success in the process. How much of this was down to the timing – digitalisation boosting genre-hopping for chart stars? Plus Madonna already being huge enough to take relative risks in that regard, maybe legitimising the concept of constant re-invention (sonically as well as visually) outside Rock (which can include Bowie and probably Prince who, being the more versatile virtuoso musician, went about this in a different way I think – not so much temporarily inhabiting scenes like Rap and House but mapping them onto his music and personality more organically and conditionally).

    Alongside everything else going on (the potent sex/religion issues and whatnot) this liberal adaptability puts the true Pop chameleon at her peak.

  65. 65
    Paytes on 24 Aug 2010 #

    Can I also echo the dislike for the Immaculate Coll’s awful mixes of this, Holiday and Into The Groove (the original 12″ mixes of the last 2 being particularly sublime – why not use them or edits thereof?)…

    Oh and TIC was mixed in the oh-so-late 80s/early 90s “Q Sound” too – yuk

    Did the recent Madonna dbl best of use the original 7″ mixes?

    It’s an 8 for me …

  66. 66
    Paytes on 24 Aug 2010 #

    Just checked – they did use the original 12″ mixes on Celebration

  67. 67
    Hofmeister Bear on 24 Aug 2010 #

    I believe alot of serious Madonna fans were disappointed with the recent ‘Celebration’ best of which wrapped up her contract with Warner’s. I don’t know what mixes were used but the hope that it would be a deserved career overview ended up sounding more like a contractual obligation (which is what it was essentially).

  68. 68
    Alfred on 24 Aug 2010 #

    So are we ready to posit or 1984-1987 or 1989-1992 as Madonna’s Imperial Phase?

  69. 69
    loomer on 24 Aug 2010 #

    Yes it’s very frustrating that her work has been marred by bad mixes, the Immaculate Collection in particular caused the most problems. A few IC mixes turned up on Celebration, but everyone breathed a sigh of relief that the greatest offenders LAP and Into The Groove were restored to the originals.

    If you look at the back cover of GHV2 it lists the exact single mixes used, in contrast to TIC, perhaps because of complaints. But even some of her official single mixes such as “Holiday” are in sloppy edits with bad cuts – only audiophiles would spot the mistakes, but it’s annoying when you do hear it. There are some great fan made edits that correct and improve some of them.

    In the terrible book The Complete Guide To The Music Of Madonna, the one good point the writer made was that Madonna’s work has been damaged by overlong song times, which you could also say for Michael Jackson. Pop songs shouldn’t be long – apart from epics a la “Like a Prayer” – so her single mixes are pretty important.

    This blog post lists some of the problems with Celebration (the DVD is also in shoddy quality) in mind boggling detail – http://requiem4adream.wordpress.com/2009/09/19/celebration-a-retardation/

  70. 70
    Tom on 24 Aug 2010 #

    #68 when I was doing that piece the main thing I was dreading was someone going “what about Madonna eh” (I may even have claimed she had several)

    84-86/7 for pop, 89-92 for iconicness? (This seems to me the heyday of Madonna Studies, “I Dream Of Madonna” etc.)

  71. 71
    thefatgit on 24 Aug 2010 #

    Just a quick one on the 12″ cover art. Christopher Ciccone designed the simplistic image of the naked behaloed Madonna beneath the legend MLVC. The letter P (Penn), fallen, dislodged from the heart of Madonna. Chris reclaiming his sister back into the bosom of the family? It’s a simple image, but conveys so much and can be seen here:


  72. 72
    Tom Lane on 25 Aug 2010 #

    Of course, an easy 10. This was a great record when first released. But a couple decades later and it has rightly earned its classic status.

  73. 73
    punctum on 25 Aug 2010 #

    #69: Every pop song is as long as it needs to be.

  74. 74
    MikeMCSG on 25 Aug 2010 #

    #73 But surely not to the point where people switch off in boredom ? This is apposite to me at the moment as I’m currently in the middle of reviewing Paul Young’s “No Parlez” (a long time before you’ll get to that one of course ) for my blog and several of the songs on that (incl all the singles) are extended to ridiculous lengths. No wonder so many copies went to second hand shops (cf Tom’s “Wherever I Lay My Hat” review).

  75. 75
    punctum on 25 Aug 2010 #

    All including the “limited” bonus 12″, “Sex.” TPL 1983 is going to be right royal socko fun, that’s for sure.

    It’s all relative though, innit? For instance L & I have scientifically proven that the seven-inch of “Still” by the Commodores actually runs for a total of 45 mins 23 secs, just beating out Dr Hook’s “More Like The Movies” by 1 min 2 secs.

  76. 76
    thefatgit on 25 Aug 2010 #

    Wasn’t there a trend for singles with locked in grooves, which theoretically could play forever?

  77. 77
    Billy Smart on 25 Aug 2010 #

    I once broke the pick-up mechanism of a record player in order to listen to the end of Sgt. Pepper properly…

  78. 78
    punctum on 25 Aug 2010 #

    There are a few albums which do that – Escalator Over The Hill, Atom Heart Mother, the first Was (Not Was) album – but as far as singles are concerned the only one which instantly springs to my mind is “I Am The Beat” by The Look, from 1980.

  79. 79
    Tom on 25 Aug 2010 #

    I had (still have somewhere) a single by a band called Cinema on Domino Records with 7 different lock-grooves on the B-Side, each of them supposedly some kind of spooky looped sound effect. I couldn’t actually get it to work though.

  80. 80
    Steve Mannion on 25 Aug 2010 #

    This format-based mischief may be the best argument I’ve read against mp3s.

  81. 81
    Tom on 25 Aug 2010 #

    The US noise underground dudes LOVED them in the 80s too


    (This is the first time FT’s linked to kempa.com in about a decade! In the first year of NYLPM we used to link their/his stuff all the time)

  82. 82
    Tom on 25 Aug 2010 #

    (The use of lock-grooves just one of many connections between ABBA and Sonic Youth.)

  83. 83
    swanstep on 25 Aug 2010 #

    Heaven 17’s Penthouse and Pavement ended with ‘We’re going to live for a very long time’, which grooved endlessly (at least if you got a good pressing). Very droll. (update – as covered in tom’s link at #81)

    There were lots of similar cd shenanigans in the ’90s with various sorts of ‘hidden tracks’ (even on Nevermind, right?), e.g. people like NIN and marilyn manson always seemed to stick stuff on tracks 98 and 99. Did anyone not in high school actually play those tracks in their supposedly intended way, i.e., returning after 20 minutes+ of silence? (I never did except v. occasionally by accident.)

  84. 84

    Boyd Rice and Lee Ranaldo both — separately — put out avant-gardy type drone singles utilising this idea in the mid-80s. Ranaldo’s was a multi-track 12″ 45 called “From Here –> Infinity”; Rice’s was a 7″ with several off-centre holes drilled in it, which was hell on needles and pick-up mechanisms.

  85. 85
    Tom on 25 Aug 2010 #

    #83 almost always by accident, man those annoyed me. Useful knowledge when it came to CD jukeboxes though! The godawful fake “hoedown” on the Stone Roses’ Second Coming was my favourite in that context.

  86. 86
    Billy Smart on 25 Aug 2010 #

    Re 83: Its always irritating how on iTunes both ‘Something In The Way’ and ‘All Apologies’ take up half an hour of space with five minutes of amazing song, twenty minutes of silence and five minutes of squalling dirge.

  87. 87
    Billy Smart on 25 Aug 2010 #

    I really like the apocalyptic siren that comes at the end of U2’s ‘Zooropa’, though.

  88. 88
    Steve Mannion on 25 Aug 2010 #

    I’ve been known to edit ‘secret’ tracks when ripping CDs in order to liberate this bonus material. I can’t think of any particularly good tracks in this vein tho (“well if they were that good they wouldn’t have been secretly stuck in the end” etc.).

  89. 89
    Billy Smart on 25 Aug 2010 #

    Ah! I’ve remembered the exception to the rule of substandard hidden ‘bonus’ tracks – ‘Running The World’ on the first Jarvis Cocker solo album.

  90. 90
    punctum on 25 Aug 2010 #

    Cases where hidden tracks may be my favourites on the album: “Propaganda” and “The Pistol” on Let’s Get Free by Dead Prez, and “Sir Sir Sir” from Tiga’s Sexor.

  91. 91
    lex on 25 Aug 2010 #

    I’m so glad the itunes generation has put paid to the kind of hidden track that made the final track of an album, like, 20 minutes long, 10 of which were silent – annoying if either the last proper track was good but you were saddled with a 20-minute mp3, or if the hidden track was good and you had to skip forward to it. Annoyingly no one seems to have bothered to make the separate stand-alone tracks available on eg itunes for some old examples of this. I think the best hidden track I can think of offhand is Kelis’s cover of “I Don’t Care Any More” on Wanderland, Jay-Z used to do it regularly too.

    Unlisted songs that have their own track are fine, one of the most prominent was probably Lauryn Hill’s cover of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” – the only hidden track to wind up getting nominated for a Grammy ever? Oh yeah and Janet Jackson released the hidden track on janet., “Whoops Now”, as the album’s final UK single.

  92. 92
    lex on 25 Aug 2010 #

    W/r/t “pop songs shouldn’t be long” – totally disagree, I never bought that there was an “ideal” length for a pop song. Some songs need to be epics, some need to be snappy, I can’t actually think of many examples where a song is overly long enough to be annoying (exception: most of the tracks on Keri Hilson’s last album seemed to go on rather unnecessarily). I used to think Amerie’s “1 Thing” was too long until I noticed the awesome counterpoint melody that develops in the last couple of minutes.

  93. 93
    fivelongdays on 25 Aug 2010 #

    My personal favourite ‘hidden tracks’ are the ones on ‘Dookie’ by Green Day, ‘High Anxiety’ by Therapy? and ‘Safe As Fuck’ by Goldie Lookin’ Chain (which requires one to rewind the CD at the start).

    I realise everyone here will mock me for my taste. Oh well…

    EDITED TO ADD: I’ve also noticed that, in Ireland, this was knocked off the top spot by ‘Paradise City’, which, along with all the other singles released from ‘Appetite for Destruction’, is a surefire 10 in my books.

  94. 94
    vinylscot on 25 Aug 2010 #

    World Party’s “Kuwait City”, hidden at the end of the “Bang” CD (on initial copies anyway) was better than anything else on the album, although by that time I think everyone except “Q” magazine was beginning to tire of them.

    ….and a hidden track after twenty minutes of silence is at least preferable to a thirty-six minute crap track like “Section 10 (A Long Day)” at the end of the Polyphonic Spree’s “The Beginning Stages of…..”

  95. 95
    Matthew H on 25 Aug 2010 #

    That Stone Roses ‘hoedown’ scared the bejesus out of me when I left the CD playing the day I bought it.

    Most irritating example for me is ‘Check On It’ at the end of B’Day which then becomes the wretched ‘Listen’ and – I think – something else. Totally ruins ‘Check On It”s last.fm/iPod stats.

  96. 96
    LondonLee on 25 Aug 2010 #

    “Diamond Dogs” ends with a locked groove. How do they reproduce that effect on a CD? I’ve never heard it in that format.

    And Monty Python’s “Matching Tie and Hankerchief” album has a double groove on side two so the album actually has three sides. Freaked me out when I was young and, after getting the same side two for several listens, I suddenly heard a whole different record. Felt like I’d fallen into another dimension or something.

  97. 97
    MikeMCSG on 25 Aug 2010 #

    #78 Slightly pre-dating The Look , “TV” by The Flying Lizards.

  98. 98
    Erithian on 25 Aug 2010 #

    Best – the truly beautiful “Gyda Gwen” from Catatonia’s “Way Beyond Blue”.
    Worst – what can only be described as 22 minutes of wibble at the end of Queen’s posthumous “Made in Heaven”.

    Mark Shipper’s Beatle-story spoof “Paperback Writer”, which we’ve discussed on here before, tells of “droners” (IIRC) – people who sit for hours listening to the run-off groove at the end of “Sgt Pepper”. There was one droner who listened to nothing else for eight years until he went out and bought a copy of “Venus and Mars”, and after playing that album – you’re no doubt ahead of me here – put Pepper back on because he preferred the drone.

  99. 99
    Matthew K on 25 Aug 2010 #

    #28 “They are never like us; even with the alleged democratisation of punk it quickly became clear that only John Lydon could ever hope to be John Lydon.”
    Outstanding – insights like this make me pore over the comments on Popular instalments.

  100. 100
    Billy Smart on 25 Aug 2010 #

    Of course! The greatest hidden bonus track ever predates the CD: ‘Train in Vain’ on ‘London Calling’. Top that!

  101. 101
    punctum on 25 Aug 2010 #

    “English Rose” by the Jam on All Mod Cons.

  102. 102
    thefatgit on 25 Aug 2010 #

    I downloaded the mp3 Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s “F# A# infinty” and missed out on the locked groove at the end of “Bleak Uncertain Beautiful…” :(

  103. 103
    Rory on 25 Aug 2010 #

    @94 Well remembered, vinylscot, I was trying to think what that was called. Loved World Party at the time.

    The Stone Roses hoedown was my least-favourite hidden track until I heard Ash’s “Sick Party” on 1977. At least the hoedown was on an album I didn’t actually want to listen to.

  104. 104
    Rory on 25 Aug 2010 #

    Reading up on hidden tracks at Wikipedia, here’s one the Kylie fans among you will appreciate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbNC3OgBFAw

  105. 105
    DietMondrian on 25 Aug 2010 #

    Re: double grooves – and the second mention in this thread for the Primitives – the Spells EP alternate 12″ had Earth Thing and Empathise on a double groove on the A side, leading to about five aborted starts per play as I kept getting Empathise when hoping for Earth Thing.

  106. 106
    Martin Skidmore on 25 Aug 2010 #

    Double grooves were a real missed opportunity. I thought songs where there was any possible tension about the conclusion could have been recorded twice with alternate endings, and put on the same side with a double groove so you wouldn’t know what you were hearing until the end. A great example would be Roy Orbison’s Running Scared, where he spends the song terrified of the return of his beloved’s last love, and then in the last verse he turns up: “My heart was breaking / Which one would it be / You turned around and walked awayyyyy with MEEEEEEEE!” We could have had another with the penultimate word changed to “from”.

  107. 107
    lex on 25 Aug 2010 #

    #95 “Check On It” and “Listen” were both separate, stand-alone tracks on the reissue of B’Day; in any case, a stand-alone mp3 of “Check On It” shouldn’t be hard to track down given that it was a single.

    One proper closing track I’d really like as a separate mp3 is Amy Winehouse’s “Amy, Amy, Amy” off her debut – one of her best songs, I think, but only available as a 13-minute track with two hidden covers (I forget what) attached.

  108. 108
    loomer on 25 Aug 2010 #

    Re: length of pop songs, well it depends on the song. I wasn’t meaning the old “classic 3 minute pop song” ethos cause we aren’t in the Beatles/Motown era where songs were in the 2 minute range. Amerie’s “1 Thing” is amazing, I never thought that was long, it’s just the average length of songs these days. What I had in mind was simple repetitive bubblegum type songs exceeding 5 minutes.

    Take Madonna’s debut, there were only 8 songs so the tracks were long. The album version of “Holiday” is more than 6 minutes, Borderline, Lucky Star and Everybody are all over 5 minutes too. Same for “Cherish”. While these full versions are good, for me the edited single versions have more replay value (although it’d have to be the video version of “Cherish” cause that was another bad edit). There’s the conflict between dance and pop which dictates some of these songs have to be longer I suppose. Everyone has their own ideas of what songs they think are overlong.

  109. 109
    flahr on 25 Aug 2010 #

    #106 I’ve read about comedy records (presumably like the Monty Python one above) that did that, viz. have two different endings for two different grooves. I think MAD Magazine put out one or two.

    I dunno how but the album La Roux has it so that when played on CD there’s about two minutes of silence before the ‘hidden* track’ but ripping it yields the song without any lead-in silence. That’s the proper way to handle it.

    *of course most of the time now the hidden track is listed but just in slightly smaller lettering; at least Elbow’s The Seldom Seen Kid made a (risible) attempt to hide it by colouring it grey

  110. 110
    23 Daves on 25 Aug 2010 #

    A trivial, personal aside regarding “Like A Prayer” – for the first week or so, I thought that the line “Let the choir sing” was actually “Level crossing!”. Why Madonna mid-song would have chosen to blurt out “level crossing” in a panicked way defies any kind of rational explanation at all, but to this day that’s what I hear whenever she comes to that line.

  111. 111
    Matthew H on 25 Aug 2010 #

    #107 Yeah but, you know, I only wanted to buy it once.

  112. 112
    lonepilgrim on 25 Aug 2010 #

    with regard to the various mixes of Madonna’s singles – is there a site that can provide some guidance to the best or better versions? Or can folks here help? I appreciate that there may be some difference of opinion!
    I used to own The Immaculate Conception on vinyl but it seems that the version of LAP on TIC is suspect and there seems to be some doubt cast on the current greatest hits package.

  113. 113
    Hofmeister Bear on 25 Aug 2010 #

    #112 There’s a large thread somewhere on the Steve Hoffman forum related to what you want. Finding it is another thing entirely. Most of the Madonna fan forums seem to require signing up first before you can even view them.

  114. 114
    lex on 25 Aug 2010 #

    #108 It makes sense that Madonna’s early singles were unusually long by pop single standards, at that point she was basically a dance act, right? And tracks made for club consumption are usually longer to allow them to be mixed into other tracks in a DJ set.

    #112 Of Madonna’s ’80s material I’ve only ever owned The Immaculate Collection and the original albums – so no single-only or video-only versions – and I don’t know whether there are any non-TIC, non-LP mixes that are superior, but I love all the LP versions I have.

  115. 115
    Elsa on 26 Aug 2010 #

    #109: the flexi record MAD magazine put out in 1980 had no fewer than eight variant grooves (eight possible endings). Song’s called “It’s a Super Spectacular Day.”


  116. 116
    swanstep on 26 Aug 2010 #

    @112. lex@114 has the right idea – only the Immaculate Collection versions of things are must-avoids, and the original album versions of things are normally very good and often often differ only subtlely from any single version. The biggest problems arise with songs that weren’t originally on M. albums, esp. Into the Groove and Crazy for You. The former, which was completely wrecked on the IC, has at last been replaced by the single version on Celebration (and in any case, for whatever reason, ITG’s cd-single has been widely collected and is pretty easily tracked down for a download). The latter, perhaps because CFY’s IC version *wasn’t* a complete trainwreck, has just been left in that version on Celebration.

    This is incredibly irritating. As far as I know, the original 4 min 8 sec version of CFY (which is about 20 sec longer, with a thicker bass sound, less up-front treble-synth wittering, and a different, more live-sounding reverb on the drums), still isn’t available on any Madonna album. It’s worth tracking down if you can.

  117. 117
    Popsmitten on 26 Aug 2010 #

    Proof that it’s easy to be pretentious about pop music. Did all this pass through Madonna’s mind when she sang this? I doubt it. It’s a great pop song because you can read all this into it and still be wide of the mark.

  118. 118
    lex on 26 Aug 2010 #

    @116 – I have “Into The Groove” on the reissued version of Like A Virgin – it’s obv not the TIC travesty but is the original single version different again?

  119. 119
    punctum on 26 Aug 2010 #

    #117: D-.

  120. 120
    Tom on 26 Aug 2010 #

    You’re right of course Popsmitten, it’s actually about toast.

  121. 121
    swanstep on 26 Aug 2010 #

    @lex. I believe that it is the single version. Yay. So it’s really just the Immaculate Collection that’s the problem for ITG.

    BTW, I know that for some people the differences between Immac Coll Crazy for You and the single version are minor, but even setting aside the host of small timbral differnces, the IC version being 20 sec shorter omits the genuinely lovely fade out, extended ‘baby’ from Madonna (this was a famous one-take vocal performance that nobody really expected from her) as the killer backing vox also resolve underneath. This isn’t *quite* as bad as omitting the most urgent ‘now I know you’re mine’ from Into the Groove (which the IC ITG staggeringly does), but it’s in the same ballpark, so I take the single version to be clearly preferable (this is a single I bought and adored, so I understand I’m more fussed about it than most are!). At any rate, ahem, there are 192 Kbps copies of the single version of CFY around on the web, e.g., here. And of course you can always just watch the vid.!

  122. 122
    Rory on 26 Aug 2010 #

    I’d forgotten to note the Australian chart performance for this, which was the first number one we had in common with the UK in 1989. Number one for a week in mid-April, then dropped down for three weeks to make way for Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy” (yay) and Mike + The Mechanics’ “The Living Years” (er, nay), then went back to number one for a further three weeks in May.

  123. 123
    lex on 26 Aug 2010 #

    @121 thanks! That’s definitely better than the TIC mix. I think that’s the last of the Immaculate Collection tracks that I hadn’t replaced with a superior version – sometimes I think it was a deliberate ploy by Madonna to get people to shell out for the original albums as well as just TIC, which I guess is worthwhile just for “Justify My Love”.

    Did they botch the ’90s hits in the same way on GHV2? The only track I have directly from it is “Beautiful Stranger”, and I’m SURE it’s a lot muddier than the single I remember from the time.

  124. 124
    Izzy on 26 Aug 2010 #

    #112 – The Immaculate Conception – omg! I had never got this until now.

  125. 125
    swanstep on 27 Aug 2010 #

    @londonlee, 96. Diamond Dogs’ Track 11 “Chant of the ever-circling…” ends with about 10s of bruh-bruh-bruh-bruh at full volume, then slowly fades out for another 15s. Not quite the same impact as the locked grove you mention, but a reasonable approximation. The Rykodisc version of the cd that I have then continues with Track 12 ‘Dodo’ (a great unreleased track that really looks forwards to Young Americans), and Track 13, a demo version of Candidate (which is great too, but which makes you appreciate just how many sonic chances Bowie took on the original record – the version of Candidate that’s Track 4 on DD is genuinely abrasive and avant-garde, certainly when compared with the demo).

  126. 126
    lonepilgrim on 27 Aug 2010 #

    @swanstep, #125. I assume that you’re familiar with Pushing Ahead Of The Dame the site that is working it’s way through Bowie’s back catalogue (there’s a link towards the top right of this page) and which has just reached Dodo.

  127. 127
    swanstep on 27 Aug 2010 #

    @lonepilgrim. No, I hadn’t heard of that site. It looks interesting. Thanks. [I confess that I haven’t given Bowie himself much thought for many years, except for Low. But between (i) recently discovering Jobriath (ii) like everyone else, trying to make sense of the Gaga phenomenon, and (iii) trying to make sense of what the great decline/recession we’re now in is feeling like, I’m definitely finding myself attracted again to that troublesome 1973/4 period with Bowie as its presiding, fast-fluxing, musical genius.]

  128. 128
    LondonLee on 27 Aug 2010 #

    I was watching a lot of old Roxy Music clips on YouTube the other day and came to the conclusion that they were the presiding musical geniuses of the period. Though perhaps Bowie reflected it better.

  129. 129
    loomer on 27 Aug 2010 #

    #112 There’s a site that lists all the various mixes of every Madonna song which is a useful for reference for knowing exactly what’s out there – http://web-o-rama.net/madonnaremixology/

    #113 I think I found that Steve Hoffman forum thread – http://www.stevehoffman.tv/forums/showthread.php?t=189547

  130. 130
    flahr on 28 Aug 2010 #

    This was Number One on the European Hot 100 for twelve weeks.

  131. 131
    Tom on 31 Aug 2010 #

    Just to say that having said “no more impromptu Popular breaks” I’ve gone and done exactly that – basically I’ve been bed/chair-ridden since the start of the weekend with a vile sinus-busting monster cold: I’m now capable of coherent thought to the extent I can write a guardian column so hopefully the intellectual everest that is “Eternal Flame” can be conquered tomorrow.

  132. 132
    swanstep on 1 Sep 2010 #

    @Tom. The Bangles did one of those (infamous/endlessly parodied/whiny)’Behind the Music’ specials for VH1 in the US. The whole thing’s up on youtube, but Part 3 covers how the band fell apart and has some good lines from band members about Eternal Flame’s (ironic) role in that.

  133. 133
    wichita lineman on 1 Sep 2010 #

    H-h-hold your horses, SS!

    Tom, sounds grim, get well soon.

  134. 134
    thefatgit on 1 Sep 2010 #

    I can beat that Tom! Took a tumble at the weekend and dislocated my right patella and snapped my infra patella tendon…I’m in for surgery tomorrow. Thinking of a line from a bunnyable song from certain Aussie movie director.

  135. 135
    anto on 1 Sep 2010 #

    Re 130: Get well soon Mr.E. What’s that line from Chinatown –
    ” yeeaah summer colds are the worst”.

  136. 136
    swanstep on 4 Sep 2010 #

    On the off-chance that anyone’s interested, I’ve written a couple of long-ish posts on Madonna’s Holiday: one on music and lyrics, and one on performance.

  137. 137
    Billy on 4 Sep 2010 #

    I FINALLY have a proper copy of this song, having bought the 2-disc ‘Celebration’ for a criminally low three pounds in HMV. Before then, the one that was sounding out from my iPod was a remix from a CD single I found at a charity shop a few years ago, which starts similar to the original (certainly more so than the Immaculate Collection), but ruins it with a load of extra drumbeats over the breakdowns, and replaces that great “Just like a prayer, your voice can take me there” ending with a really dull instrumental for two minutes.

    A deserved 10, one of my fave Madonna tracks along with Vogue.

  138. 138
    Erithian on 9 Sep 2010 #

    Coming fairly late to this one, pretty much everything’s been said. I agree with anto back at #7 that Madonna never looked more beautiful than in this video, and (perhaps not coincidentally) her dancing was never so free-spirit and unchoreographed – in major contrast to her next number one. The message is that the religious (or sexual) rapture is taking over her body and the expression is all there in the unfettered movement.

    She’d always played, of course, with the overtones of the name she was blessed with and the religious iconography, but this was taking things a step further. More so in the more overtly religious USA than the UK, there were hot-button topics aplenty here, none more so than the burning crosses borrowed from the KKK and the seemingly black Jesus (not that great a percentage would have realised the St Martin de Porres link or its significance) – and I guess even an interracial kiss was still daring in certain states? If the message, or one of them, is that religion should be a conduit for joy and integration, then maybe they should play this video at the Koran-burning event in Florida this weekend.

  139. 139
    Billy Smart on 27 Dec 2010 #

    MMWatch: Ian Gittins awarded single of the week to ‘Like A Prayer’. March 11 1989;

    “She’s back! And it’s as if she’s never been away. After films, bust-ups, the works, Madonna slips back to music and finds her stage all set. There’s a huge Pepsi tie-in this time, so with all copies of ‘Like A Prayer’ locked in a secret London vault at the time of writing, it’s to the TV advert launch for any quick-thinking hack. Two minutes and a can of Pepsi-Cola. *There’s* how to return.

    And ‘Like A Prayer’ is one more great dance trifle, the latest in a line of unruffled classics. It’s just the same formula; chorus, hooks, all the greats, and that superbly innocent yet *carnal* voice at the centre. The song’s about not being in control. As if! Every *breath* is meticulous. Even the gospel choir can’t upset her balance, can’t compete with the airy precision. And the video shows Madonna, as a tiny girl, watching her grown-up self as a STAR. There’s no better symbol for her. Really. Business as usual. Madonna’s back! The game goes on.”

    Also reviewed that week;

    New Order – Round & Round
    Ice T – High Rollers
    The Wonder Stuff – Who wants To Be The Disco King?
    Gene Pitney – It’s Over
    Guns ‘N’ Roses – Paradise City
    Ellis Beggs & Howard – Big Bubbles No Troubles
    The Stone Roses – Made Of Stone

  140. 140

    […] Ewing, “Madonna – ‘Like a Prayer’”, Freaky Trigger, August 23, […]

  141. 141
    DJBobHoskins on 5 Jan 2014 #

    #112 et al – the single version of LAP (7″ pop edit 5:19, as on the original single), is undoubtedly the greatest for me. Just like the album version, except they really ramp up the background production to reach something approaching aural ecstasy. Unfortunately very hard to find (not on any official CD release at the moment) but floating about on the web. Key inclusion is Prince’s guitar solo at the end.

    As others said, can’t stand TIM remixes. Awful, what was Shep thinking. The original singles, along with LAP, can still be found. The difference is noticeable straight away. I remember reading they took some of the production off even those that resemble the original to save space on the CD (?!). Anyway hopefully one day they will release an original singles collection, remastered etc etc.

  142. 142
    Billy Hicks on 5 Jan 2014 #

    141 – Thanks for that, just listened to it and makes my previous comment 137 instantly redundant. The version on ‘Celebration’ is the album version, better than the Immaculate remix but without the extra production the single gives it. Pushes it even further into the 10 zone.

  143. 143
    hectorthebat on 28 Feb 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1-1001
    Arizona Republic (USA) – Madonna’s 30 Best Singles of All Time (2013) 1
    Beats Per Minute (USA) – The Top 100 Tracks of the 1980s (2011) 27
    Blender (USA) – Top 500 Songs of the 80s-00s (2005) 6
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Michaelangelo Matos (USA) – Top 100 Singles of the 1980s (2001) 34
    Pitchfork (USA) – The Pitchfork 500 (2008)
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 300
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 306
    San Antonio Express-News (USA) – Rock ‘n’ roll timeline (2004)
    Slant (USA) – The 100 Best Singles of the 1980s (2012) 7
    Spin (USA) – Nominations For the Best Songs of the Last 25 Years (2010)
    Steve Sullivan (USA) – Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings (2013) 401-500
    Treble (USA) – The Top 200 Songs of the 80s (2011) 169
    VH-1 (USA) – Nominations for the 100 Greatest 80s Songs (2006)
    Washington Blade (USA) – Top 10 Madonna Songs (2004)
    Freaky Trigger (UK) – Top 100 Songs of All Time (2005) 4
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    NME (UK) – The 100 Best Songs of NME’s Lifetime (2012) 19
    NME (UK) – The 100 Best Songs of the 1980s (2012) 33
    NME (UK) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2014) 47
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 70
    Q (UK) – Top 20 Tracks from the Lifetime of Q (1986-2006) 16
    Sunday Times (UK) – Top 10 Madonna Songs (2007) 6
    Wanadoo (UK) – The 20 Best Songs of the 80s
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The 500 Best Songs of All Time (2004) 362
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – The Top 100 Songs from 1984-1993 (1993) 40
    Cameron Adams (Australia) -The Best Songs from the 100 Must Have Albums (2013)
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Village Voice (USA) – Singles of the Year 7
    Face (UK) – Singles of the Year 23
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 16
    Record Mirror (UK) – Singles of the Year 10
    Dagsavisen (Norway) – Single of the Year 1
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – Songs of the Year 15

  144. 144
    Neil C on 2 Apr 2016 #

    Chalk me up as another poor soul (like Billy S at #5 and Lex at #44) who only realised, after reading this page, that I’d been “doing Madonna wrong” with The Immaculate Collection for the last 17 years! I have since obtained the US Singles Collection  (Vol 1) which contains the 7″ versions of all TIC tracks (12″ for Into the Groove), and have created an Immaculate-r Collection for myself – much better! But it still leaves me with the niggling feeling that I might not have the “right” versions – how appalling that one of the biggest artists in pop history should have her legacy treated so shoddily.

    Swanstep at #24 is bang on about the stop-start drums in the first minute – that really put me off this version for a good while. But it’s great to finally get away from Mr Whoo! Yeah! on TIC …

    A fantastic single but I can only go up to 9 – got to leave something in reserve for Into the Groove!

  145. 145
    Girl with Curious Hair on 5 Apr 2016 #

    I adore this song, but for some reason I can’t quite articulate why. There’s just something about it that sweeps me up and has done since I was a little kid. I’ve never really considered the religious angle before – I’m not Christian (not even culturally, like presumably most of the other commenters are), so I suppose it never occurred to me*. But I do like the idea that a transcendent Catholic experience sounds like this.

    As I say, I wish I could articulate why better, but this gets a 10 for me. Plus, Oh Father from the LaP album is a really underrated song. Sia did a pretty good version of it too, back in the days before she decided to grow out her fringe.

    *On this note, slightly embarrassingly, I used to love the bit in the video, near the song’s peak, where Madonna is dancing in front of the burning crosses. It just seemed like an abstractly beautiful image. It wasn’t until years later that I realised what the burning crosses actually signified…

  146. 146
    Adam Grylls on 30 Dec 2017 #

    This is possibly the Madonna’s best track. It’s a sassy little number that sweeps across you with a romping aplomb. The chorus has such a catchy hook, which, as far as I’ve ever seen, has never failed to get people on their feet, gin aloft, shouting the lyrics at the top of their voices. The choral arrangement
    as backing vocals creates an almost euphoric sound. It’s quite the journey of a pop track.

    Also, as a bit of a wrestling fan. Scottish fan favorite, Grado, uses this as his entrance song. Seeing 10,000 drunk and sweating men embracing each other in an arena chanting this while an overweight, undersized underdog dances his way to the ring… is a strangely beautiful sight.

  147. 147
    Ospero on 23 Nov 2019 #

    Whenever I re-read this particular piece, one phrase leaps out at me: “that long ‘home’ in the intro”. I think that might be because it reveals how the song tricks you into believing it’s even more epic than it already is: there is no long ‘home’ in the intro – not on any version I’ve heard, at least. By the time the beat starts to come in, Madonna’s voice has already faded into the background. But it does feel like there should be, doesn’t it? It feels like Madonna should have drawn out the vowel sound of that word until it fades into the background by itself, getting ever quieter while the percussion fades in.

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