Like a Prayer is Madonna's fourth studio album that was released on March 21, 1989 by Sire Records.
- Like A Prayer 5:41
- Express Yourself 4:39
- Love Song 4:52
- Till Death Do Us Part 5:18
- Promise To Try 3:38
- Cherish 5:04
- Dear Jessie 4:20
- Oh Father 4:58
- Keep It Together 5:03
- Spanish Eyes 5:17
- Act Of Contrition 2:19
In the United States, "Like a Prayer" debuted at #11 on the Billboard 200, on the issue dated April 8, 1989. It quickly rose to the top of the chart after its third week, where it remained for six consecutive weeks, making it Madonna's longest-running number 1 album.
The album spent a total of 77 weeks on the chart and also reached a peak of #55 on Billboard's R&B Albums list.
It was eventually certified multi Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipments of three million units. After the advent of the Nielsen SoundScan era in 1991, it sold a further 575,000 copies.
"Like a Prayer" has sold over 4 million copies in the United States and 15 million copies worldwide.
"Like a Prayer" received critical acclaim. Stephen Thomas Erlewine, from AllMusic, said in retrospect that it was Madonna's "most explicit attempt at a major artistic statement" and that though she is trying to be "serious" Madonna delivers a range of well-written pop songs, making the album her "best and most consistent". In The New Rolling Stone Album Guide, Barry Walters wrote that with its more substantial songs that "covered topics such as spousal abuse and familial neglect", Like a Prayer "effectively upped Madonna's ante as a serious artist."
Annie Zaleski, from the entertainment website The A.V. Club, praised the album for "being bold enough to delve into her parental issues", and called it "Madonna's first truly substantial record, the dividing line between her chirpy club-kid days and the mature sounds and themes that increasingly marked her '90s work".
In Rolling Stone, reviewer J. D. Considine wrote that Madonna's fame up to that point had been built more on "image than artistry", but that with "Like a Prayer," Madonna was asking, successfully, to be taken seriously: "Daring in its lyrics, ambitious in its sonics, this is far and away the most self-consciously serious album she's made. There are no punches pulled, anywhere".
Considine concluded his review hailing the album "as close to art as pop music gets ... proof not only that Madonna should be taken seriously as an artist but that hers is one of the most compelling voices of the Eighties."
Robert Christgau from The Village Voice lamented the "kiddie psychedelia" of "Dear Jessie" and was unmoved by "Promise to Try" and "Act of Contrition", but felt all the other songs were memorable, especially the "cocksucker's prayer" of "Like a Prayer" and the "thrilling", independence-themed "Oh Father" and "Express Yourself".
Lloyd Bradley of Q said, "musically it's varied, unexpected and far from instantly accessible; lyrically, it's moving, intelligent and candid."
Edna Gundersen from USA Today wrote that album was "Lyrically [...] a confessional feast, with Madonna's Catholic upbringing as the main course. Songs are rife with religious overtones, spiritual and hymnal arrangements and a host of references to joy, faith, sin and power".
NME critic David Quantick hailed it as "a brilliant, thoughtful, startling and joyful example of popular music."
Jonathan Takiff from The Philadelphia Inquirer praised the album for being "serious and reflective, at times heavily laden with psychic trauma. You might consider Like a Prayer to be [Madonna]'s Misfits...or her hour in the confessional box".
Sal Cinquemani, from Slant Magazine, described the album as "a collection of pop confections layered with live instrumentation, sophisticated arrangements, deeply felt lyrics, and a stronger, more assured vocal."
The review concluded by declaring "Like a Prayer" "one of the quintessential pop albums of all time.
Barry Walters from the San Francisco Examiner, named the album "[Madonna]'s best and most consistent collection yet [...] the album [where Madonna] crosses the line between craft and inspiration. From the start, she's had an intuitive grasp of how to put on a good show. Now she's got the guts to show us what's inside".
Senior editor from The Cavalier Daily Chaz Repak, praised Madonna's "improved" songwriting; "her religious faith and her marriage to Sean Penn, are completely well written."
However, he ended his review on a more critical note by saying: "Like a Prayer constitutes Madonna's best work to date. But after such work as "Material Girl", "Burning Up" and "Open Your Heart", that's not saying much."
Negative criticism came from Spin magazine.
Reviewer Christian Logan wrote: "On Like a Prayer your relationship to Madonna changes from to song to song, and it makes you uncomfortable. It's like sitting on a table with a friend who's telling too much about herself to people she doesn't know".
Joe Levy (from the same magazine) was also critical, writing that "there's not a lot of old Madonna, nothing of the generation of women who grew up in her wake: Regina, Debbie Gibson, and Taylor Dayne", but highlighted "Keep It Together" as "the only great dance song on the record".
At the end of 1989, "Like a Prayer" was voted the 18th best record of the year in the Pazz & Jop, an annual poll of American critics published by The Village Voice and was nominated for a Grammy Award for "Best Engineered Album."
Madonna performed an energetic version of "Express Yourself" during the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards. She started the performance by descending from a flight of stairs, wearing a pin-striped suit and a monocle.
Later, Madonna removed the coat to reveal her bustier, and together with her backing singers Niki Haris and Donna De Lory, performed a dance routine called voguing.
Ian Inglis (author of "Performance and Popular Music: History, Place and Time") noted that the historical importance of Madonna's performance at the Video Music Awards was due to the televisual venue.
Inglis explained that since Madonna's performance was striking primarily as a high-energy, provocatively choreographed, dance production number, it went on to highlight the 'TV' part of MTV, and in a way heralded her and the network as a cultural arbiter.
In August of 1989, in order to promote the release of Like a Prayer in Japan, Warner Music released a remix extended play titled Remixed Prayers, which included several remixes of "Like a Prayer" and "Express Yourself".
It was released exclusively in Japan until July 1993, when it was released in Australia to celebrate Madonna's first visit to the country as part of Madonna's Girlie Show World Tour.
The EP reached #24 on the Oricon weekly albums chart and was present on the chart for five weeks.