by Mark Nobes, chief editor

Released in February 1989, Madonna's gospel pop classic, "Like A Prayer", was yet another 80s song to cause much controversy! However, it wasn't so much the song itself, but the video that raised a few eyebrows. Featuring burning crosses and a sexual embrace with a black saint, it's not hard to see why!  

Soft Drink giant, Pepsi, decided to use the song as part of a commercial featuring Madonna. The company struck a $5million deal to sponsor her 1990 Blond Ambition Tour. The 2 minute commercial aired twice before the release of the music video on MTV. 

Indeed, this was actually the first chart song by a major artist to be used in a TV advert before being released to the buying public or being aired on a radio station.
Like a Prayer UK 12

The Video

The commercial itself was innocent and fun, and was filmed in Arizona and directed by Joe Pytka. Unfortunately, Madonna had other ideas for the music video, and Pepsi was unaware of the video's content. It was directed by Mary Lambert and filmed in California, and in the plot, Madonna witnesses the murder of a white girl by white supremacists, with a black man being wrongly arrested. Madonna takes refuge in a church and dreams of kissing a black saint (St. Martin De Porres), displays stigmata after cutting her palms on a knife, and dances in a field of burning crosses.

Of course, this caused some religious groups to become rather outraged and threatened to boycott Pepsi, who in turn decided to cancel the ad campaign and tour sponsorship, although Madonna kept the contracted $5 million. 

No doubt, all the controversy helped to ensure that "Like a Prayer" was one of Madonna's biggest-selling singles, selling over five million copies world-wide during 1989. Both Madonna and MTV were definitely the big winners here, as people were curious to see what all the fuss was about, and tuned in to MTV to view the video for themselves.

The black saint was played by Leon Robinson, who appeared in numerous 1980s movies, including the role of "Shadow" in the 1983 film All The Right Moves, which starred Tom Cruise. His most notable role Derice Bannock in the 1993 hit movie Cool Runnings.
DID YOU KNOW? Pop star Prince plays guitar on "Like A Prayer". He also played on two other tracks on the album; "Act Of Contrition" and "Keep It Together".

Who Wrote "Like A Prayer"?

The song was co-written and co-produced by Madonna and her regular song writer and producer Patrick Leonard. The Andrae Crouch Choir provided the backing vocals, but, understandably, did not want to appear in the video.

Chart Positions

"Like A Prayer" was a huge global hit, reaching the top 5 in almost every country it was released in. The single reached No.1 in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands (Single Top 100 chart), Mexico, Norway, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, Uruguay and the U.S. 
The single entered the UK singles chart at No.2 on 12th March 1989, claiming the No.1 spot the following week, and pushing Jason Donovan's "Too Many Broken Hearts" back down to No.2. The song remained at No.1 for three weeks, with Jason remaining at No.2 during this period.
In the U.S., the song entered to Billboard Hot 100 at No.38, and took five weeks to reach No.1, where it remained for three weeks. This was Madonna's seventh No.1 single in the U.S. 
MAdonna - Like A prayer (3 inch CD single)
3" CD single which included the 12" Extended and Club Mixes
Madonna Breathless! Number One magazine July 1990

Madonna on the cover of Number One magazine in July 1990