Composition

‘The album “teems with 60’s and early 70’s echoes – of the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Sly and the Family Stone – all pumped up with a brash, if occasionally klutzy, 80’s sense of showmanship.”[9][14] A press release said the album includes “a number of hot dance tracks” but noted, “much of the material […] is of a personal tone.”[15]

Madonna drew from her Catholic upbringing, as seen in the album’s title track and lead single “Like a Prayer”. She described it as “the song of a passionate young girl so in love with God that it is almost as though He were the male figure in her life. From around 8 to 12 years old, I had the same feelings. I really wanted to be a nun.”[9] The lyrics deals with themes from Madonna’s childhood and adolescence, such as the death of her mother in “Promise to Try”,[7] the importance of family in “Keep It Together”, and her relationship with her harsh father in “Oh Father”.[7][9] Madonna also preaches female empowerment in “Express Yourself”, “in which Madonna expresses a 30-year-old’s view of life unshadowed by rebellion and lingering lapsed Catholic pain.”[9] “Till Death Do Us Part” is about the violent dissolution of Madonna’s marriage to Sean Penn.[7] The song was described as “an anxious jumpy ballad that describes a marriage wracked with drinking, violent quarrels and a possessive, self-hating husband. Its ending finds the couple locked by their unbreakable marriage vows into a miserable cul-de-sac.”[9] Madonna noted that could have happened to her and Penn had they followed the Roman Catholic doctrine and not filed for divorce.[9] “Dear Jessie” was inspired by Patrick Leonard’s daughter. It was described as “a musical fantasia about pink elephants, lemonade and the land of make-believe, offers a stylish swatch of late Beatles-style psychedelia.”[9] The album also includes themes of love on “Cherish” and “Love Song”, “a yowling come-hither duet” with Prince.[9] “Spanish Eyes” is said to have “confronted the still-taboo issue of AIDS.”[14] Stephen Holden of The New York Times noted, “The songs, which deal directly and very emotionally with her failed marriage to the actor Sean Penn, her family, and her Catholic girlhood, transcend the brassy dance-pop of her three previous records to reveal Madonna as a vulnerable human being.”[9] Jon Pareles of the same publication mused that the album “is largely a meditation on male power and love, from paternalistic religion to parents to partners.”[16]