It’s 25 years since Madonna staged her first big comeback, scoring her sixth Number 1 and one of the most iconic hits of her career.
While Madonna had always erred toward controversy throughout her career, it was only with Like A Prayer, the first single to be taken from her fourth studio album of the same name, that she really put her cards on the table.
Madonna had been on what felt like an extended holiday for a couple of years by the time it came to the release of Like A Prayer. While she was never quite fully out of the spotlight – this is ’80s Madonna we’re talking about here, after all – music had taken something of a backseat.
Instead, Madonna took time after the release of massive-selling True Blue to concentrate on the Who’s That Girl world tour and her movie career. She’d even tried her hand at Broadway, starring in David Mamet’s play Speed-the-Plow in 1988. And along with all that, she was starring in a very personal drama: the breakdown of her marriage to actor Sean Penn.
So it was a new Madonna who returned to the top of the Official Charts this week 25 years ago. Now-brunette Madonna’s first single released in her 30s was to set the tone for a wildly varied decade for the singing superstar. All grown up and with issues behind her, Madonna’s maturity shone through on her latest record.
Like A Prayer, on the surface of it, was a very simple love song about how a relationship can be both empowering and humbling. Packed to the rafters with hooks and some of Madonna’s most memorable lyrics of all time, the song would probably have done just as well had it been released with little fanfare and a straightforward performance video. But Madonna is Madonna, and if she was going to come back, she may as well come back in style.
Like A Prayer’s video, a cautionary tale about prejudices, presumptions, racism and violence with some then-shocking religious imagery thrown in, certainly caught everybody’s attention. A marketing campaign for a soft drinks company which featured the song was pulled immediately and the image of the world’s biggest popstar, boogying in front of a burning cross became almost instantly iconic.
No surprise, then, that it was Madonna’s sixth Number 1 on the Official Singles Chart, staying at the top for three weeks. In total, it’s sold over 580,000 copies and was the 11th bestselling single of 1989. The album itself also topped the charts, for two weeks, and spawned three more Top 5 hits: Express Yourself (5), Cherish (3) and Dear Jessie (5). The album campaign was halted after a year when Madonna decided to go in a totally new direction, adding another massive Number 1 to her haul, with Vogue in April 1990. Another Like A Prayer song would break into the Top 20 seven years later when Oh Father, a 1989 single in other territories, was released to promote Madge’s ballad collection Something To Remember.
Madonna has never forgotten the game-changing Like A Prayer, either – she still sings it on tours. It even got an outing at her Super Bowl Half Time show, with a cameo from Cee-Lo Green.
Watch the video for the second single from Like A Prayer – the mighty Express Yourself – before we count down the rest of the retro Top 5.
2: Jason Donovan – Too Many Broken Hearts
After two weeks, the party was over for our Jase. Read his Official Charts Flashback for more stats about Jason Donovan’s very first solo Number 1.
3: Donna Summer – This Time I Know It’s For Real
It was the first time the legendary queen of disco had been back in the Top 3 of the Official Singles Chart for almost TEN years, thanks to this perfect slice of pop from Stock Aitken Waterman. Check out when This Time I Know It’s For Real was honoured as an Official Charts Pop Gem for more info on Donna’s hits.
4: Paula Abdul – Straight Up
Enjoying her very first Top 5 hit was the former choreographer responsible for some of Janet Jackson’s slickest dance moves. Straight Up would eventually peak at Number 3 and was the first of seven Top 40 hits for the future American Idol judge. Two more Top 10s were on their way: 1990’s Opposites Attract (2), where Paula and her animated feline boyfriend talked out a few troubles, and Rush Rush (6), a pretty decent ballad from 1991.
Paula Abdul’s most recent Top 40 hit was My Love Is For Real, which peaked at Number 28 in 1995, but five years later, a song she co-wrote ended up at Number 1. The tune? Oh just a little number called Spinning Around, by a singer you may have heard of: Kylie Minogue.
5: Soul II Soul FT Caron Wheeler – Keep On Movin
The first of five Top 10 hits for London DJ Jazzie B’s R&B outfit, Keep On Movin would go no higher than Number 5, but it did get a second lease of life in the mid-1990s when it appeared on an advert. It would soon be slightly overshadowed by the big Number 1 that followed it – Back To Life (However Do You Want Me), which spent a month at the top in summer 1989. But if you're going to have your glory stolen, it may as well be by an absolute classic!