Music

Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’ at 35: All the Songs Ranked

After a quiet 1988 (her most notable pop culture moment was an acting gig in a Broadway production of David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow), Madonna returned the following year to conclude the decade she’d dominated in style. The fact Like a Prayer instantly blew all the pop girlies who’d emerged since predecessor True Blue out of the water was no surprise. But no one was prepared for quite how much it changed the game.

Madge’s fourth studio effort still contained its fair share of earworms – you don’t score a trio of singles that hit No. 1 or No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 without hooks galore (“Like a Prayer” topped the Hot 100 while follow-ups “Express Yourself” and “Cherish” peaked at No. 2). But this time, the songs were accompanied by a newfound lyrical depth in which the Queen of Pop bared her soul on everything from her marriage breakdown to the death of her mother, and, of course, as implied by the album’s title, her Catholic upbringing. “What was it I wanted to say?,” she once asked rhetorically. “I wanted [the album] to speak to things on my mind.”

Co-produced with regular collaborators Stephen Bray and Patrick Leonard, Madonna’s brutal honesty certainly paid off, with Like a Prayer becoming her third consecutive Billboard 200 chart-topper and staying at No. 1 for six weeks.

Even as we celebrate its 35th anniversary (March 21), it’s still reigning as the benchmark for confessional pop. Here’s a ranking of its 11 tracks from least to most transcendental.

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