On September 26 1988, Madonna began recording the Like A Prayer album in Los Angeles, California with collaborators Patrick Leonard and Stephen Bray.
Madonna had begun writing for the album during down time of her Broadway run in David Mamet’s Speed-The-Plow, for which she gave her final performance in late August. With her marriage to Sean Penn on the rocks, Madonna found herself at a personal and creative crossroads–with plenty to express.
On August 10 1985, Into The Groove spent the first of two weeks in the number-one position on the UK Singles Chart. It was Madonna’s first chart-topping single in the UK, where she has collected a total of thirteen number-one hits to date.
As an added validation, Into the Groove was Madonna’s first attempt at co-producing a song. While artists co-producing their own work is common today, it was relatively unusual at the time, particularly for female artists. The immense success of the single undoubtedly helped convince the powers at Sire/Warner to grant Madonna the artistic freedom to co-produce her next album, True Blue, together with her collaborators Stephen Bray and Patrick Leonard.
On July 22 1989, Madonna’s Express Yourself reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart. Express Yourself was the first song that Madonna and producer Stephen Bray collaborated on for the Like a Prayer album.
“The message of the song is that people should always say what it is they want. The reason relationships don’t work is because they are afraid. That’s been my problem in all my relationships. I’m sure people see me as an outspoken person, and for the most part, if I want something I ask for it. But sometimes you feel that if you ask for too much or ask for the wrong thing from someone you care about that that person won’t like you. And so you censor yourself. I’ve been guilty of that in every meaningful relationship I’ve ever had. The time I learn how not to edit myself will be the time I consider myself a complete adult.”
—Madonna talking to Stephen Holden of The New York Times.
On June 24 1989, Madonna’s Express Yourself single debuted at #21 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Maxi Single Sales chart.
The 12″ maxi single included the following:
- Express Yourself (Non-Stop Express Mix) – 7:57
- Express Yourself (Stop & Go Dubs) – 10:49
- Express Yourself (Local Mix) – 6:26
- The Look of Love (Album Version) – 4:00
On April 25 1988, Spotlight was released as a single by Warner-Pioneer. Issued exclusively in Japan, it was the only commercial single release from the remix album You Can Dance. The song was written by Curtis Hudson, Madonna and Stephen Bray and was produced by Stephen Bray. Madonna wasn’t given a co-producer’s credit on the track – odd considering it was a leftover from the True Blue album sessions, for which she co-produced every song. The track was remixed by John “Jellybean” Benitez for its inclusion on You Can Dance.
In a 2012 interview with blogcritics.com writer Justin Kantor, Curtis Hudson recalled the circumstances surrounding the creation and release of Spotlight:
“During the time right after Holiday, when we’d go to her place and write, I presented Spotlight. I gave her a complete song, Spotlight. I had actually written it in case Warner Bros. asked her for another Holiday. She said she loved it and felt spiritual about it. But she didn’t use it or contact me again about it. It sort of popped up out of nowhere when she was getting ready to do You Can Dance. Her lawyer contacted our manager and said we needed to talk. We went over and met with him. She and Stephen Bray had already done the song; but I hadn’t even heard the version they had done.They took the demo I had given her and worked it into a different song. They gave me credit since I had the original song copyrighted. I would’ve collaborated and made changes. But I was told, ‘Well, she’s too busy. She’s overseas doing a movie.’ I was okay with it, though, because they gave me credit. But the original song had a certain magic, and the changes took that essence away. The original Spotlight was another Holiday—the rhythm, the basic groove. I think they were trying to get away from that sound. Sometimes artists don’t want their sound to be identified with specific writers.”
On January 30 1990, Keep It Together was released in North America as the fifth and final single from Like A Prayer. It also received a commercial release in Japan, Australia, Ecuador and the Philippines, while some European markets opted to include it as the b-side to Madonna’s next single, Vogue.
As fate would ironically have it, Madonna’s soulful ode to remembering ones roots would turn out to be the last Madonna-performed single co-written and co-produced with longtime collaborator Stephen Bray, whom she had befriended (or by some accounts, dated) during her days as a student at the University of Michigan. A final collaboration written by the pair, Get Over – which is speculated to have been written as a potential new track for The Immaculate Collection but was instead given to fellow Warner recording artist Nick Scotti – was released as a single in 1993, after first appearing on the Nothing But Trouble soundtrack in 1991.
Although no music video was produced for Keep It Together, the maxi-single – jam-packed with memorable remixes by Shep Pettibone and DJ Mark “The 45 King” with Stephen Bray – made the single a must-have for fans around the world. And despite its exclusion from her greatest hits releases, Madonna’s show-closing (and show-stopping) performance of the song during her legendary Blond Ambition Tour – and its accompanying documentary Truth Or Dare – has also served to keep the song alive in the hearts and minds of fans.
On August 25 1987, Causing a Commotion was released as the second single from the soundtrack album Who’s That Girl, by Sire Records. Causing a Commotion was written and produced by Madonna and Stephen Bray, the song was inspired by Madonna’s relationship with then husband Sean Penn, and his abusive and violent nature.