On January 25, 1989, following eight months of negotiations, Pepsi announced that they had signed Madonna to a year-long endorsement contract, for which they would pay her $5 million. In return, Madonna would appear in a series of television commercials and Pepsi would sponsor the Like A Prayer World Tour, tentatively slated for later that year.
Pepsi was undaunted by Madonna’s image in the tabloids. “Her appeal is in her music and her acting. That’s where people’s interests are,” announced Pepsi spokesman Tod MacKenzie.
If the Like A Prayer World Tour had gone ahead as planned, do you think it would have been drastically different from Blond Ambition? What would have changed? Vogue and all the songs from Dick Tracy (or I’m Breathless) would have been omitted. What else?
On October 24 1989, Oh Father was released in North America as the fourth single from the Like A Prayer album. France, Japan, the Philippines and Australia also opted to issue the single in 1989, while other European markets waited for Madonna’s 1995 ballads compilation, Something To Remember, to promote the song. Oh Father was written and produced by Madonna & Patrick Leonard.
According to the song’s string arranger, Bill Meyers, Oh Father was recorded in a “dingy studio” in New York City’s Garment District while Madonna was appearing in the play, Speed-The-Plow. Since the bulk of the album would be completed in California after the completion of her Broadway run, this would suggest that Oh Father was likely the first song recorded for the project. Leonard recently provided further evidence of this when he shared an image of a demo tape sleeve containing working titles of songs from the latter sessions on his Instagram, noting that Oh Father was not among the tracks listed because it had been completed earlier.
Leonard recalled the recording of the track in a 2014 interview with Billboard Magazine:
My favorite thing that we ever recorded, ever – or wrote – is Oh Father. That to me is the best thing we ever did. So, it didn’t surprise me because we knew when we did it, that there was something about this that was in a way kind of the most real thing.
For that song, the ‘record’ button was only pressed three times. It was pressed to do the track, live, with her singing live. Then we did the orchestra. And then we did a double of her vocal when we were mixing. That’s it. So it’s real. It’s something that I really wanted to do and she was kind enough to say “let’s try this,” and it was not easy.
There’s two or three guitar players playing. I’m playing keyboards. Jai Winding was playing keyboards. There was a percussionist and a drummer – and she’s singing – all at the same time.
These days, people go “wow, that seems crazy.” Those days it wasn’t uncommon for everybody to be playing together even though you’re not a band. But it was one of those things where the arrangement was tricky enough, that it really took some working out to get it all right.
Even all those weird synth overdubs and things – all those things were being done live. We worked out all the parts, had all the sounds. I remember that we cut it live, and then put the orchestra on. You’re not doubling the orchestra, so it’s one pass for the orchestra.
When I say [the ‘record’ button was] pressed three times, it might have gotten pressed 10 times that day, but it was ultimately one that stayed there. If you see what I’m saying. When we were mixing it, [mixer] Bill Bottrell suggested that we double the choruses. I remember even being a little upset about it (laughs). Like, look, “we’ve got an amazing record that we only pressed the record button twice – can’t we leave it?” He said, “three isn’t exactly shameful.” We doubled the lead vocal on the choruses, and that was it.
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 the 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 September 9 2015, Huffington Post interviewed Patrick Leonard and asked about the possibility of them working together again:
If Madonna called you up for her next album, do you think you’re still in a mindset where you could direct her tour?
No. No, I couldn’t because the paths that our lives took are appropriate for what they are. When we met and did the work that we did, I was still in my 20s, or maybe my early 30s as we walked into Like a Prayer. I was still really interested in the pop form. I’m not disinterested in it now, but for the last few years I’ve been working with Leonard Cohen and writing piano music. I’m more of a composer. I just wouldn’t be interested in it, and I don’t think she’d be interested in my ideas anymore. I think we could still write a great song — I don’t think there’s any question about that. But my head just isn’t there at all. It would be fun to see her and fun to think together for a minute, because we were good at that at one point. But that was a long time ago, almost 30 years. I think she deserves better than what I would give her right now, for sure. If she wanted to write an opera, I’d be her guy.
Do you have a favorite Madonna memory?
Yes. When we were on tour. We were in London and it was her birthday. There was a private party in a club, and all these people wanted to dance with her and hang out with her, and Jessie, my daughter, was with us on tour at that time. She was right around 2 years old. You can find things in the press that are still out there — Madonna sat her up on the bar and put half a glass of champagne in her, or a couple of sips or whatever it was, and danced with her pretty much all night. Jessie stood in the middle of the dance floor and spun in her dress, and the next day you saw all these things in all these tabloids with all these faces of celebrities who wanted to dance with her, and Jessie was their foil all night.That was really fun to just see her embrace my daughter and have fun like that. It was really, really special. There are a lot of memories. She’s a good girl. Madonna is a good girl.
Read the full interview here.