The title track and lead single from Madonna’s fourth solo album, ‘Like A Prayer’ gave the singer commercial success, critical acclaim and signalled her shift from a pop star to a creative artist who would use controversy as a marketing tool throughout her career.
Given the song’s heavy use of religious imagery, it’s unsurprising that the musical arrangement shows an obvious Gospel influence. The opening verses feature minimal instrumentation of organ and vocals, which provide a contrast to the much denser chorus and bridge sections (bonus fact: that’s Prince you can hear on guitar at the very start of the song). The synth bass in the chorus sections (played by Patrick Leonard, the song’s co-writer/producer) is a textbook 1980’s pop synth bassline; a fat, minimoog-esque sound playing syncopated, staccato lines built around roots and 5ths with scalar passages to connect chords.
The bridge sections are where the fun really starts; Guy Pratt (his credits include Pink Floyd, David Gilmour, Roxy Music, Michael Jackson, David Bowie and lots of other big names) gives us a masterclass in how to use an octave pedal to emulate a synth bass (cue groans from regular readers who are sick of my obsession with this). According to Guy’s autobiography ‘My Bass and Other Animals’, the octave pedal trick is one that he picked up from hearing Pino Palladino doing a similar thing – nice to know that everyone steals stuff from Pino. Opt for a 50/50 split of dry signal and 1-octave down to approximate the tone of the recording. Internet nerds remain at odds as to whether the bass on the recording is a Fender jazz or a Spector, but it really couldn’t matter less (you are not your gear, remember?).
We start with a 2-bar pattern that firmly outlines Dm7; notice how the first bar of the phrase is (almost) always the same, while the second bar features numerous fills. There are almost too many licks to mention here, particularly in the outro section (bar 77 onwards), but it’s worth taking the time to analyse Pratt’s fills to find the underlying concepts that he’s using. By understanding where he’s getting his ideas from you’re in a better position to build your own vocabulary rather than just imitating someone else. To use a vomit-inducing phrase, you have to ‘make it your own’.
There are also Internet-based rumours that Randy Jackson played bass on the 7-inch version of ‘Like A Prayer’. Having had a quick listen, I find it highly unlikely that he tracked exactly the same fills as Guy Pratt in exactly the same order, so I’m inclined to think that it’s a myth (Randy did play some great bass on ‘Express Yourself’, however).
Incidentally, I’d love to use this opportunity to clang about That Time I Went To Madonna’s House, but I definitely had to sign a hefty non-disclosure agreement about it. Which I probably just breached. Oops.