Albums: Like a Prayer (1989), The Immaculate Collection (1990), Celebration (2009)
Songwriters/producers: Madonna/Patrick Leonard

"Don’t underestimate my point of view…"

As an album, Like a Prayer is often lauded for its incredible diversity - but rarely is it remarked upon how plain odd its sequencing is. This is an album that delights in its jarring transitions - the way it goes from the divorce and domestic violence of Till Death Do Us Part to the sunny, entirely optimistic Cherish within only three songs would be utterly baffling if they weren’t pulled off so well. To call Like a Prayer Madonna’s “divorce” or “religious” album, as it is so commonly labelled, would be to ignore songs like Cherish - which, however contradictory, are a big part of Like a Prayer as a whole. Instead, call it her most personal album - one where Madonna shows her true complexity as an artist by portraying practically the entire range of human emotion.

Cherish is certainly the most outright pop song on Like a Prayer, but its origins lie in the girl-group sound Madonna had been pursuing since Like a Virgin. But where Shoo-Bee-Doo felt cliché, True Blue simply shone - and Cherish takes the style to its final conclusion and greatest heights. It’s the feelings of a woman shedding all the baggage of past failures and relationships for a pure, instinctive infatuation - but one that’s never blind to the need for something lasting, “more than just romance”. Though songs like Vogue and Ray of Light still had the feeling of boundless elation that made so many of her ’80s singles great, such statements of optimism as Cherish were something she’d literally never again attempt. Madonna’s recent Rolling Stone interview shed some light on her present feelings:

"The songs that I think are the most retarded songs I’ve written, like ‘Cherish’… end up being the biggest hits. ‘Into the Groove’ is another song I feel retarded singing, but everybody seems to like it."
- Madonna, Rolling Stone 2009

Fair enough - one can’t blame her for seeing their optimism as her own youthful naïveté. But she still sings Into the Groove, reinterpreting it mercilessly on the Sticky & Sweet Tour, and Cherish makes for a brilliant transition to the title track on Celebration. Whatever her personal feelings, it’s hardly fanservice when the songs themselves are that great.

MTV / YouTube

Herb Ritts, the man responsible for the True Blue album cover, along with many of Madonna’s most iconic images, had at some point actually become a punchline for photographic style over substance.

"In the advertising industry, there was a joke that lazy or desperate art directors would say: ‘I’ve got an idea, Herb Ritts!’, when they couldn’t come up with anything original."
- via an article on True Blue’s cover from the excellent blog Sleevage

But just as Madonna’s huge mainstream appeal doesn’t imply a lack of artistry, nor did the sheer glamour of Ritts’ photography detract from the incredibly evocative nature of his portraits. Though he had no experience in film, Madonna somehow roped him into directing her video for Cherish, and the results are one of the purest distillations of his signature style. Despite, or perhaps because she wears a swimsuit only revealing by 1920s standards, Madonna’s toned figure is as sexy as ever as she rolls around in sand and frolics with mermen. And though shot entirely by Ritts himself on a handheld camera in freezing weather, the blue-tinged monochrome of the beach is nothing but bright and sunny. With none of the extended metaphors of her last two videos, Cherish is just an incredible visual spectacle, but it does it so well that it’s nearly faultless.

(the making of Cherish, from an interview with Herb Ritts - R.I.P.)

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