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Madonna - Papa Don't Preach (1986)

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  • 80's Score80's Score80's Score 80's score: 3.2
  • Find this song on: Music Stack

“Papa Don’t Preach” is a song by American singer Madonna from her third studio album True Blue (1986). The ...

“Papa Don’t Preach” is a song by American singer Madonna from her third studio album True Blue (1986). The song was written by Brian Elliot with additional lyrics by Madonna, who produced it with Stephen Bray. The song also appears remixed on the 1990 compilation album The Immaculate Collection and in its original form on the 2009 compilation album Celebration. The song’s musical style combines pop and classical styling, and its lyrics deal with teenage pregnancy and the choices that come with it. It was based on teen gossip Elliot heard outside his recording studio.

Released as the album’s second single in mid-1986, the song was a commercial success. It became Madonna’s fourth number-one single on the Billboard Hot 100, and performed well internationally, reaching the top position in the United Kingdom and Australia. It was well received by music critics and was frequently cited as a highlight in the album. The music video, directed by James Foley, shows Madonna’s second image makeover, featuring her with a more toned and muscular body, and cropped platinum blonde hair. It portrayed a storyline where Madonna is trying to tell her father about her pregnancy. The images are juxtaposed with shots of Madonna dancing and singing in a small, darkened studio, and spending a romantic evening with her boyfriend.

Shortly after its release, the song caused heated discussions about its lyrical content. Women’s organizations and others in the family planning field criticized Madonna for encouraging teenage pregnancy, while groups opposed to abortion saw the song as having a positive anti-abortion message. Madonna has performed “Papa Don’t Preach” in five of her world tours, the latest being the Madame X Tour in 2019. The song also caused her first conflict with the Vatican, as she dedicated it to Pope John Paul II, who urged Italian fans to boycott her concerts during the Who’s That Girl World Tour in 1987. In 2002, British singer Kelly Osbourne recorded a hard rock cover of the song which was included as a bonus track on her debut album Shut Up.


Critical response

“Papa Don’t Preach” was met with acclaim from music critics. Davitt Sigerson from Rolling Stone magazine in a review of the album True Blue said that if there is a problem with the album “it’s the lack of outstanding songs”, adding that “only the magnificent ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ has the high-profile hook to match ‘Like a Virgin’, ‘Dress You Up’ and ‘Material Girl’.” In its review of True Blue, Allmusic’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine said that “she is using the music to hook in critics just as she’s baiting a mass audience with such masterstrokes as ‘Papa Don’t Preach’.” Robert Christgau in a review for The Village Voice felt that “she [Madonna] doesn’t speak for the ordinary teenaged stiff any more than Reagan speaks for the union members”, adding that “while the antiabortion content of ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ isn’t unequivocal, and wouldn’t make the song bad by definition if it were, the ambiguity is a cop-out rather than an open door, which is bad.”

Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine said that “with songs like ‘Papa Don’t Preach’, Madonna made the transition from pop tart to consummate artist, joining the ranks of 80s icons like Michael Jackson and Prince.” David Browne from Entertainment Weekly in a review of her first compilation album The Immaculate Collection, commented that “In theory, a 30-ish urban sophisticate singing in the voice of a pregnant teen […] ought to sound ridiculous”, but added that “With the help of collaborators like Stephen Bray and Patrick Leonard, though, [the song] turns into a perfectly conceived pop record.” In 2005, the same magazine placed the song at number 486 on its list of “The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born”. In 1987, the song was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 29th Grammy Awards, but lost to Barbra Streisand’s The Broadway Album.

Chart performance

“Papa Don’t Preach” was released in the United States in June 1986. It debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at number 42 and, within eight weeks of release, reached the top of the chart, making it Madonna’s fourth number-one single in the US. It maintained the top position for two weeks and spent 18 weeks on the chart. It also reached a peak of four on the Hot Dance Club Songs chart and a peak of number 16 on the Adult Contemporary chart. In October 1998, the single was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipment of a million copies of the single. It placed at position 29 for the Billboard Year-End chart for 1986. In Canada the song debuted at number 53 of the RPM singles chart on July 5, 1986, reached the top for two weeks in August 1986, and stayed on the chart for 20 weeks. It placed at position 13 on the RPM Year-End chart for 1986.

In the United Kingdom, “Papa Don’t Preach” was released on June 16, 1986. The song debuted at number 13 on the UK Singles Chart before climbing to number one two weeks later. It then spent three consecutive weeks at the top, stayed 15 weeks on the chart, and was certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) in August 1986 for shipment of 500,000 copies of the single. According to the Official Charts Company, the song has sold 650,700 copies in the UK by August 2016.

Across Europe, “Papa Don’t Preach” was successful, topping the Eurochart Hot 100 for 11 weeks. It reached the top position of the singles charts in Belgium, Ireland, and Norway, and peaked inside the top five in Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland.

The song also reached the top of the charts in Australia, and inside the Top 5 in South Africa and New Zealand.

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