There were no two bigger pop stars in the world in 1989 than Prince and Madonna. The Purple One was at a strange point in his career, stuck between the world-conquering pop of his initial style and the harder-edged R&B funk that he would adopt in the ’90s. But Prince was still scoring number one hits, even if it was ‘Batdance’ from the Batman soundtrack.
Meanwhile, Madonna was about to unleash Like a Prayer on the world, an artistic tour de force that would court controversy and establish her as the biggest pop singer on the planet. When Pepsi pulls out of its multi-million dollar endorsement and you get a public condemnation from The Vatican, you’re operating on another level. But Like a Prayer also contained introspective tracks, chart topping singles, and most exciting of all, a Prince collaboration.
If you, like the rest of the world, had forgotten that Prince and Madonna collaborated on a duet at the height of their fame, then allow me to (re)introduce you to ‘Love Song’. Yes, on an album so scandalous that it got boycotted by the pope, two of the ’80s most salacious singers sing a song directly at each other. And the results are… strangely limp.
For two people with enough charisma and sexual energy to make inanimate objects blush, Madonna and Prince have absolutely no heat on the generic ‘Love Song’. The icy drum machine and supremely ’80s synths don’t do the pair any favours, and neither do the generic lyrics that repeat ad nauseam. The pair both declare that “this is not a love song”, but that could have been keyed into by the fact that there doesn’t seem be any spark to the song.
Part of the problem was that Prince and Madonna were never actually in the same studio at the same time while recording ‘Love Song’, as Madonna recalled: “We were friends and talked about working together, so I went to Minneapolis to write some stuff with him, but the only thing I really dug was ‘Love Song’.”
Adding: “We ended up writing it long-distance because I had to be in L.A. and he couldn’t leave Minneapolis, and quite frankly I couldn’t stand Minneapolis. When I went there, it was like 20 degrees below zero, and it was really desolate. I was miserable and I couldn’t write or work under those circumstances.”
Initially, there were even talks of the pair writing a full musical together. “We’d always talked about getting together to write,” Madonna recalled in 1989 Rolling Stone interview. “And, in fact, there was a moment last year when we were possibly going to write a musical together. I went to his studio in Minnesota and worked on some stuff, just to get the feel of what it would be like to collaborate.” Nothing beyond ‘Love Song’ ever got off the ground, and it wound up being the pair’s only work together.
It would have been unfathomable to leave ‘Love Song’ off Like a Prayer, but evidently neither Madonna nor Prince were terribly interested in promoting the song with a single release or a music video. Instead, the song was buried among the hits on Like a Prayer, to the extent that a fair few fans remain surprised at the fact that the two ever collaborated in the first place.
Despite the fact that the pairing didn’t really work out, Madonna still has fond memories of working with Prince. “He’s very private, you know, and very shy,” she said in Rolling Stone. “He’s great when you get to know him. Charming and funny, in his own way. More than anything, he really comes alive when he’s working.”