Released: October 25, 1989
Billboard Hot 100 Peak: 20
Accompanied by a stunning black and white music video, the haunting ballad "Oh Father" was the fourth single from the "Like a Prayer" album. At the time, "Oh Father" had the unfortunate honor of becoming Madonna’s first single, since "Holiday" in 1984, not to enter the top ten in the United States, peaking at number 20 on the week of December 30, 1989. This ended her streak of 16 consecutive top five singles and 17 consecutive top ten singles including "Borderline" (1984) through "Cherish" (1989) as they all had reached the top 10.
"Oh Father" was not released as a single in most European territories until December 24, 1995, when it appeared on Madonna's 1995 compilation album Something to Remember. The 1995 single was released with different tracklisting and artwork which included a photography still from the 1989 music video. The song debuted and peaked at number 16 on the UK Singles Chart on January 6, 1996. It became the third single of her career to miss the top-ten position in the United Kingdom, after "Lucky Star" (1984) and "Take a Bow" (1994).
Generally accepted by critics and academics as a love letter to Tony Ciccone or as an indictment, Madonna never divulged her inspiration behind "Oh Father", except saying that the song was about her father and a tribute to Simon & Garfunkel. She added, "The song is what the listener thinks it is, all open to interpretation. I just wrote the song, it's up to others to interpret them to mean what they want them to mean. "'Oh Father' is like the second half of 'Live to Tell', in a way. It was a combo package—it was about my father and my husband. I was dealing with male authority figures once again. That is a great source of inspiration in my writing."
—Madonna talking about the song to Craig Rosen, author of The Billboard Book of Number One Albums
"Typical Fincher features are present: black and white, shadows, leisurely camera movement, extreme high angles, and some slow motion. A black and white setting dissolves between shots, creating a sense of fluidity between scenes and images, and many scenes are shot in snow, particularly the reverse-tracking shot in the opening from the snowscape into the house. However, the child-centered narrative in which trauma in childhood supposedly affects the life of an adult is not visually coherent."
—Browning talking about the music video in his book, David Fincher: Films That Scar