Sign o' the Times
Sign o' the Times is the ninth studio album by American singer, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Prince. It was first released as a double album on March 30, 1987, by Paisley Park Records and Warner Bros. Records.
|Sign o' the Times|
|Studio album by|
|Released||March 30, 1987|
|Recorded||1982; March 1986 – January 1987|
|Singles from Sign o' the Times|
The album is the follow-up to Parade (1986) and is Prince's first album following his disbanding of the Revolution. The songs were largely recorded during 1986 to 1987 in sessions for albums Prince ultimately aborted: Dream Factory, the pseudonymous Camille, and finally the triple album Crystal Ball. Prince eventually compromised with label executives and shortened the length of the release to a double album.
The album's music encompasses a varied range of styles, including funk, soul, psychedelic pop, electro, and rock. Its release was supported by several singles, among them the socially conscious title track and "If I Was Your Girlfriend"; in addition to a well-received concert film of the same name. Sign o' the Times was Prince's most acclaimed record, being voted 1987's best album in the Pazz & Jop critics poll and since being ranked as one of the greatest albums ever by several publications.
Prior to the disbanding of The Revolution, Prince was working on two separate projects: The Revolution album Dream Factory and a pseudonymous solo effort, Camille. Unlike the three previous band albums, Dream Factory included input from the band members and lead vocals by Wendy & Lisa. The Camille project saw Prince create an androgynous persona primarily singing in a sped-up, female-sounding voice. With the dismissal of The Revolution, Prince consolidated material from both shelved albums, along with some new songs, into a three-LP album to be titled Crystal Ball. Warner Bros. balked at the idea of trying to sell a three-LP album and forced Prince to trim it down to a double album.
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As with many of Prince's early 1980s albums, this album features extensive use of the Linn LM-1 drum machine on most songs. In addition, many songs on the album (such as "If I Was Your Girlfriend") feature minimal instrumentation, and use of the Fairlight CMI, a then state-of-the-art digital sampler. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Prince used the stock sounds of the Fairlight to create the title track. Four of the album's standout songs, "Housequake", "Strange Relationship", "U Got the Look" with Sheena Easton, and "If I Was Your Girlfriend" offer sped-up vocals, ostensibly the voice of "Camille", Prince's alter ego of this era. Of the album's diverse and varied collection of styles, AllMusic stated that "Prince shows nearly all of his cards here, from bare-bones electro-funk and smooth soul to pseudo-psychedelic pop and crunching hard rock, touching on gospel, blues, and folk along the way."
Prince was known for recording his vocals in the control room area of the studio. Typically, in the recording process, a vocalist records in the recording booth, separated from the control room by a window or soundproof door. To have privacy during the vocal recording process, Prince usually asked his engineer, Susan Rogers, to leave the room. Rogers recalls:
We'd get the track halfway or three-quarters of the way there and then set him up with a microphone in the control room. He'd have certain tracks on the multi-track that he would use and he'd do the vocal completely alone. I think that was the only way he could really get the performance.
On some occasions, Prince recorded vocals with his back to her. Rogers monitored the vocals with a pair of headphones so Prince's recording microphone would not pick up the speakers she would usually have used. Prince typically used a Sennheiser 441 dynamic microphone (recommended to him by Stevie Nicks) for recording vocals at this stage in his career.
Though Sign o' the Times was regarded as "less polished" than his earlier efforts, Rogers points out that "we spent more time and money on Sign o' the Times than anything he'd ever done. Much more work went into it."
Two of the album's songs were first recorded in 1982 and 1983: "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" and "Strange Relationship". Prince did additional work on both for their placement on the Dream Factory project and involved the "Wendy & Lisa" partnership of Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman on the former. When the project was canceled, "Strange Relationship" was further updated for Camille. The remaining tracks were recorded between March and December 1986. The surviving Camille tracks feature a playful sped-up vocal. "U Got the Look" was also recorded in this manner, though it was not intended for the Camille album.
|Retrospective professional reviews|
|Christgau's Record Guide||A+|
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|Spin Alternative Record Guide||10/10|
Sign o' the Times became Prince's most critically acclaimed record. Reviewing for Spin in 1987, Bart Bull said the musician's loosely organized songs are "genius" rather than indulgent and that, although there is no song as groundbreaking as "Girls & Boys", "nobody else's outtakes would sound so strong, rock so hard, swing so free." Don McLeese from the Chicago Sun-Times hailed it as "a one-man show, a tour de force, and a confirmation that pop's former prodigy has come of age." In The Village Voice, Robert Christgau said the album is not a "formal breakthrough" but rather "the most gifted pop musician of his generation proving what a motherfucker he is for two discs start to finish." He particularly praised Prince's "one-man band tricks" and multi-tracked vocals, which he said "make Stevie Wonder sound like a struggling ventriloquist" and express real emotions: "The objects of his desire are also objects of interest, affection, and respect. Some of them he may not even fuck." Sign o' the Times was voted as the best album of 1987 in The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics' poll. According to Christgau, the poll's creator, the album was "easily the biggest winner" in the poll's history and "established Prince as the greatest rock and roll musician of the era—as singer-guitarist-hooksmith-beatmaster, he has no peer." The title track "Sign o' the Times" was named the best single of 1987 in the poll, while "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" and "U Got the Look" were also voted within the top 10. The album also ranked second among "Albums of the Year" for 1987 in the annual NME critics' poll, and the title track ranked number one among songs.
In a retrospective review, Keith Harris of Blender called Sign o' the Times a "masterpiece" and comments that "never has [Prince's] curiosity about women strayed into so many unpredictable corners." Simon Price deemed it Prince's best album, as did Michaelangelo Matos, who wrote in The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004) that it was "the most complete example of his artistry's breadth, and arguably the finest album of the 1980s". Matos also believed it was "the last classic R&B album prior to hip-hop's takeover of black music and the final four-sided blockbuster of the vinyl era". Music editor Mark Brown called it "the greatest album of all time.  Slant Magazine's Eric Henderson deemed it a "double-disc blowout of sweat, funk, and raw, concentrated talent". Writer and composer Paul Grimstad regarded it as an example of avant-pop and wrote in The Brooklyn Rail that it is "to be included with other double sets that actually cohere (The White Album, The Basement Tapes, Something/Anything). Proves there is no limit to what [Prince] can do."
In 1989, Time Out magazine ranked it as the greatest album of all time. In December 1989, Robert Smith of The Cure cited Sign o' the Times amongst the best things about the eighties. The album was ranked number 16 on the New Musical Express list of the All Time Top 100 Albums, 3rd in Hot Press magazine's list of the 100 Best Albums of All Time, and number 35 on VH1's 100 Greatest Albums. The album was also placed 8th on Nieuwe Revu's Top 100 Albums of All Time. The Times listed Sign o' the Times as the 29th greatest album of all time. In 2003, the album was ranked number 93 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 2006, Q magazine placed the album at number 12 in its list of "40 Best Albums of the '80s". In 2012, Slant Magazine listed the album at number 11 on its list of "Best Albums of the 1980s", calling it "Prince's most varied album and his most self-consciously auteurish".
All songs written by Prince, except where noted.
|Record one: Side one|
|1.||"Sign o' the Times"||4:57|
|2.||"Play in the Sunshine"||5:05|
|4.||"The Ballad of Dorothy Parker"||4:01|
|Record one: Side two|
|2.||"Starfish and Coffee" (Susannah Melvoin, Prince)||2:50|
|3.||"Slow Love" (Prince, Carole Davis)||4:22|
|5.||"Forever in My Life"||3:30|
|Record two: Side three|
|1.||"U Got the Look" (features uncredited vocals by Sheena Easton)||3:47|
|2.||"If I Was Your Girlfriend"||5:01|
|4.||"I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man"||6:29|
|Record two: Side four|
|2.||"It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night" (Doctor Fink, Eric Leeds, Prince)||9:01|
- Sides one through four were combined as tracks 1–16 on CD.
- Prince – lead vocals and various instruments
- Wendy Melvoin – guitar and backing vocals (7), tambourine and congas (12, 15)
- Lisa Coleman – backing vocals (7), Fairlight sitar and wooden flute (12), keyboards and backing vocals (15)
- Sheila E. – drums and percussion (10), percussion and rap (15)
- Dr. Fink – keyboards (15)
- Miko Weaver – guitar (15)
- Brown Mark – bass (15)
- Bobby Z. – drums (15)
- Eric Leeds – saxophone (3, 7, 8, 15, 16)
- Atlanta Bliss – trumpet (3, 7, 15, 16)
- Susannah Melvoin – backing vocals (2, 4, 6), vocals (15)
- Jill Jones – vocals (15)
- Sheena Easton – contributing artist (10)
- Clare Fischer – string arrangements
The live audience on "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night" is credited for backing vocals under the name of "6,000 wonderful Parisians".
- "Sign o' the Times" (#3 US, #1 US R&B, #10 UK)
- "Sign o' the Times"
- "La, La, La, He, He, Hee" lyrics jointly written by Sheena Easton
- "If I Was Your Girlfriend" (#67 US, #12 US R&B, #20 UK)
- "If I Was Your Girlfriend"
- "U Got the Look" (#2 US, #11 US R&B, #11 UK)
- "U Got the Look"
- "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" (#10 US, #14 US R&B, #29 UK)
- "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man"
- "Hot Thing" (#63 US, #14 US R&B)
- Hot Thing (promo)
Note: Except for the title track, all the singles' music videos are the scenes depicted in the concert film; however, the music video for "U Got the Look" was filmed separately. With that being said, Sign O The Times was soon performed live at the VMA and this video made it to VH1 soul, meaning all singles have videos depicted at a club and/or concert.
|France (SNEP)||2× Gold||280,500|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Platinum||300,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||Platinum||1,000,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone
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