The Sign (song)

"The Sign" is a song by the Swedish pop group Ace of Base, which was released as a single in October 1993 in Europe from their album Happy Nation (titled The Sign in North America). Written by band member Jonas Berggren, it was an international hit, reaching number two in the United Kingdom and spending six non-consecutive weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States, ending 1994 as the top song on Billboard's year-end chart. It also reached number one in nine other countries, including Australia, Canada, Germany and New Zealand. "The Sign" received a nomination for Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals at the 37th Annual Grammy Awards.[3]

"The Sign"
TheSign.jpg
Standard European artwork
Single by Ace of Base
from the album Happy Nation (U.S. version) and The Sign
Released
  • 29 October 1993 (Europe)
  • 21 December 1993 (US)
  • 17 January 1994 (UK)
Recorded1993
StudioCheiron Studios
(Stockholm, Sweden)
Genre
Length3:08
Label
Songwriter(s)Jonas Berggren
Producer(s)
Ace of Base singles chronology
"Waiting for Magic"
(1993)
"The Sign"
(1993)
"Don't Turn Around"
(1994)
Music video
"The Sign" on YouTube

BackgroundEdit

Ace of Base originally released their debut album Happy Nation in 1992, which didn't include "The Sign", as it was meant to be for their next album. The head of Arista Records, Clive Davis, heard the song's demo, and in turn passed it to Swedish producers Douglas Carr and Denniz Pop, as he wanted something different from the European album.[4] The demo only contained the song's instrumental, which PoP thought that the verse was the chorus.[4] In contrast to "All That She Wants", PoP knew what he wanted to do with the song from the beginning.[5] Linn and Jenny split "The Sign" like they wanted to, so that it would become a duet between both girls. Jenny played around with the chords at the end and composed the harmonies around it.[6]

CompositionEdit

"We recorded it rather fast. The chorus was hard to sing since it has no time to breathe in it. We solved it by letting Jenny sing the second and fourth part of it. They wanted Linn to sing because Denniz loved her voice, so she did the vital parts. Denniz [PoP], [co-producer] Douglas [Carr] and I were happy with the result. An interesting part is that the song was so loud that we had to reduce the volume by three decibels compared to the other tracks when we mastered the album."

—Jonas Berggren talking to Idolator about how the song was made.[7]

"The Sign" has been described as a "techno-reggae confection with a killer chorus". It's seemingly about a couple contemplating the state of their relationship and deciding to split up, a summation Jonas Berggren in interviews has stated is "more or less" correct.[1]

In a 2015 interview with Billboard, Jonas Berggren described the recording of the song:[1]

When we recorded "The Sign", it was a bit too merry. So we put the [hums] da na-na na-na na-na in between the melody lines. It's a bit minor in that part. It becomes major and minor, as a total. But the chorus is mostly major.

The song is performed in the key of G major for the verses and chorus but in G minor for the intro and instrumental breaks. The song follows a tempo of 97 beats per minute in common time. According to the sheet music published at Musicnotes.com by Universal Music Publishing Group, the group's vocals span from A3 to E5.[8] The song initially begins with the sounds of a hand clap, kick drum, and snare over a four bar beat, which was sampled from "Shack Up" by 70s funk group, Banbarra.[5] The melodic hook contains a synth flute, with a bass combining a Moog sub-bass and a Korg M1 bass.[5] Throughout the verses, a Yamaha TG77 synthesizer is used to create a reggae rhythm guitar sound.[2] During the bridge, the band's vocal range increases by an octave.[2]

ReceptionEdit

Critical responseEdit

AllMusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine said that with singles like "All That She Wants", "The Sign", and "Don't Turn Around", "it's easy to see why they were hits—the beat is relentless and the hooks are incessantly catchy."[9] David Thigpen from Entertainment Weekly wrote in his review, "Once you get past the quirky novelty of their hugely popular reggae-styled hit "All That She Wants", you wind up in a wasteland of neutered hip-hop and lumbering dance rhythms, all dragged along behind Linn Berggren's inert, colorless voice on "The Sign". If nothing else, Ace of Base's chart success here and abroad proves that reggae is still the only true world music."[10] Music & Media commented, "More pop reggae from the same Swedish chiefs."[11] Neil Strauss from The New York Times stated that Ace of Base "creates another pop ballad about an imperfect relationship by repeating a deceptively mystical hook ('I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes') over a minimal bass line."[12] Bob Waliszewski of Plugged In said the song "demonstrate strength in the wake of romantic rejection."[13] Pop Rescue noted its "reggae style" and said that "combined with the vocals of Linn and Jenny, this feels like a perfect summertime track."[14] Press-Telegram wrote that "The Sign" and "All That She Wants" are "packed with unforgettable hooks."[15] The Rolling Stone Album Guide described the song as "the wisest, catchiest, most triumphant kiss-off since 'I Will Survive'."[16] Chuck Campbell from Scripps Howard News Service wrote in his review, that "The Sign" "could be a bigger hit than the first song ["All That She Wants"], thanks to its infectious Europop energy and cosmic synths set to a reggae beat".[17] Callum Petch from Set The Tape stated that the song "is an indisputable bop" and "an absolute classic of Pop music, a track which delights and shimmers, sounding just as magnificent on the first listen as it does the seven-hundredth and even after 25 years of (over-)exposure."[18]

Chart performanceEdit

In Europe "The Sign" reached number one in Denmark, Finland, Germany and Spain. On 28 November it entered the Eurochart Hot 100 at number 29 and peaked at number two eight weeks later. Additionally, the song was a Top 10 hit also in Austria, Belgium, France, Ireland (number 2), the Netherlands, Norway, Scotland (number 2), Sweden (number 2), Switzerland and the United Kingdom (number 2). In the latter, it peaked in its second week at UK Singles Chart, on February 27, 1994. It was held off reaching the top spot by Mariah Carey's "Without You" and spent a total of three weeks as number 2 on the chart.[19] In Iceland, it was a Top 30 hit, peaking at number 28.

Outside Europe, it peaked at number one in Australia, Israel, New Zealand Canada and Zimbabwe. In the United States it topped the Billboard Hot 100 on the 12 March 1994 issue,[20] as well as the Cash Box Top 100. "The Sign" was the number-one song of 1994 according to Billboard magazine's year-end charts. The song was ranked at number 60 on The Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs for the first 55 years of the Hot 100 chart,[21] and received a nomination for Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals at the 1995 Grammy Awards.[22]

In 1994, Music & Media published as assessment of the chart performance of "The Sign", which states that it "entered Border Breakers at number 10 on November 21, 1993, due to crossover airplay in Central Europe. It also peaked twice at number 1; on December 18, staying for five weeks and again on March 9 for a two week stay. It entered the Eurochart November 28 at 29 and peaked at 2 eight weeks later", and that it "[...] also holds the record for longest-running single on Border Breakers—42 weeks before slipping off on August 20."[23]

Retrospective responseEdit

Vulture stated in their retrospective review of The Sign album in 2011, that "The Sign is still a very good pop song."[24]

In 2014, Idolator ranked "The Sign" No. 1 on their ranking of The 50 Best Pop Singles of 1994.[7] Robbie Daw commented, "Far more high octane than "All That She Wants" and way meatier as a song in general, "The Sign" was a straight-up smash that was tailor made for radio."[25]

John Seabrook, a staff writer at The New Yorker, praised the song in his 2015 book The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, stating that "the song is a three-minute, thirty-second sonic thrill rise of Swedish funk."[2] He also acknowledged that the song's success was due to three people: Denniz Pop, Clive Davis, and Clive Calder.[26] Seabrook concluded that it had an influential impact on pop music, suggesting that "a Swedish hit factory for US and British artists had never happened before. ... 'The Sign' really was the sign that that could happen."[26]

In 2016, Rolling Stone placed the song at No. 42 on their list of 50 Best Songs of the Nineties.[27] BuzzFeed listed the song at number 28 in their 2017 list of The 101 Greatest Dance Songs Of the '90s.[28] Billboard put "The Sign" at No. 65 on their 2018 ranking of All-Time Top 100 Songs,[29] stating that it "led pop into a new era, putting Sweden on the map as a credible hitmaking hub, pushing electronic production closer to the forefront of popular music and helping ignite a collaborative approach to songwriting that has become an industry standard."[26]

In 2018, Annie Zaleski from The A.V. Club wrote that the song "is full of cheerful shade—"Life is demanding without understanding," is sung in the direction of an ex—and expressions of wonder for a glorious new life with someone new."[30]

Set The Tape commented in their 2019 article of the song, that "the chorus is a monolith but there are tonnes of other almost as giant hooks scattered about throughout the rest of the song – that morse-code-reminiscent whistle, the Reggae drum-loops, how each new line of the verse is introduced by that popping collective "AH!" Vocalists Jenny and Linn Berggren are chipper without inducing cavities, the production is airtight, and its influence on and responsibility for the late-90s eventual submission to the Swedish Pop machine is undeniable."[31]

AccoladesEdit

Year Publisher Country Accolade Rank Ref.
2005 Bruce Pollock United States "The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944–2000" * [32]
2012 Porcys Poland "100 Singli 1990–1999" 55 [33]
2014 Idolator United States "The 50 Best Pop Singles of 1994" 1 [7]
2016 Rolling Stone United States "50 Best Songs of the Nineties" 42 [27]
2017 BuzzFeed United States "The 101 Greatest Dance Songs Of the '90s" 28 [28]
2018 Billboard United States "All-Time Top 100 Songs" 65 [29]
2019 Insider United States "Best songs from the '90s" * [34]
2019 Max Australia "1000 Greatest Songs Of All Time" 688 [35]
2019 Stacker United States "Best 90s pop songs" 12 [36]

(*) indicates the list is unordered.

Music videoEdit

 
Ace of Base in "The Sign" music video

The music video is directed by Mathias Julien and was shot on Filmhuset in Stockholm in November 1993.

The beginning of the video is an homage to Depeche Mode's Enjoy the Silence. It features the pop group singing amidst romantic and joyful images; "The Sign" was depicted as a computer generated ankh and a djed. Amid the images is a little story of a man and woman sitting side by side until the man leaves, seemingly abandoning the woman. However, he comes back with a rose and offers it to the woman. The woman graciously accepts and takes his hand. However, a bright light shines in the woman's face, drawing her away, abandoning the man and dropping the rose on the chair. The video was uploaded to YouTube in October 2010. As of September 2020, it has got more than 66.9 million views.[37]

Track listingsEdit

Credits and personnelEdit

Credits adapted from the liner notes of The Sign.[44]

ChartsEdit

CertificationsEdit

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[79] Platinum 70,000^
Austria (IFPI Austria)[97] Gold 25,000*
Germany (BVMI)[98] Platinum 500,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[99] Platinum 10,000*
United Kingdom (BPI)[100] Gold 443,751^
United States (RIAA)[102] Platinum 1,100,000[101]

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

ReferencesEdit

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External linksEdit