Sign o' the Times

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This article is about the Prince album. For other uses, see Sign of the times.
Sign o' the Times
Prince sign-o-the-times 250.jpg
Studio album by Prince
Released March 31, 1987
Recorded 1986–87
Length 79:52
Producer Prince
Prince chronology
Sign o' the Times
Singles from Sign o' the Times
  1. "Sign o' the Times"
    Released: February 18, 1987
  2. "If I Was Your Girlfriend"
    Released: May 6, 1987
  3. "U Got the Look"
    Released: July 14, 1987
  4. "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man"
    Released: November 3, 1987

Sign o' the Times is the ninth studio album by the American recording artist Prince, released on March 31, 1987 by Paisley Park Records and Warner Bros. Records. The album is the follow-up to Parade (1986) and is Prince's first album following his disbanding of the The Revolution. The songs were largely recorded during 1986 to 1987 in sessions for albums Prince ultimately aborted: Dream Factory, Camille, and Crystal Ball.[2] Initially intending to release a triple album culled from these sessions, Prince 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.[3][4] 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 solo effort, Camille.[5] Unlike the three previous band albums, Dream Factory included input from the band members and featured songs with lead vocals by Wendy & Lisa.[5] The Camille project saw Prince create a new persona primarily singing in a speeded-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.[6] Warner Bros. forced Prince to trim the triple album to a double album.[7]


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."[3]

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: "Strange Relationship" and "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man". 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.


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[3]
Chicago Sun-Times 3.5/4 stars[8]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 5/5 stars[9]
Entertainment Weekly A[4]
The Guardian 5/5 stars[10]
Pitchfork 10/10[11]
Q 5/5 stars[12]
Rolling Stone 5/5 stars[13]
Slant Magazine 5/5 stars[14]
The Village Voice A+[15]

Sign o' the Times produced three top-ten hit singles, the most from a Prince album since Purple Rain in 1984, although it sold modestly.[citation needed] It was his most critically acclaimed record.[16] Bart Bull, writing for Spin magazine in 1987, said that Prince'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."[17] Robert Christgau of The Village Voice said that 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."[15] Sign o' the Times was voted as the best album of 1987 in The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics' poll.[18] 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."[19] 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.[20]

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."[21] Simon Price deemed it Prince's best album,[10] 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".[22] 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".[23] Slant Magazine's Eric Henderson deemed it a "double-disc blowout of sweat, funk, and raw, concentrated talent".[14]

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 according to him.[24] 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.[25] In 2003, the album was ranked number 93 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[26] In 2006, Q magazine placed the album at number 12 in its list of "40 Best Albums of the '80s".[27] In 2012, Slant Magazine listed the album at number 11 on its list of "Best Albums of the 1980s" saying "Sign o' the Times is Prince's most varied album and his most self-consciously auteurish".[28]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Prince, except where noted

Side 1
  1. "Sign o' the Times" – 4:57
  2. "Play in the Sunshine" – 5:05
  3. "Housequake" – 4:42
  4. "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" – 4:01
Side 2
  1. "It" – 5:09
  2. "Starfish and Coffee" (Prince, Susannah Melvoin) – 2:50
  3. "Slow Love" (Prince, Carole Davis) – 4:22
  4. "Hot Thing" – 5:39
  5. "Forever in My Life" – 3:30
Side 3
  1. "U Got the Look" (featuring Sheena Easton) – 3:47
  2. "If I Was Your Girlfriend" – 5:01
  3. "Strange Relationship" – 4:01
  4. "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" – 6:29
Side 4
  1. "The Cross" – 4:48
  2. "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night" (Prince, Doctor Fink, Eric Leeds) – 9:01
  3. "Adore" – 6:30



  1. "Sign o' the Times"
  2. "La, La, La, He, He, Hee" lyrics jointly written by Sheena Easton
  1. "If I Was Your Girlfriend"
  2. "Shockadelica"
  1. "U Got the Look"
  2. "Housequake"
  1. "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man"
  2. "Hot Thing" (#63 US, #14 US R&B)



Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Australia (ARIA)[49] Gold 35,000^
France (SNEP)[50] 2× Gold 280,500[50]
Netherlands (NVPI)[51] Platinum 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[52] Platinum 300,000^
United States (RIAA)[53] Platinum 1,000,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone


  1. ^ Grimstad, Paul. "What is Avant-Pop?". Brooklyn Rail. Retrieved 1 October 2016. 
  2. ^ Faust, Edwin C. (3 September 2003). "Playing God: Prince's "Sign O' The Times"". Stylus Magazine. Archived from the original on 2 November 2003. Retrieved 22 August 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Prince: Sign 'O' the Times > Review" at AllMusic. Retrieved 15 September 2011.
  4. ^ a b Browne, David (21 September 1990). "Purple Products". Entertainment Weekly. No. #32. ISSN 1049-0434. Retrieved 22 August 2011. 
  5. ^ a b Draper 2008, pp. 76–78.
  6. ^ Draper 2008, p. 80.
  7. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Sign 'O' the Times". Billboard. Archived from the original on May 9, 2013. Retrieved March 3, 2009. 
  8. ^ McLeese, Don (March 29, 1987). "Prince // Once again, a one-man band on `Sign O the Times'". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved April 25, 2016.  (subscription required)
  9. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th ed.). Omnibus Press. p. 2190. ISBN 0857125958. 
  10. ^ a b Price, Simon (April 22, 2016). "Prince: every album rated – and ranked". The Guardian. London. Retrieved April 25, 2016. 
  11. ^ George, Nelson (April 29, 2016). "Prince: 1999". Pitchfork. Retrieved May 2, 2016. 
  12. ^ "Prince - Sign 'O' the Times CD Album". Retrieved 1 August 2012. 
  13. ^ Touré (8 October 2002). "Prince: Sign O' The Times". Rolling Stone. Wenner Media. ISSN 0035-791X. Retrieved 15 September 2011. 
  14. ^ a b Henderson, Eric (19 August 2007). "Prince: Sign 'O' the Times". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 15 September 2011. 
  15. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (May 5, 1987). "Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved May 31, 2013. 
  16. ^ =Dobuzinskis, Alex; Serjeant, Jill (April 22, 2016). "'Purple Rain' superstar Prince, 57, dies at US studio complex". Reuters. Scroll down to the slide show and reach 10/21 slides. Retrieved June 3, 2016. 
  17. ^ "Prince: Sign o' the Times". Spin. Spin Media: 30. May 1987. ISSN 0886-3032. Retrieved 22 August 2011. 
  18. ^ "The 1987 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". The Village Voice. New York. March 1, 1988. Retrieved May 31, 2013. 
  19. ^ Christgau, Robert (March 1, 1988). "Pazz & Jop 1987: Significance and Its Discontents in the Year of the Blip". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved May 31, 2013. 
  20. ^ "Pazz & Jop critics' poll of 1987". 
  21. ^ Harris, Keith (June–July 2001). "Every Original CD Reviewed - Prince". Blender. No. 1. Alpha Media Group. 
  22. ^ Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian, eds. (November 2, 2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 655, 656. ISBN 0743201698. Retrieved 2012-05-12. 
  23. ^ Matos, Michaelangelo (July 2005). "100 Greatest Albums: 1985-2005". Spin. New York: Vibe/Spin Ventures. 21 (7): 70. Retrieved 2012-05-12. 
  24. ^ Robert Smith [interview]. Melody Maker. December 23–30, 1989. p. 23. 
  25. ^ "Prince: Sign 'O' the Times". Retrieved 15 September 2011. 
  26. ^ "93 | Sign 'o' the Times - Prince". The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Archived from the original on 28 May 2006. Retrieved 15 September 2011. 
  27. ^ Q. Bauer Media Group (241). August 2006.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  28. ^ "The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s | Feature | Slant Magazine". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 2016-03-30. 
  29. ^ a b Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6. 
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  31. ^ "Top Albums/CDs - Volume 46, No. 7" (PHP). RPM. May 23, 1987. Retrieved May 3, 2013. 
  32. ^ " Prince - Sign o' the Times" (ASP). Hung Medien. MegaCharts. Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
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  35. ^ Oricon Album Chart Book: Complete Edition 1970-2005. Roppongi, Tokyo: Oricon Entertainment. 2006. ISBN 4871310779. 
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  40. ^ "Prince > Artists > Official Charts". UK Albums Chart. Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
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  42. ^ "Album Search: Prince - Sign o' the Times" (in German). Media Control. Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
  43. ^ "Album - Classifica settimanale WK 19 (dal 2016-05-06 al 2016-05-12)" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved 14 May 2016. 
  44. ^ "Dutch charts jaaroverzichten 1987" (in Dutch). Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
  45. ^ "Les Albums (CD) de 1987 par InfoDisc" (PHP) (in French). Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
  46. ^ " - Schweizer Jahreshitparade 1987". Hung Medien. Retrieved May 7, 2011. 
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  49. ^ "ARIA Charts – Accreditations – 1999 Albums". Australian Recording Industry Association. Retrieved May 2, 2013. 
  50. ^ a b "Les Albums Double Or". (in French). SNEP. Retrieved May 2, 2011. 
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  52. ^ "British album certifications – Prince – Sign o' the Times". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved April 2, 2014.  Enter Sign o' the Times in the field Keywords. Select Title in the field Search by. Select album in the field By Format. Select Platinum in the field By Award. Click Search
  53. ^ "American album certifications – Prince – The Times". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved May 2, 2013.  If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH

External links[edit]

Preceded by
The Joshua Tree by U2
Swiss Hitparade number-one album
June 7, 1987
Succeeded by
Whitney by Whitney Houston