Sign o' the Times (song)

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"Sign o' the Times"
Prince Sign single.jpg
US 7-inch single sleeve
Single by Prince
from the album Sign o' the Times
B-side"La, La, La, He, He, Hee"
ReleasedFebruary 18, 1987
RecordedJuly 15, 1986
  • 3:44 (7-in version)
  • 5:02 (12-in & album version)
LabelPaisley Park / Warner Bros.
Prince singles chronology
"Sign o' the Times"
"If I Was Your Girlfriend"

"Sign o' the Times" (stylized as "Sign "☮" the Times") is the lead single from American musician Prince's 1987 album of the same name. Despite being negative in nature, the song was originally intended for two separate Prince albums meant to be released in 1986, that were both shelved: Dream Factory and Crystal Ball. (Many of the tracks from both of these albums ended up on the album Sign o' the Times.) Prince performed all vocals & instruments on the song. "Sign o' the Times" was reportedly written and composed on a Sunday, when Prince usually wrote his most introspective songs.

The song proved popular upon release, topping the R&B chart, and reaching number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 10 on the UK Singles Chart.[3] In 2010 Rolling Stone ranked "Sign o' the Times" at number 304 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In 1987, Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics' poll named "Sign o' the Times" the best single of the year, Prince's third recognition in that category.[4] The song is also included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.[5] Cat Glover is pictured on the single hiding her face behind a black heart.

Composition and arrangement[edit]

The song was constructed by Prince almost entirely on the Fairlight sampling synthesizer, which provides the primary keyboard riff and sampled electronic bass sounds heard on the track. Unlike some artists, Prince did not program new sounds for this song. He simply used the stock sounds the Fairlight offered, including the famed "orchestra hit" towards the end of the composition. The single marked a shift from those pulled from the albums Parade and Around the World in a Day, with a spare, electronic-based arrangement, simple drum machine hits and minimal stacked synth patterns, as well as a bluesy, funk-rock guitar part (cut from the single edit of the song). The record was noticeably bluesier and more downcast (both melodically and lyrically) than any of Prince's previous singles, addressing various socio-political problems including AIDS, gang violence, natural disasters, poverty, drug abuse, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and impending nuclear holocaust. This record showcased Prince's ability to merge classic and modern rhythm and blues characteristics into one song.


The single's cover features new band member Cat Glover posing with a large heart covering her face, and on the back of the cover, posing with Prince's guitar; there was a popular rumor that incorrectly insisted that the front cover showed Prince in drag. All photo images for “Sign O‘ The Times“, including tour book, were photographed by Jeff Katz.

Music video[edit]

This music video was produced by Jae Flora, of Flora Films. Supervised at Warner Bros Records by Susan Silverman. This duo picked the director, Bill Konersman, based on his graphic design background. The text animation is considered one of the earliest instances of a lyric video[citation needed].

Track listings[edit]

7" single
  • A. "Sign o' the Times" (edit) – 3:42
  • B. "La, La, La, He, He, Hee" – 3:21
12" single
  • A. "Sign o' the Times" (LP version) – 4:57
  • B. "La, La, La, He, He, Hee" (Highly Explosive) – 10:32

Cover versions[edit]

  • Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree covered the song on the fifth release of his Cover Version series in 2008. In 2016, shortly after the death of Prince, Wilson started performing his cover version of the song live at the majority of the concerts on the Hand. Cannot. Erase. tour.
  • The jazz-fusion drummer Billy Cobham recorded a cover of the song on his album "Picture This" in 1987, featuring saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr.
  • The Scottish band Simple Minds recorded a version of this song on their EP The Amsterdam in 1989.
  • The singer and pianist Nina Simone recorded a version of the song for her final studio album, A Single Woman, in 1993. Her version was cut from the original release but included on the later 2008 CD reissue.[6]
  • Chaka Khan included a cover of the song on her 2007 album Funk This.
  • Heaven 17 covered the song in 2007.
  • Muse covered the song in an hour-long special of BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge on September 28, 2012 and in a gig at Staples Center on January 24, 2013.
  • Dubstep producer Kode 9 along with vocalist The Spaceape produced a dark, slow, dub-influenced pseudo cover version of the lyrics, called "Sine", on the album Memories of the Future.


  • Derek B included a sample of the opening lyric "Oh, yeah" on his 1988 song "Bad Young Brother".
  • Young Disciples included a sample of the lyrics "gang called the Disciples" on their 1991 song "Get Yourself Together".


La, La, La, He, He, Hee depicts a chase between a cat and a dog and contains a snare drum which sounds like a dog's bark, which is a sample from the Fairlight CMI sample-synthesizer. The song is fast-paced and reminiscent of P-Funk. It features Sheila E. on vocals and percussion and Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss on saxophone and trumpet respectively. The song's edit is featured on The Hits/The B-Sides. Per the liner notes of The Hits/The B-Sides, Sheena Easton dared Prince to write a song with the lyrics "la, la, la, he, he, hee', which resulted in a shared writing credit.


Chart (1987) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[7] 29
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[8] 20
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[8] 8
Germany (Official German Charts)[8] 35
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[8] 7
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[8] 4
Norway (VG-lista)[8] 7
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[8] 14
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[8] 11
UK Singles (OCC)[9] 10
US Billboard Hot 100[10] 3
US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (Billboard)[11] 1
Chart (2016) Peak
France (SNEP)[8] 15
Year-end chart (1987) Position
US Top Pop Singles (Billboard)[12] 60


  1. ^ Reid, Graham. "Back to Black: (2014): 12 inch vinyl, a Sign o' The Times". Retrieved July 18, 2016.
  2. ^ "25 Essential Prince Songs". Retrieved March 2, 2017.
  3. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 471.
  4. ^ Robert Christgau (1987). " - The 1987 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". Retrieved April 24, 2016.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Hampton. A Musical Odyssey (David Nathan) in: Break Down And Let It All Out. p. 220.
  7. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. p. 239. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i " - Prince - Sign "☮" The Times". Ultratop. Hung Medien. Retrieved May 4, 2016.
  9. ^ "Prince: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company. Retrieved May 4, 2016.
  10. ^ "Prince Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved May 4, 2016.
  11. ^ "Prince Chart History (Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved May 4, 2016.
  12. ^ "1987 The Year in Music & Video: Top Pop Singles". Billboard. 99 (52). December 26, 1987.