Sign o' the Times
|Sign o' the Times|
|Studio album by Prince|
|Released||March 31, 1987|
|Studio||Lake Minnetonka Home Studio
Galpin Boulevard Home Studio
Washington Avenue Warehouse
(Eden Prairie, Minnesota)
Sunset Sound Recorders
Ocean Way Recording
Monterey Sound Studios
(Glendale, California, for Claire Fischer's orchestrations)
Dierks Studio Mobile Trucks
(outside Le Zénith, Paris)
|Genre||R&B, funk, smooth soul, psychedelic pop, hard rock, electro-funk|
|Label||Paisley Park, Warner Bros.
|Singles from Sign o' the Times|
Sign o' the Times, stylized as Sign "☮" the Times, is the ninth studio album by American recording artist Prince. It was released on March 31, 1987 by Paisley Park Records and Warner Bros. Records. The album is the follow-up to Parade (1986), and Prince's first "solo" album following his departure from The Revolution; the symbol between the quotes is a peace sign. The songs were largely recorded during 1986 to 1987 in sessions for albums Prince ultimately aborted—Dream Factory, Camille, and Crystal Ball.
The album's music draws on funk, soul, psychedelic pop, and rock music. Sign o' the Times features lyrical themes such as the depressing state of the world in the title track, gender identity/androgyny in "If I Was Your Girlfriend", party funk in "Housequake", sexual lust in "It", replacing a loved one in "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man", and spiritual enlightenment in "The Cross". The album also had an accompanying concert film of the same name.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (July 2012)|
The double album was a synthesis of three projects from 1986, including some work with The Revolution. The bulk of the tracks originate from the final Revolution project known as Dream Factory and a later solo project called Camille. These projects, along with some other songs, merged into a 22-track, 3-LP opus called Crystal Ball. Prince's record company, Warner Bros. Records, balked at the idea of a 3-LP album, considering both the lukewarm performance of Parade and Prince's second film, Under the Cherry Moon, and it forced Prince to trim the album down.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (July 2012)|
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.
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 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."
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (July 2012)|
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.
The double album was Prince's most diverse album to date, featuring a wide array of musical styles — rock, pop, soul and funk - with various cues taken from dance, electronic, and jazz styles as well. The album marked a return to Prince's self-contained recording process, with the artist performing and arranging nearly all the album's music single-handedly. As a result, many of the tracks have a sparer, more funk-oriented, and at times, more electronic feel than Prince's previous few records recorded with The Revolution. In addition to the album's eclecticism, many critics have identified the record as one of Prince's most adventurous, with radically minimalist, experimental arrangements on songs like "Housequake", "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker", and "Forever in My Life".
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
The album yielded three top ten hits, the most from Prince since Purple Rain in 1984. Though its sales were modest, somewhat akin to those of Parade, Sign o' the Times was almost universally applauded by critics and has been cited as his greatest work. 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." 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." 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.
In a retrospective review, Keith Harris of Blender dubbed the album a "masterpiece" and comments that "never has [Prince's] curiosity about women strayed into so many unpredictable corners." Michaelangelo Matos of Spin cited it as "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." In The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), Matos called it "[Prince's] best album, the most complete example of his artistry's breadth, and arguably the finest album of the 1980s."
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. The album was ranked #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 #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 #12 in its list of "40 Best Albums of the '80s." In 2012, Slant Magazine listed the album at #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".
All songs written and composed by Prince, except where noted
- Side 1
- "Sign o' the Times" – 4:57
- "Play in the Sunshine" – 5:05
- "Housequake" – 4:42
- "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" – 4:01
- Side 2
- "It" – 5:09
- "Starfish and Coffee" (Prince, Susannah Melvoin) – 2:50
- "Slow Love" (Prince, Carole Davis) – 4:22
- "Hot Thing" – 5:39
- "Forever in My Life" – 3:30
- Side 3
- "U Got the Look" (featuring Sheena Easton) – 3:47
- "If I Was Your Girlfriend" – 5:01
- "Strange Relationship" – 4:01
- "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" – 6:29
- Side 4
- "The Cross" – 4:48
- "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night" (Prince, Doctor Fink, Eric Leeds) – 9:01
- "Adore" – 6:30
- Prince - all vocals and instruments except as noted below
- 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), vocals (15)
- Jill Jones - vocals (15)
- Sheena Easton - co-lead vocals (10)
- "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)
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- Sign o' the Times at Discogs (list of releases)
- Sign O' The Times (Adobe Flash) at Radio3Net (streamed copy where licensed)
- Classic Albums Revisited: Prince, "Sign o' The Times" at NBC Washington
- Song of the year: 1987: Prince Sign ‘o’ the Times at The Times
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