Sign o' the Times (song)
|"Sign o' the Times"|
US 7" single
|Single by Prince|
|from the album Sign o' the Times|
|B-side||"La, La, La, He, He, Hee"|
|Released||February 18, 1987|
|Recorded||Home studio, Minneapolis and Sunset Sound; July 1986|
|Length||7" edit: 3:44
|Prince singles chronology|
"Sign o' the Times" is the lead single from American musician Prince's 1987 album of the same name. 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 sings and performs the entire track except for some backing vocals by then-girlfriend Susannah Melvoin, sister of Wendy, then a guitarist in The Revolution. "Sign o' the Times" was 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. 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, both NME and Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics' poll named "Sign o' the Times" the best single of the year. The song is also included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
Composition and arrangement
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.
Prince did not want to appear in a music video for this track. Therefore, the official video for the song consists of the lyrics of the song written in the typeface Times appearing on-screen in differing graphic displays alongside geometric shapes. It was directed by Bill Konersman and is considered one of the earliest instances of a lyric video.
The B-side was the funk-oriented "La, La, La, He, He, Hee", which Prince wrote and composed as a rejoinder to Sheena Easton. The track features vocal samples morphed into drumbeats not dissimilar to that of a dog barking. The lyrics refer to a dog's affair with a cat with playful sexuality. Part of the refrain was used briefly in the song "I Wanna Melt with U" from the Love Symbol album.
- 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
- 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 last studio album, A Single Woman, in 1993. But her version never made it to the final album.
- 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 this track, 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".
|Australia (Kent Music Report)||29|
|Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)||20|
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)||8|
|Germany (Official German Charts)||35|
|Netherlands (Single Top 100)||7|
|New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)||4|
|Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)||11|
|UK Singles (Official Charts Company)||10|
|US Billboard Hot 100||3|
|US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (Billboard)||1|
- Reid, Graham. "Back to Black: (2014): 12 inch vinyl, a Sign o' The Times". Retrieved July 18, 2016.
- The starkly minimalist track found him playing blues guitar over a Fairlight synthesizer, and wailing over the world's troubles.
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 471.
- Robert Christgau (1987). "robertchristgau.com - The 1987 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". Retrieved 24 April 2016.
- Hess, Roy (April 26, 2016). "The Prince (musician) Handbook - Everything You Need To Know About Prince (musician)". Emereo Publishing. Retrieved February 6, 2017 – via Google Books.
- Hampton. A Musical Odyssey (David Nathan) in: Break Down And Let It All Out. p. 220.
- Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. p. 239. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
- "ultratop.be - Prince - Sign "☮" The Times". Ultratop. Hung Medien. Retrieved May 4, 2016.
- "Prince: Artist Chart History" Official Charts Company. Retrieved May 4, 2016.
- "Prince – Chart history" Billboard Hot 100 for Prince. Retrieved May 4, 2016.
- "Prince – Chart history" Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs for Prince. Retrieved May 4, 2016.
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