This is a very bleak song with images of drugs, violence, and AIDS. In the United States, these issues were all in the news at the time, and Prince was making it clear that there was a dark side of Ronald Reagan's America.
The title comes from a magazine called Signs of the Times. Published by Seventh-day Adventists, it "encourages readers to lead joyful Christian lives as they await the soon return of Jesus." Prince's parents belonged to the faith, so he was immersed in it growing up.
Prince wrote this on a Sunday. According to Susan Rogers, who engineered the recording, this was the day of the week that Prince wrote his most contemplative songs. Rogers has also worked with Rusted Root and Barenaked Ladies.
The reference to the rocket ship exploding is to the January 28, 1986 Space Shuttle disaster when The Challenger shuttle blew up. Prince was surprised that people would still be interested in space travel after the incident, especially when there were so many problems in the US.
Prince used the then-new and groundbreaking Fairlight Synthesizer and the help of programmer Todd Horriman to create most of the music.
Although this song reached only #3 on the US Hot 100, it stayed at #1 on the R&B chart for three weeks.
Prince wanted Sign O' The Times to be a triple album called "The Crystal Ball," but in a rare rebuke, his record company refused, and instead it was pared down to a double album. This was one of the first significant conflicts between Prince and Warner Bros. Records; over the next few years Prince grew to resent the label, which was restricting his output. This led to his name change and public appearances with the word "slave" written on his face.
The B-side was "La La La He He He," which appears only on the collection The Hits/The B-Sides.
Prince wrote, produced, and recorded the album on his own, which is something he did early in his career. On his previous three albums, he has more input from his group The Revolution.
This was the first single from Sign O' The Times
, which also spawned "U Got the Look
," "If I Was Your Girlfriend," and "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man." The album wasn't his most successful, reaching just #6 in the US, but it aged well and is considered some of Prince's best work, showcasing his versatility and originality.
In the line, "My cousin tried reefer for the very first time, now he's doing horse," "reefer" is slang for marijuana, "horse" is slang for heroin.
Chaka Khan covered this on her album Funk This
. Her biggest hit was a cover of the Prince song "I Feel For You
Bertrand - Paris, France