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."
K.c. from NhJust a couple of years ago there used to be a channel that showed music videos, and my daughters (now ages 13 and 11) loved their show "'80s at 8". The video for this came on, no frills, just words floating around on the screen. However, both girls were captivated by the song and quickly became fans. They knew this and "Alphabet Street" before they had ever even heard of "Purple Rain" or "1999". Needless to say, they were devastated to hear the news this weekend. The younger one cried, and the older one hadn't even recovered from the loss of David Bowie, of whom she is a huge fan.
Markantney from BiloxeMar 2015,
So I'm in a Club in Germany (in late 87 I believe), this (funky) song comes on and I said, "Man, who's that,..it almost sounds like Prince?". A dude or girl (can't remember exactly) said, "It is Prince, from his new Album."
Of course there's other artists that are Geniuses too, but this dude is a cut above.
Budoshi from Sandnessjøen, NorwayThis song was very current in it's time, and is still current now.
Edwin from Vancouver, BcLove the sparse production. Prince was just so cool.
Aya from Nsw, -I love this song. His vocals when he sings about the rocket explosion are meltworthy..
Cyruse from Weqwer, BelgiumThis song is written 20 years ago. Reagan is replaced by Bush. Nothing has changed since.
Ma_cherie from Little Rock, Ar"Sign O' The Times" - the movie - was the first Prince movie I saw.
Grayson from Cleveland, OhBrilliant song from a Brilliant album from a Brilliant Artist.
Jolene from Melbourne, AustraliaJust an amazing song, the lyrics are so powerful. Price is certainly one of the most talented song writers and musicians ever.
Mauro Boscarol from Bolzano, ItalyNina Simone recorded this song at Oceanway Studio, in Hollywood in 1993 (never released).