Sign O' the Times

Album: Sign O' the Times (1987)
Charted: 10 3
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  • 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 elsewhere 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." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • Jack Hues of Wang Chung cites this as one of the Top 3 songs of the '80s. He broke it down for Songfacts. "This song struck me the moment I heard it for the stripped-down economy of both the production and the actual songwriting," said Hues. "It begins with the bass drum, shaker and a sort of electronic conga part. They are all syncopated and occupy their own spaces in the rhythm, but all slightly 'off.' When the straight snare comes in with the bass guitar everything lines up and sounds funky as hell even though, on paper, it should be a bit of a mess. But this is part of Prince's genius: to use simple, disparate elements and let them groove.

    The first verse goes back to the intro arrangement - no harmony, just a descending melody for the vocal. The lyrics are direct, serious and straight to the point. The second verse is just as spare with an enigmatic bell sound providing decoration. Guitar enters on the second line with a great blues sound playing minimal licks and preparing to groove on the chorus, which consists of one word: 'Times.'

    The move to the middle eight is perfectly timed and the chord contrast is classic - listen to the synth pad sound and how it drifts around quite extended harmonies without really stating anything definitive. The second middle eight goes even further out. No bass in this section, apart from a few little twitches, so when chord one returns you really have that feeling of 'home.'

    The vocal performance holds center stage throughout and is definitive - I can't imagine it sung differently. I have tried playing this song live. It's great to do it, but it's something to do among friends with compassion - you're never going to get close to Prince's feel on this track."

Comments: 11

  • Nickyg. from Rochester MnOct. 2021
    Although Prince lived a mere 76 miles away from me in Minneapolis, I do not feel any “bias” when I say this:People thought Michael Jackson was talented and very gifted,
    and with Elvis Presley long gone, was often referred by many to be “the new king…”
    Well, if that’s the case, Prince was a GOD,
    because he was “obviously” SO MUCH MORE TALENTED AND GIFTED then M.J….Prince was “THE REAL DEAL”, the “WHOLE PACKAGE”…
    He wrote the songs, the lyrics, he sung the songs, played SEVERAL instruments, danced to the songs, and PRODUCED and DIRECTED
    everything he was ever associated with, including shows when he was touring, and making movies when he wasn’t…He truly was special, and is DEF. one of music’s biggest and most tragic losses… R.I.P. buddy…
  • 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, 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).
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