My absolute favorite Prince album of all time is Sign O’ The Times. It was his ninth record and was released in the United States and France on March 31, 1987, and in the UK on March 30, 1987. It was also his third release on his Paisley Park record label, preceded by Parade and Around the World in a Day (also two of my favorite albums).
I will never forget the day this album came out. I actually called my local record store and had them hold a copy for me, which I had also done for Around the World in a Day, Parade, and Lovesexy. Those people knew me over there!
It was at this time I really started to understand how keen Prince was at changing his sound and image on every album. This was one of the most diverse albums I had heard yet in terms of blending genres and I definitely loved the imagery on the cover and inner sleeves. The colors he was using, peach and black, influenced my entire seventh and eighth grade wardrobe!
I remember the second I got the album home I put the first disc on my record player and played the first side multiple times before I could even get to the second side. I remember loving “Housequake” so much I couldn’t have played it enough. I had no idea how long it was going to take me to get through that entire album, but I knew every time I got a new Prince record, I would spend hours listening to individual songs before moving on to another. I would read the lyrics on the sleeve and listen to the song, wondering what Prince was basing his lyrics on, if it was really him playing all those instruments or if he had some guest musicians, and trying to separate all the instrument parts out in my mind. I wanted to understand his process behind each and every song. It took some time and some thinking. I used to write down notes about each song in a journal I had solely for Prince related topics. This album really took some serious listening because it truly was a masterpiece.
Some History Behind The Recording of Sign O’ The Times
Eight of the tracks on Sign O’ The Times were actually slated to appear on The Dream Factory, which Prince planned as his fourth release with The Revolution. However, when he disbanded the Revolution in October of 1986, he began to rework that entire album. Around that same time, Prince began working on a separate album titled Camille. There were three tracks from Sign O’ The Times that appeared on the Camille album: “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” “Housequake,” and “Strange Relationship.” Prince began to combine elements of The Dream Factory and Camille to create what would end up as the triple album Crystal Ball, which included a total of 22 tracks. He wanted to actually release Crystal Ball as a triple album, but Warner Brothers wasn’t too keen on that idea, so Prince removed seven of the songs and recorded “U Got the Look.” This song completed the final product, which became Sign O’ The Times. Prince finished all work on the album on January 15, 1987.
The length of the disc one ended up at 40 minutes and 15 seconds, and disc two at 39 minutes and 33 seconds. Prince did the recording for Sign O’ The Times at his home studio at Kiowa Trail in Chanhassen, MN, his Galpin Blvd. home studio (also in Chanhassen, MN), Sunset Sound in Hollywood, CA, Ocean Way Recording (also in Hollywood, CA), and “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night” was recorded live at Le Zenith in Paris, France on August 25, 1986 (vocal and instrumental overdubs were done at Sunset Sound on November 22, 1986).
My Favorite Tracks On Sign O’ The Times
I honestly can’t say there is one song I don’t like on this album. I look at each song a separate work of art, which they are, and each song represents such an incredible combination of genres and sounds. This album as a whole is just so stunning and even though every song is absolutely amazing in its own right, I have five favorites that I found myself listening to over and over again.
As I discussed before, “Housequake” stood out to me immediately. I remember loving this song so much, mostly because me and some girls at my junior high had a dance to it. We would hang out after lunch and play it on a tape recorder and make up dance moves to it. It was AWESOME. I also really loved the sound of the popping and hissing record effect he used at the beginning and end. But mostly, I just loved saying “shut up already, DAMN!”. Back in seventh grade, that was a lot of fun! It was full of heavy kick drum, bass and organ, and I loved the horns. It reminded me of a modern James Brown song. We danced our ASSES off to this song and had SO much fun. I would play it so loud in my house when I was growing up, I’m sure our neighbors wondered what was going on!
“Housequake” is the third track on Sign O’ The Times, and was also the B-side to the third single from Sign O’ The Times, “U Got the Look.” It was intended as the second track on the Camille album, and was planned to be the B-side to a single from the Camille album called “Shockadelica.” It was also planned as the third song on the first disc of Crystal Ball. Prince played all the instruments and did all the vocals himself, except for Eric Leeds on saxophone, Atlanta Bliss on trumpet, and Gilbert Davison, Coke Johnson, Todd Herreman, Susan Rogers, Mike Soltys, and Brad Marsh as “party voices.” Prince also credits “The Penguin” (“a plush prop, not an actual person”) as a party voice as well!
“Play In The Sunshine” is another track I couldn’t stop listening to on Sign O’ The Times. It definitely had more of a pop/rock edge to it, but at the same time, it also didn’t fit into either of those genres to me. I LOVE the lyrics to this song. I think Prince said more about who he was through his music than he ever did in any interview. I also recall a lyric in “Play In The Sunshine” that references “Condition of the Heart” (whether it was intentional or not). It goes, “Cause someday every day will be a yellow day.” In “Condition of the Heart” he says, “Every day is a yellow day, I’m blinded by the daisies in your yard.” “Play In The Sunshine” was always a happy, inspiring song to me. I loved it because it was basically telling us to have fun, enjoy ourselves, and stay away from the negatives and temptations of life that could destroy us. I also love the breakdown part “Drummer drummer! Do your thing,” and then the ensuing guitar solo is AMAZING. I also laughed at the “da da da da da… da da!” before the song winds down. It’s such a spectacular, genius piece of work.
The song is the second track on disc one of Sign O’ The Times. It was Susannah Melvoin’s final recording session with Prince (she did backing vocals on this song). The song was also supposed to be the second track on the first disc of Crystal Ball. Prince played all the instruments on “Play In The Sunshine” and also sang all the vocal parts, with Susannah Melvoin doing backing vocals.
“Adore” absolutely seeped into my soul! Oh my GOD, how I love this song! Out of all the songs on Sign O’ The Times, this one is absolutely at the top of my favorites list. When he hits his high falsetto near the end, I lose it every time…. it’s SO emotional and riveting. “You don’t know what you mean to me…” oh LAWRD!!!! It is one of the best ballads he has ever written, in my opinion… A FLAWLESS masterpiece. If you haven’t heard this song, I suggest you go get Sign O’ The Times and play it immediately. You will probably listen to it over and over again. I could not stop listening to this song once I heard it. I would sing it until I could hit those high falsetto parts!!!! Whew, that took some work! I think Prince should be recognized as one the greatest SINGERS of all time, because his range and dynamic ability was off the charts!
“Adore” is the seventh and final track on the second disc of Sign O’ The Times. It was never released as a single, but Prince did include it on The Hits 1 (1993). It was also included on the Girl 6 soundtrack in 1996 (the ninth track), and a live version was also placed on One Nite Alone…Live! (which was Prince’s first live album, released in 2002). Prince played all the instruments and sang all the vocal tracks on the song, with the exception of Eric Leeds on saxophone and Atlanta Bliss on trumpet.
“The Cross”… oh my God, IT IS BRILLIANT! It starts out as an acoustic piece, then comes a kick drum, slowly keeping the beat, and then it finally explodes into a rock/gospel/soul ECSTASY!!! The lyrics he wrote for this song show the compassionate nature in Prince’s heart, and also show his ultimate faith in God. He writes about seeing poverty, oppression, and hunger, going through problems big and small… and having faith in God to get through those problems. This song touched me more than any of the songs on the album. It got me through some difficult times and I’ve cried through it more times than I can even count. It was one of the first songs I learned to play on guitar when I started learning guitar. I always knew Prince had such a huge heart, such compassion, and demonstrated that through his work with so many different charities… and then started his own charity, Love 4 One Another. It is songs like “The Cross” that made me understand and appreciate who Prince was on that level.
“The Cross” is the fifth track on disc two of Sign O’ The Times. It, too, appeared on the Girl 6 soundtrack (the tenth track). The song was also intended to be the fourth track on The Dream Factory, and the fifth track of the third disc on Crystal Ball. Prince played all the instruments on this song and did all the vocals.
Finally, “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night” is truly one of the FINEST pieces of work on the album. The thing is, I have never been able to decide if I like the faster version from the Sign O The Times movie (I LOVE the video performance, that’s for certain), or if I like the album version better!!! They are both great, and they are both so different! The song has so much incredible musicianship going on, it’s hard for me to even pick out my favorite sections! The horn section stands out immediately, especially in the video version from the movie, where they play a segment of “Rock Hard in a Funky Place” from The Black Album. Prince throwing that horn line in there was just genius. The Revolution was also on the album recording… Wendy, Lisa, Bobby Z., Brown Mark, Dr. Fink… all of them! The album version was recorded from a live show during the Parade tour at Le Zenith in Paris, France on August 25, 1986. Prince made some overdubs to that version later on, including the addition of Sheila E’s “Transmississippirap,” which was a partial reading of Edward Lear’s “The Table And The Chair.” The reason Prince called Sheila’s spoken word part “Transmississippirap” is because he recorded it while they were talking over the phone, while she was on the other side of the Mississippi River! In the movie, I loved where Prince jumped in on the drum kit while Sheila performed her spoken word part. It showed how much of an incredible musician he was! That man didn’t miss ONE BEAT!
The song is the sixth track on Sign O’ The Times, and was also intended to be placed on Crystal Ball (as the seventh and final track on disc 3). Jill Jones, Wally Safford, Jerome Benton, Greg Brooks, Wendy, Lisa, and Susannah Melvoin all did additional vocals for “Its Gonna Be A Beautiful Night.”
In addition to Sign O’ The Times, I HAVE to add some other favorite albums to this piece: The Black Album (funky, dark, and hilarious as all get out…. “Rock Hard in A Funky Place” will always be one the FUNKIEST songs Prince has EVER written, and my lawrd, “2 Nigs United 4 West Compton” is just…… WHEW!!! I LOVE IT!!! Sheila E. played the drums on that track!!). Parade (with “I Wonder U,” “Anotherloverholenyohead,” “Sometimes It Snows In April,” “Mountains” and “Christopher Tracy’s Parade” all getting honorable mentions), Around the World in a Day ( “Tamborine,” “America,” “The Ladder,” and “Paisley Park” all with honorable mentions), as well as N.E.W.S., The Rainbow Children, Plectrum Electrum, Emancipation, and Controversy. I love ALL his albums but those are my faves!
Thanks to Kim Rodman for reaching out to me to contribute to Purple Outcry, and thanks to EVERYONE who is fighting to help maintain Prince’s musical legacy! Peace and Love 4 one another!!
Source for all Prince facts on this post: princevault.com
© 2017 Tessa Kole