Prince: Sign “☮” The Times

The Songs:

  1. Sign “☮” The Times
  2. Play In The Sunshine
  3. Housequake
  4. The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker
  5. It
  6. Starfish And Coffee
  7. Slow Love
  8. Hot Thing
  9. Forever In My Life
  10. U Got The Look
  11. If I Was Your Girlfriend
  12. Strange Relationship
  13. I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man
  14. The Cross
  15. It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night
  16. Adore

Personnel:

  • Prince – all vocals and instruments, except:
  • Sheena Easton – lead vocals on “U Got The Look”
  • Susannah Melvoin – additional vocals on “Play In The Sunshine,” “Starfish And Coffee,” and “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night”
  • Eric Leeds – saxophones
  • Matt “Atlanta Bliss” Blistan – trumpets
  • Sheila E – drums & percussion on “U Got The Look” and “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night”
  • Wendy Melvoin – guitar, percussion, backing vocals on “Slow Love” and “Strange Relationship”
  • Lisa Coleman – sitar, flute, backing vocals on “Slow Love” and“Strange Relationship”
  • Jill Jones – lead vocals on “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night”
  • The Revolution (Miko Weaver, Wendy Melvoin – guitar; Lisa Coleman, Matt “Dr.” Fink – keyboards; Brown Mark – bass; Bobby Z – drums; Jerome Benton, Greg Brooks, Wally Safford – backing vocals) on “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night”

Prince achieved international stardom with the release of the film and album Purple Rain, which yielded four Top 10 singles. Subsequently, expectations were high for his future projects. Although the next album, Around The World In A Day, went double-platinum, his next film, Under A Cherry Moon, bombed at the box office and the associated album, Parade, also sold poorly, despite the #1 single, “Kiss”.

After this, Prince and his band, the Revolution, recorded a number of songs for a double album to be called Dream Factory. The album went through three different song configurations. Tensions within the group eventually led to Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman leaving the group and the Revolution broke up, resulting in the cancellation of the album. (Melvoin and Coleman went on to some pop success as Wendy & Lisa, before securing work in film and television scoring, particularly with the TV series Heroes.) Prince then set out to record an album under the alias “Camille,” with his vocals sped up. This project morphed into a planned three disc album to be called “Crystal Ball”. Given the poor reception of Prince’s last projects, Warner Bros. refused to release a 3 disc set, so Prince cut the tracks down into a 2 disc set which became Sign “☮” the Times.

About half of the tracks are re-workings of songs from Dream Factory, with the tracks “Housequake” and “U Got The Look” coming from the Camille project. He cut seven tracks from the planned Crystal Ball, (all of which have subsequently appeared as b-sides or on other albums). Prince recorded most of the album himself, playing guitars, keyboards, bass, and drums, as well as utilizing samplers and drum machines. The album opens with the Top 5 title track, a social commentary on the state of the world, reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s best work. It contains one of his funkiest bass lines to date. The mood becomes much more cheerful with “Play In The Sunshine,” before settling in for some serious party music in “Housequake” with a kick drum that could damage even the best subwoofers. Prince has often cited Joni Mitchell as an important influence and it shows in the sometimes strange lyrics of “Starfish and Coffee,” a fan favorite from the album. Other standout tracks include the singles “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man,” and the hit “U Got The Look,” a duet with Sheena Easton that reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. One of Prince’s most powerful songs on the album was “The Cross,” similar in theme to the title track, but offering the hope provided through Christ’s death, resurrection, and return.

Sign “☮” the Times is Prince’s most diverse album, both musically and lyrically, and has been hailed as his masterpiece. Although he achieved his greatest commercial success with Purple Rain, this album consistently ranks the highest among critics and appears on several lists of the most important albums ever recorded, including those by Amazon.com, Blender magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Gear, Rolling Stone, Spin, Time magazine, Melody Maker, VH1, and Village Voice. It received Grammy nominations for “Album of the Year,” “Best R&B Song,” and “Best R&B Performance.” Prince also produced a concert film of the same name which was recorded live in Rotterdam and released in November of 1987. It features the powerhouse drumming of Sheila E and contains the music video for “U Got The Look” with Sheena Easton.

So why feature Prince, known for his often raunchy lyrics, on a blog dedicated to the arts and Christianity? Simply, because he is an impressive and influential musician and film maker. Since the early 2000’s, Prince has been a Jehovah’s Witness, which has tamed his lyrics some. His songs, especially several on Sign “☮” the Times, remain relevant for our own times. Despite his current faith, which I would take issue with, songs like Sign “☮” the Times” and “The Cross” contain powerful music and lyrics that point to Jesus’ own social concerns and promise of the Kingdom of God. Prince remains one of the most gifted and influential artists on the musical scene today. Artists that have covered songs from Sign “☮” the Times come from all areas of music and include the band Simple Minds, jazz-fusion drummer Billy Cobham, R&B stars Chaka Khan and Beyoncé, jazz singer Nina Simone, progressive band Porcupine Tree, Jordan Knight from New Kids on the Block, hip/hop & dub DJ Kode9, alternative band Ween, electronic musician Gary Numan, girl band TLC, rappers Tupac Shakur and Jay-Z, funk legend George Clinton, U2‘s Bono, avant-garde group Laibach,  and roots country singer Will Oldham. (Buy it here.)

Suggested Reading:

Michaelangelo Matos. Sign O’ The Times (#10 in Continuum’s 33⅓ series).

Suggested Viewing:

Prince. Sign “☮” the Times (Concert film).

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