Sign 'O' The Times (3:43)

Cover of The Very Best of Prince

From The Very Best of Prince and 10 other releases

Sign o’ the Times” (also spelled “Sign “☮” the Times”) is the lead single off Prince’s classic album of the same name, and was released on 18 February 1987. The song is a holdover from both the Dream Factory and Crystal Ball projects, promoted to the title track of the 1987 release. Prince performs the entire track except for some backing vocals by then-girlfriend Susannah Melvoin. “Sign o’ the Times” was written on a Sunday, when Prince usually wrote his most introspective songs. The song proved popular upon release, topping the R&B chart, and reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Rolling Stone ranked “Sign o’ the Times” #299 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The song was constructed by Prince almost entirely on the Fairlight sampling synthesizer, which provides the primary keyboard riff and sampled electronic bass sounds heard on the track. Unlike some artists, Prince did not program new sounds for this song. He simply used the stock sounds the Fairlight offered, including the famed “orchestra hit” towards the end of the composition. The single marked a shift from those pulled from the Parade and Around the World in a Day albums, with a spare, electronic-based arrangement, simple drum machine hits and minimal stacked synth patterns, as well as a bluesy, funk-rock guitar part (cut from the single edit of the song). The record was noticeably bluesier and more downcast (both melodically and lyrically) than any of Prince’s previous singles, addressing various socio-political problems including AIDS, gang violence, natural disasters, poverty, drug abuse, Iran-Contra, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and impending nuclear holocaust.

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