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Music / Sign '☮' the Times

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Some say man ain't happy truly
Until a man truly dies
It was only last June
When her old man ran away
She couldn't stop crying
'Cause she knew he was gone to stay

It was ten thirty-five on a lonely Friday night
She was standin' by the bar
She was lookin' alright, yeah

I asked if she wanted to dance
And she said all she wanted was a good man
And wanted to know
If I thought I was qualified, yeah
—"I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man"

Sign o' the Times, stylized as Sign "☮︎" the Times, is the ninth studio album recorded by American funk/rock musician Prince. It was released through Warner Bros. Records, via the Paisley Park Records label, on March 30, 1987.

It was his first album since his backing band the Revolution had disbanded, and was cobbled together from three aborted album ideas: Dream Factory, Camille, and Crystal Ball. Specifically, it was the result of Warner Bros. noticing the plan for Crystal Ball to be a triple album— a rarity and a huge financial risk— and asking that Prince distill it to just two LPs. While most people in hindsight agree that it was a request made for the better (especially in light of Emancipation, a later triple-CD album generally seen as padded-out and mediocre), in hindsight it's thought of as the starting point of Prince's infamously poor relations with Warner Bros, culminating in him adopting the unpronounceable "Love Symbol" as his stage name for much of The '90s.


The album was a considerable commercial success, peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and topping the charts in Switzerland, going on to become the 47th best-selling album of 1987 in the United States; additionally, the Title Track, "U Got the Look", and "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" all charted within the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album was also certified platinum in the US, the UK, and the Netherlands, double-gold in France, and gold in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and Switzerland. Following Prince's death in 2016, the album made enough posthumous sales to re-enter the Billboard 200, peaking at No. 20.

In hindsight, the album is also seen as a End of an Era in two regards. Firstly, it was seen as a last hurrah for black music prior to hip-hop's takeover of the landscape during The '90s, being the last major blockbuster from a black artist who didn't rap. While Prince's initial response to hip-hop was tepid at best, even he would later embrace the genre for much of the proceeding decade. Secondly, the album is regarded as the de-facto Grand Finale of the vinyl record's era as the dominant format for music releases. Not only was it the last major double-album blockbuster to be primarily oriented for vinyl, but the single "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" was also the last of Prince's singles to not be immediately available on a Compact Disc. In that sense, Prince's send-off to the vinyl era most certainly allowed it to end with a bang.


The album was supported by the Title Track, "If I Was Your Girlfriend", "U Got the Look", and "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man". He did manage to score three Top Ten hits on the Billboard Hot 100 ("U Got the Look" was the highest, at #2), and all four were also hits on the UK pop chart.


Disc One

Side One
  1. "Sign '☮' the Times" (4:57)
  2. "Play in the Sunshine" (5:05)
  3. "Housequake" (4:42)
  4. "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" (4:01)

Side Two

  1. "It" (5:09)
  2. "Starfish and Coffee" (2:50)
  3. "Slow Love" (4:42)
  4. "Hot Thing" (5:39)
  5. "Forever in My Life" (3:30)

Disc Two

Side Three
  1. "U Got the Look" (3:47)
  2. "If I Was Your Girlfriend" (5:01)
  3. "Strange Relationship" (4:01)
  4. "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" (6:29)

Side Four

  1. "The Cross" (4:48)
  2. "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night" (9:01)
  3. "Adore" (6:30)

She couldn't stop troping 'cause she knew he was going to stay:

  • Album Title Drop: In the Title Track.
  • Ballad of X: "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker".
  • Bowdlerize: The title phrase in "Starfish and Coffee" is a pared down version of "starfish and pee-pee," the actual phrase that the real-life girl the song describes tended to say when asked what she was having for breakfast.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night", during the "transmississippirap", features Prince and the band (and probably the audience) chanting "Can't nobody! Fuck with us!"
  • Epic Rocking: "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man", "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night", and "Adore" all surpass six minutes.
  • Hollywood Autism: Subverted with "Starfish and Coffee". The song's about an actual autistic girl that Prince's girlfriend at the time knew, but the song at no point invokes stereotypes of the condition and presents an overall sympathetic and empathetic view towards the girl, if a bit whimsical (given that she was still a child at the time of recording).
  • In the Style of...: "Housequake" features Prince at his most Little Richard-ish.
  • Intercourse with You: "U Got The Look", especially with this line:
    Your face is jammin', your body's heck-a-slammin';
    If love is good, let's get to rammin'.
    • The ending monologue in "If I Was Your Girlfriend", which describes a hypothetical sexual encounter between the narrator and subject in vivid detail. Unlike most examples of this trope though, the monologue isn't played for sex appeal and is more for the sake of invoking a particular set of emotions.
  • Let's Duet: "U Got The Look" with Sheena Easton.
  • Long Title: "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man"
  • Lucky Charms Title: Both the album title and Title Track fulfill this.
  • Motor Mouth: The "transmississippirap" from "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night", where Sheila E. reads Edward Lear's "The Table And The Chair", 228 words, in less than 45 seconds. She definitely earned that "GOOD GOD!" at the end!
  • New Sound Album: Being his first post-Revolution solo album, this one features more stripped-down arrangements and production and a sound that generally leans more towards pop-rock than funk or neo-psychadelia. This becomes apparent right out the starting gates, with the opening Title Track being a brooding, minimalist Synth-Pop song composed entirely with the Fairlight CMI's presets (as opposed to using custom samples).
  • On the Rebound: "I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man" is all about defying this trope— the narrator has to turn down advances from a girl who's clearly trying to fill the void her recent ex-boyfriend left. The capper is that said girl is now pregnant with her second child from that relationship.
  • Protest Song: The Title Track.
  • Shout-Out: "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" includes a reference to Joni Mitchell's "Help Me":
    "Oh, my favorite song", she said
    And it was Joni singing "Help me, I think I'm falling"...
  • Spoken Word in Music: "If I Was Your Girlfriend" ends with a lengthy monologue from Camille vividly describing a sexual encounter with the listener.
  • Their First Time: From "Adore": "You made love 2 me like U were afraid… Was U afraid of me? Was I the first? Was I your every fantasy?"
  • Word Salad Lyrics: "Starfish and Coffee," the lyrics of which are derived from stories Prince's then-girlfriend recounted about a real-life autistic girl named Cynthia Rose.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: "U Got the Look".