Sign '☮' the Times is the ninth album by Prince, released 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.
Upon release, critical reception was immense: Prince's previous two attempts at following up Purple Rain were met with a generally cooler reception than anticipated, and the extent to which Sign '☮' the Times succeeded by comparison led to press response being downright rapturous, being voted the best album of 1987 in the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics' poll. The album was ranked at No. 93 on Rolling Stone's list of their 500 Greatest Albums (later being bumped up to No. 45 on the 2020 revision), No. 198 on NME's list of the same name, and was included on Time Magazine's 2006 list of their 100 Timeless And Essential Albums— this critical reception has made it the 29th-most-acclaimed album of all time on Acclaimed Music's compilation of various critics' lists. In 2017, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and to this day it is widely help up alongside Purple Rain as one of Prince's greatest works, as well as one of the greatest albums ever made.
The album was also 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".
Disc OneSide One
- "Sign '☮' the Times" (4:57)
- "Play in the Sunshine" (5:05)
- "Housequake" (4:42)
- "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" (4:01)
- "It" (5:09)
- "Starfish and Coffee" (2:50)
- "Slow Love" (4:42)
- "Hot Thing" (5:39)
- "Forever in My Life" (3:30)
Disc TwoSide Three
- "U Got the Look" (3:47)
- "If I Was Your Girlfriend" (5:01)
- "Strange Relationship" (4:01)
- "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" (6:29)
- "The Cross" (4:48)
- "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night" (9:01)
- "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.
- 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".