All-Time Albums: #16

Prince_Sign

PRINCE Sign ‘O’ The Times
(1987)

1-1 Sign “O” The Times 5:02 (UK single, #10)
1-2 Play In The Sunshine 5:05
1-3 Housequake 4:38
1-4 The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker 4:04
1-5 It 5:10
1-6 Starfish And Coffee 2:51
1-7 Slow Love 4:18
1-8 Hot Thing 5:39
1-9 Forever In My Life 3:38

2-1 U Got The Look 3:58 (UK single, #11)
2-2 If I Was Your Girlfriend 4:54 (UK single, #20)
2-3 Strange Relationship 4:04
2-4 I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man 6:31 (UK single, #29)
2-5 The Cross 4:46
2-6 It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night 8:59
2-7 Adore 6:29

Here we are folks, the dream we all dream of….

Except it’s turned into a bit of a nightmare lately, for obvious reasons, when it comes to all things Prince. The little genius was still with us when I began writing this countdown back in March 2016. It was tempting, and inevitable, to think that the rankings I  had assigned to both this album and [spoiler alert] Purple Rain might have been swayed by the events that followed, but Sign O The Times was always going to be in the Top 20.  It always has been there since it was released in March 1987 and I have never wavered in my love for its unique charms.

Double Albums, or at least double STUDIO albums, were not commonplace in the 1980s. Some compilations and the occasional Live sets by a serious Rock act apart, you didn’t see many new albums clocking in at over 50 minutes. But hey, this was Prince and whatever he did I was buying into. A brand new LP with no lead single, that just turned up in-store one day in 1985? Check. A sprawling double LP inside one sleeve, without his name or the title on it, for 8.99? Lemme have it!

Truth was, Prince had me – and a lot of other people – under his spell at the time; we didn’t feel like mugs because – damn – the music was incredible. And varied. And weird. And spooky. And naughty…..he says “we don’t have to make love to have an orgasm”!!! George Michael eat your heart out, buddy.

Sign O The Times covers just about everything, from mulling over the aftermath of the Challenger Space Shuttle tragedy to AIDS, and then to drug addiction…and that’s just the song itself. Elsewhere, he’s in more recognisable “band” mode on Play In The Sunshine and the goes-on-forever workout It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night. U Got The Look kept radio happy, as did I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man (some of the ground he lost in the US with Parade was regained via these two singles). The, er, inquisitive If I Was Your Girlfriend saw the first official outing for his feminine alter-go voice, Camille, although in typical Prince style the enquiries tale on a darker, more assertive tone as the song, um, climaxes. We find out what silence looks like though.

After years of singing about “it”, Prince finally writes a song called It and it is a fantastic, relentless 5 minutes of the most minimal funk imaginable with what sounds like a sawing wood effect. Lord knows what he got up to in his garden shed. The genius, of course, is how tracks like this are juxtaposed with whimsical stuff like Starfish & Coffee, the Parade-meets-Around The World In A Day strident pop of Strange Relationship, and my favourite from the day I first heard the album- The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker. It all sounds slightly off, creating a woozy atmosphere perfect for the bubble-bath scenario and bits of Joni Mitchell songs overheard on the radio in Dorothy’s “violet room”.

Four years before The New Power Generation and all that Sexy MF, just-one-of-the-boys schtick, Housequake is funky as hell, in a commanding way that needs no added macho posturing. BULLSHIT!

All of this, and there’s still time to casually toss off a second song based on the Sign O The Times drum machine pattern (Forever In My Life), before inventing Lenny Kravitz on The Cross, and finally sending me to sleep with the bedroom soul of Adore (I could also live without Slow Love, thanks).

So, this has turned into a bit of a blow-by-blow review of the album but I can’t apologize. It’s been too much of an important record for me over the last 29 years, a relic of the days when being introduced to new music on the radio during a Saturday afternoon (via Johnny Walker) or on a Friday evening (courtesy of Round Table a.k.a. Singled Out) would shape my listening habits, inspire my shopping trips each Monday, and affect the look of my personal singles and album charts.

I can still vividly remember the afternoon I spent waiting by my tape recorder to catch the 7 tracks that they were playing from Sign O The Times on the 28th March, and then going out to buy the whole thing two days later. The cellophane shrinkwrap with the large turquoise hype sticker, the unusual oversized sleeve holding both records in matching peach and black inner jackets……just trivial, unimportant things in the overall scheme of life, but things that somehow stay with you.

RIP.

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