Q Magazine

On This Day In Music… March 30, 1987: Prince Releases His Landmark Album 'Sign O' The Times'

Recorded as his first 'solo' release, the final product was an amalgamation of three different albums he had in the planning stages.

Source: Paisley Park/Warner Bros. Records

Prince - "Sign o' The Times"

Link to FacebookShare to XShare to Email

Prince's genre-bending 1987 masterpiece, Sign o' the Times, is a landmark album known for its social commentary, musical innovation, and emotional depth. But who could have understood the lengths he went in order to release what many critics and listeners call his finest album, if not one of the greatest albums of all time?

Article continues below advertisement
Source: Paisley Park/Warner bros. Records

'Sign o' the times mess with your mind.'

The 16-song tracklist across 2LPs was remarkable, but somehow Prince made it unforgettable. Recorded as his first "solo" release, the final product was an amalgamation of three different albums he had in the planning stages: Dream Factory, Camille and Crystal Ball.

He had begun in earnest in March 1986 after finishing Parade, with the recording of the song "Dream Factory," planning for an album that included his longtime backing band the Revolution. As this was the planned album, he recorded 18 songs with heavy input from collaborators Wendy and Lisa, but only eight would make it to Sign o' The Times, and even then those tunes would go through more configurations.

So, what happened to Dream Factory? The simple answer: Prince broke up the band in October 1986. But rather than salvage all the work he and the Revolution had put into the project, he decided to start all over.

Article continues below advertisement
Source: Cineplex-Odeon Films

Prince created 'Sign o' the Times' from multiple different projects.

Never miss a story — sign up for the Q newsletter for the latest music news on all your favorite artists, all in one place.

Article continues below advertisement

Through the autumn months, he worked on new songs and reworked older tunes until the project had its name: Camille. And while he was at it, he playfully pitched-up his vocal delivery, thereby creating a more androgynous sound and simultaneously creating the Camille alter-ego. Presented to Warner Bros. Records in early November 1986 – whom he already had a strained relationship with anyway – as a Camille album without a hint of Prince anywhere, it was not accepted with open arms or minds. Prince, then in typical change-it-up fashion, canceled Camille and by late November, it was in the dustbin as an album.

Yet Prince refused to give up on the material recorded for the Dream Factory project, and since he had been recording unabated, he realized he had another album's worth of songs he wanted to put out. He pulled songs from both aborted ventures, newly recorded tunes and compiled what he named Crystal Ball, a 3LP set with 22 songs.

Once again, he presented the project to Warner Bros. executives and, once again, while not giving it a thumbs-down, they suggested he trim it to a double album, concerned the paying public couldn't afford a triple. Prince obliged with cuts (but included a newly recorded song with Sheena Easton, "U Got The Look") and finally Sign o' The Times had arrived.

Source: ℗ © Universal Music Publishing Group/Prince/YouTube

Prince - U Got The Look (Official Music Video)

Article continues below advertisement

The final bit of business took place in January 1987 when Prince recorded the intro to "Play in the Sunshine." Sign o' The Times was released on March 30, 1987. With its varied range of styles including pop, funk, psychedelia and electro-dance and themes of social consciousness, AIDS awareness and nostalgia, period reviews ranged from a five-star rating from Charles Shaar Murray in Q to The Village Voice's Robert Christgau proclaiming Prince as "the greatest rock and roll musician of the era—as singer-guitarist-hooksmith-beatmaster, he has no peer." In a Melody Maker interview in December 1989, Robert Smith of the Cure cited Sign o' the Times as among "the best things about the 1980s."

Source: ℗ © Controversy Music, Npg Publishing/Prince/YouTube

Prince - The Muppet Show - Starfish & Coffee - 1997

Article continues below advertisement

Considered to be the most pivotal era of Prince's career, Sign o' The Times was certified Platinum in July of 1987 and in 2017, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.


Subscribe to our newsletter

your info will be used in accordance with our privacy policy

Read More