"Sign o' the Times" (also stylized as Sign "☮" the Times) is the lead single off Prince's 1987 album of the same name. 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 number three on the Billboard Hot 100. Rolling Stone ranked "Sign o' the Times" #304 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 Dayalbums, 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, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and impending nuclear holocaust. This record showcased Prince's ability to merge classic and modern rhythm and blues characteristics into one song.
- The single's cover features new band member Cat Glover posing with a large heart covering her face, and on the back of the cover, posing with Prince's guitar, although popular rumour insisted, despite the case, that the front cover featured Prince in drag.
- The music video consist of animated graphics, with the lyrics of the song written in the typeface Times.
The B-side was the funk-oriented "La, La, La, He, He, Hee". The song was written as a rejoinder to Sheena Easton. The track features vocal samples morphed into drumbeats not dissimilar to that of a dog barking. The lyrics refer to a dog's affair with a cat with playful sexuality. Part of the refrain was used briefly in the song "I Wanna Melt with U", from the Love Symbol album.
- 7" single
- A. "Sign o' the Times" (edit) – 3:42
- B. "La, La, La, He, He, Hee" – 3:21
- 12" single
- A. "Sign o' the Times" (LP version) – 4:57
- B. "La, La, La, He, He, Hee" (Highly Explosive) – 10:32
- Jazz-fusion drummer Billy Cobham recorded a cover of the song on his album "Picture This" in 1987, featuring saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr.
- Scottish band Simple Minds recorded a version of this song on their EP The Amsterdam in 1989.
- Singer and pianist Nina Simone recorded a version of the song for her last studio album A Single Woman in 1993. It never made it to the final album.
- Chaka Khan included a cover of the song on her 2007 album Funk This.
- Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree covered the song on the fifth release of his Cover Version series in 2008.
- Heaven 17 covered the song in 2007.
- Muse covered the song in an hour long special of BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge on September 28, 2012 and in a gig at Staples Center on January 24, 2013.
- Dubstep producer Kode 9 along with vocalist The Spaceape produced a dark, slow, dub-influenced pseudo cover version of this track, called "Sine", on the albumMemories of the Future.
- Derek B included a sample of the opening lyric "Oh, yeah" on his 1988 song "Bad Young Brother".
- Young Disciples included a sample of the lyrics "gang called the Disciples" on their 1991 song "Apparently Nothin'".
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 471.
- Hampton. A Musical Odyssey (David Nathan) in: Break Down And Let It All Out. p. 220.
|Preceded by||Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks number one single
April 11, 1987