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U.S. 7″ single
Single by Prince
from the album Sign o’ the Times
B-side “La, La, La, He, He, Hee”
Released February 18, 1987
Format 7″ single
Recorded Home studio, Minneapolis and Sunset Sound; March – December 1986
Genre Funk, pop
Length 7″ edit: 3:44
Label Paisley Park
Prince singles chronology
(1986) “Sign o’ the Times”
(1987) “If I Was Your Girlfriend”
Sign o’ the Times track listing
“Sign o’ the Times”
(1) “Play in the Sunshine”
“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” #299 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Composition and arrangement
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 Day albums, 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.
* 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. Many people incorrectly thought it was Prince in drag.
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.