There's a brand new groove goin' round, and it sounds like the latest episode of Fire and Water Records! What could dethrone PURPLE RAIN as Prince's all-time greatest album? How about 1987's SIGN O' THE TIMES, the epic double LP that took Prince from already-unparalleled greatness to unfathomable heights of creativity, leaving the Revolution behind in favor of a funkier, jazzier, richer sound with big horns and big ambition. On this special review episode, Ryan Daly, Neil Daly, and Chris Zegunis discuss SIGN O' THE TIMES: Super Deluxe Edition, which features remastered album tracks and almost sixty singles, b-sides, and rarities, plus two live performances. Which songs standout as favorites? Which deep cuts deserve a closer look? Should any of the unreleased tracks have made the album cut? And above all, is this album Prince's greatest masterpiece? Tune in and find out!
- Sign O’ the Times
- Hot Thing
- Starfish and Coffee
- Slow Love
- Forever in My Life
- I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man
- If I Was Your Girlfriend
- The Cross
- Strange Relationship
- U Got the Look
- La, La, La, He, He, Hee
- Rebirth of the Flesh
- Crystal Ball
- Witness 4 the Prosecution (Version 1)
- Forever in My Life (Early Vocal Run-Through)
- Everybody Want What They Don’t Got
- Power Fantastic (Live in Studio)
- Emotional Pump
- Housequake (Live in Utrecht)
- 1999 (Live in Utrecht)
- It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night
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2 responses to “Fire and Water Records: Prince: SIGN O’ THE TIMES Super Deluxe Edition”
I had to finally reckon with Sign O’ the Times after Prince’s death when I tried unsuccessfully to rank the best tracks on each of his albums on Twitter. Double albums are always tough, and I feel ambivalence towards it in part on account of length. On the other hand, I dislike the vast majority of Prince’s 1985-1990 albums, and Sign is easily the best and most consistent album(s) from this period, without a doubt the only one I’m willing to listen to in full. The film came out during a “lost” year when we were dead broke and isolated in the desert, so I don’t recall our seeing anything theatrically in that period. Even weirder was that this was the year that I fully committed to listening to pop music, but the radio stations in that desert weren’t playing anything off this album. It creates this personal temporal dissonance where I remember hearing songs out of release sequence, making Times displaced in time to me.
1. “Sign o’ the Times”: I can’t say for certain that I ever heard the title track before I ripped Mr. Fixit’s sister’s copy of 2001’s The Very Best of Prince. Obviously, singing about AIDS and gang violence is going to hit different on a decade-plus delay. Of the ’80s concern trolling ditties, it’s among the freshest of a highly perishable subgenre, but it does have a bit of their off-taste.
2. “Hot Thing”: Again, don’t know when or where I first heard this one. Maybe a movie? Possibly ripping my uncle’s copy of the Girl 6 soundtrack in the mid-aughts? Could be earlier, like late ’80s/early ’90s club dance mixes on Saturday night radio? Anyway, I figure this for Prince’s take on “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)”, one of Michael Jackson’s best songs, inspiring one of Prince’s best.
3. “Housequake”: I like this one fine, but it feels more like a Time jam.
4. “Starfish and Coffee”: Just okay. It’s pleasant in the context of the album, but I would never seek it out for a listen on its own.
5. “Slow Love”: I think I borrowed a copy of Diamonds and Pearls for Mac to rip to make a Prince comp for me in the late ’90s, and I was so unimpressed with “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night” that I didn’t recognize its source when I ripped The Very Best of Prince. I like “Slow Love” a lot better, but it’s in that same area of disposable slow jams from the quiet storm station. His vocal affectations in that song take away from its potential sexiness, but would still be fairly rote.
6. “Forever in My Life”: I don’t give this one the credit it deserves, but I also have to play it to remind myself that it exists every single time. It’s nice, but refuses to imprint on my brain.
7. “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”: After I ripped the Prince greatest hits and had the comp of cuts from albums I had access to (plus I got Mac to download “Batdance”) I went to looking for recommendations of anything I might have missed. This track was brought up more than most, and it’s been a fixture in any future Prince comps, but it’s not in my top ten or anything.
8. “If I Was Your Girlfriend”: I think Fix’s sister had downloaded this one, because I always remember it with one of those Napster era digital farts. I want to say it had a reputation that preceded it, and would be a contender for (though still unlikely inclusion in) top 10. Insightful, sexy, and quirky. Maybe 20?
9. “The Cross”: Another number I suspect I was hipped to by the Girl 6 OST. I’m not a Christian, but I can appreciate the passion and faith of religious expression, and this one is a high water mark in that (often pallid) genre. A great closer for comps.
10. “Strange Relationship”: Sonically both very much of its time and anticipating the near future. Another likely comp inclusion, but not necessarily one I’d fight for if I ran out of room or time.
11. “U Got the Look”: The poster child for the Prince Rogers Nelson Mandela Effect that I mentioned at the top. My head canon jumps from 1985’s “Raspberry Beret” to mid-1987’s “U Got the Look”, which I would swear came out in ’86, with “Kiss” misremembered as coming in ’89 as a follow-up to “Batdance.” More probably, my Prince exposure dipped after multiple disappointing albums and Batmania or the pending release of Graffiti Bridge prompted retrospectives on Friday Night Videos or some such. Not having seen any Prince movies by this point, I founds the music video to “U Got the Look” extremely iconic and enthralling. It really got me into the mystique of the performer, but also, I totally had a thing for Sheena Easton. I had her greatest hits on cassette and the vaginal* imagery of Prince-penned “Sugar Walls” was not lost on me. This was one of if not my absolute favorite Prince tunes to this ambiguous point in history.
I’m well past the part of the podcast that I’ve listened to, and we’re getting into the vault, so I’ll pause for now. Wait– where’s the rest of the album?
0. “Play in the Sunshine”: Very Revolution b-side.
-1. “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker”: Very Sign O’ the Times a-side? Off kilter and low key in a way specific to this period.
-2. “It”: This is another one like “Forever in My Life” that I always forget about (probably because the title is dumb) but that I really dig. Alright?
-3. “Adore”: Aww, not the Pumpkins one. “Slow Love II: The Pitchening.”
-4. “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night”: Oh good, the live concert cut to play out the album. Those always work out. Peachy.
*Cue a deep dive in search of a cute, fancy, hopefully archaic alternative term for vagina. There curiously weren’t any satisfying ones to be found. It’s indicative of the misogynistic patriarchy that Prince offered partial reprieve from that most such words are imprecise and coarse.
12. “La, La, La, He, He, Hee”: This sucks. It’s annoying and stupid.
13. “Shockadelica”: Another one that should have been passed to Morris Day. As is, firm foreign release single b-side, not deserving of album consideration.
14. “Rebirth Of The Flesh”: Interesting. More NPG. Not winning me on a single listen, but potential for growth.
15. “Crystal Ball”: I have strong negative associations with constantly seeing this CD set in the used bins of Wherehouse/Blockbuster Music/etc. Say what you will about Prince’s music, but his taste in Photoshop was unquestionably bad. I’d have to check, but I’m pretty sure I hate every album cover that wasn’t a photograph. Anyway, the repetitious number isn’t altering my prejudice.
16. “Witness 4 the Prosecution (Version 1)”: This one seemed nice, but the truth is that I’ve checked out at this point. I’m playing it in the background while doing other things.
17. “Forever in My Life (Early Vocal Run-Through)”: A different arrangement of a good song. Novel, but not the original.
18. “Everybody Want What They Don’t Got”: I was going to say a Chicago 45rpm played at 33, but sure, bad ’80s sitcom title track works.
19. “Power Fantastic (Live in Studio)”: Cherry Moonish ballad. Not my bag.
20. “Emotional Pump”: Joni Mitchell? TF? I’m sorry, but even a genius’ cast-offs can be a slog.
21. “Housequake (Live in Utrecht)”: This would be a good time to mention that I appreciated Neil’s synopses of that Prince podcast. I can barely keep up with friends’ shows and my few regulars outside those circles. Best intentions aside, I’d have never gotten to the Prince show on my own.
22. “1999 (Live in Utrecht)”: Concert albums are the worst.