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Celebrating the 30th anniversary of one of the greatest albums of all time, the socially conscious Sign

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Released on March 30th, 1987 in the UK and the 31st in the US, Sign ‘O’ The Times is the ninth full-length studio album produced, arranged and composed by Prince. 30 years later, Sign ‘O’ The Times impact is still intact. Containing themes that are still relevant today, the 16 track masterpiece was recorded between 1986 and 1987 during sessions for three full-lengths that never materialized. The double LP is a collection of tracks that infuses funk, soul, psych pop, electro, and rock with social commentary.

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When it came to the title track of Prince’s brilliant 1987 double album, Prince didn’t hold back. He delved into a number of heavy topics that were dominating the news at the time (some of which that had never appeared before in song) including gang violence, natural disasters, poverty, drug abuse, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, the possibility of World War III, and the AIDS crisis.

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It begins as a great book would, with the setting. “In France, a skinny man died of a big disease with a little name.” In 1987, when Prince’s double-album masterpiece Sign ‘O’ the Times was released, no one had to be told he was talking about AIDS. The title track syrups on, mentioning crack and nuclear bombs — painting the eighties as if Revelations had arrived and no one had realized. The direct political address recalls Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” but where Gaye was pleading for change, Prince is mournful, desolate and sadly accepting. – Rolling Stone

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“The Cross” and “Sign ‘O’ the Times,” were songs that Prince felt, according to Ronin Rio’s Prince: Inside the Music and the Masks, prefaced Christ’s return.

Sign ‘O’ The Times was Prince’s first release after he disbanded The Revolution at the end of the Parade Tour in October of 1986. Eight tracks on Sign ‘O’ The Times were originally meant for the Dream Factory album with The Revolution that was shelved.

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Dream Factory soon became Crystal Ball; both incarnations were rejected by Prince’s record label. Instead of letting Warner Bros. stymie his creative vision and feeling like because of his successful stature “ I could say whatever I want” instead of coming out with a “Kiss” like single, Prince scrapped his opus for a more personally political statement, taking his album title from the first single, “Sign ‘O’ The Times” became Prince’s Transformer moment, his personal “Day in the Life” echoed more of a Lou Reed “Walk on the Wild Side” done with a more stripped down Funkadelic style.Don’t Forget The Songs 365 

Prince embarked on a short Sign ‘O’ The Times tour from May 8, 1987 until June 29, 1987 with only European tour dates. The shows saw the debut of his new band that featured Levi Searcer Jr., Cat Glover, and Boni Boyer along with previous members like Dr. Fink, Eric Leeds, Atlanta Bliss, and Sheila E. on drums.

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Warner Bros. wanted Prince to expand the tour to the U.S., but he wasn’t interested in the project any longer. Instead of more tour dates, the Sign ‘O’ The Times concert film was released and much of it was shot on the Paisley Park soundstage.

Sign ‘O’ The Times has proven to be Prince’s most acclaimed album. It was voted #93 on Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2017. The three singles “Sign ‘O’ the Times,” “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” and “U Got the Look,” remain some of the biggest tracks of the ’80s and will continue to make an impact for decades to come.

Sign ‘O’ The Times HD Remastered Edition [Blu-ray]. View more from the concert film here.

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Sign ‘O’ The Times is an album adored by his fans until the end of time. It is the heart and mind of every musician. If God one day struck people to be deaf, the sound of the album will still be heard. The influence and love are too weak to define what the album means to the world until the end of time. – Bandedbox

Further Reading: 

Cover photo C/O: Turntablelab

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