Monday, March 30, 1987

Prince released Sign ‘☮’ the Times

Sign ‘☮’ the Times


Released: March 30, 1987

Peak: 6 US, 4 UK, 27 CN, 20 AU

Sales (in millions): 2.25 US, 0.3 UK, 4.03 world (includes US and UK)

Genre: R&B/funk

Tracks, Disc 1:

Song Title [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.

  1. Sign ‘O’ the Times [5:02] (3/7/87, 3 US, 1 RB, 10 UK, 5 CN, 29 AU)
  2. Play in the Sunshine [5:05]
  3. Housequake [4:38]
  4. The Ballad of Dorothy Parker [4:04]
  5. It [5:10]
  6. Starfish and Coffee [2:51]
  7. Slow Love [4:18]
  8. Hot Thing [5:39] (11/14/87, 63 US, 10a RB)
  9. Forever in My Life [3:38]

Tracks, Disc 2:

  1. U Got the Look (with Sheena Easton) [3:58] 8/1/87, 2 US, 10 RB, 11 UK, 22 CN, 90 AU)
  2. If I Was Your Girlfriend [4:54] (5/30/87, 67 US, 9a RB, 20 UK)
  3. Strange Relationship [4:04]
  4. I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man [6:31] (11/14/87, 10 US, 29 UK, 33 CN)
  5. The Cross [4:46]
  6. It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night [8:59]
  7. Adore [6:29]

Total Running Time: 80:06


4.758 out of 5.00 (average of 19 ratings)

Quotable: “The best album of the ‘80s.” – Josh Tyrangiel and Alan Light, Time magazine

Awards: (Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

“Soul, sex, excess: everything U listen 2 Prince 4.” BL “It took Prince three years to nail a worthy follow-up to 1984’s 13-times-platinum Purple Rain,” BL but this double album “silenced people…wondering whether superstardom had made Prince lose his touch,” DBW reminding the world he was “merely the most gifted pop musician of his generation.” RC It even “topped [Purple Rain] artistically.” BL This was “the most expansive R&B record of the Eighties” RS500 and, by some accounts, “the best album of the ‘80s.” TL This was “the last great R&B album before hip-hop became black American pop’s dominant form.” MM-116

This shows Prince pushing “his own boundaries on a sprawling rock-soul soundscape dotted by searing messages and wild mood swings.” UT “Fearless, eclectic, and defiantly messy,” AMG “this kinky double disc” BL “falls into the tradition of tremendous, chaotic double albums like The Beatles, Exile on Main St., and London Calling – albums that are fantastic because of their overreach, their great sprawl.” AMG

“A good deal of the songs…don’t sound like hits. They don’t even sound like they’re trying to be hits, which for Prince is really unusual.” MM-23 Sign “doesn’t show off its wares the way the earlier albums do; it meanders, ducks in and out of corners, substitutes feigns and jabs for the clean one-two punches of yore.” MM-23 It “has no business being anything but a career-sinking mess,” TL but Prince “achieved epic musical sprawl without sacrificing intimacy.” BL

“The way the more wildly arranged songs’ busy playfulness…works against the others’ leanness begins to make a specific kind of sense.” MM-25 Prince manages to “acknowledge all his musical influences while remaining uniquely his” DBW own. “Prince shows nearly all of his cards here, from bare-bones electro-funk and smooth soul to pseudo-psychedelic pop and crunching hard rock, touching on gospel, blues, and folk along the way.” AMG It “almost sounds like jazz in some parts.” MM-21Also, “more than on any other Prince album before it, the purple guy’s model is…James Brown.” MM-79

No More Revolution:

In April 1986, Prince put together a track listing for an album called Dream Factory, which underwent a couple of revisions through that summer, but included his backing band The Revolution. By late 1986, he had another possible project, Camille, which was marked by “electronically gender-bent his vocals.” BL

Then Prince merged the two projects into a proposed triple album, Crystal Ball. The record company nixed that idea, agreeing only to a double album. Prince also did some nixing of his own when he dropped the Revolution, who had backed him since 1982’s 1999. “He sounds liberated, diving into territory merely suggested on Around the World in a Day and Parade. While the music overflows with generous spirit, these are among the most cryptic, insular songs he’s ever written.” AMG

“Most of this is attributable to genius; Prince flips back and forth between R&B and rock like a kid popping wheelies.” TL “The lyrics show Prince in a rare state of maturity. Usually his lines range from overt sexual come-ons to garbled references to God, but here Prince actually has something to say.

“Apocalyptic imagery of drugs, bombs, empty sex, abandoned babies and mothers, and AIDS pop up again and again, yet he balances the despair with hope, whether it’s God, love, or just having a good time. In its own roundabout way, Sign ‘O’ the Times is the sound of the late ‘80s – it’s the sound of the good times collapsing and how all that doubt and fear can be ignored if you just dance those problems away.” AMG

“Sign ‘O’ the Times”

Prince decries the ills of society” RV on “the apocalyptic title track,” RS500 a protest song in which he shares “his alternating visions of hope and despair.” RV This “ruminative, angry” MM-88 “downbeat electro-blues” MM-63 features “cracking drum programming and an insta-catchy low-slung bass riff, a kind of streamlined version of Sly & the Family Stone’s ‘Thank You (Felettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).’” MM-88 It sounds “cutting edge” MM-26 but “its solemnity doesn’t fit the rather simple-minded lyric.” MM-87

“Play in the Sunshine”

This is a “busy, bustling” MM-83 “kicky rock number.” MM-63 This song “is closer than any other track here to sounding like Sign ‘O’ the Times in miniature.” MM-85


This is “a funny dance song in which Prince sounds like he’s singing through his nose.” MM-21 It uses “an odd, sped-up vocal that turned his voice into an androgynous twitter.” MM-62 This was the catalyst for the aforementioned aborted Camille album. MM-62 “Housequake” “is, in content, the most direct J.B. [James Brown] homage had recorded to that point.” MM-81

“The Ballad of Dorothy Parker”

The song’s unusual sound “was due to a blackout caused by a snowstorm: the power failure had disabled the tape machine, causing it to run at half-speed…Prince liked the results and left the song alone.” MM-67 The “drum part sounds through-composed rather than programmed; it keeps twisting around, upending and then righting itself, keeping a constant groove without subordinating itself to a monolithic beat.” MM-104

“There’s a brittle instability…that’s close to derangement, and the lyrics – with their nod to [the Beatles’] ‘Norwegian Wood,’ another song about the singer’s infidelity that dances around its actual topic – match it. Prince’s singing…is beautifully controlled; despite the fantasia aspect of the lyrics, the way he sings them – in a relaxed, almost bluesy manner – becomes the song’s reality principle.” MM-105-6

This song first surfaced on the original April 1986 track listing for Dream Factory. It made the cut for the two revised versions of the album and Crystal Ball.


This song and “Hot Thing” showcase “Prince as funky erotomaniac, an obsessive cocksman exercisinghis libido the way a Berklee School of Music grad practices her scales.” MM-76 This one, however, is “more like a generic exercise that sums up and stand in for the genre.” MM-76

“Starfish and Coffee”

This is “unambiguously playful, almost a kids’ tune, with a song-song chorus.” MM-106 The song “depicts Prince as an elementary schoolkid who’s intrigued by his classmate, Cynthia Rose: She wears different colored socks and describes her daily lunch as ‘Starfish and coffee / Maple syrup and jam / Butterscotch clouds, a tangerine / And a side order of ham.’ Prince and his friend Lucy don’t believe her, so they sneak a look, and what do you know – she wasn’t lying.” MM-107 “The moral is to open your mind because you never know what’s behind the magic curtain and/or in your schoolmate’s lunchbox.” MM-107

“Slow Love”

This “Stax revamp” RS500 is “practically a duet between Prince and the horn charts.” MM-69 “The easy fluidity of Sign’s bulk might not necessarily by itself suggest jazz, but add” MM-69 this song with “Housequake,” “Hot Thing,” “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night,” and “Adore” and “the album is colored differently.” MM-69 This is “a kind of parody of lounge singer smoooveness…Prince-as-seducer in a more old-fashioned guise than usual, crooning like he was Sinatra or Bennett.” MM-108 “You never doubt for a second that he wants you, he needs you, and if, as he puts it, ‘Love is 2 weak 2 define how much I adore you,’ he certainly craves you something fierce, and will crawl on his belly in order to get to you.” MM-110

“Hot Thing”

Prince also delivers , “heavy funk” DBW on Hot Thing. The song “is hardly new territory for Prince, which may be one reason it’s so good. He knows the terrain so well he can work new changes on it at will.” MM-76 His vocal “moves from cocksure monotone strut to overwhelmed craving.” MM-75

“Forever in My Life”

This is “a drum machine, multitracked background vocals that anticipate the lead, some acoustic guitar at the end, and nothing else.” MM-22 Like “Dorothy Parker,” this “came about by accident; Prince mistimed his background vocals, which came in ahead of the lead. As a result, they conveyed his thoughts for him, like they’re written all over his face before he even says a word.” MM-106

“U Got the Look”

In the liner notes for The Hits/The B_Sides, Alan Leeds called this “a calculated exercise in commercial songwriting.” MM-65 “The electronic reggae downbeat…leads into an absurdly visceral groove whose distorto-guitar riff is pure pelvic thrust, somewhere between a Led Zeppelin riff or a hardcore-rave synth hook.” MM-97-8

This was the newest recording for the album. Everything else had originally been slated for proposed albums Dream Factory, Camille, or Crystal Ball.

“If I Was Your Girlfriend”

Prince sings this “gender bending” DBW song in his Camille alter ego persona, created “by scarily sped-up tapes.” AMG Originally, he intended an entire album released as Camille without anything identifying him as Prince. When the record company balked at the idea, he consolidated some of the tracks, including this one and “Housequake,” into the proposed three-disc Crystal Ball before he pared that project down to the two-disc Sign ‘O’ the Times.

The result is “the most disarming and bleak psycho-sexual song Prince ever wrote.” AMG He boldly released it as the album’s second single, which nearly derailed the momentum fueled by the #3 title song, but was restored with the #2 hit “U Got the Look.” “The downbeat tune” MM-102 “was his way of pushing the boundaries of just what could be popular.” MM-102 While the “title signaled gender confusion” MM-102 this is “one of the most honest songs Prince or anyone else has written about the give-and-take of relationships.” MM-103

“Strange Relationship”

There’s also the “chilling Strange Relationship. These fraying relationships echo in the social chaos Prince writes about throughout the album.” AMG Prince first attempted the song in 1982 and again in 1985. MM-71 He let Wendy and Lisa of the Revolution tackle it, giving it “a downcast, heavy psychedelic tinge.” MM-72 The version that finally appeared on Sign toned down their contributions, “refocusing the track on melody and rhythm rather than harmonic color.” MM-72

In addition, the vocal now feels somewhere between Prince’s normal voice and the Camille persona. MM-73 It makes “this creep attractive and charismatic; you can understand why someone might be drawn to this guy, despite his bad habits, because the melody is so bright, and Prince’s singing is so emotionally identifiable.” MM-74

This song is the only one on the album which survived through all the possible iterations of albums in 1986 and 1987. Prince included it in the original April 1986 track listing for Dream Factory, the two subsequent revised versions, Camille, and Crystal Ball.

“I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”

This is the album’s “most straightforwardly guitar-heroic song.” MM-95 While Prince sings that he could never take the place of her man, critic Greil Marcus says, “No, but for the last minute he takes the place of Duane Allman.” MM-96 That solo of “anthemic rah-rah-ness…matches the song’s cheerleader melody and chorus.” MM-96 As in “Strange Relationship,” Prince “gets mileage out of the upbeat music/downcast lyrics incongruity.” MM-96

“The Cross”

The Cross is a “religious rock anthem to die for.” DBW “It’s a gospel song sung and played like a rock song, and it’s one of the most intensely committed things Prince has ever recorded.” MM-93 It possesses “the same kind of solemn gravity [as the title track], from lyric to vocal to arrangement; both use similar imagery, invoking ghettos, poverty, and desolation.” MM-93 The song has been described as “the Staples Singers fronting the Velvet Underground.” MM-94

“It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night”

The Revolution do make an appearance on It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night, a “long, live party song” MM-21 which is “a funky, but slight…recording.” DBW It contains Prince’s “first flirtation with rap” DBW courtesy of Sheila E. reciting Edward Lear’s poem “The Table and the Chair” “in hip-hoppy cadence.” MM-84


This “drop-dead gorgeous” MM-63 and “The “lovely, complex ballad” DBW features what is “perhaps his finest vocal performance.” DBW

Notes: In 2020, a deluxe edition of the album was released with a third disc containing the singles, maxi-singles, and B-sides. A super deluxe edition contained six additional discs – three with previously unreleased studio tracks, two from a concert during the Sign ‘O’ the Times tour, and a DVD of a live New Year’s Eve show at Paisley Park.

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First posted 3/23/2008; last updated 8/22/2021.

Saturday, March 21, 1987

Billy Joel & Ray Charles “Baby Grand” charted

Baby Grand

Billy Joel & Ray Charles

Writer(s): Billy Joel (see lyrics here)

First Charted: March 21, 1987

Peak: 75 US, 87 CB, 3 AC, 78 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 2.0 video, -- streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Billy Joel said Ray Charles was his favorite singer and pianist, SF commenting that he “was my hero when I was growing up. As big of a pianist or as big of a star I could ever become, I could never be Ray Charles.” WK When Billy Joel had a daughter in 1985, he named her Alexa Ray, partly as an homage to Charles. When Charles found out, he contacted Joel and said they should do a song together. WK

Joel wasn’t sure if he had enough in common with Charles to write a song for him to sing. Then he thought about how they both played piano and had their share of trouble with women. Joel then crafted “Baby Grand” as an ode to the piano, but also comparing the piano to women and using it as a way to reflect on both men’s careers. WK As Joel said, “The piano has provided me with a nice living…It’s gotten me women, and it’s gotten me through some strange times.” SF

He wrote the song in a single night, saying “it was one of those rare songs…that seem to come all at once – it seemed almost as though I had heard it before.” WK He tried to write in the vein of “Georgia on My Mind,” WK a song which Charles took to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960.

Joel was nervous about recording with Charles, but said he ended up being very easy to work with. Joel said, “He would have taken the thing anywhere I wanted to take it.” WK Joel originally sang in his natural Long Island accent, but at the suggestion of his producer, Phil Ramone, Joel challenged Charles by doing his best impression of Charles so that they ended up singing in a similar style. WK The pair also played dual pianos during the song. Ramone said the song “works…because it’s heartfelt and simple. It’s just two giants who admire each other, singing and playing together.” SF

The song was included on Joel’s 1986 album The Bridge and released as the fourth single. While it was an adult contemporary hit, it only reached #75 on the Billboard Hot 100, making Joel’s line in the song that “they say no one’s gonna play this on the radio” a little prescient. Still, it did receive mostly positive reviews with the Miami Herald saying the song found “Joel actually convincing in the jazz testimonial setting.” WK


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First posted 12/22/2022; last updated 12/29/2022.

Sunday, March 8, 1987

Salt-N-Pepa “Push It” released

Push It


Writer(s): Hurby Azor, Ray Davies (see lyrics here)

Released: March 8, 1987

First Charted: November 21, 1987

Peak: 19 US, 22 CB, 28 GR, 23 RR, 28 RB, 2 UK, 7 CN, 3 AU, 30 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, 0.4 UK, 1.45 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 168.23 video, 160.76 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

The rap group Salt-N-Pepa formed in Queens in 1985. They consisted of Cheryl James (Salt), Sandra Denton (Pepa), and Deidra Roper (DJ Spinderella). Their 1986 debut album, Hot, Cool & Vicious, generated three minor R&B hits before the group broke through with “Push It” in 1987.

It was first released as the B-side to their 12” single “Tramp” in March 1987. By year’s end a remixed version of the song charted on its own accord, reaching the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and achieving platinum status. It was then added to Hot, Cool & Vicious, which pushed the album to gold and platinum status, making Salt-N-Pepa the first female rap group to do so.

“Push It” was written by Hurby Azor, the group’s producer and Svengali. He also discovered Kid ‘N Play. SF The song quotes the Kinks’ British invasion classic “You Really Got Me,” which earned the band’s singer and songwriter Ray Davies a songwriting credit on “Push It.” The song also quotes James Brown’s “I’m a Greedy Man” and “There It Is.” It also uses a sample from a 1977 song called “Keep on Pushin’” by the band Coal Kitchen. WK

The group reportedly hated the song, thinking it “underminded their rap credibility and didn’t have any lyrical direction they could support.” SF Cheryl James thought it was a step back on the group’s feminist principles. SF Sandra Denton tried to claim that “Push It” was “not a sexual song” SF but no one was buying it.

Record Mirror’s Robin Smith said it had “forceful rhymes and heavyweight rhythms that just won’t let up.” WK Melody Maker’s Paul Lester said the song “is to hip hop what M’s ‘Pop Muzik’ and Trio’s ‘Da Da Da’ were to electro-pop.” WK


First posted 6/24/2023.

Saturday, March 7, 1987

The Rainmakers “Let My People Go Go” charted in the UK

Let My People Go Go

The Rainmakers

Writer(s): Bob Walkenhorst (see lyrics here)

Released: 1986

First Charted: March 7, 1987

Peak: 18 UK, 1 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 0.18 video, 0.54 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

The Rainmakers released their self-titled debut in 1986 after first breaking out in 1983 as a trio known as Steve, Bob, and Rich. The group was described as part Jason & the Scorchers, part Georgia Satellites, and part Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. EW The album was well received critically, proclaimed “the most auspicious debut album of the year” by Newsweek magazine. “Let My People Go Go” was released as the lead single and, while it didn’t achieve any chart success stateside, it reached the top 20 in the UK. It was the most successful song of the band’s career. EW

The music was “hard-hitting Mid-American rock ‘n’ roll, built around a Chuck Berry riff, bolstered by the Memphis Horns, and featuring a Dylanesque snarl by Bob Walkenhorst,” WP the group’s lead singer and chief songwriter. The song was loosely based on “Go Down Moses,” an American Negro spiritual anthem. WK Moses climbs the mountain to question God who reveals “that the secret of life is, in the words of that great prophet Little Richard, ‘A womp bop a lu bop a lop bam boom!’” WP

Walkenhorst said he got letters from ministers and born-agains thanking him for “putting religion back into music again.” WP On the flip side, he said he’s had “roughnecks come up to me in bars and say, ‘Yeah, I hate religion too.’” WP Some attacked him as “anti-religious and a blasphemer.” EW

He explained that religion, rock ‘n’ roll and having a cynical attitude were all a part of being in the Midwest. “I don’t come down on either side of the issue. I think Moses and God come out well…and I think Little Richard and the Coasters do, too. Both sides deserved to be celebrated...I’m not a religious guy, but when you’re playing rock ‘n’ roll, you’re trying to touch something spiritual within yourself and communicate it to someone else. Guys like Elvis and Bruce don’t just move your feet – they move your heart.” WP


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First posted 10/26/2022.