Daily Prince 10/7/20: Sign O’ The Times

I’ll take us back to 1987 in a second, but first I’m gonna make a stop at October 7, 1988. I was a 12-year-old 7th grader at Glenbrook Elementary in Pulaski, Wisconsin. That night five of my classmates were killed in a tragic accident. Nicki, Jodi, Brenda, Laura, and Jessica never stray far from my thoughts. Constantly reminding me how fortunate I am to be here, happy and healthy with my beautiful family and three kids at or near the age my classmates were when they had their lives taken from them. The girls are always more present than usual in early autumn. This is my favorite time of year for a thousand reasons, but every October 7 there’s also a sobering reminder that everything can be taken from you in the blink of an eye. I try to make a point one way or another to let our five girls know that we’re still thinking of them. I guarantee every one of my brothers and sisters from Glenbrook feels the same way today. For 30 years my dad – who was the principal at Glenbrook – was always the first one to call me on the morning of October 7 to say, “Remember what today is?” How could I forget? Dad passed away last year. He’s buried in the same cemetery with Jodi and Brenda. I’m thinking of you today too, pops. I always am. Tell your family and friends you love them. Hug them, but only if it’s socially responsible right now. Maybe elbow bump them or something this year instead. Make the most out of your life. We owe it to them. We love you, girls, and we still miss you 32 years later.

Now, on this heavy day, I’ve also been given the challenge of writing about one of Prince’s heaviest songs. A lot has been written and said about “Sign O’ The Times” recently since the SOTT Super Deluxe Edition just dropped two weeks ago. I’ll attempt my own analysis of “Sign O’ The Times” in a second. I have to get this off my chest:

I’m somewhere in the neighborhood of 170 straight days writing about Prince. I’ve found a serious flaw in my little Daily Prince endeavor. It doesn’t give me a lot of time to research. This is supposed to be a fun little goof off hobby, but now I’m really trying to accomplish something if for no other reason than to say I did it. When I clicked the button on my Daily Prince Song Randomizer today and saw “Sign O’ The Times” my immediate thought was, “This song is too deep for me to just wing it. I need to do some research.” What I wouldn’t give for a few days to think about this, do some more reading, and come back with something profound and enlightening. I could pick a different song and push “SOTT” back a few days, but that would be against the spirit of everything I’m trying to do. Pick a song and write. Period. I’m trying to introduce my readers to Prince and give them a new song to listen to every day. If I can add something to the experience, that’s gravy. With that in mind, press play or drop the needle on “Sign O’ The Times.” Marvel at the fact that it’s as relevant today as it was 33 years ago.

“Sign O’ The Times” was recorded in July 1986. According to the Prince: The Story of Sign O’ The Times Podcast, Prince was reading the July 13 L.A. Times with headlines including “New AIDS Findings to Alert a World at Risk” about an international AIDS conference in France and “Star Wars Leads All Defense Costs” about the Reagan Administrations anti-missile program. Halfway across the country the Minneapolis Star Tribune was running a story about a murder trial involving a gang called The Disciples. Prince went to work and on July 16 he recorded “Sign O’ The Times.” Prince had written countless hits at that point, but now he had his “What’s Going On?”

The song touches on AIDS and gun violence as mentioned above, but another topic dominating the news that year was the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. There are multiple references throughout the song. The lyric I always find most poignant comes during the second verse when Prince sings, “A sister killed her baby ’cause she couldn’t afford to feed it yet we’re sending people to the moon.” Reminds me of a President continuing to promote Space Force while a thousand people a day are dying from a virus they haven’t taken the time or resources to quell. Prince repeats the line, “It’s silly, no? When a rocket ship explodes and everybody still wants to fly.” Weighing whether or not our restlessness and need for exploration and discovery are worth the cost when we have problems right here at home that need to be dealt with. We need to take care of our own before we can shoot for the stars.

All of this examination was taking place over a new sound for Prince. It was still funky. Damn near everything Prince did had funk. The instrumentation was sparse and cold. If music can sound desperate, that’s what I hear. Over that desperation Prince laments, “Some say a man ain’t happy unless a man truly dies.” After Prince’s album sales had slipped on his past two albums and Under the Cherry Moon flopped at the box office, some were wondering if Prince’s reign at the top would be short lived. Maybe he lost his fastball. With the first single from his 1987 album he silenced all of that talk. Prince was back, better, and he had grown up. “Sign O’ The Times” – the song and the album – were brilliant and still more than hold up today, 33 years later.

Technically I’m already 90 minutes in to October 8 as I wrap this post up. I’m really stretching the rules of the Daily Prince blog tonight. Whatever. My blog. My rules. I’m still awake and it’s still October 7 on the west coast. Before I go, I put together a little playlist for your enjoyment. “Sign O’ The Times” is my 166th consecutive day I’ve written about Prince and it’s the 7th song I’m giving a perfect rating. Here’s the list thus far:

1999
Darling Nikki
Mountains
Raspberry Beret
When Doves Cry
The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker
Sign O’ The Times

I’ve put together a playlist on Apple Music that you can check out called 5 Star Prince. Anytime I add another five star song to the blog I’ll add it to the playlist. Here’s the link. Enjoy!

https://music.apple.com/us/playlist/5-star-prince/pl.u-Gg4pgU5P3VE

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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