Prince's Sign of the Times turns 25

Categories: Music History

Prince's Sign of the Times, released on March 31, 1987, turned 25 on Saturday.

There is very little argument to make against the suggestion that Prince ruled the 1980s. The decade was jam packed with memorable pop artists making music to treasure for generations to come, but none came close to the eclecticism, the energy, and the downright strangeness that was Prince Rodgers Nelson. While Michael Jackson wanted to be the King of Pop, Prince was the king of sex. While Madonna pursued controversy, Prince breathed controversy. And while Bruce Springsteen wanted to speak for the average man, Prince spoke for God.

Prince, almost more than any other, consciously shaped what became the decade that integrated the visual with the audio. His pro-masturbation song, "Darling Nikki" inspired Tipper Gore to put "Parental Warning" stickers on controversial albums. Just before this controversy, Prince set an unprecedented record for having the number one album (Purple Rain), film (Purple Rain) and single ("When Doves Cry") in the entire country. Even his next two album releases - Around the World in A Day and Parade -- while not being recognized in the VH1/Time-Life sense of the word "classic," sold very well at the time and stand up tremendously well in the subsequent decades.

And while there is a overwhelming body of work for Princeophiles to pour over when considering The Artist's legacy, there remains a terrific amount of unreleased projects collecting dust somewhere in the vaults of his kingdom. Legend has it that over fifty completed music videos remain unseen, while dozens of other albums and hundreds of studio recordings linger somewhere out of the public's reach.

In the spring of 1986, Prince began work on one of those destined to be unheard albums, Dream Factory. His backup band, the Revolution, had been contributing an increasingly large amount of creativity to Prince's previous albums, and Dream Factory was intended as an appeasement to their growing frustrations over song credits and royalty rights. But an ever-inspired Prince quickly overtook the project, with Revolution songs being cut and replaced with Prince solo efforts. The Revolution would eventually split apart in 1986 -- with some quitting and some being fired -- and the following Prince release would be known as a solo album.

During the time of Dream Factory, Prince was also working on the album of his alter ego, the self-titled Camille. Though after the Revolution disbanded, Prince consolidated these two albums into what he wanted to be a three LP release titled Crystal Ball. Though Warner Brothers was not as jazzed about the project as its over-productive creator was.

In the biography Prince: Behind the Music and the Masks, Ronin Ro documents the time when Prince was attempting to convince Warner Brothers to put out his three LP behemoth, inviting WB executive Mo Ostin down to the studio to listen to the album all the way through. "Ostin considered the economics of a triple album," Ro notes, "how many people would pay a whopping thirty dollars [for an album]? Even if critics did hail it as a masterpiece, there was no guarantee it would turn a profit...

When [Prince finished playing the album] Ostin said 'I respect your vision, but it just wont fly.' Ostin wanted Crystal Ball cut into a double album. Prince wouldn't do it. For weeks, they bickered. A few times, Prince lost his cool, screaming at Warner employees, then storming out of conference rooms."

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