I’ve been looking forward to this rerelease for a good couple of months now. It’s one of my favorite albums of 1987, and it’s a solid record from start to finish. It’s a soundtrack of my later teen years, in between the bouts of listening to college radio and the waning months of listening to pop radio.
Prince’s Sign o’ the Times intrigues me because it’s the end result of three different music projects. It’s the aborted next album with the Revolution, Dream Factory. It’s a solo project of androgynous sped-up vocals, Camille. and it’s a collection of both plus more, built into a three-disc behemoth called Crystal Ball. It features the best of all three, and decades later, the deluxe reissue (which drops tomorrow) features nearly everything else that was left off.
The three projects are quite different in their own ways… Dream Factory kind of picks up where Parade and Around the World in a Day left off, improving on his stellar mid-80s songwriting and the band’s tight and often improvisational sound. Camille on the other hand veers towards his uninhibited Sexy Prince character (which would surface less over the years but when it did, such as on The Black Album, it didn’t hold back). Crystal Ball ended up being sort of his White Album, a sprawling mass of past and present ideas and egos.
Some of what got left off of the final version of Sign o’ the Times eventually popped up on b-sides, soundtracks or future albums; the eventual official version of Crystal Ball, released in early 1998, would feature some of the outtakes as well. Prince being Prince, however, his recording regimen was so prolific that there was still so much left in his legendary vault. I’ve heard some of the rarities via bootlegs — a fantastic Revolution-backed version of “Strange Relationship” is a must-hear, for instance – and it’ll be great to hear them with a clear remastering.
I’ll do a recap of the reissue once I’ve given it a good listen! Stay tuned!
Thinking about some of the great musicians we lost this year, I realized that Bowie, Prince, and George Michael all had career-changing releases in 1987. It was probably the last year I paid any significant attention to commercial rock and the countdown charts before I sold my soul to college radio, but I still kept my ears (and eyes) open for the big names at the time.
David Bowie’s Never Let Me Down (released 27 April 1987) was a big seller but had a mixed reaction from its critics. Having spent most of the 80s recording catchy but less-than-adventurous chart rock, after this album he’d work with Reeves Gabrels and Hunt and Tony Sales to form Tin Machine — an often maligned side project, but in my opinion a much needed boost to his creativity. He’d follow up in the 90s with much stronger albums and critical success. It took me a while to warm up to this album, as I too felt Bowie had fallen into a bit of a rut and was going through the motions, but in retrospect it’s still a solid album.
Prince’s Sign o’ the Times (released 30 March 1987) is one of my top favorite albums of his, and its creation story is even more fascinating. Known for creating multiple side projects that may or may not come to fruition, Prince took the best parts of his Camille project (recording under a different name, an altered voice, and an even more androgynous image), the last dregs of two aborted projects with the Revolution before he ended that group (Dream Factory and Crystal Ball), and filled it out with his own solo tracks to create a fantastic double album full of funk, pop, psychedelia, rock, and even a few of his patented weird psych-outs. I always felt this album was the point where he’d left his over-the-top 80s pop persona behind and became more serious about his music. He’d hit a few more roadblocks and make a few more wrong turns, but by the early 90s he’d hit his stride and become an even bigger star. I still listen to this album, it’s that damn good.
I remember hearing American Top 40 premiering George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex” single in the summer of 1987 and being blown away by it — the lite-pop production of Wham! was long gone (it had started slipping away with his “A Different Corner” single from spring 1986) and replaced by HUGE sounds and a hell of a lot of funk, and I loved the sound of it. Radio and fans wondered what he was going to do next, having completely shed the goofy fun of his previous band. His solo debut Faith (released 30 October 1987) was the result: mature, intensely creative and absolutely amazing. I chose “Father Figure” here (even though the single dropped in January of 1988) because it’s my favorite song from the album…it’s a gorgeous and stunning ballad and I love the sparse-yet-cavernous sound of the production.