Monday, July 2, 2012

Prince Sign O The Times 1987

I've always liked Prince. I know there are plenty of reasons not to, but his music is often compelling and funky at the same time. That's hard to beat around here.

Sign O The Times (and I'm not going to bother to replace the "O" with a peace sign, because nobody cared in 1987 either) is often heralded as Prince's best, and it certainly deserves to be in the running. It doesn't qualify as a perfect record, and really none of his records get there. There are lots of good ones, and they all have some great moments, but there are also a few weaker tracks. Prince reminds me of Todd Rundgren: a producer, writer, and performer that can't edit himself as well as another producer would.

It was originally released as a two-record vinyl set, and that's what I refer to here. There are three near-perfect sides, and Side Two. The record opens with the title track, and it is a spare funk that gives a snapshot of the ghetto amid the news of the day. Then Play In The Sunshine unleashes hot psychedelic pop that could have existed comfortably on Around The World In A Day (Prince's least funky record) or Purple Rain, with it's hot guitar break. Housequake follows and it is perfect James Brown/Funkadelic dance floor, not to mention the hilarious lyrics. Then The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker, a soulful, funky-pop slow jam cuts loose with a crazy lyric.

Then Side Two. It was really a stroke of genius to put all the weakest songs on one side. It (that's the song title) is an OK funk jam that isn't up to the dirty lyric. Starfish and Coffee is cute psych-pop a la Raspberry Beret. Slow Love is a hot slow jam with nice horn charts. While there is certainly nothing subtle about it, the Philly soul sound is commendable. Hot Thing is a basic dance beat that goes on a bit too long, and Forever In My Life can't save the side with it's percussion-dominated arrangement, and stellar Prince vocal.

The hot funk-rock of You Got The Look kicks off Side Three, with a great Shiela E duet vocal and percussion. It's almost Little Red Corvette. If I Was Your Girlfriend grafts a kinky lyric to a slinky soul jam, and you really need the album version that includes the freaky sex rap near the end. Strange Relationship is solid, with a spare arrangement topped with a multi-tracked vocal and great chorus hook. Then it is on to Prince nirvana: I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man. One of Prince's best lyrics ever, great driving rock beat, killer melody, hook-filled chorus, hot (but too short) lead guitar break- the edited single omits half of the song. Album track heaven.

Side Four is right there with One and Three. The Cross opens the side with the hymn accompaniment to Sigh O The Times, which Prince turns into a guitar-driven slow blues freakout worthy of Neil Young. The live It's Gonna Be A Beautiful Night (recorded in Paris with The Revolution) is a fine jam with solos for all, and it rocks, but it's long. The record closes with Adore, one of the greatest love songs of all time. I still crack up when Prince sings "You can burn up my clothes, smash up my ride (Well maybe not the ride)". Even with the comic relief, it is a great love song.

So that's at least six classics (Housquake, You Got The Look, Slow Love, If I Was Your Girlfriend, I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man, and Adore), and the rest is pretty solid. There's a bunch of good Prince out there, but this is one of his most diverse and quality outings. 

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