In 1987, Prince released Sign o’ the Times, a double-album masterpiece which showed his breathtaking range — from aching balladry to brittle funk, lush pop to stomping rock — without sacrificing ankle-breaking danceability. And now, it’s back on the charts.
Sign o’ the Times encompassed 16 songs, but that was just a small chunk of the material that the wildly prolific Prince recorded around that time. As part of an ongoing reissue project, the singer’s estate unveiled a massive reissue of Sign o’ the Times last month that incorporated 45 unreleased studio tracks, full concert recordings, B sides, and remixes. The set arrived at Number 13 on the latest Rolling Stone Top 200 Albums chart — earning more than 16,000 sales, more than 6,000 individual song downloads, and 3.3 million streams — showing both the durability of the original songs and the curiosity about all the treasures Prince kept locked away in his vault.
Hamilton folklore Hollywood's Bleeding Nectar Rumours
Assembling the reissue was the responsibility of Michael Howe, a former Warner Bros. A&R executive who now works as the full-time archivist for Prince’s estate. “We established general parameters, putting to the side anything that wasn’t specifically intended as part of the Sign o’ the Times creative process,” Howe told Rolling Stone. “Meaning no protégé work, and not really much of the instrumental stuff that ended up as part of the Flesh, or later, Madhouse.” But that still left Howe to sift through all the music for Dream Factory, an album planned with Prince’s band the Revolution, and the tunes for Crystal Ball, a planned triple album which was trimmed down to become Sign O’ the Times.
The resulting reissue is dizzying in scope but still worth the eight hour investment it takes to make it from start to finish. “I’ve had the good fortune of having worked with a number of household names or iconic artists, and Prince was just orders of magnitude more creatively evolved than anybody I can think of,” Howe noted. “His guide vocal on stuff is better than most artists’ masters from take after take after take after take.”