“If I Was Your Girlfriend” – Sign O’ The Times (1987)

The eleventh song on the Sign O’ The Times album; that’s the second track on the second CD or the second track on side three if you have the vinyl. This song was recorded at Sunset Studios in late 1986 through to early 1987 and was one of the songs originally included on the unreleased Camille album; a planned release by one of Prince’s alter egos – Camille. Camille is the high-pitched, fuzzy voice on songs like “Housequake”, “Shockadelica” and “If I Was Your Girlfriend”. The Camille album unfortunately was canned though some of the songs eventually made their way onto Sign O’ The Times (via the Crystal Ball project). I think if the record company had allowed it, Prince would have put out a new record every six months during the 80s. As it is, he had to settle for about an album a year.

If you take a look at the lyric book that came with the album, this song is credited with “Lead Vocal by Camille”. “U Got the Look” is also credited to Camille (along with Sheena Easton) but strangely was recorded after the Camille project had already been scrapped. “Strange Relationship” is also credited to Camille. The opening three tracks to the second disc (side three on the vinyl) are all credited to Camille. I can understand wanting to retain some of the history of that lost project, but why add a completely new song under the same moniker to open the second half of the album? It’s as though Prince is trying to unite these three songs as part of one story. “The Sad Story of Camille”, perhaps.

Musically, the song feels melancholic and sad; slightly pathetic even. The drum programming and rhythm section sound pretty sparse throughout and it reminds me a little of “We Can Funk” from Graffiti Bridge, especially towards the end before it transitions into “Joy in Repetition”, albeit at a slower tempo. There’s some keyboard in there too filling in the background and coming in during the chorus to play a handful of notes that make up the hook which you can’t help but hum along to. A one-man band affair though the real focus of this song is the vocal. The high pitched Camille vocal as the lead, with the back-up vocals on the low end complementing the rhythm section. A large portion of the lyrics are spoken word really (Prince’s proto-rap) which makes this song feel more like a conversation than a song. A late night, drunken (or drug-induced) phone call to his object of desire. Thematically this song is almost “Bambi – part II”. But now Prince is a little more mature in his expression of frustration (but only a little). And he’s not necessarily trying to convince her that it’s “better with a man” but rather that he can be the person that she needs him to be (male or female). Lisa Coleman has described Prince in an interview as a “fancy lesbian”[1] and in this song he’s trying convince his lady friend of exactly that. He wants her to fall in love with him, the way she fell in love with her girlfriend and if there was anyone that could do it then it would be Prince. Wendy Melvoin (in the same interview as Lisa) describes meeting Prince and how “we looked at each other for the first time and I thought “Oh, I could so fall in love with that girl easy”… He looked at me like a gay woman would look at another woman”. [2] Prince’s attitude, sexuality and perceived androgyny might have been enough to turn Wendy’s head (or at least get her looking in his direction) but Camille and the object of his desire are a different story.

 

“Look at the bargains over here, ladies…”

Why would you open a song like this? The opening ten seconds have seemingly nothing to do whatsoever with the rest of the song. I don’t know if this was put in specifically for the Sign O’ The Times version or whether it appears on the Camille album as well. It’s obviously quite deliberate and is meant to convey some sort of meaning; it’s here to tell us a story. The intro to this song sounds like a smash-cut short film. Cut to orchestra tuning up. Cut to hawker yelling in the street. Cut to wedding march. Cut to black. End. Then the song proper fades in. Now imagine the orchestra sound is playing over a shot of a couple breaking up. Cut to the girl, now with another girl shopping hand in hand at the local market and finally our two ladies are getting married (lesbian wedding!). The sound of the orchestra is Prince’s relationship with the subject of the song struggling to stay “in tune”. The hawker is calling out to the lady and her new girlfriend/lover. And they are keen to find as many bargains as possible for their lesbian wedding (yay!) The opening 10 seconds is the entire back story to this song and the reason why Prince/Camille is so sad. He was with this girl who broke up with him because she finally found the strength to come out and be who she really is; falling in love with the person that she wanted, not the person society told her she should be with.

 

If I was your girlfriend
Would U remember 2 tell me all the things U forgot
When I was your man?

Hey, when I was your man

If I was your best friend
Would U let me take care of U and do all the things
That only a best friend can
Only best friends can

It appears that he’s been dumped because his lady friend digs girls too. Unfortunately, Camille can’t really understand this (similar to Bambi) so the whole song is him trying to convince her to come back to him. I say back to him, but the overall vibe of the song feels like she was never really his to begin with. His talk about him being her man feels almost forced and untrue. As though he’s trying to convince himself that he was more than just a friend or acquaintance to her; that now he’s trying to convince her he would make a great lesbian too. Maybe she touched his hand once and he assumed that they were going steady. The reason she didn’t tell him everything when they were together was because she never did feel for him like he does for her. They were never best friends; he just wishes they were. All great couples are best friends; but Camille and his “ex” are not. The two girls are, and that is just killing Camille. She didn’t tell him everything because she knew that their relationship would go nowhere. She was always struggling with coming out and finding the strength to confront her fears. She tells her girlfriend everything because she really, truly loves her. They’re best friends and lovers. She doesn’t need to be taken care of, at least not by Camille. She can take care of herself now. She has someone. She has a best friend that can do all the things the way only a best friend can.


If I was your girlfriend
If I was your girlfriend

Translation: If I was your lesbian lover.

 

If I was your girlfriend
Would U let me dress U
I mean, help U pick out your clothes
Before we go out
Not that you’re helpless
But sometimes, sometimes
Those are the things that bein’ in love’s about

Be honest buddy, you didn’t mean that you’d help her pick out clothes. There is definitely a silent “un” after “let me”. You want to see her naked, you want to undress her. The pause after “dress U” just highlights the hidden meaning here. It’s that kind of half-joke where  he’s hoping that she just might say yes. I can picture him with his arms raised, palms pushing up against the invisible wall between them, Marcel Marceu style, and doing his best Woody Allen impersonation “I mean, help u pick out your clothes”. Camille is imagining what it’s like for his ex in her new relationship and the things she’s doing with her new girlfriend. They going shopping together (“Look at the bargains over here, ladies”) and picking out clothes together. He starts to back pedal a little here too. In the first verse he wants to “take care” of her but now he’s starting to understand that she’s not “helpless” but he still wants to do stuff for her; because love or something.

 

If I was your one and only friend
Would U run 2 me if somebody hurt U
Even if that somebody was me?
Sometimes I trip on how happy we could be
Please

You mean how happy YOU could be. She’s already happy. Without you. No amount of begging and pleading will change that. She won’t be running to you for anything anymore. And if a she had only one friend then of course she would run to that friend for emotional support. It’s like he’s phrasing his questions so that she can only answer them in a way that makes him feel better. But it’s a hypothetical. In real life she likely has a multitude of people she’d rather run to ahead of him. I will say that the “please” at the end of this verse sounds like every ounce of emotion has been poured into it. If you ever wanted an audio sample of what desperation sounded like, then this “please” would be it. As deluded as Camille might be, his emotions are still quite real.

 

If I was your girlfriend
If I was your girlfriend

 Translation: If I was your lesbian lover.

 

Would U let me wash your hair
Could I make U breakfast sometime
Or then, could we just hang out, I mean
Could we go 2 a movie and cry together
Cuz 2 me baby that would be so fine

The music changes coming out of the chorus. He’s starting to get a little more frantic now. Frustrated and desperate he stops singing for a moment. He’s just begging to be near her. All on the small hope that she might turn back to him. The activity that he’s describing here is all romantic and suggestive. There’s something more behind each line that implies what Camille really has on his mind. Washing the lady’s hair (in the shower, before going to bed), making breakfast in the morning (after spending the night together), going to the movies (sitting in the dark and making out or copping a feel). All the things that a couple in love would do together.

 

If I was your girlfriend
Baby can I dress U
I mean, help U pick out your clothes
Before we go out
(If I was your girlfriend)
Listen girl, I ain’t sayin you’re helpless
But sometimes, sometimes
Those are the things that bein’ in love’s about (sugar)

Sugar do U know what I’m saying 2 U this evening? (sugar)
Maybe U think I’m being
a little self-centered (if I was your girlfriend)
But I, I said I want 2 be (sugar)
all of the things U are 2 me (sugar)
Surely, surely U can see (if I was your girlfriend)

 A “little” self-centered the way the sun might be called a “little” ball of gas. Finally a small taste of self-awareness though not enough to change anything. The entire focus of the song has been you Mr Camille. If you were any more self-centered you would collapse under the weight of your own vanity and form a singularity of ego. From which no empathy can escape. This verse is the part in Camille’s drunken phone call confession where he confesses that he wants her to think of him the way he thinks of her. She was once his girlfriend (maybe) and he wants to be her girlfriend now because that is the only way he’s gonna get what he desires.

 

Is it really necessary 4 me 2 go out of the room
just because U wanna undress?

 Yeah dude, it is. Stop being a creep.

 

I mean, we don’t have 2 make children 2 make love
And then, we don’t have 2 make love 2 have an orgasm
Your body’s what I’m all about

Two girlfriends having sex generally can’t have children. But they can make love together and they can orgasm together. Camille is trying to convince her that he can do everything her girlfriend can do (so what’s the problem lady?). But she doesn’t want to do any of those things with you buddy. So just chill. She wants someone who wants her for more than just her body. He’s basically admitting that all he wants to do is fuck her (or her body to be specific). Forget about the fact that there’s a person there.

 

Can I see U?
I’ll show U
Why not?
U can think it’s because I’m your friend I’ll do it 4 U
Of course I’ll undress in front of U!
And when I’m naked, what shall I do?
How can I make U see that it’s cool?
Can’t U just trust me?
If I was your girlfriend U could
Oh, yeah, I think so
Listen, 4 U naked I would dance a ballet
Would that get U off?
Then tell me what will!
If I was your girlfriend, would U tell me?
Would U let me see U naked then?
Would U let me give U a bath?
Would U let me tickle U so hard U’d laugh and laugh
And would U, would U let me kiss U there
You know down there where it counts
I’ll do it so good I swear I’ll drink every ounce
And then I’ll hold U tight and hold U long
And together we’ll stare into silence
And we’ll try 2 imagine what it looks like
Yeah, we’ll try 2 imagine what, what silence looks like
Yeah, we’ll try 2 imagine what silence looks like
Yeah, we’ll try…

The last verse is the culmination of Camille’s drunken, late night phone call to his ex-girlfriend. As he starts to talk faster, I get the distinct impression that on Camille’s end of the phone this has turned into phone sex. The end of the song and the drifting off into silence just reinforces that he’s now “spent”. Camille spends the whole song trying to convince his ex that he’s just as much of a lesbian as her new love. Throughout the song, none of his sexual innuendo and graphic descriptions are penetrative. He’s trying to get her to not remember that he has a penis. The imagery that he uses and the acts that he describes are all “feminine” (or at least that’s how Camille sees them) because he wants her to believe that he is a “fancy lesbian” and that he can be the girlfriend in her life. But when he stares into the silence all it does is stare back and remind him that he’s alone.

The title of the song is “If I Was Your Girlfriend” but what he’s really saying is “What Can I Do To Get In Your Pants?” Imagine you’re the girl in this song. You’ve finally found the strength to break up with your boyfriend (as wonderful as he may or may not be) and you’ve found love and a new life with your new girlfriend (lesbian wedding!). Then Camille comes along and calls you up at 3am one night, telling you all the things he would do to you, with you, for you if he was in her place. Even if you were still single (and still into guys), having your ex profess his desires like that in the middle of the night is creepy. She’s not a human being in any real sense. She’s become a means to an end. A way for him to feel joy or pleasure. When they broke up he told her he wanted to “be friends” but now he’s pretty much confessing that he still wants to get in her pants. He even shows some self-awareness when he calls himself out as self-centered. But it’s not enough to actually change his behaviour.

It’s not love. He doesn’t love her, he wants her, he wants her body. If he truly loved her then he would want her to be happy. Even if that happiness meant she loved someone else. But this isn’t about her happiness. It’s about him and his desires. Just like Bambi, the message is the same. It’s just the delivery that has changed. Now he’s just older and sadder and more pathetic. Pleading for her to come back to him. But all his pleading will come to naught.

I may be drawing a long bow here but I get the sense that this song is about Wendy and Lisa. I’ve read about it being written for/about Prince’s former fiancé and Wendy’s sister Susannah (which may still be partly true) but I think that what this song is really expressing is Prince’s jealousy of Wendy and Lisa’s relationship and his desire for the type of relationship that these two “girlfriends” had at the time (Wendy and Susannah being twins probably has a bit to do with it too). Yes, the song is titillating in the way that a lesbian relationship can be to a heterosexual male, but behind that you can hear the aching in his voice and the desire to be part of something beautiful. Prince wanting him and Susannah to have what Wendy and Lisa have (if he was her girlfriend they might have a chance at happiness). Outwardly, Camille may be crass and slightly indifferent about the subject of this song (focusing more on his own needs) but I think that Prince is using the character Camille to express something about his own desire for the type of relationship that he saw on display by the girls in the band. Deep love, full of trust in one another and an understanding of who they are and what they mean to each other. This song may not have done too well when it was released as a single but amongst Prince fams, this is usually cited as one of the greatest songs in his discography (sorry Captain). The emotion of the vocal, balanced against the sparseness of the backing track creates something that really lets you feel the artist’s emotions at every level. Whether the song is about Susannah or Wendy and Lisa or the girl he had a crush on in high school or all of the above, the way the song makes you feel when you listen to it is really the point. Like all great art, it’s a catharsis.

 

Running time: 4:59

 

References:

Sign O’ The Times (released 1987)

Prince (released 1979)

Graffiti Bridge (released 1990)

The Peach & Black Podcast

Sign ‘O’ The Times, Michaelangelo Matos, Continuum International Publishing, 2004.

Wikipedia

Prince Vault

AZ Lyrics

The Hits – Songbook

out.com

 

[1] http://www.out.com/entertainment/2009/04/16/revolution-will-be-harmonized

[2] ibid.

 

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The Cross – Sign O’ The Times (1987)

The fourteenth song on the Sign O’ The Times album; that’s the fifth track on the second CD or the first track on side four if you have the vinyl. And if you have the cassette then may god have mercy on your soul (and yes, I’m aware that I didn’t capitalise the word ‘god’).

Initial tracking took place on 13 July 1986 at Sunset Sound, in Hollywood (you may have heard of it, it’s in Hollywood).[1] Recorded initially to be included on a double album with The Revolution called Dream Factory (fourth track on side four of the vinyl) and then later when that album was scrapped (along with The Revolution) a new triple album was planned called Crystal Ball where this track was retained (first track on side six of the vinyl). Crystal ball eventually got whittled down to become Sign O’ The Times and this song became a part of “Purple History™”.

Sign O’ The Times was release by Warner Brothers in March 1987. So even with two album changes and a band change it was only about nine months from the first tracking of this song to its release. I’m no musician but that seems like a lot of stuff to happen in a relatively short time. You can check the Prince Vault[2] website for the various configurations that the three albums went through plus additional tracks added from the Camille album that went into Sign O’ The Times. It took the demise of a band and three other albums to make Sign O’ The Times happen. At this point in his career and even since then this is arguably his “Great Work™”. A magnum opus if you will. His Frampton Comes Alive.

As mentioned, the song itself was written and recorded well before the album was even being considered in the form it was finally released. So its inclusion here is basically an editing/curating exercise. Not that this takes anything away from the song itself but I mention it in order to highlight that the song itself may not be reflective of the period in which it was released. Which is a common theme with many of Prince’s songs that get worked on for a while and then they’re put away to age and mature before they are enjoyed properly.

There is some controversy around this track in modern Prince fam-dom. Ever since he became a Jehovah’s Witness he began to change the lyrics in the song when performing it live to “the christ” and no longer sings it as it appears on the album. Apparently this is because Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that JC died on one piece of timber and not two. What difference that makes to the price of fish is anyone’s guess but at the end of the day it’s his song so he can change whatever he likes.

Being a child of the compact disc age, I can only imagine what it must have been like to hear this record for the first time on vinyl. The song begins very quietly and you really have to crank up the sound to hear the opening notes. The way it’s positioned on the album I think helps with the impact of the song. This song opens up side four of the vinyl (the home stretch!). I’m going to ignore the CD version because I think that CDs would have been an afterthought in this era (and the less said about cassette tapes, the better). The last song on the previous side (side three) is “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” – an upbeat dancey song that is all about love and heartbreak. In fact all of side three is about love and relationships and all the songs have an upbeat party vibe (If I Was Your Girlfriend is kind of mid-tempo but definitely not a ballad or anything lame like that). So side three ends on a party track with a three and a half minute instrumental outro that has you jumping all over the room with your library card falling out of your pocket. Then the music stops, the needle on the record player returns home and you have to walk over in the silence, flip the disc and drop the needle again. And then for half a moment the silence makes you wonder if you’ve picked up a defective copy before you hear the music drift in and you turn up the volume so you can hear it better. Now you have soft guitar and sitar sounds wafting out of your speakers where moments before there was energy and movement and a wall of noise. It marks the beginning of the end. And that’s a big part of what this song is reminding us of – the end. Our end. Or rather, what Prince perceives our end to be; which is in fact, no end at all.

This was one of the first songs that I learned to play on guitar. It’s basically two very simple chords – E and Asus2. All you have to do is move two of your fingers up one string each and you’ve got it. The rhythm is pretty simple too. As one of the boys on the Peach & Black podcast mentioned, the beginning of this song sounds like it was written by someone in high school. The sitar sound even sounds like it might be made on a guitar of some kind with some sort of effect machine thingy. Then again, it could be the real thing (like I said – not a musician).

When Mrs Thrawn heard this song she said that it reminded her of The Doors, which may sound obvious, but that had never occurred to me until she said it. She even found the words to be “Doorsy” if you ignore the religious references (which she missed on first listening). Going back to the Peach & Black team, M.C. mentioned that some of this was almost grunge like (specifically, the second half of the song), which kind of makes sense since this song was written in 1987 and that’s right about the time that grunge was starting to emerge (Soundgarden was formed in 1984). Prince always has his ears open for the latest sounds and it wouldn’t surprise me if he had heard some grunge music by this stage.

The intro is such a quiet little guitar riff. I assume it is a guitar but it sounds very sitar-like. The guitar, vocals and sitar (or second guitar?) meander through to the 1:20 mark. Then the kick drum comes in on its own for about 20 seconds until we are joined by the little drummer boy (pa rum pum pum pum). Then just passed the halfway point in the song everything gets kicked into rock mode and whatever quiet meditation you were contemplating gets blown away. Again, thinking back to our vinyl listener who’s hearing this for the first time. They’ve flipped the disc, turned up the volume so they can hear whatever this Prince fellow is crooning about and then all of a sudden – whack! You get a face full of the rock. Nothing on the album up to this point has really prepared you properly for this song. It’s not about romance or love (in the romantic sense), it doesn’t sound remotely similar to anything else on the album and he’s tricked you into cranking up the volume on your gramophone to ensure that you get the full force effect of his faith.

So we’ve got a grunge-y/Doors-y/eastern/rock/gospel track opening up the last side of the album. It starts off quiet and simple and slow, the lyrics are sung softly and sweetly and then halfway through someone presses the ‘rock’ button on the amplifier and everything kicks up a few gears. The song really takes off musically and the lyrics (chorus and verse) repeat but are delivered with the power that is part anger, part desperation, part love and part hope. The backing vocals only come in right at the end (Prince’s Heavenly Choir™) to finish it off.

It’s such a basic song musically and lyrically that any variation or flourish is so deliberate that it carries some meaning beyond what is on the surface. Exhibit A – when the kick drum first comes into the song at that 1:20 right after Prince sings the word “bear” and just before “the cross”. The single kick drum pounding away on its own like that evokes a sense of a hammer pounding away. Hammering nails into a cross.

But I get ahead of myself.

 

Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don’t cry, He is coming
Don’t die, without knowing, the cross

The lyrics come in at the 0:32 mark. As mentioned above, there’s only one guitar (the “sitar” has dropped off by now) playing a simple chord progression as accompaniment. The vocal is soft, calm and reserved. It is, to say the least, a stark opening. Not off with his head Stark, but bleak nonetheless. The first two lines are pretty dark. No love, no hope, no light. At this point you probably wanna just skip to the next song but you know (if you’ve read the album sleeve) that the title of this song isn’t “Murder, Death, Suicide and Tears™”. It’s called “The Cross” – a phrase which comes with a freighter full of baggage. And if you know anything about popular music and christianity, you know that there is likely a little more to this song (so keep listening). The next line starts to reveal some of what we can expect. It’s not all “Murder, Death, Suicide and Tears™”, so don’t cry, “He” is on his way. What he plans to do when he gets here, that’s not quite clear. But he’s coming, so don’t die. Because there’s no way you could find out about him or his cross (or the latest summer trends from Paris) if you were dead. I find it interesting that in a lot of his songs Prince uses the words ‘come’ and ‘coming’ when talking about adult themes and the ol’ “in/out, in/out” but in this song there are no such connotations. Not that he has ever shied away from mixing the holy and the profane (“God is coming, like a dog in heat”) but in this song he’s really tried to strip away all that noise and write a modern hymn. He’s preaching the good news and he wants you to hear it. To know ‘the cross’. He wants that you should become well acquainted with an instrument of death and torture. “It’s a symbol” I hear you say, which is true. But it symbolises the idea that the torture and death of someone can somehow magically save you or me or anyone from “Murder, Death, Suicide and Tears™”. He uses the sitar sound again (which symbolises the cross or JC) and it comes back in after he sings the last word in this verse. It’s reassurance.

 

Ghettos to the left of us
Flowers to the right
There’ll be bread for all of us
If we can just bear the cross

When I started listening to this song, I thought that these lines meant something like “bad things to the left and nice things to the right”. After repeated listens, I now think that the flowers here represent funerary arrangements and that these two lines are meant to mimic the negativity of the opening lines. Poverty and death to go with the hopelessness and rain. And once again, hope is salvaged by ‘the cross’. What kind of hope? Well there’ll be bread apparently. But I guess if you gotta cater for 7 billion-plus then you have to stick to simple fare. As mentioned above, this is where the kick-drum comes in and begins to hammer away at the cross. The sitar also comes back after this verse. As the song progresses the music and instrumentation start to tell the story of the crucifixion in the background while the lyrics tell the lead story of what that crucifixion means to Prince (and what it could and should mean to you).

 

Sweet song of salvation
A pregnant mother sings
She lives in starvation
Her children need all that she brings

She’s pregnant and she has children. That’s plural. That means a starving woman who already has at least one child is pregnant again. It sounds like she needs some family planning, not salvation. It would be easy for me to sit here and write about how the woman has no one to blame but herself and that she should learn to keep her legs closed (blah, blah, blah). But that would be Donald Trump level analysis and here we try to go deeper than the first nanometre. There are a lot of women, poor and other wise, but especially poor, who don’t have a lot of choice when it comes to pregnancy (in all parts of the world). That she’s now pregnant again is more of a structural/political issue that won’t be solved by singing. Maybe she should spend less time singing and more time bringing, but then again there’s no reason she can’t do both. This verse is also where the little drummer boy finally comes in (pa rum pum pum pum) and no surprise it lands just before he starts to sing of children. He’s witnessing the crucifixion and playing his drum.

 

We all have our problems
Some big, some are small
Soon all of our problems
Will be taken by the cross

This verse marks the end of the lyrics such as they are and they repeat from here. There is a small drum fill that comes in at the start of this quatrain. It’s calling you to pay attention – this is important. The culmination of what I’m trying to tell you is here. You see we all have problems of various sizes but soon it’ll all be alright, don’t you know. There’s a drum sound here that sounds like a drumstick hitting the rim of the drum and it hits and the end of each of the first three lines (father/son/ghost). If the kick drum is the hammer and nails then this new sound is the final construction of the cross. We’re almost done. We’re about to be taken away (like at the end of “Let’s Go Crazy” – another song where “he’s coming”). He’s taken us from the first verse where he talks about the elemental level of weather and darkness to the next level down of the city and cemetery then down to the human level and the struggles of the poor and then finally in the final verse it comes down to the individual and everyone’s personal struggles. The point of which was to highlight to you that no matter the level of suffering or the problems that you face in your life, all you really need is god. Or more specifically, the god that Prince believes in (polytheists need not apply). The one with the cross to bear. So much so that he drops out all the music before singing “the cross”, symbolising the final breath of the saviour. The nails have been hammered, the crucifix has been erected and the rest is silence. Or is it…?

 

Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don’t cry for He is coming
Don’t die without knowing the cross, y’all

Just before this verse starts, the sitar has another little solo (“the cross” just letting us know that everything will be okay) and then the guitar gets shifted into overdrive. The only change in the lyrics here is the addition of “y’all” at the end of the verse. “You all”. The perspective has shifted slightly now. It’s not about us anymore, it’s about you all. The drums pick it up a little in this verse and there are now two guitars (at least). Sitar solo after the verse still indicating the cross/saviour is with us but now the reserved hymn that we started with has morphed into a powerhouse celebration gospel song. Vocally, Prince takes it to another level. His voice is almost raw. As though he has been crucified and his throat is dry and worn.

 

Ghettos to the left of us
Flowers to the right
There’ll be bread for all, y’all`
If we can just, just bear the cross, yeah

Bread for all of you all. Not me, you. The music continues in a similar vein to the previous verse so nothing really to see here other than the party continuing. The word “just” does get repeated here though. Because you see, bearing the cross is really a simple thing. It’s the easiest thing in the world. Everyone should do it. All y’all.

 

We all have our problems
Some are big, some are small
Soon all of our problems, y’all
Will be taken by the cross, y’all (?)

There’s a percussion thing (xylophone maybe?) that comes in on this verse that kind of sounds like a pipe and the guitars and vocals seem to go up another notch. These additions add layers to choir depth to the celebration. The way he screams out “cross” on the last line tells you everything you need to know about how the singer feels about his subject matter. I’ve got a question mark next to the last “y’all” there because I’m not sure. It sounds like it to me but Metro Lyrics has “no” there.

 

The cross

This is where the backing vocals come in for the first time – Prince’s Heavenly Choir™. The saviour has been exalted up to heaven and the heavenly choir sings.

The cross

And then finally all the music fades out, it goes quiet, you think the song is over, but no. Prince’s Heavenly Choir™ comes back to remind you what salvation is all about. Him.

 

Running time 4:46.

 

The first half of the song was all about us finding out about the cross and salvation (whilst the cross itself is being constructed in the background). Then in the second half the song becomes about “y’all”. Prince is now our saviour and is telling us that we will be saved. Thematically, this makes sense because in the first half of the song the cross is still being constructed and the teacher is still a mortal man (or half mortal on his mother’s side). By the second half of the song (after death and resurrection) the teacher has become the saviour and we all better listen to what he’s telling us. Do what I tell you all and everything will be fine. You can join Prince in heaven and become a member of Prince’s Heavenly Choir™.

 

 

References:

Sign O’ The Times (released 1987)

The Peach & Black Podcast

Sign ‘O’ The Times, Michaelangelo Matos, Continuum International Publishing, 2004.

Wikipedia

Prince Vault

Metro Lyrics

Mrs Thrawn

 

 

[1] Tip o’ the hat to Matthew Wrather for ripping off his call sign – www.overthinkingit.com.

[2] http://www.princevault.com