Welcome to #PrinceTwitterThread series 4! Over the next couple of weeks @deejayumb and myself will be hosting a massive series of 24 Sign O’ The Times themed threads, written by a team of Prince scholars that was recently dubbed ‘The Purple Avengers’. Kinda cool! #SOTTDELUXE
The threads will be split into multiple segments to give everybody the chance to catch up every couple of days. We’ll start with a general intro, and after that each side of the album will be examined. Every segment will also include a themed thread about clothing, art and more.
You will find the full itinerary for the next weeks at the very end of this thread. Before I get there I would like to elaborate on the release that inspired this series of threads. The Sign O’ The Times Super Deluxe Edition that was released on September 25, 2020. #SOTTDELUXE
Should you not know about this release, what are you doing reading this? Make haste and listen to it here: https://open.spotify.com/album/2Uv3zad993qvBkrOcIqdgq?si=elTpJmWeQimah1wLeFP1Bw (we’ll see you in about 8 hours)
The basics: The set consists of 8 cd’s (13 lp’s), a dvd and a 120 page book. It includes a remaster of the 1987 album, remastered single edits, remixes and b-sides, 45 ‘previously unreleased Vault tracks’, a complete show from Utrecht 1987 and the New Year’s Eve 1987 show.
This set has a new cover image, taken by @JeffKatzPhotog, who provided all of the pictures in the book. That gives this set a very cohesive feel. Strangely enough the cd-version of the box does not contain any picture of the original Sign O’ The Times cover artwork.
On a side note, look at that lovely spot varnish!! Such great detail went into making this set.
The original artwork is in the vinyl set though, which consists of 4 gatefold sleeves (the single edits/b-sides and the unreleased tracks), one triple gatefold (the live show) and one regular sleeve holding two albums (SOTT). Exactly like its 1987 original.
There is a difference in the material on which the sleeve is printed though. Due to the way ink dries on that material, it gives us some fun insights. For instance, look at the white box that is in the set.
We all know back in the 80s the address on the box had been retouched for privacy reasons. This was years before Photoshop. Retouching was done directly on a large piece of duplicate film. The 2020 sleeve shows us the overlay that was used. It bleeds through in Prince’s coat.
In a recent Q&A with @Housequake, Katz said: ‘Photoshop did not exist for SOTT and what you see in each photo is exactly the way the film was shot.’ The pictures in this set prove that the album cover is not ‘as shot’.
Exhibit A: The picture on page 22-23.
Exhibit B: The picture on page 94.
Exhibit C: The SOTT album in the vinyl set.
Notice anything about that ‘alternative album cover’?
Indeed, the guitar is missing! And if we look at page 94, we see the empty stage with a very familiar guitar. And if we look at the album cover, in this version we now clearly see that the guitar strap is actually overlapping Prince’s coat and the crude edges around the neck.
If you merge that empty stage picture with the final album cover, you’ll see that the guitar remains exactly the same, while the rest has totally different angles. This Super Deluxe Edition not only opens up the vault, but also unveils photographic secrets.
One last thing about that new cover image (as well as the ‘empty stage’ picture), it actually shows us something we had not seen before, because Prince’s head had been blocking the view ever since 1987.
By the way, check out @SlingshotAnnie’s podcast with (amongst others) Jeff Katz to hear how that cover image came about. And make sure you check the other episodes as well! Awesome stuff.
Have you seen it yet? The stage actually partially resembles a lyric from “The Cross”. If you look at it from Prince’s vantage point. “Ghetto’s to the left of us” (there even a ghetto blaster to emphasise this) “Flowers to the right”
That can’t be a coincidence, can it?
Moving on to the inside, a thing to notice is that the hand drawn symbols that were on the inner sleeve in 1987 (again, this pre-dates modern design software) have been replaced. On my pressing it was done quite crudely by inserting images instead of a font or transparent PNG.
Inside the book you’ll find a foreword by @LennyKravitz, a conversation between @candyTman and Dave Chappelle, essays by Daphne A. Brooks and Susan Rogers, a historical piece by @SlingshotAnnie and liner notes by @Duane_Tudahl along with the photo’s of @JeffKatzPhotog.
Personally I find the pictures of the actual working tapes and handwritten lyrics the most fascinating part of the book. For instance, check out the master tapes on page 98. If you look closely you’ll be able to see there originally was an alternative configuration of the A-side.
Also, these masters are mostly attributed to Prince’s alter ego ‘Camille’, which is described in Daphne A. Brooks‘s essay as being ‘female’. The Lovesexy tour book proves Camille is very much a male though. @deejayumb will dive into that in a few days, so I’ll let him elaborate.
The irony is that side 3 is the album side that is mostly Camille and that is the only master tape which is not contributed to the alter-ego. Although it is most likely that the name has been crossed out.
Also, if you are into these sort of things (the master tapes and such), make sure you get the vinyl version. It contains quite a few extra pictures of working and master tapes on the gatefold artwork (pictures that are not in the cd-version of the set).
The handwritten lyrics are also so much fun. “U Got the Look” for instance (here simply called ‘The Look’) has quite a few extra lyrics, seemingly linked to Camille track “Good Love”. Also, the lyrics to “Crucial” are different from both versions that thus far have been released.
Another fun observation is that “Starfish And Coffee” actually was ‘Starfish And Pee Pee’ (as @susannahtwin has always told it was). We see in the original lyrics that ‘Pee Pee’ has been written over in a red marker, as Prince obviously could not sing that.
Gotta love the tagline in pencil as well.
‘Starfish on a roll
New funk 4 yo soul’
There is so much more to see and discover. But the whole point of these threads is that it is a collaborative effort to see new things and look at stuff from different angles. So please tell me, what have you discovered while reading this book?
And then there is the music. Which is amazing! I will not go into that in depth as the goal is to follow this first series of Sign O’ The Times threads with more series about the specific songs that are on the box set. There are a few things I want to say though.
First of all the remaster by Bernie Grundman is very well done. The original cd sounded flat (the vinyl always sounded better). The digital version album that comes with the vinyl box set shines. Songs that I had otherwise no real interest in suddenly pop and that is only MP3!
I did not have time yet to fully compare the vinyl audio, so no comment on that yet. As for the previously unreleased songs, so much to discover! Again the question, what have you discovered while listening to this treasure trove of music? I’m very curious to hear.
Here’s some stuff that I noticed which is not mentioned in the liner notes. At around 03:10 in the reggae/ska influenced “There’s Something I Like About Being Your Fool” Prince can briefly be heard quoting the Special AKA’s “Free Nelson Mandela”.
We get “The Rebirth Of The Flesh” with its original ending. That makes it harder to compile a version of the Camille album yourself, but also the original ending feels tagged on. As if it comes from a different recording. Am I the only one who hears that?
“I Need A Man” used the horn segment from “Controversy” (as performed in 1986) and “Kiss” (as performed between 1987 and 1989) but it actually comes from a tune by 70s funk band Sun. Prince (or his horn section)’borrowed’ that segment.
The end of “Walkin’ In Glory” (recorded on the same day as “Bob George”) eventually ended up in “2 Nigs United 4 West Compton”. Or vice versa. Somehow I always associated The Black Album with ‘dark time’. This proves he was simultaneously creating uplifting gospel songs.
“The Cocoa Boys” is also very interesting. Fans always assumed that it was ‘The Coco Boys’, named after Prince’s alter-ego Joey Coco. This version differs from the one circulating amongst collectors and you can clearly hear how Prince stripped it for its parts.
In the song we hear about Frankie, who is Joey Coco’s brother. Supposedly this is NOT the same Frankie that is referenced on The Black Album and Lovesexy. According to Cat that is a shout out to ‘the godfather of house music’ Frankie Knuckles.
Also in “The Cocoa Boys” we hear lyrics familiar from songs such as “Positivity” and “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night”, as well as the very same pre-set synth patch that can also be heard on for instance “U Got The Look” and on Madhouse songs “Eight” and “Nine”.
To be precise, Sequential Circuits Prophet VS patch 69: FILMUSIC. It was also used as the intro for support act Madhouse during the Sign O’ The Times tour. Often it was Prince himself that announced the band, making it the first time the audience heard him during those shows.
If you want to hear more about Madhouse and that tour, check out @polishedsolid’s Peach + Black 2 (#SOTTSDC) virtual Sign O’ The Times Super Deluxe Celebration this Saturday. It’s fun, it’s free! For registration, schedule, stream info and more: http://sottsdc.polishedsolid.com
As for that tour, for me personally I hold it dear as it was my first time seeing a Prince concert. I was there June 21, 1987. That was the shortest show of the tour, due to the rain. The day before was the longest and that one is included in this box set!
By the way, a breakdown of what happened in Utrecht on on June 20, 1987 can be found here:
Somehow the setlist for that show is one of the tiny errors that are made in the book. Others include an incorrect spelling of ”La, La, La, He, He, Hee”, afore mentioned Camille gender swap and a comparison with the song “Lovesexy” (which should be “Eye No”).
In that setlist it says Duke Ellington’s “Take The ‘A’ Train” and a song called “Pacemaker” are played during “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”, while in fact “Pacemaker” and “Take The ‘A’ Train” are part of “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night”.
It is understandable where the error comes from as a slower version of the “Pacemaker” horn interpolation (composed by Eric Leeds) is also part of “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”.
Prince used that specific “Pacemaker” horn interpolation quite a few times, not only live. It is also an important part of the melody on The Black Album’s “Rockhard In A Funky Place”.
When listening to the show, you should imagine thousands of people flashing their lighters on the beat of for instance “Forever in My Life”. Back then that was only done in the Netherlands and Prince wanted that image to feature heavily in the Sign O’ The Times Movie.
Later on in this series I will be doing threads on both the tour and the movie. I will elaborate more on the live part of this era there. But not before I touch on the dvd in this set, which features the show Prince did on December 31, 1987, moving into 1988 during Purple Rain.
That show is special because it technically does not really belong in the Sign O’ The Times era anymore. The last proper show had been 6 months earlier and what we actually see is Prince and his band moving towards the Lovesexy era with a Sign O’ The Times backdrop.
Look at the dance Prince is doing with Sheila and Cat during “Erotic City” for instance. Exactly the way it was performed during the Lovesexy tour months later. Multiple segments on that New Year’s Eve show are clearly prototype Lovesexy tour.
Which is weird, as Lovesexy at that stage was still a work in progress (not even called Lovesexy yet). It makes you wonder what they had been rehearsing these segments for.
Anyway… this has just been an introduction, quickly touching upon the reason we are doing these threads the next couple of weeks. If you are remotely interested in Prince (and you must be if you made it this far) go get it! It is essential listening.
Which leaves me to introduce the ‘Purple Avengers’ to you who will be writing these threads the next couple of weeks. First up my co-host @deejayumb, followed by @CaseyRain, @RhondaNicole_, @scottwoodssays and @arrthurr in the first segment about side one of the album.