You know “Purple Rain,” “1999,” and “When Doves Cry” were masterpieces. In light of Prince’s tragic death, you’ll hear them playing on dance floors and from passing little red Corvettes for days and weeks to come.
But let’s take a moment to remember Prince’s less celebrated works of genius — three of them from the same album, “Sign O the Times,” which artfully blended passion, social commentary, and sweetness better than any Prince album that had come before it. It was more wistful than “Purple Rain,” and Prince no longer needed to shock to get attention — he already had it.
So he was able to turn to small-scale stories, build characters, offer wry asides. And of course, the music was as brilliant as it had ever been.
Yes, Prince will always be better known for “Purple Rain.” It was a song, album and film, pegged to the singer’s signature color. But for my money, “Sign O The Times” is even better: more expansive, more lived-in, more fun. It’s the Prince album where Prince feels most like a real person, letting his hair down and rocking out, having fun, crying a little.
Prince was a fully mature artist by then, but this song also looks back at him at his rawest: On the terrifying “Annie Christian,” from his album “Controversy.” It shows him at his most uncompromising, lyrically, and hints at the incredibly powerful emotions to come.