Prince's Sign 'O' the Timesby Michaelangelo Matos
One of the greatest double albums of the vinyl era, Sign 'O' the Times shows Prince at his peak. Here, Michaelangelo Matos tells the story of how it emerged from an extraordinary period of creativity to become one of the landmark recordings of the 1980s. He also illustrates beautifully how - if a record is great enough and lucky enough to hit you at the right time
One of the greatest double albums of the vinyl era, Sign 'O' the Times shows Prince at his peak. Here, Michaelangelo Matos tells the story of how it emerged from an extraordinary period of creativity to become one of the landmark recordings of the 1980s. He also illustrates beautifully how - if a record is great enough and lucky enough to hit you at the right time - it can change your way of looking at the world.
The most immediately striking thing about Sign 'O' the Times is the jazzy sensibility running through it. Prince's father was a jazz musician, his mother a vocalist; he'd been a fan of chops-heavy jazz-fusion as well as rock and R&B growing up. But when Prince began recording for Warner Bros., he abjured the brass sections that dominated groups like Earth, Wind & Fire and Parliament-Funkadelic, opting instead for stacked synthesizer patterns and a spare, cold feel that markedly contrasted with lush, overarranged disco and the wild, thick underbrush of the era's giant funk ensembles; Rickey Vincent, author of Funk: The Music, the People, and the Rhythm of the One, dubbed it "naked funk." Getting away from traditional R&B instrumentation is an underappreciated aspect of Prince's crossover success; Prince is also said to have actively disliked the sound of horns early in his career.
Meet the Author
MICHAELANGELO MATOS was born and raised in Minneapolis. A former staff writer at Seattle Weekly, he has written extensively for Minneapolis/St. Paul's City Pages, Village Voice, Spin, Nerve.com, Time Out New York, Urb, Stereo-Type, Chicago Reader, Baltimore City Paper, and Creative Loafing Atlanta. He currently lives in Seattle.
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As a music journalist myself, and someone who has read eight of the other 33 1/3 books, I found Matos' book to be both refreshing, enlivening, and if not completely meticulous, one of the best in the series. The book offers a fluidic, highly personal account of the author's discovery of the album while at the same time discussing Prince's history and the album's development. While some of the books in the series offer either historical analysis (see, Neil Young's Harvest) or the author's autobiographical reflections of the album discussed (see, The Smiths' Meat Is Murder), Matos finds the middle ground, doing a lovely balancing act between introversion and vulnerability. Matos' book is a lot like his subject's musical output. It's a gamble certainly, but if you're open to it, you'll discover things you may have missed the first time around. And it is only when an author is personal and vulnerable with his readers that you can discover these things. Matos does this superbly, but only if you let him. If you come in with an agenda, then ultimately you'll be disappointed. If you want a straight biography of Prince, there are plenty to be had. But if you want a highly readable and heartfelt book that has the feel of a great musical discussion with a friend then I would highly recommend Matos' book.