While 1999 broke him into the mainstream and Purple Rain was his biggest record, if there is a consensus “Greatest Prince Album,” it’s 1987’s Sign o’ The Times.
Not only did it feature aspects of everything that he’d done before, it added some new wrinkles to boot. It also spawned three massive singles and was also rapturously received by the critics. And nearly 30 years later, it sounds as much of a tour de force as ever.
I mean, look at “I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man,” which starts out as a pure power-pop song with the keyboards and guitar playing call-and-response over handclaps, and then just builds and builds with noisy guitars and harmonies.
Lyrically, it’s ground-breaking as well, as Prince — for the first time in history — turns down a one-night stand. Growth!
And a bit of sadness:
She asked me if we could be friends
And I said, oh, honey baby that’s a dead end
You know and I know
That we wouldn’t be satisfied
And I said, baby don’t waste your time
I know what’s on your mind
You wouldn’t be satisfied (wouldn’t be satisfied)
With a one night stand (uh, uh, uh)
And I could never take the place of your man, oh
Yeah, yeah, the place of your man (uh, uh, uh)
But you might not even notice the sadness, because Prince so overloads the line “Oh honey baby that’s a dead end” with maybe his purest pop harmonies on record.
So instead of fucking, he’s gonna play his guitar!! Which might not have been as satisfying for Prince, but Prince playing his guitar always works for us.
So first off, a long fast conventional solo, and then a surprise, as the song suddenly breaks down, and Prince is left just playing almost jazzy notes over the straight-ahead beat. After filling up all of the space, he’s now leaving oceans of space between every little run, even as you start realizing that he’s now overdubbed a second lead guitar.
Of course, eventually the riff thats that started the song kick back in, but only for a moment, and it just kinda stops.
The video below is a live version from I don’t know when, and is heavy on the guitar pyrotechnics while downplaying the pop aspects of the song.
“I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man”
“I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man” Live 1987
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