One of my favorite things about leaving Long Beach at 5 a.m. and heading to the office is the time I get to spend in my car riding east on U.S. 90 and listening to whatever I want, without interruption, for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on traffic. What I listen to varies — recent selections include the new Metallica album, Spoon, the new Kendrick Lamar, Caleb Caudle (thanks, Sean Courtney!) and I’ve listened to Chris Stapleton’s new song “Broken Halos” about a thousand times.
But this week, I’ve had another song on repeat and that song is “Sign of the Times” by Harry Styles. I heard it a couple of weeks ago when I was checking out some new releases on Spotify. I was very intrigued by it on first listen, but, like many Americans, I was sold after Styles’ appearance on “Saturday Night Live” with Jimmy Fallon. I remember being so impressed by his performance of the song that I started to wake up my wife and make her watch it on replay, but I knew better — it could wait until morning.
For the uninitiated, or at least those of you who pretend to not know about Styles, he was one of the singers in the hugely successful pop group One Direction. If you’re still being coy, and all “I’ve never heard of One Direction,” well, you’re lying, but maybe this will ring a bell — Styles made headlines for dating Taylor Swift. If you’re still in denial, then stop reading this and go jump in your hybrid and crank up White Rabbits and debate whether they sound better with two drummers or three. Or you can contemplate the fact that Patrick Carney (The Black Keys) just produced Michelle Branch’s new album. The rest of us will continue to shamelessly listen to One Direction’s “History.” ( I know, right? That song is awesome.)
But it’s OK. I, too, felt a little bit guilty for the love I have for “Sign of the Times.” I think the turning point was when my friend Syd Curry posted on Facebook about how much he loved “Sign of the Times.” Was this the same Syd Curry who went to see David Bowie with Belinda Carlisle on the “Ziggy Stardust” tour? Or the same Syd Curry who did Gaga’s hair for the award-winning “Bad Romance” video. The answer is yes and yes. “Sign of the Times” is that good.
“Sign of the Times” works simply because it’s a great song. Remember how much you loved “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Connor (written by Prince) the first time you heard it? “Sign of the Times” is that song 30 years later. With its piano and falsetto vocals at times, it could have easily been a deep cut on the Rolling Stones’ album “Goats Head Soup.”
Believe me, the last thing I wanted to like was a song by one of the former members of a British “boy” band. But in all actuality, I’ve always had a penchant for British “boy” bands — The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, Oasis and Blur. “Sign of the Times” is just the latest chapter in my love for Brit pop. At least I’m not listening to “You Look Good” by Lady Antebellum over and over. (Yes, I am.)