"The Sign" is a song by the Swedish band Ace of Base, which was released on 29 October 1993 in Europe. It was an international hit, reaching number two in the United Kingdom and spending six non-consecutive weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States. More prominently, it became the top song on Billboard's 1994 Year End Chart. It appeared on the band's album Happy Nation (titled The Sign in North America).
In Europe, Ace of Base's debut album was called Happy Nation, and when Arista was prepping the American album release, the label thought it could use a few new tunes. Ace of Base had already written "The Sign" for their second album. The execs decided to not only hasten its release, but also to make the song the title track.
"We recorded it rather fast. The chorus was hard to sing since it has no time to breathe in it. We solved it by letting Jenny sing the second and fourth part of it. They wanted Linn to sing because Denniz loved her voice, so she did the vital parts. Denniz [PoP], [co-producer] Douglas [Carr] and I were happy with the result. An interesting part is that the song was so loud that we had to reduce the volume by three decibels compared to the other tracks when we mastered the album.".
—Jonas Berggren talking to Idolator about how the song was made.
"The Sign" has been described as a "techno-reggae confection with a killer chorus". It's seemingly about a couple contemplating the state of their relationship and deciding to split up, a summation Jonas Berggren in interviews has stated is "more or less" correct.
In an 2015 interview with Billboard Jonas Bergren told about the recording of the song: "When we recorded 'The Sign,' it was a bit too merry. So we put the [hums] da na-na na-na na-na in between the melody lines. It's a bit minor in that part. It becomes major and minor, as a total. But the chorus is mostly major."
The song is performed in the key of G major for the verses and chorus but in G minor for the intro and instrumental breaks. The song follows a tempo of 97 beats per minute in common time. The group's vocals span from A3 to E5.
Neil Strauss from The New York Times wrote about the song: "Ace of Base creates another pop ballad about an imperfect relationship by repeating a deceptively mystical hook ("I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes") over a minimal bass line."Music & Media commented: "More pop reggae from the same Swedish chiefs."
David Thigpen from Entertainment Weekly wrote in his review: "Once you get past the quirky novelty of their hugely popular reggae-styled hit ”All That She Wants,” you wind up in a wasteland of neutered hip-hop and lumbering dance rhythms, all dragged along behind Linn Berggren’s inert, colorless voice on The Sign. If nothing else, Ace of Base’s chart success here and abroad proves that reggae is still the only true world music."
Impact and legacy
In 2014, Idolator ranked "The Sign" No. 1 on their ranking of The 50 Best Pop Singles of 1994.
In 2016, Rolling Stone placed the song at No. 42 on their list of 50 Best Songs of the Nineties.
In 2017, BuzzFeed listed the song at number 28 in their list of The 101 Greatest Dance Songs Of the '90s.
In 2018, Billboard put "The Sign" at No. 65 on their ranking of All-Time Top 100 Songs. They wrote:
"The Sign" led pop into a new era, putting Sweden on the map as a credible hitmaking hub, pushing electronic production closer to the forefront of popular music and helping ignite a collaborative approach to songwriting that has become an industry standard."
In Europe "The Sign" reached #1 in Denmark, Finland, Germany and Spain. At November 28 it entered the Eurochart Hot 100 at #29 and peaked at #2 eight weeks later. It also peaked at #1 in Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Canada and Zimbabwe. And in the US it topped the Billboard Hot 100 and the Cash Box Hot 100 charts.
The song was the No. 1 song of 1994 according to Billboard magazine's year-end charts. The song was ranked at number 65 on The Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs for the first 60 years of the Hot 100 chart and received a nomination for Best Pop Vocal Performance By a Group or Duo at the 1995 Grammy Awards.
"The Sign" entered the European airplay chart Border Breakers at number 10 on November 21, 1993, due to crossover airplay in Central-Europe. It also peaked twice at number 1; on December 18, staying for five weeks and again on March 9 for a two week stay. Together, "The Sign" and Ace of Base's next single "Don't Turn Around" monopolised either the number 1 or 2 spot on Border Breakers for 36 weeks. "The Sign" in the end of 1994 also held the record for longest-running single on Border Breakers, with a total of 42 weeks before slipping off on August 20.
Ace of Base in "The Sign" music video
The music video of the song features the pop group singing amidst romantic and joyful images; "The Sign" was depicted as a computer generated ankh (also known as key of life) and a djed (ancient Egyptian symbol representing stability). The music video is directed by Mathias Julien and was shot on Filmhuset in Stockholm in November 1993. The beginning of the video is an homage to Depeche Mode's Enjoy the Silence.
Amid the images is a little story of a man and woman sitting side by side until the man leaves, seemingly abandoning the woman. However, he comes back with a rose and offers it to the woman. The woman graciously accepts and takes his hand. However, a bright light shines in the woman's face, drawing her away, abandoning the man and dropping the rose on the chair.
The video was released in five different s throughout various territories. In the US, the original of the video was later re-ed, changing some of the shots with Jenny in the foreground from black and white to color. Other versions show more shots of the group singing with their backs in a circle, as well as more shots of Linn singing her parts in her solo black and white take.