How I wrote ‘Sign Your Name’ by Sananda Maitreya

Sananda Maitreya
Sananda Maitreya

Sananda Maitreya on Sign Your Name: “More than likely, I was wearing my favourite lucky yellow underpants when I wrote it.”

The artist formerly known as Terence Trent D’Arby recalls how his 1987 hit single was inspired by a dream…about Sade

Singer, songwriter, arranger, producer and multi-instrumentalist Sananda Maitreya was born Terence Trent Howard in New York in 1962. Better known by his former stage name Terence Trent D’Arby, his debut album Introducing The Hardline According To Terence Trent D’Arby launched his career in 1987, earning a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance and a Brit Award nomination for Top International Newcomer the year after.

The fourth single from the album, Sign Your Name was an international success, reaching No 2 on the UK Singles Chart in early 1988 and No 4 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Here, in his own words, Sananda explains the conception of the hit single that would become Terence Trent D’Arby’s high watermark (Sananda would record three further albums under that name but none sold so well as Introducing The Hardline… and he officially changed his name in 2001). As with several other well-known songs – most famously Yesterday by Paul McCartney – Sign Your Name started with a dream…

Delve into Sananda Maitreya’s Songwriting Survival Kit

Sign Your Name by Terence Trent D'Arby

Released: December 1987
Artist: Terence Trent D’Arby
Label: Columbia
Songwriter:
Producers: Martyn Ware, Terence Trent D’Arby, Howard Grey
UK chart position: 2
US chart position: 4
Misc: The UK 12-inch single came with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry remixes

“While living in Frankfurt, Germany, I’d seen Live Aid on television and was absolutely captivated by Sade’s performance, but most especially by Is It A Crime. Being, like most sensible fools, in love with her, I dreamed the next night that she had asked me to write her a song. Within a few days – no more than three, perhaps – I woke up with the song that I then translated on my little Casio keyboard and my 808 drum machine. Later, upon meeting Sade, I told her that I had written a song for her and that I would be almost as famous as she one day. Rightfully, she thought me an idiot! Later, I wrote Delicate for us, but she was unavailable to record it.

“I was living in a small flat on Raimundstrasse, not far from Sachsenhausen, with my girlfriend Geli, who was a great and persistent believer in me. I had awakened with the song in my head as if I’d heard it in a dream. Again, a few nights previous, I’d had a dream request from Sade to write her a song – that song was Sign Your Name. If you listen to it, it sounds very much inspired by her music, as well as one of my favourite songs at the time: Careless Whisper, written by a true idol, George Michael.

“Upon hearing the title in my mind, it struck me as worthy of my excitement. I am proud of the writing, overall. It was very mature work for such a young fool as I was at the time. My job is often only to finish a song idea that I’ve been lucky enough to receive – the arrangement, production ideas and so forth. I woke up with the main hook, melody and rhythm pretty much all there, like a gift from God.

“The most exciting fact to know about this song was that it was written very shortly after the first Live Aid event and that, more than likely, I was wearing my favourite lucky yellow underpants when I wrote it. May God bless those very special underpants, wherever they may be!”

EXPERT OPINION by James Linderman
“I always say ‘Never trust a songwriter who is not just a little bit superstitious,’ and if it takes yellow underpants to get a song where it needs to go, then by all means go ahead.”

This article on Sign Your Name was first published in our How I Wrote book. A free copy of the paperback is sent to the first 100 Platinum membership subscribers. Learn more at steadyhq.com/songwriting

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