In late 1986, Prince completed his most ambitious project to date: a triple album featuring 22 brand new songs entitled Crystal Ball.

However, already overwhelmed by the amount of material the prolific artist had released in recent years, Warner Bros. insisted Prince trim the collection down to a more manageable set, which ultimately became 1987's two-LP Sign O' the Times.

Crystal Ball became the third major project Prince abandoned in 1986. The double album Dream Factory was set to be the fourth release to feature the Revolution, but was scrapped when Prince instead broke up the band. He then assembled the single disc Camille, which was to be credited to a female alter ego of the same name, with Prince's voice pitch-shifted to a higher register on all eight tracks.

According to PrinceVault, 15 of Crystal Ball's 22 tracks wound up on the 16-song Sign O' the Times, with the only new addition to the final record being the future hit single "U Got the Look." Five of the remaining seven Crystal Ball tracks were eventually released on future projects, but it won't be until the September 2020 release of an expanded edition of Sign O' the Times that fans can legally assemble a complete version of the 1986 Crystal Ball.

To confuse matters even more, in 1998 Prince released the first-ever compilation from his famously overstuffed vault of unreleased songs, and re-used the Crystal Ball name for it. Only one song from 1986's Crystal Ball, the title track, was included in the 1998 collection.

Here's how you can assemble the 1986 triple album edition of Crystal Ball.

1. "Rebirth of the Flesh"
Found on: Sign O' the Times: Super Deluxe Edition (2020)

Talk about a demotion. Originally slated as the opening track of both the Camille and Crystal Ball albums, this upbeat and highly trippy blend of fuzzed-out bass, horns and guitar ended up being one of just two Crystal Ball songs that remained locked in Prince's vault until the expanded 2020 reissue of Sign O' the Times.


2. "Play in the Sunshine"
Found on: Sign O' the Times (1987)

After the opening curve ball of "Rebirth of the Flesh," the next seven songs on 1986's Crystal Ball arrive in the same exact order as tracks two through eight on Sign O' the Times. That sequence kicks off with this lighter-than-air and exceedingly joyous look at the bright side of life.


3. "Housequake"
Found on: Sign O' the Times (1987)

Recorded by Prince the day after he disbanded the Revolution, this percussive James Brown homage was another track originally intended for Camille. "It was one of the songs he spent a long time on," engineer Susan Rogers later said. "Which usually meant - I assume - that the song was one he considered especially important or [that] he particularly enjoyed working on."


4. "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker"
Found on: Sign O' the Times (1987)

The first song recorded at Prince's new home studio on Galpin Blvd. in Chanhassen, Minn., got its unique sound as a result of a recording console that hadn't been fully bug-proofed yet. Engineer Susan Rogers didn't want to stop her client's feverish work on the song, even though partway through she figured out the board had no high end. "It sounds kinda dull, doesn't it?" Prince asked afterwards. Happily, "he didn't care because it actually suited the song. It was serendipitous. That underwater quality didn't bother him."


5. "It"
Found on: Sign O' the Times (1987)

One of a handful of Sign O' the Times songs that was slated for both Crystal Ball and the preceding Dream Factory, "It" takes the "less is more" approach of the bass-free "When Doves Cry" to the next level, ingeniously capturing the urgency of desire with just a drum machine, synths and occasional stabs of guitar.


6. "Starfish and Coffee"
Found on: Sign O' the Times (1987)

This charming, psychedelic piano ballad was inspired by stories Prince's former fiancee Susannah Melvoin told him about a former classmate. "I think Cynthia was dropped off from another world filled with extraordinary images," Melvoin later wrote of the song's inspiration. Like "It," "Starfish and Coffee" also dates back to the Dream Factory sessions.


7. "Slow Love"
Found on: Sign O' the Times (1987)

Another Dream Factory holdover, the lush ballad "Slow Love" featured a rare form of collaboration for Prince, who re-worked the song with its original author, Carole R. Davis. "He was a musical genius," she told Ultimate Prince in 2018. "He knew what would sound good with what, what was layered over what. He skipped over notes like they were stepping stones on water."


8. "Hot Thing"
Found on: Sign O' the Times (1987)

A Crystal Ball original, the sexually charged "Hot Thing" finds Prince channeling Mick Jagger while Eric Leeds runs wild on the saxophone. In 2016 Leeds told the Post-Gazette that horn players enjoyed more freedom with Prince than band members who played instruments he could play himself. "He could really pick up the bass or guitar or get behind the keyboard and drums and show them exactly what he wanted by playing it. He couldn't do that with the horns, so the method of communication was a little bit different and it kind of enabled us to take on more of a role in the band."


9. "Crystal Ball"
Found on: Crystal Ball (1998)

Prince swung for the fences on this 11-minute epic about making love during an apocalypse, filling it with militaristic drums, an odd and depressing spoken-word segment and a kick-ass bass solo. It's almost like he was trying to create an apocalyptic "Stairway to Heaven" for the dance floor. Apparently not convinced ambitious musical statements such as this would reap the same financial rewards as Purple Rain or "Kiss," Warner Bros. pushed Prince to boil down his triple album to a more manageable double disc. Twelve years later, "Crystal Ball" was finally released as the title track of a vault-clearing set Prince sold directly to fans via mail order.


10. "If I Was Your Girlfriend"
Found on: Sign O' the Times (1987)

"If I Was Your Girlfriend" is of the most unique and remarkable songs Prince ever created. But his decision to make it the second single released from Sign O' the Times was rather perverse. It didn't pay off commercially, as the track peaked far short of the Top 40. But the song, which was originally slated for Camille, helped cement his reputation as an uncompromising artist, and remains a good litmus test for true hardcore Prince fandom.


11. "Rockhard in a Funky Place"
Found on: "The Black Album" (1994)

Many of the songs on this playlist were supposed to be included on two different scrapped records. In addition to being part of Camille and Crystal Ball, "Rockhard in a Funky Place" does them all one better by also having a spot on The Black Album, a dance-heavy, darkly themed project Prince planned to put out after Sign O' the Times. Following an apparent sudden spiritual re-awakening, he canceled the release, personally paying to destroy over half a million copies that had been pressed. In 1994, as part of a deal to escape his contract with Warner Bros., Prince reluctantly allowed the label to sell the record for a limited two-month time span.


12. "The Ball"
Found on: Sign O' the Times: Super Deluxe Edition (2020)

This is the second of two Crystal Ball songs that remained officially unreleased until the expanded 2020 re-issue of Sign O' the Times. "The Ball" was re-worked and re-recorded by Prince and his new backing band as "Eye No," which became the lead track on 1988's Lovesexy, which he recorded quickly as an apology of sorts for the scrapped Black Album.


13. "Joy in Repetition"
Found on: Graffiti Bridge (1990)

Perhaps the most remarkable of the seven Crystal Ball tracks that were left behind when the project was replaced by Sign O' the Times, the melancholy "Joy in Repetition" instead became a highlight of the soundtrack to Prince's third movie, Graffiti Bridge. It also remained a live favorite for the rest of his career, even serving as the lead track to 2002's One Nite Alone... The Aftershow: It Ain't Over!


14. "Strange Relationship"
Found on: Sign O' the Times (1987)

The first of two Crystal Ball tracks with a surprisingly long history, "Strange Relationship" was first recorded in early 1983, prior to the recording sessions for Purple Rain. After years of sporadic re-shapings, the song was set to be included on both Camille and Crystal Ball before finally finding a home on Sign O' the Times. The expanded 2020 edition of that album also includes an early version which relies heavily on a simulated sitar riff.


15. "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man"
Found on: Sign O' the Times (1987)

"I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" dates back even further than "Strange Relationship," having been first recorded way back in 1979 during the sessions for Prince's self-titled second album. It made the final track list for all three of Prince's unreleased 1986 concepts (Dream Factory, Camille and Crystal Ball) before turning up on Sign O' the Times. The box set edition of Times also includes the original New Wave 1979 edition of the song.


16. "Shockadelica"
Found on: The Hits / The B-Sides (1993)

Originally released as the B-side to "If I Was Your Girlfriend," "Shockadelica" put a serious kink in the friendship between Prince and the Time guitarist Jesse Johnson. Prince wanted the song to serve as the title track of Johnson's solo album. When the offer was rejected, he put the song out himself, allegedly telling Johnson that "when they think of 'Shockadelica,' they'll think of me."


17. "Good Love"
Found on: Bright Lights, Big City soundtrack (1988) / Crystal Ball (1998)

This unbelievably peppy Camille / Crystal Ball refugee became the first song Prince contributed to the soundtrack of a movie in which he didn't appear. "Good Love"'s sunny subject matter was an odd fit for Bright Lights, Big City, which starred Michael J. Fox as a cocaine-addicted journalist in the midst of a serious personal and professional downward spiral. A re-arranged take of the song also appeared on the 1998 version of Crystal Ball.


18. "Forever in My Life"
Found on: Sign O' the Times (1987)

Much like "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker," this stunningly spare and plain-spoken vow of love ended up with a unique sound as the result of a happy studio mistake. According to PrinceVault, the background vocals were originally meant to follow, not precede, the lead vocals. But when Susan Rogers accidentally played them together out of sequence, Prince liked the unusual effect and decided to keep it on the final version.


19. "Sign O' the Times"
Found on: Sign O' the Times (1987)

Originally buried in the No. 11 and 19 spots of the track lists for Dream Factory and Crystal Ball, the politically charged "Sign O' the Times" was promoted by Prince to serve as the opening number, first single and title track of his ninth studio record. It was his first single in nearly three years to be solely credited to Prince, instead of Prince and the Revolution.


20. "The Cross"
Found on: Sign O' the Times (1987)

A flawless example of Prince's unique version of rock and roll gospel, "The Cross" survived the transition from Dream Factory to Crystal Ball to Sign O' the Times, and served as the powerful closing number for the Sign O' the Times concert film. When he later became a Jehovah's Witness, Prince re-worked the song as "The Christ" in accordance with his changed views about the exact nature of Jesus Christ's death.


21. "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night"
Found on: Sign O' the Times (1987)

The Revolution are granted a loving sendoff with the first live track to earn a spot on a Prince release. Originally recorded during the Aug, 25, 1986 Paris stop of the band's final tour, "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night" later underwent several overdub sessions, including the addition via telephone of Sheila E.'s mid-song rap.


22. "Adore (Until the End of Time)"
Found on: Sign O' the Times (1987)

Prince clearly knew a great closing song when he wrote one. The transcendent "Adore" was lined up for that spot of honor on Crystal Ball, and stayed in place when the project was replaced by Sign O' the Times.


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