The Second Disc

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Prince Week Day 7: Crystal Ball

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In the penultimate entry of Prince Week (I know, this is Day 7, but we got one more piece for you tomorrow), The Second Disc turns its attention to one of the most fertile times in Prince’s life. From 1986 to 1987, just two short years, His Royal Badness managed to record enough material for a good four or five albums; it should go without saying that this material would be greatly served in a box set from Rhino at some point in time.
Hit the jump to get your world rocked with a story of lots of unreleased Prince material.
After the commercial disaster of Under the Cherry Moon, Prince was eager to get back into the studio, and was actually making some attempts to include The Revolution in his composition and production process. (The band members – guitarist Wendy Melvoin, keyboardists Lisa Coleman and Matt Fink, bassist Mark Brown and drummer Bobby Z – had steadily been contributing more to Prince’s albums, with Parade showing more co-writer credits and a general band feeling overall.)
What began as a single LP called Dream Factory soon expanded into a double album that adopted a wild palette of pop, rock and R&B stylings. But by the fall of 1986, it was pretty clear that Dream Factory was not being released. Tensions had continued to brew within Prince’s band; Wendy and Lisa were particularly upset about Prince incorporating too many members into the live ensemble (Jerome Benton of The Time, Wendy’s twin sister Susannah and two others were the background vocalists alone). They eventually came to a head in October with the dissolution of The Revolution (save for Fink, who’d continue to perform with Prince until The New Power Generation era).
Not long after that, Prince ended his relationship with Susannah Melvoin, which naturally had an emotional effect on him. In characteristic fashion, he poured himself into his work. A night of tinkering with his vocals in the studio led to a strange “side-project” known as Camille. Eight songs featuring Prince with sped-up vocals (so as to take on the vocal appearance of a girl) were sequenced for release. Not long after, the project was jettisoned.
At this point, Prince had more ambitious fish to fry. He assembled most of his Dream Factory and Camille tracks, plus a few others, into Crystal Ball, an alternately dark and thrillingly upbeat set that would have spanned three vinyl LPs. Confident with the material, he submitted it to Warner Bros., only to have them turn it down. After the relatively cool sales of post-Purple Rain albums (and the still-stinging flop of Under the Cherry Moon), Warner decided a triple LP was too risky. Instead, they urged Prince to cut the running order down to a double album. Warner Bros. happily released Sign ‘O’ the Times, the resulting product, and Prince enjoyed some of his best critical acclaim.
Of course, he thought he wasn’t done putting out music in 1987. That fall, spurned by critics who accused him of leaving his more traditional (i.e.: black) audience behind, he assembled an eight-song set of harder-edged, non-commercial funk and R&B. How black was it? So black that the LP sleeve contained almost nothing but that color. No title, no sleeve notes (aside from a catalogue number), nothing. (There were some internal titles – The Funk Bible and The Black Album being the most common – but still nothing official.)
But things got interesting that December. With a week to go before the album was to be released – 500,000 units sat ready to be shipped, and a hundred promo copies were in the hands of reviewers across America – Prince ordered the project canned. To this day, nobody knows exactly why – Prince seemed to have viewed the album as evil, ungodly, a foolish knee-jerk reaction to his critics (or may have been way high on Ecstasy, depending on the story you believe). Of course, those promo copies didn’t get destroyed, and what followed was some of the most frenzied bootlegging since Bob Dylan’s The Basement Tapes. Original copies fetched thousands of dollars, and rock luminaries were eager to sing its praises (members of U2 named it the best album of 1987 in a Rolling Stone poll). Ultimately, Prince granted a brief release of the album on CD in 1994, as a means to exit his crumbling contract with Warner Bros. quickly.
In 1998, Prince – now fully in symbol mode and a total free agent for his own NPG Records label – decided to beat bootleggers at their own game in trading his best unheard material. He did so with a set appropriately titled Crystal Ball, but the similarities more or less ended there. While it did include some of the best outtakes from 1986 and 1987, it also featured too many warmed-over outtakes from his latter years. To make matters worse, the set was plagued with lots of production problems; Prince vowed to only sell it through mail or Internet orders (and only if he received so many pre-orders), but ended up selling it in stores (with an extra disc) – and those store copies arrived well before any of the earlier orders, setting up the contentious relationship between Prince and his fans that rages to this day.
The resourceful bootlegger can easily assemble their own set of outtakes. But it behooves Prince to work with his original label someday and release a set that accurately conveys the fertility and quality of his career at that point in time. What follows is an attempt to distill that experience into a theoretical track list. It has not been measured for time constraints; for now, look at this as more of a playlist. Songs that appeared on released records (i.e.: Sign ‘O’ the Times or The Black Album) in the same form are marked with an asterisk, and songs that appeared in slightly different forms (i.e.: the Crystal Ball compilation, which slightly remixed or overdubbed most of the original tunes) have two asterisks. Three asterisks mean a track has been released, but never on CD.
Disc 1: Dream Factory Part I
The first disc would present the original first of two LPs that were to make up Prince and The Revolution’s Dream Factory in 1986.
  1. Visions – a piano solo by Lisa
  2. Nevaeh Ni Ecalp A – a backwards snippet of “A Place in Heaven” (hence the title) that includes a skit between Wendy and Lisa
  3. Dream Factory – a fantastic upbeat number that is allegedly a swipe at St. Paul Peterson of The Family, whom Prince thought got too caught up in the glamorous lifestyle afforded by musical success **
  4. Train
  5. The Ballad of Dorothy Parker *
  6. It *
  7. Strange Relationship – a strikingly alternate version of the underrated Sign ‘O’ the Times album cut, this has a distinct Eastern influence therein
  8. Starfish and Coffee *
  9. Interlude – a guitar solo by Wendy
  10. Slow Love *
  11. I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man – extended from the original version on Sign thanks to an extra downtempo coda (similar to the one in the latter third of the album version) right before that killer guitar solo after the last chorus

Disc 2: Dream Factory Part II

  1. Sign ‘O’ the Times *
  2. Crystal Ball – a moody, lengthy cut that encompasses a few different kinds of styles – but those spare verses over drums and feedback are what truly win you over from the get go. (Note: these strings were later sampled on “The Future,” from the Batman soundtrack.) **
  3. A Place in Heaven
  4. The Cross *
  5. Last Heart **
  6. Witness 4 the Prosecution – a funky, horn-induced jam that comes across as a second cousin of “Mountains”
  7. Movie Star – clearly a demo The Time never got to turn into a full-fledged song **
  8. All My Dreams

Disc 3: Outtakes from the Factory

A majority of these songs were either intended for Dream Factory at some point, or were written at around the same time (the last few are often considered Parade outtakes, but were too interesting or popular among fans not to consider for inclusion).

  1. Big Tall Wall
  2. And That Says What?
  3. Teacher, Teacher
  4. A Place in Heaven (Lisa Vocal)
  5. Sexual Suicide – allegedly cut from Under the Cherry Moon
  6. In a Large Room with No Light – one of Prince’s best-known outtakes, he still performs this one from time to time
  7. Power Fantastic – the same version as on The Hits/The B-Sides but with an extra piano intro *
  8. An Honest Man – briefly heard in Under the Cherry Moon
  9. Crucial **
  10. Go – little of this song exists except a minute-long demo snippet
  11. Splash
  12. Wonderful Ass
  13. Others Here with Us
  14. Old Friends 4 Sale – later appeared, in wildly altered form, on The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale

Disc 4: Crystal Ball

This disc would present all the songs intended for the Crystal Ball triple LP that have not been presented thus far (with the exception of “Rockhard in a Funky Place,” which is obviously saved for The Black Album. Fans would obviously be encouraged to program their playlists according to the original running order in the liner notes.

  1. Rebirth of the Flesh – intended for the Camille LP, and in fact the only Camille track that’s never received an official release
  2. Play in the Sunshine *
  3. Housequake *
  4. Hot Thing *
  5. Crystal Ball (Alternate) – an even sparer, slightly shorter mix of the song
  6. If I Was Your Girlfriend *
  7. The Ball – this song was later given new lyrics, and became “<0> No” from the Lovesexy album
  8. Joy in Repetition – except for a longer fade-in, this version is identical to the version on Graffiti Bridge
  9. Shockadelica *
  10. Good Love – this underrated Camille track was included on the soundtrack to Bright Lights, Big City and later showed up in slightly edited form on the Crystal Ball compilation **
  11. Forever in My Life *
  12. Adore *
  13. It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night *

Disc 5: Outtakes and B-sides

These tracks mostly consist of released B-sides or remixes, except for a few other morsels that were recorded at around the same time.

  1. Feel U Up (Long Stroke) – intended for the Camille project, this was ultimately released as the 12″ B-side to “Partyman” in 1989
  2. Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got/We Can Funk – an alternate recording of the two Graffiti Bridge tracks, performed as a medley. “We Can Funk” neither has George Clinton on vocals nor has a complete set of lyrics.
  3. La, La, La, He, He, Hee – the B-side to “Sign ‘O’ the Times”
  4. Strange Relationship (LP Version) – this was the final version of the song as heard on the Sign ‘O’ the Times album
  5. Shockadelica (Extended Version) – the 12″ B-side to “If I Was Your Girlfriend” ***
  6. U Got the Look (with Sheena Easton) – a late addition to Sign ‘O’ the Times and the biggest hit single from that record
  7. Housequake (7 Minutes Mo’Quake) – the 12″ B-side to “U Got the Look” ***
  8. La, La, La, He, He, Hee (Highly Explosive) – the 12″ B-side to “Sign ‘O’ the Times” ***
  9. Hot Thing (Extended Remix) – the 12″ B-side to “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”
  10. Hot Thing (Dub) – the other 12″ B-side to “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” ***
  11. U Got the Look (Long Look) – the 12″ remix of the single
  12. Housequake (Razormaid Remix) – commissioned for a single release but ultimately never used, this popular bootleg could’ve made a great last single from the record

Disc 6: The Black Album

  1. Le Grind
  2. Cindy C
  3. Dead on It
  4. When 2 R in Love
  5. Bob George
  6. Superfunkycalifragisexy
  7. 2 Nigs United 4 West Compton
  8. Rockhard in a Funky Place

Written by Mike Duquette

June 10, 2010 at 12:06

One Response

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  1. This is great – but Dream Factory easily fits on one disc and The Black Album was released for a limited time in late 1994.

    rob

    May 25, 2011 at 17:06


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