|Crystal Ball is an unreleased triple-album by Prince (although planned for release under the pseudonym Camille), which in early stages was also considered to be its title. It as compiled on 30 November 1986, by expending the considered, but unreleased 8-track single album Camille with tracks from the earlier also abandoned Dream Factory album. Other than its title track, it is entirely different to the 1998 triple-CD release Crystal Ball.
The late 1986 triple-album was submitted to Warner Bros. for release, but they felt the album would be more effective if condensed to a double or even single album; seven of the tracks were removed, and with some additions and variations, the work eventually evolved into Prince’s next album release (eventually under his own name), Sign O’ The Times. The differences are substantial enough, however, that the album deserves its own entry here.
The Camille album sequence, compiled only 25 days before the Crystal Ball triple album as submitted to Warner Bros., shares seven of the eight tracks with Crystal Ball: Rebirth Of The Flesh, Housequake, If I Was Your Girlfriend, Rockhard In A Funky Place, Strange Relationship, Shockadelica and Good Love (only Feel U Up was not included).
These would have all been included in the same form as planned for the Camille album. In addition, several tracks from the Dream Factory album were included: The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker, It, Starfish And Coffee, Slow Love, Hot Thing, Crystal Ball, I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man, Sign O’ The Times and The Cross.
The album includes a few tracks not included on either previous project: Joy In Repetition (recorded in mid-July 1986), The Ball (recorded in late July 1986), Forever In My Life (recorded in early August 1986), It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night (recorded live in late August 1986, but only worked on in the studio in late November 1986), Adore (for this album still with the title Adore (Until The End Of Time) and Play In The Sunshine (both recorded in late November 1986, after the initial Camille album was shelved).
Unlike the Dream Factory album, which initially included alternate versions of tracks, later released in different form, most tracks would have been included on Crystal Ball in the same form as eventually released on Sign O’ The Times. there were some minor exceptions, however: If I Was Your Girlfriend omitted the prelude, which was recorded at a later date (the version began in the same way as the single edit, with the drum on the 'two' beat); additionally, Play In The Sunshine segued differently from Rebirth Of The Flesh than it does from Sign O’ The Times on its official release.
The album features Prince in disguise as Camille on all vocals and instruments, with saxophone by Eric Leeds and trumpet by Atlanta Bliss on some tracks. Wendy Melvoin, Lisa Coleman and Susannah Melvoin also appear on several tracks, although Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman’s contributions were somewhat buried in the mix after their departure from Prince’s band. The full Revolution band appears on the track It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night, which uses a live recording by the band as its basis. And also features Sheila E. and Jill Jones.
Prince is thought to have questioned the order of the album’s final two tracks. It has been believed that the final side at some point was also sequenced The Cross / Adore / It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night, The j-card of the Bernie Grundman Mastering in-house cassette indeed shows this order, but this seems a typo on there as the sequence on the actual tape is the same as eventually released on the album Sign O’ The Times. However, the actual reel of the master tape to that album has a handwritten sticker on it that reverses the tracks, even when they’re written on the sticker of its box as released on the album. It’s possibly that the same tape was used for side 6 of Crystal Ball in and side 4 of Sign O’ The Times, prompting the error on the j-card of the Bernie Grundman Mastering in-house cassette. Of note is that Adore was listed as Adore (until the end of time), using the song’s first lyric as a parenthetical title for the track.
When the project was developed into Sign O’ The Times (in late December 1986), 15 of the 22 tracks were kept from Crystal Ball; only U Got The Look was a new addition, recorded in late December 1986.
All of the remaining tracks have since been released elsewhere, however. Shockadelica was released as the b-side of If I Was Your Girlfriend in 1987 (the version included on Crystal Ball was released as Shockadelica (Extended Version) on the 12" release). Good Love was available in the same form on the Bright Lights, Big City movie soundtrack in 1988.
Joy In Repetition was released on Graffiti Bridge in 1990 (keeping the opening segue, but coming from We Can Funk instead of The Ball). Rockhard In A Funky Place was planned for release on “The Black Album” in 1987, but finally received an official release in the same form with “The Black Album” in 1994.
Crystal Ball was released in the same form as the title track of the 1998 triple-album of previously-unreleased tracks Crystal Ball, Rebirth Of The Flesh was released in a live rehearsal form by the NPG Music Club in 2001, and its original studio rendition was released on the Sign O’ The Times Super Deluxe Edition in 2020, albeit not in the version with the coda segueing into Housequake (on Camille) / Play In The Sunshine (on Crystal Ball). The Ball, finally, was reworked as No (released on Lovesexy in 1988) and later included in its original form on the Sign O’ The Times Super Deluxe Edition in 2020.
Nothing is known about whether an album cover or other artwork was designed for Crystal Ball. It is likely it did not get to that stage after Warner Bros. declined to release it in that form.