As is the case with a few other albums on this list, the songs that make up Prince’s super wonderful 1987 album Sign ‘o the Times would have been released to the public in one way or another eventually. In those other cases, though, what we ended up getting was usually a superior replacement. I’d argue that’s not the case with this album, even if it’s one of Prince’s best. For one thing, most of the songs present on Sign o’ the Times were supposed to be on an album called Dream Factory, which would have been the last of his albums to feature the Revolution, one of the only bands in music history to feature a practicing doctor (Prince, gynecologist) and a dude dressed as a surgeon (Matt Fink, keyboard).
They were also the backing band for some of Prince’s most enduring hits from his 1980s heyday, even when that only meant holding an unplugged electric guitar in the video for a song you didn’t know existed until that very moment. But still, Prince + the Revolution usually added up to good times in the ’80s. Whatever they brought to the music of Sign o’ the Times would have been nice to hear, if nothing else.
There’s another argument for why the songs of Sign o’ the Times should have been released as intended, though, and it can be summed up in one word: Camille. That’s the name of an album Prince recorded shortly after the Revolution was put down. What differentiates it from most Prince albums is that the part where he sounds like a woman is intentional.
See, if you’re familiar with the Sign o’ the Times album, you know that a few songs, like the kind-of-unsettling single “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” feature sped-up vocals that sound as if they’re being delivered by a woman. I’d love to embed a video for reference purposes here, but this is Prince we’re talking about. You will find more video evidence online to support the existence of Bigfoot than you will to support the existence of practically any Prince song.
That’s beside the point, though. What I’m getting at is that there are a bunch of songs on Sign o’ the Times that inexplicably sound like Prince is singing them while tucking in front of a mirror like Buffalo Bill, and that was supposed to be an entire album. It was to be called Camille, and it came close enough to being released that a date was set (January 1987) and cover art was made. It’s never been released to the public but apparently features a stick figure with X’s for eyes and only says “Camille” on the cover.
Because Prince isn’t happy if The Man overseeing him is too, just weeks before the album’s release, plans for Camille were put on hold in favor of packaging the material from Dream Factory and Camilletogether into a huge three-disc set with a few new songs under the title Crystal Ball. This time Warner Bros. was less receptive to the plan, because three albums at once is just crazy.
In the name of compromise, Prince cut it down to two discs and probably slapped that apocalyptic title on it more as a statement on his relationship with his record label in light of their refusal to love him unconditionally more than anything else. Whatever the case, it’s still a pretty great album.