A box set dedicated to Prince's Sign O' the Times album has the chance to be something truly spectacular. But it can't be built in a traditional manner.

Commonly regarded as the best showcase for the widest range of Prince's talents, this 1987 double album is actually a combination of songs from three different unreleased projects: Dream Factory, Camille and the original Crystal Ball. Fans should be given an opportunity to hear complete and official versions of all three, even if it means repeating songs.

Last year's super-deluxe edition of 1999 grouped all 24 of the unreleased songs from that era onto two "vault" discs. Granted, if the same approach is taken for Sign O' the Times, we could assemble our own completed versions of the three unreleased albums as playlists. But a large number, if not the majority, of the people who have been eagerly waiting for this box set grew up on physical media – compact discs and albums.

So, instead the box set should compile each of the three unreleased projects separately alongside a presumably remastered version of Sign O' the Times, even if Dream Factory and Crystal Ball take up multiple discs – and even if numerous songs appear on three or four of the albums. Initial artwork designs were reportedly done for both Dream Factory and Camille. Obviously, no one can be sure what Prince's completed vision for these unreleased records would have looked and sounded like. But if we're going to try to unearth one of the most important treasures in Prince's vault, let's really go for it.

What's amazing is how short a slice of time this box set will ultimately cover. Even by his typical workaholic standards, Prince raced down the path from Dream Factory to Camille to Crystal Ball to Sign O' the Times very quickly. While a couple of the songs that ended up on the final album were recorded as early as 1982, the serious work on these projects began in March 1986, just one year before the release of Sign O' the Times.

Dream Factory was intended to be the fourth album from Prince and the Revolution, following up 1986's Parade. According to PrinceVault, the final configuration of the 18-track, two-disc album included eight songs that ultimately wound up on Sign O' the Times: the title track, "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker," "It," "Strange Relationship," "Slow Love," "Starfish and Coffee," "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" and "The Cross."

Half of the remaining songs on the final configuration of Dream Factory – "Visions," "Interlude – Wendy," "A Place in Heaven," "Witness 4 the Prosecution" and "All My Dreams" – remain unreleased, as do three other tracks that were slated for inclusion on earlier versions of the album: "It's a Wonderful Day," "Big Tall Wall" and "And That Says What?"

"Dream Factory," Crystal Ball," "Last Heart," "Movie Star" and "Sexual Suicide" from the Dream Factory sessions all found their way onto 1998's vault-clearing Crystal Ball box set, which confusingly shares a name with the triple album of original material Prince assembled after Dream Factory but prior to the release of Sign O' the Times. "Power Fantastic" eventually found a home on Prince's first-ever hits compilation, "Train" ended up on Mavis Staples' 1989 Paisley Park album Time Waits For No One, and a live version of "In a Large Room With No Light" wasn't released until 2009.

Dream Factory Track List
(bold = destined for Sign O' the Times)
1. "Visions"
2. "Dream Factory"
3. "Train"
4. "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker"
5. "It"
6. "Strange Relationship"
7. "Slow Love"
8. "Starfish and Coffee"
9. "Interlude – Wendy"
10. "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man"
11. "Sign O' the Times"
12. "Crystal Ball"
13. "A Place in Heaven"
14. "Last Heart"
15. "Witness 4 the Prosecution"
16. "Movie Star"
17. "The Cross"
18. "All My Dreams"

After Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman announced their intention to leave the Revolution in late July 1986, Prince got rid of most of the band's contributions to the existing songs, and shifted his attention to the Camille project.

This album, which got close enough to reality to earn a Warner Bros. catalog number and release date, featured Prince performing under a secret identity, using distorted, high-pitched vocals. Only "Strange Relationship," in a new version, survived from the Dream Factory sessions, joined by "Housequake," "If I Was Your Girlfriend," Rebirth of the Flesh," "Feel U Up," "Shockadelica," "Goodlove" and "Rockhard in a Funky Place." The first three songs eventually found their way onto Sign O' the Times. The remaining five were eventually issued, respectively, via the NPG Music Club, as the B-sides to 1989's "Partyman" and 1987's "If I Was Your Girlfriend," on the Bright Lights, Big City soundtrack and on "The Black Album."

Camille Track List (italics = new, bold = destined for Sign O' the Times)
1. "Rebirth of the Flesh"
2. "Housequake"
3. "Strange Relationship"
4. "Feel U Up"
5. "Shockadelica"
6. "Goodlove"
7. "If I Was Your Girlfriend"
8. "Rockhard in a Funky Place"

Prince decided to pull the plug on that project too, however, instead focusing on the three-disc, 22 track Crystal Ball collection. With the new additions of "Play in the Sunshine," "Hot Thing," "Forever in My Life," "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night" and "Adore," every one of Sign O' the Times' 16 tracks except "U Got the Look" can be found here. "Rebirth of the Flesh," "Crystal Ball," a slightly renamed "Good Love," and "Rockhard in a Funky Place" remained from the Dream Factory and Camille projects alongside two new songs, "The Ball" and "Joy in Repetition." Of those the former remains unreleased, while the latter turned up on 1990's Graffiti Bridge.

Prince submitted the completed Crystal Ball to Warner Brothers, but the label felt the three-CD set would be better if it was boiled down to a double album, especially considering the brisk pace at which he had been releasing records in recent years. The artist relented, trimmed seven songs, added "U Got the Look" and arrived at the final Sign O' the Times track list.

Crystal Ball Track List (italics = new, bold = destined for Sign O' the Times)
1. "Rebirth of the Flesh"
2. "Play in the Sunshine"
3. "Housequake"
4. "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker"
5. "It"
6. "Starfish and Coffee"
7. "Slow Love"
8. "Hot Thing"
9. "Crystal Ball"
10. "If I Was Your Girlfriend"
11. "Rockhard in a Funky Place"
12. "The Ball"
13. "Joy in Repetition"
14. "Strange Relationship"
15. "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man"
16. "Shockadelica"
17. "Good Love"
18. "Forever in My Life"
19. "Sign O' the Times"
20. "The Cross"
21. "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night"
22. "Adore (Until the End of Time)"

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