18: Crystal Ball

Crystal Ball (1998)
Does anybody listen to music anymore? Or is it always the soundtrack to something else? I’m talking about deep listening. Lights off, filling-your-mind-with-nothing-but-the-music listening. My routine with every new album used to be: first listen on headphones, lying down, eyes shut; second listen would be the same, except eyes open so I could pore over the liner notes. I can’t remember the last time I did that – maybe a decade or two ago – and I’m not sure whether that’s down to age or the Age. Maybe only in your salad days you can make time for that kind of indulgence. Or maybe, in this always-on era, mindfulness isn’t something that can be maintained for the length of an album.

I first heard Crystal Ball near the beginning of my journey as a Prince fan. I borrowed its namesake album from my local library and listened to it in the dark. The first ten minutes and 30 seconds blew my woefully unprepared mind. I couldn’t describe today the world the opening title track transported me to. That world no longer exists. But as memorable experiences go, it’s up there with my first gig. From the outside looking in, I was just a kid listening to music in bed, mouth agape. Internally though, I was being led on an alien safari over bewildering and beautiful terrain. I can’t tell you what it did to me but my body will never be the same

Crystal Ball was first housed on the abandoned Dream Factory project, and then became the title track of the album Prince submitted to Warner Bros in 1986. The label baulked at the size of this triple-disc release and asked him to cut it down, eventually resulting in Sign o’ the Times and this epic orchestral suite languishing in the vault for over a decade – its Clare Fischer strings frequently plundered for other songs: The Future, Push and Violet the Organ Grinder among others. 

The triple-album eventually released in 1998 shares only two songs with the one submitted twelve years earlier – Good Love and Crystal Ball. Good Love had already been released (a slightly different edit appeared a decade earlier on the Bright Lights, Big City soundtrack) but this was the first official outing of the title track masterpiece and it warranted taking that headline slot. Its broad shoulders carrying a project that would soon balloon and swallow a further two albums in order to pacify fans upset by production delays. 

Fans immersed in the murky world of bootlegs may have already been acquainted with this mysterious beast. There are unedited versions circulating that are even longer, with Susannah delivering a monologue about sisters and brothers in the purple underground. “It seems when we’re in danger everything gets black. Don’t you wanna ball?” she asks, leading Prince to sweep us off our feet with some uplifting major synth strings – a ray of sunshine thats ends on a souring minor chord and Susannah rescinding the invite. ‘Maybe not”, she teases as we’re thrown back down into the bowels of an earthy bass solo. After Clare Fischer added his strings, this flow-disrupting section was edited out, along with some jarring lyrics about an elderly couple dying in a missile blast. 

We know something about what sparked its bleaker lyrics, written in what he later called a “deepbluefunk depression”. They were penned during a week of global uncertainty and heightened fear. Prince had his filming trip in France cut short after the US launched an airstrike on Libya in retaliation for a discotheque bombing. He immediately returned to Minneapolis due to safety concerns about terrorism and two days later Crystal Ball was in the can. Its exploration of making love while the bombs drop was an update to 1999’s partying during the apocalypse, and a theme he would tweak further on its replacement, Sign o’ the Times, where love and specifically procreative sex become the antidote to the surrounding carnage. He would also revisit Crystal Ball’s twin themes of sex and fortune-telling on 1994’s Come.

Other details, like the “pictures of sex” line that references a mural Susannah had drawn near his studio, help fill in details but ultimately fail to show us the film that was playing in his head when he wrote this sprawling soundtrack. Even its deleted scenes confuse more than they enlighten. Yet that is part of Crystal Ball’s allure. You’re being swept away by something bigger than yourself. Something permanently on the edge of your understanding. It’s not a song that works well as background music, it’s a song that needs to swallow you whole…. to get your mind, body and soul hitched

If ever a song warranted deep listening, it’s this one. Turn off the lights, turn up your headphones and follow the pounding kickdrum and beckoning panflutes down into a garden of unearthly orchestral delights. An inner sanctuary where exotic orchids bloom and the sirens ward off the darkening night.

47: Movie Star

Unreleased (1986) / Crystal Ball (1998)
The Crystal Ball liner notes mention that Movie Star was created for The Time. Of course it was. It’s the most Morris Day thing Prince has ever written, including everything on the first three Time albums. There’s just one problem: he recorded it two years after The Time broke up, and at a point when him and Morris weren’t exactly on speaking terms. With that relationship on ice, Prince had lost the main outlet for a very particular part of his psyche. But like a breastfeeding mother, he still needed to express to prevent a leak. He had just shot a movie where he had tapped into that part of him by playing a gigolo with Morris’s ex valet as sidekick, but conversely that only made the urge to purge worse, as being the lead in your own feature film is hardly a tonic for narcissism – so, as soon as he got his new home studio up and running, he recorded Movie Star, a goofy portayal of the vain side of his personality to readdress the balance and prevent him from taking himself too seriously. Therefore, his message in Crystal Ball is misdirection. Movie Star wasn’t created for The Time, but for his ego-projection that he had previously cast onto the band’s frontsman. No one was around to play this character from his psyche so he takes on the role himself – a role you can tell is intended to be a version of Prince because he namechecks his own head of security, Gilbert – someone no other star would be getting “free reign” from. He just wants you to think it was written for Morris because he wants daylight between the song’s comic persona and his Prince brand. But distancing himself from it didn’t stop Movie Star being a hit with fans. The Crystal Ball liner notes tell us the track is D’Angelo’s favourite bootleg. It’s Questlove’s too, who only placed it behind Baby I’m a Star in a top ten list of Prince songs he gave Rolling Stone magazine. Not a bad legacy for a song that, if we’re continuing the breastfeeding metaphor, was recorded as a pump and dump. It was never performed live and although it was briefly considered for the Dream Factory project, it was shelved for 12 years having already served its purpose as comic relief to prick the ego. Luckily, in a bid to stick one to the bootleggers, the song finally saw a release on Crystal Ball in 1998 with a new Jam of the Year intro. This may have awakened something dormant within him, because a year later he laced up the character’s size-six Stacy Adams once more and stepped out as Prettyman.

90: Cloreen Bacon Skin

Unreleased (1983) / Crystal Ball (1998)
My first listen of the Crystal Ball album took me back to being five years old again. I’m a kid staring at a mound of birthday presents. There’s some I’d hoped for, some less so, and one weird-looking, confusing gift three times the size of the others. Naturally, this is the one I fixate on. Since then mates with more experience of band practise have dismissed Cloreen Bacon Skin as a jam session – nothing special, they’ve heard loads. But nah I know it’s more than that. It may only be a drum kit and bass guitar but the way it builds is straight out the techno playbook, years before the Belleville Three came along. Plus techno has always been too four to the floor for my tastes. This beat spoke to me in my first language of boom-bap hip hop. And the vocals. It was my first exposure to Jamie Starr. His old-man voice in full extempore flow is my spirit animal and last year’s release of Cold Coffee & Cocaine may awaken the same fascination in a new generation of Prince fans. To anybody’s protestations that Cloreen Bacon Skin is not a song, I’ll concede that point. It’s not. It’s molten funk, fresh from the forge prior to being hammered into the rough shape of a song. Listen to Soulpsychodelicide or The Time’s Tricky if you want to hear it sculpted into a familiar form. I prefer the red hot rawness. The liquid, untempered spontaneity. As the Crystal Ball liner notes reveal even the title was thought up a split second before you hear it. It’s rough and even chaotic at times but like Nietzsche once wrote, you need chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. And that dancing star is Cloreen’s finest daughter: Irresistible Bitch. Hearing her conception isn’t the greatest moment on Crystal Ball but it comes a close second.

99: Ripopgodazippa

Unreleased (1993) / Crystal Ball (1998)
In Britain, reggae created by someone with no connection to the West Indies is called cod reggae (cod meaning faux or lying). It’s a pejorative thrown at usually-white bandwagon-jumpers mimicking a culture they have little experience of. This was certainly true at the start of reggae’s rise when Paul McCartney penned the Desmond Dekker-influenced Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da or when 10cc released the (admittedly-great) Dreadlock Holiday but as time went on and new generations grew up embedded in sound-system culture, authenticity became less clear cut and the term began to die out. I’m reminded of the phrase listening to Ripipgodazippa – a fillet of ethically sourced cod reggae at its finest. Splash and Blue Light were just the run-up; it’s on the Crystal Ball album where Prince makes the genre his own, even though the song’s only home for three years was in the stripper-flick Showgirls. The lyrics are pure filth but as they were written in the year of his name change they also contain one of his stock answers to the question of what people call him: “If you’re always with me you’ll never have to call me. Touché.” Just be thankful his vocals, while containing a slight Jamaican lilt, aren’t the full-on sham-aican heard in The Sun, the Moon and the Stars. That would have been an unsustainable level of cod.

100: Dream Factory

Unreleased (1985) / Crystal Ball (1998)
Although its title suggests a fantastical place where dreams are made, the lyrics to Dream Factory don’t give off the same Disneyland vibe. We’re told in Crystal Ball‘s liner notes the song was “written 4 a turncoat, who after a quick brush with success, lost themselves in a haze of wine, women and pills…” It was kept in quarantine until the late 90s for being too pointed and personal to release into the mainstream, much like that other diss-track he wrote in 1985, Old Friends For Sale. In Dream Factory Prince is a ringleader scorned and distorts his voice into a variety of spiky shapes to claw out the imagined dagger in his back. And who was this turncoat? If the line “a saint… quitting my friends much 2 their surprise” was a subtle clue, then the time Prince roused a crowd to chant “Paul, punk of the month” during a Dream Factory / Mutiny medley offered a more explicit hint. Susannah Melvoin (who provides backing vocals on this song) has said Prince never begrudged St Paul leaving The Family, but the turncoat reference written over a decade later suggests otherwise. Either Prince truly felt betrayed when his protégés no longer bent to his will, or he enjoyed using the drama as a creative spark. The intro to Dream Factory did make a brief appearance on 1995’s Exodus album, before the DJ playing it gets beaten up and New Power Soul takes its place (Tora Tora was such a Prince tease) but by the time of its big reveal on Crystal Ball, the outtake had to compete for attention amid three discs of unreleased material so never really got the kudos it deserved. In it are the germs of Camille and the Dream Factory Revolution album that never was. If he had thrown this seed bomb at the right moment who knows what forests would have grown within its blast radius.

102: Days of Wild

Crystal Ball (1998)
Concert recordings always sound diminished, neutered of their live power. Even with iconic instances such as the final third of the Purple Rain album, you know it’s a cerebral pleasure compared with the visceral thrill of being there. You may get chills listening back to a gig you were at (the only track guaranteed to give me literal goosebumps is a recording of a White Stripes gig I once saw) but an aide-mémoire is a poor substitute for the real thing. You can never truly bottle the moment. What live recordings can do however is add another dimension to an otherwise flat composition. There’s a reason why the studio version of anti-gangsta anthem Days of Wild hasn’t been released while several live renditions have. It’s a song that demands the symbiotic feedback loop of the crowd. I wanna hear it played at the type of gig where you stash your key and bar money in your shoe, then sacrifice full control to the Brownian motion of the mob. A crowd so packed that you can lurch huge distances in one direction, then another, without your feet ever touching the floor. Elbows kept by your side because if you throw them in the air you lose the space to retrieve them and end up dancing like one of those inflatable tube men. If Days of Wild sounds as good as it does on Crystal Ball with a reserved Paisley Park audience struggling to get on board with the free the slave chants, imagine how much better it could be performed in front of a pullulating mosh pit of party freaks. Dizzy Gillespie’s Caravan riff surfing a primal scream of Dionysian frenzy. That recording would need to sound diminished otherwise it would chew you up and spit you out before you could shout “hold on to your wig”.

110: Da Bang

Crystal Ball (1998)
Prince songs often have a long comet tail of demos, tweaks and revisions trailing behind them. In some cases this spans decades. Extraloveable was released 29 years after it was first written but the song’s journey didn’t end there. Two years later Extraloveable Reloaded was released, and two years after that it was renamed Xtraloveable and included on an album for the first time… a third of a century after its conception. By contrast, 1995’s Da Bang had a much shorter gestation. Created out of boredom and mixed and recorded in a day I doubt Prince ever gave the track a second thought other than dusting it off for a couple of compilations. It has never been performed live but Crystal Ball‘s liner notes tell us after he recorded the song Prince rode around in a limo replaying it 32 times. This wasn’t made for posterity, it was made for the moment and got discarded after it served its transient purpose. It sounds far from disposable though. Da Bang has a raw, unpolished energy. The choruses are a landslide of hard rock with traces of metal in its ore, falling into a lagoon of aquatic blues. It’s here for a good time, not a long time, and what’s better: to go out with a bang bang bang or a multi-decade whimper?

115: Poom Poom

Crystal Ball (1998)
Sometimes the throwaway tracks are the most endearing. Poom Poom wasn’t intended for any particular album or for any particular reason other than it was in Prince’s head and had to get out. With its cartoonish chorus and lollipop-sucking vocals, it sounds more like a Saturday Night Live sketch than a serious song but that’s not a sleight. Prince can do funny. Someone that insanely talented shouldn’t have a sense of humour too – it should be against physics or something – but his was renowned. Poom Poom cracked me up when I heard it and still makes me smile today. As the title suggests it’s one of Prince’s horny songs – a more excitable and brattier cousin to Big Fun, the track it samples. It’s designed to be played loud in car systems. Poomin’ in your jeep. If the windows aren’t rattling, you’ve failed.

117: What’s My Name

Crystal Ball (1998)
Very little happens during the verses to What’s My Name. A softly spoken Prince. A maraca. A low boiler-room hum. In the background Sonny T paces back and forth like a caged panther, occasionally emitting bass snarls. Michael B sits at his kit like it’s a purring Harley, his fingers primed above the throttle. At Prince’s signal both fly at each other, A tussle between machine and beast. Sparks. Blood. Mayhem. Then calm. A lull before the next attack. If I’m not imagining a feline/motorcycle deathmatch then I picture the fight scene in The Phantom Menace – the bass player as Darth Maul, restlessly prowling the boundary like a trapped beast; the drummer as Qui-Gon Jinn, meditative, conserving his energy. The gates open and it’s a flurry of violent, virtuosic combat. Keyboardist Mr Hayes is Obi-Wan, locked out of the battle and desperate to get stuck in. He contributes from afar but today this isn’t about him. And who is Prince in this scene? What’s his name? He is the force. The energy field that binds and destroys. He’s beyond good and evil. Jedi and Sith. Fire and dove. Call him Shiva. Call him Samsara. Call him The Endless Karmic Cycle of Death And Rebirth Formerly Known As Prince.

125: Calhoun Square

Crystal Ball (1998)
Where is this exotic Shangri-la where people don’t care what freaky clothes and hair you wear as you walk through coloured veils? In the eighties we were told of another love-filled place where your clothes and hair didn’t matter: could Calhoun Square be the utopian Uptown? There was a time where my entire knowledge of Minneapolis was gleaned from Prince songs and to be honest I preferred it that way. The magic gets lost a little when you find out Uptown is a commercial district and Calhoun Square is a shopping mall opposite the NPG store. It’s like somebody from West Yorkshire writing about a mysterious place called The Merrion Centre (take me thur, if you dur…). But such prosaic concerns about real-world settings fade when the music starts. It has the quiet quiet LOUD LOUD dynamics that What’s My Name? repeats a track later. Verses quietly smoulder, then the furnace gates blast open for the incendiary, mainly-instrumental chorus. Words aren’t needed. With this backing, he could be singing about an industrial estate in Chernobyl and I’d still want to move there.

137: Good Love

Bright Lights, Big City (1998) / Crystal Ball (1998)
With every Camille song, there’s something delightfully maladjusted in Prince’s delivery. Whether it’s the spiralling neediness of If I was Your Girlfriend or the dive-barfly sleaze of Rockhard in a Funky Place, his alter ego does not sound a well bunny. Good Love starts off differently. The first three verses are pure of heart and playfully childlike. Lennon-esque in its wordplay. But then Camille’s manic streak comes out in an over-enthusiastic outro which sounds more coked up than Michael J Fox in the film it soundtracks. The bubblegum psychedelia turns dark as its peacock-feathered sun sets to become something more like Superfunkycalifagisexys frightening neon night. Good Love gone bad. The track makes several references to Gustav Mahler, a composer whom Alex Ross describes in The Rest is Noise as “a kaleidoscope of moods – childlike, heaven-storming, despotic, despairing” and you could say the same about Camille. Good Love shows the character’s childlike side, while “heaven-storming, despotic, despairing” in turn sum up the unreleased album’s opening three tracks: Rebirth of the Flesh, Housequake, and Strange Relationship. Camille may just be Prince with his vocals pitched up but underneath rages a dazzling symphony of neuroses.

149: Crucial

Unreleased (1986) / Crystal Ball (1998)
A ballsy ballad written for Prince’s uncompleted musical and considered for Sign O’ the Times before losing out to the Slow Jam Zeus, Adore. Crucial was released a decade later buried in the centre of his Crystal Ball compilation, meaning it never made the splashes it deserved but not for the want of trying. In I986 Prince kept tweaking the track, and various variations exist where Eric Leeds is on sax, Susannah is on vocals, Clare Fisher’s orchestra is overdubbed. But then his spotlight moved on, leaving us to discover it ourselves. A Roman coin hiding in shrapnel beneath the earth. This one’s just for us. The fans who dig where the weeds are overgrown.

188: The Ride

Unreleased (1993) / Crystal Ball (1998)
The Ride appears on a multitude of live merch but the only official audio release was on Crystal Ball’s third disc – a fierce squall of live guitar realness amid a sea of Pro Tools tinkerings. It’s half the length of The Undertaker’s ur-recording but crams in the same amount of cocksure swag at double the intensity. Prince rides in on his Purple Rain motorbike, offers to take you to Lake Minnetonka, showboats with a few wheelies and then zooms off in a cloud of dirt and blues. In The Ride’s own words, if you like it real slow, the Undertaker version’s got days. But if you want to take the short cut, Crystal Ball knows the way.

221: Sexual Suicide

Unreleased (1985) / Crystal Ball (1998)
A non-fiction book of the same name was written by George Gilder in the 1970s. Gilder’s main premise is sex before marriage and polygamy are destroying civilisation, and will eventually lead to its collapse. Not a theory you expect Prince to have subscribed to so it’s unlikely to be referenced here, but what is the meaning of this song? I’ve found two common interpretations and they hinge on how the chorus is transcribed. Folk who read the lyrics as “people gonna talk sexual suicide” think it’s Prince’s brag that leaving him is akin to killing your sexlife. While those who believe it’s “I’m gonna take a sexual suicide” reckon he’s vowing celibacy if dumped. I hear “talk” so I’m happy with the first bragging interpretation, but if the countless online lyric sites are right, and the sexual suicide is his, then surely masturbation is being referenced rather than celibacy? Not in a literal Michael Hutchence way, but in a petite mort by his own hand way? Remember, this is mid-80s Prince and onanism euphemisms were his stock in trade. Whatever the meaning, this Parade outtake is a perfectly formed peach. A four-in-a-bed romp between Eric Leeds’ sax, a filthy dose of bass, the synths from Girls & Boys and a drumbeat that Prince learnt from Sheila E. Horny in all senses of the word. George Gilder would hate it.

235: Love Sign

1-800 New Funk (1994) / Crystal Ball (1998)
The big follow-up hit to TMBGITW that never was. Prince’s duet with Nona Gaye was pressed as a promotional single for the 1-800 New Funk compilation and featured remixes by Blackstreet’s Teddy Riley and Digital Underground’s Shock G. A full retail release was planned but nixed by a record label still smarting from the backfired decision to let Prince release his last single independently. However, Shock G’s Silky Remix found refuge on Crystal Ball four years later and has dated the least out of all the versions, probably due to owing a heavy debt to the timeless DMSR. Love Sign is a soulful rose placed in the barrel of a g-funk rifle. An appeal for throwing up love signs instead of guns, which (in spite of the relentless “pop, pop, pop go the pistol” refrain on the original) is a poignant song to give a woman whose father was fatally shot. It’s also arguably the chillest track Prince put out in the 90s. One for the Lotus-eaters. I’ve heard it said that listening to music can alter your heartbeat – if so, Love Sign could be prescribed as a high-strength beta blocker and should be avoided being taken with alcohol.

242: 2morrow

Crystal Ball (1998)
Poor 2morrow. It doesn’t receive a lot of attention buried in a 3CD set of outtakes, with a name easily mixed up with 2gether or 2nite. But what class is hidden within. Prince puts The Most Beautiful Girl in the World and Come into a cocktail shaker and pours out a smooth blend of horn-infused, jazzy R’n’B. A Pink Lady with hints of lavender and Ella Fitzgerald. The song, according to the liner notes, is about the girl from the Love 4 One Another movie whom a member of the band had a crush on, but who cares for context when you’re hearing angels dance the language of scat. If you haven’t lost all rational thought by the time the synths start singing along to Prince’s falsetto then you’re made of sterner stuff than I. 2morrow oozes sophistication and could easily be a Montreux showstopper but I don’t think I’ll ever fail to giggle like a schoolboy when I mishear the third line as “I wanna kiss your butt…”

267: Hide The Bone

Crystal Ball (1998)
Hide the Bone is p-funk where the P stands for puerile. That’s not a criticism: I miss this side of Prince where the euphemisms are written in pen and the entendres are single. Although surprisingly, in this case, the lyrics aren’t his. According to the Crystal Ball liner notes, the writers’ credit is shared with Brenda Lee Eager and Hilliard Wilson, which may explain how at times Hide the Bone sounds like it’s pretending to be a Prince song. An inauthenticity you struggle to put your finger on – like cats on pet food labels, that have the downturned Vs of their mouths subtly Photoshopped into a smile (an uncanny valley that obviously sells more tins than feline bitchy-resting-faces do). Cartoonish Prince is always good Prince though, even with the guest illustrator, and the music here is peak NPG. This 1993 recording has the Michael B and Sonny T dream team bashing out what could be the third in Prince’s canine trilogy after La, La, La, He, He, Hee and Scarlet Pussy. Canine funk taking sips from the bowl of the alpha Atomic Dog.

313: Last Heart

Crystal Ball (1998)
In anybody else’s hands, this would be the flash-in-a-pan hit single on an instantly forgettable album. A solid pop song destined to burn brightly for a week. However Last Heart has imbibed the aqua vitae of Prince’s vocals, a luxurious performance increasing the track’s longevity to evergreen immortality. Of course it also helps that this demo was never given the chance to become chart fodder, being intended for the moribund Dream Factory project and resurrected over a decade later to be buried on a low-profile 3CD compilation. A diamond hidden amongst diamonds. The ominous ultimatum delivered in the chorus is reminiscent of the Beatles’ Run For Your Life, another pop song of sweetly sung death threats aimed at an unfaithful lover. This macabre side only further endears Last Heart to me as kids with a dark glint in their eye are always more interesting than those on model behaviour.

337: Acknowledge Me

Crystal Ball (1998)
It may have a title of timeless, universal need but this Gold Experience and Exodus reject is very much of its era. Help yourself to a thick helping of solid, mid-90s pop in the style of The Good Life or Love Sign, sandwiched between samples lifted from two unreleased songs (a Boni Boyer scream from The Line and the distorted vocal from All My Dreams). It was recorded before the rise of social media but could be dedicated to every selfie posted, status updated and link shared since. The entire Web 2.0 screaming vortex summed up in these two words (“a little bit behind the beat. I mean just enough to turn you on”): Acknowledge Me. In Maslow’s pop pyramid it sits between Gimme Shelter and Baby I Need Your Loving.

348: Make Your Mama Happy

Crystal Ball (1998)
Built from brisk horn stabs, varying vocal registers and a positive message of ‘you can make it if you try’, this is Prince at his most Sly and The Family Stone – an influence that’s confirmed by the liner notes citing the 1973 Fresh album as inspiration. Like the cartoon image of two midgets in a trench coat, Make Your Mama Happy masquerades as being double the size. It’s a two-minute song played twice, once with the vocal track and once without. A 7″ edit and an instrumental spliced together to pass unnoticed as a full length mix. It’s largely worked too as I’ve not seen this cut and shut job referenced anywhere but I’ve overlaid the two halves and, apart from the vocals, they really are identical. Whether this expediency was an artistic choice or a placeholder to be rerecorded later is not clear but as the tight, staccato funk is the highlight of this Crystal Ball track, hearing it unhindered is hardly a chore. It makes Mama, Papa and the whole Family Stone happy.

360: 18 & Over

Crystal Ball (1998)
It was touch and go as to whether this made the cut or not, as you could argue that 18 & Over is a Come remix in all but name. It certainly started off life that way, having been made for a Come EP that never materialised. Too good to sink without trace and armed with its own lyrics, this sex track found its way onto the Crystal Ball compilation along with fellow album remix So Dark and forges an identity as a whole new song. Out go the horns and in come the cosmic g-funk keys. It’s still “real dirty like” but the graphic intimacy of Come is now comic braggadocio with “bone ranger” punnery and underwear-eating vibrators. More sex-com than sex-cam. If it had been an original composition it would have charted leagues higher – but that’s the price of its remix origins. Something Violet the Organ Grinder will find out in due course.

405: Goodbye

Crystal Ball (1998)
By coincidence or design there’s several titular pairings in Prince’s back catalogue. Come and Go. Time and Space. Now and The Future. The War and Peace. Solo and 2gether (or High if you’re going with the intended phonetic meaning). This Crystal Ball closing ballad follows 1985’s Hello but couldn’t sound more different. It’s an Emancipation off-cut, being replaced by The Holy River, and yet its luscious Fischer-arranged strings qualify it as one of the better tracks from the period. I guess the parting sentiment wasn’t in particular keeping with the newly-married, dewey-eyed vibe. Prince once described his song Vavoom as rock’n’roll dipped in cream and if that’s the case then Goodbye‘s vocals are cream dipped in cream. Compare them to his dry, throaty scream on the same disc’s Get Loose and I challenge you to find a sharper vocal contrast on any other release. It’s this contrast that elevates the song to classic ballad status whereas on Emancipation it would have blended far too easily into the background. A porcelain swan amongst plastic geese. The beat is minimal and basic, acting as mere scaffolding for the swooping strings and stirring vocals, with only the electronic finger snaps adding flavour. To reference another pairing, it’s neither music to Get On Up or Get Off to, but instead is a comforting salve when your heart’s been put through the wringer.

431: She Gave Her Angels

Crystal Ball (1998)
Prince wrote this song when he found himself apart from Mayte for the first time after their marriage and it starts calmly. A lullaby-esque piano refrain builds. Soothing and lulling. So far, so gentle. But then at 2:30 a single flare shoots up into the night sky, exploding in an empyreal Cloud Guitar solo accompanied by a meteor shower from the gods. Cosmic debris raining down, binding heaven and earth. The low ranking is an illusion. There are moments, played loud through headphones on still summer nights, where this song is top twenty. And others where it doesn’t connect at all. So let’s pick a random number and save it for a day when we need it to rain manna.

459: Strays of the World

Crystal Ball (1998)
A rock opera in the style of 3 Chains of Goldsounding like a bootleg of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain and a christmas carol. It’s the opening (and also penultimate) song on his 1993 musical production Glam Slam Ulysses and soundtracks Odysseus’s ship returning from Troy and later its eventual Ithaca homecoming. Dolphins (foreshadowing the performance’s next song) echolocate playfully in the background and as it fades out after reaching its natural climax a sustained guitar North Star appears over the horizon, The Chain riff starts up again and suddenly without warning the song goes double time, madly escalating to the edge of infinity. The actual end arrives in a glittery explosion; the word ‘COME’ left behind in aqua-gold chemtrails. Wow. Just. Wow. It was allegedly written for his Come Broadway production and it’s a shame that that show never got off the ground, although if you check out the YouTube footage of the Ulysses performance you can perhaps get an idea why. Strays of the World is overblown and bombastic but admit it, that is one of the many reasons you love Prince.