For me the golden age of Prince was the period between 1985 and 1988. After the success of Purple Rain, Prince had found a new audience, and along with his band, The Revolution, was ready to take the world by storm. Never one to do anything other than what he wanted, Prince gave the new ‘MTV generation’ ‘Around The World In A Day’, which although featuring the classic ‘Raspberry Beret’ was quite a different affair to Purple Rain, being more psychedelic and with a lighter feel (I love the album, by the way, ‘Condition Of The Heart’ is beautiful, ‘Pop Life’ quirky and ‘Paisley Park’ brings to mind Sgt. Pepper, in ‘feeel’ anyway.) as a result, it didn’t sell as well as Purple Rain.
The follow up album, ‘Parade’ was another cracker- featuring the hit singles ‘Kiss’ and ‘Girls and Boys’ and two other not-so-hit singles ‘Mountains’ (which I have on a beautiful 10″ white vinyl) and [big breath] ‘Anotherloverholenyohead’. It provided the soundtrack to the film ‘Under The Cherry Moon’, which although featuring Kristin Scott Thomas and Steven Berkoff(!) was a flop. It also features a song that brings a tear whenever I hear it, in ‘Sometimes It Snows In April’. Again, the album didn’t sell that well. (These are relative terms, you realise, I’m sure there are artists everywhere who would like the sales that these ‘poor sellers’ had.)
So, on the back of these two releases, Prince inform Warner Brothers (his record label), the intention to release a triple album. This is a grand move by anyone, and Warners suggest that this might not be the best idea.
And this is where ‘Dream Factory’ fits in.
During ’86, the whole band were working on the follow up to Parade- this was unusual in that Prince would often do everything, and then have the band perform the finished work, this was to be a ‘band’ album. Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman were good songwriters in their own right, and the originally intended single album, swelled to a double.
In 1986, after the tour of USA, Europe and Japan, under the banners of ‘Hit and Run’ and ‘Parade’, The Revolution were ‘disbanded’. (There is a great bootleg of the Stockholm concert, called City Lights, find it if you can, there are some great workouts on it, including an epic 13 minute ‘Head’, oo er!)
The shelved ‘Dream Factory’ project was now worked on by Prince alone, and with the inclusion of another project he was working on, ‘Camille’ (sped up vocals of an alter ego), the aforementioned triple was presented to Warner under the title ‘Crystal Ball’, not happy with this- as they weren’t sure a single let alone double album would sell well, the two parties compromised, and the Double album ‘Sign ‘O’ The Times’ was released. This featured songs from ‘Crystal Ball’ with the addition of a live recording of ‘It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night’ recorded in Paris on the Parade tour.
The tracks off ‘Crystal Ball’ have now all been officially released in one form or other, notably on ‘Sign ‘O’ The Times’ and the 4cd set of previously bootlegged material ‘Crystal Ball’ in 1998. The beauty of ‘Dream Factory’, however, is the running order of the tracks, as this gives an insight to how the album would have sounded- and it really is a strong album.
Of note here are the tracks ‘Train’, which Mavis Staples would later record, which is a straightforward pop/blues track with a train-like rhythm, ‘Dream Factory’ classic Prince electro-funk, a slightly different ‘Strange Relationship’- more tablas giving a more Eastern feel, the 10 minute ‘Crystal Ball’ a slow builder, that changes styles throughout it’s journey, and one of my favourite Prince tracks, ‘All My Dreams’ is salvaged from the Parade sessions and ‘Movie Star’, a dig at celebrity culture, is one of the funniest tracks he’s done.
Also from Parade era is ‘ A Place In Heaven’ which also has an eerie backward excerpt, unsurprisingly called ‘Nevaeh Ni Ecalp A’.
‘Ballard Of Dorothy Parker’ ‘It’ ‘Slow Love’ ‘Starfish and Coffee’ ‘I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man’ ‘Sign ‘O’ The Times’ and ‘The Cross’ all made it on to ‘Sign ‘O’ The Times’.
Of the remaining, ‘Last Heart’ was released on ‘Crystal Ball’ 4cd, and three unreleased tracks, a short guitar solo by Wendy Melvoin called ‘Interlude’, a solo piano piece by Lisa Coleman, ‘Visions’ and ‘Witness 4 The Prosecution’ a funk-rock piece.
The eight track ‘Camille’ album contributed 3 tracks to SOTT- ‘Housequake’, ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’ and ‘Strange Relationship’ (the not-so Eastern version). The fantastically titled ‘Shockadelica’ became the b-side to ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’, ‘Feel U Up’, originally recorded in 1981, was re-recorded and release as the b- side to ‘Party Man’ off the Batman soundtrack, ‘Good Love’ was on the soundtrack to ‘Bright Lights, Big City’, featuring the Peter Pan of movies Michael J Fox, ‘Rockhard In A Funky Place’ was on the originally unreleased ‘Black Album’. The only officially unreleased track off the album, is it’s opener ‘Rebirth Of The Flesh’, I believe this was also meant to be the opener for the triple album too and I have a great version were it segues into ‘Play In The Sunshine’ replacing the street sounds of the album release, with a hint of machine guns, thunder and ‘devilish’ vocal noises at the beginning- giving it a different ‘feeel’.
A Camille inspired mix can be found here.
NB:- There ain’t too many Prince vids on youtube!