If you're wired for the release of the super-deluxe Sign O' the Times box set, the reason could be Camille.

With the Sept. 25 expanded release of Prince's legendary 1987 double album on its way - totaling eight CDs (or 14 LPs) and a DVD of content, including more than 60 tracks unleashed from the mythic Paisley Park vault - fans will be stoked to realize that one of Prince's many unrealized projects from this era can officially be assembled: a solo album credited to "Camille."

After years of experimenting with electronically shifting his highest vocals into an even higher register (as heard in the 1984 B-side "Erotic City"), Prince decided to create an alter ego devoted to this musical style - perhaps his most cutting play with androgyny, gender and sexuality in a career known for pushing boundaries.

Camille was one of several unrealized projects Prince put together in 1986, including the ambitious triple-album Crystal Ball - his first after disbanding the Revolution. That album, which shared some overlap with Camille's running order, was pared down at Warner Bros.' behest and released as Sign O' the Times in the spring of 1987. But Camille almost beat it out of the gate, getting to the test-pressing stage earlier that year. (It's assumed that Warner got cold feet about releasing a record that wouldn't bear Prince's name at all - a problem the label would deal with more than once in the years to come.)

In honor of another legendary Prince release that never was, let the lights go out and set the bed on fire as we guide you through an assembly of this lost classic.

1. "Rebirth of the Flesh"
Found on: Sign O' the Times: Super Deluxe Edition (2020)

Prince must have thought highly of this raucous, horn-charged track for some time: It was slated to be the opener for not only Camille but the similarly abandoned triple album Crystal Ball - later pared down and released as Sign O' the Times. A 1988 rehearsal performance of this track was released via the NPG Music Club in 2001, but the studio take remained in the vault until the September 2020 release of the expanded Sign O' the Times box set.

 

2. "Housequake"
Found on: Sign O' the Times (1987)

Like James Brown on high speed, "Housequake" pulses with an insistent rhythm, punctuated by call-and-response party vocals and the formidable duo of Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss on, respectively, saxophone and trumpet, since Prince didn't play horns or woodwinds. Arguably one of the strongest Camille tracks, Prince intended to release it as the B-side to Camille's intended first single "Shockadelica" in 1986. The song not only made it to Crystal Ball and Sign O' the Times, but was included as the B-side to Sign's Top 10 hit "U Got the Look."

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3. "Strange Relationship"
Found on: Sign O' the Times (1987)

"Strange Relationship" lurked deep in Prince's vault before it was considered for Camille. A two-and-a-half-minute version appeared on a bare-bones rehearsal tape released in 2018 as Piano & a Microphone 1983; two years later, it was reworked in the studio by Prince with the Revolution's Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman and earmarked for Dream Factory, the intended fourth Prince and the Revolution album. Eight of that unreleased album's tracks would make Sign O' the Times, though Prince heavily minimized the duo's overdubs on the final album. (The version intended for Dream Factory is part of the Super Deluxe Edition of Sign.)

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4. "Feel U Up"
Found on: The Hits/The B-Sides (1993)

Even more so than "Strange Relationship," "Feel U Up" has the longest genesis of any Camille track. Prince first recorded it in 1981, at one point segueing it with an early version of the 1999 B-side "Irresistible Bitch" for an extended experience. (Both were released on last year's 1999 Super Deluxe Edition.) The version intended for Camille surfaced two years after its targeted release as the B-side to "Partyman"; the edited "Short Stroke" version ended up on the third disc of Prince's first compilation, 1993's The Hits/The B-Sides.

 

5. "Shockadelica"
Found on: Sign O' the Times: Super Deluxe Edition (2020)

Behind the scenes, the raw "Shockadelica" was something of a private joke by Prince, who was baffled that ex-Time guitarist Jesse Johnson would come up with such a great title for his 1986 sophomore album but not record a title track to match. (In a further rebuke to Johnson, "Shockadelica" was slated as the lead single from the Camille album.) It ended up as the B-side to Sign O' the Times' second single, "If I Was Your Girlfriend." The Super Deluxe Edition of the album marks the CD and digital debuts of the track's 12" extended version.

Read More About "Shockadelica"

 

6. "Good Love"
Found on: Bright Lights, Big City soundtrack (1988), Crystal Ball (1998)

This upbeat pop track was earmarked for both Camille and the Crystal Ball albums of 1986; it's probably the only song by a mainstream artist of that decade to name-check 19th century composer Gustav Mahler. Prince eventually gave "Good Love" to Warner Bros. Records to kick off the soundtrack to Bright Lights, Big City, where it shared billing with New Order's "True Faith" and M/A/R/R/S' "Pump Up the Volume." A decade later, when the now-symboled Artist compiled an "official bootleg" of outtakes (also called Crystal Ball), a slightly edited version was included on that set.

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7. "If I Was Your Girlfriend"
Found on: Sign O' the Times (1987)

Perhaps the quintessential Camille track, "If I Was Your Girlfriend" took the character to its furthest extremes, enticing a lover with real moments of intimacy - from washing one another's hair to making breakfast to choosing outfits. "Girlfriend" was issued as the second single from Sign O' the Times, but the unorthodox sound and lack of music video led to a modest peak of No. 67 on the Billboard Hot 100 (after "Sign O' the Times" soared to No. 3). Still, its power has only grown over the years: TLC covered it on their bestselling album CrazySexyCool in 1994, and Beyonce sang its chorus in the interlude to "03 Bonnie & Clyde," a Top 5 pop hit with future husband Jay-Z.

Read More About "If I Was Your Girlfriend"

 

8. "Rockhard in a Funky Place"
Found on: The Black Album (1994)

The intended closer to Camille, a funky jam cut during the same session as planned opener "Rebirth of the Flesh," remains one of the more elusive Camille or Prince tracks to this day After Camille was canceled and Crystal Ball was cut down to the two-LP Sign O' the Times, Prince set "Rockhard" to close the anonymous Black Album he planned on releasing at the end of 1987. Funk soldiers still debate why the album never saw the light of day, but it was quickly bootlegged on a gargantuan scale before Prince agreed to a limited release to help burn off his Warner Bros. contract in 1994. Today, The Black Album is unavailable to stream or download legally, so you'll have to have your own copy, legal or not, to complete the Camille experience as intended.

Read More About "Rockhard in a Funky Place"

 

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