When I voluntarily attempted to take on the monumental task of paying respect to a different Prince song every day I realized there would be stretches when I’d need to pull some serious magic out of my ass. Prince’s catalog spans four decades and dozens of albums, B-sides, live recordings, etc. There’s so much to cover that it makes sense that I could go weeks writing about songs only die hard Prince heads would know, right?
I keep reminding myself that I’m really writing this for people who hear Prince and just think of that little dude from the 80’s who did Purple Rain. I’m hoping that at some point after a few months – it has been a few months now – one of my siblings or friends or anyone will message me and say, “I really didn’t get your Prince obsession, but I’ve been reading your stuff and listening to the music and I get it now. I had no idea…” Something like that. I mean, if some hardcore Prince fans are in to it, that’s cool, too. My point in all of this rambling is that my goal was to give the unindoctrinated an enjoyable peek in to Prince’s unparalleled catalog. We could take the ride together. Well, guess what? It’s been weeks since I’ve come across a song anyone has ever heard of, and today is no different.
Today’s song, “Crucial,” was written and performed in 1986. Prince was working on a musical called The Dawn and “Crucial” was intended for it. Obviously, The Dawn never came to fruition. At the same time Prince was loading up for an ambitious triple album called Crystal Ball that was ultimately killed by Warner Brothers. At some point Prince and Warners settled on a double album that became Sign ‘O’ the Times instead. “Crucial” was then intended for Sign ‘O’ the Times but was ultimately replaced by “Adore.” A wise move. “Crucial” is good, but “Adore” is arguably Prince’s most loved and iconic ballad, “Purple Rain” notwithstanding.
In January of 1998 O(+> (he was not Prince at the time) finally did release a triple album called Crystal Ball. I look at the 1998’s version of Crystal Ball as the great vault cleaning of ’98. Like O(+> finally said, “I’ve got all of these songs I’ve been meaning to release and can’t find an album for them. I’m just dumping them here.” The music on Crystal Ball covers more than a decade of his work, and that’s why you get a song like “Crucial” written and performed in 1986 on an album he released in 1998.
After beating around the bush for several paragraphs I guess I should get to the song. It’s not surprising that Prince replaced this song with “Adore” on Sign. They’re so similar thematically. They’re big, old school soul love songs. What makes “Crucial” unique to me is the heavy use of electric guitar. If you strip the guitar you’ve got a pure classic Motown ballad. The chorus is especially reminiscent of old 60’s Motown. The guitar adds a surprising hard element to this otherwise mellow love song. I’m always a fan of Prince adding guitar to anything, so I say it works well.
Ultimately, “Crucial” really is “Adore” light. The songwriting is masterful and the falsetto is flawless, as always. If anyone else had performed this song it would’ve been a hit. It wouldn’t have been as good in someone else’s hands, but the song is that good. For Prince it had already been done before, so it ended up buried on a triple album 12 years after its creation. As good as “Crucial” is, we’ve heard it before. Certainly still worth a listen, though.