I have mixed feelings about this one. Maybe because there are so many versions. A little background first. “The Greatest Romance Ever Sold” was originally featured on 1999’s Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic. Rave was supposed to be Prince’s big comeback after half a decade in relative obscurity. His name was still the love symbol and the world was referring to him as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” His record label issues were behind him and he was done making public appearances with SLAVE written on his face. Rave was his first and only album on Arista records, and it was overseen by record industry titan Clive Davis. Prince seemed to be swinging for the fence on this album.
Here’s my take on it: This album is Prince watering himself down to sound like every other hip hop/R&B artist of the late-90’s. I love late-90’s hip hop and R&B so one would think I was OK with this, but Prince is something better. I expect more. While Prince was compromising his sound and making music that sounded more like everything on the radio in 1999, D’Angelo was doing the kind of work I expect from Prince and putting the finishing touches on Voodoo, a masterpiece that sounded (and still sounds) like nothing else in pop music. That’s not to say there isn’t some enjoyable work on Rave. To me, it just isn’t Prince.
“The Greatest Romance Ever Sold” was the first and only single off of the album. Strange that if this was supposed to be Prince’s big return to pop music that there was only one single. Maybe he wasn’t feeling it. The album version of the song is a pretty generic late-90’s R&B jam. Prince’s vocals are lovely, but there’s nothing about the song musically to showcase his otherworldly musicianship. I can’t hear this song without thinking I’m listening to Craig Mack’s classic “Flava in Ya Ear.” The one note that repeats thoughout sounds exactly like “Flava.” I keep waiting for Craig Mack to rap, “Just like a piece of sizzlean you’ll fit inside my stomach with the eggs and grits between.” When I finally get good with this DJ equipment I need to mash these two songs up. I can’t believe Prince did a smooth R&B jam that bit part of a Puff Daddy/Craig Mack hip hop song.
Anyway, enough about Craig Mack. My take on this song is that if it was anyone else’s name on it I’d be perfectly fine with it. I expect more out of Prince. Enter Eve and the remixes. Eve was on fire in 1999 and her pairing with Prince was shocking since he had always had a rocky relationship with hip hop. Her addition to the remix added some life to the track. The “Adam & Eve” remix took it a step further as Prince also busts a verse and not surprisingly proved more than capable. He had come a long way in the 11 years since “Dead on It.” The Neptunes were also red hot in 1999 and they also remixed the song and added a Q-Tip verse. Despite my love of Q-Tip, the uptempo take on the song doesn’t work for me. There’s also a Jason Nevins remix. One of my pet peeves is when the remix of a song is the same vocals sped up with a generic house beat. I’ll give it to Jason Nevins on this remix, though. It has a funky Nile Rodgers feel to it and it actually works for me.
Ultimately “The Greatest Romance Ever Sold” fizzled, and so did the album. The single peaked at 63 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart. Prince did little to promote the album and it peaked at 18. Strangely, in a move unlike Prince, instead of moving on from it, about 18 months later in April of 2001 Prince released a remix album titled Rave In2 the Joy Fantastic (in case you weren’t paying attention, the 1999 album is Un2 and the 2001 album is In2). A few of the exact same songs as the original album, a few new ones, and a few remixes replacing the versions from the original album. No singles were released from the album and because he only sold it online through his website, the album wasn’t eligible for any charts. It’s as if Prince just wanted a do-over.
After the Rave experience Prince clearly wanted to turn the page. His name was legally Prince again. He left pop music behind, hired a band of jazz musicians and released The Rainbow Children six months later. “The Greatest Romance Ever Sold” and its pile of remixes remain as a reminder of his attempt to fit in to late-90’s pop music.
Again, it’s not a bad song. It’s just boring, especially for Prince. I’ll give “The Greatest Romance Ever Sold” an average 2.5 out of 5 stars and recommend you go with the Eve remix if you’re gonna check it out.