Sinéad O’Connor, I do not want what I haven't got (1990)

“Nothing Compares 2 U” was penned by Prince as a throwaway track for The Family, a group which existed mainly as a dumping ground for some of his less talented protégés and sex partners. It appeared on their 1985 self-titled release - their only album since they broke up the same year. The song would have been utterly forgotten were it not for Fachtna O’Ceallaigh, who was then Sinéad O’Connor’s manager (and by some accounts occasional lover), who brought the song to her attention. What was originally a duet became a solo ballad.

The video, directed by John Mayberry and shot with an all female crew, did as much to make the song popular as the song itself did, and not just because it was a sharp contrast to the overdone histrionics of other videos of the time. Simple in concept and striking in delivery, the long shots featured Sinéad wandering a gargoyle-strewn park in daylight, while the close-ups centered on her face. She wore a black turtleneck in front of a black background, so viewers were forced to confront her face as she shed a single tear near the end of the video.

Mayberry was tempted to thank “the plate of onions” at an awards ceremony, but the tear was real, brought on by her strong connection to the song and her emotional state, including her firing of O’Ceallaigh several days earlier. “I was fairly fucked up already, I was under emotional stress, I’d just split up with my manager literally two days before we made the video so my life was really falling apart. It was all quite apt, I felt pretty ghastly. Also, it’s a pretty heavy song. 'Don’t Worry, Be Happy' it isn’t, you know?”

It is difficult to understand how universally popular and ubiquitous this song was at the time, especially since it has been largely erased from music history thanks to countless self-righteous disc jockeys who yanked it from their playlists in the wake of the controversies that exploded a year or two later, while plenty of less popular songs from a decade ago still linger. An artist more concerned with fame could have easily parlayed the success of this song into a career of lifelong stardom. But America wanted a sentimental tear-jerking balladeer, and they got something they weren’t quite ready for: a frank, outspoken feminist with a shaven head.

Prince initially approved of the cover (and no doubt also of the healthy chunk of change it added to his bank account), and his role as songwriter was universally known and heralded, far out of proportion to the attention a songwriter usually gets. Despite this, Prince seemed to sour on the song, possibly because he had no role to play in its intense popularity. He made some half-assed attempts to reclaim the song, adding it to the setlist of his 1990 European tour, releasing a promo-only greatest hits collection called “Nothing Compares 2 Him”, and recording the song as a duet with Rosie Gaines.

When Prince and Sinéad finally met at his home, the results were explosive. He lectured her about the national anthem controversy and her use of profanity (?!), then chased her around a table, physically threatened her, and essentially held her prisoner by refusing to call a cab. “His problem was that I did a song of his without him being involved in it. He’s jealous. And he did say to me that he wished I’d never done his song, so fine, I’ll never do it again.” So I think it’s safe to say you won’t be hearing this in concert anytime soon.

Nothing Compares 2 U 5:10
(Prince)

it's been seven hours + fifteen days
since u took your love away
I go out every night + sleep all day
since u took your love away
since u been gone I can do whatever I want
I can see whomever I choose
I can eat my dinner in a fancy restaurant
but nothing
I said nothing can take away these blues
`cos nothing compares
nothing compares 2 u

it's been so lonely without u here
like a bird without a song
nothing can stop these lonely tears from falling
tell me baby where did I go wrong
I could put my arms around every boy I see
but they'd only remind me of you
I went to the doctor n'guess what he told me
guess what he told me
he said girl u better try to have fun
no matter what u do
but he's a fool
`cos nothing compares
nothing compares 2 u

all the flowers that u planted, mama
in the back yard
all died when u went away
I know that living with u baby was sometimes hard
but I'm willing to give it another try
nothing compares
nothing compares 2 u
nothing compares
nothing compares 2 u
nothing compares
nothing compares 2 u

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