The song was originally released in 1985 on the self-titled debut album by the Family. The group was one of many acts nurtured by Prince at the time, signed to the Purple One’s Paisley Park Records. That version was nothing more than a deep album cut, but in O’Connor’s hands the tune earned worldwide attention.
Part of the attraction to her rendition came from a deeper emotional resonance in the performance. Though many listeners interpreted “Nothing Compares 2 U” as a forlorn lovers ballad, O’Connor’s version was influenced by a different type of relationship.
“My cover of Prince’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ was something I was always – and am always – singing to my mother,” the singer, who lost her mother when she was 16, explained in her autobiography Rememberings. “Every time I perform it, I feel it’s the only time I get to spend with my mother and that I’m talking with her again. There’s a belief that she’s there, that she can hear me and I can connect with her.”
One line in particular – “All the flowers that you planted mama / In the backyard / All died when you went away – proved especially emotional for O’Connor, often bringing the singing to tears.
“I just sang the song along with the track, sitting in a chair wearing a black polo neck,” the singer recalled of her music video shoot for “Nothing Compares 2 U.” “But in the part where it says, ‘All the flowers that you planted mama, in the backyard, all died when you went away,’ I cried for like twenty seconds.”
“I was crying about my mother being dead,” O’Connor continued. “I’m still really messed up about it, even though I’m twenty-four. A little embarrassing. But there you go. I’m a girl.”
Watch Sinead O’Connor’s Music Video for ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’
O’Connor’s powerful rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U” became a platinum-selling hit, reaching No. 1 on charts across the globe. Despite the success, the singer “cried like a child before the gates of hell” when she was told she’d hit No. 1 in America.
The single’s popularity drastically changed O’Connor’s career in ways she wasn’t prepared for. The overwhelming attention was difficult for the singer, especially on tour. “I found it hard to get used to because I had a lot of stage fright and felt like a total impostor,” she admitted. “I really had no self-esteem when it came to songs or anything else.”
Though she’d got on to have a long career, releasing ten studio albums across more than 30 years, O’Connor never again reached the heights of “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Unlike many other artists who recorded Prince’s songs, she did not maintain a friendly relationship with him. “I didn’t like the man,” O’Connor admitted to People, recalling a harrowing pillow fight with the icon.
Still, despite any baggage that came with it, the singer has always maintained a special place in her heart for “Nothing Compares 2 U.” “I love the song,” she confessed, “and I never get fed up singing it.”
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