This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #489: Nothing Compares to U: Sinead O’ Connor
There are many good songs out there in the world. But what is it that elevates a song from good to great? Sometimes a song gets a boost by the way it is used in a movie or tv show. Sometimes, a song comes to the attention of a larger audience because of an endorsement from someone seen as an “influencer”. Sometimes, it is the way a song is captured in a live performance. With “Nothing Compares to U” by Sinead O’Connor, what elevated this song above the mass of other worthy tunes is simple: it was a music video.
By the mid-late 80s, the idea of using a professionally-made music video to promote a newly released song was fully part of the music industry’s promotional machine. Many of the most successful video artists were very stylish on screen (Madonna, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, to name a few). So, it was no surprise that the video for “Nothing Compares to U” views like Art. The video was simply a close-up of Sinead’s face as she sang. Surrounded by blackness. No hair to cause visual distraction. The viewer got to focus solely on the emotion displayed on her face. The effect was strikingly beautiful. The video was instantly hailed as being one of the best music videos ever made. Sinead O’Connor became an instant star. She won a Grammy Award for the song and went to #1 on the music charts.
But, Fame did not rest lightly on her shoulders. In fact, Sinead O’Connor had great difficulty adapting to the brightness of the spotlight that was shining upon her now. For starters, she refused to attend the Grammy Awards to accept her award as a protest against what she deemed the “over-commercialization” of the music industry. Then she appeared as musical guest on Saturday Night Live and enraged Catholics the world over by ripping up a photo of The Pope at the end of her first song in protest over the covering up of sexual abuse allegations made against priests. A week or so later, at a charity concert at Madison Square Garden in NYC, Sinead approached the microphone to sing and was greeted by a chorus of boos. The boos grew louder and louder. Sinead bowed her head. Singer Kris Kristofferson, who was waiting off to the side for his turn to sing, was asked to go onstage and remove O’Connor so the show could continue. He went on stage. But, instead of removing her, he hugged her and told her to not let her detractors get her down. She steadied herself and sang her song. Later, Kristofferson said that he felt her actions (in ripping the Pope’s photo) had been misunderstood and that she had goodness in her heart.
Truth be told, Sinead O’ Connor has felt misunderstood and uncomfortable with society much of her life. One of the most asked questions of her is why she shaved her hair in the first place. Her reply is informative and sheds a lot of light on her personal beliefs and why she acts as she does at times. O’Connor claimed that she grew up in an abusive home. She has publicly stated that she and her sister were often teased and criticized by their mother because of how they looked; the sister often being called ugly in comparison to Sinead. This notion of Beauty as a weapon to hurt or control others stayed with O’Connor as she grew into womanhood and started trying to enter the music industry. At a time way before #MeToo, O’Connor tells many stories of record executives trying to package her in sexy clothing, for example, when, in reality, all she wanted to do was sing.
I have difficulty watching the video for “Nothing Compares to U” now that I know so much more about the story behind it. That face is so beautiful and that voice is so powerful yet, she is so uncomfortable with it all. By shaving her head, she was making a statement that she, and all women, should be judged on who they are and not how they look. But, here we are, talking about the very opposite of that when it comes to this song. Sinead O’Connor had several other smaller hit songs over the course of her career but none bigger than “Nothing Compares to U”. After the intensity of her experiences with this song, O’Connor shrank back from the spotlight. She has released several albums but, for the most part, has shunned the media. However, on those rare occasions when she has appeared live, her voice still rang clear and strong and utterly flawless. After all, she is a singer.
The link to the video for Nothing Compares to U by Sinead O’Connor can be found here.
Thanks for your voice and for all of the beautiful songs you have sung, Sinead. The link to her website is here. It is well worth checking out.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for putting together their great song list and inspiring me to create this post. The link to the KEXP website can be found here.