Sometimes it’s the singer. Sometimes it’s the song.
Last Friday, on the second anniversary of his passing, Prince’s estate released his original studio demo version of “Nothing Compares To You” (more properly “Nothing Compares 2 U”).
Of all the songs Prince wrote, “Nothing Compares To You” is probably his biggest hit as a songwriter and the most iconic song of his to be made famous by another artist…but he never had a hit with it himself.
Despite a fair bit of research on the subject, I can’t discover exactly how Sinead O’Connor originally came across “Nothing Compares To You”. Written for a Prince side-project, it had languished as a largely unnoticed track on an obscure album from the mid-1980s until she came across it.
And then the magic happened. Sinead O’Connor thought “I can do something really special with this” …next thing we knew, it went to Number One around the world.
Even Prince wasn’t aware this was going on, and didn’t contribute to the project in any way beyond writing a fantastic song in the first place.
Sinead O’Connor and her friend and record producer Nellee Hooper pulled the project together. Nellee Hooper’s name might not be immediately familiar, but his work also propelled Soul II Soul and Massive Attack to major international success, so he was a good guy to have on your record producer speed-dial list.
“Nothing Compares To You” has often been described as the ultimate break-up song. But it was Sinead O’Connor, with a bit of help from Nellee Hooper, who made it that.
Prince wrote a good break-up song. Perhaps even a great break-up song. A relationship had ended, and he was a little unhappy about it.
But Sinead O’Connor took the same basic idea and injected it with enough heart-wrenching emotion that you felt the end of the world had just arrived and Sinead O’Connor was having to cope with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse all on her own.
That’s how the ultimate break-up song makes you feel.
Of course, her iconic video on heavy rotation thanks to MTV did no harm. Sinead O’Connor brought every ounce of emotion to that video too. We all felt it as she told us about how she’d been left, abandoned, stranded…
It’s been seven hours and fifteen days
Since you took your love away
Time lies heavy when your heart’s been broken.
It lies heaviest of all when it’s someone you’d given everything to. This wasn’t just a passing infatuation or a stolen moment together. This really meant something. That’s why being left alone hurt so much.
It’s been so lonely without you here
Like a bird without a song
Nothing can stop these lonely tears from falling
Tell me baby where did I go wrong
Your mind plays tricks when the love of your life leaves you. You think the fault was all yours…you’ve turned them off, driven them away, not shown them enough affection…
And it’s worse when you know you gave them everything you had to give. You know you didn’t leave a single drop in the tank. Everything you had was on the line.
When you realise you’ve given everything you possibly could, and the object of your affection just feels “meh” and walks out to find someone else…that’s a special kind of hurt. The kind that takes years, not days, to recover from.
Some people never get over it. They vow never to go through those feelings again for anyone. They associate giving their love to someone with feelings of immense pain, because that’s all they remember from their relationships.
Every time someone seems interested in them, they pretend not to notice. Every time a friend offers to set them up with someone, they make excuses not to go. Every time someone’s hand “accidentally” brushes against theirs, they apologise and stick their hand in a pocket to make sure that can’t happen again.
After a while friends, family and potential suitors get the message…there might be a heart in there somewhere pumping the blood around, but the only purpose it serves now is a mechanical one.
The emotions were shut down a long time ago. Or at least that’s what you think.
In reality you’ve just buried your feelings. Although you work hard to ignore them, those feelings gnaw away at you day and night.
Every time your brain has a moment to itself, your subconscious reminds you that you were never good enough for someone you cared about…and, by extension, because you couldn’t keep them in your life, you’ll never find anyone to love you and care for you. Best to give up now, your subconscious tells you, and get used to the empty bed, the silent house and the birthdays on your own.
Of course, you can hold down a job. Maybe even a really good job. Throwing yourself into your work to take your mind off the the pain might not bring you love, but it often brings you a promotion.
Until you wake up, all of a sudden, at 2.37am and your subconscious reminds you that the bed beside you is empty, and always will be, because you’re not good enough to have anyone love you.
When weekends and holidays come along and people ask you what you’ve got planned, you’ll answer with an airy “oh, nothing special” and excuse yourself quickly before they probe too much further and realise just how much time you really do spend completely on your own outside work.
You’ve even developed a long list of plausible-sounding excuses for not attending events, activities and get-togethers with other human beings just so you don’t need to turn up on your own and feel the pity of everyone else there.
That’s how you feel when someone you love more than you ever loved anyone…more than you ever thought possible…walks out.
Since you’ve 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
’Cause nothing compares
Nothing compares to you
Prince’s original studio demo of “Nothing Compares To You” is a perfectly decent version of a great song. You can find that here… https://youtu.be/cpGA0azFdCs
But although Prince wrote a good break-up song…perhaps even a great one…he doesn’t perform the ultimate break-up song. Sinead O’Connor does.
One of Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, a platinum-selling record, a Number One around the world in just about any country you can think of, including the US where it spent four weeks at the top of the Billboard Chart…it might only be fair to say that nothing compares to Sinead O’Connor’s version of this amazing Prince song….
If you’ve got this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s song here… https://open.spotify.com/track/3nvuPQTw2zuFAVuLsC9IYQ