I Like Sinead O’ Connor’s “Nothing Compares To You” Better Than Prince’s Recently Released Original Version
It’s been just about exactly two years since Prince died and the music world lost a legend. In recent weeks Prince’s estate has released some of his previously unreleased work. Thus includes his original version of Nothing Compares To You, which was taped at a studio in Eden Prairie, Minnesota in 1984 for The Family, his side project band at the time.
I sat down and compared Prince’s original version with Sinead O’ Connor’s cover version, which was a megahit for the Irish folk rock singer in 1990. Here’s my takeaway.
Prince’s version is like a soul rock opera full of love and lust, passion and pain. He emotes virtually every word, and every chord is packed with emotion and meaning. Prince is clearly hurting on this track. He’s missing the woman who he lived for, and he’s feeling the loss of her daily presence acutely. Here’s a sample of the powerful lyrics:
All the flowers that you planted suga
In the backyard suga
All died when u went away
I know that living with me baby was sometimes hard
But I’m willing to try, said I’m willing to give it another try.
’Cause nothing compares
Nothing compares 2 u
Prince is putting it all out there there. He’s letting you know that he’s fallen apart since his lady left, but even though she hurt him so badly, he’s willing to take her back. We don’t know who the song is about, but it’s clear that the lady in question rocked him to his core.
The video is interesting too, with Prince dancing on a recording stage, doing splits, and moving to the beat. His visage is very androgynous, and in several scenes he’s literally wearing a fur coat, making him look even more feminine.
But that’s Prince. He was never afraid to defy sexual stereotypes and roles, and to bend gender whenever he wanted to.
All in all, it’s a great song.
Sinead O’Connor’s version, which scored her a huge hit and helped catapult the already-famous Irish rock star to superstardom, is more of a power ballad than Prince’s soul rock opera.
But make no mistake, her version has soul too. Lots of it. Sinead delivers a spiritual, melodic, lovelorn version of the song in the best tradition of Irish folk singers dating back centuries. Her voice is strong. The difference is, she sounds almost angry compared to Prince’s melancholy sadness.
It’s really an entirely different song when you break it down. Sinead’s voice is vulnerable and slightly mournful, but it also conveys a sense of fight and resolve. She was wronged by a man, and she’s not going to let it go lightly.
Here are a few lines that really define her version:
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
I said nothing can take away these blues
’Cause nothing compares
Nothing compares to you
Sinead is angry. She can do whatever she wants, and she does just that, dining in fancy restaurants and living the good life. But the pain her lover caused her burns and rankles, and all the luxuries of the world can’t take that away.
The video is pretty great too. Sinead is wearing that iconic black mock turtleneck, and her pale, almost translucent skin, large blue eyes and short yet totally beautiful haircut make her look almost angelic. It’s as if she’s comedown from heaven above to share her anger and her pain with us.
So O’Connor’s version is an incredible song too, and if I had to choose, I’d say I like hers better than Prince’s original. Maybe that’s because her version was a megahit when I was sixteen, and that’s the song I really know.
Or maybe it’s because she’s a woman and she turns me on.
All I know is, both versions are fantastic, and well worth the listen. Prince was an incredible songwriter, musician, and performer. Maybe in this case what he wrote but chose not to formally perform was actually intended by the rock gods to performed by O’Connor instead. She took his already excellent work and made it sublime.
So thank you to both of these talented artists.
To Sinead, may you keep on making music.
And to Prince, we will never stop missing you.