Rewinding the Charts: 25 Years Ago, 'Nothing' Compared to Sinead O'Connor
In 1990, the singer reigned with her Prince-penned ballad, before controversy, including clashes with Prince and Miley Cyrus, would overshadow her career.
Sinead O'Connor had made inroads with her debut 1988 LP The Lion and the Cobra, which reached No. 36 on the Billboard 200 in a 28-week run. Two years later, however, second album I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got propelled the Irish singer/songwriter, then 23, to pop culture ubiquity. It also offered a clearer picture of a personality unwilling to compromise on political and societal beliefs with which she disagreed.
Led by her sophomore set's first single, the ethereal Prince-written "Nothing Compares 2 U" – with which O'Connor identified especially deeply following the 1985 death of her mother – the album topped the Billboard 200 dated April 28 for the first of six weeks. The track had begun a four-week reign on the Billboard Hot 100 a week earlier. It would go on to win a Grammy Award for best alternative music performance in 1991. (Want also includes classic stark ballads like "Three Babies" and "Black Boys on Mopeds," along with second single, the jangly "The Emperor's New Clothes." Both "Compares" and "Clothes" crowned Billboard's Alternative Songs chart.)
However, O'Connor quickly found her adoption by the mainstream an ill-fit. She refused to perform in concert if the United States national anthem was played beforehand – prompting Frank Sinatra to threaten to "kick her ass" – while, most famously, on the Oct. 3, 1992 episode of NBC's Saturday Night Live, she ripped up an image of Pope John Paul II.
Still, O'Connor would chart eight more albums on the Billboard 200 through last year's I'm Not Bossy, I'm the Boss. "I gave being a 'regular' woman a good few tries," O'Connor mused in an August 2014 Billboard cover story. "There is pressure to be a 'regular' woman from the minute you're born, so I was duty-bound to try. But I'm 'irregular.' "
O'Connor has continued to back up such against-the-grain self-acceptance. In late 2013, she admonished Miley Cyrus for what she perceived as Cyrus fostering an image of overt sexuality. (Cyrus has said that the video for Hot 100 No. 1 "Wrecking Ball" was inspired in part by the "Compares" clip.)
And, in November 2014, O'Connor reasserted prior claims on Norwegian network NRK that she and Prince clashed long ago. "He summoned me to his house [and] said he didn't like me saying bad words in interviews. So I told him to f--- off. He got quite violent. I had to escape his house at 5 o'clock in the morning. He packed a punch bigger than mine."
(In 1990, Prince had told Rolling Stone that O'Connor's version of "Compares" was "great!" After he'd originally written it for his side project The Family, "I look for cosmic meaning in everything," he said. "I think we took that song as far as we could, then someone else was supposed to come along and pick it up.")
Perhaps unsurprisingly, last month O'Connor announced that she'll no longer perform "Compares" in concert, posting on Facebook that she no longer connects to it. "My job is to be emotionally available," she wrote, adding a line that has encompassed her quarter-century in the spotlight: "If I were to sing it just to please people, I wouldn't be doing my job right."
A version of this article first appeared in the May 2 issue of Billboard magazine.