Prince wrote and recorded this song in 1984, but didn't release it. Instead, he gave it to The Family, a band that was signed to his Paisley Park record label. They recorded the song in 1985, with their singer St. Paul (Paul Peterson) handling the vocals. According to Peterson, he was asked to sing it in the style of Prince. To get the right emotion, he thought about a girl named Julie who broke his heart in high school.
The Family released the song on their 1985 self-titled album, which ended up being their only LP. Their version was never released as a single and the song was seldom heard until Sinéad O'Connor covered it five years later. Peterson would have liked it to be his hit, but it wan't all bad: he ended up getting married to Julie.
Prince released a live version with Rosie Gaines on his 1993 album The Hits/The B-Sides, but his original solo recording didn't appear until 2018, when his estate released it from the vault. His version is guitar-based, with more of a rock feel.
This was a #1 hit in 17 countries. In the US, it was one of the top songs of 1990, topping the Hot 100 for four weeks.
O'Connor released her first album three years earlier. It got a lot of play on college radio, earning her a small, but devoted fan base. This song thrust her into the spotlight, and the attention had some deleterious effects on the singer. O'Connor claimed she hated the fame the song brought her, and that she struggled with the commercialization of her music. "Nothing Compares 2 U" earned her a Grammy for Best Alternative Performance, but she refused to appear on the awards show in protest of materialism in the music industry.
Director John Maybury shot a lot of footage around Paris for the video, but ended up using just a simple tight shot of O'Connor singing. It was the first time most people saw what she looked like and were surprised that she was bald. She shaved her head when she first started recording because she wanted to make a statement and not be known for her beauty.
When Sinéad cried In the video, it was a real tear. In the Rolling Stone Top 500 songs issue, she said, "I didn't intend for that moment to happen, but when it did, I thought, 'I should let this happen.'"
She told The Daily Telegraph in 2014 that the tear was triggered because she associated the song's lyrics of love and loss with her mother, who was killed in a car accident in 1985.
Prince wrote this during a very creative period when he was coming up with a song just about every day. According to his sound engineer, Susan Rogers, he wrote it at his rehearsal space in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, where he vanished for an hour and emerged with the lyrics on a notebook. He recorded the song on the spot, playing the instruments himself with St. Paul and Susannah Melvoin of The Family on backing vocals. Eric Leeds added the saxophone part later.
It was Sinéad O'Connor's manager, Fachtna O'Kelly, who came up with the idea for the Irish singer to cover the Prince song.
Chris Hill, the co-director of O'Connor's label Ensign, recalled to Mojo magazine January 2009 the first time he heard it: "Fachtna O'Kelly, Sinéad's manager, brought in a cassette and when I heard it I actually started crying. I just sat there with tears in my eyes. Then O'Kelly rang up Sinead OConnor and went, 'Chris is crying.' 'Was it that bad?' Sinéad asked."
This was O'Connor's last big hit. She turned off a lot of people with her political statements, which included refusing to let the National Anthem be played before a concert in New Jersey and tearing up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live.
In 1998, MTV named this #34 on their list of the greatest videos ever made.
Although this was a mainstream hit, O'Connor was considered an "Alternative" artist at the time, as evidenced by her Grammy win for Best Alternative Music Performance.
The "2 U" in the title is a Prince thing. He has songs called "I would die 4 U" and "If I Love U 2 Nite."
The Jacksons beat him out as the first 2 chart with a "2 U" title; their song "Nothin (That Compares 2 U)" went to #77 US in 1989. That one was written by Babyface and L.A. Reid.
This was produced by Beresford Romeo (Jazzie B.) and Nellee Hooper, two members of the group Soul II Soul.
Why didn't Prince record the song himself? His sound engineer, Susan Rogers, told The Guardian: "It's not a pained 'Help me, baby' track. It's: 'You're gone and I miss you,' which is probably why he felt comfortable giving the song away to the Family. He released his material based on what he wanted us to know about him and, wonderful as it is, he didn't want it to represent him."
Rogers added that Prince didn't like O'Connor's cover, but that was no slight on her: he didn't like anyone recording his songs unless he asked them to.
The video for Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" also contained some very tight shots of the singer's face, and also a tear, which Cyrus claimed was shed for her recently departed dog. Speaking with Rolling Stone, Cyrus said, "It's like the Sinead O'Connor video, but, like, the most modern version."
This quote, which didn't even make the magazine (it was posted on the web), set in motion a feud between the singers, with O'Connor publishing what she called an "open letter" on her website, warning Cyrus about the dangers of her career path. Cyrus responded with a Tweet that simply said "Before Amanda Bynes.... There was....", a reference to O'Connor's past mental health issues.
The confrontation illuminated some of the strange parallels between the singers:
- Both shaved their heads. Sinéad did it so she couldn't be marketed for her looks; Miley so she could establish her style and blend in.
- Cyrus was a favorite on Saturday Night Live, and hosted the show the week after the feud. O'Connor was banned from the show after her first appearance.
- Their tearful songs were their first #1 hits, but both were written by others. O'Connor's song was written by Prince, Cyrus' by a team of five professional writer/producers.
Aretha Franklin covered this for her 2014 album, Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics. Her version was produced by Andre 3000, who gives it a classic jazz feel. Aretha's longtime collaborator, Clive Davis, has known the Outkast rapper since he was 17, and that friendship led to his involvement. "He said his dream is to produce a cut or two for the great Aretha Franklin," said Davis.
Sinéad O'Connor announced in March 2015 that she will not be performing this song anymore. The Irish songstress explained: "The first principle of the manner in which I'm trained as a singer (Bel Canto) is we never sing a song we don't emotionally identify with. After twenty-five years of singing it, nine months or so ago I finally ran out of anything I could use in order to bring some emotion to it."
"I don't want audiences to be disappointed coming along to a show and then not hearing it, so am letting you know here that you won't. If I were to sing it just to please people, I wouldn't be doing my job right, because my job is to be emotionally available. I'd be lying. You'd be getting a lie."
Madonna performed this song at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards in tribute to Prince. She was then joined by Stevie Wonder for a rendition of "Purple Rain."
Some have speculated that rather than being about a lost lover, "Nothing Compares 2 U" was inspired by Prince's housekeeper, Sandy Scipioni, who left him to be with her family after her father suddenly died.
Prince's recording engineer Susan Rogers, who was present for the original recording in 1984, told the BBC: "Sandy was the person who made sure he had his favorite beverage, which was Five Alive, and she made sure the house was clean and that there were fresh flowers on the piano and that the socks and underwear were washed. That might have been the inspiration."
Melinda from AustraliaI disagree with some of the general information supplied by Songfacts, not the commenters, regarding this song. Sinead O’Connor was VERY well known in the UK prior to this song coming out. She burst onto the UK scene 3 years before. She was particularly popular with the gay community because of her daring shaved head. She was really young. And different. But popular across the board. Everyone in the UK at the time (1990)pretty much knew, on 1st hearing that Nothing Compares To U was gonna be a huge hit. It was obvious. And She had a long standing public mutual hate thing goin on with the UK The Sun journalist Piers Morgan at the time. He hated her. I think it was racism on his part. Because she is Irish. Maybe ? but It got funny. Oh + we loved how she cried in the Video.
Hannah from Hopkinton, MaI thought Wilson Phillips' "Hold On" was the number one single of 1990 in the US.
Eddie from Birmingham UkI have read many attempts to interpret the lyrics of the song. It may well have been a poignant reminder of her Mother, and Ms O'Connor delivers a truly moving rendition, but the idea that Prince was inspired by personal grief and loss does not tally with his style or poetry. Also, whilst there is a little credence to the 'smoking' angle, the tone of the prose suggests something more human and intimate. Of course, the references may well be simplistic and overt, but when Prince communicates so it is clear and unequivocal.
I draw your attention to a verse from, 'Sign of the Times.' 'Last September my cousin tried reefer for the very first time. Now he's doing horse - It's June.' This is a clear reference to the progression from Marijuana to Heroin.
'Nothing compares to you' is, in my opinion, more sophisticated. For example, 'l know that living with you baby was sometimes hard, but I'm willing to give it another try.' And, 'All the flowers that you planted, mama, in the back yard. All died when you went away.' Sinead replaced 'sugar' with 'mama.' Flowers are symbolic of young death. Looking through this prism, it's entirely sensible that Prince was exploring the impact of abortion on 'Rosie.' One of the main arguments for is the constraints an unwanted birth place on girl/woman. The remainder of the song falls into this reading.
Prince, wisely, leaves both the perspective and the decision with 'Rosie.' Even with Ms O'Connor's tinkering, the lyrics still conform to a girl/woman attempting to come to terms with a termination.
Open to discussion.
Tash from IrelandI was a teenager in Russia. We didn't understand what was she singing about, we were just mesmerized by her beauty, the expressions of her face, her voice and the music. She was awesome, we couldn't take our eyes off her.
Mel from UkPrice originally recorded this with a group called The Family.
Jacob from Phoenix, AzThe rare original version by the Family I accidentally found: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8hlKKMjAfc
Lou from Omaha, NeI agree with Carrie. I haven't seen the video of this song for many years and watching it, I was just memorized by her face. This video, hair cut and all, really does make her look stunningly beautiful.
Alistair from Daventry, United KingdomAs A personal view, I think that if, as I did, you know the song first and for a long time inSinead's version, prince's version is really a very big let down. hard for it not to be as nothing compares to what U know and hear first if it's simply superb.
Pjironed from Dublin, IrelandWhile Sinead claims the moment where she cried just happened the director of the video said she was great actress. He claimed she cried on queue more than once during the shoot. I know who I'd beleive
Carrie from Roanoke, VaIf she didn't want to be noticed for her beauty, then she failed miserably. If anything, her stunning features were more noticeable when she cut her hair.
Billy from West Unity, Ohthere are times when ther's a remake of a song. Although I'm not a big fan of Sinead Oconnor, I think her version captures the very essence of the song. Prince's version ( i mean he wrote and recorded it) lacks the emotion Sinead put into her version.
Stu from Philly, PaWhile the Sinead version is truly beautiful, I get more meaning out of the one Prince recorded with Rosie Gaines - as a duet, you're seeing both sides of a couple struggling with each other's flaws. Best line, "I know that living with *me* baby is sometimes hard," showing you know that you share the blame in what went down. In Sinead's version, it's changed to "I know that living with *you* baby is sometimes hard," which while poignant, isn't as deep IMO as being able to admit you miss the other person, AND you're to blame.
Still, both versions bring a tear to my eye.
Jan from Ossendrecht, Netherlandsit was first sung by a male, so originally the 'mama' adressed to the lost girlfriend.
Kristin from Bessemer, AlIts hard to believe that she butchered her own career with an appearance on "Saturday Night Live", when she sang an a cappella song, then ripped up a picture of the Pope at the end. Her career had never been the same-
Bertrand from Paris, FranceIt's difficult to remember now the image of Sinead O'Connor prior to the controversial television appearances that nearly brought down her career, but few pop performers have put together more powerful heart-stopping performances than this. The song itself, written by Prince, is outstanding, but Sinead's emotional, gutsy performance made it a classic. Painful loss meets stunning vocal beauty with a perfectly understated instrumental arrangement.
Daniel from Truro, Englandcaitlyn, the lyrics "All the flowers that you planted mama, in the backyard, All died when you went away," relate to her mothers life; the flowers represented her life and when she died they went away. they were an image of her mother because she planted them. atleast thats what i think.
Dan, Cornwall, England
Dana from Charlotte, NcSinead shaved her hair in response to the record company telling her to grow it longer to be more appealing.
Matthew from Dalton, PaCaitlyn, Sinead sang that lyric and was crying in the video because she was thinking of her dead mother.
Angel from Somewhere In, AzHa ha! I can see you're point, Harriet.
Harriet from Birmingham, EnglandThis song is clearly about giving up smoking. Listen to the lyrics and you will see what I am talking about...
Matthew from East Brunswick, NjExcellent song. Sing along will ya?
Stefanie Magura from Rock Hill, ScWhat a song. Blew me away when I first heard it.beautiful
Xavier from Melbourne, AustraliaIts such a understandable lyric, even considering its loose metaphors. Read between the lines. - Also, your address is not 'Brooklyn and Long Island'. I don't say I'm from Australia and the world.
Alex from New Orleans, LaIt might mean that the memories of her mother are nearly gone.
Caitlyn from Brooklyn And Long Island Ny, United Statesthese lyrics dont make sense at the end. "All the flowers that you planted mama, in the backyard, All died when you went away," Whats with that?
Brad Wind from Miami, FlSong was originally recorded by The Family, a group on Prince's Paisley Park label. The single and the LP that contained it sank without a trace.