Oct 10

SINEAD O’CONNOR – “Nothing Compares 2 U”

FT + Popular169 comments • 13,767 views

#641, 3rd February 1990

Sinead O’Connor is one of the finest song interpreters not just because she thinks hard about the material and the feelings locked in it, but because she’s so good at placing songs into a situation. A great example of this is her version of “Chiquitita”, warm and homely where ABBA’s is melodramatic, replacing its theatrical flourishes with a cosy tick-tock rhythm like a parlour clock. In the video she makes you, the viewer-as-Chiquitita, a cup of tea and settles down for a chat, and it’s perfect: that’s exactly what her version feels like.

This ability to find an angle gives her cover versions life and variety: she’s happy to switch up her singing style as the track demands, she’s never reliant on one-size-fits-all passion. She can belt with the best of them – think of her “You’re killing me!” ranting on “Success Has Made A Failure Of Our Home”. But she’s also happy to keep her distance if that’s what the song needs. This is why the famous video for “Nothing Compares For You” – tight close-up on O’Connor’s face, a tear sliding down her cheek, her spitting some words and flinching from others – can be misleading. It makes you think the record is brilliant because of its raw, unsimulated emotion: but really it’s more subtle than that, and the artifice of the video’s framing is as much a tell as those two teardrops.

Her “Nothing Compares 2 U” is a very moving track – it captures the stasis, anger and devastation of a bad break-up with awful accuracy – but it seems to me Sinead comes to that emotion through very calculated vocal choices, particularly the shifts between a gentle vocal tone and one more edged and occasionally so harsh it almost sounds treated. Take the chorus, for instance – it builds up as a big soft rock sweep: “But nothing compares…” – and then starts to zig-zag, O’Connor picking out individual syllables – “no-THING! com-pares” – before blurring the last two into a single stabbing cry – “TOYEW”.

How does this way of singing work with the grain of the song? “Nothing Compares 2 U” is – at least partly – about control and its limits. The singer has freedom and autonomy, she knows exactly how long she’s hurt for and is withering about others’ attempts to advise or alleviate it. By the end of the song she’s acting like it’s her choice whether he comes back or not – and this coda is the record’s prettiest and most desperate moment. So the ultra-precise vocals on “Nothing Compares” dramatise this. And they allow for some magical moments – the hopelessness of “I can see whoever I choose“, and the showy melisma on “whatever I want” and “restaurant” underlining their pointlessness in a life where all activity has become decorative and empty. The defiant, then trailing “every boy I see“. The chilling first line. And – of course – “GUESS what he told me!”

I haven’t even mentioned the music, whose stately, sympathetic pulse gives O’Connor the canvas she needs to be so devastating. Compare it to the Prince-produced original by The Family and you can easily see the work this rich, understated backing is doing – the melody is there on the Family’s version but the production strands it by turning the song’s sorrow into a fog. Everything about Sinead O’Connor’s track is clear, by contrast. But there’s still something irreducibly private about it, this portrait of a woman whose grief is all she has to hold onto.



  1. 1

    Just to put in a word for the live version she did of this, I think on the Grammies, dressed in a weird triangle of a yellow dress — which was EVEN MORE INTENSE AND STARTLING (esp.given the context).

  2. 2
    punctum on 29 Oct 2010 #

    My favourite Tintin book, in common with many readers, is Tintin In Tibet; certainly it was the most heartfelt of all Hergé’s volumes. His friend Chang is flying to Europe to meet him, but he hears that there has been a terrible ‘plane crash in the Himalayas, with all crew and passengers presumed killed. He is inconsolable yet still resolute. He attempts to come to terms with his grievous loss – he acts as though his right arm has been severed – but finds that the only way he can do so is, firstly, through dreams, wherein he sees Chang lying in the wreckage, injured but alive, crying for help, and secondly, through action, as he prepares to travel to the mountains to find him.

    Everybody thinks he is mad or deluded or as blinded by grief as the Himalayan snowstorms would blind the unwary traveller. But he will not be dissuaded from his task – despite the overpowering sense of loss he has refused to accept death and will make every conceivable effort, and many inconceivable ones, to find that there is still life at the other end, despite all appearances.

    Captain Haddock goes with him, grumpily complaining as ever – but still he goes with him, will not let him travel alone despite Tintin’s howls that he will travel alone if necessary. The journey is hazardous and sometimes hopeless; even their sherpa and his crew eventually abandon them, afraid of the mythical yeti. This dread of the unseen “monster” – really a fear of the unknown, or of the future – gradually deepens throughout the story.

    Eventually the yeti, huge and loud, emerges from behind a rock. It is an awesome and startling sight, but Tintin is keen enough to discern its true nature and knows that it too is afraid. He follows the yeti back to its cave – and there within the cave, wrapped in warm blankets with remnants of the small animals the yeti has brought back to keep him fed, is Chang, extremely weak but alive.

    I don’t think I need to underline at least one of the many analogies of this story. But Sinead O’Connor has always struck me as a similar spirit; sometimes beaten, often abused and jeered at, but she continues to defy the onset of death, betrayal and loss even as she stares them in the face, as if to stare them down. She is noticeably less politic and far more prone to open bleeding than the fictional Belgian – but which other singers, male or female, were producing work in the order of The Lion And The Cobra in 1987/8, with its panting haemorrhages of passion thwarted (“Troy”) or ravenously desired (“I Want Your (Hands On Me)”), its torrents of naked rage (“Jackie”), its rejection of nothingness (“Never Grow Old”)? This was the flipside of Enya – everything enclosed in the Watermark world floods out into Sinead’s soul and onto the red page.

    Ridiculed, threatened and boycotted for nothing more than believing things, expressing these beliefs and standing up for herself and those for whom she cares – for daring to be an Uppity Woman, even in the supposedly utopian and caring nineties – she shrugs some things off, screams away others. Her reading of Marley’s “War” at the Dylan tribute gig was closer to the bruised heart of Dylan than any of the other politesse offered up that evening – and Neil Young, for one, knew it (as, presumably, did the author of “The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll” himself). On 1994’s Universal Mother she includes home recordings of her infant son, a decade and more ahead of Aerial. Her 1992 covers album Am I Not Your Girl? – as with its bloody Celtic twin from the other end of the decade, Kevin Rowland’s My Beauty – uses the songs of her life to tell her apparently unpalatable story; the breaking down on the acappella “Scarlet Ribbons,” the Centipede-style free jazz eruption which climaxes “Success Has Made A Failure Of Our Home” – an outrageous and brilliant addition to that year’s Top 20 singles chart, and it should have been number one for 16 weeks – the reading of “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” she remembered from her schooldays; it all makes her sense.

    Because if you’re going to attempt somebody else’s song, and carry it off successfully, you have to insert yourself into it; you have to give the song something which only you could give to it, a route into its heart which no one else could hope to negotiate. So “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a song Prince gave away to The Family, one of his shortlived Paisley Park Nearly-Hit Factory sidelines, in 1985, becomes in Sinead’s eyes, mouth and heart a different song entirely.

    And Sinead’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” as it struggles with its nearly inexpressible emptiness, also becomes the first real number one of the nineties, a Massive Attack production in all but name. Nellee Hooper’s production and Nick Ingman’s arrangement are more minimal than anyone else dared get away with at the time, yet the record’s depth is maximalist to its core; a simple but dense string line which does nothing much apart from stating the underlying basic chords of the song, with no embellishments or flourishes apart from a slow rise of the first violins in the instrumental break, drifting like admonitory clouds over Sinead’s grieving figure; a sparse piano; distant backing vocals like a Gregorian chain gang; and a 16 rpm hip hop beat with subtle embellishment from John Reynolds’ live drums. Just as The Lion And The Cobra, through the involvement of Marco Pirroni and Kevin Mooney, helped mutate Antmusic into unexpected shapes, there is something of an umbilical link between Sinead’s “Nothing” and the Associates’ “White Car In Germany” – the beats too deep and slow to seem real (is Paul Morley’s Nothing the missing link between the two? If only it were!).

    The arrangement has to be minimal because Sinead has to be in the foreground. Her vocal, though automatically double-tracked, is unobtrusive but unavoidable. Avoiding the tiresome melismatics of the likes of the soon-to-be-massive Mariah Carey, but forceful when she needs to be (“GUESS WHAT HE TOLD ME?”), Sinead’s vocal asks nothing more than you listen and empathise.

    And she grieves; the minutiae of ghastly bereavement (“It’s been seven hours and fifteen days”), the initiation of wilful self-destruction (“I go out every night and sleep all day”), the forced gasp of suppressed liberation (“Since you’ve been gone I can do whatever I want”), but knowing throughout that all these transitory pleasures, or drugs (“I can eat my dinner in my fancy restaurant,” “I could put my arms around every boy I see”), cannot begin to fill the unthinkable void, and neither can well-meaning but bland advice (“He said girl you better try to have fun no matter what you do…but he’s a fool”).

    But for whom is she grieving?

    The line “all the flowers that you planted, mama” is the song’s true core of grief. Note that:
    a) she doesn’t change the gender;
    b) she whimpers the word “mama” like an infant;
    c) this is the precise point on the video when her tears become visible (the similarly minimalist video, the face and nothing but the face on a background of unfathomable blackness).

    And this was where she started to think about her own mother, the mother who abused her beyond any rational endurance, and yet when her car crashed it was still like having an arm amputated without anaesthetic. “I know that living with you baby was sometimes hard/But I’m willing to give it another try” – is she putting words in her mother’s mouth, paraphrasing her afterlife regret and hoped-for penance?

    But she, Sinead, is still willing to give it another try, declines to die, will not be dissuaded no matter how much shit is rained down upon her head or jammed into her heart; and so her “Nothing Compares 2 U” cut through all the jive bunnies, jovial teenpop cutouts and bogus AoR compassion which had preceded and still encircled it – its appearance at number one was a defiant and shocking bolt of thunder thrown into an arena of bland acceptance of business-as-usual, since business, the WORLD, just STOPS when you’ve lost someone, I mean, how DARE it CONTINUE…there is something about the record which gets as close as pop has ever dared to “the truth”…and no, if you know what that is, it doesn’t require definition. Think of Sinead struggling through the snow and cold, sometimes seemingly on the point of death, but refusing to stop until she finds the candle of life which she knows is glowing at the other side, at the entrance, after confronting apparent demons which are only bigger guides…back to life, however we do want it.

  3. 3
    Steve Mannion on 29 Oct 2010 #

    The bookies are laughing after a spate of bets on the prospect of a tenless 90s proves preposterous.

    The way the “to yooou” hangs on that odd note always chilled me a little, adding to the edge her voice generally provides.

    A great way to herald a run of half a dozen #1s that should see a high average score and reception.

  4. 4
    col124 on 29 Oct 2010 #

    Absolutely a 10. This hit #1 a bit later in the US (late spring ’90, I think) and its success felt like the weather was changing, at last.

  5. 5
    Tom on 29 Oct 2010 #

    Absolutely agonised over the mark on this, not so much because Sinead doesn’t deserve it but because I do feel with hindsight I’ve been a little too liberal with the top box. But if this isn’t a 10 nothing is.

    #2 My favourite Tintin book is The Castafiore Emerald I think!

  6. 6
    logged-out Tracer Hand on 29 Oct 2010 #

    Yeah, it’s the sheer number of strategies she employs all in the space of like 3 minutes – sometimes in the space of one line! – to deal with this pain that’s so tremendous.

    She’s like an actor who won’t give up – if this doesn’t work, maybe this other thing will. Like in every great drama, she never actually achieves her goal. But that doesn’t stop her from trying.

    The other day I saw “The Human Voice”, a one-woman play written in 1932 by Jean Cocteau and done for television in the 60s with Ingrid Bergman. It’s like an hour-long version of “Nothing Compares 2 U”. Without the singing or the music.

  7. 7
    Tom on 29 Oct 2010 #

    Watching the video again – which I didn’t until I’d finished writing the piece, hence the “lone teardrop” mistake – I had COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN all the cut-aways to statuary! Aside from reminding me of the “INSTRUMENTAL – 20 seconds” bit on Karaoke machines it’s like even the video director is thinking “oh shit this is intense, better show a fountain”.

  8. 8
    rosie on 29 Oct 2010 #

    Ah well, another decade and another cheapening of the process marks my own further alienation from pop as the years pass. A humdrum track that would hardly have attracted attention in 1966.

  9. 9
    anto on 29 Oct 2010 #

    Only the third number one of this decade but it sounds unmistakably nineties to me. It’s partly the production. Five years earlier this could have sidled into a power ballad as it is it’s more of a
    power-less ballad. Then there’s the vocal as this marked the point where caucasian soul singing seemed to be harking back to Plastic Ono Band rather than Astral Weeks. Her vocals here are as confessional as Kurt Cobain or Thom Yorke or Polly Harvey. Admittedly Dolores O’Riordan built a career out of a poor imitation but I wouldn’t hold that against Sinead.
    A number one to cherish.

  10. 10
    logged-out Tracer Hand on 29 Oct 2010 #

    If this had come out in 1966 it would have blown everyone’s minds, Marty McFly style!

  11. 11
    punctum on 29 Oct 2010 #

    Or Napoleon XIV style!

  12. 12

    “I can eat my dinner in a fancy restaurant” = “At this level of fine dining, your foam was frivolous”

  13. 13
    Tom on 29 Oct 2010 #

    #8 I’m really surprised you don’t like this one Rosie – Marcello is right about the modernity of the production but it’s not showily or aggressively so, and in every other way it’s incredibly classicist.

    Though I think you’re right that nobody was really singing like this in 1966 – she takes some of her cues from earlier vocal stylings (which would become really obvious on Am I Not Your Girl) but then applies them to a rock-era appreciation of confrontation.

    Despite being one of the Great Weepies this hardly ever turns up on X-Factor, Idol, etc (unless it does any I always miss it) – has Sinead made it uncoverable?

  14. 14
    logged-out Tracer Hand on 29 Oct 2010 #

    By the way punctum, that’s a booming post.

  15. 15
    Billy Smart on 29 Oct 2010 #

    I don’t think that I have that much to add here, other than that the space in the production and “ah ah” backing vox mean that I sometimes play this back to back with ‘I’m Not In Love’. And that you’d never think that this could be so good or interesting a song if only The Family’s version existed!

    Contemporary sixth form reaction was universally positive to variable degrees, but often more based upon the video and Prince kudos than the naked five minutes of the song itself. Certainly, the ensuing album ‘I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got’ was unpopular, the original material considered not a patch on ‘Nothing Compares’. An unfair comparison in some ways.

  16. 16
    Steve Mannion on 29 Oct 2010 #

    #13 “has Sinead made it uncoverable?”

    Yes and no. How could you forget The Stereophonics tackling it, De Jong style, for Warchild a few years back?

  17. 17
    Cumbrian on 29 Oct 2010 #

    I initially commented on “It’s Over” knowing that this was coming next and for me, my reaction to both Roy Orbison’s song and “Nothing Compares To You” is intrinsically related to knowing something about the artist’s life and how that seems to flow through their interpretation of the words themselves. This song is all wrapped up in the last 3 paragraphs of punctum’s post for me.

    As I said on the “It’s Over” thread, I don’t think it is necessary for a singer to have experienced something from within the song to give a great performance. But with both these songs, I am reminded of the chapter of “The Manual” in which The KLF describe what beat you should be looking to crib to get to Number One. It comes to a line where they say something like “look for the beat where the only answer to the question ‘can you feel it?’ is Yes”.

    I don’t think this record, nor “It’s Over”, got to #1 because people in general knew of the artist’s personal circumstances. I do however suspect that there is an element of being able to “feel it” with both of them and this this could well generate a certain public reaction to the record that may ultimately have been reflected in the sales.

    It is a testament to both Orbison and O’Connor that they are such brilliant performers that their life seeps into the performance enough to give it the real quality, without going over the top and ruining it. As such, this (as with “It’s Over”) is a 10 for me.

  18. 18
    Billy Smart on 29 Oct 2010 #

    Number 2 Watch: Two weeks for Technotronic featuring Ya Kid K – Get Up (Before The Night Is Over). Which is enjoyable enough, but pretty insignificant when placed alongside ‘Nothing Compares’.

  19. 19
    Tom on 29 Oct 2010 #

    #15 My reaction at the time was – for reasons I honestly can’t bring back to life now, other than being young and silly about emotional singing – negative. I remember listening to the end of year Top 40 though and thinking “bloody hell that’s actually really good”. And it was than a kind-of-guilty-pleasure for years until I just admitted it was amazing.

    It’s the first Popular entry to feature in an earlier FT project – my Top 100 Singles Of the 90s, written at the end of ’99. There are four others upcoming. One very shortly upcoming. This would now be a lot higher on such a list, though – it’s one of those records I like more every year.

    This is also one of two Number One Hitmakers who I served while working in the MVE Book And Comic Exchange, and the only one I bought books from (unless producers count – Eno sold a load of stuff once too). I feel a bit guilty about being so much of a jobsworth to ask Sinead O’Connor for ID but it was just after she’d grown her hair out. She sent her minder to get it and was very nice about the whole “two cash, four exchange” process.

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    Steve Mannion on 29 Oct 2010 #

    I’m surprised Sinead frequented MVE. Surely she did not want what she did not already got?

  21. 21
    Billy Smart on 29 Oct 2010 #

    TOTPWatch: Sinead O’Connor thrice performed ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ on Top Of The Pops. Wait until later to read about the Christmas show;

    25 January 1990. Also in the studio that week were; Yell, Del Amitri, Phil Collins and Adamski. Simon Mayo & Jakki Brambles were the hosts.

    22 February 1990. Also in the studio that week were; Tina Turner, Chris Rea, Beats International, Guru Josh and Adam Ant. Mark Goodier was the host.

  22. 22

    Re the performance I mentioned in #1, I had a conversation at the time about it with then-editor of ARENA mag Dyl4n J0nes — I know, swank swank, but bear with me — and he was very scornful, I think for similar reasons to Tom-when-young, that this level of extreme but directed and controlled emotionality unsettled him… Anyway at the time he was giving me work so I thought him a fine fellow and was taken aback by his opinion: since then of course he has proved to be a serial twerp on TV and off so hurrah! etc

  23. 23
    Dave on 29 Oct 2010 #

    Nice write-up. Listening again in headphones for the first time in probably a few months, I’m really struck by how this is really a duet between Sinead and herself. (Sinead #2 comes in at “I could eat my dinner in a fancy restaurant”). Other artists tend to use this approach as a kind of back-up for harmonies etc. — Kelly Clarkson has one other major vocal melody as counter-point, for instance, because oftentimes you couldn’t really cram much more of her on the track.

    But here the interplay between the front and back vocals is really interesting because it’s so identical. The back-up Sinead is always slightly subdued compared to the spotlight, like the immediate beginning of the decay of the sound — I think of my piano teacher always asking me to “match the sound” between two notes, meaning that you play the next note with an ear for the slight decay from the previous note. When the voice finally rises to the identical intensity of the foreground — as in “I KNOW THAT LIVING WITH YOU BABY WAS (sometimes hard)…” — the effect is almost vertiginous. You don’t realize that the #2 vocal (I really hesitate to call it “background,” more like a sub-foreground) provides such a grounding sweep and pull, so that when it intensifies up to the level of the main vocal it feels like a wave crashing against you unexpectedly.

    The second vocal may be literally identical in terms of its mix, I’m only referring to the effect. I do think it’s just the tiniest bit softer, though.

  24. 24
    thefatgit on 29 Oct 2010 #

    The video was definitely a “time stands still” moment. Emotionally raw, to the point where you either have to look away or rush to hug her somehow. It’s that perception of vulnerability that sucked me in, and the sheer craft of NC2U that kept me enthralled. Marvellously minimal. A ballad that conveys such power, it crumbles the collected works of 80’s soft rock power balladry to powdered pumice.

    And the simplicity of the video itself, with her face-front fixed stare defying you to remain emotionally detatched, interspersed with statues and italianate landscaped gardens, like a Peter Saville album cover come to life. The frozen tears of stone angels against the saltwater stream navigating the curve of her pale cheek. Gorgeous.

  25. 25
    Lex on 29 Oct 2010 #

    Great write-up Tom! I have little to add on this song apart from “every word is true”, which links neatly to your classic FT post on “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” that needs to be linked here. I love how she manages to effectively turn both originals into Sinéad O’Connor songs, cathartic and confessional. She did much the same to “Sacrifice” (despite the cheesy piano) and “All Apologies” (also Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode To Billy Joe”, but the Sinéad version isn’t on Youtube).

    I didn’t follow her career avidly – she arrived a couple of years too early, and I don’t remember this from the time – but several of her songs still blow me away with their sheer feeling: the terrifying “Troy”, still a benchmark of intensity for me; “I Am Stretched On Your Grave”. She’s a really crucial artist in terms of the ’90s confessional singer-songwriter, and her erasure from rock history is pretty unfair (and Exhibit 9482020 of how artists who code too much as “women’s music” are always marginalised, never canonised).

    And then there’s the way she brought that unflinching intensity to her most infamous cultural moment – ripping up a picture of the Pope on SNL, and then what she did in the face of virulence that seems completely astonishing now at the Dylan tribute concert a few days later. Both clips really amazing to watch, btw – such incredible bravery, both scenarios weirdly unimaginable now, and made more poignant by the fact that nearly 20 years on, she was proved to have been right. (This article, “Isn’t Sinead O’Connor overdue a massive, grovelling apology from absolutely everybody?” is superb.)

  26. 26
    Billy Smart on 29 Oct 2010 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: There are more Sinead UK TV appearances on the list than I was expecting;

    ASPEL & COMPANY: with Lynda La Plante, Ian McShane, Jack Dee, Sinéad O’Connor, Hothouse Flowers (1993)

    BANG BANG IT’S REEVES AND MORTIMER: with Morwenna Banks, Charlie Higson, Matt Lucas, Sinéad O’Connor (1999)

    THE DANNY BAKER SHOW: with Leslie Nielsen, Jackie Collins, Sinéad O’Connor (1994)

    THE GRAHAM NORTON SHOW: with Andrew Lloyd Webber, Matt Lucas, Sinéad O’Connor (2007)

    THE GRAHAM NORTON SHOW: with Gillian Anderson, Chris Addison, Sinéad O’Connor (2009)

    LATER WITH JOOLS HOLLAND: with Sinéad O’Connor, The Beautiful South (1994)

    LATER WITH JOOLS HOLLAND: with Sinéad O’Connor, Dusty Springfield, Brownstone (1995)

    LONDON UNDERGROUND: with Frank Skinner, Sinéad O’Connor, Ellen Cleghorne, Stephanie Hodge (1992)

    PARAMOUNT CITY: with Curtis & Ishmael, Boy George, Sinéad O’Connor, Frank Skinner (1991)

    THE ROXY: with Jack ‘N’ Chill, T’Pau, Sharp & Numan, Sinéad O’Connor, Bros (1988)

    T•F•I• FRIDAY: with Will Macdonald, Andrew the Barman, Courteney Cox, Mansun, My Life Story, Jimmy Tarbuck, Sinéad O’Connor (1997)

    T•F•I• FRIDAY: with Will Macdonald, Andrew the Barman, John Barnes, Billy Bragg, Cake, Faith No More, Sinéad O’Connor, Super Furry Animals (1997)

    TERRY WOGAN’S FRIDAY NIGHT: with Arthur Smith, Leslie Nielsen, Sinéad O’Connor (1992)

    THE WHITE ROOM: with Sinéad O’Connor, Björk, Dave Stewart, Lou Reed, Shane McGowan, Roachford, Gene (1995)

    WIRED: with The Proclaimers, Sinéad O’Connor, Michael Bolton, Michelle Shocked (1988)

    WOGAN: with Maureen Lipman, Rutger Hauer, Sinéad O’Connor (1990)

    THE WORD: with Boy George, Sinéad O’Connor, Ride, Jagdeed, Jah Wobble (1992)

  27. 27
    rosie on 29 Oct 2010 #

    Tom @13 – Ok, it’s not that I actually dislike it, and I’d probably be inclined to give it a 5 or a 6 on the strength of that quirky voice that is so clearly capable of musical gymnastics but being kept nicely reined in here. All the same, she’s no Kate Bush here, let alone a Bjork or (straying slightly from the field) Cathy Berberian. And anyway, you know me by now, and you won’t be surprised to hear me say that I don’t think Sinead’s voice was done any favours by being strained through a fug of electronic pea soup.

    Besides, I associate it with an occasion later the same year when I, for reasons which may become clearer in time, was an invited guest of Subterranea while being uncomfortably aware that I was not exactly part of Subterranea’s target demographic. And Ms O’Connor also caused a stir by her high-profile wading into the delicate local community politics of the area without doing her homework first.

    I’m grateful to Marcello for reminding me of Mr Napoleon XIV. Certainly an original voice in 1966, that finest of all pop years, but perhaps one that had more impact on Marcello’s toddlerhood than my own incipient adolescence. As it is, I suspect that Sinead would have been blown away by Tina Turner, in her prime and with a full Spector gale at her back!

    (I should point out that my comment is on the recording a lone, not having seen the video. We don’t seem to get video links any more)

  28. 28
    MikeMCSG on 29 Oct 2010 #

    Hmm – I wasn’t looking forward to this one. I liked it at the time and bought the album but became so alienated by the antics of the artist that it’s become the Mrs Rochester of my record collection. It’s worth remembering, MC, that we only have Sinead’s side of the story as far as her childhood abuse goes.

    #17 The majority of purchasers would have very little insight into Sinead’s background. Before this she was a one hit wonder from two years back.

    # 25 I remember that Word appearance very well. She just wouldn’t engage with Boy George when he criticised the homophobia in her beloved rap artists’ lyrics and kept trying to divert the discussion to sexism in heavy metal instead.

  29. 29
    Jonathan Bogart on 29 Oct 2010 #

    The Castafiore Emerald > Tintin in Tibet, yes!

  30. 30
    Tom on 29 Oct 2010 #

    TIT is Herge working through his very personal demons through the character of Tintin; TCE is him working through his everyday (equally personal) irritations through the character of Haddock – so they’re kind of a pair! And TIT is very powerful, I’m certainly not saying I dislike it.

    (As a young child I found both baffling, but TIT had the Yeti at least)

  31. 31
    lonepilgrim on 29 Oct 2010 #

    I was a big Prince fan at the time and this reminded me of ‘Condition of the heart’ in its rawness and (to a lesser extent) to ‘When doves cry’ in its musical spaciousness. I’d heard Sinead responding super positively to ‘Sign ‘o’ the times’ on a Radio 1 round table review so it came as no great surprise when she covered this.

    Just as Hendrix re-imagined ‘All along the watchtower’ to the extent that Dylan subsequently used Jimi’s arrangement so Prince went on to perform the song himself although often relying on the gospel style vocals of Rosie Gaines to simulate Sinead’s passion.

    I think O’Connor’s recording conveys an enormous depth of feeling on its own, without the video (which quickly seemed to become an example of DOYOUSEE for people who seemed unsure of the grief embodied in the voice(s). Cumbrian makes a good comparison to Roy Orbison’s choked emotions on ‘It’s over’. Punctum highlights the key phrase in an exceptional response.

    There’s an interesting update on the video in Janelle Monae’s ‘Cold War’ which features no cutaways and which emphasises its ‘raw’ unedited ‘one-take’ status with a title and timecode.
    Monae sings her own lyrics and they’re clearly significant to her but I can’t decide if her tears are because the lyrical content hits home or because she screws up the lip synch. I’m a fan but NC2U is better.
    You can decide for yourself here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqmORiHNtN4&ob=av2e

  32. 32
    swanstep on 29 Oct 2010 #

    @Rosie. I too am surprised to hear you don’t have a soft spot/’well, that’s more like it’ reaction to this one! I agree with you that Tom’s grades (and broader assessments) for some ’60s and ’70s classics and standards seem harsh and that they’ve in turn made some of his later grades and assessments seem inflated. Tom gave Bridge over troubled Water and Je t’aime.. 5s, when surely those are exactly the sort of ‘What the hell is that sound?’/stop you in your tracks while walking down the street records that Wuthering Heights was and, I reckon Tom’s right, NCTY was. (Although like Tom, NCTY didn’t quite do it for me at the time for various reasons – possibly a bit close, going through a hell break-up at the time! And some people’s reaction to the video at the time struck me as a bit creepy IIRC).

    At any rate, I’m pretty sure NCTY would have been massive/instantly recognized as pretty extarordinary anytime for anyone (and in a counterfactual situation where it’s novel you could release it tomorrow and (I’d bet) watch it take off). Nico or Streisand or Patti Labelle or Marvin or Al Green or Curtis Mayfield…anyone great really, would all have killed for this record.

    May post another comment later – still processing punctum/marcello’s essay and the record and vid. itself again.

  33. 33
    Elsa on 29 Oct 2010 #

    I think Nina Simone could have done this in ’66, though not necessarily better. Heard it in a restaurant the other day & it jumped out at me as a record that is still startling & hasn’t aged at all.

  34. 34
    Elsa on 30 Oct 2010 #

    Furthermore, it’s the kind of record that keeps you anticipating the next great line-reading, as contrasted with many a contemporary record that give you all you’re going to hear in the first 40 seconds or so.

  35. 35
    swanstep on 30 Oct 2010 #

    @elsa. Good call on Nina Simone. This got to #2 in the UK in December ’68 – so close.

  36. 36
    Chelovek na lune on 30 Oct 2010 #

    Much as I would love to be contrarian, or reveal some severe but mysteriously overlooked flaw in this record, or change the subject slightly by going on obsessively (and truthfully) about how annoyingly misguided some of Sinead O’Connor’s public utterances can be….at the end of the day this is a heartfelt and moving interpretation of a rare quality; and really Tom and DJ Punctum have summed all this up better than I am likely to.

    A classic. No more, no less.

  37. 37
    wichita lineman on 30 Oct 2010 #

    Best hiccups since Adam Faith, bring on the Cranberries.. is that an overlooked flaw? A grotty affectation which would infect pop for years to come.

    A mindblowing song, no question, but the performance – given the singer’s issues – make me feel this is, at best, outsider art, only not as easy to interpret as Alfred Wallis.

    NC2U always makes me feel fidgety, and not always in a good way. I’d give it an 8, to show I’m not a contrarian, because it’s deft and breath-catching whatever the back story. But – oh, I hate to play Swanstep’s numbers game – this really isn’t a notch above Good Vibrations, ever ever ever.

  38. 38
    swanstep on 30 Oct 2010 #

    @wichita. I’d say that the ‘if this isn’t a 10 nothing is’ line of reasoning fits Good Vibrations perfectly, Grapevine too. Tom was a toughie back in the day, no doubt about it! :)

  39. 39
    JLucas on 30 Oct 2010 #

    God but this is good.

    It is a shame that it inevitably overshadowed the rest of her material though. Her original material has been patchy, but ‘Universal Mother’ is a breathtaking album. Rolling Stone described it as “Not the sound of a woman falling apart, but that of a woman desperately trying to hold herself together – which is infinitely more terrifying.”

    The live concert captured on ‘She Who Dwells In The Secret Place Of The Most High…” is incredible too.

    I defy anyone not to get chills from ‘Fire On Babylon’ – an incredibly raw and cathartic song about the aforementioned abusive mother.


  40. 40
    DietMondrian on 30 Oct 2010 #

    Some great writing upthread but this song has always left me cold. The instrumentation sounds cheap; her vocal warblings on “restauraaaaant” etc sound like someone struggling to find a tune; and that tear in the video – well, frankly I don’t believe it.

    And Prince’s proto-text spelling still grates.

  41. 41
    Mark M on 30 Oct 2010 #

    Yeah, I’m broadly with DietMondrian on this, really: it’s clearly not a bad song in any way, but the drums are horrible and her voice grates on me (“Her vocals here are as confessional as Kurt Cobain or Thom Yorke or Polly Harvey” someone wrote up the page – I agree, but that’s not a good thing as far as I’m concerned).

    I’ve also found her public persona immensely annoying. I do, however, remember quite enjoying one of her brother’s books.

  42. 42
    rosie on 30 Oct 2010 #

    Elsa @ 34: It’s funny you know, I kind of think of Sinéad as a kind of Nina Simone without the talent. Nina chewed up and spat out many a male interviewer but she did it with panache and as a super-intelligent black woman growing up in pre-Civil Rights America one with many reasons to be angry — Sinéad for all her snarling and spitting at the world just seemed to me a self-publicising “Poor Me!” narcissist. I know which of the two I’d rather have held up as a role model for my daughter (who, approaching her tenth birthday when this was number one, had been exposed to an awful lot of Nina Simone!)

    swanstep @ 32: Yes, there’s an element of contrarianism in my comments and indeed NCTY really does stand out from the material around it but that, to my ears anyway, ain’t saying much. Plonk it down in 1966, as I suggest, and it looks rather less of a prominent landmark. Hello Aretha! Great to see you Grace! How you doin’ Levi? What fettle Brian? I know the greatest era of pop is one’s own era and the 1960s was mine, but I think there was more too it than that. Tom made a remark early on in Popular about pop getting better with each succeeding decade and that was a provocation to me not least because I don’t believe things would be better if only the technology was more sophisticated. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been able to learn from Tom about my own era — I wasn’t alone in raising an eyebrow at the 10 for ‘Boots’ but since Tom made me listen to the genius of Lee Hazlewood’s arrangement more closely I see the logic of that 10 as impeccable. I don’t think many of us would begrudge 10 for Eleanor Rigby (and Tom was harsh, oh! so harsh, on the Beatles generally) and there’s at least two others from 1966 – Reach Out and Good Vibrations, back to back even – that have the undeniable stop-you-in-your-tracks power to have been shoo-in 10s for me and, since we’re on the subject of dealing-with-loss-realistically songs, I’m becoming convinced that Paint It Black (no comma from me) should have one too. Had River Deep hit the top that would have been 10 from me too. I really can’t think of another year that even comes close to such a depth of top-notch pop performance, and with such a variety too because there’s no one form that dominates. Sinéad would really have to work hard for attention amongst that lot.

  43. 43
    Tom on 30 Oct 2010 #

    #37 If we’re going to dock points because of relating to things as “outsider art” then probably best not to mention Brian Wilson!

    FWIW the 10s I think I was too generous on are “Atomic” and M/A/R/R/S – the 9 I think should have been a 10 is “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and there are a bunch of 7s and 8s I was a point out on. (I think about this stuff too much! If I ever finish I will put a “revised mark” field in as a present to myself….)

  44. 44
    flahr on 30 Oct 2010 #

    I think you can be forgiven for the M|A|R|R|S thing – while I agree that in comparison to eg “Beat Dis” or “Theme…” it’s not as good, the fact of its importance probably spurred you to make it a 10.

    (I realise you don’t mark on importance & I’m not saying you should – saying in that instance you may have let it sway you. You weren’t too generous by much though!)

    “Nothing Compares” then – unforch I have the opposite problem to Rosie in that it is I never experienced a proper hearing-it-for-the-first-time – it’s always been there as far as I’m concerned and so it’s very difficult to get worked up about it.

  45. 45
    wichita lineman on 30 Oct 2010 #

    I was talking about Good Vibrations rather than A Day in the Life of a Tree, but I take your point. Sorry, it was a pretty rotten post, I was just feeling lonely in my non- love of this. Several posts since have nailed what I didn’t like and still don’t like about Sinead and her performance. Attention seeking rather than brave.

  46. 46
    thefatgit on 30 Oct 2010 #

    I get the impression that some 10’s aren’t absolutely nailed on 10’s Especially the M/A/R/R/S #1 which I said was a 10 at the time, but on another day would possibly have been marked 9, purely because of the presence of borrowed content. But then I gave Sinead a 10 and PSB’s AOMM a 10, because I love those songs. And there must be a case for a 9.5 mark for “landmark” #1’s which are exceptionally good, but their importance sets them apart from 9’s, which could have been a 10 on any given day if the conditions for marking are slightly ambiguous (West End Girls), and even important but exceptionally good records that get 9’s (Billie Jean), which have been widely accepted as nailed on “classics”. I know we have to trust Tom that his marking very much depends on how he feels about THAT record on THAT day, but if he admits he’s wavered on some records, then why not have a .5 differential if only to suggest that given the right conditions it could possibly marked higher or even lower?

    Good grief…it’s a thorny little dilemma, isn’t it?

  47. 47
    Alfred on 30 Oct 2010 #

    This and Madonna’s “Vogue” hit the U.S. around the same time (late spring ’90), and I can remember their impact was seismic: one of the few times in the nineties when every segment of the audience loved the same two hits.

  48. 48
    flahr on 30 Oct 2010 #

    Blimey, listening to it again I really wish I could have heard it new first time around – I can see so much stately power in it. As it is it’s like someone awarding 100% to beds.

  49. 49
    Special Girl AKA on 30 Oct 2010 #

    I was 9 when this came out and my clearest memory of being 9 is sitting in a chip shop in Padstow, mesmerised by this song. Or the video, or both. (My second clearest memory of that year is getting the lyrics to Better The Devil You Know in Smash Hits and trying to sing along to Kylie on TOTP: challenging).

  50. 50
    Kat but logged out innit on 30 Oct 2010 #

    I have to say I preferred Technotronic at #2. Humpus Dumpus JAM TRIP on this! 60bpm was faaaaaaar too slow for me.

  51. 51
    swanstep on 31 Oct 2010 #

    Tom@15’s reminiscing about Sinead and Eno selling cds to him has reminded me of one of my favorite, ‘Nick Hornby couldn’t make this up’ stories, which I came across just a few weeks ago at the Onion’s avclub:

    “I remember getting extremely angry one time in The Wherehouse when I saw a copy of Superunknown USED. USED!!!! That meant someone sold it! I couldn’t believe that shit! I wanted to track down whoever did that and find out what the fuck was wrong with them!! I was seriously pissed off by that.”

    Lots of avclub-ers immediately chimed in to confirm that, yes, they too had had this (kind of) thought…

  52. 52
    koganbot on 31 Oct 2010 #

    Ah, the wave of nostalgia I feel when reading this thread! Not for the song, but for the very first issue of Radio On, which contains this immortal line from Scott Woods: “Does Chuck Eddy really believe that ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ is the worst single of the year, as he voted in the Rolling Stone poll just recently?” The issue also has Phil listing the performer of “I Don’t Wanna Cry” as “Uriah Carey,” which I remembered as “Urea,” which would have been even funnier. (Scott and I were shortly able to turn Chuck and Phil around on Mariah, but Scott was never able to persuade Chuck on Sinead.)

    In any event, my own contrarian instincts are in full force right now, as I start muttering to myself and getting my can ready in order to spray-paint “Spareness is the opiate of the upper middle class” on the nearest retaining wall. I can’t think of a song that would suffer more from being hailed as a classic, would be more utterly destroyed by piety and reverence, fidgeting children around the world dreading its opening chord and the hush in the room that follows, listeners to the right and left being deeply moved. An alienation factory under construction, and there’s nothing in the song to resist it. Whereas with, e.g., Dylan, no matter how lost a song is in the mists of praise, there’s always a deliberately absurd rhyme and mauled syllable or twelve to guffaw at or abominate and to pull the thing from pedestal down to teeming swamp. (And as with Dylan, so with Beatles and Stones and Johnny.)

    This doesn’t mean that Tom shouldn’t give this a ten or that you guys shouldn’t like it so much. And with your commentary in mind, especially Tom’s and Dave’s close observation, I may listen to it more intensely and see what it gives back. I haven’t heard it in years. I just wonder about the masterpiece treatment. At the time I vastly preferred Mariah’s unfettered and irresponsible melisma, and my guess is that I still will. I do remember liking this song, and in the company of other good stuff, the land of “Every Beat Of My Heart” and “The Boomin’ System” and Chill Rob G and “No More Lies” and “Enjoy The Silence” and “Up All Night,” it was fine.

  53. 53
    Paulito on 31 Oct 2010 #

    If I may be permitted to return to the Tintin debate further upthread, for my money ‘The Castafiore Emerald’ is the funniest Tintin story (although ‘Flight 714’, despite its dark plot, is exquisitely hilarious in parts); ‘Prisoners of the Sun’ the most exciting; and ‘Explorers on the Moon’ the most moving. ‘Tintin in Tibet’ is nice but somewhat soppy, and the Yeti stuff makes it too fantastical for my tastes.

    As for the song under discussion: unfortunately, critiques of ‘NC2U’ tend to be tainted by Sinead’s subsequent behaviour – a fact well illustrated by the reviews here, alternately gushing in their admiration for her political antics or repelled by same. I know it can be hard to separate a song from its performer’s public persona, particularly where that persona is as larger-than-life and divisive as that of Sinead O’Connor. However – and this is coming from someone who finds her carry-on massively overbearing and irritating – ‘NC2U’ deserves to be judged purely on its own merits (a truth well observed by Tom’s superb appraisal). By that benchmark, it’s a stone cold classic. Perhaps not a perfect 10, but – to pick up on thefatgit’s musings – very possibly a 9.5.

  54. 54
    Paulito on 31 Oct 2010 #

    Further to the above, I should perhaps clarify that I am referring only to *some* of the reviews here. Many of the other commentaries confine their scope, quite rightly, to the song and not the singer.

  55. 55
    Paulito on 31 Oct 2010 #

    One more comment – I think Rosie is dead right that Tom has been a bit stingy in his markings for some of the 1960s entries, and unforgiveably harsh on the Beatles (only one 10? ‘She Loves You’ only an 8? Come on, ref!). And, for what it’s worth, I was born in 1978 and I don’t regard 60s music as some kind of untouchable sacred cow (not that I’m saying Rosie does either); there was plenty of dross then and there’s been plenty of gold since. But, to me, the sonic advances of the last 40 years accentuate, rather than diminish, the extraordinary imagination, verve and barrier breaking – within what can now be seen as the severe limitations of the technology of the time – that characterises so many of the earlier #1s.

  56. 56
    Erithian on 31 Oct 2010 #

    #40 DietMondrian re the tear – the story Sinead told was that on singing the line “all the flowers that you planted Mother”, powerful memories of her mother came to mind, hence the tear – unplanned but you’re not exactly going to yell “CUT!” if it happens.

    Coming late to this, but flahr’s “stately power” sums it up, and it was so good to have something at number one that took pop and its artistic potential a bit more seriously after the dreadful run we’d had. Difficult to add to what has been said on both sides of the ledger, but this is a hugely classy and beautiful reading of the song. Maybe not quite a 10 in my book, but we’re spending too much time quibbling about marks anyway.

    ##19 and 51 about stars selling records: Danny Baker may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but his finest hour was an interview with Elton John earlier this year in which they reminisced about the days when they both worked in Denmark Street. For years afterwards, post-stardom, Elton had a standing order at a record shop and would pop in to help himself to records that were kept to one side for him. And if a customer came in while he was there, it wasn’t unknown for Elton to hark back to his old job, emerge from under the counter and serve them. So you’d go to ask about the latest Chicken Shack LP or whatever, and find yourself being served by somebody whose music had accounted for 2% of worldwide record sales the previous year.

  57. 57
    xyzzzz__ on 31 Oct 2010 #

    @ post 33: Love that this was played at a restaurant! On Valentine’s Day, I hope.

    Usually I can’t stand this kind of string arrangement but its really well-judged here.

    Can’t wait till 2 Unlimited get the next 10 score!

  58. 58
    Rory on 1 Nov 2010 #

    Unlike most of the recent Popular number ones, this one soundtracks part of my autobiography, not for any particular lyrical resonance but because it was so there. NC2U was number one in Australia for eight weeks starting at the end of February 1990, which overlapped with the beginning of my honours year. (In the Australian university system, honours is a separate and optional year after a three-year degree, more like the one-year taught masters degrees in the UK, and the experience is pretty intense.) Throughout those first weeks of essay writing and article reading, this song and its parent album were never far from my stereo, whether it was tuned to FM or playing a CD.

    I had first heard Sinead O’Connor on the soundtrack to Captive, a film I’d never seen (and still haven’t), bought only because it was U2-related. My cousin introduced me to The Lion and the Cobra when she visited a year or two later, along with some weird band from Iceland who sang about birthdays. Of the two singers, I preferred the one from the land of ire.

    The less-accessible stuff on I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got came as no surprise, then, and when I listen to it again now it all feels deeply familiar, sunk into some submerged part of me, to surface once every few years when O’Connor releases a new album or EP… apart from the last few, when I seem to have lost track after Sean-Nos Nua.

    I heard all the criticisms along the way, of course: the attention-seeking (as if any performer isn’t!), the worthiness (listened to Sometime in New York City lately?), the music’s difficulty (it was true, some of it didn’t grab me; but her voice always gave it interest, even when I couldn’t love it). What impressed me was how little the criticisms seemed to interfere with her sense of herself as an artist; every few years, she would release another album that ignored whatever everyone else wanted her to be or not to be, and struck off in a direction of her own.

    Yet when I ask myself why I actually own most of her discography, it’s not because of “Mandinka” or “The Emperor’s New Clothes” or “My Darling Child” or “This is to Mother You” or “No Man’s Woman”, as much as I enjoy them; it’s because of this. This song and its continuing capacity to sound new has carried me through half a dozen album purchases, and although I might quibble over whether it matches other personal 10s (it doesn’t have the joyous quality of most of them), it has to be one.

    Of all the criticisms of O’Connor, that of joylessness always seemed to carry the most weight. The parody of her on Father Ted made me laugh as much as any of that brilliant sitcom did. But when I now learn, from following links away from this thread, that O’Connor spent some of her youth in a Magdalene laundry, I can’t fault her even for that. If you haven’t seen Peter Mullan’s 2002 film The Magdalene Sisters, it will tell you more than you can bear about that subject: in a review at the time, I wrote that “watching this was like being fed head-first through a mangle: I was cringing, literally flinching away from the screen”. If that was just watching it, imagine living it.

    Tintin in Tibet is certainly one of my favourites, possibly my second-favourite, but the winner has to be Destination Moon. I never owned Explorers as a kid, only read a library copy once or twice, so the cliffhanger ending of Destination lost little of its power on many, many re-readings. And it has the best cover of all.

    @43: So you’re holding firm on the most glaring 9 of all, Tom! Fair do’s.

    @54: This is our only chance to discuss her directly on Popular, so it’s no surprise that the scope of many comments is wider than the song alone.

  59. 59
    swanstep on 1 Nov 2010 #

    @rory, 58. Nice comment (8 weeks at #1 in aussie – wow), and thanks for that link to Sinead’s article. It’s a really well-organized piece – the US occasionally invades countries on slenderer briefs than that (haw haw).

    I must add that I’ve really been enjoying listening to Sinead’s albums again, for the first time in ages over the last few days. With the perspective of time she feels like a literally crucial/crossroads figure. On the one hand for me she looks back to that generation of vaguely-strident, feminist post-punk gals like Rhoda and Tracey Thorn and on the other hand she seems to anticipate and possibly be a big (unacknowledged?) influence on the Jeff Buckleys and Thom Yorkes of the ’90s (early Radiohead stuff I love that’s basically just Yorke accompanying himself such as Stupid Car and Thinking about you suddenly sound to me very similar to tracks off I do not want…).

  60. 60
    Billy Smart on 1 Nov 2010 #

    The first time that I became aware of Sinead O’Connor was when she appeared on a Colourfield B-side, ‘Monkey In Winter’, in 1987. Its fantastic, and the chill that her voice cast over Terry Hall’s glum and amusing song acted as a pretty good primer for what listeners could go on to expect from her.

    In the ensuing 23 years, I have never heard or seen anyone talk about this song. Does anyone else know it? Though I suppose that a B-side for a single taken from the second Colourfield album was about as inauspicious a place as possible for a performer to appear.

  61. 61
    vinylscot on 1 Nov 2010 #

    Rory – thanks for bringing up “My Darling Child” – easily the nearest I’ve ever heard to an expression of unconditional love for a child. She just nails it – a simple melody, lyrics the child would understand, and a wonderful absence of self-consciousness. I still can’t listen to it without a tear in my eye – but I love it so much I can’t stop listening to it!

  62. 62
    MikeMCSG on 1 Nov 2010 #

    #58 Rory, be careful of taking that film too seriously. It was wildly exaggerated in parts; the bit where it’s implied that the old bird who dies has spent her whole life in the launderette is paricularly laughable.

  63. 63
    punctum on 1 Nov 2010 #

    #46: Don’t see why supposed “landmark” or “classic” number ones deserve special treatment. Otherwise Popular would just be a dreary by-the-book recital of Things We Already Know. “Rated by whim,” as it says on the top of the tin. Mind-changing on the part of music writers is underrated and underused, though.

    With all the talk of 1966 I’m surprised this hasn’t been cited yet in relation to “NC2U” – and this was never a hit here and not much of a hit in the States either (#11 R&B but only #64 on the Hot 100).

  64. 64
    Rory on 1 Nov 2010 #

    @59 A very good point about Sinead’s influence. She does sound now like the starting point for a lot of ’90s music.

    I’ve been enjoying listening to her non-album tracks in the past few days. The bonus tracks from the 2009 reissue of I Do Not Want make it sound like a worthwhile investment.

    @61 Absolutely — and following it with “Am I a Human” was genius. A very underrated album, that one (I even love “Famine”, Father Ted associations and all). I guess she lost a lot of her audience with Am I Not Your Girl, though. The sales figures across her career are sobering, and show the impact of the monster hit under discussion:

    2,500,000 (The Lion and the Cobra)
    7,000,000 (I Do Not Want…)
    1,500,000 (Am I Not Your Girl)
    1,500,000 (Universal Mother)
    250,000 (Gospel Oak)
    2,000,000 (So Far)
    1,000,000 (Faith and Courage)
    225,000 (Sean-Nos Nua)
    100,000 (She Who Dwells…)
    500,000 (Collaborations)
    250,000 (Throw Down Your Arms)
    375,000 (Theology)

    (From Wikipedia.)

    @62 Even if it’s half-accurate, that’s bad enough. Locking a girl up for being nothing more than a bit of a tearaway or a single mother, whether for 18 months or 18 years, is unconscionable.

    “It was worse in the Magdalenes, much worse than what you see. I don’t like to say it, but the film is soft on the nuns,” says McDonagh, who spent five years in one in Galway after being molested by a neighbour. She was spirited away early one morning by a priest and told she had “brought shame on her family”. McDonagh eventually escaped to England after she was farmed out as a servant to a cousin of one of the “holy nuns”, an expression she still uses without a hint of irony. Every other “Magdalene” I’ve talked to says the same: the reality was more brutal.Guardian.

    I did get a sense of joy from Sean-Nos Nua that was missing from O’Connor’s earlier work (other than the occasional track like “My Darling Child”). I hope it’s carried through the last decade; her first 10-15 years of recordings contain more than enough pain and rage for anyone.

  65. 65
    Alan not logged in on 1 Nov 2010 #

    I have to echo Kogan’s kneejerk response was very much in evidence with me at the time. This had all the hallmarks of ‘Now THIS is serious music kids, GROW UP’, and was immensely approved of by my mum’s generation (which I think aren’t far off Rosie’s cohort).

    I liked it and recall everyone wow-ing the video. but its marvels for me palled from massive overplaying. It remains a high water mark in vocal delivery, but I have studiously (and perhaps over pseudishly) tried to ignore that quality pretty much ever since about that point in time.

    It is of course SERIOUS MUSIC KIDS, and I have grown up, so yes it’s still grate, but I’d swap this 10 for the 9 that Orbison’s It’s Over got.

  66. 66
    rosie on 1 Nov 2010 #

    Marcello @ 63: Agreed here that that track is an absolute belter (in every sense). It’s certainly a staple of my collection and it was a mystery to me then and remains so now that it wasn’t a huge hit. A number of radio pundits including Tony Blackburn certainly had a go at getting it off the ground over a period of several years, but it just didn’t take.

    There’s no accounting for folk sometimes.

    Alan @ 65: I may well be of your mum’s cohort but that doesn’t mean I think exactly like all the rest of them! As you well know…

    The think I will concede to Sinéad is that she’s a terrific actor.

  67. 67
    vinylscot on 1 Nov 2010 #

    Yes Marcello,the Lorraine Ellison track is an absolute belter – I bought one the many re-issues in about 73, when I was 12, and remember I couldn’t get anyone of my own age to sit through it. It has suffered from some terrible cover versions in its time, Bette Midler, David Essex, The Walker Brothers (sorry Scott) and the receptionist out of “Casualty” spring to mind.

  68. 68
    wichita lineman on 1 Nov 2010 #

    Re 66: Well, yes, and again acting isn’t necessarily a bad thing in pop at all. But someone earlier suggested that all performers are “attention seeking” (which is how NC2U strikes me). Stack it alongside the immense sadness and delicate tragedy Unfinished Symphony – that really feels like you’ve walked into someone’s “private armageddon” (Tom’s description of It’s Over). This, with video or not, has a “hear my pain” quality which grates on me. Am I being too English?

    Now, I’m not being contrarian but Stay With Me Baby has never quite done it for me either. Which is nuts, it should tick so many of my boxes. Partly it might be a knee-jerk reaction to being told it’s a “lost classic” on so many occasions since the 70s. But my suspicion is that writer Jerry Ragavoy was consciously setting out to write The Great Soul Record, his own River Deep Mountain High after he already had humdingers like Garnet Mimms’ Cry Baby and Time Is On My Side already on his cv. I think the sweatstains show.

  69. 69
    wichita lineman on 1 Nov 2010 #

    Unfinished Sympathy, that is.

  70. 70
    LondonLee on 1 Nov 2010 #

    #55: “But, to me, the sonic advances of the last 40 years accentuate, rather than diminish, the extraordinary imagination, verve and barrier breaking – within what can now be seen as the severe limitations of the technology of the time – that characterises so many of the earlier #1s.”

    But that’s like saying Picasso would have been a greater artist if he’d had access to a video camera. He would have been a different artist but not necessarily a better one.

    Destination Moon wins for me just because of that lovely rocket. One of the enduring icons of my childhood that is (and now my own daughter loves it and has a toy model that looks just like it)

  71. 71
    pink champale on 1 Nov 2010 #

    @7 apparently the reason for all the cutaways to churchyards etc is that this footage was originally intended to form the bulk of the video and be worked into more of a narrative, with the sinead close-ups being used only occasionally, but of course they then realised that the face footage was video gold. the influence on radiohead suggested up thread certainly extended to the video for ‘no surprises’!

    The last couple of times I’ve seen the fall (probably now a couple of line-ups ago) they’ve opened with a piece of video art that takes a couple of seconds from various “”””iconic””””” pop performances including nc2U and loops them endlessly, gradually morphing one into the other (this is a *really* bad description). I don’t know who it was by, or quite what to make of it, but it was certainly memorable (or just eric pryndz for highbrows, i suppose). anyone else know anything about this?

  72. 72
    Kat but logged out innit on 1 Nov 2010 #

    @71 A few years ago at the Croydon Cartoon they did it with the Elvis Las Vegas footage & Freddie Mercury at Live Aid, both of them jerking back and forth like they couldn’t remember whether they’d left the gas on or not. It was kind of rubbish.

  73. 73
    pink champale on 1 Nov 2010 #

    yeah, that’ll be it. for your kind of rubbish, I’ll give you my kind of alright.

  74. 74
    vinylscot on 1 Nov 2010 #

    The Fall intro piece I saw around 3-4 years ago had a lot of Elvis and the Eurythmics in it, but I never found out what the music was. It was brilliant for about fiveminutes, but went on for around twenty……

  75. 75
    Kat but logged out innit on 1 Nov 2010 #

    Agreed – would have been fine as a short thing but I was quite drunk at the time and I have a short attention span :)

  76. 76
    ciaran 10 on 1 Nov 2010 #

    Oh where to begin with this one.

    First of all just happy to know we have the “bad dream” like end of 1989/early 1990 behind us.I mean 2 songs since may 89 you could class as good.

    What a record to get the ball rolling.

    For the 8 year old me in 1990 this was a real shock to the system.One thing you could always depend on from pop music was the element of enjoyment and fun about the process no matter how good or bad the songs may be and obviously the dance boom of this time was an example of this.

    NC2U was serious from the word go and as a result i wasnt keen on the record or the image but it was hard to get away from it.Was played a lot on the irish tv/radio stations but being so young i didnt know anyone who liked it.Even people slightly older were not big fans of it as far as im aware.

    Listening to it 20 years later i can appreciate its brilliance but more so than any other song the video for this has always left me with a lump in the throat and find it hard to separate it.Then again if it wasnt for the impact of the video it would have been lucky to make the top 20 i reckon.

    Maybe if i had known the torment that went into the song i would have reacted better to it.

    I like it a lot but i couldnt stretch to 10 (high 9 for me) because there are so many better singles that stalled at the 8/9 mark that i enjoy more..The lyrics are great but the tune itself is a bit one paced and doesnt change much so it holds it back from 10 status for me.But its still good to see it get the top mark all the same.

    As regards sinead o connor i have always been an admirer.I dont think Ireland has ever really claimed her as ours as much as u2 or the pogues.SOC has always been more universal than anything we have here even enya maybe.Back in the early 90s after her religious outburst on american tv she would have been more of a figure to avoid mentioning on irish tv mainly due to ireland being under the control of the catholic church.Although by the time she appeared on the late late show stating she would like to have been a priest in 1999 the churchs influence in ireland was on the wane after a series of scandals so it didnt have the same impact as the 1992 controversy.

    Having been brought up by church going parents i was aware of the impact the church had but i was fortunate not to experience the horrors that some children suffered in ireland 10-20 years before me.if one good thing came of sinead o connor it was at least she was willing to have a say when so many others couldnt speak out.

    I listened to the IDNWWIHG album recently and i do think its good.The last day of our acquaintance being a particular highlight.Also i know it went under the radar in the uk but i would highly recommend 2000’s faith and courage album especially the song “jealous” which is a kind of NC2U for the new millenium.Considering there was so much dire songs in the charts it was a relief to have somethink like jealous to fall back on.

    definintly will have a popular like conference next time im in the pub to see peoples reaction to this.i asked a dj to play this over the weekend but he didnt have it.

    Glad thats off my chest.Roll on to the next batch.

  77. 77
    Steve Mannion on 1 Nov 2010 #

    I see this song made a huge leap from 30 to 3 in its second week on the charts. That seems like quite an indication of how arresting the record was for many people. Another chart-topping ballad later in the year makes a slightly smaller but still mighty leap, but that had film soundtrack status.

    Big ballads from relative unknowns had more of a habit of doing this than anything else it seems – I wonder if its because they’re so suited for daytime radio they would get a huge boost once radio controllers saw they were safe enough to focus more on, having already charted on standard airplay and promotional buzz.

    We’ve also get one of the biggest jumps from a first week entry to the top spot between ‘Happy Talk’ (tho nowhere near that record’s ascent from 33 to 1) and the downloads era coming up.

  78. 78
    Lex on 1 Nov 2010 #

    #68 – my first reaction is yes, absolutely, you’re being too English there; “hear my pain” doesn’t strike me as a false way of conveying emotion, but actually a psychologically natural reaction to what the song describes. It’s situated firmly in public – in restaurants, at the doctor’s, in quotidian life, with everyone throwing their two cents in – and it’s a pitch-perfect reflection of that emotional state where everything has to be normal on the surface but you just want to howl and yell in everyone’s faces. Which is what Sinéad does, really – if I had to pick a word to describe what she does, what she’s best at, it’d be defiance – in the face of the oppressive social mores she grew up with, the abuse she suffered, the institution of the Catholic Church, against people who find her insufferable for all the above – and here, she’s defiant in the sense that the song is a demand to let her feel her pain, for her heartbreak to be acknowledged, not glossed over.

    Which isn’t to say I don’t appreciate the equally effective “numbed” vocal approach to conveying pain, but Sinéad’s hear-my-pain strategy seems appropriate here. And I find genuine catharsis a really valuable tradition in music, and it’s even more effective in the public space of the pop charts.

    As for “Unfinished Sympathy” – I don’t know, there’s heartbreak and sadness there for sure, but it’s always struck me as a fundamentally hopeful song – Nelson demands that we hear her pain, but she also sounds like she’s finding redemption somewhere else (in the music, on the dancefloor). “And now I’ve got to know much more” sounds like a new start, not the closing chapter.

  79. 79
    El boludo on 4 Nov 2010 #

    Breaking the net habit of a lifetime and de-lurking for this one – this is where I come in! I would have been about 5 at the time (“Easy Lover” is my stork-tune fwiw) but this is the first song I’m conscious of having heard at the time, although “Back 2 Life” and “Orinoco Flow” both feature heavily in my childhood as tapes my parents would play in the car.

    Haven’t got much interesting to say about NC2U but just wanted to say *something* as the next couple of decades are “my” Popular. It would be a few years before I’d develop into a full-scale pop obsessive, but I’m looking forward to discussing the 90s, especially with those people for whom The Music Died sometime before I was born ;-)

  80. 80
    Rory on 5 Nov 2010 #

    Welcome aboard, El boludo. Looking forward to your comments on the ’90s — my own will be a bit sporadic.

  81. 81
    Erithian on 5 Nov 2010 #

    Seconded – the greater the age range on here the better!

  82. 82
    Andy M on 5 Nov 2010 #

    @74 – His name is Safy Sniper. Vaguely interesting the 1st time you see it, less interesting the 20th. MES puts him on every time now mainly just to wind everybody up before he wanders onstage around midnight.

  83. 83
    pink champale on 8 Nov 2010 #

    thinking firmly within the box, old face-ache himself, aiden grimshaw did a typically funereal version of NC2U on saturday’s x factor, no doubt in direct response to the challenge upthread. i’m starting to find him quite endearing as a person but dear god his performances are a trial.

  84. 84
    Lex on 8 Nov 2010 #

    @83 Weird, that’s exactly my reaction to him! I don’t like his performances, I think he’s a really poor singer under all the panto-emo mannerisms, Cher’s astonishing take on “Stay” really showed up Aiden’s ~intensity~ for the gimmick it is, and taking on a song that’s already as dark as “Nothing Compares 2 U” removed even the “different interpretation” aspect of what he does.

    And yet I’m really warming up to him as a person and couldn’t be further from hating him – I save my antipathy for Wand Erection, Katie and Matt Fucking Cardle, who is the absolute WORST. (Also the judges, all of whom I probably dislike more than any contestant, especially after their RACISM of last night.)

  85. 85
    pink champale on 8 Nov 2010 #

    what, the wtf lenny henry thing, or the sending treyc home (with added no !!DEADLOCK!! conspiracy flavourings) thing? have to say, i think that was the right decision. for all that katie is deeply, deeply annoying, there is something quite interesting about her and i want to watch her performances (‘don’t speak’ was dead dull, admittedly). whereas, even treyc has got a very good voice and seems really nice (plus brumminess gets bonus points from me) but i’ve never been in the slightest bit interested in anything she’s done. basically, she offers competence which is not something i generally attach all that much importance to in pop. (also, if you’re a judge you’re going to be conscious that katie with her wide circle of haterz gets the programme in the papers and treyc doesn’t).

  86. 86
    Lex on 8 Nov 2010 #

    The Lenny Henry thing was just completely bizarre, Louis is genuinely losing the plot. It’s quite worrying. No, the Treyc thing; I admire Treyc’s competence (certainly over Katie’s weak lite-lite-lite-jazz breathiness) and though I don’t think she’s a contender to win, I think she hasn’t been allowed to shine because of really boring song choices (Cheryl is such a useless mentor). She certainly has more potential to deliver a showstopper, and doesn’t have any LESS personality than, say, Alexandra Burke.

    Also, there’s no justification that I can see for sending Treyc home over Katie…Katie SAT DOWN, SAD “SOD IT” AND GAVE UP in her sing-off! If that isn’t an automatic losing move what the hell is?

  87. 87
    swanstep on 8 Nov 2010 #

    Lex, pink champ. In the light of your discussion I checked out the Aidan and Cher clips on youtube… and, eek, Aid’s NC2U was indeed unconvincing, and I agree that Cher’s Stay was near-ideal/optimal. I watched her Just be Good to Me last week and couldn’t really see what the judges were raving about (although her backgrounder stuff made her seem interesting), but with Stay background become foreground and she looked/sounded every inch a pop-star.

  88. 88
    swanstep on 8 Nov 2010 #

    BTW, I’m confused by Cheryl Cole’s accent: she sounds Irish to me, but she’s from Newcastle right? Those two accents are normally completely different, so what am I hearing?

  89. 89
    El boludo on 9 Nov 2010 #

    Haha I knew when I came on here you would be talking about that performance! God, it was dre. Lex @84 I agree with pretty much all of that! Cher FTW! one dimension, curdle and katie are my hates too. Obviously there’s no FAIR justification for choosing Katie over Trayc ~ I tried to imagine the kind of records Katie would put out as a recording artist and it made me want to punch my imagination.

    I don’t think it was racism so much as a combination of cynicism & cowardice ~ basically I agree with PC’s last sentence @85.

    find x factor hard to watch tho as it’s like 5hrs long & kinda boring & yeah, the judges are horrible. but maybe we should save that for a future edition of Popular, years from now when all this has been long forgotten…

  90. 90
    El boludo on 9 Nov 2010 #

    gah dre = dire

    Painstakingly typing all this on a kindle (not recommended but faute de mieux)

  91. 91
    Rory on 9 Nov 2010 #

    Curiosity got the better of me and I filled the gaps in my Sinead O’Connor collection last week. Throw Down Your Arms was the biggest surprise; I’m not much of a reggae fan, but this I enjoyed. Theology is taking a bit longer to get into. But my reason for posting right now is that I just listened to the live version of NC2U on She Who Dwells in the Secret Place of the Most High Shall Abide Under the Shadow of the Almighty, and it’s fantastic: strings rather than synths, and a vocal performance that clearly benefited from 15-odd years of singing it. Well worth tracking down.

    Can’t say the same for the original version of the song by The Family, available on YouTube (don’t read the comments if you’re a fan of O’Connor’s version). Apart from sounding like an early ’80s Prince b-side without Prince, the “oh, woah woah woah” element really brings it down with a thud — it’s a good thing S.O. omitted it. Prince kept it in his own later live versions, though.

  92. 92
    swanstep on 9 Nov 2010 #

    the “oh, woah woah woah” element really brings it down with a thud

    I agree. Getting rid of this is one of Sinead’s key streamlining decisions…. one that opens up all the joy division-y space that she can then fill with her drama!

    Continuing to think over this record and Rosie’s ‘Eh, this stuff was a dime a dozen in the ’60s’ challenge to it, I’ve ended up sort of agreeing with one part of Rosie’s complaint.

    It’s true that by the late ’50s and ’60s that jazz/songbook singing had really matured: lots of songs that had been around for 20 years now received near definitive reading from great singers and orchestras who’d learned from everything before them, etc. (Only very occasionally, e.g., I only have eyes for you, was the original ’30s version definitive – I defended the dick powell original of Only have eyes at length on the art gunfunkel 1976 popular entry a while back!). It’s an amazing/golden age period: not just sinatra and ella in their pomp, but a whole host of people (vaughan, torme, prysock, shirley horn, helen merill, and many others). If you listen to the best records from this group/period, which *often* have ‘doomed love’ themes, then I think it’s fair to say that they’re the equal of Sinead’s record. Put the other way around, Sinead’s NC2U *fits in* with Torme’s Gloomy Sunday, Shirley Horn’s Once I loved, and the like, but it doesn’t dominate those earlier records. Nothing could: they’re flippin’ masterpieces after all.

    But all this perspective finally just serves to clarify for me Sinead’s amazing achievement. On the one hand, she lifts NC2U into the timeless songbook (see jimmy scott’s version from 1992, which is on youtube). Her clarifications of the underlying song and her interpretation of the lyric made NC2U a standard. (Prince wasn’t especially gracious about this at the time [and as I recall Sinead gave as good as she got, bad-mouthing him back, suggesting he needed a hit, the royalties etc.], but realistically he should be very grateful to her by now.)

    On the other hand, the super-duper sophisticated song-book stuff from the late ’50s and ’60s mostly didn’t get anywhere near the top of the charts. E.g., ella fitz. had a bunch of US #1s but only in the ’30s and ’40s, most/all of which are pretty lightweight, certainly compared to what she’d do later. Sinead then did something really remarkable: she did to prince’s song what the great songbook/jazz singers mostly did to ’30s and ’40s pop tunes only after 20 years or so, and she made it a massive #1 record all over the world. That’s what makes it one of the great #1s (just as Nina Simone getting Just in time to #1 in 1968 would have been). It’s kind of a miracle if and when something really great connects broadly and quickly enough with lots and lots of people: the stuff that was, it’s true, all over the place in the late ’50s and ’60s and that was as good as Sinead’s NC2U didn’t manage it or, for the most part, even come close.

  93. 93
    Paulito on 10 Nov 2010 #

    @78 – I hate to piss on your ‘Saint Sinead’ bubble, but people don’t find SOC insufferable because of her “defiance”. They find her so because of her strong tendency towards exaggeration and self-mythologising (her admirers generally choose to hear only her side of her numerous stories); her shrill sermonising; and her many ludicrous publicity stunts (“I’m a lesbian/nun/Rasta/whatever you’re having yourself”). Ever pompous and didactic, she uses her ‘victimhood’ as a stick of righteousness to beat others with (“I was abused, therefore I’m right about EVERYTHING”). In short, she’s rather a pain in the arse.

    I know I said people ought to stick to discussing her music, but if you can’t lick ’em…

  94. 94
    punctum on 10 Nov 2010 #

    Or to put it in other words: “shut up, uppity woman, and know your place.”

    Right, P?

  95. 95
    wichita lineman on 10 Nov 2010 #

    Not really. Shrill is subjective but didactic isn’t. Humourless was mentioned above. There is a reason she gets on people’s nerves that has nothing to do with a mistrust of strong women. If a bloke went on tv and tore up a picture of the pope I’d equally think “that’s really helping the discourse, isn’t it.”

  96. 96
    punctum on 10 Nov 2010 #

    It’s remarkable how with rock critics Lennon, Jagger, Elvis, Lydon etc. all get a free pass and/or cheers for their character/rebellious nature and get away with some hideous bullshit but when a woman dares to stand up and say something she’s “humourless, “didactic” and “pompous.”

    Or when male rock stars are called out on misogyny there’s always detailed reasoning and analysis but when a woman says something the “mansplainers” just crowd round her, sneer and denounce.

    Either way, this is “mansplaining.”

  97. 97
    wichita lineman on 10 Nov 2010 #

    Of course you have a point, but equally I’m sure you don’t really think that I’d use words like humourless and didactic (pompous wasn’t mine) every time “a woman dares to stand up and say something”. There are plenty of humourless and didactic male pop stars, with far more suspect agendas, who I react to much more strongly than I do to Sinead O’Connor.

  98. 98
    lex on 10 Nov 2010 #

    I found O’Connor’s gesture in ripping up a picture of the Pope inspiring, liberating and deeply helpful to me in the context of freeing myself from a religious upbringing. And it seemed brave and deeply felt, not (just!) a superficial attention-seeking move.

  99. 99
    lex on 10 Nov 2010 #

    Also lest we forget, despite being dismissed as a madwoman at the time, she was actually RIGHT about that.

  100. 100
    wichita lineman on 10 Nov 2010 #

    That always feels to me, personally, like a war that was won a while back because of my (barely) religious upbringing and that of my peers, compared to our parents and grandparents. Hats off to Sinead if it was liberating for you or anyone else, Lex. I don’t doubt for a moment that it was heartfelt but it seemed as crass as Hugo Chavez always mentioning the devil and George Bush in the same breath. Even with the catholic church and Bush’s records, I think you need a little more delicacy to make a bigger impact.

  101. 101
    Tom on 10 Nov 2010 #

    It would be lovely if the Randy Newman approach worked more often but I think pop stars wanting to make a statement have a tiny window of opportunity to do it and taking the most direct route is useful in terms of starting a conversation. Which Sinead did – at the very least people were asking “Why is she tearing up a picture of the Pope?”, and even if a lot of people answered “She’s a madwoman”, a lot of people didn’t.

    (Comparable recent example: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Stark, reductive, sensationalist, “not his place” to say it, but apparently even GWB admits in his memoirs it’s a defining moment of his presidency.)

    At the time the UK press didn’t backlash against SOC for the Pope thing, though of course it cost her her international stardom. But the times were more friendly to anger and gesture in pop than they were in the 80s or 00s. I remember Select bracketing it with Cathal Coughlan pretending to shove a statue of the Virgin Mary up his arse in front of an arena full of Italian U2 fans, next to which “Fight the real enemy” looks like delicacy incarnate.

  102. 102
    Tom on 10 Nov 2010 #

    BTW while I’m on Punctum and Lex’s side in this one, isn’t “mansplaining” when men patronisingly explain back to a woman what she’s already said or demonstrated she knows (which they ignored because she’s a woman)?

    I think I may be mansplaining “mansplaining” TO A MAN here.

  103. 103
    wichita lineman on 10 Nov 2010 #

    Fair point, Tom. Lest we forget Lee Ryan’s 9/11 window of opportunity: “This New York thing is being blown out of proportion. What about whales? They are ignoring animals that are more important. Animals need saving and that’s more important”.

    Pop stars, bloody hell.

  104. 104
    punctum on 10 Nov 2010 #

    As I understand it, mansplaining involves patronisingly explaining to a woman, not just what she already knows, but also why she is wrong and “he” is right. The irony is that when it comes to prominent female musicians, damnations are often unexplained or shrugged off for kneejerk/unfounded reasons, but basically it represents an extended pat on the head: “very good, little girl, now go away and play,” thus maintaining the patriarchy’s predominance.

  105. 105
    Rory on 10 Nov 2010 #

    I see blokes on TV tearing into the Pope all the time — Mock the Week, Have I Got News for You — figuratively, if not literally.

    If O’Connor’s tearing up of that picture didn’t help the discourse, it was because most people read it as “she’s disrespecting a lovely man” rather than “she’s trying to draw attention to serious problems with the Catholic Church in Ireland”. But from her point of view this wasn’t a lovely man, this was the leader of a broken institution, and the best way to draw attention to that was to do something dramatic and memorable. If she’d launched into an on-air rant about the church it would have been quickly forgotten; tearing up that picture wasn’t.

    No matter how admirable John Paul II was in other ways, there’s no denying that the Catholic church in Ireland was keeping a lid on some disturbing stuff in the early 1990s. O’Connor’s action was before the stories of abuse in Magdalene laundries and schools for the poor came into the open; in that context, there was no discourse for her to help. She was trying to start one, and that takes more than just a polite “excuse me”. She recently said, “I was perfectly willing to deal with the consequences, the main one of which was people saying I’m a nutcase, which I agree with anyway.”

    Nobody really wanted to listen to her in October 1992; it took the discovery of unmarked graves in a former convent to start the discourse properly the following year. But at least she tried. And we know now that the cause was worth the attempt.

    @93: If showing an interest in Rastafarianism and reggae is a “publicity stunt”, there goes a lot of 1970s/80s punk and pop music (and if she did it for publicity in the 2000s, she sure missed the boat). If being a lesbian or bisexual is a publicity stunt, how come the general public hasn’t heard of 99% of them? If being unusually interested in the Catholic church is a publicity stunt, how come half the people of Ireland aren’t world-famous?

    In fact, if she’s been doing any more publicity stunts since that single very famous one in 1992, they’ve been pretty rubbish, because I haven’t heard of them. Talking about what you’ve been up to lately in an interview doesn’t count. If someone asks O’Connor onto their Irish talk show in 1995, 2005, 2010, because it’s a small country and there’s a limited number of local celebrities to go around, and asks her what’s on her mind, and she tells them, and the word goes out in a 100-word Reuters story to be picked up by celebrity-watchers in other countries and read with indifference by most, how is that a publicity stunt?

    [Yikes, the thread was only at 96 comments when I started writing this.]

  106. 106
    Paulito on 11 Nov 2010 #

    @98, 101, 105 – where did I mention her ripping up the Pope’s picture? I was specifically referring to a range of daft proclamations which, whatever your take on Popepicturegate, highlighted nothing other than Sinead’s addiction to notoriety. Rory, I doubt very much if “the general public hasn’t heard of 99% of” these episodes, which occurred in fairly quick succession in the late 90s/early 00s IIRC. However, it’s true that they probably garnered more attention here in Ireland than in the UK, where most people had long lost interest in her…which in turn may have been one of the reasons she resorted to such desperate shenanigans. Another one that I forgot to mention was her public announcement (on Ireland’s most widely-watched TV chat show) that Shane McGowan was a heroin addict and that she was trying to save his life.

    @96 – Sad to see you playing the misogyny card in order to deflect valid criticism of SOC’s behaviour. An old and unworthy trick, that.

  107. 107
    Lex on 11 Nov 2010 #

    That always feels to me, personally, like a war that was won a while back because of my (barely) religious upbringing and that of my peers, compared to our parents and grandparents

    I’m sure many liberals, even in the USA, would feel the same way for much the same reasons 20 years on. And so Sarah Palin and the Tea Party rampage across the heartlands, doing immeasurable harm to women and gays (and more besides) with their rhetoric and the actions it inspires, because “the war’s already won” in our cosy secular liberal bubbles. And racism obviously doesn’t exist because me and my peers all agree it’s a bad thing. Fucking liberals!

    Call them hysterical or simplistic women if you must, but growing up seeing artists like Sinéad O’Connor and Tori Amos and Madonna rage against organised religion was absolutely crucial to someone like me growing up with an upbringing like that. And it’s actually quite perturbing that there is barely any public figure – pop star or not – who’s willing to take that sort of stance on religion these days – everyone’s so mealy-mouthed and scared of offending the Christians. Which is exactly what Sinéad et al helped me grow out of as a teenager. Seriously, who the fuck is taking on the Church beyond that low-level, chronic scepticism among UK chatterati which has zero cultural effect due to being aimed at everyone and everything?

  108. 108
    Rory on 11 Nov 2010 #

    @106: I doubt very much if “the general public hasn’t heard of 99% of” these episodes

    I actually meant 99% of lesbians and bisexuals. How come the general public hasn’t heard of 99% of lesbians and bisexuals (as specific individuals), if being lesbian/bisexual is a publicity stunt? Pretty ineffective publicity stunt, in other words.

  109. 109
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 11 Nov 2010 #

    It seems a bit of a weird category error criticising popstars for publicity stunts: it’s their job explore the art and deployment of the PS; to see what you can do with it

    James Brown: “I’m a sex machine!”
    Paulito: “He only wants us to notice him, you know”

    Of course he does. Pop is to chronic attention-seekers what surgery is to folks who enjoy cutting people’s chests open: a valuable social harnessing of a pathology

  110. 110
    Erithian on 11 Nov 2010 #

    And somehow we seem to have come back via a circular route to X Factor Katie…

  111. 111
    punctum on 11 Nov 2010 #

    #106: No, your post wasn’t “valid criticism,” it was a string of unfounded assertions.

    If you care to recast those assertions as evidentially-based facts then your objections could be seriously considered.

  112. 112
    wichita lineman on 11 Nov 2010 #

    Re 107: Until humanism is granted charitable status, like proper religions with ghosts and headscarves, then the war isn’t totally won. When you marry in a registary office you still have to bring God into your vows, whatever you think. I’m anti-religion full stop. I’m a humanist. I was trying not to cause offense, Lex, but don’t call me a fucking liberal! I think most people in the UK – not just the middle classes, or middle class socialists (which is what I am, ta) – are, in 2010, suspicious of religion. Which is why Tony Blair using God to defend his decision making on the the Iraq war was basically the end of his political career. This is a good thing, and this is why pop stars in the UK aren’t “taking on the church”. How many churches in your neck of the woods have been turned into flats? “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness”, so in our cosy secular English bubble I think we’re getting somewhere.

  113. 113
    punctum on 11 Nov 2010 #

    I’m very much pro-religion because without it you wouldn’t have any art of any kind, especially music. Where do you think the “soul” in soul music comes from? Also it brings in the process of worship without which pop music really is pretty pointless – where would pop be, after all, without its idols?

    I don’t let it dictate my life but neither would I wish it not to be there, for reasons which are outside the scope of this blog.

  114. 114
    DietMondrian on 11 Nov 2010 #

    I don’t hear much religion in the greatest body of art in human history, which is, of course, the music of Kraftwerk.

  115. 115
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 11 Nov 2010 #

    Neon lights
    Shimmering neon lights
    And at the fall of night
    This city’s made of light

  116. 116
    Chelovek na lune on 11 Nov 2010 #

    If we have to draw parallels between the heroine of “The Model” and the Virgin Mary….it is all too surreal for words. Or presenting “Trans-Europ Express” as a latter-day pilgrimage… Hmm. Maybe one could pull that off. Or not. I’m insufficiently familiar with the ouevre to try it.

    The one thing that SO’C did that I do think can legitimately be described as a “silly publicity stunt” was when she claimed that she had “been ordained as a Roman Catholic priest”, which is patently not, and could not be, the case.

    Pop stars who “take on the church” frequently succeed in only looking stupid (SO’C’s pope-picture ripping is a rare exception to this, because of the exact context and her intentions and reasons: that guy from Westlife who made a crap record claiming to have been screwed up by the Christian Brothers is more typical); it’s something to do with the distinction between the sacred and the profane, and the weight of words that one attaches to a Pope, as compared with those of a pop star. There are of course pop stars who think they are popes (Bob Geldof and Bono obviously spring immeidately to mind), but they should be avoided at all costs.

    Anyway, vulgar anti-religionism was tried (and thankfully failed) in the Soviet Union. I daresay the likes of Stephen Fry (or the late Clare Rayner) would have liked to revive it, on the basis of some of their most recent pronouncements . Although frankly English society (and I do mean specifically English, as opposed to other parts of the UK) is so secularized that that sort of fanaticism really doesn’t have much mass support. The people attacking the pope (often on spurious or dishonest grounds, and in almost all cases in abject unfamiliarity with the matter at hand) during his recent visit looked like the unpleasant extremist fanatics that they were.

    Although, I grant that almost all “Christian rock music” (an oxymoronic term IMHO) is worse still. And I think the reason for that is basically that the expression of eternal truths (quite regardless of whether *you* perceive them to be truth or not – but in anycase something that warrants reverance) and a transient form of casual youth-orientated, historically-detached, entertainment don’t really mix.

    More or less.

  117. 117
    Steve Mannion on 11 Nov 2010 #

    The last time I saw SOC on TV was her appearance on ‘Bang Bang! It’s Reeves & Mortimer’, hair grown long, being baffled and bemused to the point where I couldn’t tell if she was just playing along or genuinely didn’t know if the show was over as V&B abandoned her on the set (as they did with each guest during the Stott brothers skits).

  118. 118
    DietMondrian on 11 Nov 2010 #

    I applaud Sinead for saying what she thought of the Catholic church but, as an atheist for as long as I can recall, brought up in the mildest of C of E environments, I could only relate to it intellectually, not viscerally. If that makes any sense.

    She might as well have been having a go at Findus Crispy Pancakes. Well, if you hate them that much good on you for saying so, but it says nothing to me about my life*.

    * Sorry.

  119. 119
    pink champale on 11 Nov 2010 #

    #113 you’ve obviously never seen ‘footloose’

    #116 there’s about a million things in this post that make me cross, but this probably isn’t the place to go into default secularist ranter mode.

    good on sinead for getting a bun fight going!

  120. 120
    punctum on 11 Nov 2010 #

    #119: I am really John Lithgow but don’t tell anyone.

  121. 121
    Tom on 11 Nov 2010 #

    Pop is good at the numinous, not so good at the religious. Is my one-sentence summary of a more than usually complex subject.

    I am a lifelong atheist, but on the topic of Christian Rock I feel my believing brothers’ pain, since no song I can recall about the NON-existence of God has ever been any good either.

  122. 122
    Paulito on 11 Nov 2010 #

    @111: And now, I see, you’re playing the “facts” card…good grief. Do I really need to point out that this whole debate – like virtually all others on this forum – revolves around opinions? I’ve contextualised my view of SOC with some specific examples of her behaviour, and I don’t believe I’m obliged to do more than that. Your own opinion appears to be that Sinead can do no wrong, and you’re entitled to it. Of course, if you have some “facts” to back this up, I’d be delighted to hear them.

    @121: “Dear God” by XTC is pretty good, even if it teeters on the brink of cliché at times.

  123. 123
    Steve Mannion on 11 Nov 2010 #

    I’m sure we touched on good pro-God songs on another Popular thread where I invoked ‘Stand On The Word’, Roy Davis Jr’s ‘Gabriel’, Todd Edwards and other Holy House staples. That said the lyrics and sentiments expressed are by no means what makes those records particularly great, but I find disco context does (or did) tend to make the message more palatable.

    I don’t suppose criticism of religion and feelgood dancing times go together at all – but any examples?

  124. 124
    Mark M on 11 Nov 2010 #

    Re 108: I think you’re (deliberately?) missing the point here – a celebrity doing something supposedly surprising is showbiz news, which sadly these days means all news. So obviously nobody is famous for being gay or a Buddhist or whatever, but the public announcement by someone notorious of a change in status is likely to generate a mild amount of attention. So for instance, today it’s possible to read all about how Kim Kardashian has broken her toe and Demi Lovato has checked into a clinic. And it’s certainly a tactic of the chronically publicity-seeking to keep a stream of such stories in the news. I suspect many of Sinead’s rubbish moves were sincere, but there were so many that the effect – to non-fans – was not dissimilar to following the collective deeds and public words of the Baldwin brothers.

  125. 125
    wichita lineman on 11 Nov 2010 #

    Re 121: Blasphemous Rumours isn’t so bad. As for anti-religious art – off the top of my head, the Lettriste Easter Mass in 1950 was a pretty splendid anti-Catholic art happening. And of course there can be good Christian ‘rock’ artists – Judee Sill, for one – just not a huge number, and mostly of the loner folk variety.

    Re 113: Secular icons work for me – Anita Loos, Del Shannon, Brian Clough, Tristan Tzara, Stan Laurel, Barbara Hepworth et cet. No religion = no art doesn’t hold up. I think religion will, eventually, naturally die, but art won’t. And obv I don’t dislike anyone just for having religious beliefs, same as I wouldn’t automatically dislike anyone who supports Chelsea.

  126. 126
    Billy Smart on 11 Nov 2010 #

    ‘Reality Asylum’ by Crass is a devastating atheist pop artwork, a scary full-scale deconstruction of Christianity as an instrument of oppression and repression.

    Kraftwerk’s music clearly has a religious connotation, in being preoccupied with attaining a state of humility in the presence of the divine. Okay, the divine is manmade in this case, but a religious person would consider human endeavour as in part being the work of god.

    The thing that annoys me of blanket anti-religious sentiment is that it reduces religion to the institutions of the church and presumes that all religious worship takes the form of evangelical, literalist, faith.

  127. 127
    punctum on 11 Nov 2010 #


    P, everywhere else things perhaps “revolve around opinions.”

    In my little tugboat of resistance, however, self-awareness is what I’m trying to draw out whenever someone starts an argument and I’m not sure you have much of it.

    Why, for instance, do you continually return to the “playing cards” analogy rather than providing an evidential basis for why Sinead might be wrong to have said and done all of these things other than the clear fact that you don’t like her?

    Furthermore, what’s the real reason you don’t like her?

    It’s important, so please try to be truthful, above all to yourself.

  128. 128
    Chelovek na lune on 11 Nov 2010 #

    @119 Much appreciated. I wasn’t trying to start a fight. Still, the tone of debate here is generally most civil, so feel free to disagree as overtly as you wish.

    @121 That’s not a bad distinction to make at all, and one that I think I agree with.

    @125 Is “Blasphemous Rumours” really an anti-religious/anti-God/anti-Christian song? I’m never really read it as such, not least as the notion of blasphemy, albeit perhaps not to quite the same extent as the notion of heresy, only really makes sense within the context of an explicitly religious belief system. Plus, the point is surely that he DOESN’T want to start any blasphemous rumours…. I suppose the point is (as many greater theologians have put it) that faith does not exclude the kind of doubts that are expressed in that song. Best ever pop song about theodicy, bar none, I think; and beautifully complimented by its wonderfully warm double-A side “Somebody”. And I think some later DM (most obviously several of the tracks on “Songs of Faith and Devotion”, and even more obviously “Personal Jesus”) actually has quite a deeply (if in many cases implicit) underlying Christian aspect or tone to it.

    I suppose in the realm of literature, something like Huysman’s “Against Nature” (or however you prefer to refer to “A rebours”) is not a bad bit of anti-religious art. But its references are so strongly and explictly modelled on an inversion of (and not simply a rejection of) Catholicism that…well, it’s hardly surprising that the author returned to the church.

    Certainly good quality art (of whatever kind) can exist that doesn’t seek to deal with matters of “eternity” or “religious truth” (I wish English had, like Russian ,two differnet words to distinguish between different varieties of “truth”, istina and pravda) or so on. I mean, the Beats International track just next to this one is evidence of that for starters…

  129. 129
    wichita lineman on 11 Nov 2010 #

    Re 128: Interesting point. I had to look up ‘theodicy’. On a basic level, I always thought the chorus (“I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours, but…”) was a play on “I’m not a racist, but…” rather than someone genuinely not wanting to upset the applecart. Certainly my Christian colleague in Our Price Epsom wasn’t too impressed when it came out in late ’84, nor with Upside Down by the Jesus & Mary Chain.

    Re 126: Crass! I’m in the dark! But always thought the artwork was v intriguing! Could really do with some guidance, Billy, if you’ve got the time. And as a fan, I’m also intrigued to know what you make of their catalogue being available for a price on itunes, but not free on spotify.

  130. 130
    Rory on 11 Nov 2010 #

    @124: I’m questioning/challenging the notion that simply discussing one’s sexuality (or religion, or musical interests) in public constitutes a “publicity stunt”. The 99% of us who aren’t celebrities get to discuss our private lives and interests with others, if we wish, without everyone accusing us of publicity seeking. (Some might, I suppose — cf. the “narcissism” critiques of blogging.)

    What I’m trying to say is that there’s a difference between revealing things about yourself in an interview because you were asked and shouting that same information from the rooftops in the hope that someone will notice you. Maybe Sinead O’Connor did undertake a campaign of in-your-face lesbian Rasta-loving publicity stunts, taking out full page newspaper ads and gatecrashing the Taoiseach’s news conferences with a Bob Marley boombox and wearing an L-Word t-shirt; if so, I didn’t hear about it. But if the information just came out in interviews, it’s pretty tenuous to call it a publicity stunt.

    I’m not saying she’s a saint; I own a bunch of her CDs, but I don’t read books about her or follow her every word, so I don’t know enough to say. But I’m disturbed by the idea that someone becoming known for their lesbianism or Rastafarianism or religiosity is therefore a publicity hound. They might independently be a publicity hound, but that requires further evidence.

    What are these “desperate shenanigans” and “rubbish moves” of O’Connor’s, anyway? If she does have a genuine history of publicity stunts, beyond that famous one of 1992, I’d like to know about them. @106, you mention her “public announcement (on Ireland’s most widely-watched TV chat show)” — okay, that might constitute one, but I’d want to know more about the context; “public announcement” sounds like she stood up and used a megaphone or something, which obviously can’t have happened…

    Okay, I’ve done a bit of Googling now and read a bit about her intervention for Shane McGowan when he was at his lowest, which sounds like it was done out of friendship rather than for the publicity, but maybe it played differently in the Irish press. I’ve also read about the fuss she caused in Ireland by being ordained as a priest in a breakaway church in 1999 (not the Catholic Church itself): yeah, okay, a bit stunt-y, but also the kind of thing religious non-celebs do without any fuss. So are we saying that celebrities should be held to a different standard? That they have to lead even more boring lives than ordinary people (while still making fabulous music and movies), or else they’re terrible publicity hounds? Or they have to embrace the label and go totally over the top? No middle ground? Because her ground sounds pretty middling to me, compared to some.

  131. 131
    Lex on 11 Nov 2010 #

    @112 but none of the artists I cited are from the UK – you may be right about it (though I think we should be careful to just assume that British people are that deeply sceptical to religion or, more pertinently, its effects), but this is a wider issue than just this country really.

    @124 why should “non-fans” get to have the last word on Sinéad? Every canonised artist or act has had their history written by people who are fundamentally fans, so I don’t see why seeing her actions and behaviours through the prism of people who neither know nor care very much about her is all that worthwhile.

    When I say “anti-religion” it’s certainly not an opposition to the spiritual or the numinous or even personal faith – it’s more about the structures of organised religion which are still, even in the oh-so-secular UK, pretty strong.

  132. 132
    wichita lineman on 11 Nov 2010 #

    Lex, I said English rather than British, for obvious reasons, and “suspicious” rather than “deeply sceptical”. I’m not sure about how American liberals feel, but I’m pretty sure it’s not that “the war’s already won” in such a clearly religious country. But I don’t live there so I don’t feel qualified to talk about the American perspective. I was deliberately limiting my comment to my own our middle class Surrey upbringing and my experience of living in England for 45 years.

    Otherwise, I’d like to think we’re basically singing from the same anti-religious hymn sheet.

  133. 133
    Chelovek na lune on 11 Nov 2010 #

    @129 Yes, I suppose it does (intentionally) leave itself open to multiple interpretations, like a lot of DM songs. I really don’t know what the author’s exact intentions or motivations were.

    The (very very great) Lilac Time (and Stephen Duffy as a solo artist) seem have fairly consistently walked a careful line in countless songs (counting the Christian, and explicitly Catholic references or allusions in their songs would be like counting those to masturbation in early and mid-period Billy Bragg songs; it would take forever and a day) between expressing the personal value of religious faith (“you’re not shallow, you’re not Godless” being one line that immediately jumps out), while being critical of “organized religion” and (at least some of) its adherents (“Why is it that the wicked seem to exist on eucharist and song?”). Having been there, and done that, and thought that, i don’t think this tension is really sustainable or coherent- but they do express it well, and also in a fairly understated, unobtrusive way.

    Still, with all this talk of numinosity, I wonder if we are all just procrastinating, in desperate anticipation of the opportunity to discuss the Cult of S**P…

    (EDIT….which I see has now just arrived)

  134. 134
    Billy Smart on 11 Nov 2010 #

    Re: 129. I’m afraid that I’m only familiar with a couple of Crass songs – I know ‘Reality Asylum’ from the Rough Trade Shop 30th Anniversary compilation. I’m sure that Punctum knows the full canon, though…

  135. 135
    swanstep on 12 Nov 2010 #

    oh-so-secular UK
    It’s intriguing though isn’t it – very few people go to church in the UK compared to the US etc. but the UK has a state church, has seats in the upper house set aside for religious figures, has massive amounts of education and health services delivered by faith-based entities,… The standard American perspective on all this is complete horror: on the one hand the UK state is massively infected by one church, and on the other hand this allows that church and religion more generally to become a corrupted, centralized, spiritual welfare state rather than an individual, private and local community responsibility. That is, separation of church and state is supposed on the official US model to be good for the state but also very good for churches/religion. From this perspective too the ultra-secularization of much of Western Europe is in part a consequence of failure to keep church and state separate: ultra-secularization is a kind of spiritual poverty trap created by the spiritual welfare state! Or something.

    That said, there’s a whole side of the US (Palin is a contemporary representative) born out of pre-Enlightenment puritanism that thinks that the radical Enlightenment ideas on which the country was actually founded at the end of the 18th C (and then refined at the end of the 19th C) are big mistakes, it’s famously hard for the non-religious to get elected to anything in the US, the Pres. during NC2U’s reign famously opined that atheists weren’t really citizens, and so on. So the US is much more conflicted over this stuff in fact than it’s officially supposed to be. Quite a mess.

  136. 136
    weej on 12 Nov 2010 #

    I was going to weigh in here with a list of good god-themed songs, atheist and christian, but just realised I actually made a mix of them a couple of years ago, which can be found here if anyone’s interested.
    Living in a country (China) where every song is an insipid love ballad, whatever the genre or style makes me long for non-romantic themes, and I don’t see why religion shouldn’t be one of them.

  137. 137
    swanstep on 12 Nov 2010 #

    @weej. Am downloading your podcast now – thanks – your playlist looks fascinating. May as well chip in with a few suggestions of my own. Atheist country songs are pretty rare, but Robbie Fulks gives it a good try. Much more common, of course, are things like Loretta, Alison, Alison, and pretty much every Johnny Cash and Carter Family record.

    Hmm…That Judee Sill track is great – she’s new to me. Thanks again.

  138. 138
    Dave the Hungarian on 12 Nov 2010 #

    #135 – that Bush Senior story is pretty alarming. Re his son, somebody once reacted to him saying he’d been guided by God in his invasion of Iraq by saying, “in this country people who hear voices in their head telling them to kill people end up in Broadmoor, in the States they end up in the White House!”

    God-themed songs – surprised nobody has mentioned Van Morrison yet. Certainly songs such as “Full Force Gale” are more likely than most to get me thinking “I’d like to be in that mindset”.

  139. 139
    pink champale on 12 Nov 2010 #

    #135 yes, those are some very good points. the UK isn’t secular at all – looked at in a certain light it’s not far from a theocracy! As you say, what the UK is, what england is at any rate, is a country with an unusually unreligious population, probably second only to scandinavian countries . depending which survey you believe, something around or over fifty percent of the population don’t believe in a god at all, and as far as i can tell, most of those that do believe do so not much more fervently than they believe in horoscopes (sensibly, of course, for there is about the same amount of evidence for the claims of both). there’s a lovely bit in the jeremy paxman book on the English where he simply cannot get a CofE bishop to state that it is neccessary for a person to believe in god in order to be a member of the church! certainly, my parents would have defined themselves as christians and no doubt had a vague belief in god but never went to church, never had a bible in the house, never prayed or encouraged their children to and, if they every referred to somebody as being “religious” there was no doubt at all that the term was used with disapproval. the idea that this is *because* the UK isn’t secular had never really occurred to me before. there may be something in it but the same cause and effect hardly seems to apply in ireland, or iran – i’d always thought it was more a happy accidental legacy of henry VIII’s marital difficulties.

  140. 140

    albion’s xtiniaty is a skindeep veneer of uneasy politesse over a deeply pagan reality: very much not secular but no other people’s idea of xtian either

  141. 141
    wichita lineman on 12 Nov 2010 #

    Does ‘secular’ preclude ‘witchy’? That’s a serious question. I was happy to get out a bunch of different coloured candles on oct 31 to usher in the winter and remember friends departed.

  142. 142
    Mark M on 13 Nov 2010 #

    Re 135/138: It certainly seems like the militant atheism of Marxist-Leninist states (and the furious anticlericism of the Mexican Revolution) either produced or failed to extinguish fervent religion while the dozy established church in this country oversees a totally uninterested population, Franco’s church-dominated Spain became a country where gay marriage is legal and even Iran has a considerable minority either in open conflict with the theocratic state or quietly ignoring its teachings in private. Which is to say that while I’m opposed by nature to the established church, I’m not sure that getting rid of it would actually make England a less religious place.

  143. 143
    Mark M on 13 Nov 2010 #

    It’s a sign of the weakness of the CofE that vicars have traditionally resorted to expanding their congregations by blackmail re: weddings (before the wedding venue law change of 1994) and schools.

  144. 144
    Mark M on 13 Nov 2010 #

    Re 131: Surely one of the great things about Popular is non-fans having a proper listen to and think about songs they have either never heard, not listened to in years or never gave a close listen to. And you never seem shy about offering an opinion on stuff you don’t like…

  145. 145
    lonepilgrim on 13 Nov 2010 #

    re 142 Weddings were hardly an effective tool for expanding congregations as (I believe) C of E Vicars were/are bound to allow weddings of anyone living in their Parish; Banns are read 3 weeks running -Wedding – Bosh, you’re done.
    As for schools, the drive to expand congregations has come from not from ambitious Clerics but from non-religious parents who believe (rightly or wrongly) that their child will do better at a Church aided school and that their attendance at Church will allow them to jump ahead in the queue for places.

    I tried to resist joining in this debate but ‘just when i thought i was out they pull me back in’; as my name suggests I have a relationship with faith. I have some sympathy with Dennis Potter when he said: “I’ve always thought that religion is the wound, not the bandage.”

    re 139 I’m not sure that the veneer metaphor is entirely appropriate – I’d suggest something more like an emulsion: with differing ‘quantities’ of beliefs binding and separating according to circumstances

  146. 146
    Mark M on 13 Nov 2010 #

    Re 144: Weddings indeed not an effective tool, but a short-term boost to pretty country churches with declining populations. The ‘living in the parish’ bit is the key – nobody I knew who got married in a church had the ceremony within two hundred miles of Manchester/Balham/Vauxhall where they actually lived, so couples had to shuffle down from city for a series of weekends to reestablish their connection with the church their grandparents went to etc, and are volunteered to help run the summer fete…

  147. 147
    Mark M on 13 Nov 2010 #

    Also re: 142 I meant the word ‘blackmail’ as a bit of humorous exaggeration, not always the best idea in internet discussions. I’d like to retract it. And on some level, I can understand why vicars would be unwilling to let people get something for nothing out of the church, but that just brings us back to the ambiguous nature of a state religion.

  148. 148
    swanstep on 13 Nov 2010 #

    I have a comment ‘awaiting moderation’ above… but the gist of it is just to thank weej,#136 for the link above to his podcast blog ‘Last Night a dj killed my dog’. I’ve listened to four podcasts so far and each has been *fantastic*. I highly recommend them to all Popular regulars.

    In the light of the Sinead bunfight that’s broken out here, any chance of a Sinead+John Paul 2 graphic to replace Kylie+Jive Bunny?

  149. 149

    sorted, swanstep: i believe if you log in, links are less likely to tip you into the spam filter

  150. 150

    — “i believe” is not meant to sound snarky, i’m just not certain what i’m saying is true

  151. 151
    weej on 14 Nov 2010 #

    Thanks, Swanstep. The work:feedback ratio on those has been very low indeed and I need to start making them regularly again.

  152. 152
    Billy Smart on 14 Nov 2010 #

    Re: 148. Actually, now that the age of Kylie & Jive Bunny has passed, Tom has a real problem in replacing the Popular masthead between 1990 and 1993, when Take That start having a string of chart-toppers. Over those three and a half years only two acts had more than one number one, one of whom we’ve already got up to. The other one had three number ones between 1991 and 1993, and are more usually thought of as a 1970s/80s band…

  153. 153

    Best not to have a chart-topper at all! Perhaps a stern and disappointed Q-affirmed AVATAR of DADROCK gazing down on all the silly shenanigans. Or Stephen Malkmus, looking pained.

  154. 154
    Chris on 14 Nov 2010 #

    Agree that Sinead is a wonderful interpreter of words and has a haunting voice. Her vocals on Blood of Eden by Peter Gabriel is a great example. She’s beyond kooky but I think its a shame that she slipped off the sanity boat as she had more to give.

  155. 155
    punctum on 15 Nov 2010 #

    So you believe that speaking one’s mind makes a woman “beyond kooky” and “off the sanity boat,” do you?

  156. 156
    rosie on 15 Nov 2010 #

    @155: Speaking as a woman, Marcello, I beg to dissent from your no-doubt well-intentioned defence of my sex. Of course any woman has the right to speak her mind, but the quality of the output is variable to say the least. Melanie Philips is a woman who speaks her mind, and I enjoy reading her Daily Mail column for laughs (online obviously, I wouldn’t pay good money for such a rag) but I would have no compunction about describing her as “beyond kooky” and “off the sanity boat”.

    And I agree, that is the direction Sinéad O’Connor increasingly leaned the more she found herself in the limelight.

  157. 157
    Rory on 15 Nov 2010 #

    I would just question that she hasn’t given us more, or as much as she otherwise might have, since NC2U hit the top. She’s given us a lot of fine music since then.

  158. 158
    punctum on 15 Nov 2010 #

    Evidence please, factual rather than anecdotal.

    Melanie Phillips’ work gives the impression of someone hugely disappointed by something or someone in life, using deferred hate to escape self-awareness, but I wouldn’t say she was insane.

  159. 159
    Tom on 15 Nov 2010 #

    We used to be on the same server as M3l4nie Ph1ll1ps’ blog – whenever FT went down because of a server fault it was a source of some comfort that Mel was also scuppered.

  160. 160
    flahr on 15 Nov 2010 #

    Did you ever consider some sort of blog-swap event?

    Or was she Tanya Headon and you just never told us?

  161. 161
    wichita lineman on 16 Nov 2010 #

    A great Xtian record to get you in the mood for some shopping:


  162. 162
    Lena on 19 Nov 2010 #

    I wish I could ban the words ‘quirky’ and ‘kooky’ from all music discourse for the next century, esp. with reference to women.

  163. 163
    El boludo on 5 Oct 2012 #

    god this song is so beautiful. One of the first songs I remember hearing. I was a pretty introspective kid & loved listening to ballads like this & staring out the window (i was 5)

    You know who did a decent version of this? Jimmy Scott. I have a real thing for “late voices”: singers whose voice has survived, not quite intact, a little fucked, towards the end of their career. Scott’s “Holding back the years” album is an example; also late-period Billie Holiday, Leonard Cohen, Bryan Ferry, even Scott Walker kinda. There are other great examples but I have forgotten them all. Remind me!

  164. 164
    hectorthebat on 12 Mar 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1-1001
    Blender (USA) – Standout Tracks from the 500 CDs You Must Own (2003)
    Blender (USA) – Top 500 Songs of the 80s-00s (2005) 113
    Dave Marsh (USA) – Postscript (102 Songs) to The Heart of Rock & Soul (1998)
    Life (USA) – 40 Years of Rock & Roll, 5 Songs for Each Year 1952-91 (Updated 1995)
    Michaelangelo Matos (USA) – Top 100 Singles of the 1990s (2001) 92
    OUT (USA) – The 50 Gayest Songs of the 1990s (2011)
    Pause & Play (USA) – Songs Inducted into a Time Capsule, One Track at Each Week
    Pitchfork (USA) – The Pitchfork 500 (2008)
    Pitchfork (USA) – Top 200 Tracks of the 1990s (2010) 37
    Rolling Stone & MTV (USA) – The 100 Greatest Pop Songs Since the Beatles (2000) 16
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 162
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 165
    San Antonio Express-News (USA) – Rock ‘n’ roll timeline (2004)
    Slant (USA) – The 100 Best Singles of the 90s (2011) 2
    Steve Sullivan (USA) – Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings (2013) 801-900
    TIME (USA) – The All-Time 100 Songs (2011)
    The Boston Phoenix (USA) – The 90 Best Songs of the 90s (1999)
    VH1 (USA) – The 100 Greatest Songs from the Past 25 Years (2003) 14
    Woxy.com (USA) – Modern Rock 500 Songs of All Time (combined rank 1989-2009) 765
    BBC (UK) – Pop on Trial, Top 50 Songs from the 1990s (2008)
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    NME (UK) – The 100 Best Songs of NME’s Lifetime (2012) 36
    NME (UK) – The 100 Best Songs of the 1990s (2012) 73
    NME (UK) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2014) 38
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 242
    Q (UK) – The Ultimate Music Collection (2005)
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 6
    Theater van het Sentiment, Radio 2 (NL) – Top 40 Songs by Year 1969-2000 (2013) 3
    Berlin Media (Germany) – The 100 Best Singles of All Time (1998) 42
    Musikexpress (Germany) – The 700 Best Songs of All Time (2014) 223
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The 500 Best Songs of All Time (2004) 239
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The Best Singles of 5 Decades (1997)
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Les Inrockuptibles (France) – 1000 Indispensable Songs (2006)
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Porcys (Poland) – The Best Songs of the 1990s (2013) 60
    Grammy Awards (USA) – Record of the Year Nominee
    Rolling Stone (USA) – Singles of the Year 1
    Village Voice (USA) – Singles of the Year 2
    Face (UK) – Singles of the Year 8
    Melody Maker (UK) – Singles of the Year 2
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 3
    Sounds (UK) – Singles of the Year 6
    Dagsavisen (Norway) – Single of the Year 1
    Best (France) – Singles of the Year 1

    Rock de Lux (Spain) – Songs of the Year 25

  165. 165
    Lazarus on 16 May 2016 #

    Hmmm, don’t like the sound of this – hopefully she’ll turn up safe and well but in a year like this it’s easy to fear the worst –

  166. 166
    Lazarus on 16 May 2016 #

    Good news, Sinead’s turned up now after going missing for more than 24 hours.

  167. 167
    Mostro on 19 May 2016 #

    Interesting that Rory @90 and Swanstep @91 are the only ones to come close to what I’d have assumed would be an obvious topic of discussion.

    Regardless of how you feel about it, this is one of those covers that is deservedly much better-known than the original. And this brings up an important question.

    Although I’d long-known it was a cover of a song by Prince, it was only a year or two back that I actually heard the “Family” version. What surprised me most wasn’t that it sounded relatively unremarkable- a passable album track with slightly odd production. Rather, I wondered how on earth Sinead (or producer Nellee Hooper) had spotted enough in it to grab their interest in the first place. Because, while hindsight is a wonderful thing, I know very well that to my ears there’s nothing about it obviously suggestive of unfulfilled potential.

    And it really makes me question whether Prince knew at all what he had there- how much credit should to to him for writing it and how much to Sinead or to Hooper?

    Not simply for transforming it into something that was clearly far greater, but- more importantly- for spotting that non-obvious potential in an obscure album track in the first place.

  168. 168
    benson_79 on 3 Nov 2020 #

    You, an idiot: *lists many SOC-specific annoyances from over the years*

    Me, an intellectual: what exactly is your problem with women in general?

    Aaaaaaargh *head explodes*

  169. 169
    Gareth Parker on 2 May 2021 #

    Sinead delivers a great performance here of a good song. I would opt for 8/10.

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