Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

“Nothing Compares 2 U” stakes its claim and sinks its hooks with its first pinpoint line. “It’s been seven hours and fifteen days” – the inescapable specifics of a split, the way loss messes with your calendar and with time. Time stops at the moment someone leaves you, then starts again, a distended shadow of itself, stretched beyond its limits, as elongated and useless as dead elastic. So from that first line we know we’re listening to somebody who understands what she’s singing.

After that, the main quality of Nothing Compares 2 U is its restraint, as anyone who’s encountered Prince’s own monstrous, histrionic version will agree. While Sinead O’Connor hardly holds back – this is still pretty straightforward, emotional rock singing – the stately held notes backing her up, and the way her wail sounds android and treated in places, give the track something of the apartness of grief, a chilly dignity belying its radio-friendliness. Sinead isn’t a performer I care for at all, and even as a vocalist she’s easier to appreciate than like, but with “Nothing Compares 2 U” the voice and the delivery and the material lock perfectly, and it’s a record I felt worse pretending not to love than I feel for loving it. Which is as good an argument for the singles medium as I know.