Sinéad O’Connor, the iconic Irish singer, was at the peak of her fame in the early 1990s when a powerful and emotional incident took place in a New York diner. Seated at the bar surrounded by white patrons, O’Connor witnessed a homeless black man being escorted out of the establishment by the manager. However, he returned shortly after, standing inside the restaurant with his arms open, pleading for a hug. Without hesitation, O’Connor ran towards him, leaping into his arms and embracing him tightly. This act of compassion and humanity was a testament to O’Connor’s unique character – her bravery, intelligence, and vulnerability.
Philip King, presenter of the South Wind Blows radio program on RTÉ Radio 1, reflects on O’Connor’s impact on the Irish music scene during the transition from the 1980s to the 1990s. He describes her as an explosive and powerful artist, with a voice and presence that captivated listeners. O’Connor’s ability to transcend genres and classifications was evident in songs like “Mandinka” from her debut album, which left a lasting impression on anyone who heard it. Her wildness and spirit resonated deeply with the Irish tradition, making her music thrilling and unforgettable.
O’Connor’s shaved head, symbolizing rebellion and anger, contrasted with her sweet and softly spoken demeanor. Following her debut album, “The Lion and the Cobra,” O’Connor released her second album, “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got,” at the age of 23. The album featured the iconic track “Nothing Compares 2 U,” written and composed by Prince. The release of this ballad, accompanied by its captivating video, propelled O’Connor to international stardom. The single reached number one on music charts worldwide, solidifying her status as a household name.
BP Fallon, a musician, writer, photographer, and DJ, credits O’Connor’s early manager, Fachtna Ó Ceallaigh, for the idea of covering “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Fallon recalls being sworn to secrecy about the project, emphasizing Ó Ceallaigh’s visionary thinking. The decision to cover the song without Prince’s involvement led to a strained relationship between the two artists. Fallon also praises the director of the song’s video, John Maybury, for creating a masterpiece that stands alongside timeless classics like “A Whiter Shade of Pale” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
The second track on O’Connor’s album, “I Am Stretched On Your Grave,” was a cover of a seventeenth-century Irish-language poem. O’Connor added a loop of James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” to her rendition, infusing it with power, despair, and a sense of lost love. Philip King, whose band Scullion had previously put the English-language translation of the poem to music, commends O’Connor for capturing the essence of the Irish tradition and expressing it instinctively.
During the recording of “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got,” O’Connor collaborated with talented musicians such as Steve Wickham of The Waterboys on fiddle, Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce from The Smiths on bass and drums respectively, and Marco Pirroni, formerly of Siouxsie & The Banshees and Adam & The Ants, on guitar. This album solidified O’Connor’s status as one of Ireland’s greatest musical artists.
In 1991, “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” received four Grammy Award nominations, ultimately winning the award for Best Alternative Music Performance. The following year, O’Connor was invited to perform on the popular American TV show, Saturday Night Live. This appearance was significant as O’Connor had salvaged a photo of Pope John Paul II on the day her mother tragically died in a car crash in 1985.
Sinéad O’Connor’s impact on the music industry and her ability to transcend genres and classifications remain unparalleled. Her unique voice, fierce intelligence, and bravery continue to inspire artists and listeners alike.