Sinead O’Connor had a complicated relationship with the single which rocketed her to international fame.
Nothing Compares 2 U was written by Prince for The Family, but it will always be O’Connorthe song. Like Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You and Amy Winehouse’s Valerie, it’s a cover that transcends the original.
Released in 1990, O’Connor’s stunning vocal performance, coupled with the video that made it one of the greatest of all time, helped his version top charts around the world.
“I love it, it’s great!” Prince reportedly spoke publicly about the song. “I look for cosmic meaning in everything. I think we just pushed this song as far as we could and then someone else was supposed to come along and pick it up.”
But O’Connor would recall in interviews that the star was privately unhappy.
Years later, after meeting Fun Lovin’ Criminals drummer and Prince fan Frank Benbini at a charity gig in Dublin, he asked her if she would record a different song for a Prince cover album, Purple Reggae. .
Released in 2014 by Radio Riddler, Benbini’s reggae side project, the album also featured collaborations with Suggs, Beverley Knight and Campbell.
But O’Connor initially refused, saying she told herself she would never sing another Prince song again.
“I discovered that she had a huge love for reggae music – which those who have followed her career will know,” Benbini told Sky News. “We just hit it off. Obviously everyone really knows Sinead for Nothing Compares 2 U and at the time we were doing a tribute to Prince while Prince was still alive.”
They were recording songs from the Purple Rain album, including the single I Would Die 4 U. “It’s the song I always thought Sinead would sound good on,” he says. “I told her about it and she said, ‘I’ve always sworn never to do another Prince song again.’ But I said I would send it anyway.”
“She was misunderstood, nothing to do with how she was perceived”
O’Connor agreed, and the pair exchanged numbers and stayed in touch. When she finally heard his demo, she agreed to record the version together at a studio in Dublin.
The singer was “absolutely amazing”, says Benbini. “She was obviously a troubled soul over the years and I think at times very misunderstood. Especially by some of the press, I think some were mean to her, just because they didn’t understand her. But she was so strong woman – she had just performed on the streets of Dublin, so she was extremely thick-skinned.
“I’d heard stories about her – and I’ve worked with famous artists in the studio, so I wonder, what’s it going to be like? But she was super humble and really funny. She had nothing to do with with her’d been seen over the years… there was an air of shyness about her but also an air of, she knew what she wanted, knew who she was. or graces, she was very down to earth, which is quite rare in rock ‘n’ roll.”
In fact, O’Connor only asked for one thing. “A cheese sandwich. That’s all she wanted, all day. ‘I don’t want butter on it, Frank. No butter.’ So just brown bread and cheddar cheese? That’s it? “Yeah. No problem!”
O’Connor had something many others could learn from, he said. “A lot of new artists should take a little pinch of Sinead – and that’s, you know, always be yourself.”
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He says there was never any discussion of O’Connor singing the Prince cover that made her famous.
“I’m a huge Prince fan,” Benbini says. “But, you know, she told me a story or two…how Prince called her over to his house in LA at the time and he wasn’t very happy because she was doing some cat press American, and she swore. He said, ‘if you’re representing my song, don’t use bad language’.” He’s laughing. “She told him to make one.”
Benbini continues, “For a very long time, I think a lot of people didn’t even realize that Nothing Compares 2 U was a Prince song. They just thought it was a Sinead song, because it was such a beautiful approach.Delivery is just ghostly beautiful.
“She said she swore never to cover another Prince song. But I think coming from the reggae world…that’s really what led her to do I Would Die 4 U. C was the second time she did a Prince song, which I’m super proud of and it’s such a great version.”
“She’s so much more than Nothing Compares 2 U”
Although she was disappointed with her encounter with Prince, O’Connor was not bitter, telling Benbini that she still had great respect for his work. “‘Don’t get me wrong, he’s the most amazing writer,’ she said. She loved his writing, his lyrics.”
Paying tribute, Benbini says he hopes the positive to come out of O’Connor’s death will be that people discover or rediscover his music.
“I listened [our version of] I would die 4 U, since I discovered the news over and over again,” he says. “I haven’t listened to it in years and it’s really beautiful.
“The one thing you can take from that is that there’s a whole legacy of work that she’s done – and she’s so much more than Nothing Compares 2 U – she’s got a musical richness. Hopefully people are going to dig now and find all the great things she managed to get recorded. People should celebrate her work. It’s a great way to honor someone.