Best tunes of 1990: #29 Sinéad O’Connor “Nothing compares 2 U”

Our second stop in my favourite tunes of 1990 series is a cover, and oh, what a cover. Of course, at the time, I had no idea that Sinéad O’Connor’s massive hit single was originally written by Prince and recorded by The Family, one of his side projects.

I’ll never forget the first time that I saw the now iconic video on the CHUM FM 30 music video countdown. It focused almost solely in closeup of the beautiful vocalist’s face, catching every nuance of emotion in her grey-blue eyes, even the most subtle, those not already felt in her vocals, and in the few moments when the camera panned away, she was caught walking alone in a park in France, her shaved head ducking beneath the collar of a large and shapeless overcoat. And that voice, it was unparalleled at the time, and though since then, there have been many who have been influenced by her and have sung in a similar style, none have ever sounded quite like Sinéad O’Connor.

The Irish born singer got her start as a solo artist in the late eighties, releasing her debut album, “The lion and the cobra”, to almost universal acclaim in 1987. Still, the ridiculous commercial success came three years later in 1990 when she unveiled, “I do not want what I haven’t got”, featuring the now classic “I am stretched on your grave”, “Emperor’s new clothes”, ‘Three babies”, and this track. O’Connor has since recorded and released eight more albums, including 2014’s “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss”, but none of those have ever reached the same levels of success as her first two albums. I don’t think that these were beginner’s luck per se or that she lost her edge at all, but it’s quite possible that her outspoken nature and her controversial extra-musical activities might have turned off her mainstream audiences.

But still we have this song, “Nothing compares 2 U”. To this day, I can’t say that I’ve ever heard The Family’s original recording of the tune but I have heard a live version that Prince later performed (after Sinéad’s recording) in duet with Rosie Gaines and I have to say that the cover is better. Both versions deal with loss but O’Connor is able to drum up more emotion, both raging anger and intense sadness, in her reflections on losing her mother to an automobile accident than Prince is able to ruminating on a broken down relationship. The instrumentation on O’Connor’s cover isn’t all that intricate, being only layers of plaintive strings over a simple but insistent beat. Truly, it all comes down to that power in her voice and it could move mountains.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1990 list, click here.

Vinyl love: Allo Darlin’ “Europe”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Allo Darlin’
Album Title: Europe
Year released: 2012
Details: black vinyl, normal weight

The skinny: The second album by the London-based, indie pop quartet, Allo Darlin’, led by Australian-born, Elizabeth Morris. Flirts with the cute, twee pop of the mid-80s, sporting a jangly guitar and a healthy strum of the uke.

Standout track: “Tallulah”

Best tunes of 1990: #30 The Northern Pikes “She ain’t pretty”

We start off this list with one of the handful of songs that I can say with certainty were being listened to by these ears of mine back in 1990. I can blame the Canadian Content radio rules for the overplaying of this track so that it caught my notice, but blame also belongs to a certain high school friend named Brian, who would eventually make me a cassette tape copy of the album on which this song appears, a copy I still have to this day.

For those of you reading this from outside of Canada and who might never have heard of this group, The Northern Pikes were formed in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1984 as a quartet and were headed by principal songwriters and singer/guitarists, Jay Semko and Bryan Potvin. The band released four albums on Virgin Records Canada before breaking up in 1993, citing exhaustion as a reason for their dissolution. They later reformed in 1999 to help their label put together a greatest hits collection and then, to tour in support of said compilation. The success of that original reunion tour and the new passion that resulted saw the band release two more albums and they still exist today as a trio.

“She ain’t pretty” is the band’s best known song from their best-selling third album, “Snow in June”. Notice, however, I didn’t say it was their best song. I’m not even sure it’s the best song on that album but it was definitely the song that drew me in originally. That and its cultural significance for Canadian rock and its popularity are good enough reasons to me for the song to win out over any of the other great, and perhaps, deeper tracks on the album and earn on a spot on this list.

Written by Bryan Potvin, “She ain’t pretty” tells the sad, sordid tale of a Joe Normal dude who meets and becomes infatuated with a physically attractive woman but who turns out to be quite a horrible person – a “model from Hell”. Listening back to it now, the blues rock and rockabilly swagger has a timeless quality, even though Potvin’s raw vocals has a definite eighties edge to them. But really, the story seems to lack credibility. Why would such a woman who wore a mink even bother condescending to a date with a jeans wearing, dish washing, musician hack? This is a question that never occurred me back in the day. Instead, I was enamoured with witty lines like: “Her ego wrote checks incredibly fast but her personality didn’t have the cash”. Even still, it’s a fun track that never fails to bring a smile whenever it pops up.

Finally, I just want to give additional props to the creators of the music video for the song, whoever they were, because it was and still is quite entertaining and incidentally, it was nominated for a Juno for its innovative use of claymation morphing techniques.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1990 list, click here.