The video, 25 years later, is almost as recognizable as the song itself, even though it conjures up images of soft-focus karaoke backing tracks and a million drunken vocal renditions of heartbreak. The camera scans over a road flanked on either side by tall trees, while a figure clad in black walks across the screen. Then there’s a misty shot of a bridge, a couple of pigeons flap their wings, and Sinead O’Connor’s face comes into focus: shorn, oval-eyed, seemingly disembodied, and completely indelible.
“It’s been seven hours,” she sings, “and fifteen days/ Since you took your love away.” Beneath her vocals, there’s just the sound of a single synthesized string note, before the drum track kicks in on the seventh line, just as O’Connor’s voice becomes an unmistakably Gaelic wail: “I can eat my dinner in a fancy restaurant/ But nothing/ I said nothing can take away these blues.”
The song, released by O’Connor in 1990, hit number one on the Billboard 100 on April 21, holding the top spot for four weeks—an honor it shared with just two other songs that year, “Vision of Love” by Mariah Carey and “Because I Love You (The Postman Song)” by Stevie B.” Unlike both of those tracks (with apologies to Mariah fans), it has endured. Rolling Stone placed the song at #165 on the magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, sandwiched between Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Ray Charles’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You”; on Billboard’s list of a similar name, it came in at #87. O’Connor has never quite managed to emulate its success, even though she’s recorded eight albums since. Last month she stated on Facebook that she wouldn’t be performing the song anymore, saying “I finally ran out of anything I could use in order to bring some emotion to it.” And that’s her prerogative, because if anything is responsible for the success of "Nothing Compares 2 U," it’s O’Connor’s interpretation of it, which enshrined the song as one of the great emotional pop performances of the 20th century.