‘Nothing Compares 2 U’: The Prince classic from worst to best

Adam Lowe

Adam Lowe

Adam Lowe is an award-winning author, editor and publisher from Leeds, now based in Manchester. He runs Dog Horn Publishing and is Director and Writing Coordinator for Young Enigma, a writer development programme for LGBT young people.
Adam Lowe

As Prince’s estate has just released the original, previously unreleased recording of his smash hit (for Sinead O’Connor) for public consumption, we thought we’d introduce all four of the major versions in our list of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’: From Worst to Best.

The Family (1985)

Funereal organs and quiet 80s understatement mark this as a decidedly Prince-ly affair. It’s a little vampiric in tone, and perhaps too sober, if not sombre, even. There’s no doubt this is good quality vintage, but it certainly feels dated.

Prince & Rosie Gaines (1993)

Prince is sublime here, and well matched by Rosie ‘Closer Than Close’ Gaines. Somewhere in between Prince’s previously unreleased original (below) and the 1985 The Family version, it feels more upbeat and funky. I wish they’d done a studio version together to smooth out the rough edges of this live version, as then it might slide even higher on this list.

Prince (2018)

I love this version. For starters, I can sing along to it without sounding like a cat being drawn and quartered. It’s also less melodramatic than The Family’s version.

It’s also clear that Prince never really intended this song to be part of his image. As Susan Rogers, who recorded the track in 1984 said, ‘He wasn’t living with anyone, but he was a young man writing about domesticity.’

She went on to explain: ‘The line “all the flowers that you planted in my back yard went out and died” … it would have been Sandy who planted those flowers.

‘”And I know that living with me baby is sometimes hard, but I’m willing to give it another try…” There was no romantic relationship with Sandy. It’s not a pained “Help me, baby” track. It’s: “You’re gone and I miss you,” which is probably why he felt comfortable giving the song away to The Family. He released his material based on what he wanted us to know about him and, wonderful as it is, he didn’t want it to represent him.’

Sinead O’Connor (1990)

The most iconic version of this song, I defy anyone to hear it and not to cry. It’s clear that this song wouldn’t be as famous (or infamous) as it is without Sinead O’Connor’s version. There are several times her voice almost breaks, overwhelmed with emotion, and I weep like a baby every time I watch the video on YouTube.

The video itself, which recalls a shaven-headed Joan of Ark, probably also inspired the cropped hair of Lt. Ellen Ripley and G.I. Jane just a few years later.

Maybe I’m biased, since it’s the version I’m most familiar with.

Feel free to vehemently disagree in the comments section below!