Remembering Dolores O’Riordan’s hauntingly beautiful vocal on The Cranberries’ ‘Zombie’ for MTV Unplugged
Today marks the 2nd anniversary of the death of one of the finest vocal performers to have ever lived. Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries was one of the greats and we’re here to celebrate one of her most poignant moments of human connection, as The Cranberries deliver a captivating performance of ‘Zombie’ for MTV Unplugged in 1994.
The iconic series for MTV has seen some incredible talent pass through its studio over the years. But nothing will ever match the authentic intensity The Cranberries provided when they, led by the sensational O’Riordan, performed their arresting hit, ‘Zombie’.
The singer’s death in 2018 has left us with a tragic end to an incredible career. O’Riordan was not only a wonderful vocalist and performer but was also a wonderful writing talent. The Cranberries’ 1994 hit ‘Zombie’ remains the undying testament to that. The song, born out of tragedy is not only a harrowing and captivating view of O’Riordan’s own life in Ireland but a deeply connective song that resonates across borders.
‘Zombie’ was written about the 1993 IRA bombing in Warrington, and in memory of two young victims, Johnathan Ball (aged 3) and Tim Parry (aged 12). It was a piece of work close to O’Riordan’s heart and she had to fight to see the song even released. Form Cranberries manager Alan Kovac explained that the label was so intent on preventing ‘Zombie’ from reaching the airwaves that they offered her a $1 million cheque to work on another track.
O’Riordan’s defiant answer was to rip up the cheque, as Kovac says, “Dolores was a very small, fragile person, but very opinionated.” Kovac continues, “Her belief was that she was an international artist and she wanted to break the rest of the world, and ‘Zombie’ was part of that evolution. She felt the need to expand beyond ‘I love you, you love me’ and write about what was happening in Ireland at the time.”
The singer was quoted as saying that she felt deeply ashamed of the tragedy which had become attached to her country, “The IRA are not me. I’m not the IRA. The Cranberries are not the IRA. My family are not. … When it says in the song, ‘It’s not me, it’s not my family,’ that’s what I’m saying. It’s not Ireland.”
This same intensity and energy carried on throughout every performance O’Riordan ever gave of the track. Yet there is none such powerful as when the group took to the MTV Unplugged stage and grabbed us all by the scruff of our necks.
The band were promoting their recent record 1994’s No Need to Argue and were invited by MTV to take part in the growing tradition. MTV Unplugged was already gaining huge acclaim following it’s mesmeric Nirvana performance and now only the very best made it on air.
Taped as an MTV Unplugged special on Valentine’s Day of 1995 at Brooklyn Academy of Music, the band performs a classically stripped-back performance of some of their big hits.
The full set is a great watch and offers up some hefty doses of nineties nostalgia – tracks like ‘Linger’ and ‘Dreams’ can sure take you back. But nothing lands quite like The Cranberries performing ‘Zombie’.
O’Riordan clearly saw the opportunity for what it was worth and was in scintillating form, providing an impressive vocal across all the band’s track but her hauntingly beautiful vocal on ‘Zombie’ is one of the most beguiling performances we’ve ever seen. Guttural, pleading, captivating and utterly unique, O’Riordan begs for humanity the only way she knew how.
Watch below as Dolores O’Riordan delivers an enthralling vocal on The Cranberries’ ‘Zombie’