In 1984, Prince wrote ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ for The Family, a funk band he signed to his label. Initially, the album track didn’t garner much attention, but it did catch the ear of Sinead O’Connor, whose cover version started a dark chain of events and left her with an anguished relationship with the song in question.
Her debut album, The Lion and The Cobra, provided O’Connor with a taste of success, but nothing could prepare her for the life-changing impact of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’. Suddenly, the Irish singer was one of the most recognisable figures on the planet, and her hit single was everywhere.
In public, Prince praised her effort by saying: “I love it, it’s great! I look for cosmic meaning in everything. I think we just took that song as far as we could, then someone else was supposed to come along and pick it up.” However, behind closed doors, O’Connor explained that her success with the track enraged the singer, despite Prince stating otherwise. The Irish performer told The Times: “Firstly, Prince didn’t like people covering his songs.”
O’Connor added: “Secondly, he had all these female protégés and he was annoyed that I wasn’t one of them. Thirdly, my manager Steve Fargnoli had been his manager and they were involved in a legal case. On top of all this he was a woman-beating c**t. I’m certainly not the only woman he laid a hand on”.
O’Connor’s third point relates to an alleged violent altercation the duo endured following the success of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’. After the song topped the chart, O’Connor agreed to meet Prince in person. However, she soon rued her decision, and their personalities clashed straight almost within an instant.
While most young and impressionable singers would likely do anything to impress Prince, O’Connor has always been an outlier, and her fiery Irish nature stops her from being submissive. “We tried to beat each other up,” O’Connor told Good Morning Britain in 2019. “This is not a joke, it was a really frightening experience. It was in LA, he summoned me to his house and foolishly I went along. He was uncomfortable that I wasn’t his protégé and he wanted me to be. He was wanting me to be a protégé of his and ordered that I don’t swear in my interviews. I told him where he could go”.
According to O’Connor, the mood changed after this comment, and then the situation descended into violence: “He went upstairs and got a pillow and he had something hard in the pillow. I ran out of his house, hiding behind a tree,” she claimed. “We meet on the highway in Malibu at five in the morning – I’m spitting at him, he’s trying to punch me. I had to go ring someone’s doorbell, which my father always told me to do if I was in a situation like that”.
The lasting effect of this harrowing event would continue to haunt O’Connor. During her childhood, she suffered abuse at the hands of her mother, who once locked her in her bedroom for an entire weekend with no food. Prince’s alleged behaviour, it goes without saying, brought unwanted memories back to the forefront of her mind. Writing in her memoir, O’Connor said she “never wanted to see that devil again” after the horrifying experience, and she stayed faithful to her word.
O’Connor’s career will always be intrinsically linked to Prince because of the success ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, which was her first introduction to the mainstream. While her first hit should be a source of joy, tragically, it is an inescapable permanent reminder of the alleged abuse suffered at Prince’s hands. No matter where she goes, the track follows her, as does her traumatic memory of that fateful night.