Sinead O'Connor's 10 greatest songs ever, ranked

27 July 2023, 17:35

Irish singer Sinead O'Connor was an uncompromising and simply unforgettable musician.
Irish singer Sinead O'Connor was an uncompromising and simply unforgettable musician. Picture: Ensign/Chrysalis

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

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Sinead O'Connor was nothing short of unique.

The Irish singer was a true firebrand and trailblazer, whose arresting voice and outspoken nature left a lasting imprint on popular music.

Her controversies often overshadowed the music she made as her career went on, as major mainstream success came and went.

But Sinead O'Connor never set out to become a paint-by-numbers pop star, instead making political and personal statements the focus of her music.

Coupled with her striking image, fearless attitude, and arresting voice, she became one of the most important Irish artists of the past forty years.

That said, let's revisit her legacy as a musician with her ten greatest songs ever:

  1. 'Success Has Made A Failure Of Our Home’

    Sinead O'Connor - Success Has Made a Failure of Our Home (Official Music Video)

    Sinead covered Loretta Lynn's country song 'Success', changed the name to 'Success Has Made A Failure Of Our Home', and made it a global success after releasing it in 1992.

    Appearing on her album Am I Not Your Girl?, it's a show-stopping song complete with a sweeping string section which saw O'Connor shake up people's expectations of her, in her own distinct way.

    It was also the first song she performed on her notorious Saturday Night Live appearance weeks after its release, but obviously took a back seat due to her tearing up a photograph of the Pope.

  2. 'I Am Stretched On Your Grave'

    Sinéad O'Connor - I am stretched on your grave - Live - Pinkpop 1995

    The lyrics from the morbidly titled 'I Am Stretched On Your Grave' come from an Irish poem which dates back to the 1600s.

    A song about love after losing someone, the words detail the story of a person who won't leave their lover's grave.

    It's a quintessentially Sinead song, delivered with her trademark, gut-wrenching vocal.

    She would often dedicate this song to people who had recently passed and was inspired to use the poem's lyrics after the death of her mother in 1985.

  3. 'All Apologies'

    Sinead O'Connor - All Apologies (Official Music Video)

    Deeply affected by the death of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, Sinead O'Connor decided to cover 'All Apologies' for her 1994 album Universal Mother.

    Cobain once said the song was written about the changes he was going through after fatherhood, not all of them pleasant.

    This struck Sinead who herself was a complex personality, offering her sensitive, soul-bearing take on the grunge band's hit.

  4. 'Thank You For Hearing Me'

    Sinéad O'Connor - Thank You For Hearing Me (Official Music Video) [HD]

    The closing song on her 1994 album Universal Mother was of a more defiant, uplifting mood than the intimate piano ballads that preceded it.

    That's likely because 'Thank You For Hearing Me' was supposedly inspired by Sinead's brief love affair with Peter Gabriel after she appeared in his songs 'Blood Of Eden' and 'Come Talk To Me'.

    Sinead herself said she was "very proud of it as a break-up song, considering the fact that one is entitled to smash plates when one realises one is being treated as weekend pu**y."

    Writing it after her's and Gabriel's "on-and-off fling" came to an end, she later revealed it was her "favourite song to perform live because it just could take you, like a mantra, to these stratospheres of almost hypnosis."

  5. 'Irish Ways and Irish Laws'

    Sinéad O'Connor - Irish Ways & Irish Laws (Live At Forest National, Brussels 1990)

    Not officially released as a single, this a-cappella cover of the song by Irish rock band Moving Hearts became a staple of Sinead's setlists over the years.

    The anti-war sentiment of 'Irish Ways and Irish Laws' especially resonated when Sinead sang unaccompanied by instruments, as the focus on the lyrics come to the fore.

    In her typically bold decisions, she would perform this song on television shows instead of promoting her recent single because of its powerful meaning.

  6. 'The Emperor's New Clothes'

    Sinead O'Connor - The Emperor's New Clothes (Official Music Video)

    Sinead had her first son at the age of 20, and wrote this song to unleash her frustrations with her Irish heritage, the judgement of her being a youth mother, and juggling a music career.

    Riffing off the fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen, she used the story to relate to people that unfairly judge her.

    The third single to be released from her lauded 1990 album, I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, 'The Emperor's New Clothes' was a considerable hit reaching the top of the US Alternative charts.

  7. 'Troy'

    Sinead O'Connor - Troy (Official Music Video)

    Sinead O'Connor's debut single 'Troy' announced the burgeoning Irish singer as a force unto herself.

    The first single from her 1987 debut album, The Lion and The Cobra, it was an explosive start by the young star who appeared completely bald and nude in the accompanying music video.

    Inspired by William Butler Yeats' poem, No Second Troy, Sinead established herself as a unique artist from the get-go, one that wanted to carve her own path in pop music.

  8. 'Black Boys On Mopeds'

    Sinead O'Connor - Black Boys On Mopeds

    Undoubtedly one of Sinead's most overtly political songs, this gorgeous ballad was influenced by the death of Colin Roach, a young black man whose killing was part of a police cover up.

    Explaining her dismay with England and its oppression of the lower classes - despite herself living in London - Sinead felt those tensions directly, being an Irish person residing in England.

    Featuring on her acclaimed album, I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, 'Black Boys On Mopeds' wasn't released a single, but remains one of her most enduring songs.

  9. 'Mandinka'

    Sinead O'Connor - Mandinka (Official Music Video)

    A more danceable song than the majority of her other work, Sinead's ferocity and passion shine through on her breakthrough single.

    'Mandinka' saw Sinead reach the top 20 of the UK charts, as well as her debut US television performance when she sang it on Late Night with David Letterman the following year.

    When asked about the song's inspiration in an early interview, she replied: "Mandinkas are an African tribe."

    "They're mentioned in a book called Roots by Alex Haley, which is what the song is about. In order to understand it you must read the book."

    Even before she's reached fame and success, she wouldn't bend backwards to reveal the meanings behind her weighty work.

  10. 'Nothing Compares 2 U'

    Sinéad O'Connor - Nothing Compares 2 U (Official Music Video) [HD]

    Undoubtedly her signature song, 'Nothing Compares 2 U' made Sinead O'Connor a global superstar almost overnight.

    Coupled with the music video, which focused almost solely on her face for three minutes, when the tear runs down her cheek it became one of the most iconic moments of the 1990s.

    Prince sanctioned his song to be recorded by Sinead after they reportedly spent the night together, according to her 2021 memoirs.

    Though, they didn't remain on good terms with the Irish singer referring to him as a “devil" and "an awful monster of a man."

    Despite their dreadful personal relationship, 'Nothing Compares 2 U' was a stratospheric success for Sinead, reaching the top of the charts in fourteen different countries.