Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sinead O'Connor - I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got (RS500 - #406)

I've been checking back over the posts - it's been months since I did a Rolling Stone 500 album. That's inexcusable on my part! So here goes . . .

I first became aware of Sinead O'Connor in the late fall of 1987, when a good friend of mine (that girl I referred to here) clued me in to this great new Irish artist and her debut album, The Lion And The Cobra. I quickly ran out to the local music store in Athens, GA, where I was living at the time, and picked up a cassette copy. The cover art featured a pale, demure-looking girl dressed in blue, strikingly beautiful even with her shaved bald head. As soft and gentle as she looked on the cover, the music inside The Lion And The Cobra was anything but - every song (even the more 'gentle' ballads) was filled with tension and power; you could tell Ms. O'Connor threw herself into every note. The juxtaposition between the image and the music couldn't have been more stark. Still, this album quickly became a favorite of mine, and I brought it along with me everywhere.

I left Georgia a couple of months later, moving up to Norfolk, VA, and in the summer of 1988 found myself briefly in London, England, my first visit to that country. I was excited about checking out all of the music shops and venues there, and at one point found myself at the old Virgin Records at Piccadilly Circus, going through the stacks (this was the place I saw the 'CD factory' in the basement level, mentioned here). There, I came across the original British release of The Lion And The Cobra, and was somewhat shocked to find that the cover art was totally different from the American release. The UK album showed a much more threatening, aggressive O'Connor - frankly, she looked a little like the Devil . . . which, in my mind, makes the album that much cooler.

I did a little research, and learned that Chrysalis Records, the US distributor, was worried that O'Connor's 'look' would scare Americans away from buying the record. So the label, seeking to protect 'sensitive' Yankee minds from harmful, disturbing images, purposely replaced the original album art with a softer, less threatening pose . . . thus continuing the long and ignominious tradition of bowldering and homogenizing British releases for American consumption (with examples including Capitol Records issuing reordered (or in some cases, totally different) early Beatles albums; the censorship of the covers of Blind Faith's debut album and Roxy Music's Country Life; changing the name of Nick Lowe's first album from Jesus Of Cool to Pure Pop For Now People . . . the list goes on and on).

Anyway . . .

A year and a half later, I was back in the States, back in Virginia, and started seeing a girl I met at an Awareness Art Ensemble reggae show at the old King's Head club near Old Dominion University. My brother, an ODU student at the time, invited me to check the band out, and she caught my attention when I sensed her eyeballing me from across the bar. She was cute, small with short bobbed hair, and we seemd to have a lot in common, despite her (for me) 'unconventionality' (for example, she usually dressed all in black - not completely goth, per se, but not in a style that I was used to with my other girlfriends).

We went out quite a bit during the spring of 1990, hitting the bars in the Virginia Beach area, or grabbing a bite to eat at the Jewish Mother deli or Waffle House, or hanging out in her room until the wee hours (she still lived with her folks, so I had to be SUPER quiet . . .). With all the time we spent together, I gained a clearer indication of some of the issues and hangups that were obviously tormenting this girl - and there were many (which I need not go into here). Actually, I kind of sensed that something wasn't quite right with her from the first conversation we had; it wasn't anything specific, just little stuff - the way she moved her head, a telltale lilt in her voice. I should've cut and run early on, but the girl was intriguing, and fun to be around. And despite what was swirling around her her noggin, she seemed to enjoy my company just as much as I enjoyed hers. Shoot, I LIKED this girl, quite a bit. So I hung in there, hoping against hope she would - I don't know, "snap out of it" or something (yeah, yeah, I know - but I'm a guy, and that's how we think. So sue me).

The same month I started hanging out with her, MTV started airing the video of "Nothing Compares 2 U", the first single off of Sinead O'Connor's upcoming album, I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got. The setup for the film was simple enough - a closeup of the singer, tightly focusing on her face while she sang the tune, intercut by moody, brooding shots of O'Connor wandering morosely around Paris. It's been over twenty years since this video debuted, but to this day it still retains much of its original impact and power. Sinead sings her heart out; you almost feel like a voyeur, watching this girl sing through what apparently was genuine anguish and pain (the tears falling from her eyes near the end just completely hammered that sense of loss home). And yet, you couldn't help but continue watching - she was just incredibly beautiful in the film; you couldn't take your eyes off of her:

My girlfriend and I were both big fans of this song and video, and watched a lot of MTV together, hoping to see it as much as possible. Of course, as new couples are wont to do, we strived to relate this song to our own relationship - I recall us many times staring dewy-eyed at one another while "Nothing Compares 2 U" played in the background (and yes, that is exactly as sappy as it sounds . . .). In addition to the music and atmosphere of the video, another thing that jumped out at me was the long coat that O'Connor wore during the "walking through Paris" portions. I thought to myself, "I gotta get me a coat like that!" After weeks of searching, I finally found the perfect one at a nearby Burlington Coat Factory - as black as midnight, and reaching practically down to my ankles. I wore that coat constantly, even with the weather beginning to warm up in the Norfolk area - apparently, I thought I looked cool in it.

O'Connor's LP was released in March (of course I snapped it up on cassette immediately). By the end of April/first part of May, both the album and the lead single were topping not only the American charts, but music charts worldwide. At around the same time, my ship was preparing for another six-month deployment, this time to South America. I was bumming about being away from this chick for so long, especially as she had also made plans to leave the country during that time, heading over to Europe and the Middle East for several months. I spent as much time with her as possible in my last few days in Virginia, then left one morning in early June for parts south, a very unhappy hombre.

The first month of our cruise was spent in the Caribbean, in places like Puerto Rico and Aruba. It should have been a lot more fun for me than it was. But I spent much of my time in the tropical paradises brooding over the girl I left behind. "Nothing Compares 2 U" was a big hit as well in all of the countries we visited, so it played constantly everywhere, always reminding me of her. I can recall riding in a shuttle bus in Aruba with a bunch of other shipmates, headed to Oranjestad to check out the signts and nightlife there, when suddenly this song came over the bus radio. It depressed me so much that I almost returned to the ship.

But as the cruise progressed, I began to enjoy myself more and more, and revel in all that the Caribbean and South America had to offer in terms of nightlife and danger. I attended a swank outdoor party at a naval base in Cartagena, a function quietly guarded by scores of rifle-toting Columbian Marines patrolling in the shadows. In Peru, in the midst of a martial law crackdown by the new Fujimori government, I went to a reception at the U.S. Embassy in Lima on a bus with blacked-out windows and armed guards stationed fore and aft, and during the party spoke at length with an affable embassy official who I realized much later was probably a CIA operative. I played roulette in a beautiful old casino in Valparaiso: got to wear my cool new long black coat out in Punta Arenas at the bottom of the continent: danced the lambada (badly) in Recife: and partied hard in Rio, one of the few cities in my experience which totally lived up to its advance billing.

As for my girl back in Virginia, I heard less and less from her as the weeks progressed and she was off on her own overseas trip. As my ship moved counterclockwise around the continent, the intensity of the feelings I had for her, nearly overwhelming at the beginning of the journey, began to subside. In mathematics, a standard equation is "rate equals distance over time". I discovered, as the months passed, that that numerical relationship also generally holds true for personal relationships - the rate at which I thought less and less about her increased with the length of our cruise and the time spent away from Norfolk.

By the time of our return to the U.S. in early December, I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got had faded from the charts. My girl, back in the States ahead of me, was there to greet me as we pulled into port. But the thing we had had faded as well. We had a half-hearted reunion, then called it quits a couple of weeks later. I guess I knew early on that our thing wasn't built for the long haul - just like Sinead O'Connor's career. This LP and her hit song was her U.S. peak. A series of bad career moves, including two poorly received albums (1992's Am I Not Your Girl? (a set of jazz standard covers) and 1994's Universal Mother) combined with a disasterous appearance on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" in late 1992, seriously derailed her career. She wouldn't make another album until 2000's Faith And Courage. Despite her still-considerable talents, none of her efforts over the past 20 years have came close to the heights she reached in 1990. Too bad - for a short while in the music world, nothing compared to her.

Anyway, here's the album, released by Ensign Records in 1990 and distributed in the U.S. by Chrysalis Records. Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think:

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And here's a special bonus: Sinead O'Connor's stunning cover of "Sacrifice", from a 1991 tribute album devoted to the songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. After I heard this the first time, I felt that no one should ever be allowed to cover this song again. See if you agree:

Please use the email link below to contact me, and I will reply with the download link(s) ASAP:

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(And, by the way - I still have that coat.)


  1. Peepee,
    Have a great Christmas, where ever you are. And thanks for the music and the stories. See you next year!

  2. Peepee, thank you so much. I haven't listened to this album in years, but look forward to doing so again.