Music Women in Music

Remembering Dolores O’Riordan and the songs that helped define her musical legacy.

Music fans and contemporaries were saddened and shocked to hear that Dolores O’Riordan, who found fame as the frontwoman of The Cranberries, had passed away last week. She was found dead at the age of 46 in a London hotel room. While the authorities are not treating her unexpected death as suspicious, we wont be able to fully determine her cause of death until at least April this year. Despite this O’Riordan family have asked for privacy in what can only be described as a very sad and turbulent week for them. (O’Riordan is survived by her three children, Taylor, Molly and Dakota and ex-husband, former Duran Duran tour manager, Don Burton, whom she divorced in 2014.)

O’Riordan closest confidants and band mates have also been traumatized by her death. The surviving members of the Cranberries’ Noel and Mike Hogan and Fergal Lawler said this last week, “We are devastated on the passing of our friend Dolores. She was an extraordinary talent and we feel very privileged to have been part of her life from 1989 when we started the Cranberries. The world has lost a true artist today.”

Tributes have also come by way of other musicians, especially in light of her influence on modern rock. Irish musician, singer and songwriter, Hozier arguably best sums up how many of us feel. He said, “My first time hearing Dolores O’Riordan’s voice was unforgettable. It threw into question what a voice could sound like in that context of Rock. I’d never heard somebody use their instrument in that way. Shocked and saddened to hear of her passing, thoughts are with her family.” In another statement, as equally moving as Hozier, Irish rock legends U2 said, “The band are floored but it’s of course her family we’re all thinking of right now. Out of the West came this storm of a voice – she had such strength of conviction, yet she could speak to the fragility in all of us. Limerick’s ‘Bel canto.'” 

Together with The Cranberries, O’Riordan released seven albums and achieved unbelievable success in the mid 90s, in spite of her own personally struggle, being a survivor of child sexual abuse, which unfortunately saw her succumb to the depths of depression throughout her life. By 2003, she called it quits after riding a wave of success as the face of The Cranberries. (At one point in the mid to late nineties they were regarded as the most successful band, only second to U2, to ever come out of Ireland.) Later she embarked on a solo career and even got the old gang back together for a reunion. More recently O’Riordan was working on a new Cranberries album before her untimely death last week.

But we will always I believe remember how it was the popularity of The Cranberries sophomore album, No Need to Argue, which ultimately first helped them to become huge stars around the world, especially back home in their native Ireland. Here, in Australia, The Cranberries were also well received. I won’t lie and say I was a huge fan, but I did love Dolores’ honesty and emotionally charged voice. While I didn’t mind the sweet melodic rock of Linger and Dreams, it was the distorted and blistering guitars and thumbing drums of  Zombie and O’Riordan’s anthemic lyrics that really made me a fan.

It is here, in memoriam, I thought it would be best to list what I believe are the most influential songs Dolores O’Riordan wrote over a lifetime playing with The Cranberries. I hope you will forgive me for not considering her solo records that she released in the late-Noughties. In my defence I just simply never got around to listening to them. That said, with some seven albums under her belt as part of The Cranberries, it is almost an impossible task to single out every song worthy of her legacy as a singer songwriter. It cannot be underestimated the strength of material she brought to the table when The Cranberries considered the songs they would release on their albums. For the purposes of this article I have narrowed down the list below to just six amazing songs. Many of them are beloved songs that over time we have come to truly appreciate, while for others they are simply nostalgic for one reason or another. Enjoy!

“Linger” (from Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993).

When eighteen year old O’Riordan auditioned for The Cranberries, she was already a budding songstress, who wrote her first song at twelve. So when she presented a rough version of Linger to her future band mates, they were immediately blown away by her melodic lyrics and vocals. It’s safe to say she got the gig as frontwoman to her new band and in time it became their first breakthrough hit in 1993.

Interestingly, when asked about the song in an interview once, she said,“It was inspired by a night I had at a club called Madonna’s. This guy asked me to dance and I thought he was lovely. Until then, I’d always thought that putting tongues in mouths was disgusting, but when he gave me my first proper kiss, I did indeed ‘have to let it linger’.” O’Riordan would go on to add that, “I couldn’t wait to see him again. But at the next disco, he walked straight past me and asked my friend to dance. I was devastated. Everyone saw me being dumped, publicly, at the disco. Everything’s so dramatic when you’re 17, so I poured it into the song.”

“Dreams” (from Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993).

Even though many of us might remember Linger as The Cranberries’ first breakthrough hit, Dreams was, in fact, the first single O’Riordan and the gang released, way back in 1992, in anticipation of the launch of their debut album Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? Like Linger, it didn’t immediate grab our attention, not until MTV caught wind of the Irish group and began playing their videos to both Linger and Dreams on heavy rotation.

If Linger is O’Riordan memories of her first kiss and the pain and subsequent regret of it, Dreams is a real treat of how good a love song can be. Right from the explosive intro that leads us straight to O’Riordan’s opening lines, “Oh my life/ Is changing every day / In every possible way,” as a listener you are instantly mesmerised by the dreamy journey the song takes you down, filled with memorable twists and turns, especially with O’Riordan trademark wail (or Irish yodel), which is allowed to see out the song in such dramatic style. 

“Zombie” (from No Need To Argue, 1995).

So much as been said about this song that I honestly don’t want to sound like a repeat offender. But bare with me for just a moment or two. Firstly lets look at the sheer numbers of Zombie’s success. It sold 17 million copies worldwide and was certified 7x platinum in the United States! These numbers were huge for a band that first found fame with its sweet melodic rock.

In short, Zombie came from out of nowhere! It’s like O’Riordan had an epiphany, disgusted by the reports of another Irish tragedy, where two young boys were killed by an IRA bomb, and erupted like a volcano, penning arguably one of the greatest rock songs of all time. The genius of the song is how it elbs and flows one minute between the disquiet of O’Riordan’s meassage, for it to only explode the next with what seems like an ordnance depot filled with distorted TNT-charged guitars and O’Riordan’s incessant wailing chorus.

“Ode To My Family” (from No Need To Argue, 1995).

This song is very emotive and intimate and as much as it is about O’Riordan’s memories about “suddenly becoming successful and looking back home and wondering where my childhood went”, I can’t help but think that now with hindsight, the delicate, haunting mood of Ode To My Family just may have been influenced by O’Riordan’s gut-wrenching experience of being sexually abused by a family friend from the time she was eight to twelve years of age? She publicly didn’t talk about it until 2013.

The first two lines in the third verse, “Understand what I’ve become/ It wasn’t my design,” could easily refer to her instant stardom and how she greatly despised the loss of her privacy, but it could also so easily be referring to her years of abuse. This period in her life had a profound effect on her and by the time she became a young adult she could never shake the misguided guilt and shame she felt. It led to severe mood swings, drinking, depression and anorexia.

I don’t think I have come across a truly convincing argument about what this song is about. I am happy to give O’Riordan the benefit of the doubt and except that it’s just a tale of yearning for a simplier life. It is truly a beautiful song but I can’t help but feel sad when I listen to it, especially as O’Riordan repeats the words “Does anyone care?” over and over again.

“Salvation” (from To The Faithful Departed, 1996).

Salvation is a blistering punk pop treat, only two and over minutes in length, with a daring O’Riordan imploring drug users to stop doing lines and injecting heroin into their arms. Accompanied by a very creepy in-your-face music video (with a clown with heroin hands), its blunt message upon release came across as tedious and self-righteous. That said, I’m not sure The Cranberries were truly ready for the divisive reaction the song received amongst some groups and especially in the media at the time. But I suppose to their credit The Cranberries fought back against its criticism. “It’s not so much like an anti-drug song,” O’Riordan pleaded back in 1996, “It’s kind of anti the idea of becoming totally controlled by anything, any substance at all, because I know what’s it’s like. And it wasn’t a nice experience and it didn’t get me anywhere. It just confused me more.”

“Promises” (from Bury The Hatchet, 1999).

This is for me one of the few Cranberries songs that almost comes close to imitating the tone and aggression we first heard in Zombie. It is a classic alternative rock song driven by thrashing guitars and complimented as always by O’Riordan persistent wail this time around about divorce and broken promises. Interestingly, Promises, Animal Instinct and Just My Imagination as singles from the 1999 album Bury The Hatchet all kind of play out as The Cranberries last hurrah. Subsequent releases unfortunately seem to fail to deliver the spirit and creative drive of their 90s albums.

Photo credit: The header image of Dolores O’Riordan is by flickr user Trent Fernandes and is licensed and used under the Creative Commons Atrribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 license. I am not the uploader of You Tube videos embedded here.


1 comment on “Remembering Dolores O’Riordan and the songs that helped define her musical legacy.

  1. An excellent tribute Robert!

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