Irish band, The Cranberries, formed in the early 1990s and released their first album in 1993. For many, they defined the atmosphere of Europe in the mid-1990s with a moody, ethereal sound that drew on elements of traditional Irish music.
Frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan was a massive factor in their international success with her songwriting and unique moving vocal abilities. These top 25 The Cranberries songs range from their earliest hits to their final releases before O’Riordan’s death.
Dreams was the first single that The Cranberries released in 1993. The song was a widespread success on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, particularly thanks to frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan’s distinctive vocals. It has become one of the band’s signature songs.
O’Riordan wrote it about her first experience with falling in love; notably, her ex-boyfriend Mike Mahoney provided backup vocals on the track.
One of the first songs that come to mind when people think of The Cranberries is Zombie, the 1994 hit about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The song was particularly inspired by the 1993 attacks in Warrington, UK, which killed two children. Zombie is noted for its use of keening, a form of discordant vocal grieving used in traditional Irish music. O’Riordan’s forceful performance made the anti-war song a hit worldwide.
Linger was included on the Cranberries’ debut album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? It has become one of their best-known songs, much to the band members’ surprise, who didn’t expect it to be a success.
O’Riordan said that she wrote the lyrics about her regretful teenage romance. It was heavily featured on MTV throughout the mid-1990s, contributing to its popularity.
4. Ode To My Family
After the massive success of Zombie, the Cranberries went in a different direction with their next single Ode To My Family. The song remembers Dolores O’Riordan’s childhood and its difficulties but contrasts these with the positive outlook her parents instilled in her. O’Riordan was close to her parents, particularly her mother, who supported her through her struggles with addiction and an eating disorder.
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Though the Cranberries are associated almost exclusively with the early- to mid-1990s, they released music up until 2017. Their final album, Something Else, was released in March 2017 and featured the single Why.
It has come to be considered one of the best songs of their final days as a group (Dolores O’Riordan died the following year at the age of 46). The death of O’Riordan’s father inspired the song.
Salvation was released in 1996, a song about drug use that some critics condemned as being overly preachy. However, O’Riordan said that the song was not intended to be a finger-wagging at people who used drugs but rather a warning about how no matter how hard drug users tried to escape reality, it would always catch up to them. In other words, they might think they were controlling their perception of reality, but it was controlling them.
7. I Can’t Be With You
O’Riordan’s voice was at its best in 1994’s I Can’t Be With You, a haunting song of lost love. At its core, it is a simple tune lamenting the end of a relationship. But O’Riordan’s signature wailing vocals make I Can’t Be With You as heartrending as her songs about warfare and violence. Though the song isn’t as well remembered as others from the same album, it’s always worth a listen.
Analyse was released in 2001, a dreamy, almost ethereal ode to letting go of one’s inhibitions and refusing to overthink one’s life decisions. The song points out that overthinking leads to paralysis, which then causes a person not to act at all.
Analyse was a moderate success, signaling a lighter sound that would direct the Cranberries’ sound through the new millennium. It wasn’t until their 2012 album Roses that their music returned to its original, more brooding sound.
9. Ridiculous Thoughts
Coming from a small town, Dolores O’Riordan struggled with the pressures of fame and disliked being the fixation of the British media. After the success of the singles Linger and Zombie, she composed Ridiculous Thoughts, a critique of the press and their invasion of her privacy.
The song was a hit in the UK but wasn’t widely known in the US. Despite this, it remains an underrated gem in The Cranberries’ discography.
10. Free To Decide
Free To Decide was released in 1996 on the Cranberries’ third album To The Faithful Departed. Another song about the unfair pressures of the media, it was inspired by the band’s experiences with the paparazzi after the success of their first few albums.
O’Riordan, in particular, struggled with the media’s depiction of her, which often showed her as a haughty diva, and felt as though she couldn’t go about her normal life without falling under their scrutiny.
11. Animal Instinct
Dolores O’Riordan had her first child in 1997, an experience she chronicled two years later in Animal Instinct. In the song, she describes the deep and primal urges that come with having a child and how she felt that it was the most precious thing she had ever been a part of. The lyrics strongly contrast the image of animalism with the simple opening line of sitting at the table drinking a cup of tea.
12. I Will Always
I Will Always was released on The Cranberries’ debut album in 1993. Though it has been overshadowed by some of their bigger hits like Zombie, it remains an essential track of their early discography. The song is open to interpretation; many fans think that it is a gentle song of forgiveness for a lover who is determined to part ways. It’s a unique and somehow lovely direction for a breakup song.
O’Riordan’s voice was remarkably versatile, making for a stunning performance whether she was singing a gentle song of sorrow or an aggressive, forceful song inviting the listener to wake up and make a change.
Liar falls into the latter category, an in-your-face takedown of a person who has broken all their promises. The rest of the band matches O’Riordan’s intensity to perfection. The song was released on their debut album Everyone Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? But it wasn’t until it was featured on the soundtrack of the 1995 film Empire Records that it became widely known.
Tomorrow was featured on The Cranberries’ first album in nearly 10 years, following a hiatus between 2003 and 2012. Their album Roses sought to return to the sound of their early music, characterized by sweeping emotional tracks and a melancholy, brooding feel.
Tomorrow captures all the gentleness and sorrow of these early tracks, a song about asking a lover to have faith in their future.
15. Schizophrenic Playboy
In 2012, The Cranberries released their album Roses. The song Schizophrenic Playboy is a warning to women who pursue men who are wealthy and changeable, comparing them to children who have too many toys.
When they get bored of one, they simply discard it—except, in this case, the toy is a human being. It’s an unusual direction for a Cranberries song, but one that is as evocative as their songs of intergenerational trauma and grief.
16. You & Me
You & Me was a limited release on The Cranberries’ album Bury The Hatchet. Subsequently, it is something of an underrated gem in their discography. The song is a sweet ode to Dolores O’Riordan’s first child, her son Taylor. In it, she thanks him for the next world he has opened to her and expresses how she would rather be with him than journey around the world.
It’s a moving track that is sure to make any parent cry.
17. When You’re Gone
It is almost impossible to choose O’Riordan’s best vocal performance, but a close contender is 1996’s When You’re Gone. The song included elements of soul and doo-wop music, an unusual choice for The Cranberries.
Though the death of O’Riordan’s grandfather originally inspired it, she said that the song took on new meaning for her as time went on. Later, she would often think of her children while she was on tour or her father after his death in 2011.
Promises came from The Cranberries’ heaviest era, released as a single from their 1999 album Bury The Hatchet. Despite its heavy mood, it climbed to the Top 20.
Promises is themed around divorce, with lyrics that detail the promises between a married couple that has now begun to fall apart. Between each hard-hitting verse is a soft chorus of nonsense syllables that strikes a strong contrast with O’Riordan’s gentle delivery.
19. Yeats’ Grave
Yeats’ Grave is based on two poems by Irish poet William Butler Yeats. Dolores O’Riordan visited his grave in 1994 and found herself inspired, particularly by Yeats’ interest in spirituality and his uniquely Irish spirit. She composed Yeats’ Grave drawing on inspiration from two of his poems, No Second Troy and The Lake Isle Of Innisfree. The song also imagines O’Riordan communicating directly with the dead poet through his grave.
20. Just My Imagination
Just My Imagination was released on The Cranberries’ 1999 album Bury The Hatchet. The song is an uncharacteristically cynical take on lost youth and love. The singer remembers how she once believed in God and lived only for her lover, losing all sense of time and responsibility while they were together. However, she has since concluded that all of these things were just figments of her imagination.
21. Waltzing Back
Waltzing Back is a 1993 track from The Cranberries’ debut album. The song is a defiant reproach to people who try to “take someone away” from another person. It’s not entirely clear what the context is, but Dolores O’Riordan’s stark vocals make the song feel like an anthem for anyone who thinks they can control someone else’s life. It’s worth singing in your car the next time you feel ticked off.
22. Time Is Ticking Out
Some of The Cranberries’ songs are shrouded in metaphor, while others are plain and outspoken. Time Is Ticking Out, released on their 2001 album Wake Up And Smell The Coffee, falls under the second category.
The song was inspired by the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster and focused on issues of human-driven climate change and natural disasters, calling for politicians to put forth new policies to protect the planet.
Iosa isn’t a well-known song from The Cranberries, and there’s a good reason behind it. Initially recorded in the early 1990s, the song went unreleased for many years. O’Riordan composed it in honor of her late grandfather, and it bears the distinction of being the only Gaelic-language song The Cranberries ever recorded. Iosa is the Gaelic word for Jesus; the song is a simple prayer asking for mercy for a dead loved one.
24. Loud & Clear
Loud & Clear is a song that is terrifying and titillating all at once. It’s a breakup song like no other, wherein the singer berates her former lover for not appreciating her enough. Things get real, however, when she lays a curse on him to make his life miserable. The curse’s perimeters seem to vary, from having his skin flayed off to getting a flat tire. To be fair, neither of those sounds great.
Greatest Irish songs of all time
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