In 1989, Niall Quinn, Noel Hogan, Mike Hogan, and Fergal Lawler formed a group called the Cranberry Saw Us. A year later, Dolores O’Riordan replaced Quinn as the lead singer, the band changed its name to the Cranberries, and over the next few years, quietly established itself as one of the biggest alternative acts of the decade. They continued to release albums into the 2010s, but then, in January 2018, O’Riordan was found dead in a London hotel room. After releasing their final album in April 2019, the band disbanded. Here’s our take on the 10 best Cranberries songs of all time.
In 1999, the Cranberries released their first album in four years, Bury the Hatchet, their sharpest, most consistent album yet. It was a modest hit, taking the band to No. 7 in the UK Albums Chart and No. 13 on the US Billboard 200. One of its highlights was it’s first (and only) single, Promises. Featuring a mammoth beat and a monstrous riff, it’s one of the hardest rocking songs in the band’s catalog. Released on 22 March 1999, it became the last of their singles to reach the Top 40 in the UK, peaking at No. 19. It also reached the Top 20 in Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland. In the US, it reached No. 12 on the Billboard Alternative Airplay chart.
On Liar, Dolores O’Riordan wants to beat someone up, and she’s not going to stop until she does. “I will run, I will fight, I will take you through the night,” she sings. In stark contrast to the menacing lyrics, the sound is as sweet as candy, with O’Riordan’s voice interweaving beautifully with Peter Buck’s mellow guitars. Originally recorded for sessions for the band’s debut LP, it got a second lease of life in 1995 when it was included on the soundtrack for the movie “Empire Records.”
8. When You’re Gone
When the Cranberries wanted to rock, they could, but they also excelled at ballads. When You’re Gone is one of their prettiest, with a gorgeous vocal from O’Riordan laced over a hypnotically low-key doo-wop arrangement. It’s simple but timeless, and a definite highlight of the 1996 album To The Faithful Departed. For a particularly emotive rendition, check out the stripped-back cut from 2017’s acoustic greatest-hits album, Something Else.
7. Ridiculous Thoughts
In 1994, the Cranberries reached their commercial pinnacle with their second album, No Need to Argue. Despite being darker than their debut, it became their best-selling album of all time, selling over 17 million copies to date. Although songs like Zombie got most of the glory, the album is crammed with gems. Ridiculous Thoughts is one of the sparkliest. An anti-press diatribe written by O’Riordan about her poor treatment at the hands of the British tabloids, it pairs tough lyrics with a jangly melody in a combination that shouldn’t really work, but sounds beautiful anyway. Released in July 1995, it peaked at No. 14 on the US Modern Rock Tracks chart and No. 20 on the UK Singles Chart.
6. Animal Instinct
Named by Stereo Gum as the last great Cranberries single, Animal Instinct pairs depressing lyrics with bright arrangements and a poppy production. The result is a supremely catchy earworm that ranks as one of the most popular songs in the band’s canon.
5. Ode To My Family
On the surface, Ode To My Family is a pretty, sweet song full of heartwarming memories of times gone by. But there’s something about the way O’Riordan sings “Does anyone care?” at the end of each chorus and then over and over again during the song’s final moments that makes you wonder. The lyrics might not scratch past the surface, but her haunting, ominous delivery lays the broken pieces of the past bare. Released on 21 November 1994 as the second single from the band’s commercial breakthrough, No Need to Argue, it was a hit in multiple countries, peaking at No. 1 in Iceland, No. 4 in France, and No. 5 in Australia.
4. You & Me
You & Me, like most of the Cranberries’ songs, is beautiful. Tasteful, uncomplicated, and with a stunningly gorgeous refrain, it encapsulates everything there is to love about the band. It didn’t do much in the charts, but maybe that’s more of a reflection of what was happening in the charts in 1999 than it is of the song.
By rights, Dreams should be painful listening by now. It’s been featured on so many movies, TV shows, and commercials, its charms should have faded years ago. But as Billboard says, what a beauty! The layers of tom rolls, guitars, and O’Riordan’s trembling yodels combine to create such a blissful slice of sunshine pop, it remains hopelessly irresistible no matter how many times you hear it.
As Yahoo says, Zombie might be the most divisive song in the Cranberries catalog. Some people have called its politics simplistic. Others have called its chorus grating. Everyone else appreciates it for the stone-cold classic it really is. It was written by O’Riordan about an IRA bombing that resulted in the death of two kids in 1993, but her anger is directed less towards the terrorists than it is the regular people who use the line “But you see, it’s not me, it’s not my family” to excuse their ambivalence towards such tactics. Released on 19 September 1994 as the lead single from No Need to Argue, it was a worldwide hit, peaking at No.1 in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany and Iceland. It also topped the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart in the US.
When Dolores O’Riordan first met with the Cranberries (who at the time were still going under the name the Cranberry Saw Us), guitarist Noel Hogan handed her a tape. “They were just chord sequences that kept repeating, and then there might be a change for two chords,” she said. “But I liked the way there was loads of freedom.” Those chord sequences eventually became Linger, a song that ranks not only as the greatest Cranberries song ever, but as one of the best pop songs of the 90s.