This is the 90th post in a weekly series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song is posted each Monday. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
The Cranberry Saw Us formed in Limerick, Ireland. Brothers Noel Hogan and Mike Hogan played guitar and bass, respectively, Fergal Lawler played drums, and Niall Quinn sang lead vocals. Quinn soon left the band, though, and when the three remaining members put an ad out for a replacement, they wanted a female singer.
Bands in Limerick just did cover versions, so when I met this group called The Cranberry Saw Us, I was immediately impressed: they wanted to write their own songs. They couldn’t really play, which was part of their charm. Noel Hogan, their guitarist, used to make up his own chords, sometimes with just one finger.
After auditioning, O’Riordan took some of the band’s existing demos home with her so she could play around with the material. The first thing she turned into a song “was just a chord shape, with no real melody or lyrics.” O’Riordan came up with a verse and chorus, and when she came back to the band with a rough demo of the song she had put together, they hired her on the spot.
O’Riordan later said that she wrote the song about an experience of having been rejected:
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.” 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.
They recorded a proper demo of that song, which they called “Linger.” They sold the demo in record stores throughout Ireland and when the initial 300 copies sold out, the band cut another demo tape to send to record labels all over the UK. This time, the band went with a new name: The Cranberries. The group found themselves in a bidding war with some of the biggest record labels in the UK. Eventually, they went with Island Records. Noel Hogan told The Guardian that at the beginning, he couldn’t help but be a fanboy about the whole process:
When Island signed us, we asked if we could work with Stephen Street, because he was the Smiths’ producer and we all loved them. In the studio, I kept thinking: “He used to sit with Johnny Marr, and now he’s sat with me.” I tried to play it cool but couldn’t help myself and started grilling him about the Smiths.
The Cranberries’ debut album, “Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?,” came out in the spring of 1993. The singles for “Dreams” and “Linger” did not do well initially, but then the band went on tour with The The and Suede. The buzz from those shows led MTV to put “Linger” in heavy rotation.
The attention from MTV helped sell the single. “Linger” eventually peaked at Number 3 in Ireland, Number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, Number 14 in the UK, Number 33 in Australia, and Number 38 in New Zealand.
The band’s second album was an even bigger smash. Released in 1994, “No Need To Argue,” debuted at Number 6 in the US. Among the songs that helped sell the album were “Ode To My Family” and “Zombie,” the latter of which O’Riordan wrote about violence in Northern Ireland. The Cranberries’ third album, “To the Faithful Departed,” was released in 1996, and though it spawned the song “Salvation,” the album didn’t have the same success as the first two. The band released another album and a greatest hits album, and then broke up in 2003. The Cranberries reunited twice: once for a tour in 2010, and another time to record the 2017 album “Something Else,” featuring string quartet versions of the band’s most iconic songs.
O’Riordan’s death led critics and fans to reflect on what influence The Cranberries and O’Riordan had. When reviewing the band’s catalogue, several songs stick out as examples of the great songwriting, vocals, and lyrics this band could deliver. “Linger,” as one of the band’s first hits and as the first song the band members wrote together, deserves a special recognition.
The song has been covered several times in the quarter century since it was released, though none of these covers made a splash. But these covers serve to show what an important influence the band had. And some of these versions aren’t bad.
Punk band Screeching Weasel covered “Linger” for the band’s 1999 album, “Emo.” Compared to the other Screeching Weasel covers in the series so far (“Johnny, Are You Queer?” and “I Think We’re Alone Now”), this song was the one that least lent itself to the pop punk adaptation. The album’s name describes the cover perfectly, as Ben Weasel whined throughout the song (and thus was only intelligible for half the song).
Brazilian actress and singer Angélica Ksyvickis, who performs simply under the name Angélica, recorded a Portuguese version of “Linger” called “Se a Gente Se Entender.” It sounded like The Cranberries’ version except, well, in Portuguese.
Fellow Brazilian singer Marianna Leporace included “Linger” on her 2002 covers album, “Pop Acústico.” The album focused on the ’80s and the ’90s, but Leporace didn’t reinvent the songs so much as she just performed them. Her “Linger” was faithful to the original, with the only difference being that she had a different accent from O’Riordan’s.
The Beelzebubs has the distinction of being Tufts University’s oldest male a capella group, having been around since 1963. The group performed “Linger” on the 2007 album, “Pandæmonium.” Compared to this version, the Cranberries’ original seemed like edgy death metal. While this was a fine cover, the most noteworthy track on the album was the group’s take on Deadeye Dick’s “New Age Girl.”
Kelly Clarkson performed “Linger” live at least once, and it’s a shame she hasn’t yet recorded a version in the studio. She didn’t reinvent the song or recast it in any new light, but she still managed to imbue it with her own personality.
For its 2013 album “Anugerah Hidup,” Malaysian band Estranged turned “Linger” into a late ’90s rock song with whiny vocals and melancholy guitars (think Eve 6 or Hoobastank). Though not as fast as the Screeching Weasel cover, this one could also have appeared on an album called “Emo.”
For year, the A.V. Club’s series “Undercover” has invited artists to come pick a song to cover from a limited pool of songs, and then play it in the A.V. Club offices. In 2014, when New Jersey band Real Estate participated in the series, the band chose to perform “Linger.” The band managed to give the song the vibe a cool, chill day at the beach.
The “Pickin’ On” compilations are a series of bluegrass tributes to well-known songs. After its beginning in 1993, the series mushroomed to comprise several albums, including 2016’s “Pickin’ On The 90s.” It’s a gimmick that has worked better on some songs than others. “Linger” is one of the songs that worked. Really, really well.
Also in 2016, American indie band Freedom Fry stripped “Linger” to a simple ballad. The pretty chords stood out against the almost-a-whisper vocal delivery. The Cranberries’ version was already beautiful, and this managed to be just as beautiful in a different way: the quietness of the guy/girl vocals was so sweet and pleasant that it’s hard to hear this cover and not feel relaxed by the end of it.
Over the years, some of the variations on “Linger” have come from O’Riordan herself, with and without The Cranberries.
In 1995, O’Riordan took part in one of Luciano Pavarotti’s annual charity concerts in Italy. Joining O’Riordan on “Linger” was Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran. A recording of that concert, including that song, was released in 1996 under the name “Luciano Pavarotti & Friends: Together for the Children of Bosnia.”
More recently, The Cranberries performed the song on “The Bachelorette.” In a church. For two people.
And after all that, that couple didn’t even end up together.
As mentioned above, the 2017 album “Something Else” featured the The Cranberries re-recording some of the band’s most iconic songs. The acoustic, string quartet versions of the songs showed how much the band had progressed since originally performing these songs decades earlier.
As ubiquitous as “Linger” was, it’s also been ripe for parody. It was tweaked for an episode of “Community,” when two of the characters were supposed to get married…
…and it was also satirized in the juvenile, fart-themed ode, “Do You Have To Pull My Finger?”
Of all the covers, remakes, and parodies, no version of “Linger” ever surpassed the original. Not in commercial success, influence, or quality. And it’s because of O’Riordan’s delivery, which was unmistakably Irish. In 1995, O’Riordan told Rolling Stone that she had long sung that way:
If I started to sing, then all the others in the room would stop and listen. I always had a strong Irish accent, too. People often ask me why I sing with a strong Irish accent. I suppose when I was five years old, I spoke with a strong Irish accent, so I sang with one, too.
That voice helped propel her to fame, of course. And once she was famous, she ended up hearing from the guy who inspired “Linger” all those years ago at Madonna’s:
Some years later, after I was married, the guy Linger is about wrote me a long letter, saying: “I know the song’s about me. I never meant to hurt your feelings. Can we meet?” I thought: “It’s too late. You dumped me!” I didn’t reply.
Good. That guy didn’t deserve you, Dolores. Of course, neither did any of us.