It's painful every time we lose a major rock star, especially one who still had a lot of years left in front of them, as Irish singer and Cranberries frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan did. She hadn’t even hit age 50 yet, and her career was such that her biggest successes came and went before she had hit the age of 30. “Linger” and “Zombie” were sizable hits before she had even turned 24.
But those songs, along with “Dreams,” definitely did linger. A case in point on this front is the song “Zombie,” which is the 210th-most-popular video on YouTube, two ticks above Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” (Which, as it turns out, I wrote a thread about the other day.)
This impressive feat—659 million views at current count—is even more amazing when broken down slightly: Among videos created created before the year 2000, it is the second-most-played clip of all time, behind Guns N Roses’ “November Rain,” and of just videos created before the launch of YouTube, it is in third place, after “November Rain” and System of a Down’s “Chop Suey.”
This represents incredible staying power. In an era when the most popular songs of all time seem to have taken a backseat to the here and now, this song appears to have resonated with millions of people all over the world, speaking toward a decades-long conflict between the Irish Republican Army and the United Kingdom that spanned decades and was finally beginning to turn a corner around the time O’Riordan put her voice to the issue.
She wasn’t alone. A 1993 bombing attack on the English town of Warrington by the Irish Republican Army, a catalyst for O’Riordan’s song, led to much anger from the public, and was widely seen as a turning point in a deadly conflict built on nationalism. She wrote it in a moment of anger and passion.
“It’s a tough thing to sing about, but when you’re young you don’t think twice about things, you just grab it and do it,” O’Riordan told TeamRock.com about the song just a few months ago. “As you get older you develop more fear and you get more apprehensive, but when you’re young you’ve no fear.”
By 1998, this conflict over Northern Ireland, also known as The Troubles, reached a period of truce thanks to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. By this point, “Zombie” became one of the defining songs of the alternative rock era.
The Cranberries weren’t the only band to mine this territory (“how long must we sing this song,” asked U2), but the timing of the band’s message, written by O’Riordan, seemed to have a profound effect because of how effectively it captured the anger around a specific moment, ensuring it would resonate years later. Speaking to that point, in 1998 the band performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, a year in which Ireland’s John Hume and Britain’s David Trimble had won the award for their efforts at forging peace—though they left “Zombie” off the set list.
Now, The Cranberries hadn’t scored a hit of its scale since 1996, with "Salvation." And perhaps they’ve fallen back in the history books behind bigger bands that showed more staying power, like Radiohead, the Foo Fighters, and a few others.
But the band reflected a time and place—and an important piece of Irish identity—in a thoughtful way. And that’s the legacy they leave, one YouTube view at a time.