Tori Amos has been making music for over 20 years. She has released several albums, performed many tours, and has released countless B-sides, constantly adding to her prolific musical repertory. If you wanted to explore her music, but were unsure where to start, check out the following songs:
Silent All These Years
Perhaps Amos’ most powerful song, Silent All These Years (or SATY, as it is frequently called by fans) combines quirky musings (“saved again by the garbage truck/ I’ve got something to say, you know, but nothing comes”) with vague epiphanies (“sometimes I hear my voice and it’s been here/ silent all these years”) over a strong piano track. This became the song associated with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network and their “Unlock the Silence” campaign to fight sexual assault.
Me and a Gun
This a cappela song is a personal account of Amos’ rape and dissociation from the experience. A chilling number, Me and a Gun holds nothing back, and as such it has a history of inspiring dead silence at shows and inducing cathartic tears. It is this caliber of work for which Amos is best known – the daring foray into self, talking about things mainstream music has long ago tabooed.
Smells Like Teen Spirit
This cover of Nirvana’s biggest hit marked Amos’ strong friendship with front man Kurt Cobain. A particularly ambitious cover, as Smells Like Teen Spirit was at the top of the charts, this is a vocals and piano slowed-down version of the original. Amos’ rendition not only allows listeners to catch the lyrics Cobain doesn’t always enunciate but also adds a veneer of despair glossed over in the original. After hearing this version, Kurt Cobain refused to ever perform the song again, stating that the way Amos did it was “the way it was meant to be done.”
Off of 1994’s Under the Pink, God is a quintessential Amos track. Challenging organized religion with a ferocity rarely seen, Amos confronts a past as the Sunday school-teaching daughter of a Methodist minister. Amos takes patriarchal religion to task, suggesting that a woman’s touch might be in order to prevent the exclusion of the downtrodden from spiritual support. Because of its blunt approach to challenging mainstream society, this song met a lot of criticism from the religious right but endeared Amos to fans who were willing and ready to think for themselves.
Pretty Good Year
Upon receiving a letter from a boy in Northern England, Amos wrote a song marking the despair of the early 20s, wherein young Gen-Xers the world over seem to feel as though their lives are over. Despite the passion in this song, it plays out like a shrug, an ambivalent assessment of the passing of time. This song, perhaps better than any others, encapsulates the fears of a generation – the feeling of wasted youth, a future doomed to the status quo – while other musicians can tell you what their generation does, Amos is one of few who can tell you how they really feel. Pretty Good Year sighs in a major key, further imitating the sense of false satisfaction among today’s youth.
One of Amos’ shorter songs, this often overlooked track off of 1996’s Boys for Pele is some of Amos’ narrative best. Twinkle tells the story of a trip Amos took to Iona with two of her best friends. Frustrated by the interpersonal dynamics of a group of three women, Amos left for a long walk and stumbled upon an abbey, where she met a woman in hiding there. As they stayed up all night talking, Amos discovered that her new companion was wanted for murder, albeit one committed in self-defense. The song’s repeating references to watching the night sky are Amos’ way of remarking on those strange connections we often have with complete strangers and how knowing that those people are somewhere in the world brings us some measure of comfort, whether they are in close proximity to us or not.
A song Amos always plays at shows in Dallas, Texas, “Jackie’s Strength” recounts the assassination of President John F. Kennedy with a kind of youthful innocence. As the song progresses, we see the narrator’s growth from a child into a young woman on her wedding day, approaching life with much the same naive outlook – perpetually hoping for the best, even in a relatively hopeless situation. Jackie’s Strength speaks to an entire generation of women who grew up clinging to the romanticized concept of the perfect love and reward for virtue (“virgins always get backstage/ no matter what they’ve got to say”), juxtaposed with the marriages of their parents, who often stayed together in relationships and marriages out of obligation rather than love (“if you love enough, you lie a lot/at least they did in Camelot”).
A Sorta Fairytale
The first single off of 2002’s Scarlet’s Walk, A Sorta Fairytale documents cross-country travel and the devolution of what had previously been thought to be a lifelong relationship. Not just a song about loss, Fairytale uses its wistful tone to suggest that there are reasons why things come in and out of our lives, some lasting years and some lasting only so long as it takes to travel the course of the Ventura. This single proved to Amos’ fans that she still possessed the passion of the older albums, which had been largely called into doubt with the release of To Venus and Back, which experimented a great deal with electronic sounds and ostracized a good number of long-time fans. Scarlet’s Walk was the album that brought the fans back, and Fairytale was the track that signaled that it was finally safe to return.
Taxi Ride eulogizes Kevyn Aucoin, a celebrity makeup artist and close friend of Amos. The chorus (“we’re down to your last cigarette and this ‘we are one’ crap as you’re invading”) references a previous Amos song, Muhammad, My Friend, wherein Amos repeats the Hebrew phrase “ashre,” which she loosely translates as meaning “we are one.” The abandonment of this previous ideology comes from the intimate knowledge of death and the fickle nature of friends; with this song, Amos acknowledges that death is ultimately a solo affair, and the best one can hope for is company the majority of the way. The song chides fair-weather friends and the social isolationism prevalent in the world today.
I Can’t See New York
Off Scarlet’s Walk, an epic album that charts Amos’ travels across the United States, “I Can’t See New York” will cause Americans to recall vividly September 11th, 2001. In the song, the narrator sees a plane crash mid-air and internalizes this experience, reminding herself of the reality of the experience, as many Americans had to do on that fateful day while watching the tragedy befalling the World Trade Center. Not purely a song of experience, this is also a song about an individual exploring her future and finding her path obscured.