Being tasked to explore Tori Amos’ discography is like a friend pressuring you to Netflix binge on a show with over five seasons. Undoubtedly, you’ve had plenty of others urging you to watch it, but the sheer volume of material is downright overwhelming. However, when you finally do succumb, you kick yourself for not jumping in sooner.
Last week, Amos announced the upcoming release of her 14th studio album, Unrepentant Geraldines. While little is known about the project, a press release calls the record “a return to her core identity as a creator of contemporary songs.” Regardless of the album’s eventual sound, it marks the perfect time to take a look back at her 20+ year career in the business and delve into the impact she’s had since her debut record Little Earthquakes shook so many minds back in 1992.
While it’s easy for the press to lazily write her off as “kooky” and miscalculate the impact her records have had on contemporary singer-songwriters, it’s downright impossible to listen to contemporary acts like Bat For Lashes, Goldfrapp, My Brightest Diamond, Amanda Palmer, Patrick Wolf and Vienna Teng and not hear Amos’ influence bursting through the speakers. She took the idea of confessional music to new heights, embracing the visceral feelings of emptying one’s emotions on the floor, finding empowerment at rock bottom and harnessing one’s raw power. This, combined with using the piano as less of an instrument and more of an extension of herself cements Amos’ place among the greatest living musicians.
So if you’ve borrowed your way through all 14 albums, here’s a list of 14 songs you may have skipped over, missed completely, or that deserve a closer listen. Consider it your next Netflix addiction.
First appearance: China single (1992) | Listen to “Flying Dutchman”
A dramatic piano intro, nursery rhyme lyrics, and heavenly strings all make you wonder why Tori regulated this song to B-side status. A standout from the sessions that brought forth her jaw-dropping debut Little Earthquakes, “Flying Dutchman” recently was reworked for Gold Dust – a retrospective in which fourteen songs from Tori’s catalogue were rewritten with a 52-piece orchestra for backing. Also worth noting – the song birthed the title of a collection of comics inspired by Amos’ songs called Comic Book Tattoo.
First appearance: Under The Pink (1992) | Listen to “Yes, Anastasia”
An album as grandiose as Under The Pink (her sophomore release) deserves a worthy closer, and it receives it tenfold with “Yes, Anastasia.” What starts as a gentle lullaby eventually explodes into an orchestral masterpiece that’s nothing short of exhilarating. Its the best song in Tori’s catalogue to exemplify why an orchestra plus Tori Amos is a divine match, and it merges Impressionist aesthetics into musical and lyrical form.
Muhammad My Friend
First appearance: Boys For Pele (1996) | Listen to “Muhammed My Friend”
As the halfway point on Tori’s dense but fearless third album Boys For Pele, “Muhammad My Friend” has to cool the flames of the first half and gently deliver us into the equally captivating second act. With lyrics sounding like they were written about a firsthand account in Wonderland, Tori slowly builds tension with her vocals before erupting during the final verse. The quick burst of brass enters the frenzy at the tail end and makes this a truly magical song that’s an amalgamation of her Christian upbringing and patriarchal battles.
First appearance: Boys For Pele (1996) | Listen to “Doughnut Song”
On Boys For Pele, Tori structured the album to tell a story about a woman finding her fire after a relationship ends. Towards the end, “Doughnut Song” plays as her last, firm goodbye to the man at the center of the tale. “And if I’m hanging on to your shade / I guess I’m way beyond the pale” is one of the most memorable and poignant lyrics from the record, and perhaps from her entire discography.
i i e e e
First Appearance: From The Choirgirl Hotel (1998) | Listen to “i i e e e”
Tori Amos songs find their origins in all sorts of places. With “i i e e e” (pronounced EYE-EYE-EEE), Tori sings about a striking and somewhat disturbing dream she had. In its aural form, “i i e e e” uses filtered strings and operatic vocals over a tribal beat to give hallucinatory life to this chilling episode. It’s an exemplary song from the era in which Tori embraced her songs with the backing of a full band.
First Appearance: To Venus And Back (1999) | Listen to “Spring Haze”
Tori took us straight to outer space with her most experimental, piano-free album to date when she released To Venus and Back in 1999. Before the album closes, “Spring Haze” enters as the perfect marriage of a live band sound with Tori’s intricate piano playing. The chorus is also a career best.
First Appearance: Strange Little Girls (2001) | Listen to “Real Men”
In its original incarnation, Joe Jackson’s “Real Men” is flamboyant and unapologetic. When Tori reworked the song for Strange Little Girls, her covers album of songs originally performed by men, she stripped away the cheesy 80s production and replaced the flamboyance with a bitter cynicism. Her version acknowledges the song’s importance and highlights it with a minimalistic approach. Always a fierce LGBT advocate, this is Tori’s tribute to the community.
I Can’t See New York
First Appearance: Scarlet’s Walk (2002) | Listen to “I Can’t See New York”
One of the most bone chilling facts about “I Can’t See New York” is that Tori claims it was written before 9/11. This prophetic song about not being able to see the city through clouds of smoke is the centerpiece of an album about a woman’s journey across America. Sparse acoustic and electric piano on a bed of swirling synths eventually crashes into a hard drum beat, sounding like a classic rock ballad but without the schmaltz. It’s a sobering song to listen to knowing the devastation that occurred on this day, and how the terrorist attacks continue to influence fear-based politics in America.
First Appearance: Scarlet’s Hidden Treasures (2003) | Listen to “Apollo’s Frock”
The cohesion of 2002’s Scarlet’s Walk and its acoustic AM radio sound was perfect for Tori’s concept: a cross-country roadtrip that chronicles the cultural vastness and mysteries of America. At an already sprawling 18 songs, quite a few didn’t make the cut, but remain some of the best of the era. One of these is “Apollo’s Frock.” Thematically, the song recalls how Scarlet’s Walk addresses historic ownership of America and the protective nature Americans feel over their country. With ferocious piano and vocals, the song is easily one of her strongest compositionally since the mid ’90s.
First Appearance: The Beekeeper (2005) | Listen to “The Beekeeper”
The title track of Tori’s 8th album features the singer bargaining with Death for her mother’s life. Although the album was a mixed bag and slightly jarring following the epic Scarlet’s Walk, “The Beekeeper” is a crucial song in Amos’ catalogue. It’s experimental in sound, with electronic flourishes recalling her late 90s albums, but also devastating in its intensely personal lyrics.
First Appearance: A Piano: The Collection (2006) | Listen to “Zero Point”
Fans long wondered when Tori would release a career retrospective. With 2006’s A Piano: The Collection, those questions were answered, to the tune of 86 songs. Sandwiched in among other remastered hits, outtakes, b-sides and rarities, Tori finally released the ever-elusive “Zero Point.” She’d mentioned it in interviews prior to and after the release of To Venus and Back, the album for which it was meant, and it developed a bit of cult status before anyone even heard it. In its final form, “Zero Point” is a cloud of electronica that shapeshifts with each second of its almost nine minute duration. It’s an ambitious piece Tori should consider taking notes from for future projects.
First Appearance: American Doll Posse (2007) | Listen to “Smokey Joe”
For American Doll Posse, Tori decompartmentalized herself into four “dolls,” all representing different facets of her personality (and, by extension, the female experience). The result was a campy, glam rock affair that dipped into many genres throughout the collection, making it harder to identify highlights. One of the most noteworthy songs is “Smokey Joe,” attributed to the doll Pip who took on the darker, violent qualities of Tori’s nature. “Smokey Joe” has eerie keyboards and layered vocals perfectly highlight its menacing lyrics.
First Appearance: Abnormally Attracted To Sin (2009) | Listen to “Curtain Call”
After over two decades of writing music, you’d think Tori would have covered it all. With experience comes wisdom, and “Curtain Call” is Tori’s bitter recount of aging and watching the music industry fester with corruption: “By the time you’re 25 they will say, ‘you’ve gone and blown it’ / By the time you’re 35, I must confide, you will have blown them all” It’s a bold takedown of age-obsession and an admission to falling victim herself.
Edge of the Moon
First Appearance: Night of Hunters (2011) | Listen to “Edge of the Moon”
A few years ago, Amos was approached by Deutsche Grammophon – the world’s oldest and most respected classical record label – to record a song cycle, reminiscent of Schubert and others, but with a modern edge. The result was Night of Hunters, and “Edge of the Moon” is one of the highlights of that album. A variation on Siciliana from Flute Sonata, BWV 1031, it features some of her best vocals in a decade and a soaring coda that recalls the innocence and beauty of 1994’s Under the Pink.