The message she vehemently boasted in every one of her compositions, especially in those infectious yet poignant hits singles, was one of boldness, empowerment, and an unrelenting penchant for the taboo. Her music encompasses every aspect of the female condition, which never shies away from being brutally unequivocal, erotically dissatisfied, and painfully autobiographical; when you put on one of her records, you’rsol.”e drawn into an aural space of hermetic rage, alienation, and utter defiance for the patriarchal oligarchy that has continued (and still continues) to permeate in today’s society for women.
Tori Amos is, in my opinion, Generation X’s Patti Smith; her fearless poetics in the name of feminism, along with a self-effacing presence that’s still rock and roll to its very core, is what’s so captivating about her. But then I’d also say she’s America’s answer to Kate Bush; sure, she plays piano and sings like an angel, but some of her instrumentation can get just as wildly eclectic and unpredictable as the music of Kate Bush.
This top 10 list will hopefully serve as a template for anybody looking to dive right into her music. She’s truly an artist whose music can make you move around and nod your head to, but can also turn on a dime and make you well up with emotion.
10.) Strange Little Girls
Starting off the top ten list is Strange Little Girls, released in 2001. It’s a collection of cover songs ranging from The Velvet Underground (“New Age”), The Beatles )(“Happiness is a Warm Gun”), Depeche Mode (“Enjoy the Silence”), Tom Waits (“Time”), and even Slayer (“Raining Blood”) and Eminem (“’97 Bonnie and Clyde”). She puts her own signature twist on each tune, singing through each male-driven song through a female perspective. It’s a cool album to check out if you’re a fan of the aforementioned artists, but it’s also great hearing somebody like Tori create an intimate, and sometimes haunting, space for these songs to linger in.
9.) The Beekeeper
Her eighth album, released in 2005, became her fifth one as a female artist to crack the top ten Billboard 200 chart; a feat matched only by the likes of Madonna and Barbra Streisand. She keeps things less grandiose than her previous albums; putting more prominence on her piano arrangements and lyrical themes of death, romanticism, and Gnostic mysticism. This is one of her more straightforward albums; composed mainly of delicate harmonies and soulful crooning, especially on tracks like “Sleeps with Butterflies,” “Mother Revolution,” and “Parasol.” “The Beekeeper” is one of her more underrated efforts, and one that’s definitely a smooth listen if you’re not into her more abrasive work.
8.) American Doll Posse
This is kind of strange album. Not only because it was a concept album with five female alter egos that Tori created (Clyde, Isabel, Tori, Santa, and Pip; each based off of deities of Greek mythology.), but because it’s her most rock and roll album. Of course, she never abandons the piano, but it’s more or less pushed into the background, with electric amplifiers cranked into the forefront.
Many people find this album to be quite self-indulgent, bloated, and overly produced, but I think that’s where the true magic lies, in my opinion. It’s not an overly complex concept with cryptic lyrics or masturbatory instrumentation; it’s just a great rock record by a multi-talented female artist…which just happens to be over eighty minutes long!
A few tracks on here to single out are “Yo George,” “Bouncing Off Clouds,” “Teenage Hustling,” “Body and Soul,” and “Dark Side of the Sun.”
7.) Abnormally Attracted to Sin
This record marked a return for Tori’s more personal musings; she delves deep into her own life and the things she’s experienced as a wife, mother, and older woman since she was younger when she first released her debut album. Stylistically, the album goes even further with the sonic experimentation she continued to adopt on each subsequent release; this time, acquiring a more trip hop sound.
“Abnormally Attracted to Sin” is a pretty overlooked record, because it not only retains her raw sensibilities, but it does so with a more seismic groove; the tracks “Give,” “Flavor,” “Police Me,” and “Ophelia” being a few examples of such.
6.) Scarlet’s Walk
Her seventh studio album, released in 2002, is a cross-country odyssey into a post-911 America. This was a turning point for Tori Amos in her career; here, she wasn’t just a poet behind a piano spewing confessional vignettes or highly sophisticated carnal meditations. With “Scarlet’s Walk,” she was beginning to come into her own as a politically charged singer as well.
It’s truly a remarkable album, and one that at times feels very poignant, given its subject matter. You really just have to listen to every song from start to finish to understand its true intentions, but just for a frame of reference, check out “I Can’t See New York” and “Taxi Ride.”
5.) To Venus and Back
This double album, composed of one side of studio material, and another side of live material, was the moment Tori Amos started her transitional phase; it’s quite an abnormal album, because of how musically diverse it is. She teeters on electronic, trip hop, and baroque pop, but it’s a wonderfully unhinged conglomeration.
It’s an album of hers that got a polarizing reception because it completely abandoned her more distinctive piano-laden rock, but this was the moment she evolved as an artist. Yes, it’s not an album for anybody who’s more accustomed to her earlier work, but if you’d listen to tracks like “Bliss,” “Concertina,” “Glory of the 80’s,” “Suede,” and “Spring Haze,” you’d not only hear that side of Tori Amos, but also a side of her not afraid to challenge her detractors and cross over into uncharted territory.
4.) Under the Pink
Her sophomore album, released in 1994, is one of the of best albums of the 1990’s (Along with her debut.). It carries on the same Alt-rock formula as Little Earthquakes, but with a few more added blemishes of classical piano dynamics; her subject matter just as tortured, confessional, and unfettered, but with the lingering scent of pop still in the ether.
This record is meticulously crafted with tracks like the commercial smash hits “Cornflake Girl,(A song inspired by a conversation about female genital mutilation in Africa. Amos stated in an interview that “cornflake girl” was a name given to girls who would double-cross you, despite being your friend.)” and “Pretty Good Year (A song inspired by a letter she received from a 23 year old fan who lamented that his “life is over.”),” as well as deep cuts like “Bells for Her (Where she utilizes a prepared piano in the same vein as avant-garde composer John Cage; one of her best songs, in my opinion.), “Baker Baker,” “Icicle,” and the expansive closer, “Yes, Anastasia.”
Under the Pink is a remarkable album, and one of her essentials if you’re looking for a shallow area to dive right into her work.
3.) From the Choirgirl Hotel
After two landmark records, Tori Amos decided to follow-up with her 1998 release, From the Choirgirl Hotel. The main theme of the album was inspired by a miscarriage she suffered in 1996, as well as her engagement to her partner around that period. This is a window view into the mindset of an individual who went through such a distressing experience, where the arrangements are quite lush and unconventional, but her vocals still retain the pain and sorrow of a woman who had lost another life growing inside of her.
Tracks like “Spark,” Cruel,” “Black-Dove(January),” “lieee,” and “Hotel” showcase Tori Amos as an artist at her creative peak. She’s someone who isn’t afraid to open her life up to a complete stranger, and that really shows with From the Choirgirl Hotel. This would be her fourth consecutive classic.
2.) Little Earthquakes
Here’s the album that really started it all. It’s the album that turned Tori Amos into a well-respected singer/songwriter, and an emotive presence in the crux of nineties alternative music. The collection of songs on Little Earthquakes spoke to legions of women, and even men, on some intrinsic level, because her lyrical themes dealt with identity, sex, self-doubt, abuse, and family. It’s an intense listen underneath its catchy and vulnerable aesthetic, but one that is truly an unprecedented experience.
It’s an album that serves as both a therapy session and a soap box for a woman who would stomp all over the testosterone-driven rock landscape. Every song on here is a classic; there’s no filler here. Everything from the angry and fist-pumping opener “Crucify,” the hauntingly brilliant “Girl,” “Precious Things (This rocker will surely give you goosebumps.),” as well as “Winter (A song she wrote for her father, which is probably her best composition, in my opinion; especially when she performs it live.), “Leather,” and “Me and a Gun (She wrote this about an incident where she was raped at knifepoint by a man who asked her for a ride home. One of the hardest songs to listen to, most definitely.)
1.) Boys for Pele
When this album first came out, fans and critics alike were appalled by its abrasive and experimental nature; but that’s what makes this album so damn brilliant. Tori Amos wasn’t afraid to take risks with this one; even if that meant abandoning her piano in favor of harpsichords, brass strings, and clavichords. There’s still some orchestral beauty overlapping the record in many places, but for the most part, it deviates from the previous music that made her a big name.
It’s quite an expansive album; coming in at over 70 minutes with 18 tracks. But with songs like “Beauty Queen/Horses,” “Blood Roses,” “Father Lucifer, ” “Professional Widow,” and “Talula,” you just have to overlook the bulk of it and gaze in the wonderment of its magic.
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Updated March 1, 2021
Top 10 Tori Amos Albums article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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