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Best Tori Amos Songs: 20 Essential Tracks From The Flame-Haired Icon
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List & Guides

Best Tori Amos Songs: 20 Essential Tracks From The Flame-Haired Icon

Raw, confessional and heartfelt, the best Tori Amos songs take the listener on emotional journeys through the weightiest subjects.

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Born Myra Ellen Amos on 22 August 1963 – but known to legions of fans simply as “Tori” – the flame-haired singer-songwriter and pianist broke through in 1992 with Little Earthquakes: a groundbreaking debut that fearlessly tackled misogyny, religion and female sexuality. She has been fighting ever since, selling more than 12 million albums and receiving multiple Grammy nominations. Raw, confessional and heartfelt, the best Tori Amos songs take the listener on an emotional journey, and her music has been turned into a graphic novel, a successful musical and, more recently, seen Amos return to her classical roots.

Amos is an artist of dualities. The daughter of a Methodist minister who questions conventional Christianity; the child prodigy who, aged five, was the youngest ever student to be admitted to the prestigious Peabody Institute, but who was expelled by the age of 11 for her passion for rock music and insistence on playing by ear; the classical concert pianist who writhes at the Bösendorfer as she sings about sex, religion and politics – she proves as tricky to pin down as her songs are. She thinks of them as her daughters, “but with a lot more intelligence than I have… If you can imagine a daughter being born and she goes off to college in high heels and says, ‘Thanks for having me, mum. Bye!’”

The personal is often political for an artist who’s never scared to tackle the weightiest of subjects with courage and flair, winning millions of devoted fans as a result. Here, then, are the 20 best Tori Amos songs…

Listen to the best of Tori Amos here, and check out our best Tori Amos songs, below.

20: Smells Like Teen Spirit (Crucify B-side, 1992)

An iconic cover, Tori’s take on Nirvana’s grunge anthem appeared as the B-side of her 1992 single Crucify, from Little Earthquakes, and was included in the deluxe reissue of the album, in 2015. From an artist who had to battle to be taken seriously in an era of guitars and grunge, the power of the acoustic piano and her emotional commitment to the song speak for themselves. “It was a real fight to get people to have a different image of what the piano was,” Amos told this author of her breakthrough as a solo artist. “I refused to see how it had been boxed in to this definition of passive and non-confrontational.” Nirvana’s frontman, Kurt Cobain, dubbed the cover “a great breakfast cereal version”, but there’s something of the night about it, too – in the best possible way. The singer played it to an emotional audience in a Berlin church the day after Cobain died, though she had difficulty finishing it.

19: Taxi Ride (from ‘Scarlet’s Walk’, 2002)

“There is no safer place for a 13-year-old girl than in an all-gay bar.” So said Tori’s father, the Reverend Edison McKinley Amos, as he dropped his teenage daughter at Mr Henry’s in Georgetown, Washington, DC, the first venue to give the young piano player a chance. Tori never forgot that kindness. With a backdrop of what feels like a lock-in, Taxi Ride is a song she’s played in support of the LGBTQ+ community in Russia and Turkey, further cementing its place among the best Tori Amos songs. Partly inspired by the death of makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin, the single from her seventh studio album, Scarlet’s Walk, is a bittersweet gem that not only mourns the loss of a friend and captures the post-9/11 era in which it was written (“This ‘we are one’ crap/As you’re invading”) but, with its end-of-night, dancing-on-tables hedonism, is an ardent celebration of friendship.

18: Enjoy The Silence (from ‘Strange Little Girls’, 2001)

Amos’ first project after the birth of her longed-for daughter, Natashya, was 2001’s Strange Little Girls, on which she covered songs exclusively by male artists, from Tom Waits to Eminem. Her version of the latter’s ’97 Bonnie And Clyde was the most talked-about track on the album – Amos argued that it gave the murdered woman in the song’s narrative a voice – but our favourite is her version of Depeche Mode’s Enjoy The Silence: a cover brimming with love as the new mother sings, “All I ever wanted/All I ever needed/Is here in my arms.”

17: Northern Lad (from ‘from the choirgirl hotel’, 1998)

She might have made her name challenging religion and the patriarchy on Little Earthquakes, but no one does love songs of such exquisite tenderness as Amos. Northern Lad, the ninth track on from the choirgirl hotel, is a case in point. Comparing the tracks on that 1998 album to a group of girls at a hotel, Amos said, “Northern Lad is probably the loved woman in the group and… she had to go to another country” – a sly reference to her own relocation for her British husband, sound engineer Mark Hawley. “He’s a Northern lad, quite anarchic, and a little bit shaggy, you know. When he proposed to me, he said, ‘I’m definitely not marrying you for a Green Card. I can’t live in that place,’” she told Woman’s Journal in 2001. For a line that’s pure Tori, listen out for: “I guess you go too far when pianos try to be guitars.”

16: Sugar (China B-side, 1992)

Another B-side from Little Earthquakes, Sugar came into its own on tour as Amos played it live over the years, refashioning it into a rock song with a full band. Channelled, so she says, by the spirit of Freddie Mercury and inspired by a guy Tori had a crush on who made her tea, but couldn’t remember how she took it (“Don’t you think you can remember how many sugars a girl takes in her tea after nine months?”), it’s a sweet, sexy track with more punch than your average cuppa. The live version officially released in 1999, on the second disc of To Venus And Back, is astounding and more than earns its place among the best Tori Amos songs.

15: Jackie’s Strength (from ‘from the choirgirl hotel’, 1998)

Amos was born in 1963, the year JFK was shot. Her mother, on hearing the news, put her three-month-old down for a moment “and prayed for Jackie’s strength”. A stunning meditation on marriage, femininity, birth and death, the song, the second single from her 1998 album, from the choirgirl hotel, was written on the run-up to Amos’ wedding to Hawley. In the video, a runaway-bride Tori hides in the back of a car as it trawls through white-picket suburbia. “I really knew that I was gonna need some kind of strength because I’m made up of, like, two personalities,” Amos explained in her VH1 Storytellers special. “There’s one side of me that could very easily have ended up at the 7-Eleven sitting outside drinking a Slurpee in my wedding dress and just missing the whole thing. And then there’s the other one that did make it to the church. So, this song is about the one that drank the Slurpee.”

14: A Sorta Fairytale (from ‘Scarlet’s Walk’, 2002)

The best-selling single from Scarlet’s Walk – an album born from a road trip Amos took across her traumatised homeland post-9/11 – A Sorta Fairytale is a poignant love story set on the Pacific Coast Highway. “There’s something about the Southwestern light,” explained Amos in her liner notes for A Piano: The Collection. “The Getaway with Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw was a great reference. Those who didn’t know the Southwest first-hand could relate to that film.” The video, starring Adrien Brody as Amos’ love interest, sees the lovers as separate limbs, made whole by a kiss.

13: Spark (from ‘from the choirgirl hotel’, 1998)

Spark’s video came with a warning of graphic disturbing imagery: a blindfolded Amos with her hands tied behind her back stumbles through Dartmoor, a National Park in the south-west of England, hunted down by a faceless assailant. With the viewer’s perspective alternating between the hunter and the hunted, and a thought-provoking twist at the end, it’s a miniature masterpiece befitting one of the best Tori Amos songs. The lead single and opener from from the choirgirl hotel, Spark’s heavier arrangement and earwormy repetition of “She’s addicted to nicotine patches” lend a darkness to a song – like the quieter, jazzier Playboy Mommy and, indeed, the album as a whole – that aches with the artist’s experience of miscarriage. “She’s convinced she could hold back a glacier,” Amos sings. “But she couldn’t keep baby alive.”

12: Precious Things (from ‘Little Earthquakes’, 1992)

You could argue that every track from Little Earthquakes, the singer-songwriter’s outstanding solo debut, belongs on a list of the best Tori Amos songs. When her pop-metal band Y Kant Tori Read failed commercially, Amos stripped things back to basics, confronted her demons and created a solo album so personal and raw she’s compared it with a diary. Precious Things was one of the four songs, including Tear In Your Hand, Girl and the title track, that rescued the album after it was rejected by Atlantic in its first incarnation. A much-loved live staple exploring how women are valued and seen from onlookers in the playground to executives in the record industry, Precious Things still stirs the blood. At its heart is the immortal riposte you’ll always hear bellowed at Tori gigs: “So you can make me cum/That doesn’t make you Jesus.”

11: God (from ‘Under The Pink’, 1994)

Despite the shrieking guitars and famously rat-filled promo video – which even Beavis and Butt-Head had something to say about at the time – Amos sounds almost demure as she asks, “God, sometimes you just don’t come through/Do you need a woman to look after you?” The teenage Tori turned up in red leather trousers to the Methodist church where her father was a minister, to teach the choir and challenge the church fathers on where she could find the women in Christian theology. One of her many feminist takes on the church – see also Crucify, Muhammad My Friend and Mary – the meaning of God, from her second studio album, Under The Pink, has been debated ad infinitum, but, as Amos put it to Creem magazine: “The institutional God who’s been ruling the universe, in the books, has to be held accountable. I want to have a cup of tea with him and just have a little chat.”

10: Tear In Your Hand (from ‘Little Earthquakes’, 1992)

A stunning song of lost love, Little Earthquakes’ Tear In Your Hand was written during a visit to Rockville, Maryland. “It’s bittersweet, I think, always going back, when you’re that age for the holidays,” Amos told Rolling Stone. “I think Tear In Your Hand is very much about feelings I had for certain people and lots of nostalgia coming up at that time.” With its peerless retort to a former love who’s moved on – “Maybe she’s just pieces of me you’ve never seen” – the song also boasts Amos’ first lyrical references to author Neil Gaiman (“Neil says hi by the way”), who went on to become a close friend and godfather to Tori’s daughter.

9: Professional Widow (from ‘Boys For Pele’, 1996)

Written in the wake of her split from producer and partner Eric Rosse, the experimental Boys For Pele – named after the Hawaiian volcano goddess who demanded sacrificial male flesh – marked a turning point in 1996, featuring an eclectic range of sounds: the harpsichord, harmonium and clavichord, as well as a gospel choir, Caribbean percussionists, Louisiana brass brands and bagpipes. In Professional Widow, said to be inspired by Lady Macbeth, Edgar Allan Poe and Courtney Love, Amos – never afraid to marry the profane with the profound – insists “It’s gotta be big” to a boisterous harpsichord accompaniment. One of her best-known tracks, Professional Widow reached No.1 in the UK as Armand Van Helden’s remix and Amos’ fruity lyrics resounded in clubs throughout the 90s.

8: Girl (from ‘Little Earthquakes’, 1992)

“I had come from child prodigy to ‘vapid bimbo’,” Amos told Rolling Stone of the failure of Y Kant Tori Read in 1988. “I had to look at my part in the misrepresentation of my soul and how I pulled the trigger.” During this time of self-reflection, the chorus of Girl – “She’s been everybody else’s girl/Maybe one day she’ll be her own” – came to the singer as she sat at an old upright piano in a farmhouse on a trip to Virginia with her family. A classic coming-of-age anthem about discovering your own power, the song was one of the four recorded during the second phase of Little Earthquakes. Girl saw a resurgence of popularity in 2017, in post-#MeToo Trump’s America, though, as one of the best Tori Amos songs, it’s never fallen out of favour with any fan who’s railed at being told to “sit in the chair and be good now”.

7: Baker Baker (from ‘Under The Pink’, 1994)

With echoes of the children’s nursery rhyme Pat-A-Cake, Pat-A-Cake, Baker Baker, from Under The Pink, is a track of heart-tightening intimacy. As if the listener is eavesdropping on a prayer, Amos addresses the baker of the title: “Make me a day, make me whole again.” Amos told The Baltimore Sun in 1994 how the record deals “with a man that truly loved me, but that I wasn’t emotionally available for”. Yet it’s also a song about trying to heal, following on from Me And A Gun, in which she confronts her experience of rape at 21. As Amos put it in the liner notes to the 2015 deluxe edition of the album, “What ingredients do you need to become whole again when something is broken inside?” One answer can be found in the song itself: the healing power of creativity.

6. Caught A Lite Sneeze (from ‘Boys For Pele’, 1996)

The unmistakable percussive intro to Caught A Lite Sneeze reverberates like an alarm, with Amos playing the harpsichord with a passion perhaps hitherto unknown to that genteel instrument. Also notable for being the first track ever to be made available as a free download, Caught A Lite Sneeze is a song of some opacity, with a much-noted reference to Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine album (Amos’ friendship with Trent Reznor saw them collaborate on each other’s songs in the 90s). In press materials, Amos said of this song: “It’s really about a relationship. And she’s kind of given herself away, so she’s trying to get pieces back in any way she can.” Whatever its meaning, it’s a dazzling track.

5: Silent All These Years (from ‘Little Earthquakes’, 1992)

Silent All These Years epitomises the spirit behind Little Earthquakes: the story of an artist finding her voice. The tinkle of the bumblebee riff contrasts with the seriousness of the lyrics. “It’s counterpoint, pure and simple,” the artist has said of her most requested song, which started life as a track she was writing for Al Stewart. Though initially a B-side of Amos’ debut solo single, Me And A Gun, Silent All These Years stepped into the limelight when BBC Radio 1 named it Song Of The Week. It became Tori’s first chart entry in the UK, peaking at No.51 and later, on re-release, making it to No.26. Inspired by the Little Mermaid story, which Amos used to read with her niece, the track also echoed sentiments expressed by US lawyer Anita Hill. In 1991, during Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings, she accused the then US Supreme Court nominee of sexual harassment, saying, “I could not keep silent.” One of the best Tori Amos songs, it is still, after all these years, astonishingly powerful.

4: Hey Jupiter (from ‘Boys For Pele’, 1996)

The heart-wrenching Hey Jupiter – its title a nod to Hey Jude from the lifelong Beatles fan – perfectly distils the loneliness and disorientation that follow a really bad breakup. The song began life in a hotel room in Phoenix; as Amos tells it, it came to her in John Lennon’s voice: “I was in Arizona at the time, in the desert, and I was hearing him say: ‘No one’s picking up the phone, Guess it’s me and me, And this little masochist, she’s ready to confess.’” The extended Dakota version, released on the Hey Jupiter EP, involved a full re-recording, with more layers – including bass, guitars and a rhythm track – making more of the song’s homage to Prince’s Purple Rain. One of the very best Tori Amos songs, even its coda will break your heart: “I go from day to day/I know where the cupboards are/I know where the car is parked/I know he isn’t you.”

3: Me And A Gun (from ‘Little Earthquakes’, 1992)

Once heard, never forgotten, Me And A Gun was recorded in one trancelike take. The haunting a cappella track, from Little Earthquakes, details the artist’s experience of sexual assault. Amos, who wrote the song after watching the 1991 film Thelma & Louise, explained: “I wanted to write something so that you could taste it, you are in the car, you smelled and tasted that violation and that fear and that feeling.” She helped to found RAINN (Rape, Abuse And Incest National Network), the US’s largest anti-sexual assault organisation, and became its first national spokesperson. Me And A Gun has lost none of its power since 1992; survivors return to it again and again. One in every four women who visits Tori backstage tell her they’ve experienced the same.

2: Cornflake Girl (from ‘Under The Pink’, 1994)

Don’t be fooled by the cheery chorus of Tori’s biggest hit: Cornflake Girl was inspired by dark themes. Released as the first single from Under The Pink and featuring soul singer Merry Clayton as a backup singer, the track reached No.4 in the UK. The song was born the previous year, during a conversation Amos had with her friend Karen Binns about female genital mutilation. “How women behave toward each other within the global culture of patriarchy is the discussion that the song Cornflake Girl wanted to take part in,” the singer wrote in her book Resistance. She and Binns dubbed women who sabotage their sisters Cornflake Girls – though, in a curious sidenote, Amos had previously appeared in an advertisement for Kellogg’s Just Right cereal, pipping Sarah Jessica Parker to the post.

1: Winter (from ‘Little Earthquakes’, 1992)

From Little Earthquakes, an album full of fire and fury, the delicate appeal of Winter – a perennial fan favourite – has endured like a snowdrop and tops our list of the best Tori Amos songs. Conjuring the icy landscape of her childhood, Amos recalls playing in the snow in a tender song of paternal love: “He says, ‘When you gonna make up your mind?/When you gonna love you as much as I do?’” Inspiring covers by R.E.M., Dream Theater and Amanda Palmer, and gratitude from WWE star Mick Foley, who credits it with saving his mojo, Winter is a song that has matured and grown for the artist. “It was inspired by my father and my grandfather, but what began to happen was that I started to see new pictures, such as my daughter running in the snow with her dad,” Amos later explained. In the final chorus, the soaring strings vanish for a moment and her voice drops to a whisper: sometimes the most powerful thing can just be stripping it back to an artist and her piano.

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