The 10 Best Tori Amos Songs of All Time

There are very few artists who manage to maintain a rabid and loyal fanbase such as Tori Amos. To like Tori is to LOVE Tori — even if you hate what she’s become. Those who refer to themselves as “Toriphiles” (I know), are an opinionated bunch, who love to speculate on the intricacies of her career — why she released this album, and why these songs have remained unheard, etc. What’s really interesting about her fanbase is that they rarely (if ever) agree with each other about what is considered Amos’ seminal work. There is never a consensus, and there is rarely respect for each others’ differing opinions. Taking three steps back though, you can examine the patterns inherent in her fanbase and realize that there are common running threads throughout the discussions of what makes Amos so great.

Amos’ fans also love to make lists. You can venture on to ANY Tori Amos forum site and read the endless threads that ask fans to organize the musician’s catalogue from best to worst — filtered through some interesting categories such as: “Five Best Harpsichord Songs”, or “Favourite Unreleased B-Sides”. So, a Top Ten list is nothing new for this group. Instead, this list is intended as a brief introduction for non-fans — those who haven’t been spoiled by the odd quirkiness that Tori Amos can often exude making her less accessible to the mainstream public. It is meant for those who have always wanted to know more about Tori Amos, but didn’t know where to start.

What I’ve compiled here (besides an exercise in futility) is a list of 10 songs that hopes to encapsulate both the elemental themes in Tori Amos’ music, as well as the finest musical directions she has embarked upon. Although there are many interlocking facets to what Amos sings about, there are some definite thematic consistencies, such as the self, interpersonal relationships, motherhood, womanhood, heartbreak, religion, and America. This is not comprehensive by any means, but they are the most frequently broached topics for Amos. Because this list is a reflection of those consistent threads in her music, I have intentionally left off tracks such as “Caught a Lite Sneeze” and “Cornflake Girl”, as those are aspects of a greater theme in her work — they are great songs, but they don’t define how Amos understands the world through her music. I’ve tried my best to leave out personal biases and incorporate the opinions and relevancies of fans and critics who know Tori in a way that I don’t personally gravitate towards. The reality is that she has 11 studio albums (one more on the way, due out September 26, Night of Hunters) and over 200 songs under her belt, and with only 10 songs to choose from this was definitely a trying task.

For those Toriphiles, who will most likely be the only ones reading this article, I implore you! Burn a CD (or make a playlist) of these 10 songs, share it with your friends who are not Tori Amos fans, and ask them to give a shot to the artist who we love and adore so magnificently, and hate so intensely.


10. “Lady in Blue”
(Abnormally Attracted to Sin, 2009)

In the latter half of Tori’s career (everything post-Strange Little Girls), Amos has zagged right when everyone expected her to zig left. This isn’t a completely good thing as many people have found it difficult to get on board with the musical directions she has decided to tread. In 2009 she released her much-reviled 10th studio album Abnormally Attracted to Sin. The album is an uneven mess of b-sides meant for her previous album American Doll Posse, and new electronic material. The bad songs are really bad (see “Not Dying Today”), but the good songs are quite amazing and surprising. One such tune is the album closer “Lady in Blue”. In it, Amos casts the mirror in her direction and takes a good hard look at what she’s become as a musician. The track makes continuous references to how she can “play lady in blue if you want me to”, and that she can “play well into midnight”, understanding that she’s an aging rock star, not what she once was, and because of this needs to venture through this new terrain to find herself. There is a sense of sorrow for what has passed, but simultaneously an understanding of what has transpired. It is also hopeful and self-affirming, as she asks the members in her band “Can I join you”, whilst proclaiming “I can play too”. The music itself is a seven-and-a-half-minute-long epic number that demonstrates Amos penchant for (and desire for) rocking out. It begins with a looming atmospheric hum and explodes in a two-and-a-half-minute full band jam session. Of the tracks in Tori’s later catalogue, “Lady in Blue” is a perfect encapsulation of what she’s become, and where many of us hope she’ll continue.

9. “Blood Roses”
(Boys For Pele, 1996)

Amos released an earth-shattering epic record in 1996 called Boys For Pele. Many were surprised at how candid she was being about her life-changing break-up with longtime partner and producer Eric Rosse. The album is filled with conflicting emotions from heartbreak, to confusion, to anger, to how she loses herself in relationships with men. The first half of the album sees an angry and confused Amos, reacting to how she has been positioned within her interpersonal relationships with men, while the latter half attempts to deal with the calming after the storm. “Blood Roses” is seminal “angry” Tori, rocking out in the best way Amos knows how — on her own at the foot of her instrument. Up until this point, we’ve only ever heard Amos at her piano. Boys introduced us to the Tori who is fascinated with a variety of multi-faceted keyboard instruments. “Blood Roses” is the first track on the album that is solely performed on harpsichord. There are no drums, no guitars, no bass — none of the typical instruments that are associated with “rocking out”, but rock out she does. From the medieval opening riffs to her belting lines like “God knows, I know I’ve thrown away those graces”. “Blood Roses” introduced us to a new kind of Tori, one that could be fierce and vitriolic in new and unexpected ways.

8. “Spring Haze”
(To Venus and Back, 1999)

When I first heard To Venus and Back I was instantly repelled. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand where she was going with this album and why she was singing about the things she was. It took me some time to understand that To Venus and Back was her landing album. She had been dramatic and emotional and torn up for four albums previous, and now she was learning to subside her rage and control herself. “Spring Haze” is the perfect “I’m-slowly-coming-to-terms-with-myself-and-my-new-found-happiness” song. Although the song was literally written for John F. Kennedy, Jr.’s untimely death via plane crash, it can also be understood as an enlightened first breath after years of sorrow and unhappiness — coupled with all the uncertainty that comes with a fierce change in life patterns when all you’ve ever known is sorrow. She fights against the calmness she’s feeling and is conflicted by the ambiguity of where she fits. The opening lines are breathtakingly beautiful as a demure Tori sings, “Certain these clouds go somewhere / Billowing out to somewhere.” Stylistically, the song exemplifies Amos’ adventurous musical spirit of patterned electronic music. This is the song you sing if you’re cautiously optimistic.

7. “Tombigbee”
(Welcome to Sunny Florida DVD, 2004)

When Amos released Scarlet’s Walk, you could access a secret site by inserting the disc into your computer and following the instructions. The secret site came complete with map of the United States and poorly-streaming b-sides. This is where most fans were introduced to the one song recorded during the Scarlet’s Walk sessions that didn’t sound completely middle of the road. “Tombigbee” is a thrilling rock song that perfectly encapsulates “political” Tori. It’s no secret that Amos is outraged at what she believes America has become — she wrote two full albums dedicated to the topic! Of all the songs that attempt to illustrate the raping of the American land (“Dark Side of the Sun”, “Virginia”, “Pancake”, etc.), “Tombigbee” is clearly the standout. Musically, it’s a perfect rock meld of Wurlitzer and full band, with enough stops and starts to please any casual listener. Lyrically, Amos rips into the state of America’s reactionary politics and hypocrisies with lines such as, “To you, it’s another day / To me it’s a grim reaping / Just another shooting star / Strung out on your wire”, as well as, “So you get done, then you get some / Sure enough, it won’t hold you for long / Then you say ‘Right, this is all mine’ / But hasn’t your donor card expired / From Blueridge to Cattail on the prairie / From fly-over country / Back through Mississippi / I said go, man you go / Well, you raise me 20 / I’m raising you 500 treaties signed by your father’s lies”. It’s compelling and striking and should have been on the album.

6. “God”
(Under the Pink, 1994)

At this point in Amos’ career, she had revealed herself as a shockingly earnest and honest singer/songwriter. She laid the groundwork for the type of musical style she was most comfortable with, namely soft piano-centric music. When Under the Pink was released in 1994, many people were not expecting this shockingly abrasive track where she basically defames the god of the Catholic Church played against a forceful full-band arrangement with screeching and disturbing guitars. No one was expecting this. Today, it stands as one of the most daringly abrasive Amos tracks, based both on the lyrical content and the musical style. It’s definitely difficult for good Catholic boys and girls to hear a crazy red-haired piano player singing lines like “God sometimes you just don’t come through / Do you need a woman to look after you? / Tell me you’re crazy and maybe then I’ll understand… I’ve got to find, find, find / Why you always go when the wind blows”. Hearing these blasphemous words being sung against scary, seductive music is like listening to the devil coming after you. Of course, as you mature, and begin to understand the inner workings of organized religion and their basic denial of women (an area that Amos covers often, see: “Marys of the Sea” and “Past the Mission”), you realize that what she tackled in this song was both brave and brazen, disallowing the Catholic Church to relegate women to back-of-mind second-class citizens. This is why Tori Amos is cool.

5. “Cooling”
(“Spark” single, 1998)

If there’s one thing that Amos knows, it’s heartbreak and how to tear your heart out in song. Break-ups have been a HUGE theme throughout Tori’s work, and these songs are always most popular by fans. Tracks such as “Baker Baker”, “Black Swan”, “Tear in Your Hand” and “Hey, Jupiter” always receive uproarious applause when performed in concert. Along came Boys For Pele an album full of heartbreak, confusion and denial, as it chronicled her break up of an 8-year long relationship. Unfortunately, it ended with the track “Twinkle” instead of this song (which was written during the Boys for Pele sessions). It finally saw the light of day two years later on the single for “Spark” from the album From the Choirgirl Hotel. It’s a beautifully touching number detailing the anguish you feel when the end of a relationship is cooling faster than you are prepared for. The most painful moment comes at about ¾ in, when she sings “and is your place in heaven worth giving up these kisses, these kisses?” Amongst some of her most stellar work on break-ups and heartache, “Cooling” stands as the supreme. It’s magnificently heartbreaking and will make you ugly cry.

4. “Spark”
(From the Choirgirl Hotel, 1998)

A heavy thematic element in Amos’ music, which began with the release of her fan-favorite album From the Choirgirl Hotel, is the notion of motherhood and how that ties into her identity as a woman. From the Choirgirl Hotel’s release was preceded by this single. It’s a ’60s/’70s-style rock piece with Amos singing through vocal effects and plunking away at a guitar-MIDI keyboard. The song’s content details one of her many miscarriages. Through the song she struggles with how to be a woman without the ability to nurture a life inside her: “She’s convinced she could hold back a glacier / But she couldn’t keep Baby alive / Doubting if there’s a woman in there somewhere / Here”. This concept is accented perfectly by the haunting video which features a tied-up Tori escaping from her kidnapper — a video which at the time of its release needed to be preceded with a content warning for its graphic disturbing imagery. Since “Spark”, Amos has ventured repeatedly down the path of motherhood and womanhood with some stellar tunes such as “Mother Revolution” and “Dragon”, as well as some awful numbers like “Ribbons Undone”. “Spark” still holds as the catalyst for this topic, and is still the most disturbingly introspective and insightful.

3. “Pretty Good Year”
(Under the Pink, 1994)

Amo’s sophomore release begins with the delicate piano notes that characterize this superior Tori song “Pretty Good Year”. The origins of this composition are rooted in a fan letter that Amos’ father forced her to read and respond to. The letter was sent from a boy (presumably named Greg) who explained to the singer that his girlfriend left him for his best friend. Amos responded with this song, and since then EVERY Tori fan has tried to relay sad stories to her in hopes that they are immortalized by her in one of her tunes. The song itself is a touching number meant to calm and empathize. To love Amos is to know that she always does her best to give back to her fans. She knows they’re loyal and committed to her, and although her fans may not always be receptive to how she’s trying to give back, her ability to empathize is always appreciated. “Pretty Good Year” is the epitome of Amos’ connection to her fans as a nurturing compassionate musical force: “And Greg he writes letters with his birthday pen / Sometimes he’s aware that they’re drawing him in / Lucy was pretty / Your best friend agreed / Still, a pretty good year”. It’s her way of calming, with an understanding that what you’ve been going through is difficult. You feel Amos’ love for you throughout every aspect of this song, like a good old friend telling you everything is going to be ok, even during the dramatic full-band crashes in the bridge where she screams “What’s it going to take / ‘Til my baby’s alright!”

2. “Silent All These Years”
(Little Earthquakes, 1992)

Although Amos has mentioned on occasion that From the Choirgirl Hotel is her favourite album, it’s undeniable that her solo debut Little Earthquakes is internationally recognized as a seminal record for almost all female solo artists. Hell, it’s a seminal record for any artist who understands music to be a purging catharsis of introspection of the self. This record is well-revered and consistently shows up in many “best of” lists. Regardless of the high praise Little Earthquakes receives, this album is a beautiful work of mastered artistry, which is best exemplified by this magnificent song. This track, as well as my number one pick, are rather interchangeable, but I’ve placed “Silent All These Years” second simply because the content of this number deals more specifically with finding your voice in spite of the interpersonal relationships you find yourself in, and is not as holistic as the number one track. However, it is still superbly poignant, especially as she sings: “Years go by / Will I still be waiting for somebody else to understand / Years go by / If I’m stripped of my beauty and the orange clouds / Raining in my head / Years go by / Will I choke on my tears ‘til finally there is nothing left / One more casualty, you know we’re too easy, easy, easy”. It’s a simple sentiment, one intelligently presented.

1. “Winter”
(Little Earthquakes, 1992)

This is not my favorite Tori Amos song, but I recognize that it is the best. What drew people to Amos in the first place was the cataclysmic energy she exuded in her examination of the self. Although she has done some back-pedaling as of late, explaining that this album wasn’t as personal as everyone believes it to be, there is no denying the genuine sincerity of her songwriting and performance throughout this record — none more so than on “Winter”. The song is an epic Tori song running just over five minutes long and detailing her struggle to love who she is, and not be afraid to move on with her life outside of the comfort and security that her family has given her. It’s a coming-of-age song, beautifully orchestrated and astutely written. She begins as a child, detailing her love of winter and her father, as he tries to explain to her how to be her own person, not reliant on his care and protection. Each verse chronicles a stage in Amos’ life, until the last verse where she fears that all the life lessons her father has tried to instill in her, have been learned too late: “Hair is grey and the fires are burning / So many dreams on the shelf / You say I wanted you to be proud of me / I always wanted that myself / He says: ‘When you gonna make up your mind?’ / ‘When you gonna love you as much as I do?’ / ‘When you gonna make up your mind?’ / ‘Cause things are gonna change so fast’ / ‘All the white horses have gone ahead’ / I tell you that I’ll always want you near / You say that things change, my dear”. The song is a summation of the fears we have as adolescents and adults, trying to cling to the past and afraid to move forward with our lives. It is why we love Tori Amos.