“Boys in the Trees”
“I used to listen to this song over and over, wishing I’d wrote it,” Amos once said of Carly Simon’s poignant reflection on adolescent desire and self-discovery. And Tori indeed assumes a sense of responsibility for this song as though it were own, performing it with great zeal, affection, and care. From the first lyric, all trace of vanity disappears; Ms. Simon would approve.
“Case of You”
Amos once told Keyboard magazine that she “would have given her right arm” to have been the one to pen Joni Mitchell’s masterpiece. Lucky for us, she didn’t.
While covering Elton John isn’t a total reach for Amos — she cut her teeth taking requests in piano bars in the ’70s — her emotional take on the tale of a Vietnam soldier’s homecoming is a marked example of her ability to step inside the edifice of a song and narrate from within. Now something of a rarity, this poignant cover took on new life during Tori’s Strange Little Girls tour, which began just weeks after 9/11.
“Famous Blue Raincoat”
To say Amos covers Leonard Cohen’s pensive epistle from a cuckolded man to his betrayer (“what can I tell you/my brother, my killer?”) would be inaccurate; she uncovers it. An early blueprint for her 2001 persona-shifting cover album, Tori sings from the perspective of Jane, the woman at the center of the triangle, and manages to create a new vantage point entirely without changing a single lyric.
Though many consider the Fleetwood Mac original untouchable, the potency of Amos’ live rendition rests in its subtle evolution over the past 18 years, one that mirrors the song’s message of reflection, aging, and self-realization. “I’ve built my life around you,” Amos sighs, as she nods wistfully into the dark theater. And when she utters the obvious — “I’m getting older, too” — it elicits an uncommon sense of mutual gratitude and trust that bridges the gap between performer and spectator.
“Lovesong” and more…
Though the Cure classic has been covered by everyone from 311 to Adele, Amos’ hypnotic rendition perfectly encapsulates her unparalleled ability to make a song her own: when she vocalizes the desperate devotion of the chorus’ promise, there isn’t a fraction of the doubt she isn’t doing so with someone in clear mind. She isn’t just singing the words — she’s living them.
“Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels)”
Amos’ cover of the Jim Croce classic during a 2005 Yahoo! Music session earned substantial viral attention, thanks in part to its inclusion in Entertainment Weekly’s “Download This” spotlight. Though it bears the all hallmarks of a traditional Tori cover, it stands out for its particularly passionate final chorus, during which Tori channels her grief for her recently deceased brother, her desire to “call just to tell him I’m fine” both appropriating and deepening Mr. Croce’s solemn words.
It took her 20 years to tackle the Depeche Mode classic, but Amos’ fiery, heel-stamping cover fits so seamlessly into her repertoire that she allows the chorus of “Body and Soul,” her own rock anthem of spiritual and physical ecstasy, melt right into it. The result: the ballsy playfulness of early 90’s Tori meets the ballsy surety of an artist and woman in her prime.
This one-off performance of Neil Young’s devastating contribution to the 1993 film Philadelphia quickly earned its place as one of Amos’ most treasured covers. Tori’s rendition is slow, steady sigh that somehow even further strips bare Young’s already fragile original. Though Amos manages to muster a faint glimmer of hope in her delivery (“And when I see the light/I know I’ll be all right”), her instinct towards restraint is the right one, conveying a nuanced understanding of and respect for the source material.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit”
Arguably, it was this divisive cover of Nirvana’s genre-defining smash that sparked the dialogue surrounding Tori Amos in 1992 and expedited the “love her or hate her” branding. While haters find easy evidence in Amos’ “pussifying” of grunge deity Kurt Cobain’s signature tune, attentive listeners will find her translation of those iconic chords passionately faithful, and her slowed, somber articulation of its lyrics suggestive that Tori had tapped into Cobain’s great pain before most were ready to listen.