Music

The Best Tori Amos Non-Album Tracks

Consistently sitting on a bounty of album-worthy material without record-homes to call their own, Tori Amos has worked overtime to help turn the notion of a b-side on its head. As part of its Performer Spotlight on the artist, PopMatters takes a closer look at a small but varied selection of some of her best non-LP offerings.

Consistently sitting on a bounty of album-worthy material without record-homes to call their own, Tori Amos has worked overtime to help turn the notion of a b-side on its head. Historically intended to give buyers more value for their money when purchasing a single, Amos often gives non-album tracks prominence in her live sets, allowing them to develop ardent fan followings, along with their own autonomous mythologies. PopMatters takes a closer look at a small but varied selection of some of her best.

 
1. “Alamo” (1996)

With a lyric like “Somebody just invent the telephone line” delivered in a small, wilted-flower vocal, “Alamo” is a gorgeous and gently despondent exploration of our failures to communicate both romantically and spiritually. At once lyrically complete and structurally fragile, this track truly exists in its own, unique musical realm. -- Joe Vallese

 
2. “Bachelorette” (1998)

So how many people listening to this the first time out expected to hear a Bjork cover? Quite a few, I’d wager. But “Bachelorette” is entirely its own bewildering, beguiling, lurching thing, its woozy stop-start rhythm, clattering percussion, and glorious scatting, mumbled vocal adding up -- somehow -- to an indelible portrait of a marvelously independent heroine. Singer and bandmates seem to be having a whole heap of fun here, as evidenced by Tori’s lovely crack-up into giggles at the end. A singular entry into the Amos catalog, and one to cherish. -- Alex Ramon

 
3. “Here. In My Head” (1992)

Given the size of Amos’ catalog, it’s rare to find a song as unanimously beloved as “Here. In My Head”. From its spellbinding opening notes to its wrenching climax, this eloquent -- but tough -- take on being jerked around by an ambivalent lover helped set the bar not only for the quality of Amos’ b-sides but for her output as a whole. When Tori’s impassioned plea reaches fever pitch with the howling “Do you know / What this is doing to me?”, it’s one of those transcendent moments where an artist’s emotions become a powerful conduit for our own. -- Joe Vallese

 
4. “Honey” (1994)

The song Amos infamously “kicked off last minute during mastering because I’m such a ding-a-ling” is the quintessential b-side: just a touch too different in scope and sound to fit on its intended album (Under the Pink), and just a touch too good to be cluttered among and in competition with other songs. Even without Tori’s constant atoning for her bad call, listeners likely still would have gravitated toward the song for its haunting, dueling piano and acoustic guitar lines and Tori’s slightly sinister vocals as she ruminates on being on the losing end of a love triangle. -- Joe Vallese

 
5. “Mountain” (2002)

The most exciting track from the Scarlet’s Walk era never even made it onto a physical disc, embedded instead in the now-defunct online companion site, Scarlet’s Web. No matter: the lo-fi audio rip only adds to the song’s underground reputation. It's an intoxicating fusion of a furious Breeders-esque bassline, jamming tribal drums, and the cyclical repetition of the song’s sparse, accusatory lyrics whirling into a demented, retributive prayer (or curse, perhaps). The coda’s two-minute-long slow-down is simultaneously mournful, ghostly, and spacy; in other words: awesome. -- Joe Vallese

 
6. “Peeping Tommi” (2006)

The missing narrative link between Little Earthquakes’ harrowing confessional “Me and a Gun” and Under the Pink’s remorseful “Baker Baker”, “Peeping Tommi” surfaced on the 2006 boxed set A Piano after years of its rumored existence (thanks to lyrics scribbled in a notebook sold on eBay that apparently once belonged to Amos). On its own, it’s a stark and fragile telling of a woman’s struggle -- and ultimate inability -- to make herself vulnerable to her lover (“Don’t run away from me now”) in the aftermath of a nightmarish violation (“I think of you / I think of that man all the while”). Coupled with those much-heard classics, “Tommi” both sheds new light on and falls right into place beside them with aching familiarity. -- Joe Vallese

 
7. “Purple People (Christmas in Space)” (1998)

Do you do judo in your finery? A jazzy shuffle ushers in the gorgeously elegant, late-night bar-room croon of “Purple People (Christmas in Space)”, a track whose brushed drums, wheezing keyboards, and wintry piano accompany prime Amosian metaphorical musings on identity, envy, self-worth, and self-sabotage, and, yes, “lily white matricide”. Ineffably mysterious and entirely intoxicating. -- Alex Ramon

 
8. “Siren” (1998)

Written expressly for the soundtrack to Alfonso CuarÛn’s misbegotten adaptation of Great Expectations, “Siren” is one of those Amos songs that has gained in power and potency from its compelling yet somewhat sketchy recorded version, becoming, in live performance, a fiery, dynamic piece that thrills and overwhelms. Don’t miss some especially choice -- and delicious-to-sing -- lyrics that form one of Amos’ most suggestive collages: “Never was one for a prissy girl / A coquette call in for an ambulance / Reach high doesn’t mean she’s holy / Just means she got a cellular handy." -- Alex Ramon

 
9. “Sister Janet” (1994)

Lyrically inscrutable and melodically haunting, “Sister Janet” is a prime example of Amos’ uncanny ability to weave together strange, conflicting images (“slipping the blade in the marmalade”) and deliver them with such beauty and conviction, we needn’t worry about sense-making. Though a line such as “A wing can cover all sorts of things” is endlessly quotable and ripe for interpretation, ultimately the true, tremendous pleasure of “Janet” is allowing Amos’ voice and piano work to so fully move—and move through—you that it might as well be in some untranslatable foreign language. Yeah, it’s that good. -- Joe Vallese

 
10. “Upside Down” (1991)

“You see, you always find my faults / Faster than you find your own." Certain Amos songs capture the challenges of coupledom and the difficulties of communication within a relationship with a perceptiveness unmatched by any other singer-songwriter. A chapter elided from Little Earthquakes, “Upside Down” is one such song, a track that reveals the fears and the frustrations of its fractious central pair -- and which broadens beautifully into a portrait of our shared vulnerability. In addition, this song also knows the secret to life. -- Alex Ramon

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image