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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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