Viewing posts tagged boys in their dresses

An Empty Cage Girl (Crucify)

Crucify (live, 1991)

Crucify (TV performance, 1991)

Crucify (1992)

Crucify (music video, 1992)

Crucify (single mix, 1992)

Crucify (Top of the Pops, 1992)

Crucify (TV performance, 1992)

Crucify (TV performance, 1993)

Crucify (live, 1998)

Crucify (TV performance, 1999)

Crucify (TV performance, 2002)

Crucify (live, 2003)

Crucify (official bootleg, 2007, Tori set)

Crucify (radio performance, 2009)

Graveyard/Crucify (TV performance, 2015)

There is a teenage girl, though she doesn’t know it. I don’t remember how she came to Little Earthquakes. More likely than not, it was recommended to her by someone at CTY, the academic summer camp she went to and met all the other awkward teen weirdo nerds, no small portion of which, it turned out, were self-closeted queers just like her. That or she just saw mention of Tori Amos online in discussions of other music she was into, which, alongside a smattering of the contemporary alternative scene, was mostly female singer-songwriters.

Sitting in her bed, she presses play on the CD. It’s immediately clear that Amos fit the bill of her taste. But it’s just as immediately clear that there was more to this than merely being “her thing.” The first forty-five seconds of “Crucify” are an ...

Butterflies Don't Belong in Nets (Mary)

Mary (1992)

Mary (1992, live)

Mary (2003)

Mary (2003, web concert)

Mary (2007, official bootleg, Clyde set)

Let’s begin on January 11th, 1967, in London, where the Jimi Hendrix Experience went into the studio and to cut “Purple Haze.” With twenty minutes left in the session, they decided to cut a quick demo of a newly written song as well, “The Wind Cries Mary.” Written by Hendrix following a screaming fight with his then-girlfriend Kathy Etchingham (Mary being her middle name, which Hendrix would use to annoy her) over whether her mashed potatoes were too lumpy, the song is a downbeat R&B number with lyrics that can be best described as a sad man’s psychedelic whinge. 

A quarter-century later, Tori Amos stepped into a Capitol Records studio with Davitt Sigerson to pen a response of sorts. “Mary” is no straightforward response song reimagining events from Etchingham’s perspective—indeed it’s not even about her in any sense. Nor is it hostile to Hendrix to any real degree—he’s invoked on a chummy first-name basis in the second part of the chorus by way of reassuring the eponymous Mary that “even the wind cries your name.” 

Amos, instead ...

Some Magic Buried Deep in My Heart (Take to the Sky)

Take to the Sky (1992)

Take to the Sky (TV performance, 1998)

Take to the Sky (webcast, 2001)

Take to the Sky (TV performance, 2002)

Take to the Sky (official bootleg, 2005)

Take to the Sky (official bootleg, 2007)

Take to the Sky/Datura (webcast, 2014)

In the wounded aftermath of Y Kant Tori Read, with Atlantic demanding a new record on about six months turnaround, Amos was invited over by her high school friend Cindy Marble, who was living in LA also failing to make it in the music industry. Marble had a piano at her place, and Amos, who had gotten rid of her own piano during her excursion as a rock chick, sat down to play, finding herself so utterly engrossed by her old instrument that she lost track of hours and of Marble. Marble implored her to take the instrument back up, arguing that this was the setting in which Amos felt authentic and genuine. And so Amos rented a piano for the apartment she was sharing with her boyfriend/producer Eric Rosse and began to write.

Unsurprisingly, she began with a song that grappled with her failure. “Take to the Sky,” called “Russia” in ...

I Never Was On the Fence (When I Was Dreaming)

When I Was Dreaming (c. 1988 demo)

Dreaming (Al Stewart, 1988)

Ten Cents (Al Stewart, 1988)

Year of the Cat (Al Stewart, 1991, live)

Charlotte Corday (Al Stewart, 1993)

Amos’s primary benefactor in the immediate aftermath of  Y Kant Tori Read was her producer, Joe Chiccarelli. Much as he’d brought Kim Bullard on board for Y Kant Tori Read after working with him on previous projects, he spent a few years hiring Amos for a variety of session gigs while she regrouped from the album. Most of these were relentlessly unglamorous affairs. She did backup vocals on the album Modern Madness by Robert Tepper (a minor rock star who’d scored a hit when his 1985 song “No Easy Way Out” got used in Rocky IV), sang on Sandra Bernhard’s cover of “Little Red Corvette” (“they’re great ‘oohs,’” Bernhard noted six years later), did three tracks on former Wall of Voodoo singer Stan Ridgway’s album Mosquitos, and sang on pioneering Canadian folk musician Ferron’s 1990 album Phantom Center (this last album having been, cheekily, rereleased in 1995 with Amos’s vocals higher in the mix).

The most enduring creative relationship of this period, however, was with Al Stewart. Stewart was ...

I Could Easily Have Died (Distant Storm)

Distant Storm (1988)

In 1988, Hong Kong movie studio Golden Harvest was in the early stages of attempting an expansion into the US market (a process that would eventually lead to them producing three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies). To this end, they decided to create an English-language vehicle for Cynthia Rothrock, an American star who had broken out in Hong Kong. The result was China O’Brien, which ended up failing to accomplish this task, instead getting dumped to home video in 1990.

The soundtrack for the film was assembled by David Wheatley and Paul Antonelli, who, when looking to record the song penned for an early sequence, “Distant Storm,” ended up tapping a young L.A. based vocalist whose first attempt at an album had just bombed spectacularly: Tori Amos.

Amos had ben understandably shell-shocked the immediate aftermath of Y Kant Tori Read’s failure. She’s talked about how she “sat on the kitchen floor counting the specks in the linoleum, crawling to the bathroom and back again. For like a month.” She’d regroup soon enough, not least because she had six more albums on her contract with Atlantic and they wanted her to try again, but ...

I Saw a Future (China)

Distance/China (demo)*

China (live, 1991)

China (1992)

China (video, 1992)

China (television performance, 1992)

China (television performance, 1994)

China (official bootleg 2007, Tori set)

China (live, 2009)

China (live, 2015)

An oddity on Little Earthquakes, “China” is a holdover from the Y Kant Tori Read era, where it was recorded under the name “Distance” on a demo tape alongside “Etienne” and “On the Boundary.” This fact makes almost immediate sense when you think about the song, which is about an unsatisfying relationship, in marked contrast to anything else on Little Earthquakes, but very much like most of Y Kant Tori Read. Indeed, its original title played this up further, putting the emphasis on its subject—emotional distance in a relationship—instead of on the deftly shifting metaphor of China, which opens the song in the sense of a country, but in the second verse shifts to china in the sense of dishes.

It’s certainly possible to make too much of this history—the song was, after all, not actually recorded for Y Kant Tori Read, and may well have been deemed musically unsuitable for the project. But it also opens the tantalizing possibility that the Y Kant Tori Read songs were ...

A Witch Lost in Time (Etienne Trilogy)

Etienne Trilogy (1988)

Etienne (live, 1996)

Etienne (live, 2002)

Etienne (official bootleg, 2007, Tori set)

Etienne (live, 2017)

We have been returning frequently to the lens of Amos’s eventual reclamation of her Y Kant Tori Read work, mostly in the course of her 2014 tour. And so it’s fitting that we end discussion of that period of her career with the first song from the period that she played live, the album closer, “Etienne.” It happened on April 28th, in her old stomping grounds of Washington DC, about two month into the 1996 Dew Drop Inn tour for Boys for Pele, and five days before she debuted “Cool on Your Island” in a medley with “Hey Jupiter.” It went on to feature twenty-six times over the course of that tour—far from one of the most played songs, but in no way one of the least either, and ahead of multiple songs from all three of her albums up to that point. She cooled on the song a bit past that—those twenty-six performances make up nearly half of the song’s total appearances—but once reclaimed it never entirely left her setlists. 

Of course, “Etienne” marks only a part of ...

What About What I Want? (The Big Picture)

The Big Picture (1988)

The Big Picture (video, 1988)

Pictures of You/The Big Picture (live, 2014)

Selected as the lead single and sequenced as the first track, “The Big Picture” serves as the first and, for many, last impression of Y Kant Tori Read. It’s tempting to offer some snark about how unwise this is, but frankly, survey the other options again. There are certainly better songs, but the bulk of them are the downtempo numbers—”Fire on the Side,” “Floating City,” or “Cool on Your Island,” which ended up being the second single. The overblown production and 80s chintz of Y Kant Tori Read is consistently at its worst on the uptempo numbers, which meant that good choices of high energy lead singles were thin on the ground.

Nevertheless, it means that the album opens on a note that borders on self-parody—two bars of rapid, slightly clappy-sounding drums counting off the sixteenth notes in the song’s 128 bpm, followed by a melodramatic synth stab before Amos attempts a swaggering vocal delivery of “someone smashed my window / broke into my brand new car / last night” in a vaguely New Jersey-inflected accent such that it comes out roughly ...

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