Like “Heart Attack at 23,” “You Go To my Head” is a track that poses a significant challenge to anyone looking to argue that Y Kant Tori Read is unfairly maligned. (And, fittingly, the other song from the album that Amos has never revived in concert.) The song is not the cringeworthy mess of bathos that “Heart Attack of 23” is, but is instead something considerably more banal in its inadequacy: a largely forgettable song that furthers its general sense of petering out after “Floating City.” The fact that it was picked as the b-side for “The Big Picture,” the lead single, speaks volumes about how ill-conceived promotion for the album was.
Musically, the song is the album’s inevitable and doomed Prince rip-off. Bassist Tim Landers gives it his best funk groove, but the production is at once flaccid and lacking the clear sharpness of Prince’s actual hits. The guitar has all the enthusiasm of someone who’s just been asked to work the weekend, the synths in the second verse are as if a kazoo has just learned about cyberpunk, and the saxophone solo in the middle sounds like a middle aged man sidling up to you in the bar. None of this is ever quite egregious enough to feel like a howling error, but Sign O’ The Times it ain’t. Amos gives a spirited vocal performance over it, but she’s swallowed by the sea of utter mediocrity into which she’s set.
Things are spectacularly not helped by the lyrics, which see Amos at her most abject, begging in the opening couplet “sweet love, hello / make a slave of me,” while the chorus ends with the proclamation that “you know I can never say no / to you and your friend.” It’s not all bad—“all that light in your eyes is from the wine” is actually a great, wryly funny line. But for the most part the song is pretty gross in its sense of sexuality. On top of that, the song is weirdly structured backwards, with the verses containing the really lurid stuff bout being her lover’s slave while the chorus is left to offer the declaration that “you go to my head,” a sentiment so mild that it’s not even clear in and of itself that it’s a bad or dangerous thing as opposed to just a sentiment from a straightforward love song.
The real grossness of the song, however, is in the context of Amos’s life up to this point and career going forward. In 1985, early in her stay in Los Angeles and before she got Y Kant Tori Read together, Amos was raped by a man who asked her for a ride home after the show. Eventually Amos will write about the experience, and so I’ll save the bulk of the discussion for that, but that knowledge, and Amos’s admission that much of Y Kant Tori Read is the product of her trying to avoid writing about her rape while also desperately needing to process it and grapple with it makes Amos’s groveling and begging for her own objectification in this song deeply uncomfortable and gross-feeling. It’s not, obviously, that a rape survivor cannot emphatically own their sexuality or healthily desire their own objectification, whether as a coping mechanism to grapple with things in a safe and controlled environment or just because they like it. It’s just that this isn’t actually how Amos grappled with it, leaving this song (and, really, large swaths of Y Kant Tori Read) as a very visible and public maladaptive coping mechanism. So we have a song that, depending on one’s perspective, is either stomach-churning, unbearably sad, or forgettable. No surprise that Amos opted for the latter.
Recorded somewhere in 1987 or 1988 at any of half a dozen studios in the Los Angeles area. Never performed live.
Top: Prince in the video for “Alphabet Street,” 1988