“Not Every Girl is a Pearl”: My search for my favourite Tori Amos song

Tori Amos in concert in Vancouver, July 2014.

Tori Amos in concert in Vancouver, July 2014.

 

How do you choose a favourite song from an artist who’s been recording for over 20 years?

I own every studio release that Tori Amos has produced.  I can’t say I love all her albums equally, but as she is my “life soundtrack musician” – the artist whose music has played in the background of most of my life, scoring every major turning point and encoding my memories such – I’ve been able to find something to love about all of them.

Which doesn’t make picking a favourite song any easier.

(Neither does the fact that she’s also recorded at least 100 B-sides/non-album tracks, both original tunes and some amazing covers. And that her sound is constantly evolving, covering everything from pop piano ballads, rock, electronica, gospel, cutesy piano ditties, classical, and even musical theatre.)

Of course, there are of course the perennial Tori hits like “Cornflake Girl” and “Silent All These Years”, both of which I too enjoy.

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But to quote the movie Chocolat:

Very good… but not my favorite.

“You don’t know the power that you have”

For those unfamiliar with Tori Amos, she is a classically trained pianist who was thrown out of music school for having insufficient interest in classical music (which is ironic considering one of her more recent albums is a reinterpretation of music by Bach, Chopin, Debussy, and other renowned composers).

She’s written songs about every aspect of the female experience, including low self-confidence and the inability to find one’s voice, friends, frenemies, the patriarchy, mother-daughter relationships, father-daughter relationships, sex, sexuality, sexual assault, dating, marriage, pregnancy, miscarriage, childbirth, and child-rearing, as well as God and religion, working, aging, death, politics, war, and society in general.

She’s also mother to a teenage daughter and a feminist, red-headed and ethereal, with clever, mezzo-soprano vocals, eclectic lyrics that I often doing understand, and a strong connection to nature, mythology, and the Muse.

If ever I had a mind to worship a goddess, Tori Amos would definitely be my first choice.

Since Tori’s music has been so ubiquitous throughout my life, I could try find my favourite song by looking to those I liked best during the high moments in my past.

Moments like when I left home for the first time to go to university and experience the wider world, or during my adventures working in the national parks, or when I first moved to Vancouver and found my way into fun and active community.

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Alternatively, there have been hard times in my past as well: the year I was failing in university; the year-and-a-half I was unemployed and had to move back home; the end of an important relationship that resulted in the loss of all my friends as well.  I could look to the Tori songs that helped get me through all that.

“Give me life, give me pain, give my myself again”

I recently attended Tori’s latest concert in Vancouver.

It’s the second time I’ve seen her, and I was really excited to go, for her live performances are often quite different than the recordings, which allows me to experience her music in an entirely new way.

I expected her set list to comprise mainly tracks from her latest album.  Instead, I  was immensely surprised that she seemed to open her entire songbook, playing songs from almost every one of her albums, plus B-sides and covers as well.

She mentioned that the songs she was playing were all requests.  This surprised me because I didn’t know where these requests had been made.  No one was shouting them out and they seem to have been preselected.  Perhaps beforehand on Twitter?

Had I known, I would have made some too!

The concert was brilliant as only a true virtuoso like Tori Amos can be.  She played both “Cornflake Girl” and “Silent All These Years”; I’ve never heard either live before.

She also played songs I’ve typically ignored.  Hearing them live helped give me a new appreciation for them, which is something I’m always hoping will happen at concerts.

But how well I enjoyed the songs she did play is less instructive in my search for my favourite Tori song than is the songs I found myself hoping she’d play – the phantom opening notes I’d hear in every silence between the end of one song and the start of the next and kept hoping would materialize into the real thing.

One song in particular continued to pull at me – a surprising choice given how new it is; a song from her latest album just released this May.

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To me, this song feels like the long-awaited follow-up to “Silent All These Years” – a retrospective of a woman’s hard-won growth, maturity, and self-acceptance some 20 years later.

To me, it speaks most directly to the importance of remaining true to oneself against the hardships of life, society, and the negative opinions of other people.

That is to say, the greatest lesson I’ve taken from my life thus far with the music of Tori Amos.

What is your favourite song by your favourite artist? Is it easy or difficult to choose?  Let me know in the comments.

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Title and sub-heading lyrics songs:

(Image source: J.G. Noelle)

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13 thoughts on ““Not Every Girl is a Pearl”: My search for my favourite Tori Amos song

  1. I couldn’t pick a favorite artist much less a favorite song. Your taste is probably as eclectic as mine, so I’m sure you know that feeling like a certain album is the best ever recorded. Until the next day when it doesn’t grab you all that much and something else takes its place.

    Unfortunately, I’ve lost a bit of focus on the kind of music that mesmerizes while you listen in the dark (Tori Amos for example). Though I think it’s pretty and easy on the ears, and I can get why it means so much to you, it doesn’t give that “carry me away” sensation anymore like it would have years ago. I tend to go more for uplifting and energetic music these days, which is why I listen to a lot of classic soul , funk, and early disco. It always sounds so hopeful and joyful, which is interesting in that it was recorded against a backdrop of tremendous civil unrest and culture change. Sometimes good old speed metal is necessary for adrenalin and feeling like you can take on challenges and beat the odds (what I’ll be listening to when I query my novel). 80s pop for nostalgia. Old jazz for musical inspiration on drums, any number of things for inspiration on guitar. David Bowie or Prince if I just want to sit back and marvel at the unique genius.

    Have you ever listened to Kate Bush? Some people hate her, but she seems like Tori Amos’s slightly odd, more flamboyant older sister to me.

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    • I do think my musical tastes are pretty eclectic. One thing that’s unusual about them (and maybe you experience this as well) is that I only listen to certain music at certain times of the day, and generally only when performing certain tasks. So, I tend not to listen to “work” music at home, or “waking up” music in the afternoon, or “writing” music for anything other than writing. Even Tori Amos, who is one of my favourite artists, has her optimum time.

      I probably need more uplifting music in my life. Some days when I’m in a particularly peppy mood I do notice a lack of music to match.

      Good ear with Kate Bush vs. Tori Amos. Tori is universally considered to be Kate Bush’s successor. Tori’s first album came out in the early 90s when Kate had stopped recording (she’s since started up again). I haven’t listened to too much of Kate’s earlier stuff (although I have heard “Wuthering Heights”), but her album Aerial (2005) is fantastic.

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  2. I’ve been listening to Nora Jones lately. I have had her CDs for a few years, but recently the music has been resonating with me and I’m thinking it’s because so much has been going on that I need a ‘calming influence’ 🙂

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    • Nora Jones is very talented. She has such a distinctive voice – very smoky and sultry and definitely calming. I hope she continues to help you. 🙂

      That often happens to me as well that I’ll dig out old CDs I haven’t listened to for awhile and fall in love with them all over again.

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  3. Sharon den Adel and Within temptation covered Crucify.

    I cant find a favorite song, it’s just impossible.

    i do love oysters too. ❤

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    • Hey TinnyLinda, thanks for the comment. Nice cover – it retains a lot of the essence of the original version, yet with a few subtly personal touches. Thanks for sharing.

      I could choose my favourite Tori song no problem, but don’t ask for to pick a second favourite (I don’t think I could)!

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  4. Hi, thank you for this! I Googled “not every girl is a pearl” and this came up, then I found I completely relate to Tori being my “life soundtrack musician”. She is incredibly independent in her art and always progressing. My life has been kind of rough and her songs relate to that and then pull me up with the positive songs. All the ones you linked are favorites. There’s probably at least ten songs of hers that are really important to me. The one that always springs to mind is Gold Dust. If you want to talk about Tori more, please write me 🙂

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    • Hi Art, thanks for the comment. Tori is amazingly independent – a true artiste and genius. Her music has touched many many people and she seems to genuinely respect that fact and truly care about her fans. I’m glad she has helped you through tough times; I think she would be glad for it as well. 🙂 I’ll have to give Gold Dust another listen as that one hasn’t previously stuck out for me. However, I regularly listen to her albums find new favourites all the time, such is how timeless her work is.

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      • Thanks Janna! Tori IS a genius, and it’s so rare to find someone who understands it. I have that same experience of rediscovering songs I didn’t like before. Not to mention her natural life’s progression from Cornflake Girl to something like Promise.

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