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.
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 don’t 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.
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.
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.
Title and sub-heading lyrics songs:
(Image source: J.G. Noelle)