'Little Earthquakes', The Masterful Debut Album By Tori Amos Turns 30
The album that helped give a voice to female artists in the 90s shines just as brightly now as it did all those years ago
"And do you know Carolina
Where the biscuits are soft and sweet?
These things go through you head
When there's a man on your back
And you're pushed flat on your stomach
It's not a classic Cadillac
Me and a gun
And a man on my back
But I haven't seen Barbados
So I must get out of this
I haven't seen Barbados
So I must get out of this"
There's no playbook on how to discuss the monstrous act of rape. I begin with it because it's always the elephant in the room when discussing "Me and a Gun", one of the bravest songs to be released over the last three decades. The song, off of Little Earthquakes, the generation-defining debut album by Tori Amos is like no other. The track was first released as a single in October of 1991 and has been one of, if not the biggest, anthems for survivors of rape and sexual assault ever recorded. As if the lyrics and subject matter weren't powerful enough, Amos drives home the point by singing the song without any musical accompaniment. It's one of the most powerful songs I've ever heard. After playing a show at a bar, Amos, 21-years-old, was raped later that night by a man from the audience. Her description of the attack, and its aftermath is as chilling as the song itself.
"I'll never talk about it at this level again but let me ask you. Why have I survived that kind of night, when other women didn't?
How am I alive to tell you this tale when he was ready to slice me up? In the song I say it was 'Me and a Gun' but it wasn't a gun. It was a knife he had. And the idea was to take me to his friends and cut me up, and he kept telling me that, for hours. And if he hadn't needed more drugs I would have been just one more news report, where you see the parents grieving for their daughter.
And I was singing hymns, as I say in the song, because he told me to. I sang to stay alive. Yet I survived that torture, which left me urinating all over myself and left me paralyzed for years. That's what that night was all about, mutilation, more than violation through sex.
I really do feel as though I was psychologically mutilated that night and that now I'm trying to put the pieces back together again. Through love, not hatred. And through my music. My strength has been to open again, to life, and my victory is the fact that, despite it all, I kept alive my vulnerability." - Interview with Joe Jackson of the Irish music magazine Hot Press,
First released in the UK on January 6th, 1992, followed by the U.S. release on February 25th of the same year, Little Earthquakes is as raw and honest as a record gets. The fact that it was a debut album makes it that much more astonishing.
Tori Amos was a child-prodigy pianist, which doesn't hurt anyone with aspirations of making a career in music. That alone is never a guarantee that things will work out. Playing music is one thing, being able to make meaningful connections and impacting people's lives with your songs is something completely different.
Early influences like Mary Hopkin, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Carly Simon, Eurythmics, and Tracy Chapman helped shape Tori's love of music. With stylistic comparisons to Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, Morrissey, and PJ Harvey, Amos has developed an eclectic and unique sound that borrows pieces from all of those influences and combines them with her own fearless, artistic gifts.
Photo credit - YouTube
Little Earthquakes was very different from other albums released in 1992. It's got absolutely nothing to do with grunge, Seattle, or even most of the alternative scene. It's probably lumped into "alternative music", but if we're being honest, Tori Amos is a genre unto herself.
The album's lead track, "Crucify", sets the tone for what follows. Singing about mistrust, anger, rebellion, sex, and religion, Amos pulls zero punches on topics normally too taboo to address, especially when coming from a woman in a male-dominated business.
"Every finger in the room is pointing at me
I wanna spit in their faces, then I get afraid of what that could bring"
sings Tori as the record opens. Focusing her disgust towards the world and even herself, the lyrics continue,
"I've been looking for a savior in these dirty streets Looking for a savior beneath these dirty sheets I've been raising up my hands, drive another nail in Just what God needs, one more victim
Why do we, crucify ourselves, every day? I crucify myself and nothing I do is good enough for you I crucify myself, every day"
The album's most recognizable commercial track is "Silent All These Years". Another truth bomb from Amos, producer Eric Rosse who was working with Tori during this time said of the song, "You're out of your mind. That's your life story." This is what Tori Amos' music is all about though. Her writing is a window into her soul and she hides from nothing. It doesn't matter if the listener wants it or not, her art dictates what comes out and I for one, have no complaints.
Apparently, I'm not alone in my praise of the album. Upon its release, Little Earthquakes was highly thought of by music critics, a trend that would continue throughout Amos' career. Josef Woodward of Rolling Stone said, "we feel as though we've been through some peculiar therapy session, half-cleansed and half-stirred. That artful paradox is part of what makes Little Earthquakes a gripping debut."
Jean Rosenbluth of the Los Angeles Times put it this way, "a quixotic, compelling record that mixes the smart sensuality of Kate Bush with the provocative impenetrability of Mary Margaret O'Hara."
Little Earthquakes appears on all of the major music magazines lists compiling the "Greatest Albums of All Time" and it's hard to argue. Tori Amos may be an acquired taste for some and that's ok. It's undeniable though that her ability to bare her soul musically has inspired and encouraged female (and male) artists to go and do the same, with no inhibitions. For that alone, Little Earthquakes, as well as Tori Amos the artist, deserves all of the adulation ever bestowed on the record and her career.