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Before Tori Amos was Tori Amos

Tori Amos's first album was, for a long time, hard to find, and no, I'm not talking about 1991's Little Earthquakes, I'm talking about 1988's Y Kant Tori Read. It was the sole album ever released by her Eighties synth pop/hair rock band of the same name, and it dropped off the face of the Earth, and a few years later Amos could try again with the much-more-her Little Earthquakes. That's a legitimately great album, and one I'm fond of, but I'd kept wondering: what did Tori doing synth pop/hair rock sound like? But, again, that album was almost impossible to find. For decades you were more likely to find bootlegs.

Were more likely. Because the Hoopla app, which lets you borrow music (and movies, comic books, audio books, and more), has Y Kant Tori Read available. I've been listening to it a lot in the week I've been borrowing it.

I've thought of my late friend Mike Pearl, as I often do just in general, while I've listened. He brought Tori Amos to my attention when I was in college; so I saw her on Greg Kinnear's late-night NBC talk show and got her 1994 CD Under the Pink, which includes "God" and the epic, wonderful closer "Yes, Anastasia," then I bought her earlier CD single for "Crucify," mainly because it also included her cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Then I finally got Little Earthquakes, and by then I was a committed fan. So was Mike, who I think even got to briefly meet her and hug her. And yes, he'd heard Y Kant Tori Read, and he called it "cheesy." But he also said (though he was slightly embarrassed) that a couple of the songs had become favorites of his.

There's plenty of the Future Tori a lot of us know and love in this album, thank goodness. It wasn't an attempted cash-in, and it's her music and lyrics (though she's credited just as "Tori," which led some to think she was named Tori Read), but through a hair-rock filter. (As Amos cracked to Kinnear, "My songs were shit but I had hair.")

Probably my favorite songs here are "Fire on the Side" and "On the Boundary"; they could almost (almost) fit on her later albums without seeming out of place. But some musical effects just seem dropped-in, in a "let's try this!" way — Eighties-style backing vocals on "Fayth," Jim Steinman-esque piano on "The Etienne Trilogy," having the drumming on "Pirates" begin by imitating the sound of Tori knocking on a door saying "Hello?" — and the lyrics are less deep and affecting than her later work.

"Heart Attack at 23," for its first several seconds, sounds like the sound Amos would develop on her later albums, in both her distinctive piano playing and her often-throaty vocals, but when the guitars and synths kick in the style changes to what I called "Top Gun soundtrack song." Then it gets that saxophone. That particular 1980s saxophone. Which is a little jarring to hear around Amos's voice.

Still, I'm calling it: if I'd heard Y Kant Tori Read in 1988, I would have dug it. I like much of it now, too.

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