Released in Australia on March 2, 1992, this week marks 25 years since Tori Amos dispatched her debut solo album Little Earthquakes, a provocative introduction to an extraordinary songwriter. Investigating potent themes including sexual assault, womanhood, Christianity and the patriarchy, Little Earthquakes remains a captivating listen. A quarter century since this seismic release, we celebrate Little Earthquakes with 25 facts about the artist born Myra Ellen Amos.
1. Little Earthquakes isn’t quite Amos’ debut album. As frontwoman for forgotten ‘80s hair rockers Y Kant Tori Read, Amos had suffered through the misfire of the band’s self-titled 1988 album.
“I knew what failure was like,” Amos said. “It took four years from the end of Y Kant Tori Read for the process to get to its next stage, which was being known for Little Earthquakes rather than being known for a failed record.”
2. Former WWE identity Mick ‘Mankind’ Foley suggested in his autobiography Countdown To Lockdown the Little Earthquakes song "Winter" moves him like no other song. Preparing for a barbed wire match in Japan, the wrestler listened to it on his Sony Walkman and found inspiration in a time of doubt. “Looking back, that match in Honjo is probably the performance I'm proudest of in my whole career. Perhaps it would have been a great match without "Winter", but I doubt I'd still be thinking about it 15 years later.” The music has had lasting effect – Foley is a regular hotline volunteer for RAINN, the sexual abuse charity which Amos has supported since its foundation in 1994.
3. Prior to her solo breakthrough with Little Earthquakes, Amos had submitted songs to Cher (the intriguingly titled "But I’m Experienced, Babe") and Tina Turner. They had been rejected.
4. A housemate turned Amos on to Sandman comics during the recording of Little Earthquakes. Reading Neil Gaiman’s fantasy graphic novels resulted in a lasting friendship between the pair, with Little Earthquakes’ "Tear In Your Hand" featuring the line ‘Me and Neil’ll be hanging out with the dream king – Neil said hi, by the way’. References to Gaiman would also appear in "Space Dog", "Carbon", "Horses", "Hotel", "Not Dying Today" and "Sister Named Desire". “He's like a spiritual brother,” Amos has said.
5. Amos was 29 when Little Earthquakes was released, coming 12 years after her single "Baltimore" was released on MEA Records in 1980. Co-written by her brother Michael, the 7” was issued under Tori’s middle name Ellen.
6. On "Tear In Your Hand" Tori suggests Charles Manson likes the same ice cream she does. When asked in Q magazine in January 2004 if that was indeed true, Amos said: “I can't imagine why we wouldn't like the same ice cream. On one level we are very different sides of the coin but that doesn't mean you can't agree on something tasting good. I think that people who kill could enjoy a hot fudge sundae.”
7. Tori has said the line ‘A cat named Easter says will you ever learn?’ in "Crucify" represents her conversations with Jesus.
8. The track "Girl"’s mention of ‘bluebells’ inaugurated a tradition of Amos namechecking flowers and plants on each of her studio albums. Successive plants include: violets (on Under The Pink’s "Cloud On My Tongue"), lilac (on From The Choirgirl Hotel’s "Liquid Diamonds"), daisies (on The Beekeeper’s "Ribbons Undone"), strawberry cactus (on American Doll Posse’s "Father’s Son") and the dandelions of Abnormally Attracted To Sin’s "Not Dying Today". In a subtle case of coming full circle, on 2014’s Unrepentant Geraldines the track "Wedding Day" again mentions bluebells.
9. The melody of the Little Earthquakes single "Silent All These Years" was originally written for Al "Year Of The Cat" Stewart. Amos had history with the performer, having written "Ten Cents" and "Dreaming" for Stewart’s 1988 album Last Days Of The Century. While Amos was writing and recording in London in April 1991, she performed "Year Of The Cat" with Stewart at the Royal Festival Hall under a Russian nom de plume. She told him “‘I can't play as me because um, I um, have a passport problem’. He said to me, ‘Ok, well, you'll be Vilnia Chukovskaya’.”
10. The haunting a cappella Little Earthquakes track "Me And A Gun" references a true incident from Amos’ days playing piano bars in Los Angeles. In 1985, Amos offered a ride home to a bar regular and was raped at knifepoint. After years of suppressing the memory, it “came flooding back” while Amos watched Thelma and Louise in June 1991. "Me And A Gun" was written and performed for the first time the very next night at London venue the Mean Fiddler.
11. At the time of its release, Amos was dating Little Earthquakes co-producer Eric Rosse, who would also work with her on 1994’s Under The Pink. The a cappella B-side "Song For Eric" was written for him.
12. The "Precious Things" line ‘With their nine inch nails’ is Amos’ first lyrical nod to Trent Reznor’s industrial act. After dueting with Reznor on Under The Pink’s fourth single "Past The Mission", Amos would later reference Nine Inch Nails’ debut album with "Caught A Lite Sneeze"’s line ‘made my own pretty hate machine’ on 1996’s Boys For Pele.
13. To complement the title of her 2003 greatest hits compilation Tales of A Librarian, Amos used the Dewey Decimal System to index her included tracks. The cataloguing in the liner notes for Little Earthquakes tracks include 234 - Salvation and Grace (Forgiveness) for "Crucify", 110.113 - Cosmology for "Tear In Your Hand" and 414 - Phonology for "Silent All These Years".
14. In her lean years before her Little Earthquakes brought worldwide success, Tori Amos had made ends meet in piano bars and other incidental musical opportunities which came her way. She even beat out Sarah Jessica Parker for a part in a Kellogg’s Just Right commercial.
15. Tori Amos recorded the original demo for the Days Of Thunder tune "Show Me Heaven" for her friend, composer Hans Zimmer. In her autobiography Piece By Piece, Amos says she was paid around $150 to lay down the vocal for the song which themed the 1990 Tom Cruise film. Considering the song was a global smash for Maria McKee, how different would the career of Tori Amos have been if she’d had her first hit with someone else’s song before she made a name for herself with Little Earthquakes?
“My mother also asked me that,” Amos has said. “She’s said to me, ‘Wouldn’t it have been the most disastrous thing for you if you’d been successful singing things that don’t reflect who you are as a musician?’. I don’t know what path I would have taken.”
16. The original Davitt Sigerson-produced version of Little Earthquakes (already containing perennial fan favourites such "Crucify", "Winter", "Silent All These Years" and "Leather") was initially rejected by record label representatives. Amos says “very credible musicians and arrangers” told her to “replace all the pianos with guitars”. Songs on the original 1991 version of Little Earthquakes but left off the final tracklisting include "Upside Down", "Flying Dutchman", "Sweet Dreams" and "Take To The Sky (Russia)". “Flying Dutchman was the hardest one to lose,” Amos said. It would later be released as a B-side on the "China" single.
17. The stark Amos cover of Nirvana’s "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was released on the Crucify EP in March 1992 while the original was still charting. Amos saw the video on Swedish TV “and the piano kind of whispered to me from the bathroom going ‘we have to do this’…”. “If you think about it, there are a lot of covers now that are being done in ways that are playing against type,” Amos suggested in the 2015 reissue of Little Earthquakes, “but there wasn’t a lot of that occurring then.” A fan of the grunge trio, Amos told Seattle magazine The Rocket in 1992, “If Jesus were alive, he'd be going to a Nirvana concert. As a minister's daughter I can confirm that.”
18. Before Little Earthquakes provided her with a breakthrough, Amos recorded an unreleased album of dance tracks with US producer Narada Michael Walden. Another unreleased track from the 1980s includes "Skirts On Fire", which was co-written with US American Idol judge Randy Jackson.
19. The mermaid mentioned in the lyrics to "Silent All These Years" was inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, who gives up her former life and endures great pain to be with her lover.
20. The discarded Little Earthquakes recording "Take Me With You" was unearthed by Amos’ husband and engineer Mark Hawley for the 2006 archive project A Piano. Tori had forgotten about it. “I was stunned when I got a call from Mark that there was a previously unreleased track called "Take Me With You",” she says in A Piano’s liner notes. “I didn’t remember this composition that was being developed during the second phase of Little Earthquakes.” Amos finished the vocal in 2006 so it could celebrate being “sweet 16”.
21. The phallic mushrooms on the back cover of the original Little Earthquakes album artwork was part of Amos’ twist on Lewis Carroll’s surreal world. “We were really into the Alice In Wonderland idea," she explained of the album sleeve. "We wanted to work with differences in scale, the shrunken piano, the big mushrooms; male, massive. Girl in her box. We thought it was quite good fun." The penisy fungus were cut from the artwork of the 2015 re-issue.
22. "Thoughts", a Little Earthquakes B-side, finds Amos singing about burning witches. “Yes, I think I was burned as a witch in a former life,” Amos said in a 1994 interview. “No big deal.”
23. At a time when digital recording was becoming the norm, Little Earthquakes was recorded in analogue. "Quite frankly because it was cheaper," co-producer Davitt Sigerson said. “We only had a budget of $6000,” co-producer Eric Rosse noted.
24. Held annually during Switzerland’s summer for the past 40 years, 1991’s Montreux Jazz Festival was Amos’ first opportunity to unveil to a wider audience the songs which would form the basis of Little Earthquakes. Performing as the warm-up act for The Moody Blues, the CD release Live At Montreux 1991 captured a decisive Amos set – even if she forgot the words to the as-yet unreleased "Happy Phantom". When she returned the following year she played it without any lyrical issues.
25. Although Amos sings about being a social outcast on "Precious Things", she was actually a pretty popular student at school at Rockville, Maryland’s Richard Montgomery High School – she was even voted homecoming queen. “All of the ethnic groups voted for me,” Amos explained in Details in 1992.
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