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Quintessential Albums :: Little Earthquakes (1992) :: Tori Amos

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A Little History:

Little Earthquakes is Tori Amos’ debut album (not counting her Y Kant Tori Read effort).  It features four released singles:  Silent All These Years, China, Winter and Crucify.

Following the end of her synth-pop band, Y Kant Tori Read, Tori wrote and recorded 12 songs at Capitol Records in Los Angeles with Davitt Sigerson producing.

Tori took the album to Atlantic Records in December 1990, with a 10-track demo tape, some being newer songs, but most of them from the June recording. Atlantic did not care for the songs initially presented. In response, Tori and her then boyfriend, Eric Rosse, recorded a few new ones. They had limited budget to work with, so most of it was done at Rosse’s home studio, using his 3M 24-track analog tape machine and a Yamaha CP-80 piano. They also took to Stag Studios to us a Yamaha grand piano for some of the songs.

Atlantic accepted the album, removing a song from the original demo, and adding four from the December sessions.

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Tori moved to London to work with Ian Stanley; Atlantic thought Tori would have an easier time of achieving success, because of English appreciation for eccentric performers. Here she recorded what would become two of her early singles. Me and a Gun was the last song written for the album, while China was an early track, originally titled Distance, that she wrote in 1987.

 

The second final version of the album was accepted by Atlantic. However, this was still revised before the final release; a 13-track promo cassette shows that the song Little Earthquakes was to appear after Happy Phantom on side one, with side two closing with Flying Dutchman. The latter track was presumably dropped due to the physical restraints of the vinyl LP format.

Atlantic’s European counterpart, East West, promoted the record extensively. Amos spent much of 1991 performing in small bars and clubs in London and playing for music executives and journalists, often in her own apartment.

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When the album was finally released in the UK in January 1992, it reached # 14 and remained on the Top 75 charts (UK Albums Chart) for 23 weeks. A month later, it was released in the USA to breakthrough critical success and also announced itself as a chart mainstay, despite peaking outside the Top 50 on the Billboard 200.

The accompanying singles (along with Me and a Gun and Silent All These Years) were China (January 1992 UK), Winter (March 1992 UK/November 1992 US) and Crucify (May 1992 US/June 1992 UK), the US EP version of which featured covers of songs by artists including The Rolling Stones (Angie) and Nirvana (Smells Like Teen Spirit).

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What Makes This “Quintessential” to me?

1992 was the year my life changed in significant ways. It was the year I turned 23, the year I became a mother, the year I (temporarily) moved back home, the year I broke up with the father of my baby daughter. I felt like everything I’d ever known of myself was being turned inside out, and I was examining all the pieces, trying to find myself, and trying to find strength and conviction, too.

Tori and Nirvana came into my life together, or just about. Their voices, their songs, their lyrics, their albums, they were there for me, they helped me get through the year, they helped me get through myself. Tori especially, and Little Earthquakes as an album, helped give me a voice, helped me face things I’d never dealt with before, and gave me the courage to be myself. The songs were solace, too, like a dear friend holding my hand and just listening, occasionally murmuring softly that I was going to be okay.

The songs, each and every one of them, are so loaded with memories, with pieces of me, with emotions that are evoked whenever I revisit the album. Listening now, 23 years later, I still feel so much of my younger self in the songs, but also, I feel an older me, my lived experiences, and a complexity of emotions, a then and now meet-up, that may be even more moving.

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My Top 5 Favorite Songs:

1. Precious Things (live, 1992)

“I wanna smash the faces of those beautiful boys,
those Christian boys.
So you can make me come –
that doesn’t make you Jesus.”

2. Silent All These Years

“Years go by,
will I choke on my tears
’til finally there is nothing left?”

3. Leather

“I could just pretend that you love me,
the night would lose all sense of fear.
But why do I need you to love me,
when you can’t hold what I hold dear?”

4. China

“You’re right next to me,
but I need an airplane –
I can feel the distance as you breathe.”

5. Little Earthquakes

“We danced in graveyards with vampires
’til dawn,
we laughed int he faces of kings,
never afraid to burn.
And I hate and I hate,
and I hate and I hate,
disintegration,
watching us wither –
black winged roses that safely changed their color.”

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