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The Quietus
November 30, 2021

Baker's Dozen
The Power And The Beauty: Tori Amos' Favourite Music

by Lisa Jenkins

From bonding with her daughter over Dolly Parton and Cocteau Twins to being starstruck by Billy Joel and Elton John, Tori Amos takes Lisa Jenkins through thirteen tracks that have defined her life and career

Nina Simone -- 'Sinnerman' from Pastel Blues

This is just something that Tash and I listen to together. She's a big Nina Simone fan and my husband had the privilege of working with her doing live concerts. He's a sound engineer, so did a live stint with her. Professionally I had so many questions about it, because she's such a powerful force, like what she did as a woman and as a pianist. As you know she was classically trained and her story is quite legendary and she had a lot of disappointments, and I think you can hear that in the music. But Mark has always said, you know, her ability to just sit down and play, just sit down and out it comes, like a force of nature. And he said she seemed more interested in the lighting because the sound was so much a part of her. There was a confidence that the sound would be fine, no matter who was doing the sound! And the stories Tash and I have heard of her -- we were really drawn, well, to everything she did, quite frankly. 'Mississippi Goddamn', the power of that; the fact that she was a protest singer as well, and one of the early ones. If we really think about it, she's been a huge beacon of light in our household.

Cocteau Twins -- 'Ivo' from Treasure

Well I chose it because it's Tash's favourite, and I love it too. I was more of a Bluebell Knoll gal, because I started listening to that when I first met Tash's dad. I revisited this album in 1994, and was just listening to it all the time but then, when I was telling Tash that story, she just started playing 'Ivo' and that's become my favourite from the Cocteau Twins. There's something so magical about it, it's almost otherworldly, you know? It puts a new meaning to defining lyrics. I've been guilty of people going, "What in the world are you talking about?" I get that a bit. But I think, what's so funny is that when I listen to this I know exactly what I'm feeling. The emotion is very clear. It's not confusing at all with what her sound choices are for the poetry.

Billy Joel -- 'She's Always A Woman' from The Stranger

When I heard it, I thought it was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever heard, and I would play it at piano bar. (Having done stints at piano bars a lot in my life - since I was thirteen.) I did have the privilege of meeting him in Australia. I think it was probably in '94, I went to his hotel room and presented him with an award. He was just a really nice guy. No airs and graces, nothing. It was just like, "Hey, how's it going, come on in!" Like "Hey, hi, I've been playing your songs since I can remember!" It's just funny sometimes that you meet people that you've been playing their music your whole life, then you meet them and think, maybe I shouldn't have met this person. Maybe it would have been better to just stick with their music! But he's just not one of those people, he's just really kind of laid back and just, a charming, nice fella.

Stevie Wonder -- 'Living For The City' from Innervisions

I remember hearing this jump out of the radio. I was under ten I think but I remember when it came out, and I was blown away just by the sound of it. By the passion, the intensity of it, it just reached out, this music, out of the radio speakers in the car. My father was even jiving. My father was jiving! I didn't understand what the song was about, but once I did, you know, it was documenting life for this family in Mississippi. And the journey of one of them to New York and then a tragedy. And then knowing when it was written and relating it to the Black Lives Matter movement -- it's a story that has been repeated over and over and over for decade. It's just a testament to the power of the song and to Stevie Wonder's ability to document.

Roberta Flack -- 'Jesse' from Killing Me Softly

I don't remember how I came upon that song but I was much younger. I was quite a big fan of Roberta Flack, and when I heard this song, the beauty of it, the yearning of it, the love in it, it just took me to a place and opened up my heart. It just cracked it wide open. That somebody would be so devoted to another person that they'd leave the light on the stairs it just... I don't know, I think it made me think about love in a different way for the first time.

Heart -- 'Magic Man' from Dreamboat Annie

Well, Tash is a big Barracuda fan, but for me Magic Man that was the one. You know, everybody has their Tom Cruise moment where they're singing into a hairbrush, when they're a teenager, and this was my singing into the hairbrush song for sure.

You know, these women were unbelievable, the Wilson sisters. And I feel like because of the time possibly, they weren't lauded as much as they deserved. The power of Ann's voice, she can stand up to any of those rock guys from that time. So yeah it was a hugely, what do you call it, 'close the door' moment as a teenage gal, and so empowering to hear this music, by these women.

Dolly Parton -- 'The Bargain Store Song' from The Bargain Store

It's new to me because, not to sound like a broken record, but because Tash and I share a lot of music. We just hang out together and I wanted a Dolly Parton song because I think she's been such a huge influence. Some people know that she wrote 'I Will Always Love You' the big Whitney Houston song, maybe everyone knows, but I have come across a few people who don't realise Dolly Parton's reach. I remember hearing 'Here You Come Again' when I was a teenager, and when Dolly first came out on the scene, you know, because of the visuals. She was such a visual presence that I don't know if, at the time, everybody understood the singer-songwriter that they were dealing with. It was country pop, it was a huge hit, but the artist, who we've gotten to know as the great legendary Dolly Parton, was kinda hidden. People were distracted by the celebrity and the visuals because she was so stunningly beautiful, you know? A strong visual presence is sometimes a mark against you. Or you weren't, you know, an artist's artist? But she's proven to be one of the great singer-songwriters of our time. I didn't know which track to choose, and this is something I have just discovered in the last year - in lockdown.

Linda Ronstadt -- 'Blue Bayou' from Simple Dreams

It reminded me of New Orleans, because there's a bayou down there, and when I first heard this song I had never been, and in my mind I don't really know exactly what it's about, but in my mind I started dreaming of one day I'm going to go down to the bayou, and I had this romantic notion of going to, as they call it, New Orleans, and it was always a fantasy place for me and it's connected -- yes, I understand Cajun music and Zydeco and all that wonderful rich history of swamp music, and I've grown to love that music, but this was the song that made me dream of going to New Orleans one day. So I've always had it associated with that, as you say, velvety bourbon voice of hers that's just delicious, and so dreamy at the same time. And when I did get to New Orleans of course you know I'm singing Blue Bayou in the show! I think songs are sonic time-machines, I really think so.

Lindsey Buckingham -- 'Big Love' Live In 2002

Again, when I put this list together Tash, Oliver her boyfriend, and I were sitting together. She was having a white wine spritzer. Oliver and I we were having some nice red wine, which she doesn't drink. And we spent three hours just listening to music. And there were things that didn't end up on the list because we only had thirteen We were listening to Fleetwood Mac, we were listening to 'The Chain', we were listening to different stuff and this was another one of her's - where she said, "No guys, you've got this all wrong, you have to listen to this live version!" And I couldn't believe the power and the ability of Lindsey Buckingham on his own. I couldn't quite believe it, so phenomenal. And I know he's talked about as a great guitar player but I think he's even better than where people place him. And this live version, you can't fool around with live... live is live!

We all get it wrong sometimes, and that's just because if you play enough one night shows it's just not going to come together. Whether it's you or the sound of the room, it's sometimes just oil and water. It's not working and oh my God! But this is the opposite of that! It's just like starlight!

Pat Benatar -- 'We Belong' from Tropico

I was a huge Pat Benatar fan. When I was about sixteen, my father, who was a minister, roped me into teaching the children's choir. And I would dress like Pat Benatar, because I was such a fan - I would try anyway. So leather pants, little black beetle boots, you know, and a top with zippers on it, whatever. I would go and teach the children's choir in red leather pants. Suffice it to say that I had quite a lot of kids in the choir coming to do their lessons! And I attribute it all to being inspired by the great Pat Benatar! She was probably my favourite singer at the time. I thought her ability to use, ah, that beautiful voice. The power and yet the beauty. The beauty - this song completely exposes how beautiful her vocals are, and how tender. I remember when this song came out and I was completely floored hearing it for the first time.

Janis Ian -- 'At Seventeen', from Between The Lines

I think most girls have felt this way. When you look at someone and go, "Why are you singing along to this song, you're blonde and gorgeous, what happened?" But it's funny how people see themselves, especially at that time of life when you're going from adolescence to young woman to womanhood. That transitional time when we're so vulnerable.

I had been playing piano bars since I was thirteen, so that was '76, I'm not sure exactly when this song came out but this was a huge request at the piano bars over the years, so it was definitely in my repertoire. I knew every single word by heart. like most gals at the time, and I just think it's a masterpiece. It's a masterful song.

Elton John -- 'Burn Down The Mission' from Tumbleweed Connection

I've had the privilege of meeting Elton John backstage. It might have been at the Brits, and it was early '90s, so '94 maybe. We had a little giggle because his was the first concert I ever went to... he was my first. Yes, it was incredible and we were in the standing only area and I think I was eleven or twelve. I went with a girl a bit older than I was, she could have been fifteen or sixteen. We wriggled our way into getting down front, just able to squeeze through and make our way to the second row from the front. And, I'll never forget this, he threw water into the crowd and I jumped up with my left hand and the sprinkles from the water hit my left hand. Later, when I told him that, Elton said, "I want my left hand back!" Anyway, it's really great when you're able to say to someone like Elton, "You were my first concert," and the two of you have a giggle about it.

I'd been listening to this record because in '93 we went out to Taos in New Mexico with Eric Rosse and we were producing Under the Pink in this old hacienda in the town which is above Santa Fe. The town was surrounded by missions, or pueblos, so the environment was really evocative. As was being able to listen to this album while travelling around New Mexico.

Papa Mali -- 'Sugarland' from Do Your Thing
(Honourable Mention)

This track is incredible, that sound, that's the swamp talking. It's a very New Orleans kind of sound. When you listen to this kind of music it's that Southern rich sound of the land, when it's just coming through the speakers, the groove of it, it's hypnotic. Yet it's also trying to make a point because it acknowledges the Native American plight and so I think the song is not just sonically taking you on a journey, but it's a documenting history.


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