American singer/songwriter Tori Amos (born Myra Ellen Amos) was one of several female artists who combined the stark, lyrical attack of '90s alternative rock with a distinctly '70s musical approach, creating music that fell between the orchestrated meditations of Kate Bush and the stripped-down poetics of Joni Mitchell. In addition, she revived the singer/songwriter traditions of the '70s while reestablishing the piano as a rock & roll instrument. With her 1992 album, Little Earthquakes, Amos built a dedicated following that expanded with her second album, Under the Pink, before giving way to a decades-spanning legacy.
The daughter of a Methodist preacher, Amos was born in North Carolina but raised in Maryland. She began singing and playing piano in the church choir at the age of four, and songwriting followed shortly afterward. Amos proved to be a quick learner, and her instrumental prowess earned her a scholarship to the preparatory school at Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory. While studying at Peabody, she became infatuated with rock & roll, particularly the music of Led Zeppelin. She lost her scholarship at the age of 11 -- quite possibly due to her interest in popular music -- but continued writing songs nevertheless, eventually moving to Los Angeles in her late teens to become a pop singer. Atlantic Records signed her in 1987, and Amos recorded a pop-metal album called Y Kant Tori Read the following year. The record was a failure, attracting no attention from radio or press and selling very few copies; nevertheless, she didn't lose her record contract. By 1990, Amos had adopted a new approach, singing spare, haunting, confessional piano ballads that were arranged like Kate Bush but had the melodies and lyrical approach of Joni Mitchell. Atlantic sponsored a trip to England in 1991, where she played a series of concerts in support of an EP, Me and a Gun.
The harrowing "Me and a Gun" was an autobiographical song, telling the tale of Amos' own experience with rape. It gained positive reviews throughout the media, and both the EP and the supporting concerts sold well. Little Earthquakes, Amos' first album as a singer/songwriter, was released in 1992 and fared well in both the U.S. and the U.K. Earthquakes featured some of the most enduring songs in her catalog, including "Silent All These Years," "Precious Things," "Winter," and "Crucify." The same year, she released the Crucify EP, which featured cover songs like Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and Led Zeppelin's "Thank You." Delivered in early 1994, Under the Pink -- the proper follow-up to Little Earthquakes -- was an even bigger hit, selling over a million copies and launching the iconic singles "God" and "Cornflake Girl." Pink also included a duet with Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor on "Past the Mission."
Two years later, Amos delivered her third album, Boys for Pele. The LP was her most ambitious and difficult record to date, adding harpsichord and jazzy overtones to her piano-driven style. Pele debuted at number two and quickly went platinum. The Hey Jupiter EP arrived later that summer and featured live versions of B-sides "Honey" and "Sugar."
Amos spent much of 1997 dealing with personal matters, including a devastating miscarriage and a new marriage. These events would shape the entire tone of her fourth album, From the Choirgirl Hotel. Released in the spring of 1998, Choirgirl debuted in the Top Five and was certified platinum. After years of Amos flirting with the dance world -- she sang on BT's "Blue Skies" and hit number one on the dance chart with Armand van Helden's remix of "Professional Widow" -- Choirgirl was notable for the inclusion of dark electronic textures and synth programming. The album also provided the backdrop for her first tour backed by supporting musicians. The Plugged '98 trek featured Steve Caton on guitar, Jon Evans on bass, and Matt Chamberlain on drums. Selections from the journey were preserved on the two-disc To Venus and Back, which was released in September 1999. In addition to the transformed live versions of songs from her early era, Venus included a disc of new material like the Grammy-nominated single "Bliss." In 2001, Amos returned with the covers album Strange Little Girls, which featured her takes on songs by acts like Depeche Mode, Lou Reed, Slayer, Neil Young, the Beatles, and Eminem. The collection also marked her last release of new material for Atlantic.
The next year, she found a new label home with Epic and unveiled her conceptual post-9/11 epic, Scarlet's Walk. A retrospective collection, Tales of a Librarian, was issued on Atlantic in 2003. Librarian compiled notable hits and deep cuts from the first five albums of her solo career, as well as two new tracks and re-recorded B-sides.
Her eighth studio album, The Beekeeper, was released in 2005. Her fifth Top Ten debut, it was later certified gold. In conjunction with the LP release, Amos also published her first book, the New York Times best-selling autobiography Piece by Piece, written with Ann Powers. The massive five-disc Piano collection arrived in 2006, boasting a cornucopia of album cuts, B-sides, unedited and alternate versions, demos, and seven previously unissued tracks.
Amos issued the eclectic and hard-rocking American Doll Posse in 2007, a sprawling group of songs that found the artist assuming five archetypal personalities, all of whom were based on feminine gods in Greek and Roman mythology. As she toured in support of the album, Amos released live digital recordings of each concert as part of the Legs and Boots concert series, which grew to encompass 27 albums. Although each release was made available to fans, Amos also released a "best-of" Legs and Boots compilation in March 2009, creating its track list from various recordings during the tour.
Meanwhile, she also focused on writing new material during the tour. Those songs would find their way onto her tenth studio album, Abnormally Attracted to Sin. Released in May 2009, it was the first with Amos' new label, Universal Republic. It marked her seventh Top Ten debut on the charts. A holiday album, Midwinter Graces, followed closely behind, appearing before the end of 2009 and garnering warm reviews.
Afterward, Amos began a period in her career where she delved headlong into the world of classical music. In September 2011, she unveiled her 12th album, the classically based song cycle Night of Hunters, on Deutsche Grammophon. A conceptual work based on familiar motifs by composers like Satie, Chopin, Schubert, and Bach, Amos' recording centered on a couple torn apart by life's difficulties and monotonies, and the female protagonist's journey to find wholeness within herself. In addition to featuring her daughter Natashya Hawley and niece Kelsey Dobyns on vocals, Amos also collaborated with the string quartet Apollon Musagete, arranger John Philip Shenale, and clarinetist Ernst Ottensamer. While Night of Hunters only peaked at 24 on the Billboard 200, it helped Amos become the first female artist to simultaneously chart in the Top Ten on the rock, alternative, and classical charts. An instrumental version of the album -- Sin Palabras -- was also released that year.
Inspired by her classical foray, Amos' next move was to re-record some of her older songs, newly arranged by John Philip Shenale with the Metropole Orchestra. The resulting set, 2012's Gold Dust, appeared almost exactly a year after Night of Hunters; it debuted at 63 on the Billboard 200. Amos continued her creative exploration in 2013. After several years in gestation, the musical The Light Princess -- based on the fairy tale by Scottish fantasy writer George MacDonald and with music and lyrics by Amos -- premiered at the National Theatre in London to wild critical acclaim and was nominated for best musical in the prestigious Evening Standard Theatre Awards. The original cast recording would be released in 2015.
In May 2014, Amos announced her return to pop with her 14th studio album, Unrepentant Geraldines (Mercury Classics). Heavily inspired by her marriage and love of fine art, the album returned Amos to the Top Ten for the first time in five years. A world tour in support of Geraldines saw Amos return to performing solo on her piano without accompanying musicians. Deluxe reissues of the seminal Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink arrived in 2015, including a disc of the remastered album and a second that featured B-sides and other rarities. Boys for Pele received the same treatment for its 20th anniversary in 2016. The following year, Amos returned in September with the self-produced Native Invader. Her 15th full-length, Native Invader was heavily influenced by nature, the sociopolitical turmoil following the 2016 U.S. election, and her mother's failing health. The album included the singles "Reindeer King" and "Up the Creek," which once again featured her daughter on vocals. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine