Thursday, October 9, 2014

Adventures In Recordland, post #3: The As, part 3

More records today. I have a lot to say about these much more than usual, so...

#1: Tori Amos- "Boys For Pele", 1996


 Tori Amos is not a musician- she is a way of life. I say that because first of all, she is possibly one of my favorite artists of all time, and second, because over the past year or so, I've met dozens of fellow fans through Facebook and found that her music is so much more than entertainment for a LOT of people out there. For many fans, their whole lives revolve around Tori and her music. Her words have literally saved lives, helped people to deal with tragedy and trauma, and been an inspiration to many people, especially to young women. I know there are a lot of people who write her off as a one-trick pony or a wailing misandrist hack, or whatever else, but because I'm a fan, I've seen how much she's helped people, including myself, so if anybody reading this is in the habit of bashing her- I'm completely unapologetic about being a Toriphile. She means a lot to me.

Those of you who aren't familiar with her work probably only know her, if at all, because of her song "Cornflake Girl", or because of that dumb remix of her song "Professional Widow." So let me give you some brief details. She was born in North Carolina, raised in Baltimore and Washington D.C., was a child prodigy who started playing piano at age three, played in piano bars in her teens and early '20s, was in a third-rate band called Y Kant Tori Read, got out of it as soon as possible and went solo. Her solo career has yielded to date 14 albums, each one very different from the last. She's toured worldwide for more than 20 years, and will probably continue to do so as long as possible. I've seen her twice. That's good enough to start with.
Now about this album, "Boys For Pele." I was lucky enough to find it almost by accident and buy it for ten bucks. It's worth much more because finding her stuff on vinyl is quite rare- of course her albums, being from the '90s and 2000s, are usually found on CD.
"Boys For Pele" is a very unusual album. It came at a time when Tori was at the height of her popularity- in fact it went all the way to number 2 on the charts- but was the result of one of the most painful and emotional times of her life. She had recently broken up with her boyfriend, producer Eric Rosse who produced her first two albums- so this is an album full of alternating anger, sadness, and vulnerability. Pele is the Hawaiian volcano goddess, so she's basically saying "The hell with men, throw 'em all into the volcano!" Much of this comes through in the first half- the second half is quieter, more contemplative, as if she's trying to get over it and find herself again.
There are some songs on this album that I love, but even as a hardcore fan of hers, it's not my favorite. Much of the lyrics are surrealistic and abstract so that it can be difficult to know exactly what she's talking about on some songs- perhaps because she was doing a bit of drugs at the time (the song "Father Lucifer" is about a mushroom trip she had). But it's an important album in her career, because it epitomizes her personality at that time- eccentric, sometimes bizarre, but underneath the showmanship is something very human and relatable. It's definitely NOT the album I would recommend to someone who has never heard her before- far from it- but it defines the energy, personality and talent that shaped the early years of her career and made her famous.

#2: Tori Amos- "The Interview", 1992

I'd been a fan of Tori's for several years before I knew this existed- a picture disc interview! There's no music on it, it's just a half hour or so of her being interviewed by a woman whose name I didn't catch. It's always seemed to me that Tori Amos the performer and Tori Amos the person are two different beings in a way, but fortunately they're both fascinating. This may not be the best or most fun interview she ever gave, but she makes a lot of interesting points discussing politics, feminism, and religion. It's a great collector's item.


#3: Tori Amos- "Little Earthquakes", 1992

 You might have guessed by now that I'm going through my records alphabetically. The Bill Cosby records alone will take up about six blog entries.
Again, this album can be easily bought on CD, but it was only pressed on vinyl overseas, so this is very rare and I'm very happy to have it.
I want to shy away from getting overly personal on this blog, but it's impossible for me to review "Little Earthquakes" objectively. I first heard it at 5 AM on my 23rd birthday, and right away I knew I had discovered something special, and was hearing things that I could relate to on a very personal level. I won't go into details because I don't know who's reading. But suffice to say that this album has a special place in my heart, and as of this year I finally have an autographed copy of it. Thank you, Tori!

 But to get to the facts- "Little Earthquakes" was Tori's first solo album, and in my opinion her masterpiece. I don't think she's ever really topped it, but it's to her credit that she hasn't tried to duplicate it. She could have made a lot of money just making "Little Earthquakes part 2", part 3, part 4, and so on, but instead, every album she's made has been different. And yet here's where it all started- this is the thesis statement from which all her subsequent work derives. She covers a wide variety of emotions and topics- childhood, identity, death, religion, relationships- even rape, in the autobiographical song "Me And A Gun." The title song sums it all up: "Oh, these little earthquakes- it doesn't take much to rip us into pieces." So really it's a concept album that makes a statement. Not only does this album showcase her excellent musicianship and great songwriting, it showcases her honesty. She doesn't pull any punches, she expresses her raw emotions fearlessly, and that's why so many people have responded to it so strongly, myself included. It's not a comfortable album, but it's not trying to be. It's unique and powerful and there's nothing else like it.

#4: Tori Amos- "Under The Pink", 1994

This was her sophomore album after "Little Earthquakes." It's still very strong in terms of songwriting and performance, but there are a number of songs I don't particularly care for. And it was around this time that her lyrics become a little more surreal and abstract, rather than the more direct approach of the first album. Judging by her comments about the songs, this is probably because a number of them seem to be inspired by visions or hallucinations- the 9 1/2 minute closing track, "Yes, Anastasia", for example, she once described as coming to her in the delirium of a fever dream when she was ill. This is not to say that I dislike this album, quite the contrary, but it doesn't have as many songs that make as powerful an impression as the songs on "Little Earthquakes"- with a couple of exceptions, such as the song "Icicle" which deals with masturbation and religious guilt about sex. But most of the songs are not my personal favorites- I know many Toriphiles who would vehemently disagree, but I'll say it anyway.

#5: Apollonia 6- self-titled album, 1984

Hoo boy. How do I explain this one being in my collection?
I consider myself a reasonably intelligent guy. I went to college. I teach film history classes for a living. I've read James Joyce. How on earth do I explain the fact that I spent my own money on this juvenile nonsense?
Let me back up a little bit and tell you this story.
My family got cable TV in 2004. I was 18 years old, and had recently seen "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" and, like every other straight guy who's ever watched that movie, I fell in love with Phoebe Cates. I was up late watching our new cable TV one night and saw that there was a movie called "Private School" on, starring... Phoebe Cates. It's a typically goofy early '80s T&A flick, but since I was a horny teenage boy at the time (as if there's any other kind), it did exactly what it was supposed to do for me. Also in the movie was another beautiful young lady named Betsy Russell who stole the show from Phoebe pretty quickly. Underscoring one of Ms. Russell's most prominent scenes was some weird early '80s song I'd never heard before. I Googled it and found out it was a song called "Nasty Girl" by a group called Vanity 6. If you were around in 1982 (I wasn't), you might remember Vanity 6. They were a girl group created by Prince, consisting of three hot young chicks who wore lingerie and sang songs about sex. Their album came out in 1982- a couple of years later, the titular (in every sense of the word) Vanity had some disagreements with Prince and left the group. Unfortunately, this was right before she was supposed to play the leading lady in a movie called "Purple Rain", which you might also have vague memories of if you were around in 1984 (which I still wasn't. What took me so long?). And if you've seen "Purple Rain", you'll remember the leading lady was named Apollonia. When she came along, Vanity 6 became Apollonia 6 (the other two members, Brenda Bennett and Susan Moonsie, reamined), but the act was pretty much the same. Apollonia 6 appeared in "Purple Rain", and also recorded this self-titled album, and that was pretty much the end of their career when Prince got bored and moved on to other things.
Both the Vanity 6 album and the Apollonia 6 album are the guiltiest of guilty pleasures for me. Again, being a teenager at the time, I was just titillated by hearing songs with dirty lyrics. But as I've gotten older, I'm still fascinated by these albums because they're utterly surreal and bizarre and kinda creepy, and not even very good, so I find myself listening to them every now and then, usually after midnight- listening to them in broad daylight just doesn't feel right- and thinking "What were they thinking? What drugs were they on? How did a group of presumably intelligent adult human beings end up doing this rubbish and get paid for it?" Susan couldn't sing at all, Apollonia was fair.. at least Brenda did have some genuine vocal chops, as demonstrated by her solo numbers on this album.
And while Apollonia 6's album doesn't quite have the funky, raunchy, trippy sense of fun that Vanity 6's album had, it's still entertaining. The songs were all written by Prince, so they've got some great beats, if rather less-than-Grammy-worthy lyrics. That's about all I can think of to say about this. They made a music video for it which is even weirder than the album- you can see it on YouTube. It still fascinates me for reasons I can't readily explain- although I've tried. Maybe file this under "so bad it's good." But it took guts for me to write this blog about it and publicize it that way, because normally I'm totally embarrassed to let anyone know I even have it. Let's just keep it between you and me, eh?

See you tomorrow for the last of the As.

1 comment:

  1. You make a valid point about Tori not cashing in by cranking out Little Earthquakes clones. Whereas she became a little too off the wall for my tastes post Under The Pink, she is still a great musician with artistic integrity.

    If you haven't before, you should treat yourself to Sugar Walls by Sheena Easton. Written by Prince for/about Sheena Easton herself (so the story goes) it's pretty naughty like most of Prince's songs.