SotD: Y Kant Tori Read, “The Big Picture”

I think I was home on spring break in 92 when I bought a promotional copy of Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos. I assume I didn’t pick it out quite at random, that I must have caught at least a little buzz, but mid-March wasn’t long after its late February release date, either. I was blown away; if I ever do one of those ten influential albums things on Facebook, it would almost certainly make the cut. I won’t be doing it justice in this post, but it occurs to me that it’d be a good disk for which to rank its songs. Maybe that’ll happen here in the coming weeks.

When I got back to Illinois at the end of the break to tell Greg about my incredible find, he went over to his wall of CDs, pulled out something and tossed it my way. “I think that’s Tori Amos on the cover.” I looked back and forth between Little Earthquakes and Y Kant Tori Read.  I wasn’t so sure. Greg played the first song on his disc for me; I thought there was no way. I took out the booklets for closer study. It was only when I saw that both albums’ songs were attributed to Sword and Stone Publishing that I gave in.

This came to mind as I was browsing through the 6/11/88 copy of Billboard magazine online yesterday and stumbled across their take on Amos’s first effort on page 80. It’s now thirty years since this blurb appeared among their album reviews:

“Classically trained pianist pounds the ivories on
her pop-rock debut, belting out self-written material
with a forceful, appealing voice. Unfortunately,
provocative packaging sends the (inaccurate) message
that this is just so much more bimbo music.”

That’s mighty prescient!

Y Kant Tori Read became one of the hottest bootleg items around in the years after Amos found her voice and her audience. Greg could have gotten hundreds of dollars for his copy had he wanted. Last year, the powers that be finally re-issued it. I took a listen yesterday; some of it is definitely late-80s hyper-synthed schlock, but there are strong signs of her talent and promise throughout, particularly “Fayth” and “Etienne.” However, it’s “The Big Picture,” the song Greg played for me that night, the single that bombed, on offer here today. It’s not all that great, I know, but I think it offers a little insight into pre-stardom Tori.

I also solved something of a mystery. Over the last few months I’ve written about two songs on which Amos sang backup: Al Stewart’s “Red Toupee” and Stan Ridgway’s “The Last Honest Man.” I’ve been wondering how she came to appear on these somewhat disparate pieces. It hadn’t occurred to me that Last Days of the Century, Mosquitos, and Y Kant Tori Read were all recorded around the same time; some quick research uncovered that Joe Chiccarelli was the producer for all three (co-producer in Ridgway’s case). I assume he was impressed with her voice enough to suggest her to Stewart and Ridgway.

Through the 90s and early 00s I purchased several of Tori’s other releases. There are a number of very good songs, but nothing came close to matching Little Earthquakes. That’s okay, since she’s not in business to cater to my tastes. I sure am grateful for that one magical album, though (Billboard took notice, too–check out page 50 of the 2/29/92 issue).

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