In her over 20-year career, Tori Amos has bent pianos, keyboards, and harpsichords to her will, crafted mystical metaphors for subjects both taboo and terrestrial, and built a cult following that has endured on the faerie dust that is her incredible catalog of songs. Not lasting very long in the bosom of the mainstream has its benefits, and for Tori Amos and her fans that means never being all that limited by the tyranny of singles. Album tracks, b-sides, covers — they all mingle on fans’ rankings of her best tracks. On the occasion of Tori’s 50th birthday, we thought we’d do the honorable Internet thing and rank her top 100 songs, subjectively and oh so definitively. Strap on those faerie wings, straddle a piano bench, and have a look (and a listen).
100. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (B-side to “Spark” single)
Kicking off a Top 100 list with a cover song is one thing. Kicking it off with a Christmas carol is another. But she gives the world’s finest holiday song an appropriately melancholy spin.
99. “Flavor” (Abnormally Attracted to Sin)
Late-era Tori that retains the haunting quality that used to come much more easily.
98. “Flying Dutchman” (B-side to “China” single)
Early b-sides were often the more fanciful alternatives to the earnest album cuts. “Take a trip on a rocket ship, baby” qualifies.
97. “Strange Little Girl” (Strange Little Girls)
The lead single off of Tori’s album of reinterpreted covers of “male” songs wasn’t the best of the batch, but the chorus has a kick to it.
96. “Cool On Your Island” (Y Kant Tori Read)
Is it dirty pool to include a track from Tori’s big-hair ’80s incarnation? This isla bonita of a song managed to pop up on tour even after Tori made the switch to singer/songwriter/piano chanteuse, so it counts.
95. “Mr. Zebra” (Boys for Pele)
The most memorable of the three micro-ditties on Pele. Leave it to Tori to plink her way past a “ratatouille/strychnine” couplet.
94. “The Wrong Band” (Under the Pink)
Lesser Under the Pink is still plenty laudable.
93. “Crazy” (Scarlet’s Walk)
Not one of her more dynamic tracks, but she’s still so gifted in chronicling a relationship’s aftermath.
92. “Glory of the ’80s” (To Venus and Back)
Perhaps appropriately given the titular time period, this track is positively junky, with its references to The Story of O and “that blonde chick who sings ‘Bette Davis Eyes.'”
91. “Marianne” (Boys for Pele)
Of all the tales of loss on Pele, “Marianne” might well be the saddest.
90. “Shattering Sea” (Night of Hunters)
The orchestral arrangements on Night of Hunters put some wind in Tori’s sails, and this first track off the album is balletic in its drama.
89. “Jamaica Inn” (The Beekeeper)
Flowery and light, but a good reminder that the pleasant is not always the enemy of the good in Tori’s catalog.
88. “Strong Black Vine” (Abnormally Attracted to Sin)
Good evidence of how grandiose sexual metaphors can grow silly, it’s still one of her more muscular late-career efforts.
87. “Scarlet’s Walk” and 86. “Virginia” (Scarlet’s Walk)
The earthiness of Scarlet’s Walk is best felt in these back-to-back numbers. The Pocahontas story in “Virginia” is pretty much classic Tori alternative myth-making.
85. “Real Men” (Strange Little Girls)
The cover of Joe Jackson’s provocation to homophobes loses a bit of punch coming from a straight woman, even one who’s as much an ally as Tori is. Hers is more nodding tribute than sharp statement.
84. “Hotel” (From the Choirgirl Hotel)
A sneak preview of the electronic avenues she would travel down in 1999’s To Venus and Back.
83. “Black Dove (January)” (From the Choirgirl Hotel)
There are dark, spooky corners on this album, and “Black Dove” is easily the darkest.
82. “Professional Widow” (Boys for Pele)
If nothing else, this song sets the record for most dance/techno/house remixes of a track that features the harpsichord.
81. “Take to the Sky” (B-side to “Winter” single)
Certainly good enough to have made it onto the Little Earthquakes album, but there was a lot of competition, so it will have to settle for being one of Tori’s strongest b-sides.
80. “Give” (Abnormally Attracted to Sin)
As could be said of more than half of Tori’s albums, Abnormally Attracted to Sin is overstuffed, but it gets off to a great start with a haunting plea from an artist who’s given quite a bit.
79. “Strange” (Scarlet’s Walk)
A relationship post-mortem from a woman who does post-breakup unpacking with the best of them.
78. “Pancake” (Scarlet’s Walk)
One of the more overtly political songs on Tori’s most overtly political album. Generally, it’s the patriarchy itself that comes under attack, but she’s pretty clearly got George W. Bush on the mind, and the right wing’s religious demagoguery in particular.
77. “I Don’t Like Mondays” (Strange Little Girls)
If we’re offering bonus points for these rankings, Tori’s cover of the Boomtown Rats hit ought to get some for being her only song to be featured in a montage on The West Wing.
76. “Suede” and 75. “Juarez” (To Venus and Back)
Not the poppiest of the tracks from Tori’s “electronica” album, but the solid middle ground between the radio-friendliness of “Bliss” and “1000 Oceans” and the trance-inducing excesses of stuff like “Datura.” As you might expect of a song about the border-town murders of hundreds of women, “Juarez” is incredibly haunting.
74. “Jackie’s Strength” (From the Choirgirl Hotel)
Conflating Kennedy-era Americana with one’s coming of age isn’t exactly novel, but Tori’s feminist spin, as well as creating a gorgeous sense of teen nostalgia (“stickers licked on lunch boxes / worshiping David Cassidy”) makes this a success.
73. “Doughnut Song” (Boys for Pele)
More Pele. More breakup fodder. Some really choice flicks of the pen in this one, too (“Happy for you / and I am sure that I hate you”).
72. “Happy Phantom” (Little Earthquakes)
It’s telling that the happiest, plinkiest, silliest song on Tori’s debut album begins with “If I died today / I’d be a happy phantom.”
71. “Horses” (Boys for Pele)
A rather opaque beginning to an album whose mission statement is quite clear. Still, dark piano ballads do a decent job of setting a mood.
70. “Another Girl’s Paradise” (Scarlet’s Walk)
Rarely does an examination into girl-on-girl envy feel less exploitative than this punchy little number.
69. “Datura” (To Venus and Back)
Polarizing as all get-out, but when you’re in the mood for a trance meditation on the cataloging of the herbs in one’s garden, this is your girl.
68. “Welcome to England” (Abnormally Attracted to Sin)
Not the best track on this album, but very close, and all wrapped up in a simple story of an expatriate across the pond.
67. “Carbon” (Scarlet’s Walk)
Settling comfortably into the realm of Tori’s many dark fairy-tale songs.
66. “She’s Your Cocaine” (From the Choirgirl Hotel)
Filthy and distorted and angry and posturing and so so so much fun.
65. “A Case of You” (B-side to “Cornflake Girl” single)
Good luck to living up to Joni Mitchell and all, but Tori manages to find a sensuality all her own in Mitchell’s gorgeous poetry.
62. “Parasol” (The Beekeeper)
Escaping into art appears to be the theme here, a song that takes few chances but goes down so easy.
63. “Taxi Ride” (Scarlet’s Walk)
The Bush-era scapegoating of gays would naturally rub such a longtime advocate the wrong way.
62. “Caught a Lite Sneeze” (Boys for Pele)
As the lead single to an album that found Tori still very much within the cross-hairs of mainstream attention, it’s something of a puzzle. As a herald for all the harpsichords and metaphors of ruin surrounding a dead relationship, it works quite well.
61. “iieee” (From the Choirgirl Hotel)
Looking for deeper meaning in a song with no consonants in the title is as futile as it sounds, but musically, there’s a richness here that characterizes the best aspects of Tori’s first album with a backing band.
60. “Mary” (B-side to “Crucify” single)
To be honest, I prefer the simpler original version of the song, released as one of the Little Earthquakes b-sides, to the refurbished version that got so much attention on the Tales of a Librarian greatest-hits album.
59. “Butterfly” (Higher Learning Soundtrack)
Do not ask me how this quiet, introspective song fits into Higher Learning. I’ve got nothing for you on that front.
58. “Etienne” (Y Kant Tori Read)
The second (and last) YKTR cheat on this list, but one that sounds far closer to the earthy, mystical Tori that we’d get in her solo career.
57. “Sleeps with Butterflies” (The Beekeeper)
This bore the brunt of a lot of “Tori gone soft” consternation, but it’s quite lovely in its softness.
56. “Rattlesnakes” (Strange Little Girls)
For an artist who loves a good cover, Tori is pretty impeccable at picking which will fit her, not only musically but temperamentally. The line about Eva Marie Saint in On the Waterfont could have been one of her own.
55. “The Waitress” (Under the Pink)
Kind of a split grade on this one. Its original incarnation was a blast of anger that never felt quite right on Pink. But a full-band makeover and prominent slot on the To Venus and Back live album not only brought it to sprawling life but put it in more appropriate company. Bonus points because your ranker here was witness to one of the better live freakouts of Tori’s career in the midst of this very song.
54. “Liquid Diamonds” (From the Choirgirl Hotel)
As smooth and value-rich as the title suggests. So much of this album is just melt-into-it rich.
53. “Sister Janet” (B-side to “Cornflake Girl” single)
As with many of the early b-sides, there were simply too many ace songs to fit onto Under the Pink. That’s no slight against this ethereal piano ballad.
52. “Girl” (Little Earthquakes)
Just in case you thought Little Earthquakes was going to be all plinky, sad ballads about journaling, Tori goes dark and atmospheric and weird and goes there pretty much right away. “Laugh as violins filled with water” is the metaphor to end all metaphors.
51. “Raspberry Swirl” (Little Earthquakes)
The song that got Tori fans at concerts off their asses and actually dancing. For better and for worse.
50. “Toast” (The Beekeeper)
Delicate, beautiful ode to her brother, who was killed in a car accident the year prior. One of the reasons, if not THE reason, to value The Beekeeper.
49. “Playboy Mommy” (From the Choirgirl Hotel)
Written to deal with the pain of a miscarriage, it’s at times unbearably confessional, but that’s the whole Tori thing, isn’t it?
48. “Big Wheel” (American Doll Posse)
Easily Tori’s most unwieldy album, American Doll Posse is worth it if only for this raucousness. Throwing shade, calling herself a MILF — it’s like batty Aunt Tori went on holiday and came back with youth terminology.
47. “Cruel” (From the Choirgirl Hotel)
Dark and atmospheric and gleefully experimental.
46. “Bouncing Off Clouds” (American Doll Posse)
As peppy as the title makes it sound. As infectious as any of Tori’s pop creations.
45. “Talula” (Boys for Pele)
The Twister original soundtrack never had it so good. Some of Tori’s most delightfully elliptical lyrics in this one (“Big Bird on a fishing line…”).
44. “Concertina” (To Venus and Back)
Computer-generated pop, but in a good way.
43. “In the Springtime of His Voodoo” (Boys for Pele)
A nearly indecipherable mix of Eagles references and clashing musical styles that all seems to blend like some gnarly gumbo. It’s a hell of a good time.
42. “Honey” (B-side to “Cornflake Girl”)
Sex metaphors don’t get stickier than “You’re just too used to my honey now.”
41. “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” (Strange Little Girls)
It sounds insane. It is insane. But the entire promise of Strange Little Girls comes alive here with a simple reverse of perspective from Eminem’s playful rage fantasies. Truly, honestly chilling.
40. “Pandora’s Aquarium” (From the Choirgirl Hotel)
A stripped-down end to Choirgirl‘s richness, but not at all a dissatisfying one.
39. “Past the Mission” (Under the Pink)
Trent Reznor’s husky whispering on the chorus FTW.
38. “Mother” (Little Earthquakes)
Genuinely unsettling and straightforward about its subject matter, which is sexual abuse and child prostitution, so, you know, have a blast.
37. “Bliss” (To Venus and Back)
Catchy as hell electronic-infused pop. Probably should have been a bigger hit. It might’ve been if it didn’t begin with “Father, I killed my monkey…”
36. “Icicle” (Under the Pink)
We’re already at the point where it’s like picking your favorite children, and it’s only the mid-30s. But this song is perfection, with a dynamite bridge (“feel the word, feel the word, FEEL IT”).
35. “Leather” (Little Earthquakes)
Playful and sexy and punchy and clever (“If love isn’t forever, and it’s not the weather, hand me my leather”).
34. “Purple People” (B-side from the “Spark” single)
Smooth and jazzy and probably not right for Choirgirl proper but still a worthy companion.
33. “Crucify” (Little Earthquakes)
Track 1. Debut album. All the work of setting a tone for a whole career, and this nails it. All the thoughts on patriarchy and religion and rebellion wrapped up into one sweet little melody.
32. “Bells for Her” (Under the Pink)
Almost atonal at times, the sparseness at play is really compelling. It’s worth listening to both the original and the smoothed-out live version on To Venus and Back.
31. “Father Lucifer” (Boys for Pele)
I believe Tori has said this song arose from a peyote trip — as could be said of many of her songs, but this one especially works. The layered-vocal climax is a particular treat.
30. “Maybe California” (Abnormally Attracted to Sin)
One of the clearest, most resonant songs of the late-Tori era. Naturally, it’s about women considering suicide.
29. “A Sorta Fairytale” (Scarlet’s Walk)
Forget the weird heads-on-legs video with Adrien Brody. I want more about this “almost slapped Oliver Stone” story.
28. “Putting the Damage On” (Boys for Pele)
The breakup song to end all breakup songs, at least while you’re still in the wallowing phase.
27. “Little Amsterdam” (Boys for Pele)
Smooth and groovy and twangy and unlike anything else in her catalog, really.
26. “Time” (Strange Little Girls)
You’ve gotta cook with the right ingredients, and Tom Waits’ haunting lyrics are as good as it gets. But Tori’s spin on this melancholy tale of death and the city is utterly gorgeous, and if you haven’t checked out the version she performed on Letterman the week after 9/11, do so.
25. “Famous Blue Raincoat” (Tower of Song: The Songs of Leonard Cohen)
Another cover of a lyrical genius, another pristine rendition.
24. “Sugar” (B-side to “China” single)
The version on To Venus and Back gives this song a sinister edge, even if it’s just about crushing on a gay dude.
23. “Me and a Gun” (Little Earthquakes)
Its impact has somewhat dulled since the years when Tori would hold audiences in silent thrall at every live show. But listening to it, it retains every bit of its bracing, confrontational, confessional power. It may no longer define her career, but it’s part of her bedrock.
22. “Cloud on My Tongue” (Under the Pink)
This one sneaks up on you, but the “circles and circles” chorus hypnotizes.
21. “Northern Lad” (From the Choirgirl Hotel)
Only Tori Amos could write a song of sweet regret that choruses with the phrase, “when you’re only wet because of the rain.”
20. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (B-side to “Crucify” single)
The apex of all Tori covers and the one that set the precedent. Particularly since there was no sense of safe nostalgia back when this was first recorded.
19. “Space Dog” (Under the Pink)
There’s a bit of barrier to entry here (it’s the title, honestly), but the overlapping vocals on the crescendo might be the most impressive 70 seconds of her career.
18. “Siren” (Great Expectations Soundtrack)
Besides giving Alfonso Cuaron a paycheck to sustain himself until he made Y Tu Mama Tambien, the other great contribution from the Ethan Hawke/Gwyneth Paltrow Great Expectations was this song.
17. “Yes, Anastasia” (Under the Pink)
As baroque an undertaking as you’ll find in Tori’s discography, it nearly loses itself in its own foggy atmosphere, but the gravity of the “We’ll see how brave you are” chorus holds it together.
16. “Little Earthquakes” (Little Earhquakes)
Even the most cavernous songs on Earthquakes retained a stark simplicity. “Doesn’t take much to rip us into pieces” pretty much nails it.
15. “Blood Roses” (Boys for Pele)
The harpsichord makes a noisy introduction to a shockingly nasty little ditty (“I shaved every place that you’ve been”) that plays like catharsis personified. If you’re looking for the ultimate Tori Amos menstrual metaphor, you’ve found it.
14. “Merman” (No Boundaries: A Benefit for the Kosovar Refugees)
The first year Tori broke this achingly beautiful ballad out on tour, she dedicated it to the recently slain Matthew Shepard. So, you know, good luck making it through this in one piece ever.
13. “China” (Little Earthquakes)
Lyrically, comparing a man’s emotional walls to the Great Wall of China is … whatever, but musically, with the strings and the piano and the longing, OH THE LONGING.
12. “Silent All These Years” (Little Earthquakes)
The crossover hit that put her on the map has fallen victim to some snobbishness among fans, but it’s easy to see why this would have intrigued audiences, either in the early ’90s or today.
11. “God” (Under the Pink)
Never before has questioning the benevolent omnipotence of the almighty sounded so catchy!
10. “Hey Jupiter” (Boys for Pele)
“Jupiter” gets double credit for its sparse, sad album version AND its crackly “Dakota” version, which was made available as a single and includes some breathtakingly plaintive additional couplets.
9. “Baker Baker” (Under the Pink)
As cake metaphors go, this one certainly leaves “MacArthur Park” out in the rain. Beyond that, though, “Baker” is bracing and stripped down and “I ran from him in all kinds of ways / Guess it was his turn this time” is seriously the saddest thing.
8. “Gold Dust” (Scarlet’s Walk)
Easily the triumph of later-era Tori, combining the sonic drama of “Yes, Anastasia” with some seriously nimble lyricism (and a fun Eyes of Laura Mars shout out!).
7. “Spark” (From the Choirgirl Hotel)
Unbelievably strong opening shot from Choirgirl with the dual purpose of dealing with a miscarriage and also experimenting with a fuller, band-heavy sound. A triumph on both counts, and that’s without even getting into the “how many fates turn around in the overtime?” breakdown that shatters my poor unsuspecting bones every time.
6. “Cooling” (To Venus and Back)
Tori’s best b-side and probably all the better for being a fan delicacy, rather than merely album filler. There’s longing and there’s pining and then there’s “I know that you don’t like me much / Let’s go for a ride.”
5. “Cornflake Girl” (Under the Pink)
Finally, the tyranny of Cornflake Girls would be exposed for the world to see. Whatever kind of girl-on-girl warfare Tori was working out here, she did so with one of her peppiest, poppiest hits.
4. “Precious Things” (Little Earthquakes)
It should be noted that the live version that appears on To Venus and Back features a crescendo to beat the band (literally). But even in its original location, the dramatic urgency of the piano and the righteous anger of the lyrics (“So you can make me come / That doesn’t make you Jesus”) combined for what likely remains Tori’s most impressive show of musical muscle.
3. “Winter” (Little Earthquakes)
Just the saddest, most beautiful thing in the whole universe, really. Do you have a dad? Do you love your dad? Listen to this one and weep. The crack in her voice when it comes to the final “when you gonna make up your mind?” is pretty much all it takes.
2. “Pretty Good Year” (Under the Pink)
Though not entirely a response to a fan letter, there’s enough longing in here for six songs. Aimlessness in song often sounds self-indulgent, but the clarity and hopefulness and expectation of a line like “hold onto nothing, fast as you can” is something special.
1. “Tear in Your Hand” (Little Earthquakes)
Everything. Everything at once. A heartbreak anthem and a gorgeous piano melody and the clarity of “maybe she’s just pieces of me you’ve never seen” and the single greatest bridge and the Neil Gaiman shout-out and the part where it gets so quiet you can hear her push the foot pedal and everything. All at once.