“This is not just about songs that meant something to me when they came out,” Tori Amos said of her sixth solo album, 2001’s Strange Little Girls. “This is about how men say things and how a woman hears.”
Amos recorded the 12 songs that make up Strange Little Girls – all cover versions, all written by men – to find the women inside them. One of the most influential female musicians of her generation, Amos did not change the songs’ words; instead, it is through her voice, intonation, arrangements and emotion that those women were coaxed out. Some characters were intended by their male creators, while others were Amos’s own inventions.
Listen to ‘Strange Little Girls here.
The backstory: “It was a different male seed/vision that I was taking to put into my garden”
“Each woman approached me and said, ‘I have a point of view on this song, that you may want to know, that may change how you hear its meaning,’” Amos said of the songs that make up Strange Little Girls. Many of those women were demeaned, parodied or hated in these songs; they had been, to use an Amos phrase, silent all these years. To understand the points of view of the women in the songs, Amos said she tried to “crawl behind the corridors of men’s eyes, and hang in their heads”.
Yet Strange Little Girls isn’t a reductive or angry project; rather it’s an alternative history, a different story, a vision of these songs away from a patriarchal society. It also links with deeper ideas about songs that Tori Amos has long held – that they grow and change after they leave the writer’s pen, something she particularly explored on her 1998 album, from the choirgirl hotel.
“Yeah, I have pictures in my head when I hear my songs Winter and Professional Widow, but they are not going to be the same pictures that you see,” Amos said in 2001. “My personal experience with a song is just my personal experience. And a song goes beyond that. So, in this land of myth [Strange Little Girls] that you walk into in each song, it was a different male seed/vision that I was taking to put into my garden. What I didn’t realise, when I took their seed, is that I would also have to take a little egg back with me.”
Each song on Strange Little Girls was accompanied by a photograph of Amos as the woman whose character she inhabited, and these portraits have endured as some of Amos’ most arresting imagery. There is also a series of short stories, written by Neil Gaiman, to accompany each track. Every song had its own story and particular meaning.
‘Strange Little Girls’ Track-By-Track: A Guide To Every Song On The Album
New Age was written by Lou Reed and recorded by The Velvet Underground. Later cited by Reed as being a personal favourite among his own songs, it was originally written about his then girlfriend, Shelley Albin, and performed live by the Velvets in a little-known version that Amos chose to cover. Later, Reed changed the lyrics to refer to a “fat blonde actress”, and the band recorded this better-known version of the song on their 1970 album, Loaded.
On New Age, Amos finds a magnetic yet inscrutable woman, bubbling with passion, as represented by the “balmy, undulating rhythm” that Amos has said she strove for. She went on to say that New Age’s woman is “a writer, an observer. She’s doing research; she’s documenting like an Encyclopedia Britannica of life and experience. Her big line is, ‘Well, I’m doing Research.’”