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‘Under The Pink’: A Guide To Every Song On Tori Amos’ Second Album
Warner Music
List & Guides

‘Under The Pink’: A Guide To Every Song On Tori Amos’ Second Album

The 12 ‘Under The Pink’ songs are fill of violent imagery, but making the album was a “self-healing” experience for Tori Amos.

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“If there’s a theme on Under The Pink, it’s one of self-empowerment,” Tori Amos said in 1994. “It’s about the refusal to see yourself as a victim, and how to have passion in your life without equating it with violence. It’s just as personal and just as involved as before.”

Coming after her debut album, Little Earthquakes, which was marked by its heart-stoppingly intimate and often deeply uncomfortable narratives, Under The Pink moved into more impressionistic territory. “Little Earthquakes was a bit more voyeuristic,” Amos said. “[On that album] you could sit back and watch this girl go through this stuff. You can’t on Under The Pink. You have to go through it to understand it.”

Each track on Under The Pink is infused with Amos’ particular kind of songwriting: a deep well of trust in the songs and their purpose, and a belief that they would find her when they were ready. In the case of this album’s songs, they were banging at her door. Exhausted following Little Earthquakes’ success, Amos had planned to take a year off, “but the songs just demanded that I tell their story”, she said, “and their story was about life under the pink”.

Listen to ‘Under The Pink’ here.

‘Under The Pink’: A Guide To Every Song On On Tori Amos’ Second Album

Pretty Good Year

Under The Pink, as a title, referred to “the inner world”, as Amos explained. “If you ripped everybody’s skin off, we’re all pink, the way I see it. And this is about what’s going on inside of that.”

Pretty Good Year is a perfect example of how Amos was now getting under the pink – and not only her own. It started with a letter which Amos received from a fan. Named Greg, he lived in England and was having a very tough time. Greg became a character in the song, as Amos’ lyrics address his sadness – without patronising him or minimising his distress. “I care about Greg, you know I do,” she said. “But there’s no pity in the song. If I pitied him then that’s really condescending.”

Amos has also referred to the song as a part two to the fan favourite Ode To The Banana King (an earlier track that missed the cut for Little Earthquakes). Both Ode To The Banana King and Pretty Good Year feature the same character, Lucy.

God

The questioning of organised religion courses through many of the best Tori Amos songs. On God she isn’t critiquing belief or denying spirituality; instead, she tries to strip back the cultural noise around religion to find her own conception of God. “The notion of a male force as God is definitely not how I see things,” she said. “That’s why I sing, ‘God, sometimes you just don’t come through. Do you need a woman to look after you?’ The God-force must be feminised, perceived more as a God-Goddess.”

Amos knew about this intimately – after all, her father was a Methodist minister. She even enlisted him in writing this song, although she found he wasn’t quite sharing her vision. “I’m going to tell you something cute about my dad,” Amos said in 1994. “I called him from the studio and I said, ‘Look, I need a quote from the Bible that shows the raw deal women got.’ Amos, Sr, responded with two pages of quotes from the Song Of Solomon until his daughter cut him off.

“I say, ‘Dad, no, this is not representative of what I’m talking about.’ He says, ‘Yeah, but these are beautiful quotes.’ And it was very interesting to me how my father, bless his cotton socks, just can’t acknowledge the way that the Church has treated not just women, but people in other cultures. It’s hard for him as a minister to see the other side of Christianity and what it’s done in the name of God.”

Bells For Her

In 2023, Bells For Her was used in the cult TV show Yellowjackets. It couldn’t have been more perfect. Yellowjackets is a sometimes touching, sometimes horrifying portrait of female friendship, just as Bells For Her is. Amos has said the song is about the loss of a friendship, and that the relationship she sings of is the same one that infuses Cornflake Girl and The Waitress, elsewhere on Under The Pink.

“Bells is the spirit speaking, not the ego speaking,” Amos has said. “[It’s] the part of me that still loves a friend that for whatever reason you can’t make a resolve. You just can’t do it. The big lesson in this whole year is that there isn’t a resolve for many things.”

Bells For Her is one of the spookiest, yet most profound tracks that Amos has ever recorded. For it, she used an old upright piano with nails hammered into it, alongside Chinese meditation balls rolled down the instrument’s strings. The results indicated a new experimentation in Amos’ sound, which she would explore more and more on later albums such as Boys For Pele and from the choirgirl hotel.

Past The Mission

On God, Amos explored how Western Christianity had excluded and denigrated the feminine. With Past The Mission, she turns her attention to Christianity’s relationship with colonialism. “This song I wrote about the Native Americans, the Indians in New Mexico, whose whole culture was killed by the Europeans,” Amos said in 1994. “It was really genocide. There are very few left. And they would make them leave their beliefs and go to the mission. And this song is about, maybe once again they can be listened to by the people.”

But Past The Mission is also “a love story”, Amos says. “It’s kind of a strange one in that it’s me again, still trying to find pieces that I’ve left other places.” The track also features Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails, on vocals, and was released as Under The Pink’s third single.

Baker Baker

Amos saw Baker Baker as a tragi-comic comment on long-standing male-female romantic relationships. She tried to be honest with herself and her own behaviour at these times, and how love can be overtaken by complacency and irritation. Amos has said this Under The Pink song was specifically written about her co-producer on the album, Eric Rosse, with whom she was in a personal relationship at the time, admitting that she was “endlessly unavailable” to him.

“I’ve had to look at how I treated men, and on this record, I think with Baker Baker, to deal with a man that truly loved me, but that I wasn’t emotionally available for,” she told The Baltimore Sun in 1994. “You know how women always say men aren’t emotionally available? Well, a lot of women aren’t emotionally available. It’s like, if you’re vulnerable, we say, ‘Look, we need you to be sensitive.’ So you become sensitive, and yet we go, ‘You’ve got no fuckin’ backbone,’ and we kick you in the face and run off with a ski trainer.”

The Wrong Band

The Wrong Band is about sex work and the women who earn a living from it. Just like her words for Greg on Pretty Good Year, there is no pity nor approbation in Amos’ lyrics for this song. Instead, she mediates on power, hypocrisy and, as she said in 1994, “the prostitute in ourselves”.

Amos observed sex work first hand when she was a young musician working in clubs. “Playing in piano bars in hotels and seeing women having to work in a certain way, I didn’t judge their choices or their circumstances,” she has written. “They’re part of the sisterhood. It becomes personal, and it’s not just a hooker out there, but a hooker in here. Then she becomes human and she has a name and it’s about, can you hug her?”

The Waitress

Along with Bells For Her and Cornflake Girl, The Waitress is one of three Under The Pink songs that are about women’s cruelty to other women. In this song, the hatred is visceral and physical; the word “kill” sits alongside “bitch” as Amos deals with the latent violence within herself.

“We’re both equals, we’re both waitresses in this song,” she has said. “I don’t go into the details of why. Why isn’t the issue. The issue is that I thought I was a peacemaker, and this violence has totally taken control of every belief system that I have. It’s a very scary thing, especially after you talk about anti-violence.” The lack of remorse, the rage, the nihilism of Amos’ persona in The Waitress also foreshadows her work on 2001’s Strange Little Girls, a concept album on which Amos inhabited female characters in songs written by male songwriters.

Cornflake Girl

Although Amos has said Cornflake Girl is the first part of the trilogy dealing with unhealthy female friendships, it comes last among these songs on Under The Pink (“I don’t have them in order, it doesn’t work like that,” Amos commented). This song deals with initial feelings of dismay, and the wounds were clearly still raw when she discussed Cornflake Girl in interviews. “Her opinion was – I’m a shit,” she said. “I think the disappointment of being betrayed by a woman is way heavier than being betrayed by a man.”

Yet Amos’ songs are rarely about just one thing, and she also infused the song with the work of Alice Walker, whose novel Possessing The Secret Of Joy Amos had recently read. The book deals with the traumatic experience of female genital mutilation and how, even though the practice is rooted in patriarchal culture, it would be the mother who carried the procedure out upon her daughters.

As the first UK single released from Under The Pink, Cornflake Girl proved that the success Amos found with Little Earthquakes was no one-off. Two videos were made for the song (Amos specifically wanted different visual expressions); the clip most commonly seen in the UK features an inverted Wizard Of Oz, in which Dorothy goes to Hell.

Icicle

Icicle was written about female masturbation, Amos delving into her own memories and recalling her adolescent explorations while growing up in a religious household. “I used to masturbate at home as a teenager, while my father and his fellow theologians were downstairs discussing the Divine Light,” she said. “I was exploring the ‘divine light’ within myself. And anyone who sees that as ‘blasphemous’ can go to hell!”

Amos has often spoke of how her songs take root and nourish themselves over the years, their original meaning changing from her intended one. Since releasing Icicle, she has acknowledged that she sees multiple perspectives in it. “People are still discovering things about Icicle, and I’ve had to journey with her for 20 years,” she said in the liner notes to the 2015 reissue of Under The Pink. She highlights one new perspective as child abuse, where “this was a sexual assault by someone who was looked to in the religious order as trustworthy, and then that act then damaged [the narrator] for life”.

Cloud On My Tongue

Tori Amos has said that Cloud On My Tongue relates to a real-life event (that did indeed involve someone recently returned from Borneo): the arrogance of an old flame seeking to reignite Amos’ interest at a time when she was settled with another. “You’ve already accomplished what you wanted, which was another scalp on your belt, and you did it,” she said in 1994. “That’s not one of my favourite men songs.”

However, she has also said the ultimate mood of the song is “acceptance”, as expressed in the repetition of the word “circles” in the lyrics. “That’s its whirlpool vat. It all leads to that,” Amos said in 1994.

Space Dog

Dedicated to Patti Smith and inspired by Neil Gaiman (“one of our greatest writers”, says Amos), Space Dog is trippy and evanescent. After seeing a picture of a space dog on a crumbling muddy wall in New Mexico, where Under The Pink was recorded, Amos came to see the figure as some sort of personal deity. “We’ve worshiped everything else,” she shrugged, “why not him?”

With its lyrical roots in mud, Space Dog reflects the overall sound of Under The Pink, as Amos explained: “The whole record was recorded in mud, mud walls, adobe and wood ceilings, wood floors, because Eric [Rosse] really loved the sound, which is why it sounds like it has that warm womb thing.”

Yes, Anastasia

“I believe Anastasia’s story is everyone’s in a way,” Tori Amos wrote in the Under The Pink songbook. “She tried to tell me that and I blew her off.”

Closing the album, Yes, Anastasia draws from Little Earthquakes yet relocates its themes into an impressionist setting. Amos has said that the Poppy in these lyrics is the girl in Silent All These Years, and that the rape of Me And A Gun contributes to the numbing chants of lines such as “Show me the ways to get back to the garden.” The title itself concerns Anastasia Romanov, the daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, who was executed along with her family during the Russian Revolution.

The first half of Yes, Anastasia was written on a tape recorder, in a free-form, stream-of-consciousness way. However, the final version of the song has been described by Amos as “my big epic. A lot of Debussy influence on the first half, and the Russian composers on the second half.”

It’s a dramatic, multi-layered ending to one of the best Tori Amos albums – a record she has spoken of in terms of painting rather than music. And how, despite the paroxysms of violence on the record, creating it was a “self-healing” experience.

Under The Pink is a place,” Amos said in 1994. “It’s an internal place. It’s the inner world, the inner life. You have to listen from your stomach. To me, it’s all there. But you’ve got to be willing to put your moccasins on and walk down the road.”

Find out where ‘Under The Pink’ ranks among the best Tori Amos albums.

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