There’s nothing more satisfying than discovering a new artist in the bargain bin of a record store. That’s what I thought I had done when I found the Me and a Gun EP on CD single for twenty five pence in WH Smiths. It was made up of four perfect tracks, including the title track Me and a Gun and Silent All These Years from her album Little Earthquakes. The two songs that made it EP up were Thoughts and Upside Down, both worthy of being singles in their own right, but used instead to make up this stellar four track EP.
The video for SATY started appearing on The Chart Show (Kids, ask your Dads) and featured vivid imagery of this pale faced, red haired girl against a white screen backdrop. It was clear that Amos was a new kind of artist, unlike anyone else around at the time (or since). I went on to buy everything she did. I played her debut album Little Earthquakes on repeat. I bought all the singles that followed, as each one featured a handful of brand new tracks over the two versions of the CD singles. Her B sides where often just as good as anything she put out on her albums.
I was glad I had found Tori Amos. I staked my claim early on as being one of her biggest fans, following her career right from the very start, before she started getting in the top forty. Or so I thought.
As I looked through Record Collector magazine, I noticed the value of her old EPs and singles going up as she started to gain more commercial success. The first singles from second album, Cornflake Girl and Pretty Good Year introduced her to the top ten and she started to gain the recognition she so richly deserved.
Amongst the Record Collector listings, I started to notice records by a band called Y Kant Tori Read. Surely a coincidence that this band featured the name of my favourite female singer- songwriter. But then I saw the cover. And there she was, proudly posing with her big eighties rock star hair. Eighties bands in general must have used enough hair spray to punch a sizeable hole in the ozone layer. But now it seemed that Ms. Amos had played a fair part in that too.
It would have been an easy album to miss, as Y Kant Tori Read was not a huge success, either commercially or critically. My excuse was that I would have only been eleven at the time when the album first came out. The self-titled collection of songs is essentially Amos and her band’s crack at synth pop; a sound synonymous with the eighties.
With so many similar bands trying for their own little piece of the charts, it’s easy to see how Y Kant Tori Read were overlooked. But over the last few decades, the album has gone on to become a cult classic and fan favourite, especially with its more recent release as digital download and on the streaming sites.
The fact is that the album is way too good to be lost in the pop wilderness. Everything that we love about Tori Amos is here already in this early work. Her trademark vocals sound the the same back then as they do now; instantly recognisable from the offset. The lyrics are quirky and catchy. The only thing different is the production, and the hair of course.
It is however very much of its time. The production could not be more eighties. The only difference is that it has Tori Amos’ vocals laid over the top, which sounds quite odd on first listen. But these things always come around again, and it’s it’s own way, YKTR sounds very Now again.
There were two singles released off the album. The first being The Big Picture. Sounding like something from an eighties movie soundtrack, it has the huge power pop vocals and synths that should have made it a hit in its day. Check out the (I think unintentionally) video featuring some great acting at the start and and underwear thieving cop.
The single came out the same year as similar pop anthems Heaven is a Place on Earth by Belinda Carlisle, Tell it to my Heart by Taylor Dane and Love Changes (Everything) by Climie Fisher. All worthy rivals for chart success, but The Big Picture would have sounded great amongst them in the charts and on the compilation albums. The equally catchy Cool on Your Island was the second release, but that also failed to hit the mark in the charts.
There are similarly catchy big pop anthems that were synonymous with the eighties. Fayth follows the two singles on the album and is nothing short of brilliant. If you’ve ever wondered what it would sound like if Tori Amos tried rapping, then wonder no more. We’d probably all assume she’d had some kind of breakdown if we heard her do it on any of her more recent material, so enjoy this rare moment.
There are a couple of tracks that give clues to what kind of artist Tori would go on to be. Firstly on Fire on the Side, which would slot quite unnoticed into any of the solo albums that followed. The eighties production has been replaced with the strong piano work she has become famous for. With Amos sharing writing duties, it makes sense that we should see a glimpse of her potential. Then on album closer Etienne Trilogy the keys continue, which bridges the gap nicely to her first solo album Little Earthquakes should they be played back to back.
YKTR should have been more successful than they actually were. Sadly it was never meant to be and we would have to wait a further four years for the rebirth of Tori Amos as a solo artist. When we did see her next, it would be without the big hair. There’s plenty to suggest why this album became such a fan favourite. It was the birth of a much loved singer-songwriter who over the past few decades has created so much amazing music. I don’t know if she would have had quite the level of success she’s had if she had stuck with this band, but it’s certainly a great addition to her back catalogue, especially those like me who missed it first time around.