Tori Amos is best known for her brutally honest, often opaque original songs, like “Silent All These Years” and “Caught a Lite Sneeze,” but longtime fans also know her to be a consummate interpreter of other musicians’ work. In 2001, Amos released Strange Little Girls, a collection of songs originally written and performed by men, and she’s covered the music of everyone from Joni Mitchell to Metallica during her live shows. The crimson-haired singer-songwriter’s Unrepentant Geraldines Tour features a segment coined the Lizard Lounge, in which she performs covers selected by fans, and her Tori-fied renditions of Radiohead’s “Creep” and Madonna’s “Frozen,” not to mention a mashup of songs by feuding songstresses Sinéad O’Connor and Miley Cyrus, recently got the blogosphere buzzing. Amos, who celebrates her 51st birthday tomorrow, wraps up the North American leg of her tour in the great state of Florida this weekend, and while there’s bound to be more gems given the straddled-piano-bench treatment when she hits Australia in November (our pick: Aussie pop icon Kylie Minogue’s “Slow”), here are our favorites from 2014 so far.
10. Rihanna, “We Found Love”
Tori Amos is no stranger to dance music: She was a fixture on the club charts in the mid-to-late ’90s, and she recently scored another chart-topper with remixes of her single “Flavor” in 2012. But rather than replicate producer Calvin Harris’s Eurotrash beats, she reinvents “We Found Love” with a dark synth-pop arrangement befitting the cynical undertones of the song’s lyrics.
9. Nine Inch Nails, “Something I Can Never Have”
Whatever their current status as friends, rumored former lovers, or simply mutual fans, Amos still appears to admire Reznor’s work, as evidenced by her recent cover of NIN’s “Something I Can Never Have”—though the singer’s campy performance suggests she might view the Pretty Hate Machine track to be the angst-ridden work of a man with the emotional capacity of a hyper-sexed adolescent.
8. Björk, “Hyperballad”
What with Björk’s elongated syllables and quirky English, “Hyperballad” is a surprisingly good fit for Amos, who often seems like she speaks another language and whose own hyper ballad, “Cloud on My Tongue,” segues flawlessly from the Icelandic singer’s alpine daydream.
7. Kate Bush, “Running Up That Hill”
Amos has been plagued by comparisons to Kate Bush for her entire career. The influence is, of course, undeniable, as Amos herself as acknowledged many times in concert by mashing up Bush’s 1985 single “Running Up That Hill” (which was, notably, originally titled “A Deal with God”) with “God,” her own exploration of gender relations from nearly a decade later.
6. PJ Harvey, “We Float”
“I guess you go too far when pianos try to be guitars,” Amos once sang on her song “Northern Lad.” But she’s spent much of her career treating her instrument like it’s something else, so rather than play “good lady” PJ Harvey’s piano-driven “We Float” straight last night, she used her synth keyboard to approximate the crunchy textures and electric guitars of To Bring You My Love-era Polly Jean.
5. Dolly Parton, “Jolene”
Amos treated Nashville audiences to a stunning interpretation of Dolly Parton’s 1973 hit “Jolene” earlier this week. Amos’s version is filled with both palpable sorrow and simmering jealousy, the singer’s voice alternately deep and raspy and “soft like summer rain.”
4. The Cure, “Pictures of You”
Amos turns the Cure’s 1990 single “Pictures of You” into a lush ambient ballad and, at the suggestion of one Toriphile, mashes it up with “The Big Picture,” an original song from her pre-fame Y Cant Tori Read days.
3. George Michael, “Careless Whisper”
Amos’s cover of a Wham!-era George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” is unexpectedly haunting, particularly during the understated verses, in which she hopelessly laments, “There’s no comfort in the truth/Pain is all you’ll find.”
2. Madonna, “Frozen”
In the past, Amos’s covers of Madonna’s “Live to Tell” and “Like a Prayer” have underwhelmed, but her recent rendition of “Frozen” breathtakingly reinvented the queen of pop’s icy electro-pop hit from 1998 into a stirring, nuanced keyboard dirge. Where Madonna’s original is filled with hope, Amos sounds like she’s negotiating with a glacier.
1. Radiohead, “Creep”
The term “haunting” could be used to describe more than a few of the above selections, but it applies foremost to Amos’s cover of Radiohead’s alt-rock chestnut “Creep.” The lyric “I want a perfect body,” in particular, is given new weight as delivered by Amos, who faces the realities of being a woman in an increasingly and unforgivingly ageist business. She likewise works herself into a vocal frenzy during the song’s bridge, in which she repeats, “She’s running out the door,” with the fervor of a woman who’s obviously eyed the exit in both her personal and professional life more than a few times.