China

Album: Little Earthquakes (1992)
Charted: 51
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Songfacts®:

  • This lament about lost love was the third single released from American singer-songwriter Tori Amos' solo debut album, Little Earthquakes.
  • Amos told Rolling Stone: "There's been a side to me that's always been drawn to heart-wrenching love songs. And sometimes I find that you don't get those necessarily just in the contemporary singer-songwriter world, but also with musical theater, Gershwin, classics. I think that 'China' probably came after a big bout of listening to Barbra Streisand. Because you know, if anyone can break your heart, she could."
  • This was the first song written for Little Earthquakes, and its original title was "Distance."
  • "The fifths in the bass represent the beginning of an ancient ceremony," Amos explained in the Little Earthquakes songbook. "This ceremony took me to 'China,' took me to the kitchen table where most wars get nurtured. I've always felt 'China' and secrets are good friends."
  • Little Earthquakes was helmed by a handful of producers, including Ian Stanley, formerly of the British pop-rock group Tears For Fears, who produced "China." This track in particular features a number of Tears For Fears alumni from the band's 1985 album, Songs From The Big Chair. That album's producers - Chris Hughes and Ross Cullum - respectively take up drumming and mixing duties with Will Gregory of Goldfrapp playing the oboe (he played sax on Songs From The Big Chair). Hughes told the website Super Deluxe Edition how the team worked together:

    "The thing is, at that time, the standard way that Ross, Ian and myself worked… was that one of us would be working on an album, and there'd be a track that was a 'problem' track. You know, I'd be working on a track and the rhythm would be fine, but there would be a chord progression that was not quite right, or some harmonies that I didn't think were good, and I'd phone Ian up and say, 'Ian, mate, come and listen to this track - tell me what's wrong with it.' And he'd come in and mess around on the keyboard and say, 'you could take the bridge to this place, or change a chord here' and spend an afternoon working on it and invariably make it better. And similarly, he'd be working on a track and he'd call me up and say 'I've got this song up, the jump isn't right, the rhythm doesn't feel very good… can you come over?' And quite often I'd go over to where he was working and would recommend re-editing the drums or doing some programming. There was never any money involved, we'd always just go in on each other's sessions and help each other.

    That relationship was in full swing at the time he was doing the Tori record. So he was at the helm and on a couple of pieces he wheeled in people he knew. In those days, he'd send me a DAT or a cassette, because obviously we couldn't email music across. So that's what happened with Tori's stuff. It wasn't just one day, it was on a number of occasions, where he'd say 'have a listen to this - what do you think?' And then I'd go and help him. That was the climate in terms of what was going on."
  • The music video finds Amos on a rocky beach in North Cornwall, where a man is building a stone structure as she sings. The singer told MTV it was freezing cold during the shoot, but she knew from experience she had to tough it out to get enough footage for the clip. "The guys were in down jackets, they were standing there with umbrellas, it was pouring down rain in a lot of it, and they just looked and said, 'How do you do it?'" she recalled. "And I said, 'Because I've been in the edit suite when they go, 'Where's the other reel?' and there's no other reel."

    The video was directed by Cindy Palmano, a British photographer who also helmed the videos for "Silent All These Years," "Winter," and "Crucify."

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