This was initially a B-side of Amos' debut solo single, "Me And a Gun
." The decision to release it in the UK came after Radio One named it "Song Of The Week." It was Amos' first chart entry in the UK peaking at #51. Nine months later, after the success of "Winter," it was re-released this time reaching #26. In the United States it was released on cassette as her first single.
Amos explained to Rolling Stone how her niece helped her to pull through a difficult period in which she was struggling to locate her self (and solo album material) after the failure of her first record, Y Kant Tori Read. Said Amos: "I think when you're attacked for something that you've been doing since before you could talk - and again, we're talking about deep respect, its misrepresentation, and you think, 'Oh geez, I don't want to become a Mrs. Representation.' And you're in your twenties, saying, 'I'm only in my twenties and it's over.' And I think, 'By the time you're 25, they will say you've gone and blown it.' [Lyrics from "Curtain Call," from Abnormally Attracted to Sin] It comes from that period of time. So I was with my niece Cody, who was a little girl at the time, and she's very much a part of 'Silent All These Years,' because she loved fairytales and stories, and we would share the Little Mermaid story - Hans Christian Andersen and the idea that she'd lost her voice - and watching Cody respond to this young woman giving up her essence and power, all for something else, and in that moment, I realized that when she had no voice, that just completely took me to the place where I needed to go to reclaim it."
Amos said on VH1 Storytellers that she originally wrote this song with Al Stewart in mind to sing it, and her then boyfriend Eric Rosse, who was producing some other songs Amos had composed, heard it and told her, "You're out of your mind. That's your life story." At the time, she had the melody but not the lyrics.
"As I started to claim it as my own, I was able to write the words around it," she recalled in the liner notes to her 2006 compilation, A Piano. "I think this song became my mantra. As a child, with a dream to use her musical vision, I had been silenced by my ambition to have a career beyond the bar rooms where people spilled cocktails all over the piano. While writing 'Silent' I decided that even if I had to go back to a life of performing standards in piano bars, I would rather do that than live a musical life creating music I couldn't wear well. 'Silent' was almost a talisman. Which brings me back to the tale and the mermaid mythology."
This evolved out of the "bumble bee piano tinkle." Amos told World Cafe in 1992: "I started it with this bumblebee riff. You know, we all grew up playing... you know that bumblebee song? I decided that that song tortured me so I'm going to pay it back."
In a 1992 interview with Keyboard magazine, Amos discussed the contrast between the tune's light orchestration and dark lyrics. "With this record, a song like 'Silent All These Years' has a certain story line going on musically that's really the antithesis of what's going on verbally. It's counterpoint, pure and simple. But instead of French horns and cellos or something, it's words and music. And I find it very exciting when an acoustic instrument has its knife out. It can take on these different roles. The idea of being a woman... you come over to my house and I'm serving a fruit plate. That's not always going to happen. Especially if somebody isn't being polite, or if somebody's being a dick. Then I'm going to put the peelings on the floor and watch you trip, and giggle. And that's the same with the acoustic instrument. It's not always just about, 'I'm vulnerable, I'm sad.' There are many different sides, and the beauty comes in exploring them."
The music video was shot by Cindy Palmano, a British stills photographer and first-time director. The clip opens with Amos at the piano in a stark white room and continues with shots of her tumbling in a box and singing directly to the camera. "I had the box made specifically because it was a simplification of the idea of Alice In Wonderland," Palmano told the Really Deep Thoughts Fanzine. "Tori was de-scaled, hence the tiny piano, too." Meanwhile, a little girl - perhaps representing Tori's younger self - runs freely.
The video earned four nominations at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1992: Breakthrough Video, Best Cinematography In A Video, Best New Artist In A Video, and Best Female Video. Although the clip didn't take any of the prizes, it was named as one of the top 100 music videos of all time by Rolling Stone.
This was used in the 2015 movie I Am Michael, starring James Franco.