"Talula" represents a part of Tori Amos' personality that makes her whole. As she points out in the song, she doesn't want to lose her, so she must be important.
Amos has described the song as "a riddle," and says Talula just came to her. The name is classic, like the movie star of the 1940s, Tallulah Bankhead. It's also rich in vowels and sings very well. As Amos points out, it ain't "Catherine."
Amos plays a harpsichord on this one, giving it the feel of a centuries-old artifact. When she toured for the album, she had a harpsichord on stage so she could perform "Talula," which caused a problem when the fickle instrument would go out of tune. Amos' crew eventually realized that when they tuned it before a show, the heat was on in the venue, but when the audience started coming in, the heat would go off, moisture levels would change, and it would go out of tune. By the time her tour got underway, they got it sorted.
Talula is "wrapped in your papoose, your little Fig Newton." These kind of unusual words are a hallmark of Amos' lyrics. A papoose is a baby carrier used to tote the young one on your belly or back; a Fig Newton is a cookie with a fig filling wrapped in dough. Both imply cozy comfort.
Speaking with Vox, Amos explained how the song came together: "When I wrote this, my mother was sitting in a chair, and I'd been playing for a few hours. She was fading in and out of sleep. I'd been going through some of my blood, guts and widow's tunes. And all of a sudden I needed to breathe. I started playing 'Talula,' and it became like a breath, 'cause I needed freedom from all these songs that where showing me my monsters. Talula started to show me how to dance. And my mother began to wake up."
This was the second single from the Boys For Pele
album, following "Caught A Lite Sneeze
." The single version, which was also used in the video, is a remix by the DJ BT, who used Amos as a vocalist on his 1996 UK dance hit "Blue Skies." This version was titled "The Tornado Mix" because it was used in the movie Twister
and also appeared on the soundtrack.
Boys For Pele was the first album Amos produced herself. The title and overall concept derived from a trip to Hawaii, where Pele is the volcano goddess. Amos was looking for the "fire" within herself, and realized she had brought a lot of men in her life who ran hot, and that she had "stolen their fire."
The video was directed by Mark Kohr, who did the early Green Day videos. He came up with the concept of shooting Amos in a power station. "I got that song and I was really wrestling with it because it's sort of a tricky song," he said in a Songfacts interview. "I was thinking about women holding their power as people and broadcasting that, communicating it - like the propagation of that."
Amos liked the idea and they made plans to meet in England, where Amos was getting ready to tour, to film it. But the day Kohr arrived (February 18, 1996), there was a bus bombing in London that shut down any desirable filming locations, so they had to come up with another plan, and quickly.
Amos had another problem - her harpsichord going out of tune on stage. Kohr suggested she build a climate-controlled plexiglass box around the instrument, which triggered an idea for the video: Amos is in a box, and her harpsichord is in another just out of reach. The concept is that she can't get to her voice until she finds away to break out of her box (using a blowtorch).
A month before the album was released, Amos' label, Atlantic Records, posted a 30-second sample of "Talula" on her page using RealAudio so user could stream a portion of the song. This is one of the first uses of streaming by a major artist; Tori Amos fans made up a big chunk of the early internet user base and were willing to jump through some digital hoops (like downloading the RealAudio Player) to get a preview of her new album. These RealAudio samples became commonplace over the next few years.