General Info

Cornflake Girl

Monday 8 August 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

written by Tori Amos

Piano and Vocal: Tori Amos
Guest Vocal: Merry Clayton
Bass: George Porter, Jr.
Drums: Carlo Nuccio
Percussion: Paulinho Da Costa
Guitars and Mandolin: Steve Caton
Programming: Eric Rosse

“Cornflake Girl” is a song that took over a year for Tori to write in her final form. She detailed the whole process in 2006 in the A Piano booklet:

“In London I lived off All Saint’s Road, across from a reggae hangout. This was before that area lost a certain multicultural influence it once had. I was on-and-off the road touring Little Earthquakes, but whenever I would come home I would hear this reggae music all day long. One day in particular I had my window open and, oddly enough for England, I remember it being warm. I heard this groove in the distance, and it might have been many songs that they were playing back-to-back thay day, but I started jamming to this constant rythm. Within pretty much a day’s time I had a piano riff for what would become ‘Cornflake Girl.’ I was just playing along, and then, when the music stopped, I found myself still playing that riff.

About a year later, when I took the song into the studio for recording, other musicians came on and the original bass riff started to become something else. The legendary George Porter, Jr. brought his own variation of New Orleans voodoo, having been an instrumental part of The Meters. Eric had developed a loop that he said he was inspired to create after hearing me play my original riff for hours and hours. It’s an interesting progression to note that ‘Cornflake’ was inspired by a groove-loop kind of percussive rythm. Then I wrote the piano part, and to the piano part yet another percussive part was written. Then to that new and improved loop Paulinho Da Costa came and layered the track with even yet another syncopated, percussive part that included big sleigh bells and all kinds of things.

So despite ‘Cornflake’’s initial quick and spontaneous creation, all the mini-sections and compositional details took over a year to resolve. Sometimes you get a real burst of inspiration, and then all you have is a riff. You don’t really have a completed thought. It took me going very far away from where it had started to really finish it. Taking it from the city of London to the desert of New Mexico so that it could find its own character.

I think once I started to jam to the loop I was able to come up with this piano solo. But it kept changing. Every time I played it, it changed depending on my mood. So what you hear on the record was really improvisation. The day that we recorded it I remember walking out of the studio wondering how I was going to be able to play it live. It took me three weeks to really sit down, take the time to realize that I couldn’t just improvise on tour every night, and actually learn what was caught on tape. “

Steve Caton, who was Tori’s guitarist at the time , added the song’s famous intro when he had to record his part on the tape. “There was no intro to ‘Cornflake Girl,’” he recalled in Virtual Guitar in October 1999. “I asked Eric to put a click in front of the song so I could play that part. We were lucky that there was enough tape in front of the song. I doubled the mandolin with acoustic guitar, layering a bunch of octaves and fifths. A very simple but recognizable sound. It worked out pretty well, I think. I always get demos from Tori prior to going into the studio so I can start getting my ideas together ahead of time. When I received the songs for Under the Pink, I just delved in as usual, coming up with little bits here and there.”

Tori came up with the whistling part that can be heard in that intro, but stated that she “didn’t whistle, though.” “We found it in an Apple computer. ” [1]

In 1996, when Caton accompanied Tori for that song on tour, sound engineer Mark Hawley had to “almost turn his acoustic off, because there’s so much bleed from the acoustic guitar into the piano mics," as he explained to Mix Magazine in November 1996. “That is a bit of a problem, and I find it very difficult to get that right. It can be very distracting. And the sound of the guitar isn’t that nice when it’s coming down the piano mics." These live performances of the song were a major achievement of the tour anyway, which gave it a new dimension since Tori played it with a background recording featuring the whistle, guitar, drums and backing vocals to make it more rythmic during the Under the Pink World Tour in 1994. Since 1998, she plays it with her drummer Matt Chamberlain and bassist Jon Evans on every show.

When compiling her first best-of compilation in 2003, Tales of a Librarian, she chose to remix the song in a both subtle and satisfying manner. "I chose to re-approach it, because I wanted it to sit alongside other things that I was working with,” she explained to Audio Media in October 2003. “We emphasise certain things on this Cornflake Girl that that one didn’t; that one emphasises the sleigh bell - a lot. Again, that was someone else’s choice; we chose to make a different choice. There’s a lot on the tape, like the acoustic that was strumming constantly. The piano was not as instrumental as it is on this mix, which was the core of what it was at the time; the background vocals that were really so important to me, because the whole song is about betrayal amongst women... I wanted to hear this - like when women get together, so in the middle of the bridge of Cornflake Girl you now feel like you’re surrounded in a salon or something with all these women trying to talk at you about their side of things." This TOAL version can also be heard in the music videos for the song on the Fade to Red DVD.

[1BAM, March 11, 1994.