An Introduction to Torn
“Torn” is a song about a woman who thought she found the perfect guy but it turns out she didn’t. I’m sure many of you can relate! Anyway, she ends up “all out of faith” and “lying naked on the floor”. Considered a 90s anthem, “Torn” launched former Neighbours star Natalie Imbruglia’s singing career. In 2011, it was the most played song on Australia radio since 1990. It was also the qualifying song One Direction performed on UK X Factor in 2010. The “Torn” original was written by members of LA rock band Ednaswap back in 1993. And it was recorded three times before Imbruglia’s 1997 version.
Members of Ednaswap, Anna Preven and Scott Cutler, wrote the original version of “Torn” with Phil Thornally (a producer who’d worked on albums by The Cure, XTC and Edwyn Collins). Preven, who was dating Cutler at the time, didn’t write the lyrics about any particular situation. However, she used her experience as a teenager working in a psychiatric hospital treating suicidal adolescents as inspiration. If you’re wondering why she got a job like that so young, it was because her dad was a psychiatrist who worked there.
In an interview with news.com.au, Preven revealed what she had in mind when she originally composed “Torn”.
I was really into Joni Mitchell at the time and I really wanted to try and write something as descriptive and that had as much of a story as she seemed to be able to do. I was really trying to be Joni Mitchell basically.”Anna Preven
Ednaswap performed “Torn” live shortly after they wrote it, but theirs is not the first recorded version.
The Torn Original Recording was in Danish!
In 1993, Danish pop singer Lis Sørensen recorded a song by the name of “Brændt” – Danish for “burned”. This was the first recorded version of “Torn”, with lyrics translated into Danish by Elisabeth Gjerluff Nielsen. As the first recorded version, we can say it’s the “Torn” original.
Sørensen, formally educated in classical music, has four decades of music industry experience. As an 11-year-old she recorded a single “Cirkushesten Claus” and while still at school formed a girl group called De Fem. With Anne Linet, she went on to form the bands Shit & Chanel (listen to the full 1976 album here) and the Anne Linet Band. Sørensen also worked with the popular Danish musician Sebastian. She has contributed to over 100 albums and released 16 of her own. These days Sørensen still performs 100 times a year.
The opening of “Brændt” sounds a little like Massive Attack but quickly settles into the familiar pop tune. Like Imbruglia, Sørensen sings into the camera in the video clip. Her voice is slightly grittier, but maybe this is because she was 41 at the time of recording, whereas Imbruglia was 22. Regardless, the tune is so familiar you hardly notice it’s sung in Danish.
Check out the Danish lyrics to “Brændt” here and an English translation here. You’ll see that Gjerluff Nielsen came up with different lyrics to those written by Ednaswap, but you’ll definitely recognise the tune.
Ednaswap’s 1995 Version
The second recording of “Torn” was by the song’s writers, Ednaswap, an LA band active from 1993-1999. Lead singer Preven came up with the name after she dreamt she was in a band called Ednaswap, so terrible they were booed off stage. Ednaswap’s sound evolved from the post-grunge of their 1995 self-titled debut album Ednaswap, to the harder rock of 1996 EP Chicken and 1997 album Wacko Magneto, to the more melodic pop-rock on their 1998 album Wonderland Park. As the writers of “Torn” it can be argued that Ednaswap’s version is the original, even if it’s not the first recorded version.
“Torn” features on both Ednaswap and the wider-released Wacko Magneto (with several remixes). The song underwent multiple incantations when Ednaswap recorded it for their debut album, becoming darker with each version. The song released on Ednaswap is definitely more rock than pop, featuring more guitars and drums than Imbruglia’s cover. Preven sings really well, conveying the same pathos as Imbruglia, but sounding rockier.
A second version of “Torn” was released on Wacko Magneto in 1997. This recording is harder and more stripped back. For the first half of the song, it’s just Preven’s voice and an electric guitar, then the drums kick in.
These days, Preven and Culter own the music publishing company, Pulse. In 2007, they co-wrote Beyonce’s song “Listen” for the Dream Girls soundtrack.
Trine Rein’s 1996 Version
Trine Rein is a singer who was born in San Francisco and moved to Norway as a baby. Since then, she has moved between the US and Norway. She is one of a few Norwegian artists whose recorded sales have exceeded one million.
In 1993, Rein released her first solo album, Finders Keepers, which peaked at the top of the Norwegian charts for five weeks. Rein went on to win a Norwegian Grammy for Best New Artist of 1993. Due to the extensive foreign press coverage of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Finders Keepers also became a hit in Japan. Almost two-thirds of the 600,000+ albums sales were to Japanese fans.
“Torn” was released on Rein’s 1996 album Beneath My Skin. The song has a poppier sound than the previous two versions, although Rein’s voice is still rockier than Imbruglia’s. The video clip is intriguing and for parts of it she is inexplicably leading around two white horses.
Natalie Imbruglia is Torn
Imbruglia left Australian soap opera Neighbours in 1994 and moved to London. She worked with producer Thornalley on a cover of “Torn” for her 1997 debut album Left of the Middle. It was released as the lead single from Left of the Middle and quickly became a worldwide hit, overshadowing the previous three versions.
Imbruglia’s “Torn” is quintessentially 90s pop. In the music video, which features British actor Jeremy Sheffield, Imbruglia sports a cute pixie cut, boy clothes and breaks the fourth wall to sing to us through the camera. Basically this song makes me want to run away back to the 90s. This version of “Torn” sounds better produced that the previous three versions. The other singers are good but Imbruglia seems to nail it more, her voice ranging from conversational to poignantly out of breath, still hitting each note perfectly. So what was so special about Imbruglia’s version?
Obviously, she was a pop star and had a background as an actor so she looked the part. She knew how to make a great video and the quality to her voice seemed to suit the song because the song is quite anxious, and yet her voice is quite sweet. So, I think that made it an attractive union of emotions.”Phil Thornalley
“Torn” sold over 4 million copies worldwide, including over 1 million in the UK alone. It’s the 85th biggest selling single of all time in the UK. In October 1997, it broke the airplay record in the UK with more than 2,000 plays over six weeks. In Australia, “Torn” was played 300,500 times on the radio between 1997 and 2011, an average of 75 times a day (according to the Australian Performing Rights Association [APRA]). It’s the sixth most-streamed pre-2000 female solo song on Spotify, with 240 million streams.
Powered on my “Torn”, Left of the Middle sold 7 million copies. Imbruglia received six ARIA Awards 1998. And in 1999, she received a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, but lost to Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”.
Ednaswap’s Thoughts on Imbruglia’s Torn
And what did the original writers of “Torn” think about Imbruglia’s success with their song?
We didn’t think anything of Natalie’s version — (we thought) it’s just another European cover. And we really didn’t give it another thought until, all of a sudden, we get a call saying it’s number one in the UK. For Scott and I it was obviously a mixed bag. We were thrilled to have a hit. But it was also bittersweet because it wasn’t our band.”Anna Preven
Natalie’s version was very much the version we wrote. It was just a couple beats per minute faster. And a little bit higher, I think. In the moment I thought it was little light. I love it now — when I hear it I get it. (Seeing) the video I remember thinking, ‘Oh she’s really got it made.’ She just looked cool — she had the jumper on, there was just something about the video. I got the video.”Scott Cutler
Preven and Cutler were also pleasantly surprised by the royalties they received from Imbruglia’s cover.
There’s no doubt that Imbruglia’s “Torn” is the most successful cover of the song, but the other three versions also have something unique to contribute. When you listen to them all together, you can follow the early 90s transition from grunge to the pop sound that was to dominate the late 90s and early 2000s.
Check out more unknown originals with covers from the 90s here.