Book of Love
In 1985,Depeche Mode snatched the brass ring Stateside with "People are People". But when my entourage arrived at the Washington D.C., date of their Some Great Reward tour, we were greeted by an unknown opener: Book of Love. Backed by three keyboard players, a lone singer careened across thestage. Was she drunk, or just horribly uncoordinated? Regardless, we were enthralled by her deadpan delivery.
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Next day's record shopping turned up a lone 12-inch single. Anchored by a pulsating bass line so simple it was almost nonexistent, "Boy" recounted the longing of a female barred entry to a gay watering hole. An underground smash in New York, this one track had secured the unknown group a recording contract and the support slot that introduced them to America. But Book of Love's best-known song almost bit the dust before they'd ever even madea demo. "I wanted to change the words before we recorded "Boy" because I thought they were hokey," confesses songwriter Ted Ottaviano today. Fortunately, lead singer Susan Ottaviano (no relation) talked him out of it. Not long after, member Lauren Roselli slipped a copy to DJ Ivan Ivan, who'd just enjoyed a huge hit with "The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight", and was seeking new projects to shop to Seymour Steins' Sire Records. When Ivan played Seymour the "boy" demo" says Ted "he went, �That's'the one I want.'"
Book of Love had sprung from the ashes of a Philadelphia ensemble featuring Susan and fourth member Jade Lee. After months of practicing in isolation,everything began happening very fast. "In the beginning it was so beyond what we had experience doing," admits Susan of the tour's baptism of fire. While on the road, a second single, "I Touch Roses", was released."I consider that our masterpiece," says Ted. But the label was luke-warm; they preferred the b-side, "Lost Souls". "It cameout, and didn't snowball the way "Boy" did," he recalls "But,after six or eight weeks, it started kicking in." In some parts of thecountry, the song eventually surpassed "Boy" in popularity.
Their self-titled 1986 debut album showcased the quartet's sound-memorable melodies, succinct yet intriguing lyrics- in a dozen settings. "I've always believed people's aesthetics are based more on what they don't know than what they do know," Ted explains. "We had great instincts, and wanted to say what we did as swiftly and simply as we could." True to their art school roots, they drew on inspirations as diverse as Italian-American painter Modigliani (they named a song after him), and even covered "Die Matrosen" by Swiss outfit Liliput.
After months of promoting Bookof Love the group hurried to cut their follow-up Lullaby. "The second album was a rush job," confesses Ted. But it also included "Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls," one of the earliest songs to address a new disease that was devastating New York. "We talked about AIDS at a time when people were not talking about it," Susan stresses.
1991's Candy Carol, a confection of nursery rhymes, spun-sugar psychedelia and punk immediacy, was supposed to be Ted's piece de resistance; today he regards it as "the most misunderstood album in the history of music." Harder cuts like "Alice Everyday" failed to connect with many fans, though "Sunny Day" wound up on the movie soundtrack to Silence of the Lambs. "Ted put his heart and soul into that album," says Susan. "When there were fewer people in the audiences,it was tough on him."
Book of Love had begun to unravel, growing apart as they grew older. "We weren't just four kids in a van with a map anymore," observes Ted. 1993's Lovebubble lacked the cohesion of their earlier work, and the album was barely in stores when BOL decided to disband. Their next-to-last release, "Boy Pop," became another hit, albeit only via a radical Mood II Swing remix. "Talk about a hollow victory," says Ted.
"It's easier to be in Book of Love in 2000 than it was in 1993," he concludes. "That was a very different time. It was the middle of grunge, and house music was very fertile. We were trying to not get swept away in all that." It's a testimony to the foursome's savvy that their catalog has aged remarkably well. After a seven-year silence,Book of Love are putting finishing touches on a "best of" (due later this yearon Kinetic), featuring three new recordings, including the early concert stable"It's In Your Eyes."
Speaking of early Book of Loveshows, one question remains: What was up with Susan's stage gyrations on that fateful 1985 evening in D.C.? "My dress was falling off," she reveals. "I'd never worn it before, and the buttons were coming apart in the back. It's the first night of the tour, and the road crew is going "What she gonna do tomorrow night?" The same thing Book of Love did for eight years: play timeless pop music."
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