Because in the `80s even Goth girls liked to smile now and then at the discotheque, there existed a band called Book of Love
. Hearing a Book of Love song like “I Touch Roses” or “Boy” after the blood curdling “Stigmata” or the macabre “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” was like being smacked in the head with a sun beam. Music so fearlessly melodic and optimistic rarely parted the clouds of gloom, but somehow a synth band from Philadelphia did it often.Book of Love were formed in the early `80s by arts students Ted and Susan Ottaviano. They are neither related or married. Susan was the lead singer and her sweet but generally expressionless vocals became the band’s signature. Ted handled songwriting and guitars, contributing a vocal here and there. Joining them on keyboards and vocals were fellow students Lauren Roselli and Jade Lee.
The angelic sound of bells ringing out over a skip-along beat heralds the classic “Boy”. This track began drawing the attention of DJs and deal makers in New York in 1984. Sire Records signed the band and by 1986 Book of Love released their first album. Book of Love , their debut, remains an essential New Wave album with the glistening “Boy” joined by the equally bubbling dance hits ” I Touch Roses”, “Modigliani (Lost in Your Eyes)” and “You Make Me Feel So Good”. Book of Love would release four albums in their lifespan, dating from 1986 to 1993.
Today Book of Love’s relentlessly happy yet saccharine-free style still sounds out-of-step and out of time. Connections could be drawn (in outlook, if not similarity of sound) perhaps to the amphetamine burst of United State of Electronica or even the sun-worshiping weirdness that is Polyphonic Spree. I Am The World Trade Center owe Book of Love a royalty check or two.
After Book of Love seperated in 1993, Ted and Lauren continued on in the industry, recently founding the band The Myrmidons. Listen to two tracks, “Clap (See The Stars)” and “Dirty Secret” on the Myrmidons site; both are actually quite excellent. A full version of “Clap (See The Stars)” can also be found on the band’s MySpace page.
“If you bought a copy of Book of Love’s self-titled 1986 debut, chances are you either hocked it years ago, or you’re still breaking it out on a seasonal basis (I’ve purchased it three times myself).” Smith Galtney wrote in his Time Out New York review of Book of Love’s best-of collection released in 2001. “Like the Tom Tom Club before it, this Manhattan-based ambisexual quartet specialized in pure, love-it-or-loathe-it dance pop– a near-mathematical mélange of art house beats, smiley-faced hooks, Donovan-style lyricism, and female voices so droll and monotonous they made Nico sound like Judy Collins.”
Volume 17 No. 7
BOOK OF LOVE, “I Touch Roses–
The Best of Book of Love” (Reprise)
Although they surfed on synthpop when their hipper Goth dance peers were diving deep into house, Book of Love precisely captured the fear and faith of mid-to late- ’80s downtown Manhattan. Images of girls ignoring all come-ons ’cause they’re terrified of AIDS, touching roses and rosaries and themselves while singing sweet eulogies for an innocence they could only fantasize about. This three-woman, one-man band once suggested Depeche Ramones. Now the crafty twee keyboard punk on this great retrospective rolls out like Les Tigres Digitales.
TimeOut New York
May 10-17 2001
Issue no 294
Book of Love I Touch Roses: The Best of Book of Love (Reprise)
If you bought a copy of Book of Love’s self-titled 1986 debut, chances are you either hocked it years ago, or you’re still breaking it out on a seasonal basis (I’ve purchased it three times myself). Like the Tom Tom Club before it, this Manhattan-based ambisexual quartet specialized in pure, love-it-or-loathe-it dance pop– a near-mathmatical melange of art house beats, smiley-faced hooks, Donovan-style lyricism, and female voices so droll and monotonous they made Nico sound like Judy Collins. To cerebral for both clubland and pop radio, BOL scored two minihits with “I Touch Roses” and “Boy” before totally slipping off the radar in the early ’90s–leaving behind four inconsistent yet charming albums and an isolated legacy embraced only by gay guys and synth-pop connoisseurs.As a long overdue ?best of? that tosses in a few extra remixes and even some new songs, I Touch Roses isn’t half as good as the group’s debut, but it’s still an irresistable document of a band falling though the cracks. If BOL sounded like nothing in it’s day, certainly nothing has sounded like it since; it’s as if the group’s music exists in a cultural vacuum, as little here sounds embarrasingly dated. Older stuff like the winsome “You Make Me Feel So Good” and the operatic “Modigliani (Lost in Your Eyes)” could’ve been recorded yesterday, while new ones such as “It’s In Your Eyes” and “Try” come off as if they had been recorded when Reagan was still in office.
Capping it all off is a somewhat dreadful remix of “Boy” by hot house doctor Peter Rauhofer, which recently went to No. 1 on the BIllboard dance chart. Too bad Rauhofer didn’t leave the song’s trademark tubular bells intact as they were the perfect counterpoint to a bone-simple lyric about a fag hag who just wants to be where they boys are but can’t. Sort of like Book of Love itself, which wanted to make pop music and ended up writing some of the strangest most delightful dance songs of the late 20th century.
“The Best of Book of Love” really is the best
Tower Pulse April 2001
The veteran art-school act Book of Love didn’t have the silliest haircuts or weirdest name of its many new wave contemporaries, Instead, what the New York quartet relied on– and retains on this 16-track career survey– was an unerring knack for melodic hooks and succinct, curious lyrics. Although synthesizer was the band’s primary instrument (along with Susan Ottaviano’s deadpan vocal style), its stylistic range increased over the course of eight years and four albums, progressing from club fare like “Boy” (showcased here in both its original incarnation and a surprisingly effective trance remix by Club 69’s Peter Rauhofer) and the AIDS anthem “Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls” in the mid-’80s, to more ambitious offerings such as “Alice Everyday” and “Hunny Hunny” a bubblegum masterpiece, in the early ’90s. I Touch Roses also features three previously unrealized songs, including the perky “Getting Faster” and “Try” (three minutes of High Hopes” -type inspirational sentiments, minus the treacle). the group’s first new recordings in eight years and proof that the qualities that exemplifed Book of Love’s finest work remain firmly intact today.
Dance Music Authority
February/ March 2001
Book of Love- “BOY”
“I wanna be where the boys are – but I’m not allowed.” One of my all time fave New Wave bands from the 80s gets two radically different remixes for the new year! The double 12″ promo has a driving trance remix by Peter Rauhofer; clocking in at just under 10 minutes, it takes you on some twists and turns and the sultry female vocals are perfectly showcased with gorgeous synths in the mid breakdown. The other remix by the Headrillaz turns it into a deep, dark breakbeat floor-burner! Included are accompanying dubs from each of the remixers. To be honest, I like the remixes, but both versions steer clear of the trademark chimes that had this at the top of the dance charts in the early 80s, and I can hear where the Headrillaz version came from – it is more suited to be a breakbeat song. Who knows, maybe the powers that be at the label will just have someone slap a kickin’ breakbeat behind the original and release it! (Along with new remixes of some of their other songs?) Hope so! – Ajar
Book of Love- “BOY”
Peter Rauhofer brings back a classic from the alternative movement of the mid 80s. Book of Love, with its dark, edgy sound and melodic compositions, helped define an era of music that included acts such as Yello, Yaz, and the Pet Shop Boys. Fast forward 15 years and greet the new year with these new mixes and dubs. Using his trademarked drum programs and tinny loops, Peter adds new dance floor fodder while bringing back a charmed memory. The idea was brilliant and the remixes are hypnotically entertaining. This is one remix that will have a long winter run. – Willie Vega
Their story doesn’t exactly make for juicy “Behind the Music” fodder. In fact, in the mid-’80s Book of Love navigated the jump from playing in front of a few hundred fellow art school nerds to playing in arenas on Depeche Mode’s “Black Celebration” tour more gracefully than any pitfall-prone rock band ever could. “Because we came from an art school background, we never fit into the rock star thing,” says Book of Love vocalist Susan Ottaviano. But even without a “Behind the Music” to remind us, Book of Love can still turn most of us into geeks with spiky haircuts in our white socks and black shoes and too-big leather jackets dancing, mostly with our arms, to the twinkling melodies and goth-choir vocals of songs like “I Touch Roses.” And now that in our age of over-stimulated, post-everything refinement, we need the 80s to remind us of a time as awkward and innocent and over-the-top as we were, no band was more of all three than Book of Love. Songs like “Boy” turned even R.E.M.-loving frat-boys into straight queens, while Book of Love’s New York art-school take on British New Wave made them the Talking Heads of the eyeliner-wearing set. “Kids used to come back stage and tell us about their hairstyles,” laughs Ottaviano. “Our music found its own fans.” And Book of Love will be finding them again when the band (Ottaviano, Jade Lee, Lauren Roselli and Ted Ottaviano) reunite for the first time since 1993 to release “I Touch Roses: the Best of Book Of Love.” No mere act of nostalgia, Ottaviano stresses the band’s reunion is more testament to their music’s timeless appeal, as evidenced by the A-list remixers (Peter Rauhofer, Headrillaz, etc.) lining up to pay homage to “Boy” for club mixes. “The fact that these songs had great melodies is the reason they’re still around,” she says. So as those other 80s dorm-room favorites, the Beastie Boys, release The Criterion Collection, their interactive DVD companion to last year” career retrospective, “Sounds of Science,” for Book of Love fans, the music and the memories are, as always, vivid enough.- Hobey Echlin
Who the Hell was Book of Love
Perfect pop made of boys and roses. By Kurt B. Reighley
From Resonance Magazine
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 the stage. Was she drunk, or just horribly uncoordinated? Regardless, we were enthralled by her deadpan delivery.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 made a 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 came out, and didn’t snowball the way “Boy” did,” he recalls “But, after six or eight weeks, it started kicking in.” In some parts of the country, 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 Book of 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 year on Kinetic), featuring three new recordings, including the early concert stable “It’s In Your Eyes.”
Speaking of early Book of Love shows, 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.