The tale of beloved ‘80s electro-pop band Book of Love contains many chapters and one of them involves an intense love from the Houston music scene.
The quartet, comprised of Susan Ottaviano (vocals), Ted Ottaviano (keyboard and vocals, not related to Susan), Jade Lee (keyboards, vocals) and Lauren Roselli (keyboards, vocals), first toured through Houston and other Texas cities while opening for Depeche Mode during that group’s groundbreaking tour for the 1986 synth classic, Black Celebration.
“I think because our shows in Texas were just so off the chain, I think Houston radio started putting our singles in heavy rotation and we ended up having this crazy No. 1 CHR Top 40 hit with ‘You Make Me Feel So Good.’,” said Ted Ottaviano from his home in Brooklyn. “It was this weird thing where in the rest of the country, we were more of this underground alternative pop band, but in Texas we all of a sudden, we bubbled into this mainstream for a while. As a result, Texas has always had an extra portion of an audience for us since those days.”
Book of Love first formed in Philadelphia in 1983, a place not exactly known for cutting edge electronic music. The members were part of the local art scene and started recording music together. After releasing the single, “Boy,” a DJ friend handed off a copy to famed record label head Seymour Stein – who discovered Madonna and The Ramones, among countless other classic acts – who then signed them to Sire Records.
One element that made Book of Love unique at their onset was the lack of guitars, members writing and performing mostly on synths, a much-needed antithesis to the cock-rock and AOR dominating the charts that part of the decade. The other element that set the band apart from its peers was that it was mostly comprised of women at a time when very few females were visible in music.
“Originally, when all of the electronic pop bands happened in the ‘80s, as much as there was a fervent support, it was more underground, there was still a lot of resistance, it was kind of unorthodox for the standard rock tradition,” Ottaviano said. “We fought it. It ultimately ended up being the reason why our genre has remained so potent and important to people – it was ahead of its time, but at the time it was challenging just to do live shows.”
It’s Book of Love’s sound that is most distinct. Unlike Depeche Mode, who eventually beefed up their electronic foundation with dark themes and deeper, layered sounds and later bringing in guitars, Book of Love is light in comparison, producing effervescent pop songs made for the dancefloor. That’s not an insult – Book of Love makes the kind of music one imagines ‘80s kids singing along to in the mirror, decked out in legwarmers and neon tank tops.
There’s no denying the quartet’s 1986 self-titled album is a classic. It contains three stone-cold, top-tier pop singles, the simply gorgeous album opener “Modigliani (Lost in Your Eyes),” the bouncy, sexy sugar rush of “You Make Me Feel So Good,” and the playful kids xylophone hook of “I Touch Roses.” This sound would go onto influence a wide-range of synth acts, the melody of Book of Love distilled to its most mainstream elements by late-‘80s chart toppers like Debbie Gibson and Paula Abdul, and its retro production by modern acts such as Ladytron, Cut Copy, and even Florence and the Machine.
“The last 10 to 20 years, there’s been a real turnaround of people with an appreciation for electronic music and the way that it’s made,” Ottaviano said, “I kind of feel like we’re just grandmas and grandpas to a whole new school of musicians that are making music the way we were.”
In other words, it’s timeless. So even when the band’s career unfortunately fizzled out after 1992’s Love Bubble, tastes veering towards grunge, hip-hop, and glossy R&B, discerning listeners eventually came back to that infectious ‘80s sound. Like many bands of the era, Book of Love eventually reunited, just in time for the 30th anniversary of their debut.
Not coincidentally, one of those first reunion shows took place in Houston, at the decidedly ‘80s-minded Houston club, #’s. The reaction to those shows led to the release of MMXVI: The 30th Anniversary Collection, compiling their best work. Most of the touring is now done by the Ottavianos, but Lee and Roselli play one-off shows and still contribute to yet to be released songs.
Fans may be older, but the time since the early days of synth pop has only made listeners more nostalgic and appreciative of the impact the genre had on them. Book of Love’s devotees, especially in Houston, make it worthwhile for the duo to continue to perform and provide the perfect dance soundtrack for fans, old and new.
“The takeaway is that this music has really played a role in their life and they almost want to come back and reexperience that and also communicate that to us,” Ottaviano said. “It’s really moving and really special. To a degree, they are coming back to the shows to thank us and we couldn’t be more thankful to them for keeping the songs alive.”
Book of Love plays White Oak Music Hall, located at 2915 N Main St on Friday, June 14 with DJ Marc Nicholson. Tickets start at $35 plus fees. Doors open at 8 pm.