Boys for Pele is the third studio album by American singer and song-writer Tori Amos. Preceded by the first single, "Caught a Lite Sneeze", by three weeks, the album was released on 22 January, 1996, in the United Kingdom and on 23 January, in the United States. Despite the album being Amos’ least accessible material to radio to date, Boys for Pele debuted at # 2 on both the Billboard 200 and the UK Top 40, making it her biggest simultaneous transatlantic debut, her first Billboard top 10 debut, and the highest-charting US debut of her career to date.
Boys for Pele was recorded in rural Ireland and Louisiana and features 18 songs that incorporate harpsichord, clavichord, harmonium, gospel choirs, brass bands and full orchestras. Amos wrote all of the tracks, and for the first time, she served as the producer for her own album. For Amos, the album was a step into a different direction, in terms of singing, songwriting, and recording, and is experimental in comparison to her previous work.
Songs began appearing in fragments, often while on stage during the Under the Pink tour. After a trip to Hawaii and learning about legendary volcano goddess Pele, the album began taking shape and the songs represented stealing fire from the men in her life as well as a journey to finding her own fire as a woman. From there, Amos explained, the songs just came. "Sometimes the fury of it would make me step back, I began to live these songs as we separated. The vampire in me came out. You're an emotional vampire, with blood in the corner of your mouth, and you put on matching lipstick so no one knows."
Along this journey, Amos, who has openly discussed her experiences with hallucinogenic drugs, particularly in relation to Boys for Pele, took drugs with a South American shaman and visited the devil. Such experiences led her to write the track "Father Lucifer.
The album would ultimately consist of 14 full-length songs and four short "interludes". As Amos was finding "parts and pieces of myself that I had never claimed" on this journey, the 14 primary songs represent the number of body parts of the Egyptian god Osiris that his wife, the goddess Isis, had to find to put his body back together in Egyptian mythology. The arrangement of the songs on the album reflects the progression Amos intended to achieve on the double vinyl LP of the album; each of the four sides of the album on vinyl would open with an interlude track that lead into the rest of the three or four songs on each side. The vinyl release is the only occurrence when the interludes ("Beauty Queen," "Mr. Zebra," "Way Down," and "Agent Orange") are not numbered and when "Beauty Queen" and "Horses" are not combined into one track.
Amos derived the album's title from the Hawaiian volcano goddess, Pele, with the "boys" representing the men in her life. "First I wanted to sacrifice all these guys to the volcano goddess and roast them like marshmallows, then I decided they gave me a really wonderful gift," Amos said of the title. Amos herself has described the album as a novel, as a "story of the descent of a woman to gain her passion and gain her compassion," chronicling a woman's self-discovery in a male-dominated world, looking for fragments of herself and being suppressed. Songs such as "Blood Roses," "Caught a Lite Sneeze", "Hey Jupiter," "Doughnut Song" and "Putting the Damage On" deal directly with the aftermath of a break-up and a woman's reflection on the failed relationship.
"Blood Roses", which Amos had initially intended to serve as the opening track to the album, finds the singer scorned over a failed relationship, belting out lines such as, "can't forget the things you never said" and "I've shaved every place where you've been boy". Regarding "Caught a Lite Sneeze", Amos says, "the whole current is doing anything so that you don't have to face yourself. Nothing is enough"; her previous relationships with men being the song's backbone with lines like, "boys on my left side, boys on my right side, boys in the middle and you're not here, I need a big loan from the girl zone."
Aside from the symbolic reasons to record in a church, the decision was also a technical one to augment the acoustics of the music. Amos' sound engineer came up with the idea of enclosing Amos and her instruments in a box, along with a makeshift Leslie cabinet. Due to the logistics of the space, Amos stood to perform on the harpsichord and piano. The time it took for her to turn around accounts for the break in music heard in "Caught a Lite Sneeze" when switching between instruments. Amos can be heard entering the box at the beginning of the first track, "Beauty Queen", and the Leslie effect is made obvious as it is switched on and off during different parts of "Horses", itself a continuous piano piece, allowing for a clear comparison in the piano's sound with and without the cabinet.
The album’s first single, "Caught a Lite Sneeze", was released commercially and to radio stations on January 2, 1996, a full three weeks prior to the album’s release. This is a marketing tactic often used to build anticipation for a forthcoming album, and a sticker accompanying the US single blatantly acknowledged this: "Hear the first new music from Tori in over 2 years!"
From the start, Amos’ marketing team has made use of the Internet to market and promote new music. Since the Internet was more sophisticated in early 1996 when Boys for Pele was released than it had been two years earlier upon the release of Under the Pink, it was an essential marketing tool for promoting the album. Some reviews provided links to the Atlantic homepage or to Amos’ homepage to listen to audio clips from the album, while others provided telephone numbers to call to listen to audio clips. "Caught a Lite Sneeze", was groundbreaking in that it was one of the first songs ever to have its worldwide release on the Internet as a free download.
While artists are often praised for producing their own albums, one reviewer observed that Amos' unfettered creativity from serving as her own producer cost the album its accessibility. For Amos, it's not about making radio-friendly music with universal lyrics, she explained, "a song is only part lyrics and, for me anyway, more than 50% music, easy. There's so much subtext in the music that's part of the story."
|"Graveyard"||0:56||"Caught a Lite Sneeze" (1996)|
|"Hungarian Wedding Song"||1:00|
|"That's What I Like Mick (The Sandwich Song)"||2:59|
|"This Old Man"||1:44|
|"Toodles Mr. Jim"||3:09|
|"Amazing Grace/Til The Chicken"||6:48|
|"Frog On My Toe"||3:40|
|"Sister Named Desire"||5:29|
Many songs written and recorded for Boys for Pele were released in conjunction with subsequent albums or have yet to be released. Three such songs, "Cooling", "Never Seen Blue" and "Beulah Land", were recorded for inclusion on Boys for Pele, but were kept off the album, later released as B-sides on the "Spark" (1998) and "Jackie's Strength" (1998) singles.
The song "Snow Cherries from France" was partially written during the Boys for Pele era, but Amos claimed she could not finish it. She finished writing it and recorded the track for inclusion on the Tales of a Librarian (2003) compilation, her final release with Atlantic.
Another song titled "Walk to Dublin" was recorded during the Boys for Pele recording session, but after disagreements over the musical structure of the song between Amos and her label, Amos kept it off the final track list. The song was revisited again during the From the Choirgirl Hotel (1998) recording sessions, but again it was kept off the album. The song was not released until A Piano: The Collection (2006).
Another song, "To the Fair Motormaids of Japan", was also recorded during the Boys for Pele recording sessions, but has yet to be released.
The Hey Jupiter EP includes live performances of some of Amos' previously-released B-sides, including a cover of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" [sic]. Amos covered "Famous Blue Raincoat" for the Leonard Cohen tribute album, Tower of Song: The Songs of Leonard Cohen and "I'm on Fire," "Landslide," and "Over the Rainbow" on VH1 Crossroads.
The success of remixes from this album lead to the album being reissued in both the US and the UK. In the US, the original version of "Talula" was replaced by "Talula (The Tornado Mix)," which incorporates a minor dance beat. In the UK, "Talula (The Tornado Mix)" replaced the original version of the song and a remix of "Professional Widow" was added to the album, immediately following the original version of the song. As a result of the extra "Professional Widow" track, the song "In the Springtime of His Voodoo" was removed completely.
"In the Springtime of His Voodoo" was also remixed and released as a dance single, but was a much smaller club success. Interest in the album resurfaced when Amos sang vocals on "Blue Skies", another club and dance hit by dance music artist BT that reached # 1 on the Hot Dance/Club Play chart exactly one year after the release of Boys for Pele.
Boys for Pele remained on the Billboard 200 for 29 weeks throughout 1996, before falling off the chart in mid September. According to Billboard Magazine, the album ranked # 100 on the Year-End Album Charts of 1996 in the U.S. in December. To date, Boys for Pele is Amos' third-best selling album in the U.S.
|Chart (1996)|| Peak|
|Billboard Top 200 (U.S.)||2|
|Official UK Album Chart (UK)||2|
|ARIA Album Chart (Australia)||6|
|Austrian Album Chart (Austria)||9|
|Belgian Album Chart||6|
|Dutch Album Chart (the Netherlands)||6|
|Finn Album Chart (Finland)||13|
|Norway Album Chart (Norway)||27|
|Swedish Top 60||4|
|Swiss Album Chart (Switzerland)||14|
| US Billboard Hot 100|| US Modern Rock Tracks|| Hot Dance Music/Club Play|| UK Top 40||Top 100 Australian Singles|
|1996||"Caught a Lite Sneeze"||60||13||—||20||—|
|1996||"Professional Widow" (remix)||108∞||—||1||20||—|
|1996||"In the Springtime of his Voodoo" (remix)||125∞||—||6||—||—|
|1997||"Professional Widow (It's Gotta Be Big)" (remix)||—||—||—||1||—|
∞ - Denotes position on Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles
¤ - Denotes sales position on Billboard 200 for Hey Jupiter EP
ψ - Denotes position on Top 100 Australian Singles chart "Hey Jupiter/Professional Widow" double A-side single
Despite receiving mixed reviews upon its release, Boys for Pele has gone on to become a strong-selling album, as well as a critically underrated album. The album was nominated for a Grammy in 1996 for Best Alternative Album.
In 2008, The Guardian listed Boys for Pele on its list of 1,000 Albums To Hear Before You Die. Boys for Pele has also been selected as the subject of a 33⅓ book, a series of books written about important and/or seminal music albums. The book is being written by Elizabeth Merrick and set for release in 2008.
|Spin||Best Albums of 1996||13|
|Spin||Best Albums of 1996||4*|
|WXPN Philadelphia||Best Albums of 1996||11*|
|Billboard Magazine||Best Album Sales of 1996||100|
|The War Against Silence||Best Albums of 1996||4|
(*) designates readers' or listeners' lists.
|Country||Date||Label||Format|| Catalogue |
|United Kingdom||22 Jan 1996||East West||CD||82862-2|
|10 Feb 1997||CD∞||80696-2|
|United States||23 Jan 1996||Atlantic||CD||82862-2|
|Canada||24 Jan 1996||East West||CD||8286223|
|Japan||25 Feb 1996||Atlantic||CD||AMCE-918|
∞ Denotes reissue