While the indie band The Magnetic Fields' "The Book of Love" uses the same concept that the vintage song of the same title does – imagining the existence of an actual "how-to" book of love – this newer version manages, through a spare arrangement, a lovely melody, and lyrics that deftly alternate between humor and poignancy, to wring more complex moods out of the concept than just malt-shop sweetness.
We featured this song on one of our many indie pop playlists (go here for the link to that post) a bit ago. But, given that recently the song received a large dose of visibility due to Peter Gabriel covering it and that version being used in the finale of the TV show Scrubs, we figured the song deserved more attention as to why it's such a great first dance song for couples looking for an indie song that delivers a more original, eclectic take on romance – a take which we find so many couples in New York City often prefer that a DJ uses at their weddings.
"The Book of Love" was originally released in 1999, on the first volume (pictured at left) of The Magnetic Fields' triple album 69 Love Songs, and the tune has some of the album's most playful and touching lyrics. (Many indie pop fans are probably aware of The Magnetic Fields' singer Stephin Merritt, who also fronts several other indie bands and sometimes works solo, as one of the indie pop world's most respected songwriters.)
In the three verses to "The Book of Love," Merritt wryly paints a picture of an actual, physical book of love as mostly undesirable – it's heavy, long, boring, and contains a lot of outdated material. But yet in each chorus, he affirms that, since he’s so enamored of his significant other, anything – even reading or singing from such a largely unappealing book – can be pleasurable. And while the lyrics are funny and poignant, the music delivers as well. A seemingly distorted but still delicate ukelele under Merritt's warm baritone, and how the melody of the chorus gently soars hopefully upward perfectly establishes a mood of sweetness – not a sugary, doo-wop sweetness like the golden oldie, but a stripped-down, ramshackle sweetness that's quite moving.
The Peter Gabriel version, from his recent album of cover songs called Scratch My Back, (pictured at right) keeps much the same melody and lyrics, but violin and cello accompaniment add a more orchestral, lush mood. Also, because Gabriel doesn't linger on the humor of the verses as much as Merritt, the song comes across as more romantic, but less playful. However, this more polished-sounding version may have a slightly wider appeal to couples, and Gabriel's voice paired with a romantic song is almost always quite affecting and intimate, and this cover is no exception.
As a final pitch to you for using this song as a first dance, listen to the last chorus, and you'll likely think it's even more perfect to use.
The Magnetic Fields – The Book of Love
Peter Gabriel – The Book of Love