THE MONOTONES

Book of Love

'You'll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent!' That jingle for a top-selling brand of toothpaste was also the inspiration for one of the top hits of 1958. The two connected in Charles Patrick's head after he heard the commercial on the radio and tweaked it a bit: 'I wonder, wonder, who-who-ba-doo-oo who...who wrote the book of love?' The Monotones' lead singer enlisted the help of Warren Davis and George Malone (two more of the group's six singers) to finish the song, which evolved into a simple but compelling ditty still closely associated with '50s rock and roll.

Originally a seven-member group, the Monotones (named as such because they felt they had one trademark style) all lived in Newark, New Jersey's Baxter Terrace housing project. Besides lead singer Patrick and tenors Davis and Malone, its lineup included baritone Warren Ryanes, his brother, bass singer John Ryanes and another bass, Frank Smith, all of them high school age when the group formed in 1955. James Patrick, Charles's brother, was seventh-wheel in the beginning but departed in 1956 to join rival Newark act The Kodaks. The six also spent some time singing in the New Hope Baptist Church Choir alongside teenage sisters Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick (Charles and James's cousins) and the slightly-older Cissy Houston (future gospel singer, later a member of The Sweet Inspirations and mother of Whitney Houston).

A 1956 appearance by the group on Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour on ABC netted them big prize money for doing a version of "Zoom" (The Cadillacs' then-current follow-up to "Speedoo"), but it didn't lead to anything in the record biz. The way to make things happen, of course, is to try, try again; "Book of Love" was the title of an unrecorded tune written by Kodaks lead singer Pearl McKinnon (one of the few girls who led an otherwise-male doo wop group), but Charles and the guys didn't let that stop them from making a demo of their completely different, Pepsodent-inspired song with that borrowed (or perhaps stolen) title during summer break in 1957. Hull Records owner Bea Kaslin (one of the few woman record executives in an otherwise male-dominated profession), with offices in New York's Brill Building, showed interest and brought the six friends to the big city. Kaslin's label specialized in doo wop groups like The Heartbeats, The Elegants and The Pastels (with some records released on Hull and others licensed to bigger labels) and felt The Monotones would fit right in. The master take, a full-sounding production in spite of its use of only a guitar, drums and vocals, was recorded at Bell Sound studios that fall.

The Monotones

First released on Mascot (a Hull-affiliated label) at the end of the year, it was only after Kaslin gave the much larger Chess Records distribution rights that the song took off. On Chess subsidiary label Argo, "Book" took a huge leap into the top ten of the national pop and R&B charts in early April '58 and stayed there through the end of May. The record caught on in several other countries soon after, but in England a sugarcoated cover by The Mudlarks was a hit in place of the Jersey-bred original. The Monotones went into novelty territory after this, following up with "Tom Foolery" in the summer and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" in time for Halloween, but radio ignored them and record buyers, by and large, were unaware. Bea Kaslin had licensed runaway smash "Little Star" by The Elegants to Apt Records, so she followed suit with the Monotones ballad "Words of Wisdom" and novelty track "Ride of Paul Revere," unexpectedly released on Apt as The Terracetones, an existing group who couldn't have been too happy about the credit switch on a single they had no involvement with. Like the previous two Argo singles, this one as well went D.O.A. By the time "Tell it to the Judge" was released in '59, it was all too obvious they were overreaching in trying to fit in somewhere amidst the semi-novelty offerings of hit groups The Coasters and The Olympics.

Bea put the group on the Hull label for a couple of early-'60s singles. "Reading the Book of Love" was an ill-fated attempt to relive the past with an almost note-for-note "B.O.L." retread. They based "Daddy's Home, But Momma's Gone" on a big Hull hit, Shep and the Limelites' "Daddy's Home," but the mostly-humorous track ended up being the group's last release before they threw in the towel early in 1962. Career total: one hit, that was it. John Ryanes passed away in 1972 and, sadly, his brother Warren died in '82. Smith and Malone got together a new version of The Monotones, reopened the "Book of Love," and relived their glory days of '58 with a steady presence at oldies revival shows in the 1980s and '90s.

- Michael Jack Kirby





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Book of Love