Boys for Pele

Boys for Pele
Boys for Pele
Studio album by Tori Amos
Released 23 January 1996
Recorded Ireland, 1995
Genre Alternative rock, baroque pop, experimental pop
Length 70:09
Label Atlantic (US), East West (Europe)
Producer Tori Amos
Tori Amos chronology
Under the Pink
Boys for Pele
From the Choirgirl Hotel
Singles from Boys for Pele
  1. "Caught a Lite Sneeze"
    Released: January 2, 1996
  2. "Talula"
    Released: March 11, 1996 (UK)
  3. "Professional Widow"
    Released: July 2, 1996 (US)
  4. "Hey Jupiter"
    Released: July 20, 1996 (UK)
  5. "In The Springtime of His Voodoo"
    Released: September 24, 1996

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,[1] Boys for Pele debuted at # 2 on both the Billboard 200 and the UK Top 40,[2][3] making it her biggest simultaneous transatlantic debut, her first Billboard top 10 debut, and the highest-charting US debut of her career to date.[4]

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.[5][6][7]



During the recording of her previous album, Under the Pink (1994), Amos' longtime professional and romantic relationship with Eric Rosse, who co-produced a considerable amount of her pre-Pele work, disintegrated. That loss, combined with a few subsequent encounters with men during the Under the Pink promotional tour, forced Amos to re-evaluate her relationship with men and masculinity.[5] Amos explained, "In my relationships with men, I was always musician enough, but not woman enough, I always met men in my life as a musician, and there would be magic, adoration. But then it would wear off. All of us want to be adored, even for five minutes a day, and nothing these men gave me was ever enough."[8]

Songs began appearing in fragments, often while on stage during the Under the Pink tour.[8] 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.[9] 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."[8]

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 claimed to visit the devil. Such experiences led her to write the track "Father Lucifer."[10]

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,[11] 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.[12] 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 leads into the rest of the three or four songs on each side.[13] 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.


Boys for Pele is Amos' first self-produced album, a trend that would continue for a decade through Midwinter Graces (2009). Considering the album deals with the role of women in religion and relationships, particularly with Eric Rosse who served as producer for her previous two albums, it is fitting that Amos chose to have complete control over producing Boys for Pele, as a "bid for independence".[14] Of her first self-produced album, Amos said, "I was at the point I could not answer to anybody. I'd been answering my whole life to some patriarchal figure."[8]

Theme and lyrical content

Two underlying currents run through Boys for Pele: exploring the role of women in both patriarchal religion and relationships. Amos had previously written songs in a religious and/or theological context ("Crucify" from Little Earthquakes (1992), "God" from Under the Pink), but her viewpoint takes a particularly feminist slant on this album. "The feminine part of God has been circumcised out of all religions... God (is) a patriarchal force, a very masculine energy, with the feminine having been subservient, either being the mother, the lover, the virgin, but never the equal, never to have the whole."[15] "Muhammad My Friend", the eight track on the album, best represents this aspect of the album's theme with the line, "It's time to tell the world/We both know it was a girl back in Bethlehem."

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,"[9] 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,"[16] chronicling a woman's self-discovery in a male-dominated world,[15] looking for fragments of herself and being suppressed.[9] 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";[17] 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."


Amos had initially planned to record the entire album in the American South because "there's a hiddenness [sic] about the South, and I wanted to go back there because it was similar to how I felt in my relationships with men,"[12] but the bulk of the record was recorded in a church in County Wicklow, Ireland, as well as in New Orleans, Louisiana. Given her religious upbringing, Amos was drawn to record in a church, not in anger, but "with the intention of wholeness and of bringing a fragmented woman back to freedom."[18] Amos chose to record the album in a church because it was about searching for an energy current,[19] about claiming the passionate aspect of womanhood that the church teaches is wrong, “the idea of speaking my truth, no censorship, in a place that did not honor anyone's truth unless it was the church's truth,”[16] “so I figured if I was going to claim my womanhood, my passion, and sing this record - which, for me, was claiming fragments that I had suppressed for a long time - then I was going to go back to a church, back to the old world, to do it.”[20]

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.[5] 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.

Marketing and promotion

In late 1995, Atlantic released a promotional-only CD in Germany and America simply titled "Tori Amos", under catalog number PRCD-6535-2. "New Music from Tori Amos..." appeared on the front cover, and upon opening the jewel case, " coming soon" appears on the back of the insert. The release is a 9-track promotional compilation of Amos’ singles from her first two solo albums, meant for radio stations to play to generate interest in the forthcoming album. The track "Precious Things" is mislabeled as "These Precious Things" on both the CD and the back cover whilst "Crucify (Remix)" is listed when in fact the album version features. The cover photo features Amos in a green tank top sporting an armband tattoo and lying on a camouflage blanket.

The album’s first single, "Caught a Lite Sneeze", was released commercially and to radio stations on 2 January 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,[21] while others provided telephone numbers to call to listen to audio clips.[22] "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.[23]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3/5 stars[24]
Billboard (positive)
Los Angeles Times 2/4 stars[25]
Entertainment Weekly (C)
Q 4/5 stars[26]
Sputnikmusic 4/5 stars[27]
Rolling Stone 2.5/5 stars[28]
Salon (mixed)[29]
Spin (9/10)[30]
Village Voice (positive)[31]

Aside from the overall praise of the album's expanded instrumentation, and warm reception to the acoustics that recording the album in a church afforded,[32] reaction to the album was polarized particularly with regard to the lyrics. Boys for Pele is more lyrically dense than Amos' two previous albums, taking poetic obscurity to new heights.[6][33] Some critics praised its ultra-personal lyrics[5][7][12] while others panned its overt and excessive self-indulgence[19][34] and "ozone-layer lyrics"[35] described as unfathomable, impenetrable, and personally opaque.[22][36] One scathing review suggested skipping the album, instead reading something "a little bit more intelligible--like maybe Gravity's Rainbow written in Greek",[21] while Rolling Stone went as far to bluntly say that most of the album's lyrics are "ultimately mystifying and, well, bad".[14]

One reviewer observed that Amos' unfettered creativity from serving as her own producer cost the album its accessibility.[34] 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."[33]

Track listing

All songs written and composed by Amos. 

No. Title Length
1. "Beauty Queen/Horses"   6:07
2. "Blood Roses"   3:56
3. "Father Lucifer"   3:43
4. "Professional Widow"   4:31
5. "Mr. Zebra"   1:07
6. "Marianne"   4:07
7. "Caught a Lite Sneeze"   4:24
8. "Muhammad My Friend"   3:48
9. "Hey Jupiter"   5:07
10. "Way Down"   1:13
11. "Little Amsterdam"   4:29
12. "Talula"   4:08
13. "Not the Red Baron"   3:49
14. "Agent Orange"   1:26
15. "Doughnut Song"   4:19
16. "In the Springtime of His Voodoo"   5:32
17. "Putting the Damage On"   5:08
18. "Twinkle"   3:12
Japan Edition Bonus Track
No. Title Length
19. "Toodles Mr Jim"   3:09

The UK version of the album substituted the original version of "Talula" for the remixed version that was released as a single. It also included the hugely successful remix of "Professional Widow", but excluded "In The Springtime of His Voodoo".


The writing process and recording session for Boys for Pele is one of Amos' most prolific. Between the songs that were included on the album, included as B-sides, and included in later compilations, Amos composed and recorded approximately 35 songs during this time.

Title Length Single
"Graveyard" 0:56 "Caught a Lite Sneeze" (1996)
"Hungarian Wedding Song" 1:00
"London Girls" 3:20
"Samurai" 3:03
"That's What I Like Mick (The Sandwich Song)" 2:59
"This Old Man" 1:44
"Toodles Mr. Jim" 3:09
"Alamo" 5:11 "Talula" (1996)
"Amazing Grace/Til The Chicken" 6:48
"Frog On My Toe" 3:40
"Sister Named Desire" 5:29

The chart on the left lists only the songs that were released as B-sides on singles from Boys for Pele.

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.

Other songs were partially written during the Boys for Pele era and finished and released later: "Snow Cherries from France" appears on the Tales of a Librarian (2003) compilation, her final release with Atlantic; "Apollo's Frock" appears on Scarlet's Hidden Treasures (2004); and "Walk to Dublin", which was left off the album after disagreements over the musical structure of the song between Amos and her label, then revisited again during the From the Choirgirl Hotel (1998) recording sessions, 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.

Remixes, reissues and sales

The album debuted at # 2 on the Billboard 200, selling 102,000 copies in its first week, and going on to achieve RIAA Gold certification in the US by early March.[37] The album debuted at # 2 in the UK as well,[3] making it the highest-charting transatlantic debut of any of Amos' albums. Prior to its release, the album achieved BPI Silver certification in the UK,[38] followed by BPI Gold certification in March.[39] By May, US sales were already nearing Platinum certification status when "Talula," the album's second US single, which also appeared in the Steven Spielberg film Twister, was released and accompanied by a sticker that read, "From Tori's new album Boys for Pele - 900,000 and climbing!". Dance remixes of "Professional Widow" were released in July and by the end of the month the single reached # 1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play charts in the US,[40] the UK Dance Chart, and the Official UK Singles Chart. The successful releases of "Talula" and subsequently "Professional Widow"[41][42] surged albums sales enough that Boys for Pele achieved RIAA Platinum certification in August, the day after the US release of the Hey Jupiter EP.[37]

The success of remixes from this album led 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.[43] 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.[44]

Boys for Pele remained on the Billboard 200 for 29 weeks throughout 1996, before falling off the chart in mid September.[45] According to Billboard Magazine, the album ranked # 100 on the Year-End Album Charts of 1996 in the U.S. in December.[46] To date, Boys for Pele is Amos' third-best selling album in the U.S.[47]

Chart performance


Chart (1996) Peak
Billboard Top 200 (U.S.)[2] 2
Official UK Album Chart (UK)[3] 2
ARIA Album Chart (Australia)[48] 6
Austrian Album Chart (Austria)[49] 9
Belgian Album Chart[50] 6
Dutch Album Chart (the Netherlands)[51] 6
Finn Album Chart (Finland)[52] 13
New Zealand[53] 15
Norway Album Chart (Norway)[54] 27
Swedish Top 60[55] 4
Swiss Album Chart (Switzerland)[56] 14


Year Song Peak positions
US Billboard Hot 100
US Modern Rock Tracks
Hot Dance Music/Club Play
UK Top 40
Top 100 Australian Singles [58]
1996 "Caught a Lite Sneeze" 60 13 20 51
1996 "Talula" 119∞ 22
1996 "Professional Widow" (remix) 108∞ 1
1996 "Hey Jupiter" 94¤ 20ψ 17ψ
1996 "In the Springtime of his Voodoo" (remix) 125∞ 6
1997 "Professional Widow (It's Got To 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 of "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 and to be cited as having been critically underrated.[59] 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.[60]

Source Accolade Rank
Spin Best Albums of 1996[61] 13
Spin Best Albums of 1996[61] 4*
WXPN Philadelphia Best Albums of 1996[61] 11*
Billboard Magazine Best Album Sales of 1996[46] 100
The War Against Silence Best Albums of 1996[62] 4

(*) designates readers' or listeners' lists.



Additional musicians

  • Marcel van Limbeek – Delgany Church Bells
  • James Watson – Trumpet, Brass conductor
  • The Black Dyke Mills BandBrass
  • The Sinfonia of LondonStrings
  • Philip Shenale – string arrangement
  • Peter Willison – string orchestrator and conductor
  • Alan Friedman – drum programming
  • Clarence J. Johnson III – Soprano Sax, Tenor Sax
  • Mino Cinelu – percussion
  • Darrly Lewis - persussion
  • Mark Mullins – Trombone, Horns
  • Craig Klein – Sousaphone
  • Michael Deegan – Bagpipes
  • Bernard Quinn – Bagpipes
  • Nancy Shanks – Additional vocals


Release history

Country Date Label Format Catalogue
United Kingdom 22 January 1996 East West CD 82862-2
Cassette 82862-4
LP 82862-1
10 February 1997 CD∞ 80696-2
United States 23 January 1996 Atlantic CD 82862-2
Cassette 82862-4
LP 82862-1
Jun 1996 CD∞ 82862-2
Canada 24 January 1996 East West CD 8286223
Japan 25 February 1996 Atlantic CD AMCE-918

Denotes reissue


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