Wednesday, 27 April 2011

There lived a certain man in Russia long ago. He was big and strong, in his eyes a flaming glow. Most people looked at him with terror and with fear but to Moscow chicks he was such a lovely dear

PIck of the Week

“Rasputin”, Boney M  (1978)

Les was the epitome of the rags to riches story. He came to Canada with the clothes on his back and through hard work and perseverance had run a successful campground on the shores of the Shuswap lakes in British Columbia for many years. He was an engineer by training who had left Hungary at the time of the revolution in the ‘50’s. We visited with him and his wife for many summers when I was a kid. It was always an adventure, as Les was a character for sure.

Flash forward to a beautiful day in the ‘80’s.  I was visiting them now at their lakeside house in British Columbia, Les now semi-retired. The sun reflected off the cathedral windows of his A-frame  house he had built as he used his winch that he had built in his boat house to lower his boat into the lake. Even though I get motion sickness in boats, somehow I had agreed to go out in his boat on the lake ‘for old times’ sake’. Mistake!

We get in the boat and Les declares that we need some music. He fumbles around in his little glove compartment, pulls out an 8-track tape and pops it in to his stereo. Startled by the sheer volume of it, I quickly realize it is the robot voice at the beginning of Boney-M’s “Night Flight to Venus”, welcoming us to our first night flight to Venus. Crap!

We pull out of the dock and he yells at me in his somewhat broken English that we are going to cruise the south side of the lake to see if there are any “chickies’. I signal to him to turn it down, but he laughs and hits the throttle on his very powerful boat. I am pulled back into my chair – grimacing on the inside.

Les was not exactly a ‘chick magnet” at this point in time, nor had he ever been as far as I could tell; but that did not stop him! “Sometimes there are some out at the ‘nudie’ beach" he announces as the tape kicks into the rolling intro to “Rasputin”.

Once fun, almost a decade earlier at the disco, Boney M was not cool at this particular point in time. It is a bit like the typical life-cycle of a pop song – they are great at the time and then there is a period of time after that where they become not cool. If they survive this period and stand on their own merit they soon become ‘classics’ and are respected in their own right. If not, they fade into oblivion. A few songs I can think of that I am still waiting to see if they become classics are "The Macarena” and “Who Let the Dogs Out”. Who knows one day they may be 'classics'.

So riddle me this: What do you get when you take one male exotic dancer from Aruba, three female singers from Jamaica and a German producer who had made a hit out of a solo project he called “Baby Do You Wanna Bump’?

Answer: Boney M.

As bizarre a scenario as it seems, Boney M, formed in Germany and rocketed to stardom in the disco era of the late seventies.

Having already had a hit, Frank Farian (real name Reuther), just wanted to have a stage act that would lip-sync his songs. Early on Claudja Barry (of “Boogie Oogie Dancing Shoes” fame) got annoyed that they could not sing and left the group. She was quickly replaced.

After hitting it big on the German show “Musikladen” in 1976,  Boney M did two albums, doing well with the hits “Daddy Cool” and “Ma Baker”. 1978 was the banner year for Boney M as they release the double-A sided single with “Rivers of Babylon” on one side and “Brown Girl in the Ring” that were massive hits in Europe.

The release of the “Night Flight to Venus” album coincided with the much publicised trip to the USSR with Elton John. Understand that very few ‘Western” acts had been allowed into the USSR. at this point They were not allowed to play “Rasputin” because of the lyrics. The one lasting outcome of this though was that they are loved by the Eastern bloc countries to this day.

Pretty much the peak of the disco era coincided with the release of “Night Flight to Venus”. Talk about being at the right place at the right time. The follow up “Oceans of Fantasy” stalled, as did disco in 1979. Always a huge success in Europe and never as big in North America, they have sold in excess of 150 million records all over the world.

Farian freely admitted that he did the male vocals in the studio and that only some of the vocals were done by the female members of Boney M. Hey it was disco, who cared right1?

The appeal of Bony M, besides the driving disco beat, was the very accessible lyrics that were generally telling stories rather than the usual love ballad or non-sense songs of the disco era. They had some substance.

Well, out on the lake that day we did see a few girls on the beach and as we approached, now well into the album, Les waved and yelled “Hey Chickies!”.  I looked on in horror as they cringed, looked at him like he was out of his mind and quickly backed up the beach.

In Les’ mind Bony M was great and I’m sure if he had met Farian he would have proclaimed him a great ‘wheeler-dealer’. Both Les and Farian are gone now, but they both knew how to live in their unique ways.

1)       Later Farian would become infamous as the man behind ‘Milli Vannilli’ in the late eighties. People seemed to care more then. Huh! (Why couldn’t they have that Grammy?)

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