We all know that WFMU is poised to become the authoritative on-line resource for Cheesy Euro-Disco. However, for inexplicable reasons one of the most important and educational bands in this genre, Boney M., has not been featured on this blog yet. It is time for this to change.
It all started in 1975 when German producer Frank Farian scored a hit under the pseudonym Boney M. with "Baby Do You Wanna Bump?". He decided that he needed some good-looking dancers and singers to present to the public, and so the band Boney M. came into being, with official members Marcia Barrett, Liz Mitchell, Bobby Farrell, and Maizie Williams. Of those four, Bobby Farrell and Maizie Williams were only lip-syncing and dancing, all the male vocals were contributed by Farian himself. Later on Farian would perfect this technique by creating the lip-sync duo Milli Vanilli.
Boney M. were one of the biggest disco acts in Europe, Asia, and Africa in the 70s, but somehow they never got really popular in the US. Frank Farian himself describes them as "the most perfect mix of black and white music" and attributes the lack of success in the US to racial segregation. Well, judge for yourself. If you never heard any of their songs, a good place to start is this "mega-mix" (MIDI file) of their hits Rivers Of Babylon, Sunny (yes, the Kinks in MIDI Euro-Disco), Daddy Cool, and Rasputin.
Or maybe a MIDI file is not the best place to start, since you are missing out on the educational content and the dancing. Whereas contemporaries like Dschingis Khan also educated the general public about Russian culture (drink Vodka straight and chilled, throw the glasses against the wall), Boney M. took it one step further and wrote a song about the life of Rasputin, "Russia's greatest love machine". Here is a video (MPEG, 46.9 MB) of this Euro-Disco history lesson. Apart from dancing, a fake beard and a thoroughly bored guy in the first row chewing gum, you can also see Boney M. strutting over the Red Square in Moscow and playing in the Russian snow. Irony has it that the song itself was banned in the Soviet Union for a while, despite being very popular.
Just a couple of minor corrections/additions: The line "But to Moscow chicks he was such a lovely dear" suggests that he was screwing around in Moscow. However, Rasputin earned his reputation while he was in St. Petersburg, the Russian capital at the time. Boney M. also fails to mention his 11-inch penis (13 inches according to other sources), which is purportedly on display in the St. Petersburg Erotica Museum. You can see a picture here and decide for yourself whether it looks like the real thing or a sea cucumber.
For those who gave up religion for life of promiscuous sex and heavy drinking, or vice versa, think again. Rasputin created his own brand of Christianity, derived from the teachings of the Khlysty sect. It is not quite clear what the exact principles of his religion were, but having sex with lots of different partners and living a life of sin certainly play a central role in its path to salvation. Doesn't that sound appealing?
Another historical figure Boney M. took on is Kate 'Ma' Barker, whose life was portrayed in Roger Corman's meticulously researched biopic Bloody Mama. Listen to the song here (MP3). You will notice that they changed the name to "Ma Baker", according to this site for rhyming reasons. However, there is no single rhyme with "Baker" in the whole song. I guess they wanted to protect the innocent.
They also moved her to Chicago, probably because the line "She was the meanest cat in old Chicago town" sounded so groovy. Other than that, the song lyrics could have been copied from a history book. Roger Corman's film focused a bit more on the incest and drug part of the story, but you just can't tell everything in a four minute song.
By the way, did you notice that the FBI guy in the song has a German accent?
UPDATE: Here is the extended disco version of Rasputin (MP3), from a 12" vinyl single. It was by far the most requested song on my shows at WCBN in Ann Arbor. I took it from one of my show archives, but the sound quality seems to be alright, at least on my crappy speakers. I can personally vouch for its appeal to American college radio audiences.