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The Secret History Of Frank Farian
January 15, 2010 3:27 PM   Subscribe

Boney M were a successful German disco group of the late 70s, known for wild onstage costumes, frontman Bobby Farrell's bass voice and signature dancing style, and their hits, which included Baby Do You Wanna Bump, Daddy Cool, Ma Baker, and Belfast.

However, it was an open secret that Boney M was masterminded by producer Frank Farian. Farian wrote Boney M's songs and performed all of the male vocals (and many of the background female vocals) in the studio. Farrell and the rest of the band merely mimed Farian's heavily manipulated vocals when appearing on television. Hmm, a German dance band lipsynching someone else's vocals...sound familiar?

That's right, Farian was also responsible, ten years later, for Milli Vanilli, who sold 30 million singles and 11 million albums before being revealed as lipsynchers. Interestingly, while no one seemed too upset by Farian's behind-the-scenes participation in Boney M, the "unmasking" of Milli Vanilli created a media sensation, eventually resulting in the revocation of the group's Grammy. A Milli Vanilli biopic is allegedly in the works, written by Catch Me If You Can scribe Jeff Nathanson and directed either by Nathanson or, gulp, Brett Ratner. [NSFW?]

In between Boney M and Milli Vanilli, Farian also formed Far Corporation. Featuring members of Toto, the band charted in the UK with a truly dire cover of Stairway To Heaven. An interesting piece of trivia, though: since Led Zeppelin never released "Stairway To Heaven" as a single, this was actually the first version of the song to ever chart.

After Milli Vanilli, Frank Farian founded the dance band La Bouche, who had two huge club hits in the 90s with Be My Lover and Sweet Dreams. Farian was also behind No Mercy, (not to be confused with these guys or these guys), who also had two big mid-90s dance hits: Please Don't Go and Where Do You Go. The latter was actually a cover of an earlier La Bouche song; presumably it wasn't too hard to get the rights...

Still an active producer, Frank Farian was recently the subject of a successful and critically acclaimed "jukebox musical" called Daddy Cool, which featured the music of Boney M, Milli Vanilli, and other Farian projects.
posted by Ian A.T. (54 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
A few footnotes that didn't quite fit in the main post:

-Boney M was also known for their reggae covers: Rivers Of Babylon was a cover of an earlier song by The Melodians; their version of No Woman No Cry was sampled in Naughty By Nature's follow-up to O.P.P., Ghetto Bastard.

-This performance of Boney M's Rasputin in front of a, um, "reserved" Russian audience has to be seen to be believed. It's another entry in the Disco Songs About 19th Century European History micro-genre, a tradition that includes Dschinghis Khan's formidable Moskau and, arguably, Abba's Waterloo.

-Totally random and surprisingly straight cover of Daddy Cool by Placebo.

-My FPP was inspired by the discussion in this great post. And also inspired by the fact that I've only made one other FPP, meaning the MeFi Tags on my profile started with "self-love"...
posted by Ian A.T. at 3:27 PM on January 15, 2010 [6 favorites]


Wow, heck of an FPP! This will keep me busy for a while.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 3:32 PM on January 15, 2010


That's impressive to be such a career worker like that, coming up with those songs that still ring in my head pretty clearly.

Won't you be my lovaaah, lovahhh, lovahh
WANNA BE MY LOVAAAAA
posted by Khazk at 3:35 PM on January 15, 2010


I do not need a 1920 pixel wide web browser to view your stupid website, Frank.
posted by idiopath at 3:38 PM on January 15, 2010


They also did a recording of Mary's Boy Child in 1978. Radio station WRVA in Virginia played it in December as part of their massive easy listening/light pop Christmas music bonanza, and people could not get enough of it -- they were calling in requesting it so much that the station started announcing when it would next be played so people would get off their back. They had a few promo copies of the 45 that they gave as phone-in prizes -- I went nuts trying to win one of those, with a dial telephone.
posted by JanetLand at 3:43 PM on January 15, 2010


You don't mention Boney M's christmas album which come Christmas time, is guaranteed to be playing in at least 10% of middle class South African suburban households.
posted by PenDevil at 3:46 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Mary's Boy Child is still really popular. It's the only reason I've heard of Boney M before this post—back in the music store days I'd buy the one or two copies of their Christmas album we'd get and auction it off to rabid holiday music shoppers.
posted by carsonb at 3:47 PM on January 15, 2010


I remember my parents having the Boney M records, with "Daddy Cool" sticking in my head for years (even though it was in Sweden, so I never had any idea what they were actually singing.) I remember my dad absolutely refusing to let me have the poster of the "Love for Sale" cover with them in chains. Puzzling for me the kid, totally understandable as an adult...
posted by gemmy at 3:47 PM on January 15, 2010


Oh god, the worst part of working at a record store at Christmas is the steady stream of old farts coming in looking for "Mary's Boy Child". It's that scene in High Fidelity where the guy comes in looking for "I Just Called To Say I Love You", on repeat, from Thanksgiving until you're finally allowed to close the place up on Christmas Eve night.
posted by padraigin at 3:50 PM on January 15, 2010


Superb post Ian A.T., I was just coming inside to complain about the lack of love for Rasputin and Rivers but you had that covered nicely.
posted by biffa at 3:52 PM on January 15, 2010


This performance of Boney M's Rasputin in front of a, um, "reserved" Russian audience has to be seen to be believed.

Fabulous. You can so see the KGB guy in the audience.
posted by juiceCake at 3:57 PM on January 15, 2010


Is it odd that I hum Rasputin by Boney M in my head every few days? Like, every few days since it was released? I never really noticed it until now.
posted by GuyZero at 3:59 PM on January 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine just gave me an old copy of the Boney M album Night Flight To Venus - I've just put it on. For some reason or other he didn't want it, but it's back to back classic tracks.
Takes me straight back to the summer of 1978, in Stoke on Trent.
I thought it was funny - and completely believable - that in the film of Touching the Void (and maybe the book too, but it didn't have the same impact), it's the song 'Brown Girl in the Ring' endlessly looping in Joe Brown's mind that helps him drag his broken body back down Siula Grande
posted by Flashman at 4:04 PM on January 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


Haha, said friend just called and when I told him what I was "rocking out" to, he started going on about how much he regrets having given it away and how, for a while at least, he'd actually contemplated degifting it!
posted by Flashman at 4:11 PM on January 15, 2010


I just want to state for the record that I attended, quite by accident, a free open-air Boney-M concert in Warsaw, Poland, on the eve of the New Year 2000. We were walking up the cobbled street toward the old city and I remarked that there seemed to be someone doing bad karaoke in the distance; as we approached, it became clear that it was bad Boney M karaoke. As we got even nearer, it became clear that it was in fact not karaoke at all, but a soundcheck/rehearsal. Suddenly the posters picturing Boney M that we had seen days earlier in the underground, which, written in Polish, were impenetrable to us, made sense. The crowd was most enthusiastic, laughing, dancing, tossing firecrackers, and later we all counted down to the new year behind the opera house, decorated like a cake with firework candles, and got rained on with champagne. After returning home, when comparing notes, it seemed like I had had a much more memorable and exciting celebration than all my friends who had witnessed the Thames not set on fire.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 4:12 PM on January 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


Amazing fucking post. Thank you.

There is this weird, impersonal melancholy stuck inside so much disco. Maybe it's essentially German, somehow. Boney M is all about that.
posted by neroli at 4:14 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rasputin and Moskau as footnotes, my ASS...
posted by whatzit at 4:20 PM on January 15, 2010


Moskau's OK, but it's not a patch on the eponysterical Dschinghis Khan. Hoo! Hah! Hoo! Hah!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:30 PM on January 15, 2010


True fact #1: In the late seventies, "Brown Girl in the Ring" had the distinction of being the only song in the history of recorded music that both the pre-teen Ricochet Biscuit and senior citizen Grandfather Biscuit both enjoyed.

True fact #2: My only instance of buyer remorse occurred about two days after I signed up to MeFi. The username I had picked out turned out to be taken, so on the spur of the moment, I chose Ricochet Biscuit. 48 hours later, I realized I could have been Daddy Cool. Dammit.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:39 PM on January 15, 2010


The Boney M Christmas album has always been on my family's holiday listening short list. I'm stunned that this isn't the case for everyone else.

The whole album is great. Their Feliz Navidad and When A Child is Born are also among the best Christmas tunes ever.
posted by CaseyB at 4:47 PM on January 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


This guy gets around doesn't he? I had never heard of Boney M until this Rasputin cover came out. Damn catchy song.
posted by MikeMc at 4:48 PM on January 15, 2010


Thank you for this post!! It just brought back SOOO many memories, I had the single of Ma Baker and Daddy Cool as a child, and remember dancing around the living room!
Thanks again!!
posted by iohyem at 4:51 PM on January 15, 2010


I have to say I never shared the affection for Boney M that seems apparent here -- perhaps because I'm old enough to have been listening to the good disco music that was about at the time. But while I'm familiar with most of their material, I'm pretty sure I've never heard Belfast before.

Presumably, as the most incompetent 'message song' ever written, it didn't get much airplay here in the UK?

I wonder why they never followed it up with Red Army Faction?

Red Army Faction,
Red Army Faction,
Andreas and Ulrika had a fatal attraction,
Marcuse and Gramsci fed them theory by day,
But when the lights were low, the vanguard likes to play.
Jerking off to Marx and to Regis Debray

Red Army Faction,
Red Army Faction,
Shot Jurgen Ponto in a revolutionary action,
Bombed a US barracks out in Frankfurt am Main,
Then in Ausberg and Munich went and did it again,
And when the lights are low the vanguard likes to play,
Andreas and Ulrika got freaky they say,
Swapping partners at their commune with the IRA
Then set a bunch of bombs and make the bourgeoisie pay

Red Army Faction,
Red Army Faction,
Were they murdered by the state or in a suicide action?
They'll put you in the boot of a German car,
Then thirty years later be a superstar.
You'll see them in the movies and in trendy bars
You'll see them in the movies and in trendy bars
You'll see them in the movies and in trendy bars

Repeat to fade
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:08 PM on January 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


Why didn't the guy do his music under his own name? Or create a group of backing musicians and be in it as himself? Why all the subterfuge?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:08 PM on January 15, 2010


Fuck yeah, Boney M.
posted by Jofus at 5:10 PM on January 15, 2010


Boney M is one of my favorite bands ever! The only tape my parents had when we drove through Europe from Iraq back to Finland in late 70s.
posted by zeikka at 5:26 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why didn't the guy do his music under his own name? Or create a group of backing musicians and be in it as himself? Why all the subterfuge?

Back-story. The idea of a band of mysterious characters making music is more interesting than knowing it's just another project by a technician with a good ear. Mythology sells.
posted by spoobnooble at 5:56 PM on January 15, 2010


Fantastic post, Ian!
posted by klangklangston at 6:20 PM on January 15, 2010


He's like the Euro Tony Orlando.
posted by klangklangston at 6:21 PM on January 15, 2010


Why didn't the guy do his music under his own name?

He thought he wasn't commercially good enough looking? He hated performing in public? IIRC Andy Partridge refuses to let XTC tour because his first tour was so bad. Some people like to make music, but don't like the spotlight. Ignore the wizard behind the curtain, etc.

I remember discovering this band while working with a dutch guy who had danced to it in european discos when it first came out. When he compared them to Milli Vanilli, I thought he was just joking at first, until I looked them up online.

I like Painter Man
posted by nomisxid at 6:44 PM on January 15, 2010


padraigin said: It's that scene in High Fidelity where the guy comes in looking for "I Just Called To Say I Love You"...

Funny you should say that...
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 7:00 PM on January 15, 2010


Boney M bit from Touching the Void (troubling)
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:32 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


It sounds like the only difference between this guy and Alan Parsons is that Alan Parsons isn't trying to fool anyone.

And as to whether he's handsome or not, that's a crock. The Stones are possibly the most successful group of all time, and they're all break-mirrors ugly.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:07 PM on January 15, 2010


My husband was floored when I told him I didn't know who Boney M were. He told me they were as big as ABBA! Maybe for Czechs they were, but I don't ever remembering hearing them in the USA, and my family are absolute music nerds.

I'm not showing him this FPP though. Known Farian was largely the mastermind behind all of it would crush my Czech mate. He's got that group on the ABBA pedestal.
posted by czechmate at 8:39 PM on January 15, 2010


Growing up in Spain in the 70's, all I can say is that Boney M were HUGE. Any cultural event in my school was usually accompanied by their music. I recall being in a podunk shepherd village outsite of Valladolid and the town DJ driving around announcing that he'd just picked up their latest album and would be premiering it that night at the town disco. On a megaphone.

They didn't transcend generations quite like Abba did, but they owned European disco in the 70's.
posted by jsavimbi at 9:28 PM on January 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Obligatory Boney M appearance on Baby's Gang's bizarre Happy Song
posted by mynameisluka at 10:06 PM on January 15, 2010


Rasputin is the team song for my competitive karaoke team and we sing it every time the gang gets together for karaoke. We love the song and I love this post.

I also commend to your attention the High Class Family Butchers (myspace link), who do a country-style cover of Rasputin that's almost as fun as the battle metal cover.
posted by immlass at 10:15 PM on January 15, 2010


Ra- Ra- Rasputin: Russia's greatest love machine...
posted by Jon_Evil at 10:47 PM on January 15, 2010


Guys from the planet of older white guys usually only get excited about THIS Daddy Cool
posted by celerystick at 11:24 PM on January 15, 2010


Great stuff, Ian A.T.

HA. Loved the 7 minute version of Baby Do You Want To Bump.

He must have been listening to Joe Tex — Skinny Legs And All

But it reminded me of Soul Makossa by Manu Dibago.

Funny how Boney M can keep the lip synching to themselves, but the Milli Vanilli cost Frank $3.4M, well, not too funny.

That Frank Farian was genius.
posted by alicesshoe at 11:38 PM on January 15, 2010


I always thought that it's quite obvious that Milli Vanilli are lip-synching. The most damning piece of evidence is that spoken part at the beginning of one of their songs, which is spoken with a clearly (black) American accent.
But Rob and Fab are not Americans, or at least not American raised. One of them grew up in France and the other in Germany. Listen to their interview on the Arsenio Hall show. Rob speaks with a strong German accent and in the beginning Fab sounds like he's from Puerto Rico or something (lots of French accent there as well).

Sure, some non-native English speakers can pull off a good American accent if they have to, but I always thought it similarly obvious that Rob and Fab may be good at dancing, but certainly not at faking accents.
posted by sour cream at 1:03 AM on January 16, 2010


For some reason known only to the gods, the DJ for Brisbane's only long running Goth club always, always plays Rasputin. On a good night, you will be treated to the formation of a large circle of toadbelly pale black men in bondage pants and manskirts, and in what I can only assume is some sort of mating ritual, they will attempt some sort of "cossack kick" dance with various degrees of sucess and various degrees of enthusiasm, while the ladies watch and chant "HEY HEY HEY HEY!".

Then, Einstürzende Neubauten.
posted by Jilder at 1:18 AM on January 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Ma Ma Ma Ma ... Ma Baker ...

Can't. Get. It. Out. Of. My. Head.
posted by bwg at 2:19 AM on January 16, 2010


Quite recently I saw a TV segment about Bobby Farrell. These days, he's apparently unemployed and broke, living a melancholy life in some Godforsaken Dutch housing estate. The man is a wreck, but you should see his eyes sparkle when remembering his glory days. He had lots of fun, that's sure.
posted by Skeptic at 2:22 AM on January 16, 2010


My entire extended family is going to be floored that Boney M were "masterminded". Their music is a staple at every get-together!
posted by liquorice at 4:57 AM on January 16, 2010


The man is a wreck, but you should see his eyes sparkle when remembering his glory days.

IDK, man, he was pretty fucking awesome in the video for Roger Sanchez's "Turn On The Music".

I also remember seeing him around Ibiza every few summers, when various Euro parties would fly him in for random promo stuff.
posted by elizardbits at 8:19 AM on January 16, 2010


Ugh, I fail at links. HERE.
posted by elizardbits at 8:20 AM on January 16, 2010


Great post.
I had no idea he was the same guy behind Milli Vanilli.
posted by chococat at 8:26 AM on January 16, 2010


Brown girl in the ring brown girl in the ring
brown girl in the ring she looks like a sugar in a plum
show me your motion come on show me your motion
show me your motion she looks like a sugar in a plum

:)
posted by Ly at 3:32 PM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just want to state for the record that I attended, quite by accident, a free open-air Boney-M concert in Warsaw, Poland, on the eve of the New Year 2000.

I saw them perform a free gig around that time in Poland, too, though it's worth noting that with ongoing differences between band members each has quite validly toured using variations on the name (Maizie Williams). Any of the four original members can legally perform as 'Boney M'.

The lineup I saw was Bobby Farrell plus hired help and I think that was the most common version to perform in Poland, but it could have been Maizie plus others or Liz Mitchell plus others...
posted by Busy Old Fool at 8:17 PM on January 16, 2010


Wow what a master - why didn't he just sing on stage himself?
posted by verapamil at 9:20 PM on January 16, 2010


I'm glad to see some love for Boney M on the blue. I think I'm the only one amongst my friends who knows/likes them.

I found my way to them through a cover of Rasputin done by Boiled in Lead. This is the only version I could find on the internet (that was legal and free).
posted by ChutneyFerret at 9:21 PM on January 16, 2010


And now I see that Decimask referred to it in the Igor Presnyakov thread. D'oh!

Although, I must say I prefer the live version on Alloy better.
posted by ChutneyFerret at 9:56 PM on January 16, 2010


Oh god. Best post ever.
posted by schwa at 8:04 AM on January 17, 2010


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