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Boney M.

Boney M. is a German pop and disco group created by West German record producer Frank Farian. The four original members of the group's official lineup were Liz Mitchell and Marcia Barrett (Jamaica), Maizie Williams (Montserrat), and Bobby Farrell (Aruba). At the end of the 1970s Boney M. was the most famous and well-known pop group from Germany.

History

Frank Farian (Franz Reuther), German schlager singer, wasn't happy with the choice of material his record company wanted him to sing. He went into the studio in December 1974 and recorded the song single "Baby Do You Wanna Bump?", a monotonous dance track, singing the repeated "Do you do you wanna bump?" in a deep voice (entirely studio created) as well as performing the high female chorus vocals in his falsetto voice. The record came out, credited to "Boney M." Frank Farian had been watching an Australian detective show, where the lead character was called Boney, and Farian decided that this would make a good name for a group, and added the M. After a slow start it became a hit in the Netherlands and Belgium. It was then that Farian decided to hire a team to 'front' the group for TV performances. A booking agency (Katja Wolfe) found model-turned-singer Maizie Williams (originally from Montserrat) and her Jamaican friend and singer Sheyla Bonnick for him, and a dancer called Mike for the first gigs. Also during 1975, a girl named Nathalie joined but was soon replaced by Claudja Barry. Then Bonnick and Mike left, and Maizie Williams brought in an exotic dancer from Aruba, Bobby Farrell. Singer Marcia Barrett (Jamaica) reluctantly joined the group, which went through another change in line-up when Claudja Barry – tired of merely lip-synching – left in February 1976 to pursue a solo career as a disco singer. Finally Liz Mitchell, an unemployed singer and former member of the Les Humphries Singers, stepped in – and the final line-up was found at last with Maizie Williams, Marcia Barrett, Liz Mitchell and Bobby Farrell.

Farian began recording Boney M.'s first LP, Take the Heat Off Me, for which Marcia Barrett had already recorded some songs with Farian: these were the title track and "Lovin' or Leavin'", both previously recorded in German by another Farian act, Gilla. While Maizie Williams' voice wasn't considered good enough for recording purposes by Farian, and a try-out with Bobby Farrell doing "No Woman No Cry" didn't work, Farian decided to use only Liz Mitchell and Marcia Barrett along with his own studio created deep male voice and high falsetto voice to create the Boney M. sound.

The commercial response to the album was initially lukewarm. However, the group rigorously toured discos, clubs and even country fairs, to earn a reputation for themselves. The group's big break came when, at the end of that summer, music-TV-producer Michael 'Mike' Leckebusch of Radio Bremen, requested the group for his show Musikladen. Boney M. appeared on the live music show on September 18 1976, after 10 pm, in their now trademark daring costumes; by the end of the following week, "Daddy Cool" became Germany's #1 single in the charts. The album was to follow the success of the single.

In 1977, Boney M. released their second album Love for Sale, and this contained further hits "Ma Baker" and "Belfast". The group also embarked on their first major concert tours with a live band of musicians called 'The Black Beautiful Circus' (given their name after Maizie Williams' first band, 'Black Beautiful People'). Neither Love for Sale nor Take the Heat Off Me did very well in the UK Albums Chart, most likely due to their rather risqué covers. In 1978, Boney M. had their biggest year: they released a new single, "Rivers of Babylon", which became a massive-selling single all over Europe and #1 in the UK Singles Chart. It also became their most successful single in the United States of their five singles to make the Billboard Hot 100. "Rivers of Babylon" peaked at number 30 on the U.S. pop singles chart. Next came their biggest-selling album, Nightflight to Venus, which spawned a further single "Rasputin". Continuing with their success, they released "Mary's Boy Child/Oh My Lord", which was the 1978 Christmas number one single in the United Kingdom. Also during 1978, Boney M. made a much publicised promotional visit to the Soviet Union, which in the shadow of the Cold War made them one of the very few Western acts along with Elton John to do so. Although tracks like "Rasputin" were officially banned in the Soviet Union because of their lyrics, the band was still welcomed by the Soviet regime and this visit resulted in an enormous popularity in the entire former Eastern Bloc that has lasted for more than three decades.

While it had been common knowledge all along that Bobby Farrell only mimed to Farian's vocals, it also emerged during 1978 that Maizie Williams didn't sing (on the studio recordings) "since her voice wasn't suited for this kind of music", as Farian put it in an interview with German teen magazine Bravo at the time. Since it was common practice in the disco genre of the late 70s, few people cared – unlike when Farian did the same thing with Milli Vanilli ten years later. All four members of the group, including Maizie Williams and Bobby Farrell, performed all the vocals live at Boney M. concerts.

The year 1979 saw Boney M. release their fourth album, Oceans of Fantasy, containing two hit singles – "El Lute"/"Gotta Go Home" and "I'm Born Again"/"Bahama Mama". The track "No More Chain Gang", one of a number of black freedom songs the group recorded, exemplified Boney M.'s mix of white and black music – the producer Farian is white, and the singers are black. They also released another hit single, "Hooray! Hooray! It's A Holi-Holiday", prior to the release of Oceans of Fantasy though this single was not included on the album. The album also included a Lead- and Backing-Vocals credit for the first time.

In 1980, Boney M. released a greatest hits album, The Magic of Boney M. - 20 Golden Hits, which also contained two new songs, "My Friend Jack" and "I See a Boat on the River". It made the #1 spot in the UK, and was their last big UK-seller until "Boney M. Megamix" in 1992.

Boney M.'s fifth album had been scheduled for release in November 1980 but the recording sessions dragged on all through 1981, and when Boonoonoonoos was finally released by the end of the year, Bobby Farrell was fired from the group due to his unreliable working discipline. While still a healthy seller on the continent, "Boonoonoonoos" failed to crack the UK Top 75 after three consecutive #1 albums, and Farrell's departure leaving the group unable to promote it. Still, the group's Christmas Album, issued concurrently, became a holiday favourite.

Reggie Tsiboe was presented as the new male member of Boney M. in 1982 but the singles "The Carnival Is Over" and "Jambo" fared alarmingly poorly, and the group's seventh album Ten Thousand Lightyears, issued in 1984, marked another commercial low point. The group, however, returned to the German Top 20 in the fall of 1984 with "Kalimba de Luna" and "Happy Song", the latter seeing Bobby Farrell return to the group, both songs being carbon-copies of the original Italian hits by Tony Esposito and Baby's Gang respectively.

In 1985, Farian clearly began losing interest in the group, and their final studio album Eye Dance was widely regarded as uninspired and disappointing, with its anonymous cover. After celebrating 10 years of Boney M. in early 1986, the group officially disbanded.

In late 1987, Bobby Farrell persuaded Maizie Williams and Liz Mitchell to do another tour. For reasons unknown, Marcia Barrett was not part of this. Furthermore, Bobby Farrell had set up a deal for a new Boney M. album to be recorded without Farian in Belgium – he never showed up for either recording or tour, so the album ended being released as Liz Mitchell's first solo album No One Will Force You. Liz Mitchell and Maizie Williams completed a tour during 1987-88, adding singer Celena Duncan and dancer Curt Dee Daran as substitutes.

In October 1988, Boney M. reunited for the album Greatest Hits of All Times - Remix '88 but tensions ran high between the members, and Liz Mitchell left in the spring of 1989 to be replaced by Madeleine Davis. While Mitchell promoted her solo album, the group recorded the single "Everybody Wants to Dance Like Josephine Baker", without Farian's knowledge or approval. Threatened with legal action over the use of the Boney M. name, the single was subsequently withdrawn and Farian issued "Stories" with a competitive Boney M. line-up featuring Liz Mitchell, Reggie Tsiboe and two new members, Sharon Stevens and Patty Onoyewenjo, while a second remix album Greatest Hits of All Times - Remix '89 - Volume II passed fairly unnoticed.

1993 saw a rise in Boney M.'s popularity with the album Gold being a huge seller. While Marcia Barrett, now residing in Florida, was hit by several bouts of cancer and unable to work, Liz Mitchell toured the world with Carol Grey, Patricia Lorna Foster and Curt Dee Daran (replaced by Tony Ashcroft in 1994). Maizie Williams assembled her own Boney M. line-up with her friend and short-time Boney M. member in the early days in 1975, Sheila Bonnick, and two others, while Bobby Farrell also toured with three ever-changing ladies.

As of 2006, Liz Mitchell is currently touring the world with her line-up of Boney M., which is the only official line-up supported by Farian (the court ruling of 1990 stated that all four members are entitled to perform their own Boney M. shows), as well as releasing solo albums. Marcia Barrett has released two solo albums, and Maizie and Bobby are touring with their own Boney M. groups. Farrell has also issued a series of albums containing re-recordings of Boney M.'s classic hits. Maizie Williams released her first solo album Christmas 2006, and released her version of "Sunny" as a single in February 2007. This single will precede a new studio album with Maizie, reportedly to contain a new recording with original Boney M. members Marcia Barrett and Bobby Farrell.

A musical based on the music of Boney M., Daddy Cool, opened in London in October 2006 to mixed reactions and slow ticket sales, causing it to close again in February 2007.

In October 2006, pop singer Peter Wilson, who during the mid-90s scored a couple of Top 40 hits in his native Australia, recorded a brand new song, co-written by Frank Farian, which is to be included on his forthcoming album, Follow Me, due for release in late 2007. The song entitled "Doin' Fine" is described as paying tribute to the 'sound' of Boney M. and features the famous string arrangement from their number 1 hit, "Daddy Cool".

In a sign of their continued popularity in South Asia, a concert by Boney M. (featuring Marcia Barrett) was a featured attraction at the 37th International Film Festival of India (IFFI), which took place on November 23, 2006 in Panaji, the state capital of Goa, India. The group is also popular in the Vietnamese diaspora, and was recently featured in Thuy Nga music productions.

In the UK, a new album of their greatest hits, entitled The Magic of Boney M. was released via BMG on November 27, 2006. Special additions to this release were a Mousse T. remix of "Sunny" and a brand new song from 2006, featuring Liz Mitchell, entitled "A Moment Of Love".

On April 10, 2007, Boney M.'s first four albums were reissued to compact disc with bonus tracks, this time also in the United States, which meant that for the first time these were available to the U.S. music market since their original releases in the 1970s.

In September 2007, Boney M.'s last four original albums, Boonoonoonoos, Ten Thousand Lightyears, Kalimba de Luna - 16 Happy Songs and Eye Dance were reissued to compact disc in Europe and the United States, all including bonus tracks. In November 2007, a new Christmas compilation is being released as well as the DVD Fantastic Boney M. - On Stage and on the Road featuring live performances and a film from the band's 1981 visit to Jamaica.

Bobby Farrell's Boney M. held a big concert before large crowds at the Amphi in Ra'anana, Israel in May 2007. On June 28, 2007, Boney M. featuring Liz Mitchell performed at "Oktiabrsky" concert hall in St. Petersburg, Russia, and celebrating their 30th anniversary will be doing a big concert tour in Germany in November 2007. In September 2007, Maizie Williams Boney M. line-up performed live at The Royal Albert Hall, UK, to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS in Africa, performing her own renditions of 'Brown Girl In The Ring' and 'Hooray! Hooray! It's A Holi-Holiday'. On October 13, 2007 Marcia Barrett's Boney M. performed in the Georgian-controlled village of Tamarasheni, in the breakaway South Ossetia, in a concert directed at ousting the de facto President of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity. December 28, 2007, Marcia Barrett's Boney M. gave a gala performance in Russia for Premier Putin while playing New Year's Eve concerts in front of 16,000 people in Lithuania. On December 31, 2007, Maizie Williams performed at a live concert to capacity crowds in Krakow, Poland.

The legal rights to the name "Boney M." have been a matter of controversy, and even court cases, between the former members of the band and producer Frank Farian ever since the early 1990s. Farian, the man who in effect created the group, has continued to work with Liz Mitchell and her official line-up all through the 90s and 2000s, but in a strange twist of fate further Boney M. productions in Germany could be faced with legal proceedings. January 2007 was the date Zanillya Farrell (daughter of Bobby Farrell) and Yasmina Ayad-Saban (ex-wife of Farrell) renewed the copyright to the name Boney M. in Germany for a 10 year period. Also, an upcoming case in the High Court in Berlin, Maizie Williams vs Frank Farian and Sony/BMG.

Members

UK sales mark

In 1978, "Rivers of Babylon", a cover of a track by The Melodians with lyrics partly based on Psalm 137 and partly on Psalm 19, became (at the time) the second highest-selling single of all time in the UK. After "Rivers of Babylon" slipped back down the chart, the B-side "Brown Girl in the Ring" was given extensive airplay on the radio, and the single climbed back up the chart to #2. It eventually sold 5000 copies short of two million. As recounted in his book Touching the Void, the British climber Joe Simpson was subsequently to find the catchy tune of "Brown Girl in the Ring" haunting him in the final hours of his epic struggle to survive the descent of Siula Grande in the Andes, and the song was later used in the film of Touching the Void made by Kevin Macdonald. Simpson recalls: "I remember thinking, bloody hell, I'm going to die to Boney M".

The group also achieved a second UK million-seller with their version of the calypso classic "Mary's Boy Child/Oh My Lord", which was previously a million-seller for Harry Belafonte. On the list of the all-time best selling singles in the United Kingdom, Boney M. appear in fifth place (with "Rivers of Babylon") and tenth place (with "Mary's Boy Child/Oh My Lord"). The single sold almost 1.8 million copies and achieved sales of over 1.6 million in the 4 weeks the song had at number one in December 1978. Paul McCartney is the only other artist to appear twice (once with The Beatles, once with Wings) in the Top 10 of that list.

Back catalogue

Compared to other best-selling artists of the 1970s like ABBA, Donna Summer, and the Bee Gees the Boney M. discography is quite unusual – while the greater part of the band's back catalogue has been remixed, remade, remodeled and reissued all through the 80s, 90s and 2000s by producer Frank Farian and record company BMG-Ariola (now Sony BMG), most of the original 7" and 12" versions issued on vinyl in the 70s and early 80s remained unavailable on CD until 2008 and the release of the box set The Collection and the single CD compilation Rivers Of Babylon (A Best Of Collection).

Popularity outside the West

Boney M., with their bubble-gum infectious tunes, became one of the few Western groups at that time to become well-known in places such as Africa, the Arab countries, China, Iran, Southeast Asia, India, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. To this day, along with Swedish pop group ABBA, they are among the most widely known 1970s Western music acts in these regions .

The 2005 Chinese film Shanghai Dreams features a scene depicting a rural Chinese disco in 1983, with teenagers dancing to Rivers of Babylon and Gotta Go Home.

Covers of Boney M. songs

Shortly after the worldwide success of the Nightflight to Venus album, disco/soul singer-songwriter, Millie Jackson covered "Never Change Lovers In The Middle of The Night'" (a Marcia Barrett lead vocal) for her 1979 album, A Moment's Pleasure. It was released as a single and became a Top 40 R&B chart hit for Jackson, peaking at #33.

"Silent Lover" (a Marcia Barrett solo) was covered in 1980 by disco project El Coco for the album "Revolución".

Gilla - also produced by Frank Farian - covered "Sunny", "No Woman No Cry" and "Belfast" on her album Zieh mich aus as well as "Rasputin" as a single in 1978.

In 1978, Bruce Low covered "Rivers of Babylon" in German as "Die Legende von Babylon", using Boney M.'s original backing track. His version reached #3 in the German charts.

Austrian Waterloo & Robinson covered "Brown Girl in the Ring", using Boney M.'s original backing track (and Marcia Barrett's original "Tra la la la" backing vocals).

In 1979, Michael Holm covered "El Lute" in German, also using Boney M.'s original backing track with Farian singing backing vocals. His version peaked at #11 in the German charts.

Roland Kaiser also covered "El Lute" in German in 1979 as well as a German version of "I'm Born Again" under the title "Im Dunkel der Nacht".

Frank Farian also produced a German version of "Felicidad (Margherita)" by Anette Anke und Andrea to coincide with Boney M.'s release of the song, 1980.

German schlager orchestra Cliff Carpenter's Orchestra made numerous instrumental versions of Boney M.'s hits with a horn section playing the melody line on top of Boney M.'s original backing tracks. In 1982, 12 of these recordings were gathered on the compilation "Cliff Carpenter Plays Boney M. Hits".

The Finnish folk metal band Turisas have played a cover of "Rasputin" at several live events. They released this cover as their debut single August 2007. They have also released it on a re-release of their album The Varangian Way.

UK punk rock band Belisha have also been covering "Rasputin" for about 2 years, and riotous live performances at festivals across Europe in 2007 have seen the entire crowd joining in with Russian style dancing, both on stage with the band, and in the audience.

Placebo covered "Daddy Cool" in 2003 for the bonus disc of their Sleeping with Ghosts album.

Peaches also covered "Daddy Cool" in 2004.

Liz Mitchell and Russian singer Alexander Buynov covered "Rasputin" in 1996 for a Russian compilation album.

Marcia Barrett did a solo version of "Rivers of Babylon" in 2001 which was aired on Dutch radio but ultimately never released.

Bobby Farrell released his own version of 'Baby Do You Wanna Bump' in 2006 on The Bump EP.

The Latvian cello trio Melo-M covered "Daddy Cool" in 2007, featuring Maizie Williams on vocals.

The Spanish group Fangoria recorded a cover version of "Rasputin" (sung in Spanish) in 1996 which was also included on BMG-Ariola compilation Best in Spain.

Also on the same Best in Spain album, Fangoria singer 'Alaska' sings "Ma Baker" (this time in English) with Killer Barbies as backing group.

Mexican super star Luis Miguel recorded a Spanish version of "Sunny", in his 1987 mega-platinum album Soy como quiero ser.

Their song "Ma Baker" has been widely covered. One of the most "weird" covers is Knorkator's version, which changes the disco/pop tunes for heavy guitar riffs.

Australian children's entertainers The Wiggles covered "Brown Girl in the Ring" on their 2006 album Here Comes the Big Red Car.

The US ska/punk band Sublime covered "Rivers of Babylon" as a Bonus Track on their first album, 40 Oz. to Freedom.

US Powerpop/Ska band Attila and the Huns recorded a reggae version of Mary's Boy Child based on the Boney M. version for their 2007 Christmas CD "Christmas Socks"

Songs that were re-worked into Boney M. titles

Frank Farian's right hand Hans-Jörg Mayer (aka Georg Reyam) sought out songs from all over the world, mainly public domain (non-copyrighted) folk tunes, and rewrote them for Boney M.

Borrowed themes

Cover versions

Discography

Studio albums

Compilations

Singles

Video / DVD / VCD releases

  • Gold - Video / VCD (in Hong Kong) (1993)
  • Gold - DVD (2001 Europe)
  • Greatest Hits (2001 UK)
  • Special Edition (2002 South Korea)
  • Special Edition EP (2003 UK)
  • The Magic of Boney M. (2006)
  • Fantastic Boney M. - On Stage and on the Road (2007)

Chart positions

Albums

Year Title Chart positions
GER UK AUT SWE CH NL US NO
1976 Take the Heat Off Me 14 40 6 1 - 8 - 2
1977 Love for Sale 1 13 1 1 - 2 - 2
1978 Nightflight to Venus 1 1 1 1 - 1 134 1
1979 Oceans of Fantasy 1 1 1 5 - 3 - 1
1980 The Magic of Boney M. - 20 Golden Hits 1 1 5 30 - 4 - 1
1981 Boonoonoonoos 15 - 14 31 - 28 - 21
Christmas Album 14 - - - - 33 - -
1984 Ten Thousand Lightyears 23 - - - - - - -
1986 The Best of 10 Years - 32 Superhits 3 35 - - - - - -
1993 Gold - 20 Super Hits 5 14 6 14 5 2 - 6
More Gold - 20 Super Hits Vol. II - - 36 - - 85 - -
1999 20th Century Hits 30 - - 8 37 - - -
2000 25 Jaar Na Daddy Cool - - - - - 27 - -
2006 The Magic of Boney M. 19 45 13 - 39 - - 2

Singles

Singles chart peaking in various countries. Includes U.S. Hot Dance Club Play chart entries.

Year Title Chart positions
GER UK AUT SWE CH NL US US Hot Dance Club Play IRE FR ES NO South Africa
1975 Baby Do You Wanna Bump" - - - - - 14 - - - - - - -
1976 Daddy Cool" 1 6 1 1 1 3 65 11 - - - 1 -
"Sunny" 1 3 1 11 2 1 - - 4 - - 4 -
1977 "Ma Baker" 1 2 1 1 1 1 96 31 4 - - 1 -
"Still I'm Sad" - - - 17 - - - - - - - - -
"Belfast" 1 8 2 - 1 3 - - 1 - - - -
1978 "Rivers of Babylon" 1 1 1 1 1 1 30 - 1 - - 1 -
"Brown Girl in the Ring" - 3 - - - - - - - - - - -
"Rasputin" 1 2 1 - 2 8 - - 3 - - 10 -
"Mary's Boy Child / Oh My Lord" 1 1 3 1 1 3 85 - 1 - - 2 -
1979 "Painter Man" (UK + Ireland only) - 10 - - - 8 - - 5 - - - -
"Hooray! Hooray! It's a Holi-Holiday" 4 3 3 11 4 1 - - 5 - - 2 -
"El Lute" / "Gotta Go Home" 1 12 1 10 2 2 - - 11 - - 4 -
"I'm Born Again" / "Bahama Mama" 7 35 9 17 6 11 - - 12 - - - -
1980 "I See a Boat on the River" 5 - 3 - 9 7 - - - - - 6 -
"My Friend Jack" - 57 - - - - - - - - - - -
"Children of Paradise" 11 66 - - 13 28 - - - - - - -
"Felicidad (Margherita)" 6 - 6 - 3 - - - - - - - -
1981 "Malaika" / "Consuela Biaz" 13 - 7 - 4 20 - - - - - - -
"We Kill the World (Don't Kill the World)" 12 39 - - 3 25 - - - - 1 - 1
"Little Drummer Boy" 20 - - - - - - - - - - - -
1982 "The Carnival Is Over" / "Going Back West" 41 - - - 11 - - - - - - - -
"Zion's Daughter" - - - - - - - - - - - - -
1983 "Jambo - Hakuna Matata (No Problems)" 48 - - - 11 - - - - - - - -
1984 "Somewhere in the World" 49 - - - - - - - - - - - -
"Kalimba de Luna" 17 - 11 - 23 27 - 49 - - - - -
"Happy Song" 7 - 15 - 21 - - - - - - - -
1985 "My Chérie Amour" 55 - - - - - - - - - - - -
"Young, Free and Single" 49 - - - - - - - - - - - -
1986 "Daddy Cool (Anniversary Recording '86)" - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"Bang Bang Lulu" - - - - - - - - - - - - -
1988 "Rivers of Babylon (Remix '88)" - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"Megamix" - 52 - - - - - - - 1 - - -
1989 "The Summer Mega Mix" - 92 - - - - - - - 11 - 3 -
"Malaika (Lambada Remix)" - - - - - - - - - - - - -
1990 "Stories" - 94 - - - 26 - - - - - - -
1992 "Megamix" 26 7 11 - - 13 - - 3 - - - -
1993 "Brown Girl in the Ring (Remix)" - 38 - - - - - - 25 - - - -
"Ma Baker (Remix '93)" - - - - - - - - - - - - -
1994 "Papa Chico" Boney M. feat. Liz Mitchell - - - - - - - - - - - - -
1999 "Ma Baker (Somebody Scream)" vs. Horny United/Sash! 28 22 32 10 21 26 - - - - - - -
"Daddy Cool '99" Boney M. 2000 feat. Mobi T. 47 - - - 49 - - - - - - - -
"Hooray! Hooray! (Caribbean Night Fever)" Boney M. 2000 79 - - - 80 - - - - - - - -
2000 "Sunny (Remix)" Boney M. 2000 - - - - 80 - - - - - - - -
2001 "Daddy Cool 2001" - 47 - - - - - - - - - - -
2006 "Sunny (Mousse T. Remix)" - - - - - - - - - - - - -
2007 "Mary's Boy Child / Oh My Lord" - 47 - - - - - - - - - - -
"-" means chart peak is unknown or the single did not chart on a particular chart.

See also

References

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