Over the years, many unusual subjects have served as the basis for hit songs (e.g. the Enola Gay, Henry the VIII, mining disasters, mining disasters with cannibalism), but an early 20th century Russian religious figure known as “The Mad Monk” who gained notoriety for surviving not one, not two, but three attempts to kill him? That’s certainly uncommon Top 10 pop material.
There exists a long history of artists entering the studio and recording a track by themselves only to have it become an unexpected hit under a group pseudonym (with no actual group in existence). This very problem faced German producer Frank Farian after he created and sang “Baby Do You Wanna Bump,” releasing it under the name Boney M. in 1975. When the single started selling around Europe, Farian realized he needed actual people to serve as the public face for his studio project.
Farian hired Marcia and Liz for their voices (the two provided the female vocals on all the records) and Maizie and Bobby for their looks (these two didn’t appear on the records at all, but did sing at live shows). Farian himself provided all the male vocals but remained behind the scenes, writing the group’s original songs and producing the music.
The newly constituted Boney M. immediately struck gold with a string of #1 hits across Europe and a series of Top 10 singles in the UK. Their success peaked in 1978 with a couple of UK chart-toppers and a balalaika-driven disco song called “Rasputin,” a loosely biographical account of the Russian monk who managed to endear himself to the Tsarist family by supposedly healing their young hemophiliac son. Rasputin survived a stabbing, a poisoning, more poisoning, and a shooting (but not a second shooting). Strange topic to dance to, but dance people did.
Everywhere except America.
Oddly, for a group who composed very catchy songs and sold tens of millions of records all over the world, Boney M. scored only one moderate hit in the US during their career, just managing to get to #30 on the charts. No other single came close. Frank Farian would have to wait until 1989 to find success in America with another pair who looked good but didn’t sing on their own records. Until the scandal broke about their lack of vocal ability, that duo would sell millions under the name Milli Vanilli.
So grab your fur hat, comrade, and boogie down to the historical beat … with Boney M.
The single edit is above, but excises some of Rasputin’s story. The full version is below and runs about a minute longer. You could go to Wikipedia, but isn’t it more fun learning history from a 1970’s Euro-disco group?