Way back when… Boney M

Oct 2019 Way back when… Boney M

By Derek Mead

Boney M has a complicated background, almost political, and covering many countries.

But after a brief introduction, we will move away from that scenario and concentrate solely on their music which, to say the least, is melodic dramatic and totally enjoyable. The group has been described in many ways including its genres as Eurodisco R and B and reggae – as a Euro Caribbean vocal group – as a Jamaican/Antilles/Montserrat group, general descriptions only and with labels of Hansa Atlantic and Sony.

The group was created by German record producer Frank Farian and was originally based in West Germany in 1976. The four original members were Liz Mitchell and Marcia Barrett, both from Jamaica, Mazie Williams from Montserrat and Bobby Farrell from Aruba, a small island in the southern Caribbean sea, part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands with Dutch as one of its languages.

These four founding group members were to front the group when on TV. The group became very popular during the ‘disco era’ of the late 1970s, and from the 1980s, the line- up of the band has performed with a number of different members.

The group was named after an Australian detective show called ‘Boney’ and its first single under the Boney M name was ‘Baby Do You Wanna Bump’ which was popular in the Netherlands and Belgium. Boney M has sold some 100 million records around the globe, with many major international hits, which will now be considered as part of the 20 listed hit singles.

Boney M’s first album, released in 1976, was ‘Take the Heat off Me’, when it was decided to use the voices of Liz Mitchell and Marcia Barrett, plus the enhanced sound of Frank Farian. Both ‘Daddy Cool’ and ‘Sunny’ went to No.1 in Germany and into 6 and 3 on the UK singles chart. The group was growing in popularity throughout Europe.

Then, in 1977, their second album ‘Love for Sale’ contained two hits ‘Ma Baker’ and ‘Belfast’ placesd No.2 and No.8 in the UK singles chart, and No.1 in Germany, with the album certified Gold. But 1978 was the group’s most important year. A new double A-sided single ‘Rivers of Babylon/Brown Girl in the Ring’ was a hit all around Europe generally, reaching No. 1, including in the UK singles chart, and No 30 on the US pop singles chart.

Also came their biggest selling album ‘Nightflight to Venus’ with two hit singles ‘Rasputin’ and ‘Painter Man’. Then came the release of’ Mary’s Boy Child-Oh My Lord’ the Christmas No.1 single in the UK, becoming one of the best-selling singles of all time.

The group became more flexible over stage appearances by recognised group members with backing vocalists also being introduced. In 1979, hits included ‘Hooray! Hooray! Its a Holi-Holiday’ a new single Top 10 hit across Europe, including the UK.

‘Oceans of Fantasy,’ their fourth album, also included ‘Gotta Go Home/El Lute’ and ‘Born Again/Bahama Mama’. The album reached No.1 in the UK and was certified platinum, but with the two singles reaching only Nos.12 and 35.

1980 brought the release of ‘The Magic of Boney M.-20 Golden Hits’ but also included two new songs ‘My Friend Jack’ and ‘I See a Boat on the River’. The album made No.1 in the UK reaching Gold status.

But 1981 was not a particularly good year for the group, with the album ‘Boonoonoos’ being released unsuccessfully, and with Bobby Farrell leaving. A Christmas album was also released.

In 1982, Bobby Farrell was replaced but later returned. The seventh album ‘Ten Thousand Lightyears’ was then released in 1984 somewhat unsuccessfully, although ‘Kalimba de Luna’ reached the German Top 20, and ‘Happy Song’ was released.

The Seeker’s signature song ‘The Carnival Is Over’ also failed to impress in this year. 1985 reflected reduced interest in the group and their eighth studio album ‘Eye Dance’ was unexciting.

In 1986 the group disbanded with the unsuccessful return of ‘Young Free and Single’.

The final eight listed hit singles had been Children of Paradise 1981 No 66 ~ We Kill the World (Don’t Kill the World) 1981 No 39 ~ Megamix/Mary’s BoyChild (Remix’) 1988 No 52 ~ Bony M. Megamix 1992 No7 ~ Brown Girl in the Ring (Remix’) 1993 No 38 ~ Ma Baker – Somebody Scream 1999 No 22 ~ Daddy Cool 2001 No 47 – Mary’s Bov Child-Oh My Lord 2007 No 47.

These hit singles completed the first phase of Boney M’s success from 1974 to 1986, the era of their their major hits, followed by the final eight singles from 1981 to 2007.

During the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, the picture is much less positive with the new era in 1987 introducing numerous Boney M members, partly controlled by Frank Farion, and those partly permitted to use the Boney M name.

Because of this, the Boney M discography is unusual, with the greater part of the band’s back catalogue made available via remix, remake, remodel and even reissue. The group’s popularity continued to expand in such places as South Korea – China – Kazakh – Taiwan and the Soviet Union, where the single ‘Rasputin’ was banned in 1978.

In the 1990s, there was new interest in Boney M, with the Boney M Megamix single returning the group to the UK Top 10 for the first time since 1980, and a Greatest Hits album reached the UK Top 20 in 1993.

A musical based on the songs of Boney M ‘Daddy Cool’ opened in London in August 2006, and then closed in less than a year. Various singers paid tribute to the group, and in April, 2007, their first four albums were reissued on compact disc with bonus tracks, including within the US, and in September, 2007, the last four albums were likewise reissued on compact disc again with bonus tracks.

In 2007 the Boney M trademark was renewed to Germany for a 10-year period. The group are the only artists to appear twice in the Top 11 best-selling singles of all time in the UK with ‘Rivers of Babylon’ in seventh place and ‘Mary’s Boy Child/Oh My Lord’ at 11th, to sell one million copies with two singles in the same year.

So what we have done is to extract the music from a very international group of often- changing musicians in daring stage costumes, and with their major successes from 1974 to 1986 and then summarise their onward activity.

The group, founded in West Germany, was happy to continue both in Central Europe, then in the UK, with popularity in both locations.

There can never have been a more cosmopolitan multicultural, multi-racial wandering group of talented musicians providing enjoyable music of mixed genres and we will probably never see their like again.