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Boney M.: Disco for the Ages

So here I am sitting at my house just chilling and checking the list of records I need to rip to digital when I come across this one: Boney M‘s “Nightflight to Venus“. That kinda makes me smile. I check the list and it turns out that I actually have EIGHT Boney M albums to rip. So I strap myself in for a disco trip and away we go.

The first thing I realize is the incredible clarity of the recordings. It’s amazing. People often deride Disco as a whole, but tend to forget how fantastic the records were in terms of sonic purity and clarity. The recording engineers that captured these sounds were at the top of their game at a time when perfection was demanded above all else.

The bass is PHAT and the horns and strings are out of this world. The beats are simple 4/4 for the most part, but every now and then there are some little fills that are pure magic. If there is anything that suffers in classic disco recordings, I would hesitate to suggest that it is likely the drums. The snare is generally sharp, but the rest of the kit can sometimes sound a little thin to our modern ears. Since the creation of gated reverb in the eighties and the new techniques that have come since, drums have been blessed with a richer, more fuller sounds. Surprisingly, though, Boney M’s drums are fully THERE and present in the mix. They carry the music along like a galloping horse, racing to the finish line.

One thing I found myself doing as I recorded these albums (aside from shaking my butt and singing along a lot) was smiling. These are notoriously happy songs. No matter the subject of the lyrics, and with very few exceptions, these songs and their melodies are joyful and uplifting. It hadn’t actually dawned on me until this afternoon, as I sat (danced) listening to these records, but so much of that carefree joy is missing in a lot of our modern music. These songs are so much less jaded than what we’ve become used to.

This isn’t to say that every single track that Boney M put to wax is a classic. There are a few real duds (I’m looking at you “Do You Wanna Bump“), but mostly the listening experience is a really, really good one. Obviously, since I was listening to the albums on vinyl (and recording them digitally at the same time) I didn’t really have the option to skip tracks if something had come up that annoyed me, but to be honest I found myself enjoying everything on offer. It was nice to have consistently good (and feel-good) albums on the turntable! Of course it also helps that one of the albums I was listening to was “20 Golden Hits“. Yes; there were actually 20 songs on that album that could be classified as “golden hits”. It suffers a bit from having almost 30 minutes of music per side, but it still sounds better than some tinny CDs that I heard.

In some countries, this album was released with only 12 tracks (Mine is a Canadian edition from Atlantic Records, XSD 15000), and though the eight songs that have been left off are very good, they are not essential. The 20 track version is great fun (Mine is from Atlantic UK, BMTV 1), but since it is NOT a double album (all the songs are on two sides of vinyl!) the 12 track version tends to have better sound reproduction.

It really is one of their better singles collection (if not the best). If you are lucky enough to find a copy, you should do yourself a favor and pick it up. There was a CD compilation released with a blue cover in 2006 that was also called “The Magic of Boney M“, but aside from having an inferior track list, it contains a lot of re-recorded versions and remixes of the songs. Track down the original from 1979/1980 with the die-cut gold cover!

Another thing I noticed as I was listening, which I found interesting, is that Boney M‘s earlier albums had quite a few covers on them (ie: songs originally recorded by other artists). My theory is that, especially on the first LP, they were in a hurry to release an album so they could capitalize on their first hit single (“Do You Wanna Bump” of all things) but they hadn’t written enough material yet. I may be wrong. Whatever the case is, I do tend to really like their take on some of these well known songs! (Wait until you hear their disco version of Iron Butterfly‘s “Inna Gadda Da Vida“! LOL! Other artists they’ve covered include 10cc, The Beatles, Neil Young, and Bob Marley!)

Of course, anyone growing up in the 70s or 80s (maybe even the 90s) would surely have heard Boney M‘s biggest hit, “Rivers of Babylon” (originally recorded in 1970 by The Melodians) but some other tracks that were equally strong (and deserving of some love!) include “Rasputin“, “Boat On The River“, “Daddy Cool“, “Ma Baker“, “Sunny” and their Christmas mega-hit, “Mary’s Boy Child/Oh My Lord“.

It is amazing to think that they were not even a real band! The producer, Frank Farian, sang all the vocals on the first few tracks, using studio trickery to deepen the male-vocal parts and change the pitch of his voice to sound like female back-up singers! He continued to provide vocals on the subsequent albums, eventually hiring models and dancers to mime for the cameras as “Boney M.”. Eventually, Precious Wilson became the female vocalist, but her voice was usually used for all three parts of the harmony and the other “members” of the band didn’t provide any. In concert, the band would perform live, and somehow they got away with it. I suspect there was a lot of lip syncing involved, hahah! Why does it not surprise me that the same producer, Frank Farian, was the genius behind Milli Vanilli?? It worked well once, why not do it again, right?

Be that as it may, the validity of their art is not in question here, nor is their artistic integrity. All that I want to talk about is the end product. And WOW. What an end product it really is. It *WILL* get you dancing.

Of their eight studio albums (if you include their seminal Christmas album), the first four are the strongest. The law of diminishing returns was definitely applied to these guys, as their albums become less interesting as time goes on. Their 5th album, “Bonoonoonoos” is still fun in it’s own way, as is “10,000 Light Years“; but their final outing “Eye Dance” from 1985 is dreadful. If you want to add some fun music to your collection and you can only commit to one original album, I suggest that it would have to be their third offering, “Nightflight to Venus“.  You will get “Rivers of Bablon” and “Rasputin” I have an original pressing from the UK (Atlantic K 50498), and an unofficial Taiwanese release (Tshaw Yang Records TP-3588, the cover of which is used for this post).

Interesting fact about the “Nightflight to Venus” album; it was released quickly in Germany (Hansa 26 026 OT) with a full length mix of the title song (It tracks at 7:11 on the 1st edition), but that track was re-edited 3 more times during it’s initial release, each version using different master that offered slightly different lengths, before the fourth and final edition became the standard version available everywhere (Track length is 4:46) . I find it a bit weird (and a little excessive) that they would keep making new masters and new stampers for the album throughout the first year of release! Needless to say, that First edition sells for decent coin considering how easily available the album is in general (A VG+ copy of the first edition sold for $235 on Discogs in December 2019)! Luckily for me, I had the good fortune of getting my hands on a beautiful sounding first press for very little money!

Other essential releases for anyone’s collection would be The Boney M Christmas Album (Yes.. I know.. but it’s just so much fun!) and the original 1979/1980 release of “20 Golden Hits (The Magic Of Boney M)“.

I have created a Spotify playlist for your enjoyment. Just for fun, I decided to focus on “Cover Songs” at the beginning of the playlist. Some of them will surprise you! Of course, if you want to skip all the “Cover Songs” and jump straight to the hits and deep cuts, start listening right after “Mary’s Boy Child” (though you will miss hearing “Rivers of Babylon“, “Sunny” and “My Friend Jack“!)

Enjoy and thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this post, please share with your friends! Comments welcome!

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