Boney M.’s Take The Heat Off Me: childhood sweetheart or sin?

Boney M. 1976 (twitter.com)

Boney M. 1976

Introduction

Op January 2nd, 1976 we were visiting family in Almelo (The Netherlands). At the time I was 9 years old and Queen and music nut. That night we watched the Dutch music program Toppop (in color!). A Boney M. video was aired, the song Baby Do You Wanna Bump. Wow!

Boney M.

In 1974 schlager singer Frank Farian had an idea for a dance song, called Baby Do You Wanna Bump, which he recorded in December of that year. The song was based on the 1967 song Al Capone by Prince Buster, a fact that’s lacking from the song writing credits. The song is credited to Zambi, a pseudonym for Frank Farian, as he didn’t want to be associated with dance music just yet.

The song is a (very) early example of euro-disco and is really funky, especially the long version. The lyrics are minimalism at its peak:

Baby do you wanna bump
Do you do you wanna bump
Do you do you wanna bump
Do you do you wanna bump
B.U.M.P. Bump

© 1974 Zambi (Frank Farian)

All vocals were done by Farian, including the female voices in the background. He used Boney M. as the name for the performer.

Boney M. - Baby Do You Wanna Bump - Toppop (hq-music-videos.com)

Boney M. – Baby Do You Wanna Bump – Toppop

The song wasn’t a success upon release and sold very, very moderately, until the song suddenly struck a chord in The Netherlands. The national music show Toppop went in search for this mysterious group. A group was hastily formed. Dancers Bobby Farrell and Maizie Williams and singer Marcia Barrett were sent over to The Netherlands (and Belgium) to perform as Boney M.

Like stated above, I saw the clip to Baby Do You Wanna Bump early 1976 and was fascinated by it. A great dance song and the high-strong, at times even spastic, dancing by Farrell was contagious.

Farian knew he was on to something and recorded extra songs with singer Barrett, expanded the group with singer Liz Mitchell and let her sing on his songs as well. The other two members played no part in the studio.

Boney M. - Take The Heat Off Me (spotify.com)

Boney M. – Take The Heat Off Me

Take The Heat off Me

On June 28th, 1976, the debut album by Boney M. was released, entitled Take The Heat Off Me. The group’s image was erotic, the album cover contained a photo of the three women in lingerie with Farrell watching them. The music was based on dance music and disco.

Despite Baby Do You Wanna Bump‘s success, the album fell flat. The group was undeterred and performed wherever they could: discos, clubs, (country) fairs, everything to get their name out.

After the group had performed their song Daddy Cool in the German music show Musikladen in September 1976, the song shot to the top of the charts. Europe and the UK quickly followed. The next single Sunny sealed the group’s fate. Boney M. was a sensation, the album Take The Heat Off Me also shot up the charts. A new super group was born?

Review

Well, just how good is the album really? Not very good to be honest. It is my ultimate youth sentiment. I still play Baby Do You Wanna Bump on a regular basis. It just flows and swings and funks. Hard to imagine that this song came from a German schlager singer. The hits Daddy Cool and Sunny always put a smile on my face. The Bob Marley cover of No Woman No Cry is not too bad, as is Got A Man On My Mind. The rest is inferior. But when I was 9 and/or 10, I loved it.

The rating? At the time I would have undoubtedly awarded it 4 stars, but older, and wiser, I come to:

Boney M. - Take The Heat Off Me - The singles (manifo.com)

Boney M. – Take The Heat Off Me – The singles

Singles

Three singles were culled from the album:

  • Baby Do Wanna Bump
    (released in February 1975)
  • Daddy Cool
    (released on May 31st, 1976)
  • Sunny
    (released on November 22nd, 1976)

In Germany two more singles were released: Take The Heat Off Me and Got A Man On My Mind.

Songs

All songs produced by Frank Farian and recorded at Union Studios in Munich and Europasound Studios in Frankfurt. The songs’ composers are mentioned between brackets.

  • Daddy Cool (Frank Farian, George Reyam)
  • Take The Heat Off Me (Bigazzi, Gianni Bella)
  • Sunny (Bobby Hebb)
  • Baby Do You Wanna Bump (Zambi aka Frank Farian)
  • No Woman No Cry (Vincent Ford, Bob Marley)
  • Fever (Eddie Cooley, John Davenport)
  • Got A Man On My Mind (Frank Farian, Fred Jay)
  • Lovin’ Or Leavin’ (Frank Farian, Fred Jay)
Boney M. - Take The Heat Off Me - Back cover (worldchesschampionship.info)

Boney M. – Take The Heat Off Me – Back cover

Musicians

  • Liz Mitchell – vocals on Sunny, No Woman No Cry, Fever and Got A Man On My Mind, background vocals
  • Marcia Barrett – vocals on Take The Heat Off Me and Lovin’ Or Leavin’, background vocals
  • Frank Farian – vocals on Baby Do You Wanna Bump, background vocals
  • The Rhythm Machine:
    • Gary Unwin – bass
    • Keith Forsey – drums
    • Nick Woodland – guitar
    • Thor Baldursson – keyboards

After Take The Heat Off Me

In 1977 Boney M. released the single Ma Baker, the last item I bought of the group. At the time I had to go to the record store Diskoland (in Heerhugowaard, The Netherlands) to buy my music. Week after week I returned home empty handed. Record plants couldn’t press enough copies of the single. After six weeks I was finally able to buy it, by which time I was already done with the song…

In 1977 the group released the album Love For Sale, followed by a tour. Live Bobby Farrell sang the Frank Farian parts. The hits Ma Baker and Belfast kept Boney M. at the top of the charts.

Boney M - Ma Baker (45cat.com)

Boney M – Ma Baker

As popular as Boney M. were, in 1978 it all exploded. The double A side single Rivers Of Babylon / Brown Girl In The Ring raced to the number 1 position all over Europe and even turned into the best sold single ever in the UK. It even charted to number 30 in the American Billboard chart. The single was followed by their highest selling album Nightflight, which also contained yet another hit: Rasputin. Late 1978 the single Mary’s Boy Child – Oh My Lord was released, which was equally successful as Rivers Of Babylon, with exception of the US. In 1978 Boney M. was even invited to perform in the USSR, a feat matched by a very select group of artists.

The group was unable to match the 1978 success. 1979 started with the release of the single Hooray! Hooray! It’s A Holi-Holiday, a hit. The album Oceans Of Fantasy was sold very well, but follow-up singles didn’t crack the top 10 anymore.

In 1980 the compilation The Magic Of Boney M. – 20 Golden Hits still sold well. End 1981 Boonoonoonoos was released, but the golden era had clearly passed. The albums Ten Thousand Lightyears and Eye Dance did nothing to turn the success around, even though the group had a hit with Kalimba De Luna. After the group had celebrated its 10 year anniversary in 1986, the group disbanded.

However, Boney M. wasn’t dead yet. Several groups, whether or not using the Boney M. moniker, went out on tour. Some singles were released, both with and without Farian’s permission.

In 2007 all Boney M. albums were released on cd with extra songs. The albums were also released in the US, which hadn’t happened in the 1970s and 1980s.

After a performance in Saint Petersburg Bobby Farrell died on December 30th, 2010, just 61 years old.

Boney M. - Frank Farian Crew (boneym.es)

Boney M. – Frank Farian Crew

Milli Vanilli

At the height of Boney M.’s popularity it was common knowledge that the group was essentially a studio creation by Frank Farian, as was the fact that Farrell didn’t sing on any of the songs and that the only ones who actually contributed to the music were the singers Barrett and Mitchell.

In 1990 Farian repeated the same concept with Milli Vanilli. He made the music and sought out two representative dancers. It was an immediate smash: millions of records were sold and a Grammy Award was won. People grew suspicious when a backing tape faltered during a performance, but it quietly went away. When Farian was directly asked if the dancers actually sang on record, he answered truthfully. The Grammy was returned, no less than 27 lawsuits were filed in the US, followed by a ruling that anybody who had bought the album was entitled to receive a refund.

Farian had failed to realize that the business plan that worked during the 1970s, was simply ‘not done’ twenty years later.

In closing

What do you think of Boney M. and Take The Heat Off Me? Let me know!

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Boney M.’s Take The Heat Off Me: childhood sweetheart or sin?. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

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