Graded on a Curve:
Boney M.,
The Greatest Hits

Let me just say from the outset that most people would sooner push a turd up a mountain with their nose than read a review of Boney M. I know I would, and I wrote the damn thing. But I can think of plenty of good reasons to listen to the cheesy Euro-disco of this Euro-Caribbean vocal group, created by German record producer Frank (the genius behind Milli Vanilli) Farian.

The first good reason to listen to Boney M. is they’re masters of kitsch–one only need check out their video for “Rasputin” to be convinced. The guy playing Rasputin is a Borat double, and the lyrics are hilarious. The second good reason to listen to Boney M. is, believe it or not, they produced some good disco songs, many of which were as ubiquitous to European dance floors as coke spoons were to Studio 54. Imagine a dollar store Abba with–and this is all-important–a dada twist. Tristan Tzara would have loved them.

Boney M. are superstars in such disco hotbeds as Russia, Norway, and South Korea, which says everything you need to know about their appeal. They hardly made a dent in the U.S. market, and the loss is ours, because they’re oodles of good dumb fun. It’s undeniable that most of the tracks on The Greatest Hits-one of the approximately 10,000 or so greatest hits compilations out there–blow big time, but a few of its cuts are inspired shlock and essential additions to your disco library.

The first thing you need to know about Frank Farian is he’s a man of exceptional erudition; he may have majored in Disco Studies at Germany’s Heidelberg University, but he minored in history. And it’s apparent on the dance floor fabulous “Rasputin,” a monograph of sorts on the hard-to-kill Svengali and renowned Lothario. ”There was a cat that really was gone,” sing Boney M., before calling Rasputin “Russia’s great love machine.” Farian’s also an expert on America’s legendary criminal figures, as he proves on “Ma Baker.” Aside from the fact that the crime matriarch in question’s name was Ma Barker, it’s almost as wordy as Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and sounds better beneath a glitter ball.

Boney M. also go the outlaw route on the ballad “El Lute,” which tells the story of Spain’s most wanted criminal Eleuterio Sánchez Rodríguez, who was convicted of murder, turned prison escape into a hobby, and was ultimately pardoned and became a writer of note. They also make a brave political statement on the Irish troubles with “Belfast,” which isn’t actually all that brave a statement given its lyrics consist of cliches about peace, love, understanding and all that other “Imagine” balderdash.

Boney M. also pays tribute to its Caribbean roots. The chipper “Hooray! Hooray! It’s a Holi- Holiday” boasts steel drums and makes Madonna’s “Holiday” sound earth-shaking in its gravitas, while “Rivers of Babylon” may well be the greatest reggae song ever written by a shameless German hustler. Boney M. also give Bob Marley a graveyard spin with their cover of “No Woman No Cry,” and toss all caution to the winds with “Bahama Mama” and “Kalimba De Luna.” Oh, and on an unrelated topic, they also cover Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” which sounds like a stretch until you hear their takes on Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” and Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” neither of which (sob!) are to be found on The Greatest Hits.

Other noteworthy tracks include “Daddy Cool,” a bona fide disco classic that’s every bit as cool as its title, and Boney M.’s cover of Bobby Hebb’s ubiquitous “Sunny,” which stands up quite well given Farian’s s ability to desecrate every non-original he lays his grubby Teutonic mitts on. Another must hear is “My Friend Jack,” which comes complete with spacey sound effects, has a funky beat, and includes lyrics along the line of “My friend Jack eats sugar lumps,” which make me think Jack’s an LSD dealer. Or user, because he’s “flying high in the sky.” Disco Acid House with real acid–no one can say Boney M. weren’t pioneers.

Boney M. were crass, second-rate opportunists, but I just happen to have a thing for crass, second-rate opportunists–all of those people who disdain disco and place a high premium on artist integrity can suck it. This stuff is disco bubblegum at its best, and I’m sure I’d have loved it had I heard it on American Top 40 when I was an impressionable kid in love with songs like “The Night Chicago Died” (another historical masterpiece) and cannibalism classic “Timothy.” To put it in plain terms, great is often overrated, and bad is often great. Check out “Daddy Cool” and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
C+

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • Owlsley

    My friend Jack is a cover by an English 60s band called the Smoke. It’s a really good song – the Smoke version that is. I haven’t heard the Boney M version, I don’t think I have the COVID constitution for it https://youtu.be/QNisqOcABso

    • Michael Little

      Very cool! I wish I’d known that before making a fool of myself in my review. Thanks for pointing it out. And love your name!

      • Michael Little

        Great song too.

  • Owlsley

    Thank you. Owlsley is a perversion of Owsley. I didn’t quite catch the dealer’s name before I named the cat Owlsley. The Boney M version is not that different to the original. Just lacks the credibility that the Smoke had. This track is on that Nuggets Compilation – great English 60s psyche. There are a lot of great obscurities on that album

  • Aadam

    inferior go getters those individuals.Mba Assignment service who scorn disco and spot a high premium on craftsman uprightness can suck it. This stuff is disco bubblegum at its best.

  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text