BONEY M LOVE! ***NOTE*** I wrote this on December 1st and for some reason, it wasn’t published. Since writing it, I have been ridiculously anal, found the German lyric and translated it myself with the help of google translate and various online dictionaries. It turns out that I’m right. The German version of “Rasputin” is a lot grimmer and most of what we know, is not so much a translation as idiot burbling around a theme. Oddly, it doesn’t detract.
“Much to the chagrin of one person in particular, I have – and I’ll admit it’s to my surprise – become extraordinarily enamoured of Boney M’s “Night Flight to Venus” album.
Okay, I’ll come clean and say I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for them, but only really in a passing, nostalgic way; the kind of thing you hear on the radio and go “awwww” at.
However a couple of weeks ago, I stuck the album on the iPod and – for the most part was absolutely blown away! It is probably one of the maddest, inventive and weirdest pop album of the 70’s.
Quite apart from the stirling and sparkling production, this is a set that defies belief on so many levels. Not always in a good way, but endearing, certainly.
The opener is simply mental. “Nightflight to Venus” is quite possibly drummer Keith Forsey’s finest hour. The drum’s here switch from electro dance rhythms, glitter stomp and slavic folk rhythms with out so much as a pause for breath. Amazing. Sprinkled throughout are vocodered vocals detailing the ins and out of your flight (surely “Nightflight to Venus”is a nonsensical title anyway. . . ), a heavenly choir, singing you to sleep, oddly placed guitars, Russian chanting and lift music style synthesised horns. It sounds like a mess, but it just works. Each change in style is as dazzling as it is unexpected and yet this odd Russian them keeps coming through….
And then there’s a Balalaika solo that let you know that…..bloody hell! it’s only Rasputin! The Nightflight carries on as the components of Rasputin comes to the fore and then BAM! Euorpop heaven!
Now the weird thing is, however embarrassing and however crushingly naff the lyric is, it’s a pop classic. I do not honestly believe anyone could write anything this vacuous on purpose. Seriously, if this was then intention, then it’s bloody genius, but to me, it reads like a poor translation and rewrite.
I mean, look at this:
There lived a certain man in Russia long ago
He was big and strong, in his eyes a flaming glow
(okay, I can live with that bit)
Most people looked at him with terror and with fear
But to Moscow chicks he was such a lovely dear
(Such a lovely dear? Who the hell says “Lovely dear”? I get the impression this a single German word that once translated didn’t scan)
He could preach the bible like a preacher
(Well, yeah. “He could teach the bible . . . ” would have been less clumsy)
Full of ecstacy and fire
But he also was the kind of teacher
Women would desire
(lumpen but okay, if a bit crass)
RA RA RASPUTIN
Lover of the Russian queen
There was a cat that really was gone
(Given the context and time this was recorded, was the German translated by a 60’s idiot?)
RA RA RASPUTIN
Russia’s greatest love machine
It was a shame how he carried on
(It was a shame? Oh dear. That poor Rasputin, I expected him to be so well behaved given his upbringing. . .. this is a such a colossal understatement it can only possibly be the result of dodgy translation.
He ruled the Russian land and never mind the czar
But the kasachok he danced really wunderbar
(The rhyme here and the use of the German suggests they could find an English rhyme and gave up trying to find something that both rhymed and scanned)
In all affairs of state he was the man to please
But he was real great when he had a girl to squeeze
(Oh dear God)
For the queen he was no wheeler dealer
Though she’d heard the things he’d done
She believed he was a holy healer
Who would heal her son
(Actually, this works. Possible the only stanza that works as a self contained piece)
Now this is the bit that really gets me:
“This man’s just got to go!” declared his enemies
But the ladies begged “Don’t you try to do it, please”
(How would they know. It was a secret. If his ladies knew enough to shout “Don’t you try to do it please” you can pretty much guarantee Ra-Ra would know about it.
No doubt this Rasputin had lots of hidden charms
Though he was a brute they just fell into his arms
(And onto his cock)
Then one night some men of higher standing
Set a trap, they’re not to blame
(Yes they bloody are!!! They came up with the plan, they set the trap… the ARE TO BLAME!! STOP MAKING EXCUSES FOR THEM!)
“Come to visit us” they kept demanding
And he really came
(Really….. again, this just doesn’t ring true….. another bad translation?)
They put some poison into his wine
(Yes they did)
He drank it all and he said “I feel fine”
(He didn’t….he didn’t die from it, but he didn’t “feel fine”)
Russia’s greatest love machine
And so they shot him till he was dead
(They seem to have forgotten the stabbing and throwing him into the River, but we’ll let that past
(Spoken:) Oh, those Russians…
(Yeah Those wacky Russians! HAHA Just, like *MURDERING* someone! :-D)
I mean this is colossal ineptitude as far as writing lyrics is concerned and given that Frank Farian -who wrote and produced this- had previously had works translated into English, I can only assume he either had no guidance on this one or his translator was really pissed off with him.
Abba had a similar problem when they assumed the mantle of translators of their own material. Although to be fair, the only big mistake they made was in Fernando with the grammatically suspect “since many years I haven’t seen a rifle in your hand”, but nothing on the scale of wince inducing flummery above.
The whole lyric is absolutely hilarious.
But you know what? It doesn’t matter. It’s a stonking tune, has chutzpah beyond belief and is catchy as herpes. The segue between Nightflight/Rasputin is as bonkers as it is brilliant and the mammoth Bass drop is an absolute joy. The best bit, though, is these 12 mins never fail to make me grin like an idiot. How can that be bad?
After that is pretty much my adopted theme song “Painter Man” which charts the story of someone who loves art, gets a degree and ends up drawing labels for “Household shops and Brands of Tea”. However jolly the tune, however sparkly and disco, it’s a depressing story of failed ambition and the drudgery of having you skills debased and undervalued.
Following that, is the biggest revelation and suggestion that Frank Farian could have done a lot more than produce disposable pop, is “He Was A Steppenwolf” which, frankly, come have come of “Psychedelic Soul”, the Temptations seminal album. Again, grim as hell.
The song is about a “steppenwolf” – a loner/itinerant – who turns up at a town, meets a prostitute who fakes affection for him. Thinking he’d found the love of his life, he professes that love only to have her say” I only got with you because you like like someone who could kill. I want you to kill me.” I mean jesus! This is Pop! But bloody brilliant
Next up, we get back to barking as we witness Roger Millers C&W classic “King of the Round”, reimagined as a brainless disco tune. Audacious but again, it’s done with such élan that it works.
From this point, the quality slips a bit, but is punctuated by the undisputed classics “Brown Girl In the Ring” and “Rivers of Babylon”. I thought “Rivers . . .” was a cover. it appears not. Colour me impressed. it sounds like it should have been one of the “Spirituals”.
Voodoo night is a little bland but perfectly serviceable disco. Only “Never Change Lovers in the Middle of the Night” is notable only in that it’s really obvious that Frank Farian didn’t have a had in writing it.
You know. It’s an awesome, awesome album”