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Fried Fish & Johnny Cakes

December 30, 2010

Long ago I half-jokingly promised a post in homage to Boney M.

I had forgotten about that promise until I came across an obituary for singer Bobby Farrell.

Among the perennial Christmas hits to be heard in supermarkets and elsewhere is the pop-disco version of the carol Mary’s Boy Child by the 1970s vocal group Boney M. The phenomenally successful quartet was manufactured by the German record producer Frank Farian. Its male singer and dancer was Bobby Farrell, who has been found dead aged 61 in a hotel in St Petersburg the day after giving a performance of Boney M hits with his own group.

In 1975, Farian concocted the song Baby Do You Wanna Bump? and decided to find a team of singers and dancers to perform it in clubs. Four young African-Caribbean performers resident in Germany – Farrell, Maizie Williams, Liz Mitchell and Marcia Barrett – became Boney M. The foursome had a constant stream of hits across Europe (including the Soviet bloc), Latin America and Asia between 1976 and 1982.

Estimates of the group’s record sales vary between 100m and 150m. In Britain alone, Boney M made the Top 10 singles chart 10 times, beginning in 1976 with Daddy Cool, followed by Sunny and Ma Baker (both 1977). The 1978 releases Rivers of Babylon/Brown Girl in the Ring and Mary’s Boy Child/Oh My Lord each sold almost 2m copies. There were also three No 1 albums, Nightflight to Venus (1978), Oceans of Fantasy (1979) and a hits collection issued in 1980. Only the US remained impervious to the group’s catchy sound, despite Boney M’s evident affinity with the then-fashionable disco scene. The three women in the group wore exotic, glittery costumes that mixed kitsch and erotica, while Farrell sported a large Afro and frequently appeared bare-chested.

Boney M. are/were a strange little slice of the pop music world. Rest in Peace, Mr. Farrell.

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