Tag Archives: The Bee Gees

Rocks In The Attic #637: Boney M. – ‘Nightflight To Venus’ (1978)

RITA#637When I think about all the great disco groups of the 1970s, I’m not usually thinking about Boney M. To me, great disco was solely an American proposition – K.C. & The Sunshine Band, Chic, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Trammps. Even the Manx-born / Australian-bred Bee Gees sounded American during their genre-defining Saturday Night Fever period.

So a foreign-born – and most importantly, a foreign-sounding – disco band like Boney M. never really fit in anywhere. The band hail from the West Germany of the 1970s, with members originally from Jamaica, Aruba and Montserrat. If they had travelled north from the Caribbean, and landed in the USA they might have indeed been a vital part of the American disco scene.

Instead, their music is blighted by an economical, soulless Europop production by Frank Farian – the German producer behind the Milli Vanilli lip-syncing scandal of the 1980s. They’re more Eurovision than Saturday Night Fever; more James Last than Nile Rodgers.

While the more artistically and commercially successful Abba have remained timelessly relevant on the strength of both their songwriting and the production of their material, Boney M. just feel synthetic, a product of the capitalist West Germany. They’re hugely successful however – having sold over 150 million records worldwide, so somebody must have liked them.

Once you look past the big singles – Rasputin, Rivers Of Babylon and Brown Girl In The Ring – this record isn’t too bad. The production-heavy opening track, Nightflight To Venus, gives drummer Keith Forsey a moment to shine on an otherwise dull record in terms of percussion (the rest of the album is very much driven by a straight 4/4 beat, with very little variation).

But it is the record’s final track, a cover of Neil Young’s Heart Of Gold, that is the most surprising thing of all – surprising because it’s actually quite interesting in its vocal harmony arrangement. But of course, hearing one of Shakey’s better-known songs covered by a West German / Caribbean disco band has to be heard to be believed.

Hit: Rivers Of Babylon

Hidden Gem: Heart Of Gold

Rocks In The Attic #403: The Walter Murphy Band – ‘A Fifth Of Beethoven’ (1976)

RITA#403Fuck the Bee Gees, I’d be happy if the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack just featured songs by Walter Murphy.

Famous for his version of the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, you either love or hate Walter Murphy. This entirely depends on what you think about classical music. For me, it injects a much needed groove into an art form that can be dull and stuffy. Murphy’s A Fifth Of Beethoven seems to be the perfect song to play at a funeral, if only to raise a much needed smile among the mourners. This is probably why he now composes the music for the Family Guy television show.

The instrumental songs on this album are awesome, and the record’s only weak points are the couple of tracks which feature vocals. These come off sounding very dated, as though a network television show like Quincy commissioned them for a scene set in a discotheque: “I’ve seen a man die from exhaustion, Sam, but there’s something about this that doesn’t quite fit. Let’s do another test on the leather from those roller skates…”

Hit: A Fifth Of Beethoven

Hidden Gem: Flight ‘76

Rocks In The Attic #336: Various Artists – ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (O.S.T.)’ (1978)

RITA#336The one person who should be stood up against a wall and shot for this travesty of an album is George Martin. In just eighty three minutes, Martin manages to avoid all traces of innovation he was known for in the previous decade, and produces an album full of schlocky middle-of-the-road Beatles covers. With very few exceptions, each song sounds like it was recorded with Murph and the Magictones (in the Armada Room at the Holiday Inn, “Quando Quando Quando…”).

I’ve never seen the film that this album soundtracks, and I don’t think I ever want to. I’ve seen the segment where Aerosmith perform Come Together on YouTube – the highlight of the album (and while you might think I would say that, being a diehard and unapologetic Aerosmith fan, Robert Christgau earmarked it at the time as being the best of a very bad bunch, along with Earth, Wind & Fire’s Got To Get You Into My Life); but the farcical stuff that was going on around Aerosmith, involving Frankie Howerd, was very hard to watch.

Who would ever want to listen to Donald Pleasance sing (or rather, say) I Want You (She’s So Heavy)? While Peter Sellers doing A Hard Day’s Night in the ‘60s raised a smile, this just sounds bad. And Frankie Howerd singing When I’m Sixty-Four and Mean Mr. Mustard? Are you fucking joking?

Just to make things ever worse, the album is one of those annoying ‘70s double albums where sides A and D are on one disc, and B and C share the other disc. I’m prepared to forgive certain double albums for this (Electric Ladyland, Songs In The Key Of Life, for example), but with this album being so unlistenable I really resent the inconvenience. Did anybody ever even see one of those turntables that would play this sequence of sides? I’m sure it was just a record company conspiracy to confuse stoned people in the 1970s: “Hey man, as well as being blind, Stevie Wonder doesn’t seem to be able to spell. What gives, dude?”

Hit: Got To Get You Into My Life – Earth, Wind & Fire

Hidden Gem: Get Back – Billy Preston

Rocks In The Attic #214: Various Artists – ‘Saturday Night Fever (O.S.T.)’ (1977)

RITA#214This might be outdated, a relic of a bygone age, or a warning to the future about the dangers of bad taste…but you can’t deny it’s full of good songs.

I’ve never had a problem with Saturday Night Fever. I’ve never found myself stealing the show on a multicolour, lighted dancefloor, but I’ve often found myself strutting down the street eating a slice of pizza and carrying a can of paint. The film itself is very good, and much darker than anybody gives it credit for, but for me the one thing that has stood the test of time is the soundtrack. A hundred years from now, if an enquiring mind asked what ‘disco’ was, the fastest way to show them would be to play them this soundtrack and show them the album cover.

I really struggled to choose a hidden gem for this album. It’s full of them. I used to like Fifth Of Beethoven by Walter Murphy, but it’s sort of been done to death by every film or TV show which wants to juxtapose any staid environment with an incredibly funky song.

The inclusion of The Trammps’ Disco Inferno and K.C. & The Sunshine Band’s Boogie Shoes gives the many, many Bee Gees songs a run for their money – particularly Night Fever and Jive Talkin’ (sounding more in its right place here than it ever did on Main Course) which are both fantastic; but it is Ralph McDonald’s Calypso Breakdown that I like the best. The lead guitar breaks in the first half of the song are great, and purely as a piece of soundtrack it’s used in one of my favourite parts of the film. I challenge anybody not to move their hips when they hear this song.

Hit: Stayin’ Alive – Bee Gees

Hidden Gem: Calypso Breakdown – Ralph McDonald