B o n e y M . ( 1 9 7 7 ) Love For Sale (LP)

Boney M.
Love For Sale

Produced by Frank Farian

Noteworthy ***

1977

While disco lasted about as long as a light bulb, for a few years it shined like a bright neon sign on a dark city street.  Kids like myself found that sign quite annoying, in need of a rock, but in different ways disco influenced most forms of music that followed those years.  Many artists simply invented new names, but clearly continued playing disco.  Others continued with the disco-sucks ideal, purposely staying in the shadows away from the artificial lighting of disco.
Punk reared its head around the same time as disco and was just as influential, but in the 70s punk was mostly ignored in the States.  The few people that even took notice mostly thought it a fad so minor that it made disco seem like a major movement.  If you counted the U.S. sales of all punk albums of the era, the numbers would be miniscule compared to the sales of just one disco album such as Saturday Night FeverDozens of discos were opening each week across America, but punk clubs were extremely rare.  For example in Michigan, the first venue dedicated to punk opened late in 1979.  Shortly before, it had been a gay bar.In many ways, punk was the opposite of disco, and punks typically joined the disco-sucks movement, but there were some similarities.  Both were calling for change in the music scene, both called for audience involvement, and both typically trimmed both the size of band and the number of chords, reducing the music down to a repetitive rhythm.  And even more so than disco fans, punks were often considered gay.  Of course, while disco went from the gay community to the mainstream, punk was confined to small communities in California and New York City.Meanwhile in the UK, punk was making its mark, but one simply has to look at the sales of this band to understand that even in Europe, punk was likely small compared to disco.  Commercially speaking, punk bands rarely even came close to the success of Boney M.

The success of Boney in Europe didn’t translate to sales in the States.  It’s not that America didn’t embrace some Euro-disco, but Americans didn’t show much interest in this band.  This album wasn’t ignored, but its U.S. sales didn’t come close to the sales in Europe.
The sleeve artwork probably helped the sales elsewhere, but Americans weren’t ready for this artwork.  While some aspects of social norms in the 70s might seem quite daring (or narrow-minded) in retrospect, the decade was not the time for taking lightly the issues of women’s lib.  (One simply has to look at the reaction to Andy Kaufman’s 1979 comments to realize how Americans had no tolerance for anyone making fun of women’s lib.) The Ohio Players pushed the envelope with their sleeves, and got considerable bad press for doing that, but this sleeve was something else, likely too much for American audiences.  Both the liberals and the conservatives would have taken issue with this one.  So the album was repacked for U.S. distribution, using the back photo as the front.
The content of this album perhaps reveals some of the reasons it didn’t do well in the States.  Here, Boney M. covers such sacred cows as “Motherless Child,” Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale, and CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.”  While fans of the first two were likely too old to even take notice, messing with CCR was asking for trouble.As part of the disco-sucks movement, Americans were rediscovering CCR in the late 70s, with mail-order CCR albums commonplace on primetime TV, and the idea of a European disco band covering a CCR song likely didn’t sit well with many.  Meanwhile, the folks arguing that disco was making rock obsolete likely didn’t want to embrace a band that was using the music of some outdated rockers sporting old jeans and flanneled shirts.Of course, a California band doing Southern swamp music was perhaps as silly as a disco band doing the same thing in Munich, and Boney M. was actually made up of singers from the West Indies–a place closer to the swamp than California.  While this version is a disco song, the island sounds come through, and one could argue that this band was actually bringing the swamp back closer to home.  It wasn’t exactly like Ike and Tina doing “Proud Mary,” but perhaps it’s not completely different.  It’s worth discussing because this version is quite lovable.

The rest of the set explores a variety of subject matter, and this might have had something to do with why this didn’t land well in the States.  American disco focused on love, sex and escapism, and this set tackles such subjects as the conflict in Ireland.  And for this American, the social commentary sounds odd next to the title track–a song about under-aged prostitutes.  While some of the original intent of the song perhaps shows in this version, the sad undercurrents seem quite masked. Mostly, it seems a celebration of young sex sold on the street.

While this album is only for fans of disco, those fans should give this set a listen.  The synth swatches wave across the groove like a magic wand over a boiling pot of bass and drums, horns and electric piano, guitars and vocals.  The female voices are spiced with island accents and this helps make some of this set clearly a few notches above much of the competition.  The sound clearly comes out of Munich, but the vocals are more earthy than the somewhat similar Silver Convention.  The voices aren’t earthy like Southern gospel, but semi-innocent like island girls.

The album closes with a cover of “Still I’m Sad,” which surprisingly remains relatively faithful to the original Yardbirds’ version.  For this listener, the covers of rock songs are the most enjoyable cuts, but disco fans will likely enjoy dance-floor favorites such as “Ma Baker” and the title track.  This is certainly part of the story, a chapter that most Americans missed at the time of its release.

— winch (author of…http://www.eight-track.com/Eight_Track_Publishing.php

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