of the week

Everyone has a different opinion of what was the best year for music. There is no right or wrong answer, but 1978 was the biggest selling year for singles in the UK. The press will forever remind you that 1989 was a disastrous year for industry for three reasons, Mick Fleetwood and Sam Fox’s presentation of The Brits, a live show that was hilariously dire and looked more like a spoof comedy film. Then there was Jive Bunny, but let’s gloss over that and finally, Milli Vanilli who committed the heinous crime of lip syncing to their songs that they actually had nothing to do with. Let’s add some flesh to the bones of the latter and then pick it apart again.

Faking a performance on a record is not new, just don’t get caught out or let the press find out otherwise your dead. In 1959, Bill Parsons had a number 22 hit called All-American Boy that was actually sung by Bobby Bare, Nicki Minaj contributes very little to her hit Super Bass. it’s the song’s writer, Ester Dean, who features more. The Crystals had an American number one called He’s A Rebel in 1962 of which none of them sung. It was Darlene Love and her backing group The Blossoms who gave us the song which made number one in America. It was written by Gene Pitney who, ironically, was kept off the top by Pitney’s own song Only Love Can Break A Heart, thus putting him at number’s one and two as a performer and a writer. Jennifer Lopez comes under scrutiny too as she was not the main lead singer on her hits Play, Ain’t It Funny and Jenny From the Block. Predominant vocals on Play were Christina Milian who was completely uncredited, Ain’t It Funny was mostly the song’s writer Ashanti and Jenny From the Block’s chorus is provided by Natasha Ramos. There are many more including the Love Affair, The Monkees and one or two glam rock groups. Now, everyone remembers Boney M and more so Bobby Farrell who, again, contributed virtually nothing to their songs. Although best remembered for his strange dancing, ‘his’ deep vocals are provided by Frank Farian, the group’s creator who, what do you know, created Milli Vanilli, the duo who are best remembered for being stripped of the Grammy Awards for NOT singing their songs. So why were they sensationalised more than any other? The simple answer is that no other act won major awards for things they didn’t actually do.

Milli Vanilli comprised Fabrice Morvan and Rob Pilatus, Morvan was born in Guadeloupe but then moved, via Miami, to Paris where he grew up and excelled in athletics. Following a neck injury whilst training for a national trampoline contest, he moved to Los Angeles to study ballet because he was advised that it was a good exercise. Pilatus was born in Munich to a father who was a soldier and a mother who was a stripper, but his parents gave him up for adoption and was raised by another German couple. He became and DJ and dancer and learned to breakdance to a high enough standard to be invited to a competition in New York. On a visit to a Los Angeles nightclub, he met Morvan and the pair became friends and before long both moved to Munich. They earned a living by appearing in videos as dancers by night and in a local post office by day. They Christened themselves Milli Vanilli which is Turkish for positive force.

In January 1988, the pair were invited to Frank Farian’s recording studio in Frankfurt to record a song called Girl You Know It’s True which Farian had demoed. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Pilatus told interviewer Chuck Philips, “We got the call to come to his [Farian’s] studio  and we said, ‘All right, that’s it’. We were just a couple of dumb kids so we agreed. When we arrived he played us this demo and asked for our opinion of it and asked if we could sing it and we agreed.”

The song was written by Ky Adeyemo (who was a member of the disco group Starpoint) and Bill Pettaway, Jr. who was a petrol station attendant. The song was given to a local group of teens who called themselves Numarx and comprised, Sean Spencer, Kevin Liles, Wayne Mallory, Rod Holloman and Darryl Mimms. Their recording was well-received in the local clubs in their home town of Baltimore in Maryland. The song was distributed around Germany and Farian got to hear it. Farian then recorded it with other singers, namely John Davis, Brad Howe and the rapper Charles Shaw. It went to number two in America and number three in the UK.

The follow-up, Baby Don’t Forget My Number was speedily released and just four weeks later entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number 62 and soon climbed to number one. It was written by Farian, Bernd Berwanger and Brad Howell and tells the story of a typical break up after a failed relationship where he pleads with her not to forget his number and to get in touch if she has a change of heart or is just lonely.

Both tracks are taken from the album All or Nothing which won a Canadian Juno Award for Best International Album. At the Grammy Award ceremony in February 1990, both Rob and Fabrice were in the front row when the two hosts, Kris Kristofferson and Young MC announced them as the winner of that year’s Best New Artist award. The other contenders on the short list that year were the Indigo Girls, Tone Loc, Soul II Soul and Neneh Cherry.

Charles Shaw, the rapper on Girl You Know It’s True made an announcement to the press in Germany that he was actually the singer on the song. This story was carried by the New York Newsday where he added that, “Rob and Fab were only hired for their looks.”

In a bizarre twist, just over a week later Charles then withdrew that statement and issued a new one which stated, “My manager, Mr Andreas Glaner, was of the opinion that it would be a good public-relations gag for my new record if I declared I sang lead.” Jeff Giles at Rolling Stone magazine approached Milli Vanilla for comment and Rob said, “Everybody ask (sic) me is I sing on this record, even my mother ask (sic) me. I am a very proud person and this is very embarrassing, Fab and I are big talents and can sing as good as any other pop star in the top 10.”

Even more bizarrely, Farian began work on the next Milli Vanilli album and both Rob and Fab walked in a gave him an ultimatum;  they told him they wanted to sing on their next record. He disagreed so they fired him and went it alone.

Morvan has appeared in various documentaries giving his side of the story and even released a solo album in 2003 called Love Revolution. In 2022, a biopic called Girl You Know It’s True, which was filmed in various parts of South Africa, America and Germany and had Tijan Njie and Elan Ben Ali as Pilatus and Morvan and Farian was played by Matthias Schweighöfer.

As everyone knows, they were stripped of their Grammys and the rumours never went away but their career did. In April 1998, Rob died from a drugs overdose which, by all accounts, was not an accident.

The spookiest thing has just happened, as I was concluding this, a message to came through to say that Frank Farian has just died in Florida at the age of 82. I hope he would have liked this entry.