Saturday, September 7, 2013

Lover of the Russian Queen

I should have done this review a long time ago. I discovered this song back in May.

One spring day, while driving back to the college after having lunch, an unusual drum pattern started up on the radio, and then what sounded like Euro-pop started playing. An unusually low, hard-to-hear voice sang, and then the chorus started - with these female voices.

I couldn't really determine what it was about other than the fact it sounded European. But I slowly heard more and more Russian references or names, particularly words like 'Moscow' and eventually the name Russia itself. At the end, a voice declared "Oh, those Russians."

It made me laugh out loud. As soon as I got into the building, I looked into my old prof's office, told him what I'd heard, and immediately got the answer that it was an outfit called 'Boney M' - several black women and a guy. Okay then.

I eventually figured it out as 'Rasputin' by Boney M. - basically a German producer who writes the lyrics, sings the male vocals, and arranges the music. The people who show up in concert and on packaging are basically models - the women do sing, but not the guy.

The women are Jamaican-born British models in this German group, singing about a Russian historic figure named Rasputin. The crazy drum introduction was played by Keith Forsey, a British drummer and later songwriter who would go on to write 'Don't You (Forget About Me)' for Simple Minds to record. The guitar was played by...let's leave it at that and say everyone involved was from 'all over the world.'

The entire song focuses on the background of Rasputin, detailing his aid to the Tsar's son's hemophilia (he was a 'faith healer' and was thought to have actually cured the Tsar's son). It also sensationalizes him as a lover of the Russian queen (considering she brought him in to - 'successfully' - treat her son) as well as 'such a lovely dear' to 'Moscow chicks.'

In the song's climax, the lyrics turn to his attempted assassination by his fellow men in 'higher standing' - his survival by a poisoned wine and then later multiple gunshots. "And so they shot him until he was deeeeaaad!" What a nice lyric to end on. It's both ominous and funny at the same time since it sounds so dramatic - and upbeat - at the same time.

At first it made me laugh quite a bit because I'd never heard a song about Russia before and stuff like that just gets me, partly because I have Slavic heritage on my dad's side (though Ukrainian rather than Russian). For a time it became a song I'd listen to just about all the time, as I am with all fairly newly-liked songs. Then I located a much higher quality version on YouTube than the one I'd been listening to, which enhanced the musical - and synesthetic - experience by a lot.

Musically it's very disco - the typical open hi-hat rhythm and upbeat, melodic bass lines - and it's probably the first disco song I really got into, other than 'Don't Leave Me This Way' - which I didn't exactly get into really, as it was the Communards version I first heard which is in the "Hi-NRG" genre and enjoyed what I call a 'fad' with my interests - I like it a lot when I first hear it but it gets boring very quickly and I stop listening to it not long after I first discovered it. Usually songs that have it that way with me are so because of one tiny little hook or part that drew me to it - in that case it was the brass in the chorus. Anyway, I'm getting off topic and the disco version of that song was by Thelma Houston.

I don't really listen to disco but there are some good stuff out there and this song is one of them. What I like is its mostly B-led arrangement - I think it was in the key of B, because when I play it on the bass it's usually the B fret I'm playing, and when I put the strings voice on my keyboard, I find the strings in the song usually start or end on the B key. When I heard the proper, high-definition version of the song, I noticed a few things I hadn't before notably in the chorus - first, that the male voice actually sings the 'Ra-ra Rasputin' lyric along with the female vocals, and second, there's a subtle string cue that's soft, deeper than the rest of the strings, and entirely just 'B' on my keyboard.

The strings is another trademark of disco music, and this song is no different. It's quite nice and flows well. But that subtle riff right when the lyric 'lover of the Russian Queen' is sung is the icing on the cake for me.

I don't know why, but since last year, every time a song has an obvious B chord or bass note or whatever, it makes me think of love and of a certain - face. I'm tired of saying that line, a 'certain face' because I keep bringing it up. When there's an obvious B in a song, it used to just bring up that face or person, but since 'Wouldn't it be Good' and 'Rasputin,' among others, it's also signified, synesthetically, depth, love and emotion to me. One would think the D major chord or something like that would sound more like a 'love' chord or sound, but for me it's B. I'll write a separate post focusing on that entirely later.

All in all it's an interesting, upbeat, funny song. I like the musical arrangement - sounds complicated and European - and the strings and key of B it's played in. The lyrics tell a good story. I see a lot of red, pink (for the string riff during 'lover' in the chorus) and burgundy. For a disco song it's typically dancy and melodic, and I like the bass.
I'll post the HD, enhanced version here:

Note that other than the women who do sing the backing and chorus vocals, the guy doesn't do anything at all but pose and lip sync during concerts or appearances. The male vocals are sung by Frank Farian who produced, arranged, wrote and essentially did everything.

As well, I'm also going to embed this:

This very rare live version is awesome - normally they would always just play the song and the people on stage would lip-sync and dance to it, with no instrumental backing, but here, they've got a live version playing and the female (and male) dancers actually sing. What's so awesome about this is the different bass line and instrumentation. It's much shorter as well, eliminating the second verse and chorus and jumping straight into the bridge after the first chorus. The violins during the chorus - especially the cue I've been raving about that's essentially just a B chord on my keyboard - is also very obvious (played at the start of the 'lover of the Russian Queen line). I find the bass during the chorus especially amazing since it plays lower and sounds kind of feel-good to me. I can play it myself and even uploaded a video to YouTube of me doing so, but I won't put it here because otherwise I'm just bragging by now.

Music: A-
Lyrics: A-

I thought about giving it a B, but it always uses B as a main core note in the song so much (and so lovely) that I felt it deserved something higher.

Justin C.

[Update: I should have mentioned that my paternal grandparents love this song, particularly my grandmother - the Ukrainian Saskatchewan native I get my Slavic heritage from]

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