“Rasputin” by Boney M.
Ah, the European music industry. More than any other continent in the world, Europe has been at the forefront of shaping modern history. And sometimes dudes would be like ‘hey, let’s straight-up drop a song about a historical figure’. And such was the case with Boney M., one of most-recognized musical acts on the globe at the time, with their 1978 track “Rasputin”.
Grigori Rasputin (1869-1916), contrary to what many people may believe, was not an actual Russian ruler. Rather he was very cool and influential with Tsar Nicholas II (1868-1918), who did lead the large and powerful country at the time.
In fact he was so cool with the Tsar and his family that at one point, despite never being formally educated, Rasputin was second in command of Russia’s domestic affairs. In other words, he was a very potent mystic/holy man in the eyes of Tsar.
But whereas he may have had Nicholas fooled, Rasputin was well known amongst the masses as being someone who, euphemistically speaking, was more concerned with pleasing himself than keeping it holy or uplifting Russia. In fact “Rasputin” is not his real name but rather a moniker placed upon him meaning “debauched one”. And ultimately he met his fate, via assassination, at the age of 47.
Lyrics of “Rasputin”
And this track more or less tells the same story, though in more of a musical fashion. For instance, at some points the lyrics read as if Rasputin is being exalted, if you will, as “Russia’s greatest love machine”. Furthermore in the chorus, Boney M. goes on to assert that he was actually having a sexual relation with Tsar Nicholas II’s wife, “the Russian queen” Alexandra Feodorovna (1872-1918).
This is apparently a rumor that has persisted throughout the generations, even though there doesn’t appear to be any factual basis behind it. Rather as asserted, such a claim is basically meant to buttress the idea that Rasputin “really was gone”, i.e. crazy. This is in addition to ‘shamelessly’ conducting himself as far as women were concerned.
Indeed if Boney M. really wanted to get that latter point across instantly, which is like the thesis sentiment of this song, then they could have entitled it something like ‘Rasputin the Lady’s Man’. He is presented from the onset as being a “big… strong” and intimidating figure.
But as far as the ‘chicks in Moscow’ go, they were totally diggin’ him. And apparently the reason for such wasn’t due to his appearance alone. Rather he had mad skills in terms of preaching the Bible and was also perceived as some kind of great teacher. So it’s almost like he was a pastor. But instead of taking money from the people, Rasputin was obviously primarily concerned with using his gifts to get into women’s pants.
The second verse goes on to note just how powerful Rasputin eventually became. Again, he apparently didn’t have any type of impressive political title. But, with the blessings of the Tsar, he was the primary confidante of Alexandra when she was left in control of Russia during WWI. And as such he was in fact extremely powerful. That’s why people even to this day are under the impression that he was an actual world leader.
And of course news of his bad boy ways eventually made it up to the royal family themselves. But the Tsar and his wife chose to ignore such. This was because they believed that Rasputin possessed the miraculous ability to heal their child and heir to the Russian throne, Alexei Nikolayevich (1904-1918), from hemophilia. So Boney M manages to squeeze those facts in there also.
So up until this point, i.e. the bridge, the situation reads like so. Rasputin is a despicable playa, especially considering the fact that the royal family perceives him as a genuine prophet. But instead of minding his political clout and keeping things on the low, he becomes more intoxicated, sexually-active and power-hungry. Or put differently, he became increasingly “outrageous”.
So as noted earlier whereas the Tsar and Tsarina were having it, Rasputin’s enemies weren’t. So they were like ‘we gotta get rid of dude’. However, the ladies were still entreating them to “don’t… do it, please”.
So the established implication is akin to Rasputin having possessed the uncanny ability to seduce women, but his “hidden charms” didn’t work as well on dudes (except apparently the Tsar himself).
The End of Rasputin
So “some men of higher standing”, i.e. big-name political figures like himself, “set a trap” for Rasputin. And all things considered the vocalist isn’t blaming them for doing so. And the titular figure, unaware of their intentions, falls smack dab into the trap.
Thus the final chorus is a modification of the one recited earlier. This time around, wording is inserted to illustrate just how difficult it was to kill Rasputin. Or put more plainly, even after successfully poisoning him, his assassins were still compelled to ‘shoot him ’til he died’.
So concludes the story of Rasputin. And Boney M. decides to close it all down with the proclamation “oh, those Russians”. And on one hand that may sound like a diss against the Russians. But all history considered, it is probably meant to read as ‘damn, those Russians are wild’.
Verily throughout the decades, into the 1970s and even to ’til now, well into the 21st century, Russia is perceived as the dark horse of European affairs. And with Boney M. more or less representing Germany, a country that’s had its major issues with Mother Russia, then making such an observation isn’t out of place.
Who wrote “Rasputin”?
The producer and co-writer of “Rasputin” is Frank Farian. He is a tenured player in the music industry who, on top of founding Boney M., also put together the infamous Milli Vanilli.
In terms of writing the song, Farian worked with regular collaborators George Reyam and Fred Jay. This is the same trio that put together “Ma Baker” (another well-known Boney M. song grounded in actual history).
Despite tracing the group’s formation back to West Germany, all of the original and best-known members of Boney M., i.e. those who participated on this track, were from the West Indies.
Lead vocalists Marcia Barrett and Liz Mitchell were born in Jamaica. Backup vocalist Maizie Williams is from Montserrat, a lesser-known island also in the British West Indies. And the late Bobby Farrell (1949-2010) originates from Aruba, a Dutch-Caribbean territory, which is a bit better known due to being a popular tourist destination.
Interesting to note is that Bobby Farrell actually passed away in Saint Petersburg, a major city in Russia, on 30 December (2010). And likewise Grigori Rasputin himself passed away in the selfsame city on the date of 30 December (1916).
More Facts about “Rasputin”
This track was officially released on 28 August 1978. It was the third single from Boney M.’s third album, “Nightflight to Venus” (1978). That project topped the UK Albums Chart. It also enjoyed a similar success in a few other European album listings (including in Germany).
However, it didn’t fare nearly as well on the Billboard 200 with Boney M., despite being one of the most-successful musical acts in history, being virtually unknown stateside. And the same goes for the track itself.
“Rasputin” reached number one in Germany and a few other countries and number two on the UK Singles Chart. And the song made it onto the top 10 of all of the European countries, as well as Canada and New Zealand, in which it charted.
Indeed despite being recited in English, it caught on in nations where such is not even the spoken language. However, it did not chart at all in the United States.
Additionally over 40 years after its release, “Rasputin” experienced a period of virality in early-2021. This was thanks to a TikTok trend known as the #rasputindancechallenge.
The labels that put this song out are Atlantic Records, Sire Records and Hansa Records, with the latter having been located in Berlin.
The Russian release of “Nightflight to Venus” does not contain this song. Moreover Boney M. were banned from performing it while in the Soviet Union. And this is despite the fact that the tune resulted in a renewed local interest in Rasputin). The track was also regarded in a likewise manner in Poland.