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Milli Vanilli and the Dark Side of Music - an article

 
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UFAlien



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PostPosted: Mon Sep 06, 2010 3:39 pm    Post subject: Milli Vanilli and the Dark Side of Music - an article Reply with quote

When I say my favorite band is Milli Vanilli, that's a pretty loaded statement. Milli Vanilli is one of the most controversial music groups of all time, with a history full of talent, success, deception, lies, and collapse.

WARNING: This is a LONG, in depth history researched on various websites and in discussions with two of the band members, Linda and Jodie Rocco. It's a very interesting story and well worth the read.

The story begins with Frank Farian, an incredibly prolific and powerful German music producer. He heard the song "Girl You Know It's True" in a club and decided he liked it. "Girl You Know It's True" was written and performed by an obscure rap group from Maryland, named Numarx. Although they never had much success, Farian contacted them and obtained the rights to the song. He set about re-arranging it, creating his own version. To sing the song, he recruited professional singers Brad Howell, Jodie Rocco, and Jodie's twin sister Linda Rocco. Charles Shaw performed the rap sections. Each performer was kept unaware of the others. The song was released in Germany in 1988, and it was soon clear it was destined to become a hit. This being the MTV era, Frank knew he needed a hip image to market the song with. He envisioned a young, stylish black group. The problem? Charles and Brad were middle-aged and not particularly attractive, and Linda and Jodie were white.



Robert Pilatus (left) & Fabrice Morvan (right)


Enter Robert Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan, more commonly known as Rob & Fab. The two were world-class breakdancers and aspiring models and singers. They were members of a musical group known as Empire Bizarre, which had released one unsuccessful single on a small record label. Interestingly, Rob was already a friend of the Rocco sisters, having danced in one of Jodie's biggest shows. Farian discovered Rob & Fab in a club and offered them a record contract. The two were in their early twenties, and both came from humble beginnings. Despite their good looks and talent, Rob & Fab had never had much money and dreamt of fame and fortune. A contract with Farian, a hugely successful music producer, was too good to pass up. The two signed the contract without even reading it.

It was not until much later that they learned what was really going on - they were there to serve as the visual aspect of Milli Vanilli, and have nothing to do with the music. They'd be in the music video (dancing and lipsynching to the real band's vocals), the press photos, and the interviews, and they were NOT allowed to tell anyone they weren't singing. Having already signed the contract and been paid large cash advances, they had no choice but to go along with it.

The song became an even bigger hit than expected, hitting #1 on the German charts and making stars of Rob & Fab. The decision was made to create an entire album, using the same method - Brad, Linda, Jodie, and John Davis (who replaced Charles after the first song)would record a song, and Rob & Fab would dance to it, lipsynch to it, and generally pretend to be the real singers. When women needed to be shown, such as in live concerts (which, by necessity, never had live singing), black women were hired to lipsynch to Jodie and Linda's vocals.



Rob & Fab lipsynching to "Girl You Know It's True"


The album was a big enough hit that Arista Records brought it over to the US, removing and remixing several songs and also overseeing the addition of some new ones - chiefly "Blame It on the Rain", a soulful breakup song featuring guest vocals from Joan Faulkner. The album had five singles released in America - "Girl You Know It's True", which hit #2, "Baby Don't Forget My Number", which went to #1, "Girl I'm Gonna Miss You", also a #1 hit, "Blame It on the Rain", the group's final #1, and "All or Nothing", which made it to #4. Rob & Fab were a phenomenon, and they began to party recklessly, experimenting with various drugs.

During a concert at Lake Compounce Amusement Park in Bristol, Connecticut, the two were performing "Girl You Know It's True" when the pre-recorded vocal track became stuck and began repeating the words "girl you know it's -" over and over. The two rushed offstage, and the media became suspicious. While it was obvious they'd been lipsynching, some reporters, noticing that Rob & Fab had heavy accents when speaking but apparently sung in perfect American English, began to suspect they were not even the ones singing on the record. Soon after, Charles Shaw revealed to the press that he had been one of the real voices in the song. He was paid off by Frank Farian and issued a retraction, claiming it had simply been a publicity stunt.

Despite the controversy, Milli Vanilli was nominated for and won the 1990 Grammy for Best New Artist, beating out other nominees such as the Indigo Girls and Tone Loc. Grammy statuettes were presented to Rob & Fab on air, but behind the scenes, Brad, John, Linda and Jodie also received statuettes, proving the Grammy committee was aware of who truly sang Milli Vanilli's music.



Rob & Fab holding their Grammy statuettes


When production started on a follow-up album, Rob & Fab, tired of lying to their fans, family, and friends, demanded to be allowed to sing, threatening to expose the truth to the press. Farian denied their request, and beat them to the punch. In November of 1990, Farian admitted to the press that Rob & Fab had not sung a note on any Milli Vanilli recordings. He proceeded to blame the entire affair on the duo. The press ate it up. Rob & Fab held their own press conference soon after, where they returned their Grammy statuettes and did their best to clear up some of the misconceptions (the real singers were also made to return their statuettes). The press would have none of it, and attacked them as frauds, charlatans, and talentless hacks. The Grammy committee denied having any knowledge of the deception and declared there was now no official winner of the 1990 Best New Artist award. Similarly, Arista Records denied knowing anything and proceeded to take Milli Vanilli's U.S. album out of print (making it the best selling album in history ever taken out of print). Milli Vanilli became a laughing stock.

Rob, addicted to drugs, wildly unpopular, and hearing threats that his adoptive family would disown him, attempted suicide soon after. He was saved and began working with Fab on a new album - one they'd actually sing on.

Meanwhile, Farian decided to release the second Milli Vanilli album in Europe, attempting to capitalize on the scandal. Along with Brad, John, Linda, and Jodie, Farian brought in Gina Mohammed, one of the women used in concerts to lipsynch to Linda and Jodie's vocals, and Ray Horton, a man who looked quite a bit like Rob. They did sing on the album, but were added as an afterthought. Gina mostly sung quietly along with the Rocco's voices, while Ray was allowed lead vocals on some songs but also shadowed many of Brad's vocals. Various other guest musicians were brought in for one or two songs each, including Tammy T, Icy Bro, B-Sho Rockin', and Joan Faulkner. The album was released as The Moment of Truth, and the cover featured Brad, John, Ray, Gina, and Icy Bro. Gina was also given credit for "lead" vocals on many songs, despite the fact it was actually nearly impossible to distinguish her voices from the Rocco's voices. Jodie and Linda were only credited with backup vocals in the liner notes. Around this same time, a sticker was added to the cover of the European version of the first album, purporting to name the real singers. John, Brad, and Charles were correctly credited. However, the sticker made no mention of Jodie or Linda, and instead claimed Gina had sung on the original album, despite the fact that she had not.



The cover of The Moment of Truth. Left to right: Brad Howell, Icy Bro, Ray Horton, Gina Mohammed, and John Davis.


The second album was not a big success in Europe, and due to the immensely negative public perception of Milli Vanilli in the USA, it was never released overseas. Of course, Frank Farian had another idea. He remixed several tracks from the second album, keeping the voices of Ray, Gina, Linda, and Jodie but mixing out Brad and John. He then hired Tracy Ganser, who looked a lot like Gina, and Kevin Weatherspoon, who looked remarkably similar to Fab, and had them record some vocals as well. The "new" group was named Try 'n' B, with Ray, Gina, Tracy, and Kevin on the cover, and their album was released in America to little success. Still, a different version of the album, which replaced many songs taken from The Moment of Truth with other songs that had been INTENDED for but cut from the same album, was released in Europe, once again to little or no success.



The cover of the US Try 'n' B album. Left to right: Tracy Ganser, Ray Horton, Gina Mohammed, and Kevin Weatherspoon.


Rob & Fab released the album with their real voices in early 1993. After a botched live performance on The Arsenio Hall Show, a talk show popular at the time, the public dismissed the release, assuming it would be terrible proof the duo couldn't sing. It didn't help that the album was the first (and only) release of Taj Records, a record label comprised of inexperienced employees who could only afford to print and distribute two thousand copies of the album. Despite some good reviews from critics, the album was a massive flop and bankrupted the label. Rob & Fab grew apart, and Rob's drug troubles continued to worsen. He was repeatedly arrested for assault and theft, and no salvation seemed to be in sight.



The cover of Rob & Fab's album featuring their real voices.


Around 1997, however, Frank Farian contacted Rob & Fab, offering to produce a comeback album under the Milli Vanilli name but featuring their real voices. Farian paid to send Rob through rehab repeatedly, and also got the duo additional professional vocal training. Meanwhile, VH1 premiered the show Behind the Music. The first episode was all about Milli Vanilli. Even better, it got huge ratings and included a mention of the upcoming album. Things were looking up, the album was recorded, and the promotional tour was about to begin. Then, in April of 1998, before the tour could start, Rob was found dead of a drug overdose in his hotel room. The album's release was canceled.

Fab is still alive today, with a low-profile career as a solo artist. He is currently working on a new album, and also consulting on a long-planned movie about Milli Vanilli's history. John Davis also continues to perform, having released a new album earlier this year. Jodie Rocco is now a nightclub reviewer and radio host living in Las Vegas. Her sister, Linda, is living in Germany where she continues to perform in vocal ensembles.
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