November 25 – Girl, You Know It’s (Not) True

The ’80s were the decade when image sometimes trumped the sound when it came to music. Never was that “MTV effect” more true than 30 years ago when one of the hottest acts in the world would end up causing one of pop music’s biggest scandals. Milli Vanilli were at #1 – yet again – on this day in 1989 with “Blame it on the Rain”. It was their third chart-topper of the year in the U.S., good going for a relatively unknown newcomer! Of course, the problem was they were more unknown than we knew…

Milli Vanilli was a German act put together by Frank Farian, who’d been the main man in Boney M earlier on. We saw the videos to their lightweight Europop dance tunes and saw the singing duo of Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus, who “were” Milli Vanilli. They’d been introduced to Europe in 1988, with the album All or Nothing which had gone gold in their native Germany. Clive Davis’ Arista Records picked it up for North American release and put it out early in ’89 with a slightly different song configuration as Girl You Know It’s True. Davis spends about six pages of his autobiography explaining how despite being such a “hands-on” record exec, he never dreamed anything was amiss with these guys he barely even was aware of…

The album quickly put out two #1’s in the States, “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You” and “Baby Don’t Forget My Number”, and then this third one got there as well. “Blame it on the Rain” was written by up-and-coming writer Diane Warren who’d written Laura Branigan’s hit “Solitaire” and would later write Aerosmith’s “Don’t Want to Miss A Thing” and win Golden Globes for movie music work in over 60 films. It might be the best of the singles on the album allmusic describe as being “hardly far removed from…peers (like) Paula Abdul, Debbie Gibson or even the more substantive Janet Jackson.” They also “raved” about Farian’s synthesizer-playing, suggesting “it’s hard not to listen to (the album) and not marvel at the level of Farian’s studiocraft…it sounds like the machine wrote it on its own accord.”

All would have been well and good, if that and the Grammy they won as Best New Artist the next year was the end of the story. But of course it wasn’t. Somehow, someone figured out that the presumably ordinary-looking John Davis, Brad Howell and Charles Shaw (“backing vocals” according to the liner notes) sounded a lot more like Milli Vanilli than Morvan and Pilatus, whom no one even recalled showing up in the studio. The handsome pair were both professional models and dancers… but had no experience singing. Farian didn’t think they needed to as long as they could lip-synch for the videos. Soon the truth came out – the pair the public had been led to believe “were” Milli Vanilli were just actors who looked good and the real group were more or less anonymous types not seen in videos or credited much by the record company.

When it turned out that they weren’t the real singers, all hell broke loose. The Grammys revoked their award and asked for the trophy back. Despite the album being 6X platinum in the U.S., Arista retired it from their catalog and offered anyone who’d bought it a refund! (Which makes you wonder — really? It was an audio album not a video… does listening to it now suffer because the guys on the cover aren’t singing?) It was a scandal that lives on to this day with cheaters at times being referred to as “Milli Vanillis”.

Sadly, the pair actually recorded a record, Rob and Fab in 1998. It sold in the range of 2000 copies worldwide. Weeks later, Pilatus was dead from a probable intentional OD. He’d spent time in jail for robbery and assault before that, never quite recovering from having his name forever tied to “phony” . Blame it on the brain… of Frank Farian.

8 thoughts on “November 25 – Girl, You Know It’s (Not) True

  1. badfinger20

    The hammer really dropped on those guys. Yea it was crazy about the refund…you either liked it or didn’t like it. Yea it was a scam but it’s sad it probably led to the death of one of them…it was no need of that. They were crucified by the press and public.

    I wonder how many people were refunded?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know, I wondered that too. In looking for answer, came across an article which says they got caught out when lip-synching on stage and there was a malfunction of the tape machine. Same article says well, that put an end to that…but ushered in a new era of new*cough-Backstreet*cough*Boys” fake manufactured music.
      I found their music bland, run of the mill pop, not anything special but nothing atrocious either and it is sad they were SO villified for it. Yet, I think Farian has rolled on and now we’re accustomed to artists lip-synching and have “bands” like Gorillaz which are… well, who knows what the heck they are but not the little cartoons they depict themselves as. If it had been two decades later, it wouldn’t have been such a big deal, and I think the creator (Farian) would have faced more of the heat.

      PS- on different topic, I know you like some dolly Parton, if you have Netflix, check out a new show with her … my sweetie and I watched it last night, didn’t catch name of it but it was first episode of an interview series with Reese Witherspoon as the host. She visits Dolly at home and it’s quite funny and charming as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. badfinger20

        I only get upset when it’s in a live setting… if I go to a concert … I swear to this day I saw Bad Company do it… at least the back up vocals…there is no way they could have sang those backing vocals THAT good.
        I agree Farian should have faced more than he did.

        Thanks Dave…I will check that out. I like Witherspoon also.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, the lip-synching in concerts is annoying… I remember seeing Smash Mouth around ’98 and they played live through most of show but ended with “Walking on the Sun” and I figure for sure that whole song was dubbed in… sounded identical to the radio version. The difference was kinda glaring. They were pretty good though, even with that “gaffe”

        Liked by 1 person

      3. badfinger20

        They think everyone will walk out if they mess up…I wouldn’t…in fact it would show they are human. I’ve seen the Stones twice so I’ve seen many mistakes…the worse mistake I ever heard was from Three Dog Night…the bass player’s bass was out of tune and they had to stop the song…they did it again and I was fine with that.

        Liked by 1 person

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