25 YEARS AGO: MILLI VANILLI – GIRL YOU KNOW IT’S TRUE (A LOOK BACK AND ‘WHERE ARE THEY NOW?’)…

milli

25 years ago, an album was released that over 6 million people bought in the U.S. alone. Even more in Canada! It would stand to reason that some of those people *liked* the songs on that album. At least a few.

Most people within earshot of the pop music world heard what happened in 1990. Milli Vanilli won a Grammy for the album Girl You Know It’s True. Then through a series of mishaps and exposés, the word got out. Front guys Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan were faking it. Not only did they not sing a single note on the album, but they didn’t even speak English all that well and had very heavy German accents. The world seemed to recoil in horror. How dare they? The Grammys did exactly what they would, and that is to throw them under the bus and take back the award. Forever proving exactly how little merit should be given to awards. The album was deleted from Arista records’ catalog never to return. They tried to pretend it didn’t happen. Even though all involved came clean, nobody seemed to care that there were actual singers who *did* record their vocals for this album. People couldn’t shake the image-driven shackles of pop music. When it was revealed what the actual singers looked like… *gasp* like average *normal* people… well apparently nobody wanted that. I blame the fickle people more than I blame all the music people involved. It was especially obvious to me how backwards this all was when Arsenio Hall later had Rob and Fab on his show to prove for once and for all that they *could* sing. Well sure, they can sing. But they don’t sound like the people who made this album. How could they? I mean kudos to the guys for jumping up in the face of self-created adversity and trying to push forward anyways. But it was seen as a novelty stunt.

It seems really unfair to me that this happened in the drastic way that it did. After all, look at what else happened around that time. Technotronic’s megahit “Pump Up The Jam” had attributed vocals to a model named Felly, who mimed the whole video. They were afraid vocalist Ya Kid K was too tom-boyish. For the record, I liked her look better anyway. C+C Music Factory’s hit “Gonna Make You Sweat”, still heard to this day, contained a video where Zelma Davis, a model, mimed vocals by dance legend Martha Wash. Because it was a game of “hide the big girl” as always. Black Box, who had several large dance hits such as “Strike It Up” also did this to Martha Wash. How disrespectful to only want the voice but not the person that produces it. Yet you can still buy music by all of these artists. They all went on to have more hits even after the word was out. Technotronic even changed the album cover later to reflect the real vocalist instead of the model. Nobody made a big deal about it. They shrugged and laughed it off. We all went “ehhh, whatever”. But Milli Vanilli was raked over the coals instead.

What Arista should have done was to chin up and actually release the next album, which was already recorded, called Keep On Running. Originally it featured the two main vocalists from GYKIT, Brad Howell and John Davis, along with Jodie and Linda Rocco. It was released in Europe only as The Moment of Truth by “The Real Milli Vanilli”. The new cover art was obviously a rush job, looking like a Sears family photo snap of “the real” band. But unbeknownst to many, and according to original vocalist Jodie Rocco, even this part was a sham. Howell and Davis are featured in the picture, along with another backing vocalist named Gina Mohammed, a Fab Morvan sort-of-lookalike named Ray Horton, and a rapper named Icy Bro. The way Jodie tells it, these vocalists were overdubbed at the last minute. No doubt this was so the producers could still sell a certain image. Because it isn’t really lying if the voice matches the picture right? *WRONG*. Even I was fooled back then when I heard about it. The whole ordeal was a rush job. Probably to get product out there while the controversy was still hot. The cover looked horrible. Not because of the people involved. There are ways to dress up an album cover and make it look good and stylish without actually hiding the performers. It just looked like it was slapped together in five minutes. The tell-tale sign of the rush is that the spine actually said Milli Vanilli – Keep On Running while the front said The Real Milli Vanilli – The Moment of Truth. TRUTH indeed. Arista completely chickened out. They had dropped GYKIT from their roster and it has remained out of print. What Arista *should* have done was to come clean musically. They should have took the time, made sure all the songs were mixed just right with the original vocalists, and treated it like a major release. They should have promoted the album, ignoring the critics and instead emphasizing that this is the group that made the well loved hits like “Blame It On The Rain”. I think that a few more hits could have actually come from the group. I could easily see them adapting into the changes dance and R&B took as the 90s progressed. But no. It was so badly mishandled and the whole thing was left as a joke and an embarrassment. I even felt bad for Rob & Fab. They really wanted to make it work and tried hard to be real singers. But nobody really took it as more than a joke. I mean, people didn’t stop liking The Monkees when the members decided they wanted to actually sing right? They became almost cult figures instead.

So to celebrate, I broke out my CD copy of Girl You Know It’s True. I originally had this on cassette when only the title track was released so far. As I would learn later on, the first pressing and the later pressings had some differences. “Baby Don’t Forget My Number” was a remix, called the NY Subway Mix. It was dubby – missing some of the words and very strange. Later I would hear the hit version and love this song. But then I bought the cassette single. It had yet another mix, different than either the video or the cassette. The lack of consistency was frustrating. I didn’t know at the time that the album had already (sort of) been released the previous November in Europe as All or Nothing. This version is still available as an import some places. It contains a few of the songs that ended up on GYKIT, some songs that were used as single b-sides in the US, and a couple even I haven’t yet heard. Mine’s on the way in the mail. Apparently Clive Davis, head of Arista kept having second thoughts about the singles and which mixes to put out, so it was ever changing which version was on which release.

But back to the beginning. The dialogue at the beginning is really funny. “I really mean that much to you?”. It was the first time I heard it. The album mix was longer than the cassingle mix which was always fun. What made the song wasn’t the rapping, that’s for sure. In fact many of the lyrics on this album are pretty bad when you put them under a microscope. The grooves, the mixing, the production and the harmonies of the backing singers, mixed with the voices of the real singer Brad Howell on the chorus made for some really enjoyable feel-good pop. The song just sounded really good overall. “Baby Don’t Forget By Number” sounded like a weird second song to follow on the original pressing, but when the video came out, and the whole body-bump move thing and the dancing… the whole package was great and it sure fooled me as well as many others. Sure most of the lyrics were “bomp-bum-buh-bomp-baby”. It was fun to sing along. “More Than You’ll Ever Know” had more of a bouncy early new jack swing thing going but always felt like a filler song next to the bigger hits. Still a good one though. But then the master stroke, “Blame It On The Rain”.

Now fess up. How many rainy days has this song popped into your head? I knew this would be a hit when I heard it the first time. The lyrics aren’t bad, the singing was actually really good, as Howell had a fairly distinct sound to his voice. Of course we all thought that was Fab at the time. “Take It As It Comes” was kind of pleasant filler. A decent enough song, good enough I usually didn’t skip it but not quite a hit like the other songs. “It’s Your Thing”, at the time I liked this one a lot. I didn’t know the original, but I knew Salt N’ Pepa’s “Shake Your Thang” so I knew it was a sort-of cover. “Dreams To Remember” was really cool. It has a smooth vibe to it unlike the other tracks and a beat that was not quite what all the other artists were doing at the time. “All or Nothing” was quite the jam. Sure it was the third song on the album at this point with the same sampled drum beat (The Searchers’ “Ashley’s Roachclip”, one of the most used break beats in hip-hop history). The song was actually kinda dirty for the time, with the radio playing “Keep it wet and my 7-40 jet is pushin’ right on high”. Considering soon after that Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance” had to be censored on MTV for “I once got busy in a Burger King bathroom”. The track, like most of the album, highlighted Jodie and Linda Rocco, sisters that provided vocals on most of the album. Then the big ballad of the album, “Girl, I’m Gonna Miss You”, first just titled “I’m Gonna Miss You” with the “Girl” added to the single’s title. Ack! My OCD! This is the one that always got stuck in my head. It was actually quite a good little pop record with a great melody and definitely had more feeling to it than some of the other songs here. The Rocco Sisters are all over this one as well. There’s even a Pink Floyd link here, as the saxophone on this album was provided by Mel Collins, who played on solo albums by both Roger Waters and Richard Wright, as well as on albums by countless classic rock royalty. The final track was the N.Y. Subway Extended Mix of “Girl You Know It’s True”, which cut some of the vocals dub-mix style and sampled so many current and well-known songs and sample pieces at the time that it’s a fun “name that tune” megamix. All in all, not a bad album really for what it was. Some catchy feel-good songs that didn’t try to be anything more than a collection of fun songs. Well… the producers *wanted* them to be more sadly, and that’s why the fiasco even took place.

So where are all these people now?

Rob Pilatus: Unfortunately Rob passed away in 1998 after a drug and alcohol overdose many speculated to have been a suicide attempt. He and Fab Morvan had just completed a new album called “Back and in Attack” to be released as a “new Milli Vanilli album”. It was shelved indefinitely.

Fab Morvan: Fab released an album with Rob Pilatus shortly after the controversy called Rob and Fab, and was planning to release an album with Rob at the time of Rob’s death in 1998. Fab made his own solo debut in 2011 with a single called “Anytime” His website fabmorvan.com mentions that a movie about Milli Vanilli is in the works that talks about Fab’s return to music. In 2013, as he mentioned on Oprah’s “Where Are They Now?” he tried his hand at working with EDM artist Dave Damelo on a track called called “Mind Over Matter“:

Frank Farian – Producer and programming: The man behind the curtain. The scandal didn’t stop him. Frank went on to produce other pop acts like La Bouche (“Be My Lover”) and No Mercy (“Where Do You Go”) in the 90s. Most of his more recent credits are either Germany pop or Ministry of Sound releases.

John Davis – vocals: John was was one of the two main lead vocalists behind the scenes. The verses of “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You” are a good example of which voice was his.
Here’s a clip of him singing on a TV show in 2010. He is on twitter at @JohnDavisRMV

John was kind enough to answer my tweet to him, stating that he performed all of the rap vocals on the album (except the song GYKIT) as well as much of the sung vocals. He sent me this link from a German festival called Classic Open Air, where he performed a few non-Milli Vanilli songs. It is extremely obvious listening to his voice that he was one of the originals without question. Thank you Mr. Davis for sharing!:

Charles Shaw – vocals: Charles performed the rap vocals on “Girl You Know It’s True”. According to comments below thanks to original member Jodie Rocco, this was his sole contribution. From what I’ve gathered, he was fired from the group by the producers for fear of leaking the truth, to be replaced by John Davis. Charles continues to record here and there as a solo artist and has a couple of recent videos out there on YouTube. Here is a very recent video of him performing “Good Bye Auf Wiedersehen”:

Brad Howell – vocals: Brad was the other main vocalist – the deeper voiced of the two that was usually singing the choruses. (Note: This part updated on 3/12/14). I did not know much about Mr. Howell’s past until the last few days, but there is music available by him. While he’s not on YouTube, and while in the Oprah special spoke about not wanting to be in the spotlight, a recent track with a group he was once part of called Chilly has surfaced. The 2011 album is called Chilly And More Hits Of The 80’s, and contains two tracks specifically by Brad Howell. One of the two that stands out is a funky jam called “Comeback People“.  After writing this article, I was contacted on Twitter by #BrittFit, stating that Mr. Howell is her brother, and confirming this is indeed the same Brad Howell that sang for Milli Vanilli. She also pointed me to a 2009 album by the group Supermax called Rhythm of Soul 2, containing a track also called “Supermax” by Mr. B featuring Brad Howell. These are on Spotify as well. She also mentioned they were both working on several upcoming US and UK projects. So this is excellent news!

Jodie & Linda Rocco – the female vocalists who appeared on all of these songs: Jodie Rocco is now known as the voice of Highway Radio in Las Vegas and has a blog with plenty to say about her time in Milli Vanilli. Check it out HERE . The interview posted below (which is well worth the watch) talks a lot about her background and her role in Milli Vanilli. Her twin sister, Linda Rocco was featured on some very successful Eurodance records in the 90s and is still recording music today. Since Milli Vanilli, Linda and her husband started Scream Factory, a performing arts school in Frankfurt, Germany that is now celebrating its 20th year. Linda has a Reverbnation site that features her music and lists her impressive credits (Prince, Falco, Toto, Foreigner, Huey Lewis and the News, Michael Jackson – as I race for my liner notes!). Both of the Rocco sisters  appeared on Oprah’s recent “Where Are They Now?” (clip below) to talk about their time in the group. Jodie and Linda are both also on Twitter and can be found at @MilliVanilli, @JodieRocco, @Linda_Rocco.

Peter Weihe – Guitarist: I listed this one because I found it interesting that he still works as a session musician, with Sarah Brightman being one of his credits.

So for all involved I am celebrating this album with a big 25th anniversary spin. You can’t actually buy it anymore (well *new* anyways), but the videos are below. Along with several recent “where are they now” clips. If you can catch the episode of Oprah’s “Where Are They Now?” that recently aired on the OWN network, showing many of the original singers, definitely catch it! They re-air often and it was a great episode.

Girl You Know It’s True:

Baby Don’t Forget My Number:

Girl I’m Gonna Miss You:

Blame It On The Rain:

All Or Nothing/Girl I’m Gonna Miss You (“Live” in Concert):

Here is a very recent one hour interview Jodie Rocco did for alltalkradio.net. She addresses being the first to go public about the scandal, as well as a lot that went on during and since. Lots of great stuff here!:

Fab Morvan in 2013 talking about what has happened since GYKIT:

And a clip from the new Oprah “Where Are They Now” in 2014:

Here’s a fun interpretation I found of what the album would have looked like possibly if the two main actual singers had been on the cover…

real_mill

Advertisements

8 comments

  1. Well Rob, this is probably one of the best article slash blog on our group I have read in a long time. There is one thing however. You stated “(and I mean by design – the cover had the actual singers but looked very cheap cover design)” and that is incorrect. Brad Howell and John Davis are the only “original” group members in the photo. The other three had nothing to do with the first album release at all and were basically after the fact brought in months after the second album had finished production. A couple of haphazard vocals were applied on top of the finished product and voila The Moment of Truth. Not.

    Charles Shaw only rapped on GYKIT. He neither sang nor rapped on any other track.

    In addition to selling hundreds of thousands of records with Masterboy and other Eurodance superstars, Linda also owns Scream Factory, a performing arts school in Frankfurt, with her husband George. The school celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. Check out this performance from that celebration: http://youtu.be/tQ0H1IEXr-Y

    Some of the best tracks on the first album are Boy In The Tree, Is It Love, Hush, Can’t You Feel My Love. Take another listen. These tracks are really great.

    Thank you again for all the research you put into this. It shows. ; )

    1. Thanks so much for replying Jodie! I will go in and make some corrections tonight. Everything in the article was from what I could find from 2 days ago when I decided to dig in and write the article and now. Fascinating stuff 🙂 being my own editor, im always happy to update things I may have wrong.
      I have a copy of the first album on the way from an Amazon reseller. I hadnt realized before how many songs were different so now I have to hear it 🙂 And I very much need to clarify about the cover. I had thought the female singer was an extra from the first album. And I definitely want that known that only two of them were the originals. I haven’t yet heard Moment of Truth but now I’m intrigued, as everything I’d seen so far made it sound like it started as the original singers then was hacked up with a new Fab lookalike. But if it’s mostly the original lineup I must hear it.
      It’s crazy to think with how this was pulled off visually that it’s hard to separate whose voice belonged to which face, or a combination of voices. I also definitely need to check out some of Linda’s work and I will check out the performance tonight. Thanks so much for writing! I look foward to reading your blog!

    2. I finally got my UK copies of “All or Nothing” and “2×2” in the mail. I’m surprised that a lot of these songs were left off the US GYKIT album. “Can’t You Feel My Love” is really good. I know some of these were on the cassingle b-sides of the GYKIT singles, but I never really listened to them. Definitely a different pacing the way this one sounds. Weird that GYKIT was the first song done and yet it was tucked at the end. If left intact these other tracks make it sound like *group* project rather than 2 guys and backing singers… I supposed that’s why the redo on the tracklist and the new songs. Nice to have both to listen to separately though! I’d only heard “Money” on the US-only “The Remix Album” which was sampled and respliced to death. Takes a sec to get past it sampling Pink Floyd (my favorite group ever) but I still found myself smiling and bobbing along to it in the car. 1989 was fun in pop music and it’s great to remember that.
      I still love this album/project/2 years of great pop. I really wish the Keep On Runnin’ album could have happened without the controversy/lineup changes. I heard some online and parts of it were great but the extra additions to the sound by the new members felt so out of place. Much like other dance groups at the time that lost their original vocalists/collaborators (C+C, Technotronic, Snap!)
      Thank you everybody that wrote me back either here or on twitter. The history lesson this has been learning about a twenty year old album turned into something way more fun. I wish you all great success in your current endeavors and hope to hear your voices in the future!

  2. Very nice blog! i was just a little kid when all this happened, I really liked Fab and Rob as “Milli Vanilli” even though they were not their voices. Thanks so much for such a nice work!
    I am wondering if you know where I can find the completed video in Oprah Last year about Milli Vanilli.. i cannot find it anywhere, only in youtube but little pieces…
    All the best! Yris 🙂

  3. Also as of note: Gina Mohammed was later a vocalist for eurodance group LOFT, Charles Shaw released a single called “I’m Feeling” that was so close to Ace Of Base’s “All That She Wants” his label was forced to withdraw it, “Where Do You Go” was originally recorded by La Bouche, then rewritten partially and given to No Mercy to sing, and No Mercy also did a cover of “When I Die”, the original being by Milli Vanilli.

    1. Oh, and Zelma Davis was actually a very talented singer in C + C Music Factory and voiced many of their other hits. It just so happened that, on their biggest hit, Zelma was much more highly featured in the video than Martha (in fact, I don’t think she was *in* the video).

  4. Kelvin Brooks · · Reply

    This was a great story. I hit YouTube reminiscing over the Thanksgiving weekend and found some Milli Vanilli videos. This made me go and search for the story. Your story definitely filled in the blanks for me.

    I don’t care who was singing, I just thought the music was fantastic.

  5. Kelvin Brooks · · Reply

    This was a great story. I hit YouTube reminiscing over the Thanksgiving weekend and found some Milli Vanilli videos. This made me go and search for the story. Your story definitely filled in the blanks for me.

    I don’t care who was singing, I just thought the music was fantastic.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: