Dance music group
Initially formed to support the unexpected success of a demo recording released as a single, La Bouche had a series of dance hits in the mid-1990s. Fronted by former studio singer Melanie Thornton and rapper Lane McCray, La Bouche subsequently followed its debut single, “Sweet Dreams,” with two other international hits, “Be My Lover” and “Fallin’ in Love,” from its first album. Delays postponed the group’s second album, S.O.S., until 1998. Frustrated by the group’s direction, Thornton left the group in 2000 to pursue a solo career and was replaced by Natascha Wright. Thornton’s first single hit the top 20 in Germany, and another track was slated to be used in Coca-Cola’s holiday advertising campaign for Christmas 2001. Tragically, Thornton died in a plane crash as she was traveling to promote her upcoming album on November 24, 2001.
German entertainment impresario Frank Farian was well known for putting together pop acts and taking them to the top of the charts. He had his first major international success with Boney M, a reggae-flavored pop act that made a huge impact in Europe in the 1970s. In the late 1980s he achieved success in the United States with another pop act, this time the R&B and rap-oriented Milli Vanilli. The group had a string of number-one hits in America and won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist before the act was exposed as a studio group; in reality, the two performers in Milli Vanilli were little more than front men for Farian’s stable of producers, singers, and musicians. The disgrace did not prevent Farian from moving on with his music career, and he continued to assemble popdance tracks in the early 1990s.
Among Farian’s producers were Amir Saraf and Uli Brenner, who put together a track called “Sweet Dreams” with vocals provided by Melanie Thornton. Thornton was a Charleston, South Carolina, native who had taken voice lessons from the age of six and studied the piano and clarinet as well. Thornton had gigged with a number of bands while in college and won numerous talent shows as a singer. While singing with the cover band Danger Zone in Macon, Georgia, and earning about $50 a night, Thornton took up her sister’s suggestion to relocate to Germany, where her brother-in-law was stationed in the military. When she arrived at her sister’s house in Kaiserslautern, Germany, in February of 1992, she had just $15 to her name; through another relative who worked on the German club circuit, however, Thornton quickly found work as a studio singer. As she recalled in an interview with the Your MVP website, “I basically did freelance singing. Musicians that heard about me would call and I would go do gigs.… I did several studio sessions where for me it was just more income and fun work, new experiences, working in the studios, cowriting with producers on these dance songs. One of those was ‘Sweet Dreams.’”
Thornton laid down the vocals on “Sweet Dreams” with producers Saraf and Brenner in November of 1993. Two months later their boss, Farian, decided that the track was promising enough to release as a single. The trio brought Thornton in to discuss putting together a band. Having released a number of other singles previously, Thornton was skeptical about the new group’s chances on the charts. Nevertheless, she was impressed with the professionalism of the producers and agreed to front a group. Just a few weeks later, “Sweet Dreams” was nearing the top of the charts in Italy, and it soon broke across Europe. On Thornton’s suggestion, the producers added singer and rapper Lane McCray to the lineup. Like Thornton, McCray was an American; he had grown up in a military family and lived all around the United States before entering the Air Force and being posted to Germany. While filling in for a member of the band Groovin’ Affairs, McCray met Thornton, who was already a member of the band. The new group took the name La Bouche, a French word translated as “the mouth” in the act of singing.
“Sweet Dreams” and its follow-up, “Be My Lover,” swept across European charts in 1995. La Bouche’s debut, full-length album, Sweet Dreams, also featured the single “Fallin’ in Love.” McCray described the album to Billboard in July of 1995 as “a funky, fresh blend of Euro-dance, pop, R&B, hip-hop, and house.” Reviewers were somewhat less kind to the album; Q’ s Danny Scott praised some of the album’s cuts in a May of 1996 review but concluded, “In the end, it’s the duo’s predictability that spoils a potentially decent debut.”
Members include Lane McCray (born D. Lane McCray, Jr.), vocals; Melanie Thornton (born on May 13, 1967, in Charleston, SC; died on November 24, 2001, in Switzerland; left group, 2000), vocals; Natascha Wright, vocals.
Recorded demo “Sweet Dreams,” 1993; group formed to promote release of “Sweet Dreams” as a single, 1994; released first album, Sweet Dreams, 1996; released second album, S.O.S., 1998.
Spurred on by its successful singles, La Bouche had sold about four million records worldwide by the end of 1995, mostly in Europe, Brazil, and Canada. Thornton and McCray’s American debut came with the release of the single “Tonight Is the Night,” which had been released in Europe and the United States under the name “Le Click.” Their debut as La Bouche in America waited until the release of “Fallin’ in Love” in July of 1995. The single was a modest success but paled in comparison to “Be My Lover,” which eventually proved as successful in America as it had been in Europe.
The year after the release of Sweet Dreams was a hectic one for the duo, who played the first concert by a western act to 4,000 fans in the former Communist nation of Albania in 1996. Thornton and McCray tried to keep a balanced perspective on their success. “It was great,” Thornton told an interviewer for the Your MVP website, “but to me it was like a gradual thing. It was a very happy feeling. It was like, ‘Oh, wow! This is something I dreamed of when I was six years old.’ But, at the same time, we were traveling so much. We really didn’t have the time … to soak in the hype and believe the hype…. I kind of kept in mind, ‘This is really great. I hope we continue to produce music our fans love.’ But I always tried to keep a reality check. ‘This is because this song is so widely publicized and promoted. And it IS a great song, but it’s more about the product at this point than ourselves.’”
With Farian busy producing acts such as No Mercy, La Bouche’s second album, S.O.S., was delayed until 1998. “The new album is more pop/dance,” Thornton told Billboard in May of 1998 upon the album’s American release. “We went into the studio consciously aware of what we wanted to make—a collection of songs that would sound equally good on the dance floor, in the car, or at home.” In the quickly changing world of pop music, however, S.O.S. failed to reach the fans who had bought Sweet Dreams. Frustrated by Farian’s apparent lack of interest in La Bouche and disappointed by the sales of S.O.S., Thornton left the band in early 2000. She was replaced by Natascha Wright, who had worked as a studio singer and as a backup singer for MC Hammer. In May of 2000 the new duo released the single “All I Want” in Germany. In all, the La Bouche team of Thornton and McCray sold about ten million records worldwide between 1995 and 2000.
Although she kept an apartment near Frankfurt, Germany, Thornton settled down in Atlanta with her new husband. In January of 2001 she released her first single as a solo artist in Germany, “Love How You Love Me,” which hit the top 20. Later in 2001 Thornton scored a coup when another track from her forthcoming album, “Wonderful Dream (Holidays Are Coming),” was chosen as the promotional song for Coca-Cola’s holiday advertising campaign in Germany. Thornton immediately arranged to tour Germany to build on the success of the song, which entered the German charts at number nine.
On November 24, 2001, Thornton was in the midst of traveling from Berlin to Zurich for another promotional appearance when the plane she was on crashed near its destination. Along with Thornton, 23 other passengers and crew members were killed. Eight passengers survived. Swiss authorities suggested that the pilot had mistakenly programmed the wrong coordinates into the plane’s navigational system, causing it to crash almost four miles from the airport. Thornton’s album, Ready to Fly, was released in December of 2001 and entered the German charts at number eleven. It was scheduled for a release in the United States in early 2002.
Sweet Dreams, RCA, 1996.
S.O.S., RCA, 1998.
The Best of La Bouche (compilation), RCA, 2002.
Billboard, May 27, 1995, p. 28; July 15, 1995, p. 28; June 8, 1996, p. 38; May 2, 1998, p. 30.
Canadian Press, November 26, 2001.
Los Angeles Times, November 27, 2001.
Q, May 1996.
Times (London, England), November 26, 2001.
Undercover Music News, http://www.undercover.com.au/20011219_melaniethornton.html (April 10, 2002).
Your MVP, http://www.yourmvp.net/thornton.html (April 10, 2002).
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