May 08

JOHNNY MATHIS – “When A Child Is Born (Soleado)”

FT + Popular47 comments • 4,477 views

#398, 25th December 1976

Thought of as a Christmas single, because of when it charted, this of course is actually a rare Number One hit that takes as its theme the Second Coming, which will be marked, according to Mathis, by everyone feeling quite nice for a little bit. Reducing the eschatalogical theology of the Christian faith to “Superbaby is coming to save us” lessens the record’s evangelical power but probably makes it more bearable: this is inoffensive schlock which glides by easily without ever threatening to win me over. That’s the fault of the material, not Mathis, who puts in a creamy, kindly performance: a bad record, but a good advert for its singer.



  1. 1

    woah what is the xtian content of the b-side?

  2. 2
    and everybody elses Mark G on 21 May 2008 #


  3. 3
    DJ Punctum on 21 May 2008 #

    I don’t think I want to know!

    Anyway, cuddly old GOP-supporting then-closet gay ex-athlete Mathis had something of a revival in the mid-seventies as a sort of carpet slipper and brandy comfort for housewives. This one had already charted earlier in ’76 as a wordless choral piece entitled “Cloud 99 (Soleado)” and performed by the St Andrews Chorale but here Mathis gives it the full snowy ballad treatment complete with sincere Perry Como’s Dominican Republic Christmas talkover.

    To be truthful it gives me the creeps to a lesser but relatable extent as “Stand Up And Be Counted” because of its Nietzsche-narrated-by-Bing-Crosby undertow – as Simon Finn noted in his coruscating “Jerusalem” a few years earlier, if the new Christ arrived they’d most likely string him up again – but hey it was Christmas so let’s pull on the dodgy pullovers and pretend everything’s just fine.

  4. 4
    Tom on 21 May 2008 #

    #1 and #2: I always put the picture in last in any given Popular entry, it’s a little bit of satisfaction for me on finishing one, as I never look at the sleeves Steve’s found beforehand. So yes my reaction was indeed WTF??? Any Mathisites want to fill us in?

  5. 5
    Tim on 21 May 2008 #

    I haven’t heard the Mathis version but the song is a Charlie Rich number, from his super-smooth-and-runny period with Billy Sherrill, post “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”.

    The CR version is smooth even by his standards, and does have some (cough) religious content, viz “I’ve been touched by the angel” ect ect.

  6. 6
    Alan on 21 May 2008 #

    appears to be by Charlie Rich. lyrics here

  7. 7
    Tim on 21 May 2008 #

    (Related question: did Mathis ever go to Nashville and make an out-and-out country LP? If so I’d like to hear it.)

  8. 8
    DJ Punctum on 21 May 2008 #

    Don’t think he did, but weirdly there is a Country Johnny Mathis!

  9. 9
    Erithian on 21 May 2008 #

    I get the impression that rather than being about the Second Coming, the song is set on the first Christmas Eve, rather like “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. For a believer, it conveys nicely the sense of anticipation and hope on a Christmas Eve. It’s not really my kind of thing, but one I tend to warm to when hearing it at the festive season – goodwill to all men and that. Not that I extend the principle to all Crimble songs by any means, but I can happily live with this one. Heart-warming.

    Dodgy songs with (cough) religious content – let’s start with Cliff’s “Honky Tonk Angel” from around this time, which he honestly didn’t realise was about a hooker when he recorded it.

  10. 10
    DJ Punctum on 21 May 2008 #

    And he STILL thinks that “Devil Woman” is about something other than what it is actually about!

    Also, this is the second 1976 number one to be the subject of a questionable Jonathan King cover version.

  11. 11
    Alan on 21 May 2008 #

    i’ve always imagined it was, as erithian says, the first xmo.

    this song was irritating for me for personal reasons – namely that my dad would always repeat the line about a ‘rosy hue’. my middle name is huw.

  12. 12
    Tom on 21 May 2008 #

    We used to sing this in school assembly around Christmas time – this would have been 78, 79, so I always assumed it was older than it is.

    Second coming: The spoken word bit is pretty unequivocally looking FORWARD not back!

  13. 13
    Matt on 21 May 2008 #

    I have fond Christmas memories of the Boney M version of this, so don’t mind hearing this as a second choice.

  14. 14
    DJ Punctum on 21 May 2008 #

    The spoken word part is also closet RASCIST viz. “Black, white, yellow – no one knows.” As I also remarked apropos Ken Dodd’s heartrending 1981 Xmas offering “Hold My Hand” (“Hold my hand if you’re yellow, black or white”), what about the Red Indians you BIGOT?

  15. 15
    rosie on 21 May 2008 #

    Aha! As immortalised on Not The Nine o’Clock News

    Rowan Atkinson (as Gerald the Gorilla): “I’m very fond of Johnny Mathis”

    Mel Smith: “You’re not kidding, are you? When A Child Is Born blaring out till all hours!”

    RA: “Look, the production on that album is superb”

    It’ll be a couple of years before we come to something of which somebody said to me “sure the song is crap but you’ve got to admit that the production is great” Oh no I haven’t! When I hear the word ‘production’ I reach for my, er, old Bessie Smith recordings.

    Blimey, is it Christmas already? Not many number ones for your money this year, are there? Pleasantly easy-on-the-ear tosh, anyway.

  16. 16
    Tim on 21 May 2008 #

    It seems to me the lyrics are actually saying everyone feels quite nice whenever a (any) child is born because at some point in the future superbaby will come to save us.

    It also seems to me that that is clearly untrue, but there it is.

  17. 17
    Drucius on 21 May 2008 #

    It’s about now that I begin manning the punk rock barricades. The two events aren’t connected. Or are they?

    Hardly spoilt for choice for this year’s poll are we?

  18. 18

    i am now completely in a muddle when exactly i started manning the barricades (which at this stage i erected entirely in my head anyway)*: i think i said on an earlier thread it wasn’t till this time next year but that CAN’T be right

    *”pogo in yr bedroom, but only when yr mum’s gone out” <--- more demonstrative than me abt my allegiances

  19. 19
    DJ Punctum on 21 May 2008 #

    Born on 25 December 1976: Armin van Buuren. Voted top DJ in the 2007 DJ Mag poll!

  20. 20

    (in my defence, my mum wz WAY more punk than me)

  21. 21
    Alan on 21 May 2008 #

    i bought the recent Armin van Buuren “10 years” best of – mostly on spec. rub.

  22. 22
    LondonLee on 21 May 2008 #

    Love Johnny Mathis, and not in some “ironic” way either, the chap has a lovely voice. Saw him at the Albert Hall in the late 80s and he put on a bloody marvelous show. His version of ‘Misty’ always reduces me to a wobbly mess.

    Like Tom said, the singer is better than the song here but I’d still give it a 6.

  23. 23
    Kat but logged out innit on 21 May 2008 #

    This got big rotation on Hits!TV last xmas – I agree that it’s about the first xmo, the forward-looking element is from the 3 wise men’s perspective of ‘hurray this baby here is going to benefit millions of dudes in the FUTURE! Our horoscopes said so!’

  24. 24
    wichita lineman on 21 May 2008 #

    Shocking that the wonderful Misty only made no.12 in arguably pop’s worst ever year, 1960.

    And the total change in Arthur Lee’s voice between the first Love album and Da Capo was down to the Mathis influence. No Johnny, no Forever Changes!

  25. 25
    DJ Punctum on 21 May 2008 #

    Johnny Mathis singing “Oh, the snot has caked against my pants” – This Afternoon’s Potential Greatest Thing Ever.

  26. 26
    vinylscot on 21 May 2008 #

    If my memory serves me right he wore a particularly unpleasant jumper on TOTP when this was out.

    Another of these artists whose only #1 was undoubtedly NOT his best work.

    Beyond that I’ve got nothing much to say – I always find it difficult to contextualise Christmas songs, because they become part of EVERY Christmas, not only of the one when we first heard them. I much preferred the St Andrews Chorale.

  27. 27
    DJ Punctum on 21 May 2008 #

    I should point out here that had it not been for Johnny Mathis and Showaddywaddy the ’76 Xmas number one would have been “Money Money Money.”

  28. 28
    wichita lineman on 21 May 2008 #

    And lurking at 5, Mike Oldfield’s second ‘seasonal’ hit in a row, Portsmouth. This and In Dulce Jubilo/On Horseback both neatly suggested Xmas without the need for “Christian rhymes”

  29. 29
    vinylscot on 21 May 2008 #

    Don’t know if we had it better or worse than the US – they were in the middle of EIGHT WEEKS of Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s The Night” at the top.

  30. 30
    wichita lineman on 21 May 2008 #

    We had it better.

  31. 31
    SteveM on 21 May 2008 #

    and at #28 for this week I see Jethro Tull’s ‘Ring Out Solstice Bells’ – any cop?

  32. 32
    DJ Punctum on 21 May 2008 #

    Not really – can’t find it on YouTube but it’s a regular on TOTP2.

    Also, further down, the totally ghastly “Here’s To Love” by John Christie which turns “Auld Lang Syne” into a godawful plodding ballad.

  33. 33
    Billy Smart on 21 May 2008 #

    Anticipate more on this theme when we get to 1999…

  34. 34
    Jonathan Bogart on 21 May 2008 #

    I really only know Mathis from the beginning of his career in the 1950s, when he slotted somewhere between Sinatra and teen idols like Bobby Vinton. I don’t know about later, but then he had a tendency to oversing everything, much like the Pop/American Idols of today. He had the voice for it, but after entire albums of creamy falsettos and reaching-for-the-stars finales, I’m Mathised out.

  35. 35
    Snif on 22 May 2008 #

    In the Antipodes we endured six weeks of Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now” at No. 1 – still, it was better than what was to follow.

  36. 36
    Erithian on 22 May 2008 #

    Slipping steadily down the charts that month, it’s worth noting today, were Manchester United, seemingly heading for the relegation places after eight defeats on the trot when skipper Martin Buchan was injured. Wonder if Waldo’s still speaking to me this morning?

    The story goes that if Johnny Mathis hadn’t been signing a record deal on the same day as the US Olympic trials in 1956 he’d have been a shoo-in as a US entrant in the high jump. Can anyone verify this?

  37. 37
    DJ Punctum on 22 May 2008 #

    Man Utd at that stage also counted as one of the few acts whose chart career consisted solely of one week at number 50 – their imaginatively-titled 1976 effort “Manchester United.”

    Lucky last night or what?

  38. 38
    Erithian on 22 May 2008 #

    The whole thing hung on such slender threads – if JT hadn’t slipped Chelsea would have won, but if Van der Sar hadn’t slipped they might not have equalised, if Tevez’ studs had been any longer it could have been 2-0, etc etc. I’ve always thought a penalty shootout means the two sides are equal in quality but someone has to be given the trophy. Hard not to feel sorry for JT, Lamps and Grant, although on the other hand I could watch Kenyon, Anelka and Cashley crying all night.

    I mentioned earlier that “Manchester United” the no 50 hit single was written by Tony Hiller, one of the co-writers of “Save Your Kisses For Me”.

  39. 39
    LondonLee on 22 May 2008 #

    Lucky, lucky bastards. Same as last time they won it.

  40. 40
    Jungman Jansson on 23 May 2008 #

    So THAT’s where Mark ‘Oh got the soppy aaah-ing in “Tears Don’t Lie” from. I had no idea.

  41. 41
    SteveM on 23 May 2008 #

    Oh no, Mark ‘Oh! Actually I did like ‘Love Song’…

  42. 42
    intothefireuk on 24 May 2008 #

    Now generally I like Christmas songs but this particular one over eggs it’s sentimentality & I’ve never been fully convinced it is a bona fide Crimble song. It’s more along the lines of I Believe which is more about faith & hope than tradional Christmas subjects. My Xmas song of choice this year was Tull’s ‘Ring Out Solstice Bells’ which at least mentioned the Solstice & indeed had bells in it.

    Having had a sneak preview of next years number ones I think we are in for a very bleak time. If I was going to miss any year out on Popular it would almost certainly be next year. There has never been a huge correlation between what’s actually happening in music & the number one slot but next year there looks to be a complete disparity (unless you count a certain infamous number two).

  43. 43
    Lena on 24 May 2008 #

    I just read the lyrics (I don’t know the song) and it seems to be very conditional…praising the birth of babies in general – aw babies, they make everything good! – and then in the spoken part, talkng about how nice it would be IF a certain baby happened to come along…it’s more wistful than anything else…

  44. 44
    Tom on 24 May 2008 #

    #42: well, we’ll wait and see, but I think there’s at least one absolutely epochal, game-changing #1 coming up. No further discussion till we get there, though!

  45. 45
    Erithian on 27 May 2008 #

    OK, no bunny bait, but let me guess – the one you’re thnking of, would it have drawn wistful, ironic smiles from Chicory Tip’s HQ?

  46. 46
    Waldo on 28 May 2008 #

    This was “Mary’s Boy Child” revisited, it seems to me (bugger off, Bunny. I’m talking about Harry) but with less sincerity. The carol is sweet enough and even Johnny’s “And all this happens because the world is waiting…” talkabout blurb fits in well enough so that one is not seriously inclined at the conclusion of the subsequent last chorus to deposit one’s comfortably digesting yuletide roast on top of one’s unsuspecting cat, who is in a deep and peaceful slumber on the sofa, having consumed the same. But the song is just too twee for my liking and Johnny’s starry delivery is identical from those of his non-levitical offerings. Basically, it’s just another day at the MOR office for the famously light-footed Mr Mathis and I’m afraid it shows.

  47. 47
    lonepilgrim on 14 Nov 2019 #

    not a fan of Christmas schmaltz – give me bleakness or jollity

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