Jul 08

BONEY M – “Rivers Of Babylon”

FT + Popular114 comments • 5,180 views

#423, 13th May 1978

I didn’t know about genre in 1978 but that didn’t mean I couldn’t recognise it, and this fitted into a very particular and not wholly liked one: music you might sing in school assembly. I didn’t need to have read a single Psalm to know that somehow this fitted next to “When I Needed A Neighbour” and “Kum-By-Ya” and “The Ink Is Black” – i.e. “earnest singalong” not “fun singalong” like the soon-to-be-A-side “Brown Girl In The Ring” (which I did like).

And for all that I find this pretty enjoyable I’d still make that distinction, putting “Rivers” into the less fun side of Boney M, certainly compared to almost anything else on Nightflight To Venus – the space disco title track, the gonzo history of “Rasputin”, their finger-poppin’ covers of Roger Miller and Neil Young. “Rivers Of Babylon” slides down easily but lacks the immense entertainment value of the group at their best. From the intro in, though, there’s a sense of comfort and dignity to it carried over from its religious and reggae roots – it’s proof, at least, of Frank Farian’s apparent conviction that everything could be usefully discofied. Why be like Tony Manero and turn dancing into your religion, when actual religion could be as danceable as anything else?

(And this, incidentally, is why I was wrong about “Rivers” at the time and never did sing it that I can recall – its trace lyrical religiosity would have scared off my primary school pop pickers. Animals going in two by two – yeah, no problem, but all this Babylon and Zion stuff was best left well alone.)



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  1. 61
    Mark G on 11 Aug 2008 #

    Is Neil Sedaka the most gay hetero married bloke?

  2. 62
    DJ Punctum on 11 Aug 2008 #

    No we’re not clear and that level of rudeness is inappropriate for this board.

  3. 63
    Waldo on 12 Aug 2008 #

    # 62 – “No we’re not clear and that level of rudeness is inappropriate for this board”.

    You ARE an odd fellow, Marcello. Full of surprises.

  4. 64
    DJ Punctum on 12 Aug 2008 #

    “I’ll BREAK you, DJ Punctum!”

    “Yeeeeeessss…” (in proto-Paxman voice)

  5. 65
    Waldo on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Waldo (cowering): “Don’t…(snot-filled sob)… REPORT me…!”

    DJP (too smug by half but obviously an idiot because he misses a great chance to escape): “I don’t intend to… You are going to report… YOURSELF!”

  6. 66
    DJ Punctum on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Not the only chance he got to skedaddle either: why doesn’t he just go off in the helicopter with Andre van Wotsit at the end of “It’s Your Funeral” or quietly charter one while the mob’s chasing John Sharp at the end of “Change Of Mind”?

  7. 67
    Waldo on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Absolutely right. Number Six was a fuckwit. He could indeed have scuttled off with Andre but perhaps a bitter and beaten Derren Nesbit would have blown the copter up. “A Change Of Mind”, though, could have had a most pleasant ending for our hero, simply making a bolt for it as the villagers steamed after “unmutual” John Sharpe and grabbing luscious dream-girl Angela on the way, hypnotised, we remember, to obey his every command. Instead he just hides in a bush. This boy’s a fool!

  8. 68
    Mark G on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Bear in mind, number two is ‘only’ the ‘captain’. He is not actually in control. Security would stop him/them.

  9. 69
    rosie on 12 Aug 2008 #

    #63: Oh, well bowled Waldo!

  10. 70
    Waldo on 12 Aug 2008 #

    # 68 – Actually He WAS in control. True, there was a “supervisor” but as was demonstrated in “Hammer Into Anvil”, he and his staff were entirely answerable to Number Two and indeed fearful of him. The supervisor was actually relieved of his duties in this episode. It is unlikely that any of these underlings would have done anything without going through their boss first. Naturally this is just my own interpretation. With such a loopy (though brilliant) series there are more questions than answers. And the more I find out, the less I know. Yeah, the more I find out, the less I know.

  11. 71
    Waldo on 12 Aug 2008 #

    # 69 – Steady, Rosie!

  12. 72
    DJ Punctum on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Did you know about the Patrick Cargill Sings Father Dear Father album?

  13. 73
    Waldo on 12 Aug 2008 #


    “Did you know about it, Thorpe?”

  14. 74
    DJ Punctum on 12 Aug 2008 #

    “Tell me more, tell me more.”

  15. 75
    wichita lineman on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Re 60-61: When Sounds Of The Sixties was presented by former pop stars in the mid 80s, between the Keith Fordyce and Brian Matthew eras, the dj had to play two of their own hits. Neil Sedaka played four of his own hits because he liked them so very much. He introduced one with something along the lines of “When I wrote this, I knew at once it was an all-time classic, a standard to match the best works of Rodgers and Hart…”

    The song was Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen, which doesn’t even match the worst works of Martin and Coulter.

    Dave Berry, on the other hand, opened his Sounds Of The Sixties with White Light White Heat.

  16. 76
    Waldo on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Marcello, Bun thinks that’s disharmonious. Go to the podium and confess. HE’LL tell you whay to say…

    DJP: “He’s right of course…Quite right…I’m inadequate…INADEQUATE!…”

    Continued in 1967.

  17. 77
    Waldo on 12 Aug 2008 #

    # 75 – Indeed, yes, Lino. “Self-absorbed” could safely be added to my list of why I detest Sedaka:

    “You’ve turned into the cheesiest twat I’ve ever see-en,
    So far up yourself, you queen!”

  18. 78
    DJ Punctum on 12 Aug 2008 #

    He turned you down, right?

  19. 79
    Waldo on 12 Aug 2008 #


  20. 80
    wichita lineman on 12 Aug 2008 #

    DJP, please remind us of Neil Sedaka’s TOTP appearance in the nineties. If I remember correctly – in the midst of the breakbeat-techno-pop era – wasn’t he introduced as a “very special guest”? In a horrid jumper, too? Or was I “on drugs”?

  21. 81
    Billy Smart on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Neil Sedaka performed ‘Miracle Song’ on the Top Of The Pops transmitted on the 7th of November 1991. Also in the studio that week were; The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu, Crowded House, K Klass, Belinda Carlisle and Control. The hosts were Mark Franklin and Elayne Smith (Who? This was the heyday of anonymous presenters)

    I can remember thinking that The JAMMS were one of the greatest things I’d ever seen on television that night. But more of them anon…

  22. 82
    DJ Punctum on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Yeah, the TOTP performance of “It’s Grim Up North” was extraordinary. That and “Rhythm Is A Mystery” are two of my favourite singles of their decade, if not of all time.

  23. 83
    SteveM on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Trying to remember if I ever saw IGUN performed in the studio or not. All I’m getting is the Jerusalem moment during the 40-11 rundown or whatever they filled a video clip with at that point. No memory of Franklin and Smith either.

  24. 84
    Mark G on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Yeah, Bill Drummond doing the ‘recitation’ live!

    The demo version had Pete Wylie doing it, and is worth tracking down.

  25. 85
    mike on 12 Aug 2008 #

    I remember both the JAMMS and the Sedaka performances, but also have no memory of Mark Franklin and Elayne Smith!

    Boney M’s TOTP performances were normally a campy old hoot, but they were comparatively sedate and dignified for “Rivers”. Or at least as dignified as you can reasonably be with half an ostrich stuck on top of your head…

  26. 86
    Mark G on 12 Aug 2008 #

    On one of those “TV’s most thingy moments” shows, they spoke about TOTP’s “Daddy Cool” moment, as they used live vocals without realising Bobby Farrel was not actually a singer, and indeed did his part bellowing like a wounded buffalo. Aparently it was a “playground moment” as us kids all talked about it.

    Actually, we were all laffing about his ‘orang-utang’ mad dancing, and didn’t notice his singing at the time.

  27. 87
    Pete Baran on 12 Aug 2008 #

    The JAMMS doing its Grim Up North on TOTP (lowish quality but you get the idea).

    Boney M Daddy Cool: where Bobby’s vocals are indeed a bit odd!

  28. 88
    Billy Smart on 12 Aug 2008 #

    That performance of Daddy Cool comes from the TOTP transmitted on the 6th of January 1977. Also in the studio that week were; Sheer Elegance, Tina Charles, Smokie, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Clodagh Rogers (!) and Johnny Mathis. The host was David Jensen.

    I’ve no idea what Clodagh was doing there, as she hadn’t had a hit since 1971. Still, I’m sure that her surprise appearance – performing ‘Save Me’- must have been welcomed by certain teenage Popular commentators.

  29. 89
    Mark G on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Well, she was there because “Save Me” was indeed a hit by then.

    Although Everyhit doesn’t seem to have it! Which seems wrong.

  30. 90
    DJ Punctum on 13 Aug 2008 #

    No, it definitely wasn’t a hit.

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