"Rivers Of Babylon" is a popular song, written and recorded by Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton of The Melodians in 1972. It is based on the Biblical hymn Psalm 137, a hymn expressing the yearnings of the Jewish people in exile following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The rivers of Babylon are the Euphrates river, its tributaries, and the Chebar river. The song also has words from Psalm 19:14.
The Melodians' original versions of the song appeared in the sound track to the 1972 movie The Harder They Come. It was covered in 1978 by German disco band Boney M, with a version that was released as a single. Boney M.'s release stayed at the #1 position in the UK for five weeks and was also the group's only significant US chart entry, peaking at #30 in the Pop charts. In the UK Boney M. sold more than 1,985,000 copies of the song, making the single officially 3x platinum and one of the all-time best-selling singles in the UK. The song was the first single from the band's equally successful 1978 album Nightflight to Venus. Some controversy arose when the first single pressings only credited Frank Farian and Reyam (aka Hans-Jörg Mayer) of Boney M; after an agreement with Dowe and McNaughton, these two were also credited on later pressings.
Boney M. performed an early mix of the song in a German TV-show singing "How can we sing King Alpha's song" although it was changed to "the Lord's song" (as in the biblical quote) in the released versions. King Alpha refers to Haile Selassie. Selassie's wife Menen Asfaw is known as Queen Omega aka The Queen.
Just as in the case of "Ma Baker
", "Rivers of Babylon" established what was to become a habit of Boney M. singles, namely that the original pressings featured an early version that was soon replaced by a more widely available mix. The initial single mix of "Rivers of Babylon" is most notable for lead singer Liz Mitchell
's ad-libs (Daughters of Babylon, you got to sing a song, sing a song of love, yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
) between the two verses. On subsequent single pressings, only the 'yeah's were maintained. The full ad-libs however re-emerged in the US only 12" version. The single mix differs from the album version by having Liz Mitchell singing the verse "Let the words of our mouth ...
" with Frank Farian
, on the LP, Farian sings this as a solo part; it is also slightly shorter, the instrumental passage before the last "humming" part is edited out, and the fade out is a little longer ("Oooooh of the power... yeah yeah yeah yeah" can only be heard in the single mix).
Brown Girl in the Ring
The single's B-side "Brown Girl in the Ring" was a traditional Caribbean nursery rhyme. When "Rivers of Babylon" had slipped to #20 in the UK charts, radio stations suddenly flipped the single, seeing "Brown Girl in the Ring" going all the way to #3 and becoming a hit in its own right. Liz Mitchell had previously recorded the song in 1975 with the group Malcolm's Locks her ex-boy friend Malcolm Magaron as the lead singer, and arranger Peter Herbolzheimer accused Frank Farian for stealing his arrangement for the song
The court case ran for more than 20 years in Germany. The early single pressing features the full-length 4:18 version with a chorus bit being edited out. The single mix is also slightly different from the album version which features steel drums on the outro riff of the song, the single mix doesn't.
"Rivers of Babylon" / "Mary's Boy Child / Oh My Lord"
is a 1988 remix
single by German band Boney M.
, issued to launch the group's reunion, having been split since their 10th anniversary, 1986. The double-A-side single contained new mixes of the band's two very most successful single releases ever. Although their remix album
sold well, the single failed to chart.
Other cover versions
Singer Bruce Low covered the song in German as "Die Legende von Babylon" (1978), using an alternate mix of Boney M.'s original backing track.
Other popular versions have been performed by the Dennis Brown, Sublime, Snuff, Steve Earle, Daniel O'Donnell, Yabby You and Sweet Honey in the Rock.
NFTY, the youth group of the Union for Reform Judaism, uses the song in its songbook and sometimes even in youth group services.
The Unitarian Universalist Association has included the song in their supplemental hymnal Singing the Journey (Hymn #1042)
In 1978, Brazilian-Paraguayan singer Perla recorded a version of the song with lyrics in Portuguese entitled Rios da Babilônia, which reached great popularity in Brazil and Latin America.
On 19 November 1978, a cover version with lyrics in Swedish, Kommer du ihåg Babylon? (Do you remember Babylon?), performed by Swedish dansband Schytts entered the 1st place on Svensktoppen.
In 1992 Southern California rock band Sublime covered this song on their debut album 40 Oz. to Freedom.
In 1992 the Croatian group Vatrogasci (Firefighters) made a parody of this song, translating it in croatian language (naming "Joj što volim") and making it in turbofolk arrangement.
The Neville Brothers has a version of the song on their Walkin' in the Shadow of Life CD released on October 19, 2004 on the Chordant label.
Sinéad O'Connor also recorded it for her 2007 album, Theology.
Don McLean and Linda Ronstadt also both recorded versions of this song.
A Polish Christian rock group 2Tm2,3 performed an acoustic version of "Rivers of Babylon" based on the Boney M recording.
On June 24, 1992, ska/punk band Sublime opened at the record release party for sister band No Doubt, with "Rivers of Babylon" as one of their performances. In 1999, they released the live recording of the song on the bonus version of their self-titled album.
Article on the origins of the lyrics