Song of the day – 339: Boney M (and a musing on youth)
This one might blindside you a little, the third in the series for Vincent Vanoli. I have to admit his illustration (above) blindsided me.
There was no getting away from Boney M in 1978. This song was originally the B-side of ‘Rivers Of Babylon’, which was an unbelievably massive hit in the UK: when it finally slipped from Number One, the record company flipped it over and – lo! – straight back to Number One it went. It was also, undoubtedly, the song my peer group hated most: its asinine nursery rhyme chorus, the unrelenting simple hook that was ground unmercifully into heads everywhere we went. Every fucking disco. Every fucking radio station. Everywhere. This music seemed so unreal, so glitzy and mainstream and safe when compared to the music we chose to listen to (punk, punk as pop, roughly). And yet this Song of the Day is my choice, not Vincent’s. So what’s changed? An impromptu ring-dance between Charlotte, Isaac and Daniel that’s taking place as I type these words might help explain some of the change of attitude. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying music designed for dancing, not rooted in the tribal adventures of youth. The reason I hated this music then is the reason I love it now: insidious, relentless, upbeat, unchallenging … with great headdresses (see video below). Why like Neil Diamond and not this?
But in reality, I’ve always loved pop music. Ramones, ABBA, Donna Summer, Blondie, Grease, Boney M … this was the music I was weaned on. Time is a great healer: now it’s comforting to listen to everything I was exposed to back then – willingly and unwillingly, it doesn’t appear to make a difference. (The reason I still despise a lot of prog rock now is quite possibly because I wasn’t exposed enough to it back then.) What matters is that this music was always with me during my late teens: it evokes memories, places, half-flashes of forgotten faces.
It was 1978. There were two extremes of pop: Boney M and The Residents. One was unforgivable, the other inspired a conceptual musical journey that took place on tape recorders, detuned guitar, riffed packs of cards, piano and recorder. One was mostly unheard, the other inspired religious commentators on Radio 4 to comment how pleasing it was to see verses from the Bible (‘Rivers Of Babylon’ = Psalm 137) at the top of the pop charts.
The lyrics “More water, more water! Where can I go to quench my thirst?” (as illustrated above) have since been amended to “All dried up, I cannot do my laundry” after an exchange of emails.
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