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"Rivers of Babylon" is a song written and recorded by Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton of The Melodians in 1972, and popularized mainly by the 1978 Boney M. cover version. The Melodians' original versions of the song appeared in the sound track to the 1972 movie The Harder They Come.


The song is based on the Biblical hymn Psalm 137, a hymn expressing the yearnings of the Jewish people in exile following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalemmarker in 586 BC. The namesake rivers of Babylonmarker are the Euphrates river, its tributaries, and the Chebar river. The song also has words from .

Boney M. version

Rivers of Babylon 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.

Different versions

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. 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.

Liz Mitchell had previously recorded Brown girl in the ring 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.

1988 Remix

"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.

In his 1980 "One Trick Pony" tour, Paul Simon covered the song in a medley with "Cecilia" and "Amazing Grace".

Other popular versions have been performed by the Dennis Brown, Snuff, Steve Earle, Daniel O'Donnell, Yabby You, Sweet Honey in the Rock and the Skatalites

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, Brazilianmarker-Paraguayanmarker singer Perla recorded a version of the song with lyrics in Portuguese entitled Rios da Babilônia, which reached great popularity in Brazilmarker and Latin America.

A Mexican group called "Banda Toro" covered the song in Spanish.

On 19 November 1978, a cover version with lyrics in Swedish, Kommer du ihåg Babylon? (Do you remember Babylon?), performed by Swedishmarker dansband Schytts entered the 1st place on Svensktoppen.

In 1992 Southern California ska band Sublime covered this song on their debut album 40 Oz. to Freedom.

Canadian Christian rock band The Kry covered this song on their 1996 album "What About Now" (although the song was titled "By the Rivers of Babylon").

In 1992 the Croatianmarker group Vatrogasci (Firefighters) made a parody of this song, translating it in croatian language (naming "Joj što volim") and making it in turbofolk arrangement.

Pop group Brotherhood of Man recorded a version for their Sing 20 Number One Hits album in 1980.

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.

Stephen Saxon performed a version of this song in a college classroom at Mars Hill College on Dec. 9th, 2008.

A Polish Christian rock group 2Tm2,3 performed an acoustic version of "Rivers of Babylon" based on the Boney M recording.

In popular culture

On September 30th, 1979, Rivers of Babylon was sung by an estimated crowd of 280,000 people attending the papal visit of John-Paul II in Galwaymarker near Limerickmarker, Ireland.

The song Rivers of Babylon features prominently in the 2009 Kazakh film Tulpan. It is also played as background music in the 2009 film "Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel"

Charts (1978 Boney M. version)

Chart Peak Position
Eurochart Hot 100 1
Norway Singles Chart 1
New Zealand Singles Chart 1
UK Singles Chart 1
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 30


Article on the origins of the lyrics[139404]


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