430. ‘Mary’s Boy Child / Oh My Lord’, by Boney M

One of this blog’s main drawbacks rears its head once again: Christmas songs in July. Oh well… Boney M’s 2nd discalypso hymn of the year. Ready?

Mary’s Boy Child / Oh My Lord, by Boney M (their 2nd of two #1s)

4 weeks, from 3rd – 31st December 1978

It’s a wonder why more acts don’t do this: rush out a Christmas single while at the peak of their popularity. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because the results might sound a bit like this… The steel drums are back, the insistent, steady pace of ‘Rivers of Babylon’ remains. It could be the same, karaoke-ish backing track.

But we do get off to a positive start when I realise that ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ / ‘Oh My Lord’ is not the double ‘A’-side I’d first feared; but a medley. Our first (official) chart-topping medley! (*Edit* Since Winnie Atwell.) And thank goodness because, for my money, the ‘Oh My Lord’ section – newly written by Boney M’s founder Frank Farian – is the best thing about this song. Oh my Lord, When in the crib they found him, Oh my Lord, A golden halo around him… as a backing singer harmonises. It’s nice.

We’ve heard the main bit of song atop the charts before, of course, way back in 1957. Harry Belafonte’s treatment of it was a bit more hushed and reverential. Not that Boney M sound sacrilegious or anything – they do sound genuinely Christian – but it’s hard to sound too pious with that rinky-dink Eurodisco backing. One thing that does work is the way that the band’s Caribbean accents add a slight gospel flavour to the vocals.

One thing that seems to be a very late-seventies phenomenon is the length of our chart-topping singles. This must be the era of the longest average #1. The 7” of this ditty runs to close on six minutes, while the 12” keeps things running for another minute or so. Why, oh why? Pop songs rarely need to run over 3.5 minutes, I’d say, yet disco seemed to encourage indulgence.

Again, as the song plods on and the minutes pass, my mind turns to wondering why this, and ‘Rivers of Babylon’, gave Boney M their pair of chart-toppers, and not ‘Rasputin’, ‘Daddy Cool’, ‘Sunny’, even ‘Ma Baker’… Rare is it, I suppose, for an artist to be properly represented by their chart positions. Anyway, this was the fourth festive themed Christmas #1 of the 1970s – after Slade, Mud and Johnny Mathis – making it officially the Christmassiest decade ever. It’ll be six years until the next one. But, on the plus side, we are about to enter 1979, and are on the cusp of some all-time great chart-topping singles. Bring it on!

9 thoughts on “430. ‘Mary’s Boy Child / Oh My Lord’, by Boney M

  1. I agree about the Oh My Lord bit being the sweet spot of the record, but as I’ve said before Harry Belafonte was popular in our house when I was a kid (so I love my Birth Day chart-topper song), and the last current pop album mum loved enough to buy was Nightlife To Venus for her 40th birthday party, Boney M were universally popular across age groups, kids to grandparents, which is why the sales were so big (another million seller, the first of a run coming up as albums and singles hit all-time highs).

    While some Xmas perennials cause an “Oh God, not again!” reaction from me, this one never does – it’s never over-played, but it’s usually hanging around the festive period in reasonable doses. Sadly for Boney M it was all downhill from here in the fickle world of pop, 18 more months and it was all over, bar the package tour circuit (I did get to see one version – the one with Marcia Barrett singing). I played Rasputin to my 4-year-old great-nephew t’other day but he prefers Astronaut In The Ocean 🙂

    1. Have you ever heard Boney M’s ‘Jingle Bells’…? It’s still fairly plodding, but actually quite effective in teaching non-English speaking kids the words! (English teacher hat on here)

      1. No never had that pleasure! But I wholeheartedly approve of using pop music to teach a foreign language, yay! I’m trying to learn Spanish and enjoy singing along to the fabulous Chilean act Javiera Mena and her Otra Era. But I need the lyrics written in front of me to have a decent stab at it 🙂 I’d like to work my way up to The Ketchup Song…..! 🙂

  2. I think Boney M fall into that category of groups some of us did not like at the time because they were so popular at their peak that there was no getting away from them, but listenng to the hits again all those years later, we realise there was a certain charm about them – and I had never appreciated that this particular record was quite as long in playing time as that. Going back to ‘Rasputin’, I remember that in my first DJ residency season circa 1980, it had to be a very bad night indeed at the club if that particular 7in nugget didn’t fill the dance floor in seconds flat.

    1. ‘Rasputin’ though, and ‘Daddy Cool’ too, are head and shoulders above this plodding single – songs that basically frog-march you to the dancefloor (much like our next #1..) It is a shame they weren’t better represented by their chart-topping singles.

  3. Pingback: 434. ‘Tragedy’, by The Bee Gees – The UK Number Ones Blog

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