Merry Christmas: The Monkees’s a cappella version of the traditional Spanish carol, “Riu Riu Chiu”

By on December 24, 2016

The Monkees only performed “Ríu Ríu Chíu” once before TV cameras, this beautiful a cappella version, on the cleverly-named “The Monkees’ Christmas Show,” during their show’s second season on the NBC network. Slotted as episode 15, it was the 47th episode of the series overall, airing on Christmas day, 1967.

The band had learned the song from their producer, Chip Douglas, who had performed it with his former band The Modern Folk Quartet — or MFQ, as they preferred to be known — on their 1964 album Changes. The version of the song is said to have been an abridged a capella arrangement, with just two verses and a slightly-extended refrain.

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The Monkees sing the same arrangement of the tune, which was arranged and adapted by Henry Diltz, Chip Douglas, Cyrus Faryar, and Jerry Yester. Douglas — who had more recently been a member of The Turtles, arranging their song “Happy Together” — had replaced the Monkees’s original producer Don Kirshner, who had been fired by the band. He would produce both the Headquarters and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. albums, along with the “Daydream Believer” single.

A studio version of “Ríu Ríu Chíu” was recorded in August 1967, but not initially released until it appeared on a rarities compilation CD, Missing Links, Volume 2. It has been released on many subsequent Monkees compilation albums and many Christmas and holiday compilations, too numerous to count, although the studio version from Missing Links II actually features just three of the Monkees, along with Douglas, who takes Davy Jones’s place.

In 2012, Peter Tork told the Chicago Sun-Times that “Ríu Ríu Chíu” was his favorite performance by the Monkees.

“Ríu Ríu Chíu” — often shortened to just “Ríu Chíu” — is sung at this time of year as a contemporary Christmas carol, although the melody of the folk tune, in the so-called villancico style, and probably dates back to the 16th century, or even earlier, originating from post-Renaissance Spain.

“Ríu Ríu Chíu” — which comes from a form of Latin American song and poetry — was performed and recited often during the Catholic mass, and often recited during holiday church services, which would be one reason it has become associated with Christmas, although it probably was not composed for the purpose of singing at this particular time of year.

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The title itself is said to represent a birdcall, possibly a kingfisher, while the verses describe the Christmas story of the birth of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

Here’s a rough translation of the lyrics:

River, roaring river, guard our homes in safety,
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.
Raging mad to bite her, there the wolf did steal,
But our God Almighty defended her with zeal.
Pure He wished to keep Her so She could never sin,
That first sin of man never touched the Virgin sainted.

River, roaring river…
He who’s now begotten is our mighty Monarch,
Christ, our Holy Father, in human flesh embodied.
He has brough atonement by being born so humble,
Though He is immortal, as mortal was created.

Here’ s “Christmas is my Time of Year”, the once-rare Monkees tune from 1976, sung by Dolenz/Jones/Tork (clips are from the 1967 Christmas special):

And, for those of you who might like to hear the Monkees singing more traditional holiday tuneage, here’s a “Christmas Medley,” from 1986:

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.