Bananarama: pop in the first degree


Last week Bananarama were celebrated with deluxe reissues of their first six albums, making it a perfect moment to look back over one of the eighties’ most prolific acts, says Russell Iliffe.

Inspired by the ethos of the punk movement, Sara Dallin, Keren Woodward and Siobhan Fahey released their debut single Aie a Mwana in 1981. Though it didn’t make the top 75, they caught the eye of Fun Boy Three’s Terry Hall and the two acts went on to collaborate on It Ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It) and Really Saying Something, both becoming top five hits in 1982.

Sure enough, they soon had top five successes on their own with Shy Boy and a cover of Steam’s Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye, while their debut album Deep Sea Skiving made the top ten.

However it was the single Cruel Summer, written by the trio alongside producers Steve Jolley and Tony Swain, which gave them their US breakthrough in 1983. The poptastic UK top ten hit went on to reach number nine in the States the following year after being featured in blockbuster movie The Karate Kid.

The ‘Nanas also enjoyed their first UK top three disc in 1984 with Robert De Niro’s Waiting, but further singles lifted from their sophomore self-titled album failed to rocket up the charts. The public seemed puzzled by Bananarama’s more complex lyrical approach on singles like Rough Justice.

By the mid-eighties the music scene was changing. American female artists such as Madonna, Whitney Houston and Cyndi Lauper were enjoying massive success with slicker more sophisticated pop.  It was around then that the songwriting/production powerhouse of Stock Aitken Waterman (SAW) came to the rescue, providing Bananarama with the record that would turn their career around.

Impressed by SAW’s work on Dead or Alive’s You Spin Me Round (Like a Record), Bananarama approached the trio’s PWL record label to produce a cover of Shocking Blue’s seventies hit Venus.  The hi-NRG stomper not only returned the trio to the UK top ten in 1986 but became a global smash giving them a number one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100.

Unsurprisingly their next album, 1987’s Wow!, was co-written with and produced by SAW, while the group’s image became increasingly more glamorous.  The set delivered a stack of hits including I Heard a Rumour and Love in the First Degree, which reached number three in the UK. It was famously performed at the following year’s BRIT awards with the girls surrounded by an army of scantily clad male dancers.

When Siobhan left in 1988 to form Shakespears Sister, she was replaced by Jacquie O’Sullivan and the band enjoyed chart appearances including a successful cover of The Beatles’ Help! and the brilliant but underrated Love, Truth and Honesty.

And while 1993 saw Sara and Keren relaunch the act as a duo with top 40 sightings in the nineties and beyond, it is because of all those eighties classics that Bananarama are truly among Britain’s golden girls of pop.

Deep Sea Skiving, Bananarama, True Confessions, Wow!, Pop Life and Please Yourself are now available as deluxe edition 2CD+DVD boxsets on Edsel Records.

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