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Bananarama embodied so much of the bespangled excess of the '80s that they came to define at least a portion of the decade. At the outset of their career, the trio of Keren Woodward, Sarah Dallin, and Siobhan Fahey were post-punk renegades redefining the girl group sound for the new wave era. Early on, they received an assist from Terry Hall -- the lanky, laconic Specials singer enlisted the trio as vocal support for "It Ain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It)" and "Really Saying Something," early hits for his group Fun Boy Three. Both covers went into the British Top Ten in 1982, laying the groundwork for Bananarama's own smash "Shy Boy." Many of their new wave peers couldn't crack the American market -- the best they could manage was being a sensation on MTV -- but the trio cultivated a strong following in U.S. dance clubs, which not only helped their single "Cruel Summer" become a Top Ten hit in 1984, it laid the groundwork for their international blockbuster "Venus" in 1986. "Venus" strengthened Bananarama's dance connections, a reinforcement that not only gave them another huge worldwide hit in 1987 with "I Heard a Rumour," but it kept the group alive over the decades. Fahey left the group in 1988, but Woodward and Dallin persevered, racking up an enormous number of hits not only in the U.K. but around the globe, earning a certification from the Guinness Book of World Records as the most successful female band worldwide.
The genesis of Bananarama lies in the relationship between Keren Woodward and Sarah Dallin, who were friends since childhood. While studying journalism at the London College of Fashion, Dallin met Siobhan Fahey. All three women were involved in London's punk and new wave scene, which is how Woodward and Dallin befriended Paul Cook, the drummer for the Sex Pistols. Cook produced a demo for Woodward, Dallin, and Fahey -- a cover Black Blood's "Aie a Mwana," which the indie Demon Records released as a single. "Aie a Mwana" became an indie hit, helping Bananarama land a deal at Decca while also earning the attention of Terry Hall, the former lead singer for the Specials, who had just formed Fun Boy Three.
Hall had Bananarama guest on "It Ain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It)," the second single by Fun Boy Three. "It Ain't What You Do" turned into a massive U.K. hit in 1982, peaking at number four in the charts and turning Bananarama into stars. "Really Saying Something" -- a single that flipped the credit of "It Ain't What You Do," being billed to Bananarama featuring Fun Boy Three -- quickly followed in 1982, reaching number five on the U.K. charts. "Shy Boy" gave the group another Top Ten hit in the U.K., providing an anchor for their 1983 debut, Deep Sea Skiving. The album produced another hit single in the form of a cover of Steam's "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye."
Though Deep Sea Skiving and its accompanying singles performed well in Australia and Europe, Bananarama were still an underground act in America, receiving play on MTV and doing well on the dance charts, but not cracking pop radio. It was 1984's Bananarama that broke the trio in the United States. "Cruel Summer" was the vehicle for their Stateside stardom. "Robert DeNiro's Waiting" arrived first, getting significant play on MTV but going no further than 95 on Billboard -- in Britain, it peaked at number three, their best position to date -- but "Cruel Summer" was timed for a summer release in 1984, nearly a year after the song reached number eight in the U.K. "Cruel Summer" came close to replicating that success in the U.S., reaching number nine. At the end of the year, Bananarama appeared on Band Aid's charity single, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" "Do Not Disturb" gave the trio a modest hit in 1985, but they returned in 1986 with their third album, True Confessions. Its lead single, a Stock, Aitken & Waterman-produced cover of Shocking Blue's 1969 hit "Venus," gave Bananarama their first number one hit in the U.S.; it also topped Billboard's Dance chart, as well as charts in Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, while reaching eight in the U.K. None of the other singles from True Confessions came close to replicating that success, but 1987's Wow! gave Bananarama another international smash in the form of "I Heard a Rumour." "Love in the First Degree" also became a Top Ten hit in the U.K., earning a silver certification.
Shortly after the release of Wow!, Fahey left Bananarama. Her last appearance with the group was at the February 1988 Brit Awards; she went on to form Shakespear's Sister with Marcella Detroit. Woodward and Dallin were joined by Jacquie O'Sullivan, who debuted with the group on a re-recorded version of "I Want You Back," which was initially featured on Wow!; this version reached number five in the U.K. Greatest Hits Collection arrived in 1988, accompanied by the new single "Love, Truth and Honesty," which peaked at number 23. By reaching the charts, "Love, Truth and Honesty" helped Bananarama become the female group with the most entries in the U.K. charts. During 1989, the trio supported the comedy troupe Lananeeneenoonoo on a cover of the Beatles' "Help!" which was cut for Comic Relief; it was a number three hit in the U.K.
Pop Life, Bananarama's first album with O'Sullivan, contained several collaborations with Youth, along with productions by Stock, Aitken & Waterman. The album gave them three modest hits in the U.K.: "Only Your Love," "Preacher Man," and "Long Train Running." O'Sullivan left the group after its release, and Dallin and Woodward soldiered on, making their debut as a duo with Please Yourself. The 1993 album added two hits to the group's canon: "Movin' On" and "More, More, More," which both peaked at 24.
Bananarama entered a fallow period in the mid-'90s. Their next album, I Found Love, only saw release in Japan; it appeared under the title Ultra Violet in North America, Europe, and Australia, but conspicuously never was released in the United Kingdom. The French label M6 Interactions released Exotica in 2001, but the album didn't appear anywhere else. During this time, Bananarama kept popping up on television in the U.K., along with playing the occasional show, but they didn't launch a proper comeback until 2005, when Drama became their first album to be released in the U.K. since 1993. "Move in My Direction," the first single from the album, peaked at 14, with "Look on the Floor (Hypnotic Tango)" reaching 26. Bananarama returned with Viva in 2009, which had the modest hit "Love Comes." The Now or Never EP appeared in 2012.
Fahey rejoined Bananarama for a reunion tour in 2017; this was documented on a live album and home video released in July 2018. Fahey left the group before Bananarama recorded In Stereo, the duo's first full-length album in a decade.
In Stereo was released in April 2019. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
- London, England
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