Bananarama are an English female pop music vocal group formed in London in 1981 by friends Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey and Keren Woodward. Their success on both pop and dance charts saw them listed in the Guinness World Records as the all-female group with the most chart entries in the world. Between 1982 and 2009, they had 28 singles reach the Top 50 of the UK Singles Chart.
The group’s 10 UK Top 10 hits include “It Ain’t What You Do…” (1982), “Really Saying Something” (1982), “Shy Boy” (1982), “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” (1983), “Cruel Summer” (1983), “Robert De Niro’s Waiting…” (1984), “Venus” (1986) and “Love in the First Degree” (1987). In 1986, they had a U.S. number one with another of their UK Top 10 hits, a cover of “Venus“. In total, they had 11 singles reach the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 (1983–88), including two in the Top 10, with “Cruel Summer” (1984) and “I Heard a Rumour” (1987). They are associated with the MTV-driven Second British Invasion of the US. The group featured on the 1984 Band Aid single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?“. They topped the Australian ARIA albums chart in June 1988 with Wow! (1987), and earned Brit Award nominations for Best British Single for “Love in the First Degree”, and Best Music Video for their 1988 hit cover of The Supremes single “Nathan Jones“.
Fahey left the group in 1988 and formed Shakespears Sister, best known for the UK number one “Stay” (1992). She was replaced by Jacquie O’Sullivan. This line-up had UK top five hits with “I Want You Back” (1988) and The Beatles track “Help!” (1989), recorded with comedy duo French and Saunders for the charity Comic Relief. In 1989 they embarked on their first world tour.
After O’Sullivan’s 1991 departure, Dallin and Woodward continued Bananarama as a duo, with hits including “Movin’ On” (1992), “More, More, More” (1993) and “Move in My Direction” (2005). Fahey rejoined Bananarama in 2017 and they toured the UK in November/December 2017 and North America in February 2018. They performed their final dates as a trio in August 2018.
Bananarama formed in London September 1981 when teenagers and childhood friends Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward met Siobhan Fahey. Dallin and Fahey were studying journalism at the London College of Fashion (University of Arts) and Woodward was working at the BBC in Portland Place. Dallin and Woodward were living at the YWCA and were about to be made homeless until Paul Cook, who they had become fast friends with after meeting at a club, offered them a place to live above the former Sex Pistols rehearsal room in Denmark Street, Charing Cross.
The trio were ardent followers of the punk rock and post-punk music scenes during the late 1970s and early 1980s. They often performed impromptu sets or backing vocals at gigs for such bands as The Monochrome Set, Iggy Pop, Department S, The Nipple Erectors, and The Jam.
Bananarama recorded their first demo, “Aie a Mwana“, a cover of a song by , sung in Swahili. The demo was heard at Demon Records, who consequently offered Bananarama their first deal. The song was an underground hit (UK #92) and Bananarama were signed by Decca (later London Records) and remained on the label until 1993. UK fashion magazine The Face featured an article on Bananarama after the release of their first single. This caught the attention of ex-Specials member Terry Hall, who invited them to collaborate with his new vocal group Fun Boy Three on their album and the single “It Ain’t What You Do, It’s The Way That You Do It”. In 1982, the song hit the Top 5 in the UK and gave Bananarama their first significant mainstream success. Fun Boy Three then guested on Bananarama’s single, “Really Saying Something“, later that year.
Bananarama experienced their greatest success during the period 1982 to 1989, with their first three albums primarily produced and co-written with Jolley & Swain. Their debut album, Deep Sea Skiving (UK #7, US #63) (1983) contained several hit singles — “Really Saying Something” (UK #5) and “Shy Boy” (UK #4) — and included a cover version of “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” (UK #5). The band recorded a version of the Sex Pistols’ song “No Feelings” in late 1982 for the soundtrack of the British teen-comedy film, Party Party.
During 1982 and 1983, Bananarama did several promotional US press tours and TV appearances on American Bandstand and Solid Gold. Success in the United States came in 1984 with a Top Ten hit “Cruel Summer“.
Their second album, Bananarama (UK #16, US #30) (1984) was a more socially conscious effort. The group wanted to be taken more seriously, so wrote songs that focused on heavier topics: “Hotline To Heaven” (UK#58) is a stand against the drugs-are-cool culture; and “Rough Justice” (UK#23) deals with social apathy. The album contained the hit singles, “Robert De Niro’s Waiting…,” (UK#3) and their first US Top 10 hit, “Cruel Summer” (UK#8, US#9) (1983), which was included in the film The Karate Kid. The trio also recorded the single, “The Wild Life” (US#70) for a 1984 American film of the same name.
Bananarama featured on the Band Aid single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” and were the only artists to appear on both the original 1984 Band Aid and the 1989 Band Aid II versions (though Fahey only appeared on the 1984 version).
1985 would be a quiet transitional year for Bananarama. London Records’ release of “Do Not Disturb” (UK #31) would keep the girls’ public profile alive.
1986 saw the release of their third album, True Confessions (UK #46, US #15) on which some production duties were taken up by Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Watermanknown as Stock Aitken Waterman (SAW). The move resulted in the international number one hit, “Venus“, (a remake of Shocking Blue‘s song from 1969, which had been a number 1 hit in 1970). The dance-oriented beats on the song typified the SAW approach to pop production. Bananarama had tracked the producers down after hearing “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” by Dead or Alive. Also in 1986, Dallin and Woodward were featured as backing vocalists on two songs on Family Album, produced by John Lydon.
The music video for “Venus” received heavy airplay on MTV in the United States. It featured the group in various costumes including a devil, a French temptress, a vampire and a Greek goddess. The video marked a pivotal shift towards a more glamorous and sexual image, which contrasted with the tomboyish style of their earlier work.
Follow-up singles “More Than Physical” (UK #41) and “A Trick of the Night” (UK #32) were less successful, possibly due to having less promotion. Woodward was pregnant with her son Thomas and unable to tour or physically promote the parent album or its subsequent singles.
During a press tour in New York City, the group also recorded a song “Riskin’ a Romance” featured in the film The Secret of My Success (1987). The track was notable because it featured Fahey taking lead vocals, and Daryl Hall was the producer. At some point during this trip, the group also re-recorded the vocals for their next UK release “More Than Physical” and “A Trick of the Night”.
In the wake of the success of “Venus,” Bananarama began work on the platinum selling album Wow!. The group’s sound graduated towards dance-orientated Europop. Wow!topped the Australian ARIA album charts for one week in June 1988.
“I Heard a Rumour” (UK #14, US #4) was their strongest performing international hit from this album. “Love in the First Degree” (UK #3) was one of their biggest UK hits, and “I Can’t Help It” (which boasted a semi-controversial video featuring the group in a milk bath filled with fruit and half-naked men) was also a hit (UK #20).
After the third single from Wow! was released in early 1988, Fahey — who had married Eurythmics‘ Dave Stewart — left the group as she had become disillusioned with the direction the band was taking. Her last performance as a member of the group was at the Brit Awards in February 1988, performing “Love in the First Degree”. She would later resurface in the BRIT Award-winning pop duo Shakespears Sister with Marcella Detroit.
After Fahey’s exit, Jacquie O’Sullivan (formerly of the Shillelagh Sisters) joined the group in March 1988. The single “I Want You Back” (UK #5) was re-recorded with O’Sullivan, as was The Supremes cover “Nathan Jones” (UK #15). “Love, Truth and Honesty” (UK #23) was released as a single from their 1988 retrospective compilation, Greatest Hits Collection (UK #3). At the same time, Bananarama entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the all-female group who have the most UK chart entries in history, a record they still hold.
As a fundraising charity single for Comic Relief in 1989, Bananarama recorded a cover of The Beatles‘ song “Help!” with Lananeeneenoonoo (UK #3), a mock girl-group created by British female comedy duo French and Saunders, with fellow comedian Kathy Burke. 1989 also saw the band’s first world tour, which hit North America, East Asia and the UK.
Bananarama’s 1991 album, Pop Life saw Dallin and Woodward’s songwriting collaboration with their friend youth. They worked with a variety of producers including Youth, Shep Pettibone, and Steve Jolley, of Jolley & Swain. They also incorporated a wider range of musical genres including reggae, flamenco guitar, and acid house and received some of the strongest and most positive reviews of their career. Singles “Only Your Love” (UK #27), “Preacher Man” (UK #20), the Doobie Brothers‘ cover of “Long Train Running” (UK #30) and “Tripping on Your Love” (UK #76), were the final releases with O’Sullivan.