Bananarama was founded in London in September 1979 by Siobhan Fahey, Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin. Dallin and Woodward had been childhood friends in Bristol since the age of 4 and attended St. George’s School for Girls together. The trio were ardent followers of the punk rock and post-punk music scene during the late 1970s and early 1980s and often performed impromptu sets or backing vocals at gigs for such bands as The Monochrome Set, Iggy Pop, The Jam, Department S and The Nipple Erectors
In 1981, Bananarama’s members were living above the rehearsal room which was used by former Sex Pistols members Steve Jones and Paul Cook. With their help, Bananarama recorded their first demo “Aie a Mwana” (a cover of a song by Black Blood, sung in Swahili). The demo was heard at Demon Records, who offered the girls their first deal. The song was an underground hit and the girls were subsequently signed by Decca (later London Records). They remained on this label until 1993. Bananarama’s previous experience in a recording studio was as background vocalists on the Department S b-side “Solid Gold Easy Action”, a T. Rex cover in early 1981.
UK fashion magazine The Face featured an article on Bananarama after their first single, and it caught the attention of ex-Specials member Terry Hall, who invited them to collaborate with his new vocal group Fun Boy Three on the track “T’ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)”. In 1983, the song hit the Top 5 in the UK and gave the girls their first significant mainstream success. Fun Boy Three then guested on Bananarama’s song “Really Saying Something” later that year.
Debut and following success (1982 – 1988)
Bananarama experienced their greatest success during the period from 1982 to 1989. Their first three albums were primarily produced and co-written with Jolley & Swain. Their debut album, Deep Sea Skiving (1983) contained several hit singles — “Really Saying Something” (#5 UK) and “Shy Boy” (#4 UK) — and included a cover version of “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” (#5 UK). The band recorded a version of the Sex Pistols song “No Feelings” in late 1982 for the soundtrack of the British film Party Party.
The next album, Bananarama (1984) was a more serious and socially conscious effort. The songs tackled heavier topics: “Hot Line to Heaven” is a stand against the drugs-are-cool culture; and “Rough Justice” dealt with social apathy. The album contained the hit singles “Robert De Niro’s Waiting” and “Cruel Summer” (1983), which was included in the movie The Karate Kid. The trio also recorded the single “The Wild Life” for a 1984 American film of the same name. Their music videos from this period often contained a feminist or self-empowerment stance, such as learning how to box in order to scare off neighbourhood bullies.
Bananarama were one of the few female groups 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. They did not, however, participate in 2004′s Band Aid 20 twentieth anniversary version.
In 1986, some of the group’s production duties on the album True Confessions were taken up by Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman known as Stock Aitken Waterman (SAW). This move resulted in the international number one hit “Venus” (a remake of Shocking Blue’s number one hit from 1970). The dance-oriented beats on the song typified the SAW approach to pop production. Bananarama were said to have been put in contact with SAW after hearing and expressing a fondness for “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” by Dead or Alive. Also in 1986, Dallin and Woodward were featured as backing vocals 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. It was also the start of their use of male boy-toys as backup dancers which would become a hallmark of their videos. This visual iconography and Hi-NRG-influenced sound drew heavily from gay culture and accordingly attracted a gay fan-base.
In the wake of the success of “Venus”, all production and co-writing responsibilities for their next album, 1987′s Wow!, were transferred from Jolley & Swain to SAW. Consequently, the group’s sound also morphed from New Wave to dance-oriented, bubblegum Europop.
“I Heard a Rumour” was their strongest performing international hit from this album. In the US, the song was featured in the motion picture, Disorderlies, starring The Fat Boys and Ralph Bellamy. “Love in the First Degree” was one of their biggest UK hits, and the disco-oriented “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 a minor hit.
By the time the third single from Wow! was released in early 1988, Fahey — who had married Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart — left the group. She would later resurface as the front runner of the pop duo Shakespears Sister with Marcella Detroit.
The Jacquie O’ Years (1988 – 1991)
In Fahey’s absence, Jacquie O’Sullivan (formerly of the Shillelagh Sisters) joined the ranks. The single “I Want You Back” was re-recorded with O’Sullivan, as was the The Supremes cover “Nathan Jones” which was released as a single from their 1988 retrospective compilation Greatest Hits Collection. At the same time, Bananarama entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the all-female group who have the most chart entries in history, a record they still hold.
As a fund-raising charity single for Comic Relief in 1989, Bananarama recorded a cover of the Beatles’ song “Help!” with Lananeeneenoonoo, a mock girl group created by British female comedy duo French & Saunders with fellow comedienne 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 the group working 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. After the release of the fourth and final single from the album, however, O’Sullivan left the band to form the short-lived Slippery Feet.
The duo years (1991 – present)
In 1993, Dallin and Woodward returned as a duo with a new album called Please Yourself, which also marked the return of production duties back to the remaining members of SAW, Stock and Waterman. Ironically, though the lead single was titled “Movin’ On”, the album was a regression to their previous Eurodisco sound as illustrated by their cover of Andrea True Connection’s “More, More, More”. It was to be their last album on London Records.
Their next offering was 1995′s Ultra Violet (titled I Found Love in Japan) on a new label. The album and its two singles “Every Shade of Blue” and “Take Me To Your Heart” were only released in some European countries, North America, Japan and Australia, and not in their home country.
In 1998, Dallin and Woodward recorded the track “Waterloo” (a cover of the classic ABBA song) together with Fahey for the Eurovision celebration A Song For Eurotrash on Channel 4. In 2001, they released the album Exotica. Collaborators included Pascal Caubet and Dallin’s partner Bassey Walker. The album also included Latin and R&B influenced dance songs, as well as reinterpreted versions of their earlier hits. Only two promotional singles would be released from the album: one of those was a cover of George Michael’s ballad “Careless Whisper” (which was cowritten by Woodward’s partner — and Michael’s ex-Wham!-bandmate — Andrew Ridgeley.
As of 2002, Bananarama had sold 40 million albums worldwide. That year, they released another greatest hits album, The Very Best of Bananarama, in the UK. They also recorded the song “Love, Leave, Forget” for Sky TV’s show Is Harry on the Boat? as well as the song “U R My Baby” for a German disco project. That same year, Bananarama (with Siobhan Fahey as special guest) celebrated their 20th anniversary at the London Astoria in London. 3,000 people participated in this event.
With 80′s retro in vogue, Bananarama attempted a comeback in the British charts in 2005. Solasso remixed their early hit “Really Saying Something” and re-released it as a single. “Move in My Direction”, released in July, hit the charts at #14, making this song the group’s 24th Top 40 UK hit, and their first Top 20 hit since their 1991 single “Preacher Man”. Follow-up single “Look on the Floor (Hypnotic Tango)”, however, peaked at a relatively disappointing #26 and the Drama album flopped at #169. In June 2006 the group’s contract with A&G Productions expired and was not renewed.
Nevertheless, in the same year, the duo’s fortunes were reversed. Drama was released in the U.S. on May 16 and after a fourteen year absence, Bananarama was back on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play and the Hot Dance Airplay charts with an import version of “Look on the Floor (Hypnotic Tango)”. “Look on the Floor” became their first U.S. hit since 1992, when they scored with “Tripping on Your Love”. “Move In My Direction” was released as a second single in the U.S.
Summer 2006 saw the Warner Bros. Records release of The Twelve Inches of Bananarama, a compilation of twelve remixes on CD for the first time. The collection features the rare George Michael remix of “Tripping on Your Love”, among others.
On March 19, 2007, Bananarama’s first six studio albums were reissued by Rhino Records on CD with bonus material, including alternative versions, remixes and B-sides. On May 7, 2007 another best-of collection titled Greatest Hits and More More More was released by Warner Bros. Records.