I've had dear friend and Austin mainstay DJ Bifford Michael contributing cameo pieces here at my Ultimate Gay Dance Club Music blog before. They were very well received. I always encourage him to offer his thoughts whenever he feels like it. His knowledge of music is phenomenal. I've been blessed for years knowing him and his generous musical offerings. My friends have also reaped his charitable gifts for the ears and dancing feet. This piece on 30 years of famed UK darlings Bananarama is incredibly in-depth and truly fabulous. A must read for any true confessing fan. Thanks Bifford!
It's hot in Texas so in the summer we stay inside. A lot. Sitting escaping the highs outside by reliving the highs of one of the biggest girl groups ever, Bananarama. The CD/DVD set from Rhino "30 Years Of Bananarama" is every gay boy from the 80s dream come true. This set collects the major hits on disc one and follows on disc two with ALL of the videos (with the exception of the reunion with Siobhan "Waterloo" from Eurovision and "Careless Whisper" from that same period.) Again, a dream come true.
I personally discovered Bananarama via a photo in a magazine (Smash Hits The UKs pop bible) and I knew I loved them from first look. When MTV started airing their early videos I was thrilled. The first tracks to make it over to the states had a sort of new wave/post punk/new wave feel about them. I felt part of a cool club nobody else got watching them. I proudly pinned my Bananarama pin to my Jansport backpack! My love for them grew seeing them as strong female role models. They never seemed to take any crap in their videos but their sound was girly and fun at the same time. They were my big love, to the point that I bought their debut album Deep Sea Skiving the day it came out with saved lunch money. I didn't eat the week it came out to afford it! I was lost in it all but sadly songs like "Really Sayin’ Somethin'” and "Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)" barely troubled most of our country despite being huge hits in their native UK. But then it happened... they broke America as part of that 80s UK invasion that brought us Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Eurythmics, and Culture Club. "Cruel Summer" smashed the US charts and made them household names! Their New York City shot video for the song becoming an instant classic!
Sadly the self-titled follow-up album saw the girls try for a more mature sound and outside of "Robert DeNiro's Waiting" failed to set the charts on fire leaving their US fans desperate for more hits. Songs about drug abuse ("Hotline To Heaven") and teen violence ("Rough Justice") while pop ready sound wise were lyrically unappealing to the masses. What did the girls do? It seems they went down the club as you would when things go slightly wrong as about this time. Dead Or Alive's Stock Aitken Waterman (SAW) produced track "You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)" was killing it on the dancefloors of England. It was then the girls decided they wanted to head in a clubby direction. Best idea ever perhaps!
For the True Confessions album it was a dance-a-thon...under-rated first single "Do Not Disturb" set the stage for what was to come alerting club-goers to their new sound. Next move, a cover of the rock classic "Venus," the rest as they say is history. It flew to the US number one spot accompanied by one of the most camp videos ever. The girls were now reimagined as glam girls and the gays, in particular, loved it. The club hits and dazzling stylish videos poured on with album mid-tempo track "More Than Physical" remixed into a Hi-NRG stomper, and heart-breaking ballad "A Trick Of The Night" being reimagined in a remix that merged it with the hit by Princess "Say I’m Your Number One" becoming one of the very earliest of mash-ups. These songs kept me and my crew glued to the dancefloors!
Not seeing any reason to change formula the girls stayed with Stock Aitken Waterman for album number four for the classic Wow. Straight out of the box there was another huge US hit with "I Heard A Rumour" flying to the tops of the pop charts while its remix, a sound-a-like sister to all the hot Miami sounding club tracks of the moment, smashed it on the dance charts. The album also dropped classic "Love In The First Degree" with it's women in prison video full of the now usual half-naked men we had come to expect from their videos! After "I Can’t Help It" there was a bit of a change in the air.
BANANARAMA AT THIER BEST!
Original member Siobhan left Keren and Sara on their own and she went on to form the successful Shakespear's Sister. The girls promptly regrouped and recruited new Banana, Jacquie. From this moment on they started to make my all-time favourite tracks starting with a re-recording of Wow album cut "I Want You Back" with the new member. That led to one of their most fun videos ever with it's Supremes homages (down to black face!?!), Supremes (Non-Diana Ross era) cover version "Nathan Jones" came next followed by stand-alone Comedy Relief charity single (with Jennifer "AbFab" Saunders no less) "Help!" (a cover version of The Beatles classic.) The video and single were comic gold and still can bring about big laughs! This period ended with a Greatest Hits CD and it's new track "Love Truth And Honesty" which saw them looking fierce yet again in the video while still showcasing their playfulness and humour.
The next album saw them at odds with being puppets to the sound of Stock Aitken Waterman (at this point it seemed ALL of the UK was working with the producers and their priorities were new signings soap stars Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan.) As The 80s ended the Bananas dropped "Only Your Love." A massive sound departure as it sampled hot indie rock darlings The Stone Roses hit "Fools Gold," it took the girls into a more respected place than they had ever been. The reviews for the album Pop Life were quite good admiring the ladies for maturing. A video for the song saw them though in familiar territory riding a train with a group of oiled up muscle boys. Pop indie dance tracks like "Preacher Man" and a cover of The Doobie Brother's "Long Train Running" followed. This period closed with the very cool "Tripping On Your Love." All were pop chart and club hits and featured stylish and stunning videos.
As the 90s began another shift happened. Jacquie left feeling closed off by the two original members and longtime friends Keren and Sara. Rather than give into the record label's requests for yet another replacement they went it their own as a duo and produced the ABBA-esque album Please Yourself. Its first single was the very stylish Euro-dancer "Movin’ On." The song was a hit and is still beloved by some in the circuit scene today. The album also spun off other Euro-pop gems like "Last Thing On My Mind" and a cover of Andrea True Connection's "More More More."
Mid-90s saw more of the European pop sound continue with Ultra Violet. F'r me as a fan even this wasn’t the girls best period, while "Every Shade Of Blue" was a deserved US dance hit and even knocked at the pop charts the girls seemed tired and follow-up "Take Me To Your Heart" was the weakest ever single release. Both of these tracks were not even released in England!?!
VINTAGE GEMS BY THE GIRLS!
A quick one-off with original member Siobhan for Eurovision cover of Abba's "Waterloo" while a lot of fun still didn't do anything. The next album Exotica was a total flop with only one single a very poor cover of Wham!'s "Careless Whisper." It all appeared over as the millennium arrived. But never count them out.
2005 saw a remix of "Really Sayin' Somethin'" hit the chart by the artist Solasso and suddenly there was noise about a new CD! Before the year was out "Move In My Direction" with it's Las Vegas filmed video was in the UK Top 20. The girls first time there since "Preacher Man" in 1991! In America the dance mixes stormed the club charts. By the time comeback album Drama was released the follow-up "Look On The Floor (Hypnotic Tango)" was topping the dance charts here and was a UK singles chart hit as well. The video reestablished that they were still the fierce sexy girls we'd loved.
Most recently came the CD Viva which scored more hits for them including "Love Comes" and "Love Don't Live Here" as well as having a Christmas hit a couple years back "Baby, It's Christmas." These girls aren't done.
Relive ALL the glamour, the humour, the fun with Rhino's "30 Years Of Bananarama." You'll be glad you did. While the CD is an import the DVD is Region Zero and will play on all US systems!