Never Had a #1… Bananarama

The final part of this look at acts who’ve never made top spot in the UK… and it’s the biggest girl group of the eighties. Bananarama managed ten Top 10 hits between 1982 and 1989, but never got beyond #3 (in fact, none of the other acts I’ve featured this week – Bob Marley and Tina Turner – charted higher than #3 either…)

Interestingly, Bananarama have a US chart-topper to their name – ‘Venus’, in 1986, which only made #8 in the UK. It doesn’t feature on this list, which kicks off with their debut smash…

‘It Ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)’ – Fun Boy Three and Bananarama – #4 in 1982

To be honest, Bananarama are almost reduced to backing vocalists on this reimagining of an old jazz standard, that had been recorded by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald back in the thirties. But it’s quite a modern way of introducing potential new stars, getting them to feature on a more established act’s song. Fun Boy Three hadn’t been around long either, but they were three ex-members of The Specials, so had the potential to take this high in the charts. The trick worked, and soon Bananarama were having hits of their own…

Shy Boy – #4 in 1982

Starting with this… It’s another throwback, with some classic girl-group shoop shoops… Though the lyrics are slightly spicier than your average Shirelles tune: He gives me lovin’ like nobody else, I love the way he turns me on… He used to be a shy boy, until they made him their boy. He is a shy boy no longer. I love this one: an underlooked eighties pop classic. There’s also a very modern, feisty, girl-group energy to the video.

Robert De Niro’s Waiting – #3 in 1984

A song about the pressures of fame, and of how watching movies can be an escape from the stresses of real life. In fact, the verses took on an even darker aspect when Siobhan Fahey said that the song was about date rape (something the other band members have denied at various points over the years). I’m assuming they’re singing about ‘The Godfather Part II’ – apologies if I’ve overlooked any other films in which Bobby De Niro’s talking Italian…. Other names of songs featuring film stars? ‘Bette Davis Eyes’, and…? Answers on a postcard, please!

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Love in the First Degree – #3 in 1987

We skip forward a few years, and are now in the late eighties. Slap-bang in the middle of the Stock Aitken Waterman years, and it was SAW who produced this pop beauty (could that synth riff have come from anyone else…?) Apparently the girls had to be persuaded to record a song as poppy, with a dance routine as cutesy, as this, but I for one am happy that they did. It’s my favourite Bananarama tune.

Help – #3 in 1989, with Lananeeneenoonoo

In 1988, Siobhan Fahey left the band, meaning that their days as a chart force were numbered. They still had one last Top 10 hit left in them, their joint-highest in fact, thanks to this Beatles cover for Comic Relief. Back on my regular countdown we’re in October 1984, and are yet to encounter our first charity single. But they are on their way… They’ve been a pretty constant chart presence since the mid-eighties, often combining music and comedy (and often turning out neither funny nor particularly listenable…) Here Bananarama are joined by their delusional alter-egos Lananeeneenoonoo AKA French & Saunders with Kathy Burke, and all manner of zaniness ensues…

So there we have Bananarama, another act with lots of hits but no number ones. I hope you enjoyed this break from the regular schedule. Up next, we’ll be resuming our journey through every single #1 single…

9 thoughts on “Never Had a #1… Bananarama

  1. I can’t pretend I was that enthusiastic about Bananarama, although to give them their due they were undoubtedly the most successful British girl group pre-Spice Girls, Atomic Kitten and the like. They were undoubtedly luckier than our short-lived answer to the Supremes, the Paper Dolls in 1968 (if you don’t know it, let me point you to ‘Something Here in my Heart’, a No. 11 from 1968 that I loved as a 13-year-old and that still sounds great). Re the charity record mention – I’m racking my brains to think of hit singles that didn’t reach No. 1 and no doubt helped to benefit good causes, not just those by the all-star collectives that Band Aid and USA for Africa ushered in. The only one that springs to mind is The Move’s ‘Flowers in the Rain’, from 1967, which as we know was not intended as a benefit disc but found itself on the receiving end of a libel case from the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson because of the naughty promotional postcard that still cannot be published to this day (unless anybody has found it online somewhere), and despite efforts to overturn the high court decision after Wilson’s death in 1995, still results in 100% of all royalties going to charities that he nominated when the law found in his favour.

    • They certainly feel like the first ‘modern’ British girl group, especially in their videos: more concerned with having fun than looking pretty (though of course they are far from ugly!) in a way that became standard with the Spice Girls, Girls Aloud etc…

      And thanks for the comprehensive charity singles overview. When Band Aid came along, the dam broke and they’ve been with us ever since, it seems

  2. I love the Nanas 40 years worth of great pop. I nominate their current single Favourite to show they still have the pop touch. I was a fan of their cover of yamasukis aiemwana in 1981. Yamasukis aka dad of half of Daft Punk doing experimental music in 1971. Never stopped liking their shambolic chorus singing and their attitude free self control in their career. Highlights? Cruel Summer. I Heard A Rumour. Help! A lesson in how to make charity pop good and funny – by doing two versions, the straight a side and the funny b side. Their cover of Long Train Running was fab and beat the Doobies to the dance version and the chart.
    Movie star hits? John Wayne is Big Leggy – dig it out! Vogue. Clint Eastwood. Movie Star by Harpo featuring 25% of Abba. Lots more i’m sure…

    Talking of Abba. They donated the proceeds to Chiquitita to Unicef in 1979 along with a host of stars on an album for charity. Kate Bush and others backed Lesley Duncan for a cover of her Sing Children Sing. Sadly not a hit though. George Harrison did a Concert For Bangladesh and album in 1971.

    • I was only thinking of songs with movie stars in the title, but yes of course ‘Clint Eastwood’ (and later ‘Dirty Harry’…) And ABBA is a good shout, though I suppose that wasn’t recorded specifically as a charity single.

  3. Ah thanks popchartfreak. Good on ABBA, and of course I should not have overlooked George Harrison’s worthy pro-Bangladesh releases.

  4. Pingback: 543. ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’, by Band Aid | The UK Number Ones Blog

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