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…

Never Had a #1… Tina Turner

Part II of this look at huge chart stars who’ve never quite made it to the top. Yesterday we featured Bob Marley, whose five biggest UK hits were an eclectic mix. Today we feature a woman whose career spans eight decades… and whose five biggest hits are wall-to-wall classics. The Queen of Rock n Roll: Tina Turner.

‘The Best’ – #5 in 1989

I should actually do a full ‘Should Have been a Number One’ on what is probably Turner’s signature song, in Britain at least. It deserves the attention. Although released in the final year of the decade, ‘The Best’ sums everything great about the 1980s (a decade I may have been critical of, musically speaking, from time to time…) Throbbing synths, power chords, a belt-it-out-at-the-top-of-your-voice chorus, a galloping black stallion in the video, and one of the most outrageous uses of a saxophone ever heard in a pop song.

Before writing this, I had no idea that the original had been recorded by Bonnie Tyler a year earlier, or that it was written by the man behind so many ’70s glam rock classics, Mike Chapman. All that is interesting, and relevant, but also completely shunted to the background by Tina Turner’s performance in owning would could be, in different hands, a completely ridiculous song. The fact that I can even overlook ‘The Best’s decades-long association with Glasgow Rangers – they enter the pitch to it, and fans even had the song re-enter the chart at #9 in 2010 – is a testament to how good it is.

‘Nutbush City Limits’ – #4 in 1973 (with Ike Turner)

Before her reinvention as an eighties power-rock diva, Tina had a first wave of success with her then husband Ike in the sixties and seventies. And if ‘The Best’ has a rival for its position as Turner’s signature tune, then ‘Nutbush City Limits’ is it… (OK, and ‘Proud Mary’, which doesn’t feature here…) It’s a fabulously funky tale of a little ol’ town in Tennessee, that sounds as crispy as a piece of fried chicken. It’s a (hopefully) tounge-in-cheek ode to her hometown: no whisky for sale, you get caught – no bail, salt pork and molasses, is all you get in jail… Elevating the song further is the rumour that the track’s distinctive lead-guitar was recorded by none other than Marc Bolan…

River Deep – Mountain High’ – #3 in 1966 (with Ike Turner)

Belted out by a young Tina, and produced by Phil Spector using every Wall of Sound trick in the book (it even has Darlene Love on backing vocals), ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ gave Turner her first big hit. Ike was credited, but didn’t actually feature on this version (the couple would go on to re-record it in 1973). It was a big hit around Europe in 1966, but flopped in the US. Spector was so distraught by the song’s failure that he didn’t produce another one for two years, and set off on a very destructive path…

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What’s Love Got to Do With It’ – #3 in 1984

Turner’s certified biggest hit, and her only solo #1 in the US. This was her big comeback after seperating, both musically and romantically, from Ike. While it doesn’t do it for me like ‘The Best’ and ‘Nutbush’ – it tends a little too much towards ‘icky eighties’, especially in the harmonica – I can accept its classic status. In fact, Turner’s outrageous hairdo in the video would be enough to seal this one’s place in the pantheon. ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’ went on quite the journey before being recorded by Tina: Cliff Richard turned it down, Donna Summer dithered over recording it, and Bucks Fizz recorded a (pretty decent) version that never saw the light of day until 2000.

We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)’ – #3 in 1985

Turner’s joint-biggest hit is this track from the soundtrack to ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome’. She starred in the movie, alongside Mel Gibson. Again, I’m not a huge fan of this one: it’s standard mid-eighties power-balladry (though I do like the snarling guitar). I’d have taken ‘Private Dancer’ (a #26), or ‘Proud Mary’ (never released as a single in the UK!) over this.

Still, there you have Tina Turner’s biggest UK hits that never quite made it to #1. One more ‘Never Had a #1…’ up tomorrow. And it’s the 1980s biggest girl-group!