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…

200. ‘Help!’, by The Beatles

And it’s two hundred not out! Two hundred UK #1 singles covered; plenty more where they came from… And this isn’t a bad little record with which to celebrate our mini-milestone!

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Help!, by The Beatles (their 8th of seventeen #1s)

3 weeks, from 5th – 26th August 1965

Help! I need somebody! Help! Not just anybody! Help! You know I need someone! He-e-elp… It looks ridiculous written out like that, doesn’t it? If you told somebody that you were going to write a pop song with those as the introductory lines they would probably laugh at you. Then look nervously away… But, The Beatles were the some of the best producers of pop that the world has ever seen, and this may well be their best pop moment.

Or, you know, it might be ‘She Loves You’, or ‘Please Please Me’, or ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, or ten other of their songs… Let me rephrase. This may or may not be their best pure pop moment, but it is their last. ‘Help!’ is a bit of a step back, after the stoned haziness of ‘I Feel Fine’ and ‘Ticket to Ride’. This is the same Beatles that gave us ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ – all floppy-haired enthusiasm and cheeky winks.

Except… listen to the lyrics. It’s an upbeat, summery pop song (from the soundtrack to their latest movie), but by God the words are bleak. When I was younger, So much younger than today, I never needed anybody’s help in any way… But now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured… and Every now and then I feel so insecure, I know that I just need you like, I’ve never done before… do not your average pop song make. In the film, the cry for ‘help’ is from Ringo, who finds himself about to become the sacrificial victim of an Oriental cult (as you do…) In real life, the cry for help was John’s. His life, as the leader of the most popular band in the world, was getting to him.

I’ve never suffered from depression. But I know people who have, and the line: Help me if you can, I’m feeling down, And I do appreciate you being round… seems to be just about the most perfect description of the disease. The knowledge that nobody can really help you feel better; but that just knowing people are still around brings you some comfort. That’s it. Summed up in two perfect lines.

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Musically this is a short and simple song. But many of the best pop songs are. With The Beatles it’s often the small things that make their hits stand out over and above their contemporaries. The opening chord on ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, for example. On ‘Help!’, it’s the way that the backing singers’ lines (the countermelody, if you will) weave, and twist, and sometimes even precede the lead vocal. The Now I find… and the My independence… lines are the best examples. It’s the little touches like this that made the Fab Four peerless.

So, that’s it for the ‘pop’ Beatles. In 1966 they’ll stop performing live, smoke even more weed, start getting lost in India… all for another day. For now, press play on the link below and enjoy them as the mop-top Fabs for one last time. Plus, what with this being chart-topper #200, this seems like a good place to stop for a brief moment of reflection.

Chart-topper #1 – Al Martino’s pre-rock epic ‘Here in My Heart’ kicked it all off. It’s from another era – another planet – entirely. By the time we got to chart-topper #100 – Anthony Newley’s twee little ‘Do You Mind’ – we had traversed the rock ‘n’ roll era and were about to get stuck in the early-sixties slump of Elvis soundtrack songs and ‘death-discs’. And now here we are with #200. ‘Help!’ Perhaps the very final Beat-pop number-one. Experimental times lie ahead… I published chart-topper #1 at the end of January last year, to precisely zero interest, and so I’d like to say thank you to everyone who has since decided to join up for the journey. Your views, likes and comments sustain me! #100 was posted at the very start of November last year, and now here’s #200 at the end of August. A rate of a hundred every nine months. So… We should reach #300 by May 2020 (T.Rex, btw!) And which means we should reach the current UK number one (#1357) in about a decade… Hang on in there!

Remind yourself of all 200 of the first chart-toppers, here: