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The Best Of: Bananarama

Click the cover art for the music videos.

Although I have already covered Bananarama in my Best Of Girl Groups page, after reading Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin's recent autobiography, Really Saying Something, I thought it was worth taking a deeper dive into their back catalogue. And while my 10 favourite Bananarama songs all date from their time as a trio (first with original member Siobhan Fahey and then replacement Jacquie O'Sullivan), their work as a duo also includes plenty of highlights.

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The original line-up: Sara Dallin, Keren Woodward and Siobhan Fahey

Unlikely to hit the chart highs now that they did in their '80s glory days (or even their less successful early '90s period), Bananarama continue to make quality pop, with their three most recent albums, In StereoViva and Drama containing some of the best tracks of their career. Let's take a look at my favourite 25 Bananarama singles...

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25. Look On The Floor (Hypnotic Tango)

Released: 2005
Album: Drama
Charts: UK #26, Australia #95

 

The second single from what was at the time Bananarama's best studio album since Wow! earns a place on this list, whereas lead single "Move In My Direction" (their final UK top 20 and Australian top 50 hit) does not — I always found that a bit grating. "Look On The Floor", which moves from heavily robotic-sounding verses to a sweeter chorus, is based on 1983 Italo disco track "Hypnotic Tango" (thus the subtitle).

24. Rough Justice

Released: 1984
Album: Bananarama
Charts: UK #23

 

When I bought 1988's The Greatest Hits Collection, this socially aware 1984 single was a new song for me, since it had received zero attention in Australia. And it's certainly an underrated gem in Bananarama's back catalogue, with the girls' harmonies and counter melodies front and centre. Nice sax solo, too.

23. Long Train Running

Released: 1991
Album: Pop Life
Charts: UK #30

 

When "Only Your Love" and "Preacher Man" had under-performed (especially in Australia), this cover of The Doobie Brothers' classic from 1973 was lifted as Pop Life's third single, no doubt with the hope that it'd achieve what previous remakes had done for the group. But not even the presence of Gipsy Kings on the track, which gave it authentic flamenco flavour, was enough to get many record buyers over the line.

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22. More Than Physical

Released: 1986
Album: True Confessions
Charts: UK #41, Australia #28

 

With "Venus" such a huge success around the world, it made sense for the other Stock Aitken Waterman-produced track from True Confessions to be chosen as the follow-up. Ramped up from the album version, "More Than Physical" continued the Rams' transformation into a more glammed-up group, with added beefcake in the music video.

21. Every Shade Of Blue

Released: 1995
Album: Ultra Violet

 

The best single to emerge from Keren and Sara's wilderness years in the late '90s/early 2000s following the end of their time at London Records, 'Every Shade Of Blue" and the Ultra Violet album didn't even receive a release in the then-Britpop-obsessed UK. With its melancholic lyrics and pumping beat, it's a perfect slice of tears on the dancefloor pop.

20. Stuff Like That

Released: 2019
Album: In Stereo

 

The first single proper from Bananarama's most recent album — "Dance Music" was a promotional track — almost felt like it could've come from the group's late '80s-era, what with the "I Can't Help It"-style horns and big pop production. At the same time, it still sounded current — not a bad feat for a group who hadn't released any new music in almost a decade at that point.

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19. Movin' On

18. Help!

Released: 1992
Album: Please Yourself
Charts: UK #24

 

Down to a duo, Keren and Sara reunited with Mike Stock and Pete Waterman (themselves having recently lost their third member, Matt Aitken) for an ABBA-inspired album that seemed like a curious choice following the more musically adventurous Pop Life. Lead single "Movin' On" was the best of the bunch, while the album's tepid original version of "Last Thing On My Mind" would be re-energised five years later by Steps (as would "Movin' On", but only as an album track).

Released: 1989

Album: single release (later added to The Greatest Hits Collection)

Charts: UK #3, Australia #25

This Comic Relief collaboration with French, Saunders and Burke (as Lananeeneenoonoo) equalled Bananarama's highest UK chart peak and did OK in Australia. But the Beatles cover gains its place in this list thanks to the non-novelty version, which dispenses with all the dialogue and bad singing, and ends up as a solid version of a pop classic. 

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17. Tripping On Your Love

Released: 1991

Album: Pop Life

Charts: UK #76

Since Pop Life's fourth single didn't even come out in Australia, I didn't realise for some time that it was given a remix for release (actually it was given a stack of remixes), but I have to say I prefer the album version anyway. The first Bananarama single to miss the UK top 75 since debut release "Aie A Mwana", "Tripping On Your Love" has been sadly overlooked ever since, and although I love it, I can't help but wonder what would've happened if they'd bitten the bullet and released the SAW-produced "Ain't No Cure" instead, especially given their 1992 about-face.

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16. Tonight (Bright Light Bright Light remix)

15. Robert De Niro's Waiting

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14. Nathan Jones

Released: 2019
Album: In Stereo

 

Included as a bonus track on the "Looking For Someone" single (which is why it's here and not in the album tracks breakout), this remix of one of the highlights of In Stereo was re-swizzled by co-writer Rod Thomas (aka Bright Light Bright Light, a fantastic artist in his own right). Talk about taking things to another level!

Released: 1984
Album: Bananarama
Charts: UK #3, Australia #40, US #95

 

From one of Bananarama's more obscure tracks we move now to one of their best known, especially in the UK where it remains their highest-charting single (in a three-way tie with "Help!" and "Love In The First Degree"). While it's been well documented (especially by Keren and Sara in their autobiography) that the song led to the trio going to the pub with the actor, what is less clear is exactly what it's about, with accounts differing depending on who you believe. Siobhan has said date rape, while Sara says hero worship.

Released: 1988
Album: Wow! and The Greatest Hits Collection
Charts: UK #15, Australia #59

 

Around the time that Bananarama became the most successful girl group on the British charts (in terms of number of hits) — a record they still hold — they released their remake of a song first performed by another classic all-female act: The Supremes. Initially appearing on Wow!, "Nathan Jones" was remixed once (with Jacquie's vocals replacing Siobhan's) for The Greatest Hits Collection and then again when it was issued as a single.

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13. Only Your Love

12. Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)

11. Love Comes

Released: 1990
Album: Pop Life
Charts: UK #27, Australia #51

 

I've never quite understood what went wrong with "Only Your Love". In theory, it should have been a much bigger hit, given both Bananarama's track record and the fact that it saw the group head in an exciting new musical direction — albeit one that retained a strong pop sensibility — that slotted in nicely with the dance music and Madchester tracks taking over the UK chart. Too much too soon?

Released: 1983
Album: Deep Sea Skiving
Charts: UK #5, Australia #38

 

With original track "Cheers Then" having given the trio their first flop, it was back to the covers and this remake of the 1969 single by Steam. The sing-song nature of "Na Na Hey Hey" was reminiscent of their two Fun Boy Three collaborations, neither of which make this list, but Jolley & Swain's production gave it a poppier sheen.

Released: 2009
Album: Viva
Charts: UK #44

 

The best single by the duo version of Bananarama was co-written and produced by Ian Masterson, the Trouser Enthusiasts member who has been their go-to collaborator for much of this century. If "Love Comes" had been released by Girls Aloud or Sugababes, it would have been massive.

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10. Shy Boy

9. I Can't Help It

Released: 1982
Album: Deep Sea Skiving
Charts: UK #4, Australia #2, US #83

 

"Shy Boy" achieved a bunch of firsts: the group's first hit without Fun Boy Three, their first hit in Australia, their first collaboration with Jolley & Swain, their first Hot 100 placing in the US... And with its fun makeover music video (featuring Sara's then-boyfriend, The Adventures singer Terry Sharpe), the feel-good (sorry!) track saw Bananarama move even further into pure pop territory.

Released: 1987
Album: Wow!
Charts: UK #20, Australia #27, US #47

 

The end of an era, except in Australia where Siobhan's last single with the group was confusingly released after "I Want You Back". I can understand why "I Can't Help It" wasn't bigger here — it was the final single released from an album that had already been to number 1 — but I can't see why it didn't do better in the UK, especially following "Love In The First Degree". Top notch SAW.

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8. A Trick Of The Night

Released: 1987
Album: True Confessions
Charts: UK #32, Australia #99, US #76

 

A fan favourite, this fourth and final single from True Confessions saw the Rams in a full-on mood, with the track's sultry sax matched by lots of serious face in the music video. For me, the best part of "A Trick Of The Night" is towards the end where the song's various melodies are layered one on top of the other to create the most musically beautiful moment in their career. And for the record, I prefer the original single mix to the "Say I'm Your Number One"-esque SAW remix.

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7. Love, Truth & Honesty 

Released: 1988
Album: The Greatest Hits Collection
Charts: UK #23, Australia #32, US #89

 

Another fan favourite that deserved much more, especially considering it was a brand-new track coming off the high that was the Wow! run of singles. I wonder if the fact that "Love, Truth & Honesty" was released on the same day as two other SAW productions by Hazell Dean and Sinitta (with another by Sabrina following seven days later) had anything to do with its (and all those other releases') under-performance in the UK?

6. I Heard A Rumour

Released: 1987
Album: Wow!
Charts: UK #14, Australia #32, US #4

 

It was only relatively recently that I discovered just how much "I Heard A Rumour" is based on "Give Me Up" by Italo disco singer Michael Fortunati, but notwithstanding that example of SAW wearing their inspiration on their sleeve, the song is a Bananarama classic that only America seemed to fully appreciate. Great music video, too. 

5. Preacher Man

Released: 1990
Album: Pop Life
Charts: UK #20

 

In retrospect, "Preacher Man" possibly would have been a better transitional single into Bananarama's post-SAW era than "Only Your Love". A flawless piece of pop that still sounds as good today as it did 30 years ago (thanks, Youth!), it even formed part of the group's 2017 reunion tour set list since Siobhan (who didn't sing on it) liked it enough to perform it.

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4. Cruel Summer

Released: 1983

Album: Bananarama

Charts: UK #8, Australia #32, US #9
 

Australia really dropped the ball on "Cruel Summer", which really manages to conjure up the feeling of heat beating down on you. The song's original 1983 release, following its UK top 10 position, missed the top 100 completely, and a 1984 re-release in the wake of its US success (and Karate Kid use) could only get it as high as number 32. Keren and Sara clearly like the song — it's one of their most remixed and revisited tunes.

3. Love In The First Degree

Released: 1987

Album: Wow!

Charts: UK #3, Australia #5, US #48
 

If "I Heard A Rumour" had under-performed in the UK and Australia, there was no stopping this follow-up, which soared into the top 5 in both countries. With its extended metaphor lyrics and jail-set music video, it was the whole pop package. Speaking of packages, the group's farewell (to Siobhan) performance of the track at the 1988 BRIT Awards accompanied by a troupe of scantily clad male backing dancers has gone down in UK pop music history.

2. Venus

Released: 1986
Album: Wow!
Charts: UK #8, Australia #1, US #1

 

The song that changed everything for Bananarama — both in terms of giving them a new lease of life after a series of chart disappointments and in terms of the beginning of their Hit Factory era. Chosen by the trio due to their work with Dead Or Alive, Stock Aitken Waterman were convinced to give Bananarama's version of the Shocking Blue hit the hi-NRG treatment, and it turned out the group's instincts were spot-on. As an 11-year-old, I was obsessed with this song and video.

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1. I Want You Back

Released: 1988
Album: Wow!
Charts: UK #5, Australia #3

 

I know Keren and Sara aren't fans of this song, but for me, "I Want You Back" sums up everything I loved about music in 1988 — my favourite year for pop. It is unrelentingly upbeat — key change? why not! — but, like so many pop classics, its lyrics tell a sad story. And it's that extra layer that makes this more than your average perky piece of bubblegum. Revised from the album version to accommodate new member Jacquie, "I Want You Back" came with a music video (actually, two different clips) that encapsulate Bananarama, who muck around, dress up — even if those Supremes scenes were ill-advised — and try to get through their dance routine. Plus, the fact that the group steered the song away from its origins as "Reason For Living" shows once again how much of a hand they have always had in their music — something they don't get enough credit for.

Top 5 Album Tracks

The Wow! album is one of my favourite albums by any artist of all time — all killer, no filler. And while I can't fault the choice of singles from that release, some of Bananarama's other best songs were left langushing on their respective albums.

1. "Ain't No Cure" from Pop Life
2. "Heartless" from Pop Life
3. "Some Girls" from Wow!
4. "Frequency" from Drama
5. "Your Love Is Like A Drug" from Drama

You can listen to Bananarama's top 25 singles and top 5 album tracks on my Spotify playlist: