Bananarama

I’ve always adored Cruel Summer, Robert De Niro’s Waiting and Venus but never really been a fan as such… so last weekend when I was investigating Wow (which I enjoyed) I was ASTOUNDED to see that their 80s albums after the debut all seemingly… flopped in the UK!?

I think I assumed that they were a big power-player in British 80s pop but… their album chart positions indicate otherwise.

Can someone fill me in on this? Were they a strictly-singles act, hence why the eventual Best Of was so massive?
 
I’ve always adored Cruel Summer, Robert De Niro’s Waiting and Venus but never really been a fan as such… so last weekend when I was investigating Wow (which I enjoyed) I was ASTOUNDED to see that their 80s albums after the debut all seemingly… flopped in the UK!?

I think I assumed that they were a big power-player in British 80s pop but… their album chart positions indicate otherwise.

Can someone fill me in on this? Were they a strictly-singles act, hence why the eventual Best Of was so massive?

The debut did OK (top ten) but then it was released after 5 singles, three of them top ten. 'Bananarama' not doing that well despite two massive lead singles is a bit odd, but perhaps their attempts to become more serious put people off. They have said the label weren't that good at promoting them post album and much as i love them, two serious songs post release didn't help.

True Confessions came after a long break and fading fotunes. Venus was unlike most of the album which was more their traditional sound and a continuation of that 'serious' style that had put people off so again it wasn't likely to do that well.

Wow did pretty good, selling well even if it didn't peak that well. But yes, by this stage, they'd amassed a serious number of hits and a Greatest hits was bound to smash.

Pop Life was a disaster sales wise but that's so complicated to explain and such a messy campaign even if it houses some great music.
 
The debut did OK (top ten) but then it was released after 5 singles, three of them top ten. 'Bananarama' not doing that well despite two massive lead singles is a bit odd, but perhaps their attempts to become more serious put people off. They have said the label weren't that good at promoting them post album and much as i love them, two serious songs post release didn't help.

True Confessions came after a long break and fading fotunes. Venus was unlike most of the album which was more their traditional sound and a continuation of that 'serious' style that had put people off so again it wasn't likely to do that well.

Wow did pretty good, selling well even if it didn't peak that well. But yes, by this stage, they'd amassed a serious number of hits and a Greatest hits was bound to smash.

Pop Life was a disaster sales wise but that's so complicated to explain and such a messy campaign even if it houses some great music.
As a new fan, I’d love to hear about the history of Pop Life (if you’ve got time to explain!).
 
As a new fan, I’d love to hear about the history of Pop Life (if you’ve got time to explain!).

Ha ha. Well again, there's a lot of factors in place. A long gap between Wow! and Pop Life (nearly 4 years), releases between Wow and Pop Life included 2 successive cover versions (one being a comedy one) and a remix of an old hit, signalling they were running out of ideas. Even the gap between Cruel Summer 89 and Only your love was big. Plus the whole 80s act moving into the 90s hit many acts hard.

Only your love as a lead for Pop Life was, on paper a great idea, riding the Madchester indie dance vibe, but that wasn't their audience. Then Trippin' on your love was set to follow it but Sara fell ill and after another big gap they went with 'Preacher man' (a much better choice).

Following that with another (although good) cover to coincide with the album release again just probably made it seem they had lost their way. Jacqui never really fitted in long term and that showed to the public. They were out of time and the style of music they chose to move into wasn't something they were accepted in.
 
Ha ha. Well again, there's a lot of factors in place. A long gap between Wow! and Pop Life (nearly 4 years), releases between Wow and Pop Life included 2 successive cover versions (one being a comedy one) and a remix of an old hit, signalling they were running out of ideas. Even the gap between Cruel Summer 89 and Only your love was big. Plus the whole 80s act moving into the 90s hit many acts hard.

Only your love as a lead for Pop Life was, on paper a great idea, riding the Madchester indie dance vibe, but that wasn't their audience. Then Trippin' on your love was set to follow it but Sara fell ill and after another big gap they went with 'Preacher man' (a much better choice).

Following that with another (although good) cover to coincide with the album release again just probably made it seem they had lost their way. Jacqui never really fitted in long term and that showed to the public. They were out of time and the style of music they chose to move into wasn't something they were accepted in.
I agree with this. I also think they didn't strike while the iron was hot. There was a lot of momentum when Jacquie joined thus giving I Want You Back, the 4th single from WOW!, a Top 5 placement when 2 previous WOW! singles didn't break the Top 10. They shouldn't have waited until September to follow that up with Love, Truth & Honesty. The gap was too long.

We know they worked with SAW the summer of 1988 on tracks that were never released. And yes, there weren't a lot of hits there. (Ain't No Cure is the HIT that never was, but this was believed to have been recorded in 1989 or 1990. It should have been released as a single the moment they recorded it.) But I think they should have just put out a new album or EP in the summer of 1988 with Jacquie before going with the Greatest Hits Collection. They could have just done some new versions of the WOW! tracks. Some Girls would have been a great single with new vocals and remix.

As for the Greatest Hits Collection, it was confusing to the public with Siobhan's photo on the cover when Jacquie was in the group. It was even more confusing in the USA when the single for Love In The First Degree was released in May of 1988 with Siobhan on the single cover when we knew there was a new girl. It could have been a great moment for a new American-sounding mix with new vocals with Jacquie that were pitched down a bit.

The 1989 World Tour was good for them, but even MTV reported how they had no new music to promote for it.

Indeed the early 90s were tough on 80s acts. Kudos for Bananarama trying something new with the Pop Life sound. Why they released Preacher Man at Christmas time is beyond me. Why didn't they just wait until the new year in 1991 to release it. Preacher Man got lost in the holidays. It really is amazing that we got 4 singles from Pop Life. I wish it would have done better because I think Pop Life is my favourite Bananarama album to this day.
 
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Pop Life was their best album (for me) but the timing, length of time it took to come and style wasn’t right for the time for an act like Bananarama. I feel like it was a, positive, response to Siobhan doing something more edgy as Shakespear’s Sister.

I don’t buy the people wouldn’t accept Jacquie narrative. The Wow hits continued with her and Help was huge with her as an integral part. I just wish the internet had been available back then so she would have known the fans had her back, she spent years thinking she was the reason for the band’s diminishing returns.
 
Pop Life was their best album (for me) but the timing, length of time it took to come and style wasn’t right for the time for an act like Bananarama. I feel like it was a, positive, response to Siobhan doing something more edgy as Shakespear’s Sister.

I don’t buy the people wouldn’t accept Jacquie narrative. The Wow hits continued with her and Help was huge with her as an integral part. I just wish the internet had been available back then so she would have known the fans had her back, she spent years thinking she was the reason for the band’s diminishing returns.
I didn't mean so much that she didn't fit in with the public, more that Sara and Karen didn't really want a third wheel and slowly diminish her role. She was often at the back in photos barely in the videos (look at the Tripping on your love video for instance), didn't speak much in interviews and it all just looked and felt awkward. It's hard to put a positive spin on that in public which is really sad to see.
 
I didn't mean so much that she didn't fit in with the public, more that Sara and Karen didn't really want a third wheel and slowly diminish her role. She was often at the back in photos barely in the videos (look at the Tripping on your love video for instance), didn't speak much in interviews and it all just looked and felt awkward. It's hard to put a positive spin on that in public which is really sad to see.
Oh I didn’t take it you meant that, it’s cool. I saw Keren in interviews when they became a duo saying Jacquie was always the “new girl” so I was referring to that.

It’s amazing how many people (casuals) still ask where the third one is when Duorama perform.
 
Agree with all the comments above.

I think the greatest hits needed a further single to promote it as well, with Jacquie. I always found the release of Nathan Jones odd as it’s a song from WOW yet was released after Love Truth & Honesty.

Having only two singles in 1989, a comic relief song and a remix of a previous single just wasn’t enough. Poor choices, staggered releases and Jacquie appearing more of a stand in than a band member. Not like that was her fault but I don’t think they made much effort to promote the new banana. Or did they? I don’t know.

I think some groups and acts couldn’t really afford to be absent for awhile either. As with Bananarama. That world
tour and having 4 years between studio albums really hindered them.

Pop Life is gold and every single should have smashed!
 
I think the greatest hits needed a further single to promote it as well, with Jacquie. I always found the release of Nathan Jones odd as it’s a song from WOW yet was released after Love Truth & Honesty.
When I first got the Greatest Hits Collection (my first Bananarama album) it was the US version with the watered down mix of Nathan Jones (forget what the mix is called) and with its placement between Love, Truth & Honesty and Really Saying Something I wasn't sure if it was an old or new track. So my theory on Nathan Jones is that it was included to make a smoother transition from the newer tracks to the older. Maybe not intended to be a single, but then the album did better than expected?
 
Siobhan's departure was likely the biggest nail, though thankfully they recovered.

If Bananarama were a multiple series TV show, we'd perhaps have

Series 1 - The Halcyon Years '81-'87
Series 2 - The Messy Years '88-'93
Series 3 - The Wilderness Years '94-'04
Series 4 - The Comeback Years '05-'19
Series 5 - The Legacy Years '19-now

The Messy Years are an interesting one aren't they. Singles-wise in the UK charts, we had...

09.04.88 - 11.06.88 = I Want You Back (#5) and a 3-month gap until…
24.09.88 - 12.11.88 = Love, Truth & Honesty (#23) with a 1-week gap until…
19.11.88 - 14.01.89 = Nathan Jones (#15) followed by a 5-week gap until…
25.02.89 - 22.04.89 = Help! (#3) then a 6-week gap until…
10.06.89 - 15.07.89 = Cruel Summer ’89 (#19) and a 5-month gap until…
23.12.89 - 27.01.90 = Do They Know It's Christmas? (#1) with a 7-month gap until...
28.07.90 - 18.08.90 = Only Your Love (#27) followed by a 4.5-month gap until…
05.01.91 - 09.02.91 = Preacher Man (#20) then a 2-month gap until…
20.04.91 - 18.05.91 = Long Train Running (#30)
etc.


Looking at that, I'm not sure that the time between releases was the issue. More problematic perhaps were:

- The Wow! era moved them from relatable 'girls-next-door' to less relatable pop stars.
- Siobhan leaving.
- Siobhan replaced by someone the Nana's struggled to integrate and the general public didn't really take to.
- Their ill-fated attempts to recreate Wow! with the 1988/89 SAW demo's.
- Love, Truth & Honesty - as good as it is, it wasn't a strong enough choice to lead a greatest hits campaign.
- Nathan Jones - again, as good as both new versions were, exhuming the Wow! era smacked of 'we've run out of ideas.'
- Help! - even couched in terms of being a fun, charity single and despite it being a top 3 hit, it was seen by some as defecating on the Beatles legacy and the self-deprecating humour in having Lananeeneenoonoo included was lost on some, further reducing their stock in some quarters.
- Cruel Summer '89 - was simply the sound of a barrel being scraped for three and a half minutes. For some, it felt as though they'd ruined a Beatles classic and they were now ruining a classic of their own.
- Do They Know It's Christmas? - they looked a tad out of place amongst the popstrels of the day, and it felt reductive seeing them alongside lesser stars than the room packed full of music icons and legends they'd deservedly sung alongside on the original version five years earlier. For some, this was seen as the third ruined classic with Bananarama's name attached in the space of a year (fourth for those who didn't take kindly to their cover of Nathan Jones).
- Only Your Love - a cracking song that deserved better than it got, but as I recall, there were references to them carrying out the cardinal sin of 'stealing from The Rolling Stones' (just a year after supposedly 'trashing' The Beatles), and as brilliant as it was, their attempt to progress into a more mature sound wasn't accepted given certain quarters had by now firmly mislabelled them as a SAW act.
- Siobhan being seen as the 'edgy' Nana, was seen as more successfully making the transition into a new, more mature sound with her new band, leading to some unfair comparisons in the media with her old group.
- And the backdrop to all of this was a music scene that was shifting to more 'faceless' dance acts, 'lad-pop,' and cheap-to-book pop-wannabees, which left too many of our brilliant legends who had dominated the '80's unfairly consigned to the music dumpster.

In an alternate universe, we would have had...

April '88 = I Want You Back
Sept '88 = Love, Truth & Honesty (and The Greatest Hits Collection released)
November '88 = Barnstorming new pop single (The Greatest Hits Collection deserved a massive pop banger to dominate Q4)
February '89 = Help!
Late '89 = Only Your Love
Spring '90 = Preacher Man (and Pop Life released)
Summer '90 = Long Train Running
Late '91 = a new album, further progressing the more mature sound they'd showcased on Pop Life.

Of course, having heard some of what they demo'd with Stock Aitken and Waterman, we can be glad that they resisted any pressure to release a new album in '88/'89 as we'd have surely been mourning the death of Bananarama by 1990. Instead we got their best album to date (Pop Life) and a 40 year career in pop that most artists would give their everything to get to, all while we keenly await a 13th Bananarama LP.
 
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I would have gladly taken One In A Million (although I personally prefer Love Generation) as the follow-up single to Love, Truth And Honesty for The Greatest Hits Collection. I think it might've been a successful single to round out their SAW era and at least would've been an original song rather than a re-recording of a cover song that was already released on their preceding album. Shame really.
 
‘Nathan Jones’ was clearly chosen as a single to coincide with their Guinness Book of Records entry, highlighting they had now had more hits than The Supremes.

The big gap between The Greatest Hits Collection and Pop Life was a mistake, as previously mentioned.

I think they were also maybe perceived as being too ‘old’ now, by the time Pop Life rolled around. They were now in/about to enter their 30s, which is ancient for a fluffy girl group (yes, I know that is not an accurate description of them, but it’s largely how they were perceived).

As good as the first three Pop Life singles were, the vocals were extremely weak (even by Bananarama standards) on all three.
 
I really wish we had gotten a new song for The Greatest Hits Collection instead of another remix/revamped version of Nathan Jones, admittedly one that now had Jacquie's vocals included. It really was a bit of a chaotic time looking back for them.
 
I think they were also maybe perceived as being too ‘old’ now, by the time Pop Life rolled around. They were now in/about to enter their 30s, which is ancient for a fluffy girl group (yes, I know that is not an accurate description of them, but it’s largely how they were perceived).

As good as the first three Pop Life singles were, the vocals were extremely weak (even by Bananarama standards) on all three.

Really? I think Pop Life displays maybe the best vocal arrangement of the group. Particularly on Preacher Man.

However I do agree that there were perceptions of them being no longer in vogue, ageing girl group and the turn of a new decade made them easy to write off. Sadly. I remember seeing them do promotion on the disney channel (i think) in 1990 or 91 and it does look odd because i don’t think that was their demo at this point! Only Your Love doesn’t scream preteen to me!

Reading smash hits reviews that say the Pop Life material sounded just like SAW was not only incorrect but also displayed how SAW was perceived at this point too.

I think when it comes to attempting to shift public opinion and perceptions, persistence is key. But the failure of Pop Life resulted in them regressing in their sound (in my opinion, sorry) for Please Yourself and as much as Jacquie was always “the new girl”, Duorama seemed like the end of the line. Alternatively it would have been great to see them follow up from their sound with Pop Life, complete with Jacquie.
 
By the time Pop Life came along their brand of pop wasn't in style.

Plus most pop acts are lucky to have success for 10 years or more.

I don't think it is more complex than that.
 
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