If you thought girl power began with five spicy London town lasses, think again. Bananarama, the UK’s original dynamo girl group that rose to fame in the 80s, proved anything boys could do, girls could do, better. With consistent chart topping singles internationally and an insane work ethic, Bananarama has carved a special place in the hearts of many 80s music fans, as well as received the Guinness World Record for the all female group with most chart entries, a title they’ve held since 1988.
Over the years, the trio has switched around members, but it all started with Siobhan Fahey, Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin (the latter two now the current group). During a night out, Woodward and Dallin, who had been friends since childhood, met Paul Cook, a member of the Sex Pistols. According to their official website, the duo was about to get kicked out of the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association) for consistently staying out too late, but upon hearing their situation, Cook invited them to stay in the office that sat conveniently above the Sex Pistols’ rehearsal room. Shortly after, Fahey joined the friends, after meeting Dallin at London University of Arts. Both were studying journalism and began a friendship on the basis that they both were into London’s early punk scene and dressed alike.
With the help of the Sex Pistols, Bananarama recorded their first demo, a cover of Black Blood’s Aie a Mwana. Sung entirely in Swahili, the tape made it into the hands of Demon Records, then eventually Decca where they were signed. If you were wondering where the group came up with their name, it came supposedly from the inspiration of the tropical mood of Aie a Mwana and Roxy Music’s song Pyjamarama.
Throughout their career, Bananarama have always stood for their own sound and image, turning down infamous Bow Wow Wow and Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren’s management offer due to sexually charged material he suggested that did not fit their esthetic and message. In an interview in 1984 with Sue Simmons of New York Live at 5, Woodward stated, “we managed ourselves, we don’t get anyone dressing us up, there’s no big Svengali behind the scenes”. From the beginning, the group found great success, releasing UK hits like Shy Boy, Na Na Hey Kiss Him Goodbye, and He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’ . Gaining some attention in the states with their earlier records, Bananarama released their self titled 1984 album. Still having the synths and pop sounds of the previous records, the album aimed to be more socially conscious. Singles like Hot Line to Heaven and Rough Justice each addresses social pressures and drug culture, which had been gaining a lot of press (Nancy Reagan campaign, anyone?).
It was a little training with Ralph Maccio and Mr. Miyagi that helped propel the group into stardom in the states, when their most famous single Cruel Summer was released and featured on The Karate Kid soundtrack.
The girls continued to release hit after hit, scoring another international sensation with Venus. Continuing their trend for covering older songs, Venus was a remake of a 1970 hit by Shocking Blue. The single received major airplay both in the UK and the US, the video being a staple for quite some time on MTV.
Though the group had major success for most of the decade, in 1988 Fahey left the group after seeing the group’s direction inconsistent with the path she wanted to take. Unlike most stories similar to her departure, Fahey saw huge success with Shakespeare’s Sister. Their hit “Stay” was one of 1991’s biggest songs, and reentered the UK’s charts again in 2010.
Now, Bananarama’s story isn’t over. Former Shillelagh Sisters member Jacquie O’Sullivan replaced Fahey, and with her addition to the group Bananarama was able to gain the Guinness honor. Her stay would be short lived, after only 3 years with the group, O’Sullivan left to pursue her own endeavors. Deciding that maybe three was a crowd, Dallin and Woodward would stay a duo up until now. The ladies continue to develop new material and tour around the world. By 2002, they had sold over 40 million records. Though they might be forever be associated with 80s nostalgia and Cruel Summer, Bananarama continues to show us girls we can push the boundaries, beyond what’s ever expected of us.