Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Girl Groups, Part 2: Bananarama

The second installment of this series on Girl Groups features the trio from the British Isles, Bananarama. They are actually my favourite girl group of all time, slightly edging out another girl group that I will feature later in this series. The reason why I give Bananarama a slight edge is because they were instrumental in my personal development. Also, they happened to score a hit song in a critical summer. 1984 was a big summer for me. Los Angeles was hosting the Summer Olympics, which was the first time I watched the Summer Olympics on television (I was too young to remember Montreal in 1976 and we boycotted Moscow in 1980). The summer of 1984 was also the summer of Ghostbusters and The Karate Kid, two of my favourites. But most importantly on a personal level, 1984 was also the year that I moved from elementary school into Junior High, which is a huge transition for a kid. I was excited about the change because I did not really like elementary school. The idea of changing classrooms seven times a day and having a locker was pretty exciting for me.

For me, the summer of 1984 was not "cruel", but this Bananarama hit song captures my feelings of that summer. The melody is infectious 80s pop with a cool xylophone sound. The ladies had a unique look that I became familiar with when my family moved to Germany the following summer. Its because of Bananarama that I found European women so attractive. Interestingly, this music video shows the ladies wearing coveralls, which were the fad back then. Everyone seemed to own a pair (not just farmers or painters) and both boys and girls wore them to school. Even I managed to convince my parents to buy me a pair to wear during my seventh grade year in the fall of 1984. This significant year is also notable for being the year that I met the classmate who would become my best friend. That would be Nicholas Smith, who is currently serving in Iraq. So, this song has a lot of good memories tied into it, which is why I selected it, out of all of their hit songs, for this post.

Bananarama had more hit songs, though they were far more popular in Europe than in the United States. In the summer of 1986, they scored a huge hit with their remake of Shocking Blue's "Venus." Also that year, they released their True Confessions album, which shares a word with two other releases that year: Madonna's True Blue and Cyndi Lauper's True Colors. I was living in Germany at that time and was excited about the True Confessions album. The lady who worked at the PX where I bought the cassette tape was familiar with me because I was in there a lot buying or talking about music. She asked me one day how I liked my most recent purchase. I told her that it was great, because if you like one song, you like them all. Bananarama had a certain sound and all their songs did sound alike. That might not be great for artistic purposes, but if you like a particular sound, then more of the same can't be a bad thing!

Other songs they eventually hit the charts with include: "I Heard a Rumour", "Love in the First Degree", "I Can't Help It", "I Want You Back", and "Love, Truth, and Honesty." My personal favourite video is "I Can't Help It", which I featured as a Music Video Monday selection in 2008 on my blog. They are absolutely attractive. I still have crushes on all three of them! However, I don't know much about them because I don't recall ever reading an article about them in Rolling Stone magazine. They have had articles in the German music magazine called Bravo (which I still have a few copies as), but I can't read German. Its actually refreshing to like a music group without knowing their personal details or tabloid dramas. You appreciate them for their music and how their music makes you feel. The 80s simply wouldn't be the 80s without the contributions of Bananarama's music. They epitomized the sound of the 80s that many critics complained as being shallow or sugary, but is irresistible to our ears. If you watch 80s era music videos on YouTube, read the comments people leave. I'm stunned by how many people who have grown up in the post-80s commenting how they wished their music was as great as the 80s music. There aren't a lot of breezy, happy pop songs these days. We who grew up in the 80s are spoiled!

As for "Cruel Summer", the song was featured in the film The Karate Kid, which was a perfect choice. The song plays during a scene in which Daniel LaRusso adjusts to his new school and all the awkwardness that it implies. The movie helps anchor the song firmly in the summer of 1984. While there have been plenty of "Girl Groups" before and after Bananarama, only one other Girl Group comes close to the feelings that they invoke in me. However, this other group was far more successful than Bananarama. Stay tuned!

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