Spotify Shame is a weekly series in which NME writers and musicians air their dirty musical laundry in public.
It’s really quite impossible to think of Bananarama without calling to mind ‘Venus’, backing dancers comically writhing around in baby oil or French & Saunders’ Lananeeneenoonoo parody.
With the band currently on the nostalgia carousel, permanently on some sort of ‘Here And Now’-jag, this seems like the collection of pop culture memories which will stick forever in the mind of the nation. Fair enough really, you might think, as they did have the worst band name this side of Test Icicles.
So why the shame? Well, the band birthed terrible girlbands like B*Witched along with a lot of the tinny terror that consumed the charts in the latter half of the 80s. Stuff embodied by the likes of Jason Donovan and, later, Steps. For these reasons alone, admitting a love for The Nanans (yeah, I said it) in 2011 is embarrassing. They’ve just not yet crossed over the cringe divide like ABBA.
In my defence, the best music of Bananarama really comes before this self-administered drop into high gloss, Stock, Aitken And Waterman-produced 80s pop. My memories of them are hazy, like a half remembered episode of Neighbours. It was only later that I discovered there was more to them than ‘I Heard A Rumour’ and big hair.
Born of the Blitz club, The Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones and Paul Cook, and pan-global new wave (check out debut single ‘Aie e Mwana’ – French for “Could you pass the marimbas please?”), they clearly began their pop journey as less of a “career” and more like “a massive hung-over accident when we got lost on the way to the Jobcentre.”
The trio were approached in their early days by Malcolm McLaren, who suggested he manage them and that they record a track that he’d penned called – we’re not joking – ‘Don’t You Touch Me Down There, Daddy’. They naturally legged it, and thus struck the first notification that they would be doing things Their Way.
Initially this meant teaming up Terry Hall (who’d spotted them in The Face) for some wonderfully sloppy duet action with Fun Boy Three, then later with Imagination’s hitmakers Jolley and Swain for the likes of ‘Cruel Summer’ and ‘Robert De Niro’s Waiting’, both of which were both heavy with a sense of pre-Yuppy Britishness.
Looking back, their charm was equally in their reckless steering of the popmobile; in early TV performances they looked simultaneously terrified, in danger of knocking themselves out with their bolted-on fringes and frankly massively drunk as they attempted some rudimentary dance moves. Today of course this all seems incredibly refreshing, charming and the height of awkward cool.
Bananarama’s place in history in the pop pantheon is assured (if you listen very carefully you can hear ‘Love In The First Degree’ being played at a hen do this very second), but just reach a little to the left of all this shiny pop (and mind the baby oil) to find some unintentionally brilliant moments.
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