Following the somewhat lacklustre performance of True Confessions, Bananarama chose to have Stock Aitken Waterman produce their next album in its entirety. This was Wow, commercially their most successful album. From late April 1984 until the summer of 1987, the group had spent just six weeks in the UK Top 20, and that was with the single Venus, a cover version. Wow’s lead single, I Heard A Rumour, made the Top 20 in the week ending 25 July 1987, and between that week and the end of the 1980s, they spent a further 28 weeks there with some of their best-known songs. Bananarama and Stock Aitken Waterman was a winning team; Pete Waterman called them his Supremes. But despite their popularity, not everyone was happy.
Siobhan Fahey decided to leave during promotion of Wow, unhappy at the direction the group was taking. She appeared in the promotional clips for the album’s first three singles, then gave her final performance with the group at the BPI Awards in February 1988. By that time, a replacement had already been hired. Jacquie O’Sullivan, a friend of the group for some years, arrived in time to help promotion of the fourth single from Wow, I Want You Back. Fahey’s vocals were removed and replaced by O’Sullivan’s for the single release in March 1988, but given the group’s technique of singing in unison rather than in harmonies, the difference was nugatory. Nevertheless, it was one of the group’s biggest hits, reaching #5. But despite this pleasing chart performance to mark her arrival, and despite seemingly fitting in very easily to the line-up, throughout her tenure O’Sullivan was constantly thought of as ‘the new girl’. Attempts to establish herself as a permanent part of the set up were thwarted almost straight away with the decision to release a ‘greatest hits’ collection less than a year after her appointment. As she had appeared on just one hit (and one written by her predecessor), the artwork for the album featured Fahey on the cover; O’Sullivan appeared on the inner sleeve only. Furthermore, the two singles issued alongside The Greatest Hits Collection which did feature her were not the group’s strongest.
In early 1989, the charity single Help for Comic Relief (in which Bananarama teamed up with comedians Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French and actress Kathy Burke, billed as ‘LaNaNeeNeeNooNoo’) gave them their third #3 hit. (They would never climb any higher on the UK charts.) A remix of earlier hit Cruel Summer later that year was their final release of the decade.
☛ What happened next
Bananarama made one album featuring O’Sullivan, 1991’s Pop Life, which was produced in the main by Youth. Thereafter, Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin have continued as a duo. 1993’s Please Yourself, written with and produced by a Matt Aitken-less Mike Stock and Pete Waterman, contained several strong songs, but the production sounded dated. Timing in pop can be everything, and the release of Last Thing On My Mind probably came at the wrong time. The clinical, studio sound of Bananarama’s recording of the song sounded out of place in the world of ‘Unplugged’ and grunge, and the single only just made the Top 75. Just over five years later, at the beginning of the post-Brit Pop era, Waterman re-recorded it with his new act Steps and they took it into the Top 10.
This at least proved that the contribution Dallin and Woodward made to the writing process was valuable, and several songs they have been responsible over the past 25 years deserve greater appreciation. Their album Viva (2009), originally intended to be an album of cover versions, ended up including mostly newly composed material. Almost without exception, the songs they wrote for it were superior to the covers, in particular the single Love Comes. That should have been a huge hit (and would have been had Girls Aloud or The Saturdays recorded it), but Bananarama were only able to take it to #44. That songs like that went unnoticed is due to the lack of airplay and media attention that Bananarama records have garnered, but at least Viva and preceding album Drama made it to the shops in the UK: Ultraviolet (1995) and Exotica (2001) failed to secure British release.
Their back catalogue remains popular and re-issues and compilations have achieved healthy returns. Their most recent collection to feature new material was the EP Now Or Never in 2012, which was released as an independent download.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Nov. 7
CLASSIX NOUVEAUX (Sal Solo) Never Never Comes (Liberty BP421)
CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT Down To Earth (Mercury CAT2)
BANANARAMA Nathan Jones (London NANA18)
FIVE STAR Let Me Be Yours (Tent PB42343)
Samantha FOX Love House (Jive FOXY10)
SIGUE SIGUE SPUTNIK Success (Parlophone SSS3)
TRANSVISION VAMP (Wendy James) Sister Moon (MCA TVV5)
Midge URE Dear God (Chrysalis URE6)