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WHO: Norm Hayes
WHERE: London, UK
ALBUM: Bananarama’s ‘Pop Life’ (1991)
The pop world is rejoicing in the news that Bananarama, the most charted girl group in history, are reuniting their original line-up of Sara Dallin, Keren Woodward and Siobhan Fahey (who left the group in 1988 to form Shakespears Sister) for a UK tour at the end of 2017.
Known mostly for their rough ’n’ ready image and do-it-yourself attitude to choreography, Bananarama’s musical contribution was unfairly overlooked in their heyday. However, in light of their recent announcement, there appears to be a newfound (and long overdue) sense of recognition for the fantastic legacy of pop music this group has produced over the past 35 years.
While most focus has been on the output of the original line-up (whose largest worldwide hits included “Cruel Summer,” “Robert De Niro’s Waiting” and “Venus”), my personal favourite album from Bananarama is 1991’s Pop Life―the only long player to feature Jacquie O’Sullivan (who replaced Fahey after her departure from the group in 1988, only to leave herself shortly after Pop Life’s release).
Their previous album WOW! (1987) was recorded entirely with Stock Aitken and Waterman off the back of their worldwide success with “Venus” the previous year. After S/A/W reached further success with their production line of pop hits by the likes of Kylie Minogue, Mel & Kim and Rick Astley, their partnership with Bananarama went sour and the group scrapped an album’s worth of material that had left them feeling uninspired.
They went to trendy dance producer Youth in a conscious effort to produce what would become their most creative, bold and diverse body of work to date. Pop Life embraced the hi-energy dance culture of the early nineties with lead singles “Only Your Love” (which sampled the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”) and “Preacher Man.” The album also explored various other genres including flamenco (their collaboration with the Gipsy Kings covering the Doobie Brothers’ classic “Long Train Running”), acid-house (“Tripping on Your Love”), reggae (“What Colour R the Skies Where U Live?”) and soft-rock (“Outta Sight”).
This was the sound of three confident, inspired women taking control of their musical direction, determined to push the boundaries of their creativity―and the reason why I would become an avid follower of Bananarama. It is an injustice that Pop Life did not achieve the commercial success it deserved, however it is highly regarded by Bananarama’s loyal fanbase as their finest output to date.