Monday, December 31, 2007

1001 Greatest Pop Songs Of All Time - #32 - Cruel Summer by Bananarama

Alyson: Claire is right, we probably need to cut the explanations and the crusading down a bit, if for no other reason that we hope you know and realise how silly and snobby "rock" journalism is. In the desire to trip over themselves to annoint some scruffy indie herberts as the saviours of music, they will make themselves look like the knowledge by baiting the pop bands of the day. Then, later, they'll out themselves as having a "guilty pleasure" - the idea seems ridiculous, why is it guilty to find liking heart stoppingly brilliant pop as something to be ashamed of? (Although tragically, they got to Siobhan, now 18 years into a tragic solo career of attempting goth keeping it real, but I digress.) I'll stop before I bring up that martian analogy again...

Bananarama (the conjunction of The Banana Splits and the Roxy Music track "Pyjamarama, how bubblegum is that partnership?) for instance got the usual tedious slagging throughout the 80s for having the temerity to be happy and make great pop, while rock journalists were sobbing into their Smiths CDs. Pop puppets they sneered. Laughable, we sneered back from the pop side of the fence. After all, Bananarama were brought up through punk rock fandom, jumping on stage at random moments of punk gigs to dance and steal the microphone, all the while living above the rehearsal space of a couple of Sex Pistols (who weren't contrived of course, oh nooooo). And on the set of the Cruel Summer video, when the cameraman was focusing too much on Siobhan, they ominously sorted it out "Bananarama style" - ie. they beat the crap out of him. And girl power? Few girl bands have had as genuine a right to the phrase. They practically in this era invented the term, using their videos to teach wayward men a lesson. Even in prime era SAW, when they dropped down a gear on the mardy meter circa WOW, they were still the ones in control, turning into lovers not fighters.

The idea that Siobhan, Keren and Sara were anyone puppets is ludicrous.

Cruel Summer, from 1983, is immense. It swaggers with Thatcherite era cynicism, girls out there partying with one eye open, waiting for the inevitable betrayal from bastard men. It's empowered, a song for the broken hearted who refuse to cry into their shandies, who still get up the next day and fight (literally in the case of the Nanas) on. It's wonderfully sarcastic in a typical British way (and in a way Ace Of Base never quite got on their cover) - it might be bouncy, but there's a darkness behind the cheer, the kind of minds that think about tomorrows hangover while drinking today. It's anything but innocent, despite the sweetest of bubblegum new wave pop tunes. It's both a song for the party, and the party comedown. All in the space of 3 epic minutes. Absolutely perfect.

But hey, they were really pop puppets, honest...bring on the martians....

Claire: This is my favourite Bananarama song, and one of my favourite ever songs, and it changed my life, it's my first musical memory, the be-fringed trio swaggering round the streets of New York making life miserable for the bumbling Dukes Of Hazzard duo in the squad car trying to make them go back to work at the petrol station. I would consider myself almost the worlds biggest Siobhan Fahey fan, right up until that band I won't mention broke the spell. Still, they couldn't break the wonderment I still feel for Cruel Summer.

Bananarama don't ever get the credit they deserve. They had three distinct spells - the initial punkpop of the early years, the mid 80s strident period where they dominated everything with their wonderful bubblegum phrasing, and the SAW years where they were wise enough to drop down a level and simply become wonderfully pop. And in 2005, Sara and Keren made the hypnotically wonderful Drama, of which more later, refusing to simply fade away and become a cover act and putting thought and care into their music. And yet, you never see the Nanas on so called "great songs" list. Scruffy indie herberts, you pack as much darkness and beauty into your song as Cruel Summer has, and we'll talk about your music, K?


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