Nathan Jolly

200 Sad Songs: #184 Bananarama – I want you back (1988)

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Image: Keiren Jolly

Approx Reading Time-10Welcome back to #200SadSongs where this week, the reliable melancholy is replaced with Bananarama’s hyper-coloured upbeat, but all-in-all heartbreaking banger, I Want You Back.

 

 

 

Quite a few years ago, for whatever vague reason, I got rather heavily into the Twin Peaks soundtrack and would routinely spend hours locked in my room with its dark tones leaking through the door into the hall. This period coincided with a break-up, and years later my flatmate at the time confessed she used to come into my room with some excuse just to check if I was still alive. (Spoiler: I was!)

The point of this story is that at no time in human history has anyone been concerned for another’s mental state because they are cranking Bananarama jams on the regular. The group’s music is an aural confetti canon – they are Santa tossing lollies off the back of a firetruck at Christmas time (is this an exclusively rural Australia thing?), they are fluro colours, and matching denim and hoop earrings and scrunchies, and everything plastic and pop and fun about the ’80s. After all, they were called fucking Bananarama!

Yet, for all its ominous, wrapped-in-plastic tones, the Twin Peaks soundtrack is a far safer emotional bet than the wounded break-up anthem that is Bananarama’s I Want You Back. There’s something very unsettling about how chirpy they sound when singing lines like, “You packed your bags and said goodbye; you took my heart without explaining.”

This disconnect continues throughout the song, with lyrics that sting of a freshly-minted breakup and all the life-or-death drama(rama) such an experience entails. But soon lines that would have been cast as pathetic in a less upbeat setting suddenly become powerful. “We had a love most people never know”, “If I can make you see only you can fill the need in me”, and the warning shot, “If you walk away you’ll regret it someday” no longer sound desperate, but instead determined. (You have probably approximated at least half the lyrics in this song during such a fight/split.) There’s nothing like a breakup to make someone oscillate between feeling like the world is a vampire set to drain, and feeling charged with a singular, all-encompassing purpose – even if that purpose is to win back a recently-lost lover.

It may be misguided, but you cannot deny the power of someone who doesn’t care what they have to do in order to win another back.


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Of course, the song was written and produced by the British pop conveyor belt of Stock Aitken Waterman (although Bananarama rewrote some chorus lyrics and scored a co-credit). The SAW trio wrote and produced numerous similar-sounding hits in the ’80s and ’90s for the likes of Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Mel and Kim and Rick Astley, and listening to a selection of these hits back to back, one could assume they got their synth and drum machine settings just right, and never adjusted them again.

So while this song is as manufactured as pop get, the Bananarama girls infuse it with a vital survivor instinct that really makes you believe she will win him back. Or maybe I’m still coming down from the key-change.

 

Nathan Jolly

Nathan is a Sydney-based journalist who has written for numerous publications over the years, including Junkee, This Recording, New York Post, The BRAG, SBS, Triple J Mag, Channel [V], and news.com.au. He used to be pretty good at hitting three-pointers, and can still cartwheel, although he never learnt to swim, drive, or manage money.

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