Cruel Summer :: Bananarama
Directed by Nigel Dick
Cruel Summer is a pop song originally written and performed by Bananarama that was a top ten hit in Britain in 1983. It was not an immediate international success when it was released. Although it hit # 8 on the UK Chart, its international popularity soared after its inclusion in the 1984 feature film The Karate Kid; this was a year after the song’s original release (the song was released in 1984 in the US).
Bananarama did not allow the song to be included in the film’s soundtrack, but regardless it was their first top ten hit (# 9 in the USA). When Bananarama were still struggling to make money in their early years, they even performed the song at a beauty contest in Hawaii.
The song has since been revived in various forms. It appeared in several television commercials, was included on the soundtrack to the movie Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, and was covered by other acts, such as Ace of Base, who scored an international hit with it (their version even reached gold in the US), and Blestenation on the Blue Crush soundtrack. In 2003, Swedish electronica female artist Sophie Rimheden sampled the beat and bassline from the song on the track In Your Mind of the album HiFi. In 2011, Athens, Ohio-based rock band Downplay covered the song on their album Beyond the Machine.
Since its success, the group have recorded another three versions of the song. Cruel Summer ’89 was recorded with new member Jacquie O’Sullivan in 1989, and given a new jack swing make-over. It reached number nineteen in the UK singles chart in June. This version was not included on any Bananarama album until 2005’s Really Saying Something: The Platinum Collection.
Another version of the song was recorded and featured on their 2001 album Exotica. This version featured Latin instrumentation and additional lyrics, but it was not released as a single. In 2009 they released another updated version as a B-side to their single Love Comes.
The song was also featured as the theme tune to the first series of Trouble’s reality show of the same name, where a group of young adults were sent off to a holiday camp, only to be tortured and humiliated in an attempt to win a large sum of money.
The music video (seen above) was shot in New York City in June of 1983 and features what is said to be a take on the American TV show The Dukes of Hazzard, with a bumbling cop duo who chase the girls as they make their escape in a truck (at one point, Bananarama members throw bananas at a trailing police cruiser). That said, New York City seems like the “wrong city” to recreate The Dukes of Hazzard, which was meant to be set in Georgia, albeit a fictional city in Georgia (Hazzard County).
“It was just an excuse to get us to the fabled city of New York for the first time,” says Siobhan Fahey. She recalls the shoot as a difficult experience. “It was August, over one hundred degrees. Our headquarters was a tavern under the Brooklyn Bridge, which had a ladies’ room with a chipped mirror where we had to do our makeup.”
After an exhausting morning, the band returned to the tavern for lunch. They made the acquaintance of some of the local dockworkers, who upon learning of their situation shared vials of cocaine with them. “That was our lunch” said Fahey, who had never tried the drug before. “When you watch that video, we look really tired and miserable in the scenes we shot before lunch, and then the after-lunch shots are all euphoric and manic.”
The music video for the 1989 remix was a compilation of different shots from Bananarama’s earlier videoclips. Notably missing are clips from the original 1983 video. Fahey is only featured in a pair of frames. Bananarama were unable to record a proper video for the song due to being in the middle of a world tour at the time of release.
Sara Dallin of Bananarama told The Guardian in July 22, 2009: “The best summer songs remind you of your youth: what you did in your holidays, how it felt when you first kissed a boy, going away without your parents.” She added that this song, “played on the darker side: it looked at the oppressive heat, the misery of wanting to be with someone as the summer ticked by. We’ve all been there!”
Dallin also recalled to The Guardian: “It was a huge hit in the US. I’ll always remember coming out of our hotel in LA when we first became famous and seeing Mike Tyson sitting there. He burst into Cruel Summer when he saw us. It was unbelievable. Summer songs do that to people. When the sun’s out, anything goes.”
Editor’s Note: My last year of high school I went through a big girl group phase, and Bananarama was front and center in my obsession. Their first two albums, Deep Sea Skiving and self-titled, were played often, with me dancing and hairbrush singing-a-long in my bedroom. I harbored fantasies of my own girl group for a brief moment, right before the bug of acting stung and stuck in me. Even after leaving the girl group dream behind, I still have a huge soft spot for bands like The Bangles, The Go-Go’s, and Bananarama, all hot and heavy during that phase.