The chart successes of Bananarama always puzzled me. They had several huge singles in the U.S. – “Venus”, “Cruel Summer”, “I Heard A Rumour” but then, the follow up singles were always relative flops. I remember being 14 and seeing “A Trick of the Night” debuting at #93 or something on the Billboard Hot 100 and I just wanted to call up my local radio station and say “just give it a few plays, people will love it.” That’s how naive I was to the inner workings of radio airplay.
“I Can’t Help It” followed a similar trajectory. Hot on the heels of their 1987 summertime smash “I Heard A Rumour” (from the movie Disorderlies – surely the song was the best thing to come out of that movie), “I Can’t Help It” got a top-of-the-hour world premiere on MTV and it seemed to be poised for greatness. Instead, it completely missed the Top 40 and is now barely remembered by anyone but Bananarama fans. It’s funny – I say that, yet I would not really characterize myself as a Bananarama fan, yet I am. They are pleasant and have fun songs but that’s about the extent of it. I’m not moved to see them live or collect rarities or anything like that. But I still really like “I Can’t Help It.”
A couple of funny things about this song. First off, the video is really hilarious. With all the naked and half-naked men, it’s clear that Bananarama knew that gay men made up the core of their fan base, even then, and they were not ashamed to cater to them. Also, this song is the source of one of my most epic lyric mis-hears, made even better by the fact that what I thought I heard makes no sense in any version of anything. I’ve told the story countless times before, but it bears repeating. Somehow, I heard the first two lines of the chorus, which are:
I can’t help it
I’m captivated by you honey
as this incomprehensible, nonsensical thing
I can’t help it
I got debated by your heartache
Perhaps it was residual distraction over “A Trick of the Night” peaking in the lower echelon of the charts. Or perhaps I was just a dumb teenager that had bought the cassette of the album that did not have a lyric sheet. Regardless, that’s what I thought it was for a long time.
The Wow! album is my favorite Bananarama album and they’ve all recently been remastered by the same folks that did the Belinda Carlisle remasters. I’m tempted to pick it up – or at least ask for it for Christmas.