Well, this was unexpected. Not the presence of Bananarama specifically, but the whole feel of this single. The lightness, the gloss, the joviality. You certainly wouldn’t guess it from the sleeve…
“It Aint What You Do It’s The Way That You Do It” is The Fun Boy Three’s biggest and probably most recognised hit. Its breezy xylophone riff and title refrain have put it up there with “I Got You (I Feel Good)” as an overused advertising staple, deployed to promote cars, printers, a hardware store, at least two different supermarkets and no doubt various other things as well. And while Messrs Golding, Hall and Staple may not personally approve, or necessarily approve of, these ads, I’m sure the remuneration is very welcome. What they don’t get, though, is a cut of the songwriting royalties, since it was written before any of them were born.
It wasn’t the first time that Golding, Hall and Staple had updated a jazz standard; the Specials’ second album More Specials had opened and closed with a ska’d-up version of the 1949 composition “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)”. “T’aint What You Do…” (as the jazz folk normally called it – the first pressing of this single also used “T’aint” on the label) was even older, being penned in 1939 by Sy Oliver and James “Trummy” Young, then members of Jimmy Lunceford‘s band. Lunceford made a popular recording of it that year, as did Ella Fitzgerald, whose version included an extra verse, seemingly unique to her. YouTube offers up a wealth of covers by the likes of Fats Waller, Adelaide Hall, Louis Armstrong, Julie London, and Cleo Laine, all of whom stick to the Lunceford-endorsed lyric.
FB3 don’t quite stick to the traditional lyric. Strangely, they drop the standard introductory verse (“When I was a kid, about half past three / My daddy said son, come here to me / Said things may come, and things may go / But this is one thing you ought to know”), though they do include what I think is a new verse of their own (“I thought I was smart but I soon found out / I didn’t know what life was all about / But then I learnt, I must confess / That life is like a game of chess”). But let’s face it, this number is all about the chorus, which repeats in several variations: It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it, the place that you do it, the time that you do it… that’s what gets results.
And it really is the way that they did it, that got results here. It’s quite a challenge to make something new out of a song with four decades’ worth of covers already behind it, especially a song that doesn’t have a lot to it in the first place, but FB3’s arrangement is a triumph. Bear in mind that “T’aint What You Do…” is traditionally a song that showcases a horn section – it was, after all, penned by a trumpet player and a trombonist. The Fun Boy Three’s emphasis on percussion, and the complete absence of brass in their version, makes their arrangement quite different to the way the song would normally be performed. It’s respectful to the song yet also fresh; a real achievement. And it’s not even their best single!
But why Bananarama? According to Terry Hall, because “they’re three girls, and they don’t know what they’re doing either”. Fair enough. In truth, it wasn’t quite as strange a team-up as it might appear in retrospect. Nowadays we know Bananarama as purveyors of slick production-line pop, but at the time their only recorded output (other than backing vocals on a Department S B-side) had been a flop independent single covering a faux-African disco track and sung entirely in Swahili. And they didn’t smile on the cover. It wasn’t that much of a leap to see them having something in common with the creators of “The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum)”.
Bananarama’s contribution is absolutely key – maybe the Fun Boys could have performed the title refrain themselves (although counting against them is the lack of conviction in their delivery of “then your jive will swing”) but it took female voices to do the “doo-do-loo-doo-doo”s, and to contrast with FB3 in the lengthy vocal breakdown that begins about a minute in. In both of these things they are essentially standing in for the absent brass; it works so well that you never question it.
The single reached number 4 in March 1982. Co-incidentally (well, I assume it was a co-incidence!), the number one that week was also a revival – albeit via a somewhat more complex lineage – of a song first recorded in 1939: Tight Fit’s version of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. FB3’s single is a bit classier (well alright, quite a lot classier), although I’m sure a lot of people must have bought both.
And so to the tracks themselves. The 7″ version is the one with that familiar intro:
The 12″ version is a two-part track. The first part is the LP mix of the song, which ends with the rewind sound effect at 2:51. After that, you get the dub version, “Just Do It”. The Cherry Red reissue of the album Fun Boy Three adds “Just Do It” as a bonus track, separate from the main song, but it’s presented as a continuous sequence on the original single:
The B side is a largely instrumental track with loads of that “tribal” drumming and the Nanas shouting “Fa-fa-fa-fa-Funrama!” every now and again. The 7″ is the same as the 12″, but faded out halfway through, so you wouldn’t be missing anything by skipping it, but in case you’re curious, here it is anyway:
The Funrama Theme also turned up on the album, but with Dick Cuthell sounding his funky horn over the top:
At this point we have a blip in the Fun Boy Three singles series. The collaboration with Bananarama was so successful that not only did Keren, Sara and Siobhan also guest on two more tracks on the Fun Boys’ LP, but FB3 were brought in to lend a hand with the next Bananarama single. Instead of dealing with that in a bonus post at the end of the series, it’s going to appear here in its proper chronological position, next week.