03 April 2008
The Juanita Banana phenomenon
The Peels - Juanita Banana
(Tash Howard - Murray Kenton)Arranged & conducted by Charlie Fox.
A Howard-Smith Production
Karate single #522
Stateside (UK) single #513
Karate single in Australia (pictured) released through Astor
Juanita Banana is a comic song about a Mexican banana grower's daughter who makes it as a singing star in the big city [lyrics]. When "Juanita Banana" sings the chorus it is an operatic caricature, a worked-over version of Caro Nome, an aria from Giusseppe Verdi's Rigoletto.
The title echoes Chiquita Banana, the 1944 jingle about the cartoon mascot of the United Fruit Company, the international banana trader that evolved into the present-day Chiquita Brands International.
I first heard Juanita Banana when it was excerpted on a novelty record by Dickie Goodman, Batman And His Grandmother (1966). This was a cut-in or break-in record (a distant ancestor of the mashup), where a comedian would do a commentary as, say, a news reporter and snippets of current songs would be inserted to fit in with the story.
Although Juanita Banana has been reissued on the likes of 25 All Time Novelty Hits and Definitive 60s, Vol. 1 it never was a national hit in the USA, UK or Australia. Even on the sprinkling of regional US and Canadian charts posted to ARSA the best it manages is #16 at WIXY in Cleveland, and 30 Years of Canadian Charts has it peaking at #29.
So much for the Anglo world, where it seems to be one of those songs that has stuck in the memory longer than its initial popularity justifies. The extraordinary thing about Juanita Banana is the number of times it has been recorded in non-English-speaking countries. Even the Peels' original version was popular in The Netherlands, where it charted at #13.
When I started writing this post, I was going to compile a definitive list of versions, but I've given up that idea: the more I search, the more I find. Instead, here's a partial list. Some of the exact years are hard to pinpoint, but I believe these are all from the 60s. [Update 2012: See Phil Milstein's recent post at Probe which includes a downloadable .zip file of 21 Juanita Banana versions and related tracks.]
The Peels (USA, 1966)
Henri Salvador (France)
Billy Mo (Germany)
Luis Aguile (Spain, by Argentinian singer)
Quartetto Cetra (Italy)
Het Cocktail Trio (Netherlands)
Mal Sondock (Germany, by US singer-deejay, 1966)
Georgie Dann (Spain, by French singer, 1966)
Los Beta (Spain, 1966)
J. R. Corvington (Argentina)
Los Tres Sudamericanos (Paraguayan group; on Spain's Belter label)
Raymond Boisserie (France, 1967)
Marcello Minerbi (Italy, 1966, #9 Austria)
German Moreno (Phillipines, 1968: he also appeared in a 1968 film called Juanita Banana. Details at IMDb are sparse.)
The Monks (single on Vogue. I don't think these are the Yanks in Germany we love so much, but a French band with J. C. Pelletier.)
Jean Bonal Et Son Orchestre (France)
Teddy Martin & His Las Vegas Boys (France?)
The Reels (Spain: not the Aussie band)
A completist would also include Huanita Banana:
7 Mladih (Yugoslavia, 1966)
Radmila Mikic Miki (Yugoslavia, 1967)
That's it for me, but if too much still isn't enough, feel free to browse the 41 000 hits at Google for "juanita banana" (and nearly 1000 for "huanita banana").
How about the small print?
The Mad Music Archive identifies co-writer Tash Howard as the
producer who put together The Peels, a studio group (not surprising, somehow), and gives some background about the business end of the song's publication.
Tash Howard (c.1941-1977), originally a drummer, had changed his name from Howard Tashman.1 He has 147 compositions listed at BMI, including a follow-up single Juanita Banana Part 2 and (with Charlie Fox) its B-side Rosita Tomato on Karate #533. Between the two Juanitas was Scrooey Mooey on Karate #527, another Tash Howard song (registered title: Screwee Mooey) .
Murray Kenton has eleven songs in his BMI repertoire, the US Copyright Office gives his real name as Morris Temkin and that's about all I know. Howard's co-producer, Smith, is a mystery to me.
Arranger and conductor Charlie Fox is not Charlie Foxx of Mockingbird fame, but he does seem to be the songwriter and film composer Charles Fox, whose repertoire includes Roberta Flack's Killing Me Softly, Jim Croce's I Got A Name and the Happy Days theme (all with lyricist Norman Gimbell).
You can read about Charles Fox's distinguished career at the Songwriters' Hall of Fame which - alas! - offers no further insight into his contribution to Juanita Banana.
The Peels - Juanita Banana.mp3
Verdi - Caro None from Rigoletto.mp3
(Maria Callas 1952 - excerpt)
Dickie Goodman - Batman And His Grandmother.mp3
(Juanita first heard at 21 secs.)Henri Salvador - Juanita Banana.mp3 (French)
Billy Mo - Juanita Banana.mp3 (German)
Luis Aguile - Juanita Banana.mp3 (Spanish)
Update: For more audio, including versions, other Peels songs, and related tracks, all in a downloadable zip file, see Phil Milstein's May 2012 post at Probe.
Footnote: 1. For confirmation that Tash Howard was born Howard Tashman, see the comment below from Holly, who adds some background about the co-writer and producer behind Juanita Banana. (Also mentioned at the Joey Powers page of Harry Young and Larry N. Houlieff.)Not-to-be-confused-with Dept: There is also a London Indie/Pop/Rock singer called Tash Howard (see her MySpace). Tash Howard is also a character played by Barry Van Dyke in an episode of The New Dick Van Dyke Show.... But now I'm getting silly (unless the naming of the character is some kind of in-joke). Oh, and this 21st Century Seattle band called The Peels is not the Juanita Banana group.
The US Copyright Office shows that in 1990 the copyright of Juanita Banana by Tash Howard & Murray Kenton (Morris Temkin) was transferred to Gary Knight aka Harold Temkin who, as Gary Weston, co-wrote Vacation, the 1962 Connie Francis hit (see BMI repertoires). Further research, anyone?
Thanks to Josef Danksagmüller for Marcello Minerbi version alert.