03 April 2008

The Juanita Banana phenomenon

The Peels - Juanita Banana
(Tash Howard - Murray Kenton)Arranged & conducted by Charlie Fox.
A Howard-Smith Production

USA 1966
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
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.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I just heard this song for the first time tonight on the Novelty collection you mentioned and went looking for what the aria was that is so infectiously pop-ified. Your page gave me that and so much more. The different international versions, with their different strengths and weaknesses, help to clarify what makes this a great song. Its humor is almost entirely musical - i.e. not just the old classical-tune-put-in-rock-format gag, but the "surprise" ending of the father singing the same tune two octaves down. The Quartetto Cetra version seems to have missed this, while Henri Salvador's take on that part may be even funnier than the original.

Anonymous said...

JUANITA BANANA is performed by cemedians VIRUTA & CAPULINA in the Mexican Movie "Detectives o ladrones..? (Dos agentes inocentes)" (1967)


Anonymous said...

I wouldn't swear to it, but my first contact as I remember it was that Juanita Banana was in a spanish version a competing song in the big European Chansons Contest back in the sixties and made a nose-on-nose race for the top ranking with the winning song, and I - a teenager then - was very disappointed that it didn't win.

For a reason I don't know I got it in my head today and started to look for it - great surprise that I found it below your great comment ready to be downloaded. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Excellent job. I heard this song many years ago and is one of those thigs that you never forget. Needless to say that in addition to those "official" versions you have mentioned there have been numerous interpretations at live shows and TV appearances. I think it is safe to say that, in Spanish at least, must be one of the most populat themes ever.

Unknown said...

Well guys...I can't quite explain how I stumbled upon this site at this precise moment in time. However, I thought I'd contribute at least something to this ongoing discussion. Tash Howard was my 2nd cousin. He was born Howard Tashman and he was a drummer before he became a songwriter. As a very young man he looked very much like a young Robert Wagner. He was very handsome. He also was a kind, loving, caring man who would have helped a stranger in need. I loved him very, very much. He didn't use tash Howard as a pseudonym. He actually changed his name....I was a blood related family member who grew up only knowing him as Tash...Tash passed away in 1977 of melanoma. Had his skin cancer been diagnosed today, he would, in all likelihood, have survived. He was 36 when my family lost such a bright star. His grave asks to be remembered for who he was and to celebrate his life....His love has remained in my heart since that day, very much alive in the namesake of one of my sons.

Lyn Nuttall said...


I have have finally updated my story on 'Juanita Banana' with some of the details you gave me about Tash.

You didn't leave your email address, so I hope you see this some time and will know that I am very grateful for your informative - and moving - comment.

From Lyn

Maelsturmer said...

I had the lp as a child and I'm still looking for a reasonable copy. There's alot of Fun songs(Pun intended), and I would love to hear "Rosita Tomato" again. Any chance you could upload the b-side?
Thank you...great job.

Lyn Nuttall said...

Maelsturmer: I don't have "Rosita" but if I ever come across it... Thanks for commenting.

Michael said...

If you search for it on Youtube, you'll find a ton of foreign versions. Apparently it was also recorded in Slovakian - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xmk-khR85_w&feature=related

I don't actually speak Slovakian, but I Googled the artist and it shows up on a lot of Slovakian websites.

Anonymous said...

I studied drums with your cousin Tash during my high school days. He was every thing you said about him and more.
What a terrific guy; a great influence on my life; a great teacher!

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I heard this in Germany back in 1966!

Anonymous said...

I first heard Huanita Banana when I was six and remembered all these years the tresses going up and down. Thank you for posting this video, it took me back to my childhood.

Unknown said...

This is such a sad moment for me . . . I just decided to search for Tash Howard after many years. He was my 'first' boyfriend . . . . I was just 17 years old and he was absolutely wonderful . . . kind, and caring. He would take me to NYC clubs to listen to music then get up on stage to play the drums. I remember when he made his first record "Don't Tell Mamma" . . . I've always thought of him and wondered what he was up to. He always seemed like he would be around forever . . . so this is such a shock!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi my name is Kev Lock, and i'm a D.J on the English mod scene, i recently aquired a copy of "Scrooey Mooey" by The peels, not for the A side but for the flipside "Time marches on", it has been eluding me for near on 20 years, not only is it an excellent tune from the 60's but now having read the story of Tash it all adds to the kudos of owning it.

It made me sad to read that Tash passed away at such a young age, when i play it out for the first time this weekend i'll dedicate it to him.

Lyn Nuttall said...

Kev Lock: Sorry for the long delay in posting your comment. I read it back in April, away from home, on my phone, and neglected to complete the admin process when I got home to my PC. Hope you got a good response from your spinning of The Peels. - Lyn

Nick said...

NPR just played the JR Corvington version. I looked it up immediately and there was your site. Well done!

Lyn Nuttall said...

Thanks! (I do believe this is the definitive account, for now.)

That would be yer Annoying Music Show? I see they have Corvington's version on an Annoying Music Show CD. (My [affiliated] link to it at Amazon: http://amzn.to/9XHHxI)

Paul Levinson said...

Sad to find out about Tash Howard's early departure. He produced a song called "Please Don't Cry Little Dove" - I put it on my Spun Dreams LP, with a mention of Tash in the liner notes.

Junk Monkey said...

Here's another version of Juanita Banana for the collection posted on my Cheesybeats blog.

Thanks for the informative post. I'd never realised there were so many versions of this song.

Lyn Nuttall said...

Thanks. I like your Cheesybeats blog. I'll link to it.

Anonymous said...

The Peels consisted of:
Gail Allan, Bill Spilka and Harvey Davis.

Anonymous said...

The Peels were:
Gail Allan, Bill Spilka and Harvey Davis.

Lyn Nuttall said...

That's great, Anonymous, thanks.

But how do you know this? Tell us more, please!

Lyn Nuttall said...

Ah-ha! This scanned page from ABC (Madrid) gives the three names of the Peels: http://bit.ly/qapU3i

Ignore the transcript below the scan. It mangles two of the names, but the page itself gives Gail Allan, Bill Spilka and Harvey Davis... and their ages (22, 25, 23).

There are four people in the photo, though!

michael vee said...

.. if you wanna get 26 juanita bananas'versions: go to

(hope you'll enjoy)

guszamora said...

In México, this was a very popular song. The best known version, was made by the group Los Hooligans in 1967. Also Manolo Muñoz (a great singer/actor) did a version of the song, and the rock group Los Yaki made a funny version on it(called 'Juanita la platanera'). Greetings: GZ

Lyn Nuttall said...

Thanks gustavo. I hadn't noticed those versions before but I see our friend Phil has them covered here: http://www.philxmilstein.com/probe/index.htm#session384

G Knight said...

I purchased the publisher of the song entitled, "Juanita Banana" in the year, 1990. In 1961, it was played on a piano and sung by two crazy guys when Tash Howard, publisher said, "This is a SONG"! Tash was solely responsible for the concept of the song & the final lyrics. The Chiquita Banana Company was given a chance to make it their "logo song", but turned it down. The title then changed to "Juanita Banana". It was originally thought of as a pure joke, but after the lyric was originally offered, a hit emerged .... Charlie Fox created the terrific arrangement under the condition that his name would NOT appear anywhere including the label. Charlie had some terrific success & didn't want to interfere with his newly-acquired top reputation... "Killing me Softly with Music" etc etc.. with this crazy novelty record. Tash co published the song, "Do it till your Satisfied" and more. Tash was also a much-loved music entrepreneur during his time in the business, 1961 to 1977. He tried to resurect Tiny Tim's Career. Tiny recorded, "Juanita Banana" but the master recording was never sold.

Lyn Nuttall said...

Great background notes. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hello Everybody!
At my search for a cover version of Juanita Banana I i found this obscure German Beat Band:

The Rebels - Beat Hits Vol. 3

Tracks: Hang On Sloopy / Dedicated Follower Of Fashion / Girl / Juanita Banana / Flamenco / Somebody Help Me / Norwegian Wood

Here is a Link:

Best wishes, Sascha from Berlin

Lyn Nuttall said...


Goytá said...

Another version for the list: Moacyr Franco in Brazil, 1966. Lyrics in Portuguese (with fake Spanish accent and sprinkled Spanish words) more or less closely matching The Peels' English version. I was a little boy back then, but loved the song - it was funny...

Franco was a popular singer at the time and while I don't have chart information, I remember it was successful enough for the song to be very well known among that generation. His version can be heard at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJ7WVE5kC-o .

Some years later (early 1970s, possibly), Brazilian actress and singer Norma Suely also recorded a version, but she sang The Peels' version in English. This version was not successful.

Unknown said...

My father, Harold Swart, who passed away last year (October, 2015) was the male singer on the actual Peels single of Juanita Banana. He was an extraordinary soul singer and felt demeaned by the "novelty" song career he was getting into. He got signed later by Dion DiMucci's manager and added to the Laurie Records label as "Mountain Man". His friends told me he had numerous brushes with success in music but would self sabotage (not through any kind of substance abuse, but apparently some kind of fear of success.)
I, and my brothers and sister would love to know more about the album and the song, and any band experiences if any of the surviving members are still living. Here's a photo of the Peels from discogs. That's my pop Harold Swart on the right.

Lyn Nuttall said...

Kaya, thank you for your fascinating comment which adds more details to the story. Marvellous to have that background on your father.

I wrote the post some 8 years ago and it has attracted more reaction than anything else I've written. The comments section has become a supplementary history of the song and its participants. Time I wrote an update.

As to details about the band, I don't know anything else apart from what is here. I assumed The Peels were a studio band, brought together for the session, but I could be wrong.

I hope you can add any other details you come across, and I'll do the same.

- Lyn

Lyn Nuttall said...

PS I've updated the email address on my profile page so if you want to email me it should work now.

Lyn Nuttall said...

Laurie Records discography of The Mountain Man [Harold Swart, lead singer of The Peels]

The Mountain Man
The Thaw (Murray Kenton - Tash Howard) / Put Out The Flame (Murray Kenton - Tash Howard)

Both sides produced by Tash Howard & Herb Bernstein and arranged by Herb Bernstein.

The writers are the same as for "Juanita Banana".

Herb Bernstein is a well-known producer, arranger and conductor who has worked with many big names since the 1960s.

Paul Levinson said...

Just doubling back here with a link (free) to Please Don't Cry Little Dove. It was recorded in 1966 by my vocal group, The New Outlook. We walked into Tash's office in the Brill Building one day, and sang this and a few other songs. Tash thought a Happenings kind of song could sell. He brought us into the studio, and we recorded this. Tash showed it around - nothing much happened. (I wrote the lyrics, Stu Nitekman the music; Stu is singing lead, and I'm singing falsetto.)

Lyn Nuttall said...

Paul, thank you, that is full of interest (and a pretty good song as well). It would be great to bring together information about Tash and publish his story in a blog post or Wikipedia article or both. I'm not sure I'm up to it at the moment, as I'd have to do a lot more research, but it's something to keep in mind.

Anonymous said...

One more version to add to the list: Terry Scott, the English comedian. It's actually pretty good; he does the narration and the father's part as if he wrote them; doesn't sound like a cover.

Bill said...

In the summer of 1966 I was living in Spain. "Juanita Banana" was playing on speakers everywhere, and it seemed as though everyone was singing "Juanita Banana, la-la-la" for laughs. It's still stuck in my head though I doubt I've heard it in the 50 years since then. I didn't pay attention to the verse lyrics but vaguely remember their being in Spanish. Maybe not, since I don't see any Spanish-language covers listed that early.

Unknown said...

Are The Peels the same group as The Hills or did they just happened to record Juanita Banana and Fun at the same time ?

Lyn Nuttall said...

Not the same group. One of dozens of cover versions & remakes. Phil has a big list + audio here: http://www.philxmilstein.com/probe/08.htm (go down to Session 384)