Bananas are delicious, nutritious, and are considered the funniest of fruits. No wonder they're frequent fodder for songwriters.
1. "THE BANANA BOAT SONG" // HARRY BELAFONTE
Though he wasn’t the first to record it, “The Banana Boat Song,” released in 1956, is one of Harry Belafonte's best-known tunes. But the roots of the song go further back, to post-World War II Jamaican work gangs. These workers sang traditional call-and-response chants while they loaded bananas on ships, waiting for daylight, when they could be paid and go home.
2. “YES, WE HAVE NO BANANAS" // EDDIE CANTOR
The song “Yes, We Have No Bananas” was written by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn in 1922 and first performed by Eddie Cantor in the Broadway show Make It Snappy. In the 94 years since then, it has been recorded by dozens of artists. The lyrics of the song are about a Greek immigrant grocer who can’t bring himself to say “no” to a customer, even though he's out of bananas. The rest of the song is his offer to sell something else, because he has every kind of produce imaginable—except bananas. The origin of the exact phrase has been attributed to Jimmy Costas, a greengrocer in Lynbrook, Long Island, New York, or possibly cartoonist Tad Dorgan, or maybe Chicago cartoonist Harry Nelly. It’s possible the phrase—or at least the idea—originated in several places, since the concept of a vendor who can’t say “no” resonated with audiences enough that the song became a hit.
3. “I LIKE BANANAS (BECAUSE THEY HAVE NO BONES)" // THE HOOSIER HOTSHOTS
“I Like Bananas (Because They Have No Bones)” was written by Chris Yacich in 1936 and recorded by the Hoosier Hot Shots, who made it a hit. The Hot Shots had their own radio show on WLS in Chicago at the time. They later moved on to Hollywood and made 20 movies, then performed on television and in live concerts up until 1980. The song—well, it was one of dozens they popularized that were just silly and had no deeper meaning.
4. “BANANAPHONE" // RAFFI
“Bananaphone” is the title track to Raffi’s 1994 album of children’s songs. The song is a simple, repetitive ditty full of made up words—and when those children grew up, they remixed the song on the internet. In 2004, an ASCII flash version called Osakaphone appeared (contains flashing lights). At about the same time, Dave Teatro and LazyWill produced a flash animation about how the phone can produce a deadly earworm (contains NSFW language). From that point on, the song was re-purposed for various internet memes for years.
5. “30,000 POUNDS OF BANANAS" // HARRY CHAPIN
In 1974, Harry Chapin wrote “30,000 Pounds of Bananas,” about a truck crash that spilled 15 tons of the fruit. This lighthearted song is based on a true and tragic story of an accident that occurred in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on March 18, 1965. Truck driver Eugene P. Sesky was delivering a load of bananas when his brakes and/or clutch failed on Moosic Street. The truck picked up speed as it headed downhill. Witnesses say Sesky did everything he could to avoid hitting a gas station at the bottom of the hill. The truck hit at least six vehicles and two houses as it overturned, killing Sesky instantly. Fifteen people were injured, but Sesky was the only fatality. He left a widow and three young children, including a son who grew up to be a truck driver. Those who knew Sesky have never forgiven Chapin for writing a lighthearted song about the accident.
6. “CHIQUITA BANANA" // PATTI CLAYTON
Shipping restrictions introduced during World War II had greatly decreased banana consumption in the United States, which went from 17.9 pounds per person in 1939 to 8.2 pounds in 1943. So in 1944, The United Fruit Company released a radio jingle called “Chiquita Banana” to tell consumers about all the great things they could do with the fruit. The song, which was developed by Robert Foreman and his colleagues for The United Fruit Company, was written by Garth Montgomery, Leonard Mackenzie, and William Wirges, and sung by Patti Clayton; it would eventually be played 376 times a day on radio across the country.
The jingle did its job, if only temporarily. According to banana historians, after WWII, banana consumption rebounded temporarily, but soon began a long-term slump, not reaching pre-WWII levels until the 1980s. The culprit was processed fruits as well as the lack of new markets for bananas to enter into.