6 Songs About Bananas


Bananas are delicious, nutritious, and are considered the funniest of fruits. No wonder they're frequent fodder for songwriters.


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.


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.


“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.


“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.


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.


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.

Banana Panic! Is the Fruit Really on the Brink of Extinction?

Enjoy your banana pancakes while they last. A tropical fungus that causes Panama disease could wipe out the Cavendish—the most popular variety of banana—in the not-so-distant future. To make matters worse, a wild crop of bananas in Madagascar that could help diversify the fruit's gene pool and protect the Cavendish was just put on the extinction list, the BBC reports.

Throughout the world, the Cavendish is the type of banana that’s most commonly consumed. The Madagascan banana produces seeds, rendering it inedible, but researchers at the Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre say it could be cross-bred to create a new kind of banana that’s both tasty and resilient. In other words, the key to saving the fruit is expanding its genes. Although it is nearly extinct, the African variety seems particularly promising because it could have unique properties that make it resistant to drought or disease.

"It doesn't have Panama disease in it, so perhaps it has genetic traits against the disease," Richard Allen, senior conservation assessor at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, told the BBC. "We don't know until we actually do research on the banana itself, but we can't do the research until it's saved."

Banana panic has been ongoing for a few years, but Snopes reports that some fears—like claims that bananas will be extinct within a decade—are unfounded. However, threats to the Cavendish banana are very real, and it’s not the only crop that’s vulnerable. The world’s most popular wine grapes are also susceptible to pandemics for similar reasons, including a lack of genetic diversity. Scientists are now crossbreeding different varieties of grapes—much like efforts to save the banana—in an effort to keep the wine flowing.

[h/t BBC]

British Supermarket Launches Banana Rescue Stations to Curb Food Waste

Picking out groceries can feel like judging a beauty contest. Instead of choosing the nearest fruit or vegetable they see, some shoppers like to root through the pile until they’ve found a specimen that’s free of blemishes. An immaculate apple may look nicer on the kitchen counter, but it’s no healthier than its bruised or misshapen peers.

Customers’ disdain for “ugly” (yet perfectly edible) produce is a major contributor to food waste. As The Independent reports, the British supermarket chain Sainsbury's recently looked at consumer pickiness when it comes to bananas. Data gathered by the UK’s waste advisory group Wrap shows that Britons are throwing out 1.4 million bananas a day. Now Sainsbury's is launching a banana rescue initiative in an attempt to lower that number.

Many of the bananas that land in the trash are salvageable: The report found that 13 percent of those surveyed will discard the fruit if it has any green on the skin. One in three responders confessed to tossing bananas at the first sight of a bruise or black spot.

Sainsbury’s wants to rebrand the brown banana. Starting the week of May 15, the chain is erecting hundreds of pop-up “banana rescue” stations inside its stores. The stands provide shoppers with recipe inspiration for bananas that might otherwise get tossed. Bananas approaching an unappetizing shade of black, for instance, are perfect for baking. As bananas ripen past the point of yellow perfection, enzymes convert their starch into liquid sugar. Sainsbury’s recommends using the sweet mushy mess to make banana bread. Other applications for bananas past their prime include smoothies, fruit salads, and dried chips.

The campaign likely won’t get every bruised banana into shopping carts and out the door, but it’s a start. The overripe bananas the supermarket chains is unable to sell will be baked into banana bread by in-store bakeries at 110 locations. As Paul Crewe, head of sustainability, engineering, energy, and environment for Sainsbury’s, tells The Independent, “The quest for a perfectly a-peeling banana is resulting in waste that could be avoided ... There’s no need to bin the bruised ones anymore.”

[h/t The Independent]


More from mental floss studios