In the mid 1980s, an overwhelming supply of cocaine had been growing, and had spread across the nation as a potent and addictive designer drug that was used everywhere from the board rooms the bathrooms. Crack, which was a cheaper alternative to regular cocaine powder, was widely available as well, pushing crime rates upwards. President Ronald Reagan at the time addressed this epidemic with the notorious “War on Drugs,” which I can only imagine piqued the interest of many who hadn’t previously known that these drugs were as easy to acquire as they thought. Economic times were good, young people had a lot of disposable income, and crack was cheap, so it’s no surprise that society was adapting to cocaine being the new “it” drug.
Many of the hit movies and songs of that time reflects how many people were taking cocaine on a regular basis. Nearly every star from decades past had fallen into career ruts in the 80’s because of heavy drug addictions, so in the wake of the cocaine epidemic, there were a lot of new faces, especially during the middle portion of the decade. Most of the time, their time at the top was short-lived – some would argue that cocaine and constantly changing tastes of its users looking for the next thing (or more realistically, the next high) would explain why there were 30 #1 hits during 1986 (and even more in the years following). Of course, some of the hit songs were in line with normal 80’s trends – a little new wave, a lot of cheesy pop, some hair metal, etc. But a select few songs made their way outside of the club and into the mainstream, reflecting the new cocaine/dance club culture that was becoming more prevalent.
As Rick James once said, “cocaine is a hell of a drug,” and that’s the main reason why Bananarama’s cover of Shocking Blue’s “Venus” hit #1 for a week on September 6th, 1986. Bananarama’s version is one of the most famous examples of a “Hi-NRG” track, and as that would suggest, it has a fast-paced rhythm, lots of hi-hat in its four-to-the-floor dominated percussion that made it perfect for dancing at night clubs under the influence of your favorite white powder. It also, in true 1986 style, has a high-budget 1986 music video which got a lot of airplay on MTV as well.
This song, along with Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Right Round,” represented the peak of Hi-NRG culture invading the charts in the United States, and you can hear the clear similarities between the two – the genre actually made more waves on the other side of the Atlantic where rave/house music was extremely popular in Italian and German discos, in addition to helping to spawn the acid house movement of the late 80s and early 90s in Britain.
I’m a self-professed fan of some really cheesy stuff, so of course I think Bananarama’s cover is pretty outstanding and does the job it’s meant to, even if it’s corny as hell. There are times where I’ll listen to “Venus” four or five times on repeat without even blinking an eye – the vocals and production on this song are perfect and give off that classic “it’s 1980 something and I’m fucking ready to dance” vibe which is hard to replicate even today.
If you’re at this point and thinking “where have I heard this song before?”, you may be familiar with “Venus” because it was used extensively in a women’s razor commercial not that many years ago, and featured in an episode of American Dad.
PS – Bananarama is a really, really terrible name for a band.