Banana Boat Song: Harry Belafonte (1956)

Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)
Single: Harry Belafonte
Album: Calypso
Language: Jamaican Patois
B-side: "Star-O"
Released: 1956
Genre: Mento
Songwriters: Traditional, arranged: 
Harry Belafonte, William Attaway, Lord Burgess

"Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" is traditional Jamaican folk music, a call-and-response song of dock workers loading bananas onto ships. The daylight's come, the shift is over, and they want their work counted and to go home. 
Americans had no notion of the 
rich culture of the Caribbean.
Harry Belafonte
The best-known version of "Day-O" was released by Harry Belafonte in 1956 for his album Calypso. The track reached number five on Billboard's singles chart, and the album became his second consecutive chart-topper. It was the first LP to sell over one million copies. In an interview with the Arts-Journal blog Jazz Beyond Jazz, Belafonte said:


"The most important thing to me about 'The Banana Boat Song' is that before America heard it. Americans had no notion of the rich culture of the Caribbean. There were these cultural assumptions about people from the Caribbean: they were all rum-drinking, sex-crazed, and lazy. 

Let me sing about a new definition of these people. Let me sing a classic work song about a man who works all night for a sum equal to the cost of a dram of beer, a man who works all night because it's cooler then than during the day."

Single: The Banana Boat Song
Album: The Tarriers
Language: Jamaican Patois
B-side: No Hidin' Place
Released: 1956
Songwriters: Alan Arkin,
Bob Carey, Erik Darling

Also in 1956, the same year as the Belafonte cover,  folk singer Bob Gibson traveled to Jamaica, heard the song, and taught his version to The Tarriers

The group consisted of Erik Darling, Bob Carey, and Alan Arkin, who later became known as an actor. Their cover incorporated the chorus of another Jamaican folk tune, "Hill and Gully Rider." When that track was released, it outperformed Belafonte's version, reaching Number 4 in the US. 

The Fontane Sisters
The Fontane Sisters

The Tarriers version was covered multiple times in 1956 and 1957, including by Sarah Vaughan, Steve Lawrence, Shirley Bassey, and The Fontane Sisters: all of whom charted in the top 40 in their respective countries.


A parody of the hit by Stan Freberg and Billy May was released in 1957. It featured a disagreement between a Jamaican lead singer and a bongo-playing beatnik, whose catchphrase is "You're too loud, man." Their version reached number 25 on the US Top 40 charts. 

Beetlejuice 1988 film poster

The Swedish humor show Rally made a version called "Hey Mr. Taliban" About Osama Bin Laden; its lyrics include "Hey Mister Taliban, In Afghanistan/US Come and you wanna go home" and "Day-O! Daaaay-O! Missile, come, and you wanna go home."

In the 1988 film Beetlejuice, a dinner scene has guests supernaturally compelled to dance along to the original Belafonte recording.


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