Saturday, March 21, 2009
Being a child of the 70's, I grew up watching the kid's show,
The Banana Splits. In my youthful ignorance, I hummed along
with the catchy theme song and conveniently placed it in the
back of the Vast Warehouse of Useless Information...also known
as my brain. When I went to college, I first listened to Reggae
Uber-Superstar, Bob Marley. Then I heard his song...Buffalo
Solder. Out of the back of the Warehouse popped my childhood
memory...The Banana Splits theme song. Now, you would say
I'm crazy...what the heck would Bob Marley be doing listening
to the theme song from the late sixties/early seventies. Well,
Bob was known to smoke...hams...no, not hams, but you get the
idea. He might have been recreating with some herbal varietals
and caught the Banana Splits while in a hotel somewhere in the
States and not even have known. Down the line, when writing
Buffalo Soldier, he might have remembered this ditty floating
in his head and made it his own. I've contended this for years
and have had several...ok more than several friends look at me
and shake their heads when I discussed it. (I stopped mentioning
it for fear of being committed to some place with jackets that
tie in the back). So recently, I ran across this article from the
BBC...a usually reputable source of information. Decide for
The children's TV classic the Banana Splits is getting a modern
makeover, reviving memories of its sing-a-long theme tune.
But have you ever noticed the startling similarity between it
and Bob Marley's hit Buffalo Soldier?
Listen to Buffalo Soldier - key lyric "Woy yo yo" - and The Tra
La La Song, and it might seem like there is an echo in the room.
The eight-bar passages are remarkably similar in tune and rhythm.
But while the Banana Splits came onto the scene in 1968 as hosts
of The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, Bob Marley & the Wailers'
Buffalo Soldier did not appear until the posthumous release of
Confrontation in 1983.
So did NBC's costumed rock band of Fleegle the dog, Drooper the
lion, Bingo the gorilla and Snorky the elephant influence one of the
greatest reggae artists of all time - and if so, does it amount to
According to the Bob Marley Foundation in Jamaica, the reggae
legend would probably never have heard of the Banana Splits,
let alone be inspired by them.
Spokesman Paul Kelly says he is unfamiliar with the TV show,
and nor has he dealt with other inquiries about the Banana Splits.
Buffalo Soldier is "Jamaican style straight up," he says.
"Ye man, it's reggae - it's got the 'one drop beat' of the bass
guitar and drums. The Wo yo yo is just Bob Marley being creative,
it is Jamaican slang, an exclamation, a joyful noise the Jamaicans
make when they laugh at a joke."
Bob Marley Foundation doubts it
But musicologist says songs are "strikingly similar"
One issue is whether Marley had access to the Banana Splits
But he says the song has a serious message: "In America, the red
Indians used to say the black people resembled buffalos because
of their dreadlocks - so 'Buffalo Soldier, dreadlock rasta' - and the
song is about them being 'stolen from Africa, brought to America,
fighting on arrival, fighting for survival' about 400 years ago."
But a musicologist, who asked not to be named for professional
reasons, says the songs are "strikingly similar."
The main differences are in bars two and six, where the timing
and inflection in Buffalo Soldier is more jumpy and Marley sings
with a groove, whereas the Banana Splits theme song is "straight".
And in bars three and seven, a note is gained in Buffalo Soldier or
omitted in The Tra La La Song.
"The other difference is in bar four - where the final note goes
down to a C in Buffalo Soldier but up to an E in Banana Splits.
In bar eight they both go down."
The issue of plagiarism rests to a large extent on whether Bob Marley
had access to the Banana Splits' theme song, he says. If he did not,
it couldn't be infringement of copyright as the law stands.
"Then it would be a coincidence - and coincidences do happen."
But if Bob Marley had heard the tune, "there is also always the
possibility of subconscious recollection".
BBC 1Xtra's DJ Seani B offers another possible explanation.
"It might be that Bob Marley's producer, Chris Blackwell, morphed
mainstream sounds from the era into his music to make it more
catchy. There is no evidence of this, it's just a conspiracy theory."
WHO, WHAT, WHY?
A regular feature in the BBC News Magazine - aiming to answer
some of the questions behind the headlines
Having heard other Marley songs years before their commercial
release, DJ Seani B says the originals versions were different.
"There was a watering down from the real authentic reggae,
which was more drum and basic, to a more commercial style
which would appeal to the masses."
And although Jamaican music draws inspiration from a wide
spectrum of sounds - including country music and R&B - he
thinks the cuddly cartoon characters would not have been on
"He was a serious man, I very much doubt that he would have
heard of them."