"Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" is a traditional Jamaican mento folk song, the best-known version of which was sung by Harry Belafonte and an alternate version interspersed with another Jamaican folk song, "Hill and Gully Rider", by The Tarriers—later covered by Dame Shirley Bassey. Despite the song's mento influences, "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" is widely known as an example of calypso music. It is a work song, from the point of view of dock workers working the night shift loading bananas onto ships. Daylight has come, the shift is over and they want their work to be counted up so that they can go home.
The song was originally a Jamaican folk song. Its popular version was adapted by Barbadian Irving Burgie. It was thought to be sung by Jamaican banana workers, with a repeated melody and refrain (call and response); with each set lyric there would be a response from the workers but using many different sets of lyrics, some possibly improvised on the spot. The first recorded version was done by Trinidadian singer Edric Connor and his band "Edric Connor and the Caribbeans" in 1952, on the album Songs From Jamaica; the song was called "Day Dah Light". Belafonte based his version on Edric Connor's 1952 and Louise Bennett's 1954 recordings.
In 1955, singer/songwriters Irving Burgie and William Attaway wrote a version of the lyrics for the Colgate Comedy Hour in which the song was performed by Harry Belafonte. This is the version that is by far the best known to listeners today, as it reached number five on the Billboard charts in 1957 and later became Belafonte's signature song. Side two of Belafonte's 1956 Calypso album opens with "Star O", a song referring to the day shift ending with the first star seen in the sky. Also in 1956, folk singer Bob Gibson, who had travelled to Jamaica and heard the song, taught his version of it to the folk band The Tarriers. They recorded a version of that song that mixed in the chorus of another Jamaican folk song, "Hill and Gully Rider", and released it, spawning what became their biggest hit. It outdid Belafonte's original on the pop charts, reaching number four. This version was re-recorded by Shirley Bassey in 1957, and became a hit in the United Kingdom. The Tarriers, or some subset of the three members of the group (Erik Darling, Bob Carey and Alan Arkin) are sometimes credited as the writers of the song, perhaps because their version of the song, which mixed in another song, was an original creation.
Covers and other uses
"Banana Boat (Day-O)" by Stan Freberg, produced in the 1950s by Capitol Records, features ongoing disagreement between an enthusiastic lead singer and a bongo-playing beatnik (Peter Leeds) who "don't dig loud noises" and had the catchphrase "You're too loud, man". When he hears the lyric about the "deadly black taranch-la" (actually the highly venomous Brazilian wandering spider, commonly dubbed "banana spider"), the beatnik protests, "Don't sing about spiders, man! Like, I don't dig spiders". Stan Freberg's version was the basis for the TV advert for the UK chocolate bar Trio in the mid-1980s.
Dutch comedian André van Duin released his version in 1972 called Het bananenlied: the banana song.
Jamaican singer Shaggy recorded a dancehall version for his 1995 album Boombastic.
Children's singer Raffi has performed the song in concert, replacing the line "I work all night on a drink of rum" with "I work all night 'til the morning come", and the line "Hide the deadly black taranch-la" with "A beautiful bunch o' ripe banana!" He also recorded this song on his 1980 album, Baby Beluga.
The Kidsongs Kids sing this song on "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing". There is also an instrumental outro as heard on CDs and cassettes.