“Love is a thing, well, its kind of like quicksand: The more you are in it, the deeper you sink. And when it hits you, you've just got to fall” - UB40
UB40 – The British Reggae Invasion
UB40 were a pioneering reggae band that originated in the late 70s. England was going through a punk and reggae invasion in the late 70s and UB40 with their political and socially conscious lyrics and easy going music were a major hit. Relentless touring have made the band sell nearly 70 million albums world wide. It was Ali Campbell’s infectious smile and distinctive voice gave the band a voice and a face. The band has four No.1 hit singles and is among the favorite British live acts of the 80s and early 90s.
The Reggae Rebels
Universally they will always be known for the cover Elvis Presley song “Can’t Help Falling in Love” recorded for The Sliver soundtrack. A three decade long career, the band has been performing sell-out world tours. Their working class background has helped them to hone their songwriting that often tackles subject like racism and unemployment. The bands members come from diversified background from English, Scottish, Irish, Yemeni and Jamaican. The 8 member band has shown incredible staying power especially in the British charts
The band members were all friends in school and colleges. But it was Ali Campbell and his brother who started the band. A famous story about the band was how they got their first instruments after Ali won a bar fight. Initial influences were more blues jamming, but it was in the long jam sessions where they were able to refine their sound and embrace reggae music.
Working Class Heroes
It was The Pretenders lead singer Chrissie Hynde that gave them their first break. By 1980, the band released their first album "Signing Off" was a strong debut and it peaked at No.2 in the UK charts. The reggae rhythm on the record was a direct inspiration of the Jamaican sound. Simple structures in song production and socially conscious songwriting would become the hallmark of the bands future.
The 1981 album “Present Arms” was more politically intense then the first album. This time the song “One in Ten” that refers to the unemployment ration in England was a direct attack on Thatcher(ism). The band toured relentlessly behind both the albums but had not cracked the US charts. UB44 in 1982 continued UK chars success but still failed to reach the US charts
The moment finally arrived when UB40 became a hit in the US with their single ”Red Red Wine” a cover of the Neil Diamond song. The song reached No.1 on the US and UK charts and the accompanying album peaked at No.14 on the US album charts. It was also their first UK No.1 as well.
Global Success and Touring
The 1984 “Geffery Morgan” and 1985 “Baggariddim” continued with US charting success. The latter album had a hit single “I Got you Babe” which was a Sonny and Cher classic. The single a major hit in the European market. In 1986-89 UB released strong reggae albums which all charted but did not eclipse Labour of Love. It was the band relentless touring which ensured that all the albums went gold.
In 1989, the band recorded “Labour of Love II” which was purely an album full of pop covers given the reggae treatment. The song “Kingston Town” was a smash hit and their second No.1 single. The album has sold 3 million copies world wide.
UB40 recorded “Promises and Lies” the self produced album was to become their biggest global hit by selling nearly 10 million copies. The band recorded a cover version of the Elvis Presley ballad “(I Can't Help) Falling in Love With you”. The song was a massive international hit as it was featured in the soundtrack for the Sharon Stone adult thriller Sliver. The accompanying video was themed from the movie and became a major hit on MTV.
In 1995 the band released the greatest hits album which was platinum certified. The new album “Guns in the Ghetto” released in 1997 was a radical change from the reggae sound and was more of adult contemporary album which alienated many of their hard core fans. The new direction was also heavily criticized as it lacked any real direction. The album barely managed to chart in the US at 176.
From 2001 to 2008 the band release four albums all charting in the UK but by now the US market was completely over. The bands music sounded very bland as several new genres of music were dominating the US charts.
In 2008 Ali Campbell had a bitter dispute with the rest of the band and after 30 years as the driving force decided to quit. However it is their relentless touring and festival shows which have drawn huge praise. The band plans to release the fourth installment of Labour of Love in 2010.
Did you know that
- ...UB40 has replaced departed singer Ali Campbell with reggae star Maxi Priest as lead vocals
- ...the UB40 album “Labour of Love” was made into a movie and it featured band members in lead roles
- ...in 1987 UB40 was the opening act for legendary Irish band U2 during their Joshua Tree tour
- ...the band’s name comes from a British unemployment welfare form