I’m sorry, but if you didn’t automatically sing the title of this blog post then I’m afraid that we cannot be friends.
When I was little I thought that UB40 was one of those legendary bands. Like Queen, I thought that that their music was timeless and that their legacy would last pretty much forever. Even though I realise now that they may not be held to the same legendary status as Queen, their musical journey is still one to be well-respected. Most recently, they celebrated their 40th Anniversary with a sold-out concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
You may think that for a 19 year old, having an 80s reggae/pop group on such a high pedestal of honour is a tad odd. To some extent, I agree. Quite often my friends will be dabbing along to Drake or Post Malone and I just sit quietly, desperately wishing to have a good old bop to ‘RED, RED, WIIIII-IIIIINE’. I’m certain that once again it has something to do with my parents. Yes, UB40 often made an appearance on the burnt CD Roms, home-made especially for long car journeys. So naturally, their music is just another of those things that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy with nostalgia. When, years ago, Dad first told me the story of when he and Mum went to watch the band for her 21st birthday, I have to admit, in my little head it was like they had gone to meet the Royal Family. So you can imagine my ecstatic joy when I found tickets for my Mum’s birthday– on the glorious ‘Groupon’ might I add! Oh yes! I am SO in the running for the status of favourite child.
So for this series, I want to avoid rambling on about each artist’s extensive back catalogue and scrutinising every single teensy-weensy detail like one of those pretentious experts you see on those boring history documentaries they made you watch at school. Instead I thought it would be best to provide songs in three different categories, and hopefully once you read them you will be enticed to discover more for yourself! First of all, their ‘Biggest Hit’, in other words the one song that will make everyone nod their heads and go ‘YAS! That is a tune.’ I have also chosen my ‘Personal Favourite Song’, so the one that may be important to me personally or one that may be a little less known but I absolutely ADORE! The final category will be ‘Dad’s Recommendation’ so you’ll all get to discover what is on the old man’s iPhone DJ set at parties or social occasions (anyone else have a relative who always takes charge of the music wherever you go?).
Go on, take a guess… It is of course, ‘RED, RED, WIIIII-IIIINE’ – (last one I promise). It is really no surprise that UB40’s ‘Red, Red, Wine’ a song about drinking away the memory of a lost love, is the Birmingham group’s biggest hit of all time. It featured as the lead single on their 1983 covers album entitled ‘Labour of Love’ which ultimately went double platinum. According to the Official Charts company, the single reigned at the number one spot for three whole weeks.
Personally, I can’t help but think of my mad South African family as soon as I hear lead singer Ali Campbell’s distinctive vocals belting out that first line. I suppose the song has in a way become a joyful reminder of the numerous occasions where the Messina clan have expressed our deep passion for red wine, white wine, or any other kind of alcoholic beverage for that matter.
Personal Favourite Song
Now this was a tricky one. I was at first torn between two songs. One being the song ‘Kingston Town’ which has been become a regular on my ‘Walking to Uni or Town or Anywhere Really’ playlist. I was never really aware of the song before until my Dad mentioned it whilst we were purchasing tickets for the concert, describing it simply as a ‘really, really nice song’. What I appreciate is its delicate melody and how Campbell’s more gentle vocals present a stark contrast to the songs I grew up listening to. Overall, it’s wonderfully refreshing for a band you’ve loved for ages to surprise you, even by a song that’s been around since 1990. But if I had to narrow it down to one song, I would have to go for ‘I Can’t Help Falling In Love’ as my all-time favourite from UB40. I have to admit, when I was younger I never realised that the song was actually a cover of Elvis Presley’s original version. So if I heard the lyrics or melody of the famous unconditional love song, my brain would automatically associate it with the more upbeat, reggae rendition. I’ve always believed that the best kind of music is like a time machine. It transports you to a specific time or memory and for at least three minutes, you can relive it. Immediately, when I hear those opening bars I am 7 or 8 years old again and am trying to figure out how to work my quality MP4 player just so I could get to this particular song. What more can I say? It was an absolute classic and always will be, to me at least.
When I sent a text asking my Dad for one UB40 song that he would recommend to someone who wasn’t aware of their music, it wasn’t surprising that what I would actually receive was a list of five. It also wasn’t surprising that two of our choices would be exactly the same. Like me, Dad loves both ‘ (I Can’t Help) falling in love with you’ and ‘Kingston Town’ for as he stated, ‘it is their sound!’. But he also recommends the duet that is bound to crop up at least once at every karaoke event, ‘I Got You Babe’ – if you’re not already familiar with this one, you might notice the vocals of Pretenders’ lead singer Chrissie Hynde. ‘Cherry Oh Baby’ is also one that sums up the feel-good, romantic side of the reggae band. On the flip side, if you are looking for some wonderfully weird lyrical content, just have a listen to ‘Rat in mi kitchen’. I hope a song title like that alone is more than enough to convince you to give the music of UB40 a go.