The multiracial, English band, UB40—the first important exponent of reggae to hail from outside Jamaica—rose to popularity in the midst of the ska/bluebeat revival craze. Although they did not address the topical concerns of West Indies reggae artists (e.g., Rastafarianism, ganja rituals, European colonialism), their songs exhibited a strong socio-political bent, addressing—among other issues, the U.K.’s unemployment problems (the band’s name itself was inspired by an English unemployment form), nuclear war, and the repressive policies of former British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.
UB40’s key members—lead vocalist/guitarist Ali Campbell and lead guitarist/singer Robin Campbell—were sons of Ian Campbell, a Scottish folk interpreter popular during the early 1960s. Formed in early 1979, the band—ranging in size from eight to twelve members over the years, including core members Astro, vocals/trumpet; Michael Virtue, keyboards; Earl Ralconer, bass; Brian Travers, saxophone; Jim Brown, drums; and Norman Hassan, percussion—became a fixture on the British charts with the release of the album, Signing Off (Graduate 2; 1980; #2 UK). UB40’s popularity spread to much of Europe in the early 1980s on the strength of LPs such as—of the which featured an augmented brass section in order to provide an authentic R&B feel to arrangements.
Until the band signed with A&M Records in 1983, their recordings had only been available in the U.S. as imports. Pushing Ali’s wholesome good looks and reggae-pop treatments of rock classics such as Sonny and Cher’s "I Got You Babe" (A&M 2758; 1985; #28; w/Chrissie Hynde), Neil Diamond’s "Red Red Wine" (A&M 2600; 1983; #34), the Temptations’ "The Way You Do the Things You Do" (Virgin 98978; 1990; #6), Al Green’s "Here I Am" (Virgin 99141; 1991; #7), and Elvis Presley’s "(I Can’t Help) Falling in Love with You" (Virgin 12653; 1993; #1 UK, #1 US) via video clips geared to cable television and dance clubs, UB achieved considerable success in America with the following albums: Labour of Love (A&M 4980; 1983; #14; consisted entirely of cover versions), Geffery Morgan (A&M 5033; 1984; #60), Little Baggariddim (A&M 5090; 1985; #40), Rat in the Kitchen (A&M 5137; 1986; #53), CCCP: Live in Moscow (A&M 5168; 1987; #121), UB40 (A&M 5213; 1988; #44), Labour of Love II (Virgin 91324; 1990; #30; another collection of covers), and Promises and Lies (Virgin 88229; 1993; #6).
Ali’s departure in 1995 for a solo career disrupted the UB40’s creative and commercial momentum. With his return to the fold in 1997, the band picked up where they’d off, placing recordings high on the U.K. charts—e.g., Guns in the Ghetto (DEP International 16; 1997; #7 UK) and Labour of Love III (DEP International 18; 1998; #8 UK)—albeit enjoying less success stateside.
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