The run of Top 10 hits UB40 had enjoyed in the early part of their career on the Graduate label was starting to look like beginners’ luck by the spring of 1983. Although all of their singles had charted, only one of their hits for their own DEP International label, One In Ten, had made the Top 10, and their most recent effort, I’ve Got Mine, had fallen short of the Top 40 altogether. Their last studio album UB44 hadn’t sold in anything like the quantities of its predecessors, and the patience of fans was tested with releases of old material. DEP International supplied a live album which barely charted, and while it was true that the material on it was available for the first time to buy, the concert the songs were recorded at had taken place a whole year earlier. Meanwhile Graduate issued the 12” single Tyler largely, it seemed, so that they could include the three old recordings featured on it on The Singles Album, which also included the tracks from the first three double A-side singles. The solution the band came up with to restore their chart fortunes was a risky one, but it paid off.
Labour Of Love, released in the late summer of ’83, was an album of cover versions, the title indicating the care with which it had been compiled. An excellent collection of well-known and less familiar tunes, four singles were taken from it, the first three of which made the Top 10 and the fourth making #12. The lead single was a Neil Diamond song, Red Red Wine, first recorded in 1968. His original version was in a soft-rock style and featured an orchestral arrangement in the background, but the song was soon covered by other artists who treated it in different ways. Folk and country versions of the song have been released, as well as several reggae interpretations. UB40’s take on the song was influenced by Tony Tribe’s 1969 recording of the song, although theirs had a somewhat softer lovers’ rock vibe. It went to #1 in the UK and was also a hit in the US, making the Top 40 there, and it remains one of the group’s most enduringly popular songs. (In the US it would chart all over again in 1988 when re-issued following its performance at the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday concert, on this occasion matching its British success by topping the Billboard Hot 100. Last year, the Official Charts Company stated that it had passed 1,000,000 sales in the UK. Diamond himself has named it his favourite version of the song, and has performed it live in an arrangement similar to UB40’s.)
Over the next two years Labour Of Love would comfortably sell over half a million copies in Britain, but the band had less success with their own material. Next studio album Geffery Morgan was preceded by a single written by the band which made the Top 10 (If It Happens Again) but the other two singles taken from it struggled to chart. It took another compilation album to produce another major hit. Baggariddim, marketed as a studio album, contained new versions of UB40’s recent recordings with additional vocals from guest artists. In addition, it featured a cover of Sonny & Cher’s hit I Got You Babe, which was issued as its lead single. This recording featured Chrissie Hynde, whose band Pretenders UB40 had toured with some years before. It gave them their second #1 in the summer of 1985. Its B-side, an instrumental called Theme from Labour Of Love, was given lyrics and released as the follow-up single later in the year, making #3.
During this period, UB40 weren’t the only artists being handled by DEP International. There were also releases from the like of Mikey Dread and Winston Reedy on the label, both established reggae artists operating since the 1970s. But following the recording of their next album in the first half of 1986, the label would return to the exclusive use of the band themselves. The anti-apartheid anthem Sing Our Own Song, the first taster from that album, featured Jaki Graham and Ruby Turner (both of whom had several hits of their own in the same year) on backing vocals and gave UB40 their 11th Top 10 hit.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Jun. 30
Nick HEYWARD Goodbye Yesterday (Arista HEY10)
UB40 Sing Our Own Song (DEP International DEP23)