During the last couple of years of the 1980s, UB40 established themselves as one of the most internationally popular reggae acts. In the UK, their most popular album was 1987’s compilation The Best Of UB40 – Volume One which was to become one of their longest sellers, but their success globally was more significant. Their singles were hits across the globe, they toured extensively and collaborated with big – and in some cases, unexpected – names. Rat In Mi Kitchen, a single at the beginning of 1987 from the critically well-received album Rat In The Kitchen, featured trumpet from A&M records founder Herb Alpert (A&M was the band’s American record company), and the following year their songs with Afrika Bambaataa and the Family (Reckless) and previous collaborator Chrissie Hynde (Breakfast In Bed) were major hits, the latter appearing on the album UB40 and making the Top 10 in the UK and several other countries.
Of particular note was their growing popularity in America, where (as detailed in Part 3 of this story) they had a #1 single in this period. Their last release of the decade Labour Of Love II, a follow-up to their highly successful collection of cover versions, yielded several singles with Top 10 hits both in the UK and the US. Kingston Town and Homely Girl were the British Top 10s, while two singles that missed the Top 40 here – Here I Am (Come And Take Me) and The Way You Do The Things You Do – were the American Top 10s.
☛ What happened next
The high-profile collaborations and the hits continued in 1990, when UB40’s song with Robert Palmer I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight was their next big hit. 1993’s Promises And Lies album would be their biggest selling studio album worldwide, which included another reggae-styled interpretation of an old song, this time (I Can’t Help) Falling In Love With You, originally made famous by Elvis Presley. With this single, for the second time they had a #1 song in both the UK and the US (promotion was helped by its inclusion on the soundtrack to the hit thriller ‘Sliver’). in which brought the band their third UK No. 1 and would remain a favourite on American radio stations for years – especially after its inclusion on the soundtrack of the 1993 Sharon Stone film “Sliver.” Higher Ground, another single from the album, also made the Top 10 in the UK. Exhausted by the punishing touring/recording schedule, there was a brief lull in the middle of the 90s where the band took a break from each other and 1996 was the first year since their debut that there was no new release. Before this hiatus, they had clocked up more than 300 weeks on the British singles chart and Ali Campbell had released a successful solo album which included two hit singles.
Thereafter, although new original material was released and sold well, the key releases were collections of past hits and the money-spinning ‘Labour Of Love’ series. In 1994, the content on the first two ‘Labour’ albums was merged and the new compilation made #5; Labour Of Love III (1998) contained their final UK Top 10 single Come Back Darling and made #8; and all three volumes were brought together for a compilation that made #7 in 2003, the year in which they received an Ivor Novello Award for International Achievement and scored their biggest hit of the past 15 years, Swing Low, the official anthem for the England Rugby Team’s World Cup campaign in Australia. Meanwhile the definitive The Very Best Of UB40 1980-2000 also made #7 and spent nearly a year on the chart. By this point, though, hit singles were few and far between. From 1999 to 2003 they had only one hit a year, although by this point they were so established they could shift albums and concert tickets easily without needing a ‘Top Of The Pops’ appearance or much radio airplay. On the 25th anniversary of their recording debut, new album Who You Fighting For made the Top 20 and was characterized by the ‘live’ feel of their early recordings.
2008 was a messy year for UB40, with one events in particular leading the faintly absurd current situation whereby there are two UB40s. First there was new studio album TwentyFourSeven, given away free as a covermount with a national newspaper. This undermined the full commercial release of the album later in the year, which had an expanded track listing but only reached #81. By this point, Ali Campbell, lead singer on most of the band’s biggest hits, had left, the ‘official’ reason given by the others being that he was focussing on his solo career (he had had a second Top 10 solo album the year before). His brother, Duncan, who had been offered a place in the band at their inception but turned it down, and “who has a voice that’s virtually indistinguishable from Ali’s” according to the band’s official website, replaced him and UB40’s touring and promotion schedule continued. But it did so without Mickey Virtue, who also quit by the end of the year.
When Astro left in 2013, the three ex-founding members started their own UB40 (“UB40 featuring Ali Campbell, Astro and Mickey Virtue”), claiming that their version is the only way “audiences get to experience the closest thing to the sound of the hugely successful original line-up of UB40, as all the hits are played.” Their website is keen to point out that “We would not want anyone to confuse Ali, Astro and Mickey’s band with the band that carried on using the name UB40 after 2008 made up of other founding members and new members they tried to replace us with in their attempt to trade off the reflected glory of the success of the original line-up.” They have a point about ‘reflected glory’, as while the first UB40 continues, two of their most successful albums have been continuation of the ‘Labour Of Love’ series, including a Best of Labour Of Love cash-in in 2009 and Labour Of Love IV the following year. Meanwhile, Ali Campbell’s solo career has yielded a further three Top 20 albums, the most recent of which, Silhouette, billed him as “The Legendary Voice Of UB40 – Reunited With Astro & Mickey”.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Nov. 21
The CLASH The Call Up (CBS CBS9339)
BIG COUNTRY (Stuart Adamson) Hold The Heart (Mercury BIGC4)
A-HA You Are The One (Warner Bros W7636)
BREATHE How Can I Fall (Siren SRN102)
BROS Cat Among The Pigeons (CBS ATOM6)
DAME EDNA Theme From Neighbours (Epic EDNA1)
George MICHAEL Kissing A Fool (Epic EMU7)
Gary NUMAN America (Illegal ILS1004)
SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES (Siouxsie Sioux) The Last Beat Of My Heart (Wonderland SHE16)
T’PAU (Carol Decker) Road To Our Dream (Siren SRN100)
UB40 Come Out To Play (DEP International DEP31)
Kim WILDE Four Letter Word (MCA KIM10)