fortunes changed at the beginning of 1980. They had spent many years performing live and developing a name for themselves when they were asked to join The Pretenders
as their support act on a national tour.
The first single with Graduate, their initial label, was a double-A coupling of "Food For Thought" about third-world poverty, and "King", an expression of grief for Dr. Martin Luther King. "King" had seemed to be the favorite with live audiences, but it was "Food For Thought", that got the airplay and became the first hit. The single was released during the tour, without the benefit of major-label marketing or promotion, and headed straight for the top five. The band made a huge impact on their first major live audiences.UB40's
first album was released in September 1980. The album cover was a reproduction of the unemployment benefit card, with the title "Signing Off" rubber-stamped in red. It referred to "signing off" the dole - getting a job. It was both an acknowledgement of the launch of the band, and a celebration of their new status.
Because they were from the West Midlands, and because they were a large multi-cultural group playing music of Jamaican origin, UB40
was initially thought to be part of the Two-Tone
phenomenon which had burst out of nearby Coventry. Two-tone
music took its roots from Caribbean Ska, Rock Steady and Reggae. It was honed into the multi-racial sound of Two-Tone by bands, such as The Specials
and The Selecter
- both of which came from Coventry.
"Signing Off" made it clear that UB40
was not part of the Two-Tone movement. While part of the same social and political tendency, UB40's
musical approach was quite different - more relaxed, more sophisticated and sexier.
At the end of 1980, the contract with Graduate expired, and UB40
formed their own record company, DEP International.
Only nine months after their first album, Signing Off
, while it was still in the chart, UB40
released their second album, Present Arms
, featuring the song, "One In Ten", an anthem to rival "Food For Thought".
Four months later, in October 1981, UB40
released a dub version of the album Present Arms
. The album wasn't expected to match the extraordinary popularity of the first two albums, but it did resoundingly well for a dub album and went some way to establishing the band's credentials as serious students of reggae.
That commitment to innovation was further demonstrated by 1982's album, UB44
, complete with its historic hologram sleeve which was a limited edition, only released in the UK.
One year later, in September 1983, UB40
released the album Labour of Love
. It was their first direct tribute to the musicians who had inspired and influenced them, and the title said it all.
"Red Red Wine" (written by Neil Diamond) was the first single to be released from Labour of Love
, it went straight to number one in the UK charts upon its release. The phenomenally popular single was in the British charts for two years. It gave UB40
their first truly worldwide hit and, eventually, their first American number one.The Best Of UB40 - Volume One
, released in November 1987, stayed in the UK charts for 123 weeks. "Baggariddim", their adventurous 1985 collaboration with local DJ's also contained "Don't Break My Heart" and "I Got You Babe" (with Chrissie Hynde), both memorable hit singles. Chrissie Hynde joined the band again for "Breakfast in Bed", the hit of the 1988 album simply called UB40
The release of a second helping of Labour Of Love
in 1989, from which "Kingston Town" and "Homely Girl" were hits throughout Europe, while "Here I Am" and "The Way You Do The Things You Do" were similarly successful in the United States.
Success continued throughout the Nineties with the release of Promises and Lies
, which became the group's biggest selling album worldwide, selling in excess of nine million copies worldwide, and produced the hit single, "Can't Help Falling In Love", giving the band their third UK number one. Guns in the Ghetto
, released in 1997, includes the single "Tell Me Is It True", which was featured in the film Speed II
. The UB40's
reaffirmed their commitment to reggae with UB40 Present The Dancehall Album
, a collaboration with leading Jamaican dancehall artists, including Beenie Man
and Lady Saw
. The third volume of Labour Of Love
was released in 1998.
The band released a new studio album, Cover Up
, in 2001 and marked the 21st anniversary of their debut album, Signing Off,
with a British tour and a celebratory birthday concert at the NEC in Birmingham in aid of the United Nations AIDS Awareness Campaign.The Fathers Album (2002)
, a project that took three years in the making, saw the band working with a string of legendary reggae artists, such as Toots Hibbert, Gregory Isaacs and John Holt.
In 2003, UB40
received an Ivor Novello Award for International Achievement and secured a Top Ten album with the Platinum Collection
, a triple box set comprising the whole Labour of Love
series. Their 22nd album, Homegrown
, included "Swing Low", the official anthem for the England rugby team's triumphant 2003 World Cup campaign in Australia. The song became the group's 49th UK chart single. The only bands to have notched up more hits are The Shadows
, Status Quo
Two years later, on the 25th anniversary of their recording debut, the album Who You Fighting For
was released. Like all memorable UB40
albums, Who You Fighting For
, struck the perfect balance between the personal and the universal. It featured great love songs, such as "Gotta Tell Someone" and the romantic ballad, "One Woman Man". And, with the current political situation in various regions throughout the world providing a new source of inspiration, the title track and the hard-hitting "Plenty More" brought a renewed sense of purpose to UB40's
political writing. Both songs are passionate and persuasive without resorting to hectoring. No matter how political the subject matter, the listener never feels that he or she is being lectured to by a UB40
In April 2005 UB40
united with Roger Daltrey, Eric Clapton and John Mayer to play their first ever show at the Royal Albert Hall in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust. The band was then invited to perform at the Live8
event in London's Hyde Park, alongside U2
, Pink Floyd
, Robbie Williams and The Who
. A successful sell-out arena tour in the UK, Ireland and Europe completed the year.
For over twenty five years, UB40
has continued the job of popularizing reggae around the globe. In the process, they continue to give enormous pleasure to a public too vast to be defined by age, generation tribe or fashion.