526. ‘Red Red Wine’, by UB40

If writing blog posts on the past five hundred and twenty-six UK #1s has taught me anything – and I’m not sure that it really has – then it is this: I like reggae…

Red Red Wine, by UB40 (their 1st of three #1s)

3 weeks, from 28th August – 18th September 1983

I was never that convinced by the genre, having spent too much time in beach bars on holiday, where the same dull ‘reggae chill-out’ playlists are looped year on year. But tracking the genre’s progress, from Desmond Dekker, past ‘Double Barrell’, Johnny Nash and Althea & Donna, to last year’s Reggae Autumn, I realise that I’ve enjoyed most of it. And when this record’s slow-shuffling rhythm kicks in, my heart does a little flip…

Red, red wine… Goes to my head… It’s a song about drinking, which is usually a good thing, even if it is about drinking away your misery… Just one thing, Makes me forget… Red, red wine… It’s laid-back, it’s cool, the chimes in the background sound like my school bell. It’s a bit lightweight, I guess, if you wanted to nit-pick, but it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

The video ties in with the theme, set as it is in a pub. The band order beers, though, not red, red wine. I suppose it would have been a bit of a stretch, in 1983, to have a bunch of Birmingham lads ordering bottles of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Sadly, though, this #1 isn’t heralding a second consecutive Reggae Autumn. Unlike in 1982, when we went from Musical Youth, to Culture Club, to Eddy Grant, this is an isolated outbreak.

UB40 had been around since the end of the seventies, and were no strangers to the Top 10 in the early eighties. Their name famously derives from the form used to sign-on for benefits at the time (Unemployment Benefit, Form 40). I suppose their early fans might have viewed their first chart-topping hit as a bit of a sell-out moment, lacking the edge of some of their earlier hits, but I have no such history with the band and am enjoying it!

I have to admit, though, my shock in discovering that this isn’t the original version of ‘Red Red Wine’. OK, the fact it’s a cover doesn’t shock me… The fact that it was written in the first place by the famously un-reggae Neil Diamond, does. UB40 didn’t base their cover on his country-ish ballad, but on Jamaican singer Tony Tribe’s version from a couple of years later. Diamond, though, loves these takes on his original, and often performs it live in a reggae style nowadays.

There is an six-minute, extended version of this record, featuring an extended toast/rap from band member Astro (who sadly passed away just last year), but I doubt many people have heard it. That version does start to outstay its welcome… Perhaps, though, it explains the record’s belated success in the US. (It wouldn’t reach #1 there for another five years, until UB40 performed it at a concert for Nelson Mandela.)

They’ll be back on top of the charts shortly, UB40. In fact, they have a pretty impressive span between their three chart-toppers (almost a decade), and are tied with Madness for the most weeks on the UK charts in the 1980s. Impressive longevity. I’ll finish with a joke (not an original one, sadly, but still…) If you were one year old when this record came out, UB40 now…

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