Everyone needs to discover the early work of UB40. It’s so much more edgy than their later stuff. Which what every fan of every band ever has said at one time or another. Because everyone needs to know that you knew about the thing before the thing was popular. In this case, I can’t claim that I knew about the thing before the thing was popular, because I hadn’t been born yet. UB40 actually became popular the year I was born, which makes me the same age as Red Red Wine. Everything before that is like a mysterious window into the lost ages of the past. Or, in this case, what 80’s music sounded like before it became the sound that became known as “80’s music”.
Everybody knows and loves that one song by UB40 – the one about drinking red wine, which we all relate to a lot – but God forbid you think they’re a one hit band. These guys have 18 albums, they’ll have you know. I can’t say I’ve even heard of all of them, but I am very partial to their early 80’s work. Though they may have that one radio-staple big hit, and a reasonable reputation, I still think of them as very much a cult band. And though you may not think of the 80’s as a great era for reggae music, thanks to groups like UB40 and Black Uhuru, it was. Also, of course, the UK ska thing was still a big deal. So yeah, 80’s reggae is very much a thing. A mini-subgenre, if you will.
Music about music. So meta. Never gets old. Ok, so writing a song about how fun songs and music are is one of the lazier songwriting gambits. It’s for when you’re fresh out of ideas but you still want everyone to get up and party. But when it works, it works. Even when it doesn’t work it still works. According to UB40, their music is so nice the operator should play it twice. Lazy but true. It is nice.
I guess I haven’t listened to UB40 in a while. Let’s remedy that. Their 1988 album UB40 has always been one of my favorites. I think it was actually one of the first CD’s I ever bought, back in days of yore when CD’s were bright and newspangled. It’s not their most famous or best reviewed record, and it’s also one of their less political, with a focus on love songs. But there’s nothing wrong with filling the world with love songs, to paraphrase someone famous.
A tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr by British tu-tone reggae band UB40. It’s a very beautiful song, but it’s not exactly an all-positive one. In fact, it rather questions King’s legacy. National holidays and monuments on Washington Mall aside, it’s pretty clear that, let’s just say, King’s work has not been carried on with as much success as it could have, and apparently that was already noticeable in 1980. No one is questioning that King deserves that spot on the Mall, a lot more than some others similarly honored. But the dream of equality hasn’t materialized, and you’d have to be pretty damn blinkered to think that it has. To call the race situation in America a touchy subject would be an understatement, and I’m not sure it’s my place to put my two cents in, but again, you’d have to live in an impenetrable bubble of white privilege to deny that racism remains a shamefully enormous problem and MLK is probably seething in his grave. In that regard, it’s a more appropriate to honor Dr King with a questioning song than a fist-pumping one (if anyone has); because his legacy is a complicated one, and raising him up as a kind of secular national saint as we have feels less like real honor than a tactic to distract people from some very real and troubling failures on the civil rights front (President Obama unfortunately has been forced into a similar role.) If our collective failure to make King’s dream real was visible all the way from the UK back in 1980, how the hell do we look in the world’s eyes now?
Slow motion partying in a tropical paradise. What better way to illustrate a reggae song? UB40 can be a strongly political band, but party songs are important too, and even the most socially conscious among us sometimes need to frolic on a beach. Also, points for great racial sensitivity in showing people of all colors being terrible at dancing. Because shuffling and gracelessly flapping your elbows is what equality is all about. YAY.
Yay for more UB40 music! The UB40 album UB40 is of note for a couple of reasons. First because I really like it, and second because it’s also apparently a full length movie. All I know about the movie thing is, it comes up every time I search a song from the album, though I’ve never heard of or read about it anywhere outside YouTube. (Not that I was breaking a sweat looking, but one does tend to stumble across things.) I guess it’s a companion piece to the album. Chrissie Hynde is in it for some reason, which is awesomesauce. Now, if I was making a movie, I would not hesitate to cast Chrissie Hynde as Ali Campbell’s love interest but not vice versa. If you’re like me and sometimes can’t help falling for certain cultural stereotypes, you probably spent your youth imagining that the lead singer of a reggae band would be a black dude with dreadlocks, or at least a really funky white dude with dreadlocks. The lead singer of UB40 is a pug-nosed ginger who looks like, if he were cast in a romantic comedy type movie, he’d be the cool hero’s nerdy comic relief providing wingman. Which is not to say that Ali Campbell isn’t kind of cute in his gingery way, just not what you’d imagine the lead singer of a reggae band to be.You know what that means, though, don’t you? It means you’re a goddamn racist for thinking all reggae singers are supposed to have dreadlocks anyway. Shame on you! (If they were a Tu-Tone Ska band it’d be different.)