Apr 12

UB40 – “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You”

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#690, 12th June 1993

Pop reggae wasn’t invented in Gothenburg, more’s the pity. Back in 1983, UB40 had made a record celebrating the Jamaican music they grew up loving, and discovered that a lot of other people had loved it too, and even more loved the idea of loving it so long as it was filtered through the curatorial larynx of Ali Campbell. Labour Of Love made the band a fortune and froze their career: gentle weddings’n’parties reggae was what they did now.

“I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” was another single which seemed to grab the chart by the bollocks for weeks on end – though this turns out to be my loathing of it magnifying the situation. I have to admit it doesn’t sound quite as Satanic now – the backing in particular has a bit more weight than I remember (or perhaps than my cheap TV set could muster). But it’s far from a good single – the brass sounds thin, the digital whomp becomes too rigid after a while, and all the instruments are fighting a particularly pedestrian Campbell. He seems to have no idea what to make of the song, which is a flexible one – it’s been done well as seduction and addiction, but Campbell takes “can’t help” and turns it into habit. By the end “falling in love” might as well be “going to Homebase”.

(Some tiny degree of interest might be generated by the video, exploiting the song’s position as soundtrack single to Sharon Stone vehicle Sliver, and featuring mush-mouthed Ali C as a sleazeball video voyeur. Alas there’s nothing on the record to back this reading up.)



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  1. 26
    swanstep on 18 Apr 2012 #

    @Rory. We could always talk about football. Is anyone seriously picking Chelsea tonight? (There must be some great odds available. Might be worth a punt?) Also, the 1966 WC final was on Mad Men this week. (Lane: England just won the World Cup. Roger: Cup of what?) Discuss!

  2. 27
    Cumbrian on 18 Apr 2012 #

    Speaking of Spiritualized, one of the most electrifying moments I have ever had at a gig was seeing them perform “Ladies and Gentlemen…” a couple of years ago. Playing the Elvis version of the title track, all the instruments dropped out halfway through leaving the gospel choir alone singing the chorus of ICHFILWY. Genuine hair on neck raising moment.

    As many have said, this song in and of itself is pretty good but the reading of it is all important, as you can make it sound really quite insipid otherwise. This one falls well short.

    I’m sure you can get good odds on Chelsea tonight – prior to the Champions League Final last year, you could get Man Utd at basically 3/1 which in a 2 horse race is incredibly good value, especially since you could always sneak one on the break and park the bus. Nevertheless, the odds will be stacked as they are for a reason – i.e. Chelsea have next to no chance. It might well be closer than we expect but I still reckon Barca are going to be comfortable.

    Other thing I was going to mention, perhaps more on topic: what drove the chart success of reggae/ragga in the early part of the 1990s? As I’ve said numerous times over a few entries, I was 12 or so about this time and in Cumbria, so was not necessarily exposed to pirate radio stations or other fashionable stuff that pushed this as a form. It seems notable that Shaggy, Ace of Base, UB40 and at least one spoiler bunny act all had chart success around the same time, only for it to dissipate a bit once the Britpop wars start.

  3. 28
    Rory on 18 Apr 2012 #

    @swanstep Football isn’t my game, although the general principle is tempting (and that’s a nice Mad Men gag). But it might not be doing justice to Tom’s return to veer off so soon in the thread. So, forcing myself to listen to the thing a second time today (/this century): how did this ever not sound like bad karaoke to everyone? Was there ever a time when that backing track sounded novel? Or was the novelty in Ali Campbell’s vocals (but we’d had “I Got You, Babe” not that long before, so that can’t be it)? Surely it wasn’t the song itself? I suppose the clash between the jolly jingle on offer here and everyone’s memories of Elvis was novel; although that assumes that “everyone” remembered Elvis’s original, which may not at all have been true of early-’90s singles-buyers.

  4. 29
    Erithian on 18 Apr 2012 #

    Since you’ve started talking football on here and since I’ve been mentioning Manchester United on the “Save Your Kisses For Me” thread, the stars are aligned for me to bring this up: circa 1980 Piccadilly Radio gave an evening show over to Gary Bailey and Steve Coppell to DJ and play selections chosen by their team-mates. One notable choice was that of Mike Duxbury (stalwart right-back who won 10 England caps) who went for the Punctum-acclaimed “The Earth Dies Screaming” by UB40.

    I had a cassette of this show for some time, but can’t remember many of the other selections. Martin Buchan chose Elvis’s “Suspicious Minds”, Bailey went for David Bowie’s “1984” and Coppell picked “Black Magic Woman” and yarned about chatting with “Carlos” backstage at a recent Santana gig in Manchester.

    As for the UB40 song under consideration, I agree with the general disapproval of the direction their career was taking, although this track was redeemed somewhat by Brian Travers’ trumpet flourishes which add an element of originality to the cover. I’d still choose to hear the Elvis version over all the others though.

    (I note, incidentally, that Brian Travers was voted Brummie of the Year 2009 in a poll on the “Birmingham: It’s Not Shit” website – worth a google.)

  5. 30
    thefatgit on 18 Apr 2012 #

    Of course, Chelsea nailed on 8-0!

    I’m not buying this suggestion UB40 were swept up in the early ’90s ragga-boom. I’d be more inclined to believe there were a large number of punters who didn’t “get” grunge and didn’t “get” ragga either, but did identify with the “soft” reggae that UB40 were knocking out.

  6. 31
    punctum on 18 Apr 2012 #

    #29: Brian Travers was the saxophonist.

  7. 32
    anto on 18 Apr 2012 #

    #16 Indeed it was the bizarrely named Lick The Tins. I thought it was comissioned specifically for the film. It turns out it had come out some time before.

  8. 33
    Erithian on 18 Apr 2012 #

    #31 Doh! faulty memory syndrome – that was Astro then wasn’t it?
    Any comments on Chelsea? – given that it’s only half-time…

  9. 34
    swanstep on 19 Apr 2012 #

    @30, thefatgit. Only 7-0 at Camp Nou to go…

  10. 35
    Mark G on 19 Apr 2012 #

    Yeah I had a punt, but went 2-0 to Chelsea, so close…

  11. 36
    Mark G on 19 Apr 2012 #

    Thing is, there was only 2 paths, do cover versions and keep going, or make more ‘credible’ stuff and fade out.

    Showaddywaddy did the same thing! Really! They wrote (nearly) all their hits, until ‘Take me in your arms’ missed and “Under the moon of love’ hit big, and after that it was cover versions only from then on.

  12. 37
    thefatgit on 19 Apr 2012 #

    Swanstep, I’ll revise my prediction to a 2-1 defeat at Camp Nou, which will see us through to the final.

  13. 38
    Erithian on 19 Apr 2012 #

    Mark G #36 – re the UB40 and ‘Waddy career path, I’m reminded that nearly three years ago when discussing “Red Red Wine”, Wichita pondered: “Imagine if Pin Ups had sold so well that Bowie spent the rest of his career singing Kinks and Who songs in an uncomfortable baritone – he would be a joke, Starman and Space Oddity as thoroughly swept under the carpet as King and Dream A Lie.” Worth a quote in this context.

  14. 39
    Mark G on 19 Apr 2012 #

    Yes, but it would have needed Aladdin Sane (before) or Diamond Dogs (after) to have flopped for that to happen. Also, DBow is resiliant enough to not keep pressing the ‘feed me’ button of the ‘covers’ album. Also, these are albums.

  15. 40
    Erithian on 19 Apr 2012 #

    Lino was talking about the parallel with “Labour of Love” though.

  16. 41
    Baztech on 19 Apr 2012 #

    I just want to say hello to Tom and everyone. Love the banter you guys have here!

    I’m a big fan of the work you are doing here Tom although I’m afraid I may not add much to this forum being “fairly” young (I’m 24 and only started to fondly follow the charts from 1999-ish). Although I have vague memories of bouncing around to “There’s No Limit” et al as a toddler.
    I followed a standard musical trajectory for a guy my age I think – love a lot of the “indie” scene that thankfully appeared to break through in 2004-2005 after what, retrospectively, appears to be a bleak period around the start of the millennium.

    I’m still largely clueless about the specifics of music of the past and so look to you guys to fill me in!

    I feel a bit silly posting late on in a tragically boring Number 1 but oh well. I do like how Spiritualized incorporated the original version on the end of “Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating In Space” though.

  17. 42
    punctum on 20 Apr 2012 #

    About the Spiritualized version: Ladies And Gentlemen… was reissued a few years ago with the IHCFIL-infiltrated original title track present and correct.

    But I thought it would be nice to resurrect my ancient ILM send-up of the lads here, with a slight 2012 remix:

    Kids! Listen and learn as man of action Jason Pierce “pierces” together another one of his immortal rock classic Spiritualized anthems. Admire his skill and craftmanship as he weaves his magic to produce exactly the same song which he has been putting out for the last twenty-one years – from the most basic ingredients!

    SCENE: A hushed studio in north-east London lit only by crimson lava lamps. Jason “Piercing” Pierce sits crosslegged on the same carpet which George “Harry” Harrison used to record “Within You Lord My Piggies Pass” with a sitar in his lap which he may one day learn to play. He lays the sitar down carefully and picks up his dobro Stratofendercastpaul 1948 spat-upon-by-Gram-Parsons vintage guitar-shaped thing.

    Behind him are seated his band of hired agency hands (contract-only, won’t complain about pay) keen with anticipation for the latest unformed outpouring from his personal Erato.

    He solemnly strums a C major chord in adagio tempo, modulating to an E major chord, and then back again. The bass joins in, reproducing precisely the bottom note of each of these chords. After five minutes the drummer joins in, beating solemnly on his solitary tom-tom in the exquisitely pre-post-minimalist style of the Velvet Underground, whose song “Heroin” sounds nothing like anything Spiritualized have ever recorded, for legal reasons.

    At eight-and-a-half minutes the mouth of Jason “Donovan” Pierce is pregnant with expiration of his unfettered emotional Camelot. He can bear it no more and begins to intone solemnly (not at all orgasmically):-

    “Down. I’m comin’ down. The only way is up. But I’m goin’ down. Down. Down. Oh, my Sweet Lord. There’s blood on my tracks. I’m runnin’ low on my smack. I’m comin’ down. As opposed to sideways. Thinkin’ of those lazy hazy crazy days. To leave my lover there must be 50 ways. The tracks of my tears. Holdin’ back the years. Tears for souvenirs. But tears are not enough. I’m lookin’ for some hot stuff. Baby tonight. I feel like chicken tonight. The heat is bendin’ my spoon. Everyone’s gone to the moon. The girl from Mars. Plays my ten guitars. Never gonna give you up. I’m like a lonely pup. In a Christmas shop. Dancin’ at the hop. But I’m comin’ down. The drugs don’t work. Where’s Captain Kirk? A love supreme. Strange Brew by Cream. She’s got Bette Davis eyes. You’re the devil in disguise. My camera never lies. True love will never dies. My shit’s takin’ an awful long time to cook. She got sexy eyes like Dr Hook. I read it in a book. Knight’s castle to rook. You made me realise. Baby what a big surprise. The girl who lives on heaven hill. My least favourite herb is dill. I feel fine. Yay it’s 1969. And I’m comin’ down no more. Gonna knock on the green door. ‘Cos I’m goin’ high. High in the sky. Up where we belong. You can tell everybody that this is your song. Whoops, this ain’t Moulin Rouge. The nearest tube is street called Goodge. I’m getting’ high! With my American Pie!”

    The band suddenly erupts into a feedback-laden climax. Enter the London Community Gospel Choir, their faces beaming with joy as they think of making even more money out of singing whitey public school retro-soft rock.


    Repeat for 12 minutes, then add Terry Edwards and bloke who used to play sax on Stereolab records to echo the primary two chords of the song precisely, and then indulge in some desultory free-form “freakouts” (would like to do “Ascension” but “David” Jason Pierce has an eye on Steve Lamacq’s playlist. In any case he doesn’t know what “Ascension” sounds like, having bought an original vinyl copy second-hand for £700 in 1994 but never having played it).

    Just as the whole stew is about to boil over, Jason “Connery” Pierce adds the icing on the cake. He stops the whole ensemble to whisper:-

    “Just say no to drugs. ‘Cos their long-term side-effects are tragic. But just say yes. To boogie woogie piano magic.”

    Yes! It’s Jools Holland to play the band out with some goodtime rolling boogie-woogie piano magic! Fade out: “AbbbbababaBlueberry! Hill! Sam! Brown! Acoustic!” et bloomin’ cetera.

  18. 43
    Cumbrian on 20 Apr 2012 #

    So you’re a fan then?

  19. 44
    punctum on 20 Apr 2012 #

    It was my modest tribute to Bert Weedon, who died this morning aged 91, and without whom, when you think about it, there probably wouldn’t have been a Spiritualized.

  20. 45
    Rory on 20 Apr 2012 #

    We are normal and we want our freedom
    We are normal and we dig Bert Weedon

  21. 46
    Cumbrian on 20 Apr 2012 #

    Without Bert Weedon, there might well not have been a lot of stuff, never mind Spiritualized.

  22. 47
    Baztech on 20 Apr 2012 #

    #42 and 43, I laughed. I also get your subtle point. I just bought LAGWAFIP a few months back, took a while to get into and while I like the album I have no interest in looking for anything else by them.

    Although this might be because I’m lazy and nothing to do with the presumed sameyness of a lot of their back catalogue…

  23. 48
    Rory on 20 Apr 2012 #

    @47 If your interest ever returns, try their first album, Lazer Guided Melodies. Still my favourite, partly because it reminds me of my student year in England (when it came out), but partly because it’s well before the orchestras and gospel choirs took hold.

    Alternatively, do try the new one. I think it may already be my third-favourite of theirs.

  24. 49
    punctum on 20 Apr 2012 #

    I’m sending a fast car to find out what’s happened to today’s entry.

  25. 50
    intothefireuk on 23 Apr 2012 #

    Other than Elvis’ original has there actually been a decent cover recorded of this? Not to my ears, and yet it continues to be covered. Williams version was the first I heard and although the melody’s there it was a somewhat over-blown performance. The Sylistics version was even more souped-up – disco for people who don’t like disco including a ‘falling in love duh-duh’ bit that was entirely unnecessary and then there’s UB40. Blandness personified – reggae for people who hate reggae.

  26. 51
    Mark G on 23 Apr 2012 #

    It depends on what you call ‘decent’, I’d cite the ‘lick the tins’ one for bringing some enthusiasm to it, a whole host of ‘versions’ with grand orchestra swells, pick one.. um, as I say.

    I think the Stylistics ‘cover’ had one validation, inasmuch as the song was written by the same team that were writing their other (more ‘new’) songs around that time.

  27. 52
    anto on 24 Apr 2012 #

    #41 I like it in Ladies and Gentlemen….. too. When I heard the version with the excerpt from Can’t Help… for the first time recently I thought it made a song that was already good even better.
    It just goes to show what a difference one part of a track can make.

  28. 53
    swanstep on 25 Apr 2012 #

    @39,35. Congrats to thefatgit, Mark G, and other Chelsea fans here. Truth in popmusic: Dreams Can Come True. Or are they singing choruses of Fernando in the pubs tonight? Cheers.

  29. 54
    Erithian on 25 Apr 2012 #

    Not to mention the Swede, who will need scraping off the ceiling after last night. And if their final opponents are Real Madrid, he’ll no doubt recall that the last time they met in a European final it was 1971, his beloved Blues won the Cup Winners Cup and his beloved “Double Barrel” had just been number one.

  30. 55
    thefatgit on 25 Apr 2012 #

    I haven’t been such an emotional wreck after a footy game since the time we beat Luton Town 3-1 at Wembley in the FA Cup semi. (That year we lost 4-0 to Cantona & Co in the final…I was just plainly incandescent with rage after that one). We are truly Barcelona’s bogey side now! Roll on Munich.

    Erithian, we beat Real Madrid 1-0 in a Super Cup match as well in 1998. They were ECL Champions and Chelsea had won the ECWC that same season.

  31. 56
    Erithian on 25 Apr 2012 #

    Point taken fatgit, although it’s not so much a final as the equivalent of the Community Shield. I’m very suspicious of anything in sport calling itself Super, as in the rugby league Super League – seems to be over-compensating for something. (God, I’ve just looked up Super League on Wiki – the play-off structure is even more batty than I’d thought…)

    You and the Swede are on the same page re the 1994 final, although we’ll have ample chance to discuss that in a bunnied entry in just under a year’s Popular-time.

  32. 57
    Jimmy the Swede on 26 Apr 2012 #

    Indeed yes. I simply couldn’t believe the goings on in Barcelona. I was actually getting messages of goodwill from mates who nevertheless would normally wish nothing other than ill for the Blues. La-La Land, quite frankly.

    I was at both the 1994 semi against Luton and the Final against United. The Luton game took place on Grand National day and I was furious to have missed the race for the first time since 1982 when I was en route to Australia. 1994 was Minnehoma’s year, since you ask. Luton’s line-up included one Kerry Dixon…there’s only one Kerry Dixon (SWIDT?)

    As Erithian suggests, we can talk about the actual Final when the rabbit gives us Royal Assent and a special hi to a certain Harrow schoolmaster at that time..

  33. 58
    DanH on 3 Aug 2013 #

    At least you guys only gave it 2 weeks at the top, here in America it stuck at #1 for 7 weeks. My reaction to this song is the same as it was 20 years ago at age 9: “soooooo boring”

  34. 59
    Adam on 29 Mar 2015 #

    Despite knowing UB40’s hits since a very young age here in Canada, I only recently started listening to their albums and have been startled by their quality.

    Saw an interview a few months ago where Weird Al Yankovic mentioned how early P2P uploaders’ propensity to label all satire songs with him as the artist hurt his reputation for a decade (think: Whoops I Farted Again) and remembered how a number of UB40 hits — including this one — were always labelled as Marley songs, considering it unfair to a “true” reggae artist. Little did I know that they’re actually eclipsing a great band from potential fans!

    Other British acts with this dilemma may include Simple Minds or Oasis (only Don’t You and Wonderwall really struck it big here) but I don’t really care for either, TBH.

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