So, the Friday before last was the day that Popular died. Not in terms of its updates – feeble though they’ve been again – but it saw the end of the backbone of Popular, an ancient and unbacked-up hard drive which housed the corpus of MP3s I’ve been writing about, downloaded in a great gobble ten years ago and rarely updated, save when wrong. When I bagged and tagged this horde I had barely heard of torrents or streams – so their loss (and the vanishing of all my other music) is an irritation, and a liberating one at that, more than a tragedy.
But apt, I guess, that this should happen as it’s time to write up a song about materialism. Not in its original, Equals form, but Pato Banton’s scene-saving guest spot here puts a wicked spin on the song’s one-track narrator. “Come back! Yes with mi colour TV and mi CD collection of Bob Marley”. It’s a fine approach to the becoming-obligatory guest verse – an undermining counterpoint to Ali Campbell, taking the song’s Point-of-View on a heel turn. OK, as unreliable pop narrators go it’s hardly subtle, but Banton’s funny, unflashy presence makes “Baby Come Back” easily the most tolerable UB40 Number One.
(Also – is this the most explicit drugs reference so far to go unbanned? “Bag of sensi” is one of the items Pato’s lover has made off with and I can never remember hearing a radio edit.)
Banton takes on his duties with relish, and just as well: the rest of the record is a rather sorry effort. It’s brisk enough – it stomps rather than grooves, and busybodies you onto the dancefloor, but the Equals version did something similar. Ali Campbell’s delivery is more painful than ever, though: a strained bellow with a terrible fear of consonants. If ever there was a man who needed to be sidelined from his own song, it’s Campbell, and we can be thankful Pato Banton was on hand to do the unpleasant job.
(EDIT: As pointed out in the comments thread, this is NOT a UB40 song, except inasmuch as it has Ali Campbell and UB40 on it – it was supposedly just credited to Pato Banton and I was sure enough in my memory that I didn’t check Wikipedia, or anywhere else. Mea culpa! But that makes this a very strange single – is there any other non-remixed number one where the credited artist is on it so little? It’s a fair reflection of the division of quality on the record, however.)