Jul 09

UB40 – “Red Red Wine”

FT + Popular70 comments • 8,141 views

#526, 3rd September 1983, video

UB40, I was aware, made reggae. Therefore reggae sounded like what UB40 made. I can’t have been the only one who made this logical mis-step, and I expect I wasn’t the only one who spent a decade-plus assuming they disliked reggae because of it.

For many people, of course, UB40 will have served as the gateway into reggae: that was the aim of Labour Of Love, after all, one of the best-intentioned smash hit albums of its era. Good intentions don’t always make for good music: so deadening is “Red Red Wine” in its UB40 form that I’ve never had a twitch of motivation even to go back and see what they polished up.

UB40’s basic problem here is Ali Campbell’s dishrag lead vocal: a pinched whinge of bottomless dissatisfaction that leeches all hope from its already workmanline surroundings. The weird thing is that it’s not as if UB40 didn’t on some level realise what Campbell sounded like, as on their early work they trimmed subject and approach accordingly. “One In Ten” and “The Earth Dies Screaming” are as much undead as dread; Babylon effectively recast as an endless grey purgatory. “Red Red Wine”, layering the same miserable tones over its stolid jauntiness, creates something fresh and unpleasant.

And that’s before you even start to consider the contribution of Astro, whose nervous, monotone toasting is less the gleeful interaction of voice and rhythm and more a junior executive being forced to rap as a forfeit on a team-building exercise. When he sings “Red Red Wine inna 80s style / Red Red Wine inna modern beat style” the lack of excitement or conviction is so total you almost want to give him a cuddle.



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  1. 61
    MildredBumble on 7 Jun 2010 #

    Red Red Whine. Gave me a hate frenzy the very first time I heard it and its got worse since. I hate hate hate hate hate hate hate this record. I cannot get over that this was the band who were justa couple of years out from “Food For Thought”

    As for dub, someone should have released a 45 (or, better, an EP) from Augustus Pablo’s Ital Dub. Released in summer 75, this was a later mainstay of the punk/reggae fusion and hell, if Tipper Irie could make the Top 20 in 74 (Skenger!) then this was worth pushing onto the R1/Crapital playlist

  2. 62
    vinylscot on 7 Jun 2010 #

    I think you’ll find that was Rupie Edwards, and not Tippa Irie. – possible confusion as the first of Edwards “Skanga” hits was “Ire Feelings (Skanga)”

    And can anyone else listen to the (far superior) Tony Tribe version of this without thinking “Tom Jones”?

  3. 63
    punctum on 18 Mar 2014 #

    TPL didn’t go to sleep while listening to the album, but wasn’t exactly awakened by it either: http://nobilliards.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/ub40-labour-of-love.html

  4. 64
    hectorthebat on 20 Nov 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Dave Marsh (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989) 559
    Michaelangelo Matos (USA) – Top 100 Singles of the 1980s (2001) 101
    Woxy.com (USA) – Modern Rock 500 Songs of All Time (combined rank 1989-2009) 568
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  5. 65
    mapman132 on 30 Nov 2014 #

    As was alluded to prior posts, UB40’s recording of RRW has the quite rare distinction of being an older recording topping the Billboard Hot 100 the second time around. The first time (officially without the toast, according to Wikipedia) it made #34. According to Fred Bronson’s Book of Number One Hits, RRW got its second life in 1988 when a DJ in Arizona started playing it as a song that “should have” been a hit. For whatever reason, requests for it started coming in, it spread to other stations, and next thing you know, it got re-released and went all the way to #1 – this time including the toast. This began a brief trend in the US of other attempts to get previously failed singles back in the charts, some of which were more successful than others. One of these attempts (“When I’m With You” by a long forgotten Canadian band called Sheriff) even got to #1 itself.

    As for RRW, I don’t share in the UB40-hate that seems prevalent here. I usually don’t like groups that rely too much on covers, but UB40 at least puts their own spin on things and tries to make it their own. Admittedly they’re never going to be in the pantheon of all time greats, but they’re enjoyable enough for my ears. 7/10.

  6. 66

    AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHH! Think I’ll drop my score from 4 to 1. https://twitter.com/simon_price01/status/1228083237588754432

  7. 67
    benson_79 on 28 Aug 2020 #

    Yeah this is just naff. One of those songs whose place in the classic pop canon is utterly baffling. Baby Jane got similar amounts of stick on here but at least that’s got some life to it.

  8. 68
    Kate Hylton on 26 Apr 2021 #

    I much prefer the early stuff, but I think they do a decent enough job with this. 6/10.

  9. 69
    Gareth Parker on 3 May 2021 #

    I like this more than most. A bit flat, but I still think I would go up to 6/10.

  10. 70
    enitharmon on 24 Aug 2021 #

    Farewell then Brian Travers, sax player with the above.

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