UB40 experienced its greatest achievements in the 80s and 90s by producing sophisticated and softer, Jamaican-style music that complemented the social and political plights experienced in their native area of Birmingham. The name UB40 was a sarcastic reference to the UK unemployment benefit form and also was the cover art for its first album called Signing on.
Their early music style was unique, with a heavy influence of analogue synthesizers, psychedelic rock guitar, saxophone and dub producer techniques.
The band formed its own record company called DEP International by the time it released its second album, Present Arms, that featured the single One in Ten. UB40 solidified its reputation for serious reggae with its hit single Red Red Wine which featured on its third album, Labour of Love. Other notable singles from this time were Please Don’t Make Me Cry, Cherry Oh Baby and If It Happens Again.
In 1987, the band released a Greatest Hits compilation which also contained collaboration with Pretender’s vocalist, Chrissie Hynde. Hynde was a catalyst in the band’s early success. She noticed them performing in a pub and offered them the supporting act spot for her band’s tour.
Chart triumphs continued into the 90s with a cover of Elvis Presley’s Can’t Help Falling in Love which was the group’s third UK #1 single. The band also had top ten hits with Kingston Town, I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight with Robert Palmer, Higher Ground and Come Back Darling.
By the 21st Century, UB40 could lay claim to a three-decade long career, many sell-out live performances and over 70 million records sold.
Unlike other similar ensemble-structured bands, UB40’s line-up remained unchanged from 1978 to 2008. The band was spearheaded by the Campbell brothers, Ali and Rob. Ali Campbell was eventually replaced by another Campbell sibling, Duncan in 2008. The band also toured with another popular reggae vocalist, Maxi Priest.
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