UB40 Really Thought ‘Red Red Wine’ Had Always Been a Reggae Song
Today, we look at how UB40 was under the impression that “Red Red Wine” had always been a reggae song.
This is Cover Up, a feature where I look at the early life of songs that became famous when someone covered them.
This one is a bit tricky to me, as the original version of “Red Red Wine” WAS a hit, but I think it was a low level hit over 50 years ago and the cover version twenty years later was a MAJOR hit and so I think it is still fair enough to feature it here, especially because of the amusing (to me) set of circumstances surrounding the cover.
Neil Diamond left Bang Records in 1968, but the label still owned the songs that Diamond did for them and so it continued to release Diamond songs, just without any input from Diamond himself, so the label would just rearrange his songs willy nilly. In the case of “Red Red Wine,” the label added some background musicians (including a choir) to the song and Diamond’s “Red Red Wine” was a moderate hit, peaking at #62 on the Billboard Hot 100…
The song, though, proved very popular in terms of OTHER musicians, as it was covered a number of times right away. It was one of the last hits of Vic Dana’s career, with his version of “Red Red Wine” getting to #72 on the Billboard charts in 1970…
However, perhaps the most important cover of the song was Tony Tribe’s 1969 reggae version of “Red Red Wine” from Trojan Records which was a Top 40 hit on the UK charts (it was the first Trojan Records hit of a few different reggae hits the company had in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Great Britain)….
It was this version, then, that influenced the British reggae band, UB40, to cover the song on its cover album, Labours of Love, in 1983. Astro, the band member who did the toasting/rapping part of the song (you know, the “Red red wine you make me feel so fine feel so fine”) insisted that the band didn’t know it was written by Diamond even after seeing the songwriting credits, “Even when we saw the writing credit which said ‘N Diamond,’ we thought it was a Jamaican artist called Negus Diamond.” I think that that stretches credulity a bit too much (especially since I can’t find any mention of a Jamaican artist named Negus Diamond), but I can believe that the band only knew the song from the Tribe version. Their “Red Red Wine” cover initially was a Top 40 hit in the UK, but it wasn’t until they performed the song at Nelson Mandella’s 70th birthday in 1988 that the song blew up in the United States, with the album re-issued to capitalize on the surprise success of the song in the U.S., as it eventually hit #1 on the Billboard charts…
It is one of those interesting covers where the original artist now uses the newer arrangements themselves, as Diamond started to only perform the reggae version of the song in concert.
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