UB40: Prideful covers are a 'Labour of Love III'
Ali and Robin Campbell of UB40
December 13, 1999
Web posted at: 5:25 p.m. EST (2225 GMT)
CNN WorldBeat Correspondent
BIRMINGHAM, England (CNN) -- UB40, the world's top-selling reggae band, has its roots in the multicultural city of Birmingham, England. About 20 years ago, Robin and Ali Campbell got together with some school friends and formed UB40 to pay tribute to some of their reggae heroes. Today, some of those heroes pay tribute to UB40 -- by recording covers of the group's hits.
"We grew up on reggae," Robin says. "I'm decades older than the rest of them so I was there, really, when reggae happened. When ska turned into reggae I was listening to ska. And when "Rock Steady" happened -- which was the in-between stage -- that turned into reggae, I was there. So I didn't kind discover it. It was just happening, and I fell in love with it."
Their first album, "Signing Off" (Virgin, 1988), sold 8 million albums and signed on to the charts at No. 4, Ali says. They went on to record 17 more albums, including "Rats in the Kitchen" (Virgin, 1986), "Promises and Lies" (Virgin, 1993) and their latest, "Labour of Love III" (Virgin, 1998). Their "Labour of Love" series consists of covers including Neil Diamond's "Holly Holy," Peter Tosh's "Legalize It" and Bob Marley's "Soul Rebel."
"Those were the songs that influenced us," Ali says. "The covers on those albums are the ones that we grew up listening to and the ones that made us love reggae."
Robin says the band was told the decision to do all covers was "' the worst thing we could possibly do.' We were told that it would be commercial suicide," he says. "But obviously it sold -- the first one sold 10 million copies.
"We asked one or two Jamaican artists if they'd like to record one of our songs for a special album we were doing, and we got 7,000 phone calls from every artist about the 'Labour of Love' saying, 'Why aren't I on your fathers' album?' So it's become a big project now. It's something we're very excited about."
Ali says UB40 began in 1978 with two goals: "No. 1, to get off the dole; and No. 2, to popularize reggae music or at least our brand of reggae music."
Robin says both goals have been accomplished. "In the time we've been making records, reggae has become an accepted part of mainstream pop music, which it wasn't when we started," he says.
It's most noticeably caught on in the United States, he says. "America, in the last five years, has waked up to reggae."
Ali adds that reggae has spawned several musical styles, including hip-hop. "It's the most influential music around, if you think about it, for the last 30 years," he says.