18 January 2010

"But if you make me mad, but if you make me mad..."

Don't Break My Heart by UB40, my favourite song of theirs.

I know loads of people who hate UB40, and loads more who think that all they did was the much overplayed Red Red Wine (or, if you prefer BA's alternative titling, Red Red Bastard Wine). Occasionally, someone at my club night will ask for UB40 but not specify a song, so on goes something other than Red Red Wine and they come back with the mega-ignorant retort: "This isn't UB40!"

I can take or leave them, but I certainly don't think they're awful. I think their sound in the earliest days is fantastic but after Labour Of Love and all those cover versions they got lost a bit in being regarded almost exclusively as a covers band. Don't Break My Heart is an important song in their career, as it's the one which achieved their highest chart position as composers. Unfortunately, I always assumed that they'd stuck to other people's stuff after Labour Of Love's success and therefore didn't know for ages they'd written this, and other big hits of the mid to late 80s, themselves.

This song has a lovely lilt to it, just ambling along with enough purpose to sense there is a middle and end to go with the faded beginning. Ali Campbell's jowly vocals are the same on this as they are on just about anything he has ever sung, but there is a bit of emotion in there that perhaps beforehand he was deemed too one-dimensional to show (though I thought he did a good job on Please Don't Make Me Cry, too).

It's a simple sentiment, a song asking for a burgeoning relationship to remain strong and seeking reassurance. It doesn't have a middle eight and doesn't ever get complicated, but the simple ones are sometimes the best. It's actually a very short song, as emphasised by the repetition of the title at the end and the rather long instrumental fade out that finally calls it to a halt.

The video is notable for Ali's skunk hairdo and the smart bit of self-awareness about his moody miming when the setting suddenly switches to the pub and he is 'caught' mouthing to the jukebox when it sticks on the word 'compliments'. A quick bash of the machine later and his mime continues. Craig David did something similar, didn't he?

A number 3 hit in 1985, with only Red Red Bast..., er, Red Red Wine and I Got You Babe being bigger UK hits for them at the time. UB40 must deserve some sort of merit (or at the least, a lifetime achievement award from the BRITs) for managing to keep the same line-up for 30 years before Ali made good his exit in 2008. That's quite a feat, irrespective of what you thought of their music.


Stuart Ian Burns said...

The nadir or UB40's career was cameoing in Speed 2. I spent the rest of the film concerned about their welfare. Did they get to safety in time? Not that the boat was actually going that fast...

Greenie said...

One In Ten can go on the "great UB40 songs" list as well

Jon Peake said...

I know what you mean about them polarising people. Personally, I love them, not all songs, but pretty much most of them.

My favourites: Wear You To The Ball, Breakfast In Bed, Food The Thought, Don't Let It Pass Me By, and many, many more.

Bored to tears of Red Red Wine though.

Andy said...

It's true what you say, this is their best song, and following on from one of their worst (I Got You Babe) too.

Back then they were on a knife edge as to whether they were worth bothering with: hard to believe now given all the Can't Help Falling In Love With You nonsense since. The last good record was Kingston Town.

I hear another volume of Labour Of Love is on the way.