Release Date: May 93
Chart Position: 1
‘Elvis was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me’, same here Chuck, fortunately this wasn’t the case with Ali Campbell. The ethereal intro is pure Clannad then someone hits the reggae button on the Casio keyboard and it’s all systems go, and just before it starts sounding like Dubstep the horns kick in and the soothing wave of Brum Neggae washes over you like a swell from the Grand Union Canal.
This is what Neggae cover versions are all about, respectful to the original yet still with that distinct Neggae sound which wouldn’t sound out of place in the bar at ‘Sandals’ (take note Suggs). I’m not going to go on about the lyrics as they’re more to do with Elvis than UB40, the vocals are great though, Ali Campbell at his best with Robin and the rest of the boys providing more than adequate backing vocals, production isn’t particularly ambitious but the original is such a classic it’s been nicely Neggaefied without going over the top.
Interesting story behind the video. At this time UB40 were struggling financially, as the petrol bill for the mopeds in the video for the 808 State collaboration had run into millions. This meant Ali Campbell had taken on a night time security job which entailed patrolling the labyrinth of hidden corridors in the Peacocks Centre which at the time had a rodent problem, Ali was offered the job due to his previous experience, although like the A-Level results on my CV he did exaggerate his level of involvement. Ali wasn’t one to miss a trick so decided to record the video on the cheap, even having the audacity to use the shopping centre’s own CCTV to record it on. He then invited the rest of the band along plus a couple of special guests (you’ll probably spot Ashley Cole and Tamer Hassan in the horn section and I think that may be a tashless Gareth Hale on sax) to basically berk about in front of the security cameras. It works nicely I think, no high end concept, no cheap effects, just a flash mob of night watchmen. For me this is the ultimate Neggae cover; cover versions don’t get Neggaer than this.
Score: 8/10 – I can’t help falling in love with Yow.
Within this blog I have often expressed my opinion on covers and I stand by the points I have made; if you can’t improve on the original don’t bother, and if you do attempt it and fail, then you are fair game as far as being dissed goes. Within this genre as I feel that covers can be an easy, lazy and distasteful way to make money by riding the crest of the neggae wave, ruining someone else’s work in the process.
I can imagine how most of the dross that made it that far was agreed upon; almost as if the tune was plucked randomly out of a hat: “Yeah, that one will do, you rap the second verse, I’ll put one of those rasta hats on and he’ll juggle some type of citric fruit in the background. It’ll be massive”.
Having said that however, I do also recognise that they were an important vehicle to keep the neggae train rolling and when executed well often breathed new life and added a modern twist to a forgotten great.
Right since I’ve got that off my chest, I’ll let you know what I think.
This is an absolute beauty from a great band and this version of Elvis’s ’61 classic is up there among the great covers of all time. They did everything a cover needs to do: take a great song and make it relevant again, and I believe that they have achieved both with this (although there is the grey area of charity covers which the likes of late 90’s Boy bands commercialised too well).
Ali Campbell’s delivery of the vocal intro is simply brilliant. The base punches in, we drop into it and it goes from strength to strength as it peaks and troughs throughout bridged nicely by the little “as a river flows…” section and all complimented by a strong horn section. Lyrically it’s pretty simple, it’s a classic, it should be, and it just all works beautifully.
The song went on to be the key tune from the Sliver soundtrack (pony film, it was essentially a shit Basic Instinct, 99% of people watched only on the promise of getting a better glimpse of Sharon Stone in her heyday, we were all massively disappointed) and as a result the video suffered. Now I know the video was never going to be the classic neggae booty fest we all love (we’ll leave that to the Shaggy’s and the Inner Circles of the world), but the depressing CCTV footage (which I understand has its relevance to the complex and intriguing plot line of the film) make for poor viewing, which is a little disappointing. Not even a Capri Sun on show, nothing!
Score: I can’t help falling over myself to give it an 8/10.
So Birmingham’s own Reggae Pioneers UB40 grace the Neggae hot 90 once again. I must say that this Elvis cover is a slight improvement on their last outing with 808 state. That said, it is only a cover and I think they push the original as far as it can go without being too disrespectful or too avant-garde.
The Elvis original from the film Blue Hawaii was a slow, melancholic yet endearing ballad. Its a brave effort by the UB’s to paint this red gold and green by throwing in a trademark horn section. The stabbing stutter drums remind me of this. They bring it up to speed and enable the listener to get into a half skank. Lets face it though, you’re never really going to get out of second gear on this one. There’s no real bounce, no alarms and no surprises. After a minute or so you’re pretty much done with it.
In my book it has to be a pretty outstanding rehash if you’re going to take something old repackage it and call it Neggae. Sadly, like “Shout” and “One in Ten” before it, this is another “ten a penny” Neggae cover.
As for the video, its a teaser from a crap film. Sharon Stone, doing her best to look sultry. Tom Berenger skulking about after Back Draft Baldwin and all shot in black and white to make it look art house and intriguing. Well it isn’t. You know when see the words Sharon Stone and psychological thriller the whole thing is going to be more wooden than Heather Mills’ Cruciate and only half as reliable. If you ever get the chance to watch Sliver, DON’T, its an hour and 47 minutes that you’ll never get back. The less said about it the better.
Score: A Berenger like average 5 from me.
UB40 have come in this week with a solid version of I Can’t help falling in love with you. Certainly a step up from the 808 State debacle.
Nothing wrong with the delivery and great use of horns and sax to compliment Ali Campbell’s Birmingham-rooted vocals. I find his voice quite soothing, almost lemsip-like. There is never any great pace or urgency about UB40’s music (they are more David Gower than Ian Botham), but this return to form is a welcome change from their previous entry and works well.
The video is a bit nondescript and for my money, Sliver should have picked another song to use. It’s low budget, black and white and could have been a little more creative. They look rather cramped and awkward in the basement corridors while singing and carrying on. I wonder if we incorporated Maxi’s white horse into this somewhere, somehow it may have enhanced the visual.
Overall a pretty strong effort from our no longer unemployed musicians.
Score: I’m in for a solid 7.5/10
“All aboard the 8.15 Neggraevy stopping service! This train will stop at Crapcoversville and Selloutchester, before reaching the final destination, Legacy-damage-upon-Thames.”
UB40 were one of the great British Bands of the early 80s – a sprawling, punk-inspired, self-taught reggae protest machine. Signing Off and Present Arms are bonafied UK Reggae classics – up there with anything by the Specials or The Beat. If you don’t believe me, check out this, this or this (they were particularly amazing live). And there is plenty more where that came from.
They changed direction with the slicker, commercial sound of Labour of Love in 1983 and topped the charts with its lead single Red Red Wine. A Neil Diamond cover, it opened up the UBs to a wider audience. It also sadly changed the way they approached music, and they became the kings of the reggae cover version – releasing no less than four albums of the stuff. Sadly, they never really returned to creating exciting, insightful UK reggae again.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against some of UB40’s covers. And Kingston Town, Homely Girl and I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight were all wonderful efforts. I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You is not I’m afraid. Here’s why it does nothing for me:
- The beats. They’re shit. The opening break is that sort of honky, heavy block machinery rhythm I’ve come to associate with the Bee Gees You Win Again. Not for me thanks. When the verse proper starts, the beat goes into that double time drum Stomp use. The sort of festival rhythm white students with dreadlocks like.
- Choice of song. I know there’s a lot of mouths to feed in the band but Jesus lads, an Elvis ballad? I really don’t like Elvis much. Culturally bereft. But If you’re going to Neggaetize one of his records at least go for one with some nads. A ska version of Burning Love I’d have stomached, but not this maca.
- The song and video were a tie-in with Sliver, a mediocre mid-90s thriller. The film was terrible but nonetheless made a handsome profit. So at least the lads will have got paid. Still, for reminding me of of how bad this film was the song loses a couple of points immediately.
I think 3 is what annoys me the most about all of this; they denigrated their artistic integrity by shilling out, made a fortune but still ended up bankrupt! I just hoped whatever they spent their money on was worthwhile (caviar-lined sensimilla I imagine).
Score: a very depressing 4/10
NEGGAE SCORE: 6.5