UB40 – Higher Ground

Release Date: Aug 93
Chart Position: 8

For me, this is the UB’s best effort on the Neggae Hot 90. An uplifiting paean to positivity and knowledge, it echoes their benevolent, socially conscious early works such as King or Don’t Let it Pass You By. Cracking wordplay from Ali Campbell – is it just me or does it  recall the English folk rhyme The wise old owl?

Swap out the YowBee’s words for said owlrhyme. Repeat last three words in first three lines. Sing. It will make you happy.
Musically its great too; a pretty complex riddim with tasteful keys and brass flourishes, underpinned by bass and tabla. It calls to mind the gem of a tune that is When I see you Smile by Singing Sweet. If there are any other reggae songs you can think that are similarly uplifting and Indian-influnced let us know – I’ve christened this sub-genre Rajjae.
This was UB’s first hit after the shill-out that was I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You so it’s a massive return to artistic form in my eyes. It’s as if Ali and the lads are saying, “Look – we’ve all got bills to pay and covering Elvis certainly cleared the credit cards BUT THIS IS WHAT WE’RE ALL ABOUT.”
The video is perfectly acceptable, and I love the Indian dancing – pretty interesting that last week we had someone of Indian origin Indian delivering a Bawdy, bluebeat-inspired jam and this week it’s flipped 180. It’s Dylan going electric and the Beatles going Dylan. It’s the Stone Roses borrowing from Young MC, and then themselves getting sampled by RUN DMC. This is what was happening in the fertile scene that was Neggae and that’s why we loved it.
Score: A joyous 9 from me.

Unlike their last effort this isn’t a cover, despite sharing a title with a Stevie Wonder classic, in my eyes ‘Higher ground’ wins the category of ‘best song title which has more than one version but isn’t a cover’ (they usually do award this in the ad break at the Brits) narrowly beating;


I digress. Admittedly I’d always assumed this was a song from earlier in their career, it wouldn’t sound out of place on ‘Labour of Love’, although not being a cover it would seriously flaw the whole concept of that album. The sound is classic Yowbee behavior with an ethereal organ intro followed by the sweet vocals of Neggae’s Al Green, the Reverend Ali Campbell. The beat is unobtrusive but fits well with the general tempo of the song and then Ashley Cole and his mates kick in with the Yowbee horn section (a must for any band worth its salt). The lyrics are some seriously spiritual shit brar, sweet and romantic as opposed to the usual verbal sexual assault which seems prevalent in the neggae community; this is the Neggae equivalent of Shelley whilst the likes of SHABBA! sound like Richard Digance with a sex addiction and whacked out on goofballs and fizzers.
The video’s pretty bog standard, at first I thought they’d gone all Apache Indian but then it becomes clear Ali has lost his security guard gig at the Peacocks and got a new one in Sheffield guarding the derelict building featured in the ‘Full Monty’. The boys were all big fans of ‘The Matrix’ which is reflected in their clobber. I’m not really sure about all the different cutaways as it’s all a bit ‘Benetton’,  although I’m sure they signify something about the rich tapestry of love and life which will become more apparent to me as I travel further down the neggae path to spiritual enlightenment. Overall I can’t fault this as it’s the yowbs doing what they do best, making classic Brum reggae.
Score: 10/10 – it’s the Lord’s prayer of Neggae

1 – The Beatles song was called ‘I want you (she’s so heavy)’, I believe this is the first footnote used on the neggae blog, you are literally witnessing history people.

Higher Ground is a nice track, to begin with anyway.
Nice Synths as an intro, good vocals from Ali Campbell followed by a stuttering carnival style drum break sound which became synonymous with UB40 in the 90’s. It chugs along nicely for 16 bars and seems to be going somewhere but then sadly it seems to run out of puff. Its almost as if this was unfinished. No bridge, no key change no next level. Kudos to UB40 for Original artistry in a Sticky Neggae period filled with covers, mash ups and rip offs. Unfortunately however my interest in this release waned after the opening gambit.
On to the video.
Much like the song itself its inoffensive, safe and slightly MOR if you ask me. Some ethnic diversity in the various dancers on show. Obviously paying homage to the UB’s Brummie roots; the B-Side to the single also contained a Punjabi edit. Other than the dancers you have a lady staring down from the stars. A common theme at the time. I remember Simply Red, creating a similar scene in his Stars Video.
That aside you have the UB’s doing a dad skank in a freight yard, dressed in some rather odd Matrix style get up. Most of whom look slightly uncomfortable, apart from Morpheus and Apok on horns who relish the chance to throw some 9 o ‘clock at a wedding shapes.
A nice song, but for me, not one to blow your socks off or really evoke any type of strong emotion or nostalgia. Unlike these 2 New BFFs on tinternet below, which I noticed in the comments thread on the song’s YouTube page…

l8m8c – 9 months ago
this song reminds me of my dad, i remember him singing this through the house while i followed him round listening as a little girl, he was so happy, now its been years since i saw him and he is remarried and left the country, i miss him alot but everytime i hear this song it feels like he’s right there and it makes me smile, funny what you remember as a kid. i love you dad! ·

waytoroh – 2 weeks ago
can you go find him? how old are you? you deserve to meet him again. this is the saddess thing i’ve read ever! maybe he doesnt want to meet you, maybe he does but u have the right to know. go find him i’ll help you a total stranger but this is crazy go find him!

Score: a steady 7 from me

Classic UB40 fodder that is right to have its place on the top 90; but not their best in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong I like UB40 and this continues to demonstrate their strength in this area. The vocals are beautiful and the melody is easy going and simple to get into. It’s all backed up by a pretty basic synthesizer and horn section – all in line with expectation from the outfit from Birmingham. However the verses are far too subdued for my liking, it peaks nicely at the chorus but the fall back to the slow drone of the core of the tune and makes it feel like it never ends. If there was a top 90 for hotel lobby or elevator tunes then this would a big hit and probably the opening track.
The video compliments the nondescript song nicely moving between the band doing their happy go lucky thing in a yard to a strange mix of exotic dancers in a studio – which I like, but not sure about the trapeze act? I do however always like to recognise the use of a keytar and this should be encouraged.
Score: 6/10 from me that only gets that much as its UB40.

Higher ground from the 1993 album “Promises and Lies” is a good ‘un! After listening to it a few times more recently, I feel it comes across quite organic, for lack of a better word. Ali Campbell’s vocals are soft and comforting with his usual midland reggae tones are backed up nicely by the rest of the UB40 crew. Excellent use of the sax and red guitar shaped keyboard (I presume that the keyboard is responsible for the synthetic bassline) keeps the tune moving along at a steady pace.
The video is of standard UB40 fare, basic and not very interesting. Black overcoats, denim jeans mixed in with little to no activity from the band is a little uninspiring. I didn’t fully understand the Indian dancers, although the one doing the robot was fairly entertaining. I certainly didn’t like the bird on the cloud or the bird on the swing. Pish…..
Bottom line UB40 – keep singing and stop making low budget shite videos!
Score: Mark me down for a 6.5 /10. Good song, not so good vid.



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