Their name coming from a UK
unemployment welfare form, UB40 were spotted by Chrissie Hynde and supported The Pretenders on their first UK tour. Blending their doom-laden Reggae
with socialist themes, UB40 hit with their 1980 debut 'King', inspired by Martin Luther King- thanks to its fab flipside 'Food For Thought'. Their next albums, Signing Off
(1980) and Present Arms (1981) both reached UK No.2, the latter the first on their own DEP International label. Their passion for politics reached fever pitch on 1981's 'One In Ten
', and they played benefit gigs for inner-city riot victims.
Thier next album, Present Arms In Dub (1981) was the first Dub album to chart in Britain and 1982 UB44 sported an innovative hologram cover. A set of reggaefield covers- Labour Of Love- was their first UK No.1, trailed by a chart-topping take on Neil Diamond's 'Red Red Wine' (also their US chart debut). The hit was revied in the US when a Phoenix radio station rediscovered it in 1988, giving UB40 a US No.1 for the single and US No.14 for the album- which also spawned a successful sequel, Labour Of Love II (1989). Hits continued with two Chrissie Hynde duets- a cover of Sonny and Cher's 'I Got You Babe' (1985), then 'Breakfast In Bed' (1988)- and their own Geffrey Morgan (1984), Baggaradim (1985), Rat In The Kitchen (1985) and UB40 (1988). They were struck by tragedy in 1987 when bassist Earl Falconer's car went out of control, killing his brother, who was their sound engineer. He was jailed for drunk driving before their 1988 tour. They also hit headlines in 1990: deported from the Seychelles for alleged drug possession.
Their next single, '(I Can't Help) Falling In Love With You' took them to the top of transatlantic charts in 1993; Promises And Lies was another UK No.1. Vocalist and guitarist Ali Campbell scored solo with Big Love (1995) and UB40 made a big screen debut in 1996, playing themselves in Speed II.
They returned to their Reggae roots with Guns In The Ghetto (1997), hence a DJ/dancehall version in 1998, featuring Jamaican DJs recording their own lyrics over UB40's original songs.