‘Can’t Help Falling’ for ‘Red Red Wine!’ UB40 brings summer reggae vibes to Hollywood Casino

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews UB40 at Hollywood Casino (Part 1)

Are you looking to extend your Fourth of July holiday into a long four-day weekend of partying?

The many members of UB40. (Courtesy Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races)

UB40 brings summer reggae vibes to the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races on Saturday.

“We pride ourselves on sending people home a lot happier than when they came to the show,” Drummer Jimmy Brown told WTOP. “We hope to uplift the audience, which the music does. Reggae music by nature is an uplifting style of music, so yeah, it’s party time. We want everybody to dance and we expect everyone to sing along, too.”

Born in 1957, Brown formed the band in Birmingham, England in 1978 with brothers Robin and Ali Campbell, Earl Falconer and Brian Travers. The original five members met each other growing up at the Moseley School of Art.

“We’ve all known each other since we were 11 years old and we’re from a multicultural melting pot of inner-city Birmingham,” Brown said. “We all were friends at school, we left school and then thought, ‘Hey, let’s make a band,’ and that’s exactly what we did. Because we lived in the inner city, we were surrounded by people from the Caribbean, mostly from Jamaica, so we were exposed to reggae music, so that’s the genre we chose to play.”

The catchy name “UB40” actually came from a British government form for unemployment benefits.

“‘UB’ stands for ‘unemployment benefits’ and it was Form 40,” Brown said. “You gave them this form, they signed it, and you picked up your check. I thoroughly believe in generous benefits because you never know what people are going to do with the time that they’ve got. It certainly gave us an opportunity to develop the band and learn to play without having to have a job, so it really worked well for us and I believe in generous benefits.”

Their big break came when they were discovered one night by Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders.

“We’d done about 30 shows in local pubs and were making some noise, selling out really quickly with people left outside that couldn’t get in,” Brown said. “We did a show in a tiny toilet venue called The Rock Garden in London. … She came to see us and came backstage afterward. … She had a No. 1 single at the time with ‘Brass in Pocket’ and she said, ‘Do you guys wanna come on our tour that’s already sold out? We want you to come open for us.'”

In 1980, UB40’s breakthrough double-sided record was “King” / “Food For Thought,” an ultra-liberal critique on both the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and how runaway capitalism commercialized Christmas.

“‘King’ isn’t really a celebration of Martin Luther King; it’s more of a case of, yeah, what you did was great, but what difference did it make? The line is: where are all your people now? Passive resistance, I can’t say that works,” Brown said. “‘Food For Thought’ is about the indulgences of the West and uneven distribution of wealth. A lot of our subjects are really about class war, how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. How can you celebrate Christmas when there are fellow humans suffering in other parts of the world? We’re party poopers for sure.”

In 1983, they temporarily tabled the social commentary and learned how to party with their chart-topping cover of Neil Diamond’s “Red Red Wine,” a hit that was so catchy that UB40’s take is now the definitive version.

“We had no idea that it was Neil Diamond who had written it; we knew it as a very popular reggae tune from the early ’70s … when we came to do ‘Labour of Love,’ which was a celebration of the songs that turned us onto the genre of reggae in the first place. … It was such a phenomenal success for us around the world and eventually in America, which was five years after we released it, it went No. 1 in the States. We were very proud of that.”

In 1985, the band returned the favor to Hynde by collaborating on a cover of Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe.”

“We remained friends with Chrissie forever,” Brown said. “She claims that she had the idea, our ex-singer Ali at the time claimed that it was his idea, but whatever, it was such a successful record for us. I suppose it was kind of audacious for us to be using such a famous song, and we wouldn’t claim for a minute that we do a better version than Sonny & Cher’s original, which is one of my favorite songs ever, but it was just a big, big, big success for us.”

In 1993, they topped the charts again with a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” which was originally intended for the movie “Honeymoon in Vegas” before the movie producers chose Bono’s version of the same song. Instead, UB40’s take wound up on the soundtrack of the film “Slither” — and the song went to No. 1.

“I can’t say that I was a big Elvis fan, I’m too young really … and I didn’t really respect him much when he became that bloated Vegas caricature of himself, but he really was a trailblazer in the beginning,” Brown said. “That was massive for us as well. We seem to do well when we do cover versions, but it’s only a small part of our repertoire.”

Find ticket information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews UB40 at Hollywood Casino (Part 2)

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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