They Had It Covered
Next month, it will be 50 years since Jamaica gained Independence from Britain. Today, the Jamaica Observer's Entertainment section reflects on the influence Jamaican pop culture has had on that country in REGGAE BRITANNIA, a weekly feature leading up to the Golden Jubilee.
THE British Invasion, led by the Beatles and Rolling Stones, was in full swing during the 1960s when West Indian migration to England peaked. Britons not only tuned in to rock and roll, many were taken with the music of Jamaican artistes like Millie Small and Desmond Dekker.
For much of the 1980s and 1990s, British pop acts paid tribute to the Jamaican music and performers they grew up listening to by covering their songs. Several of them topped American and British charts, earning solid paydays for their heroes, some of whom had fallen on hard times.
Most noted of the Brit 'cover' performers was UB40, a multi-ethnic band out of Birmingham in the British Midlands, home to a
large populace of West
UB40's Labour of Love series showcased versions of Jamaican hit songs by The Melodians (Sweet Sensation), Johnny Osbourne (Come Back Darling), The Paragons (Wear You to The Ball), The Heptones (Baby Be True), Eric Donaldson (Cherry Oh Baby) and the Trinidadian Lord Creator, who had numerous hits during the ska era of the early 1960s.
Creator (Kenrick Patrick) was all but forgotten when UB40 put some new gloss on his Kingston Town (originally recorded as Babylon) for their 1999 Labour of Love II set. Their spin was a minor hit in Britain, but sold well enough to give a second wind to Creator, who had suffered a debilitating stroke and had returned to his native land.
"That really changed my life. When the money came through, I was able to improve myself and return to Jamaica," Creator told the Jamaica Observer in 2002.
The biggest UB40 cover, however, was of Red Red Wine, an obscure song by superstar Neil Diamond. Their Labour of Love copy topped the Billboard pop chart in 1983, but band members say it was based on a reggae version done in 1969 by Jamaican singer Tony Tribe.
Culture Club was another British band strongly influenced by Jamaican pop music, with one of their earliest hit songs being the reggae number Do You Really Want 2 Hurt Me. After leaving the band, lead singer Boy George made the national charts with covers of Ken Boothe's Everything I Own in 1987 and again a decade
later with Police and
Thieves, originally done by Junior Murvin.
In 1997, famed drum and bass team Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare recruited top British singers Maxi Priest, Ali Campbell of UB40 and Mick Hucknall of Simply Red for their Friends album. Priest cut John Holt's Only a Smile and Campbell reworked Seems To Me I'm Losing, originally done in Jamaica by
It was Hucknall who had the biggest impact. His smoky update of Gregory Isaacs' Night Nurse entered the British national chart in 1997 and helped resuscitate the 'Cool Ruler's career.
Friends won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 1999.