Labour of Love is the fourth studio album by British reggae band UB40, and their first album of cover versions. Released in the UK on 12 September 1983, the album is best known for containing the song “Red Red Wine”, a worldwide number-one single, but it also includes three further UK top 20 hits, “Please Don’t Make Me Cry”, “Many Rivers to Cross” and “Cherry Oh Baby”. The album reached number one in the UK, New Zealand and the Netherlands and the top five in Canada, but only reached number 39 in the US on its original release, before re-entering the Billboard 200 in 1988 and peaking at number 14 as a result of “Red Red Wine”‘s delayed success in the US.
Following the record’s success, UB40 have since released three further albums of cover versions under the Labour of Love title.
The album consists of cover versions of ten of the group’s favourite songs by reggae artists from the period 1969 to 1972. Guitarist Robin Campbell drew up a list of possible tracks which were then whittled down to a final choice of ten following discussion among the band members. Campbell told UK music magazine NME, “It’s a collection of songs we knew as reggae songs. We’d wanted to do it for years, we wanted it to be our first album… Why we recorded them was because they were part of an era for us, what we were into.” In another interview with Melody Maker, drummer Jim Brown explained that the band were being pressured to deliver a new album, but didn’t have enough original material completed, so it seemed an ideal time to revisit the idea of making an album of cover versions. UB40 had recently opened their own studio, the Abattoir, and Campbell spoke about how the combination of not having to write songs and having their own studio in which to produce them had resulted in a happy environment during the album’s recording: “We could relax with this; there wasn’t the pressure of it being our own material. We experimented with several things like LinnDrums and synthesised basslines. It was a lot more fun.”
The group were apparently unaware during recording that the most famous track on the record had not originally been a reggae song. Ali Campbell told Billboard, “Nobody was as shocked as we were to find out that Neil Diamond wrote ‘Red Red Wine’… To me, it was always a Tony Tribe song. He sang it.” The album and 12″ version of “Red Red Wine” included a toasted verse by Astro, later copied and included by Diamond in his live performances of the song.
The band defended their decision to make an album of cover versions, stating that they had always wanted to make reggae for a wide audience. Robin Campbell said, “We actually set out in the first place to popularise reggae. That was our intention.” His brother Ali added, “What we want to do is play heavy dub reggae. But if we came straight out doing that, it would never have gotten on the radio. We commercialize our music all the time; it’s been a series of compromises.”
The album was accompanied by a 30-minute film shot in black and white, also entitled Labour of Love and released on VHS video. It was directed by Bernard Rose and written by Rose and the group’s saxophone player Brian Travers. The story followed a fictional version of the lives of the band members, their relationships with family and girlfriends, and their jobs in a junkyard, with all roles in the film played by the band and their friends. The plot focused on the rivalry between two brothers (played by the band’s Ali and Robin Campbell) trying to win the affections of the same girl (played by keyboard player Mickey Virtue’s real-life girlfriend at the time, Bernadette McNamara). The film featured songs from the album as its soundtrack, and the music videos for the singles “Red Red Wine”, “Please Don’t Make Me Cry” and “Cherry Oh Baby” were lifted directly from the film. Rose would go on to direct music videos for Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Bronski Beat before becoming a Hollywood movie director.
The album’s cover art was created by Ken Ansell of the Design Clinic and featured two collages of images that illustrated each of the songs on the album (the five songs on side one were illustrated on the front cover, and the five songs on side two on the back cover). It was the first time that UB40 had not had any input on the artwork on one of their albums, but they were on tour in the US at the time and Virgin Records, the parent company of UB40’s DEP International label, could not afford to wait until they returned for the sleeve to be designed. As Ansell recounted to Classic Pop magazine in 2017, “We pitched the idea to Virgin of creating an illustration for each song so that as and when they were released as singles we would have ready-made images. Fortunately, on their return the band liked the concept and we went ahead.”
|“Cherry Oh Baby”
|“Keep on Moving”
|Lee “Scratch” Perry, Curtis Mayfield
|The Impressions; modelled after the reggae cover by The Wailers
|“Please Don’t Make Me Cry”
|“Johnny Too Bad”
|Roy Beckford, Winston “Shadow” Bailey, Delroy Wilson, Derrick Crooks
|“Red Red Wine”
|Neil Diamond; modelled after the reggae cover by Tony Tribe
|“She Caught the Train”
|“Many Rivers to Cross”