For those not old enough to experience Bob Marley in his prime, UB40 provided a very important introduction into contemporary reggae music. Their earliest material, powered by massive basslines and even bigger social/political messages really got to the heart of early 80s Britain. Their first ten years, in particular, presented the work of a band that seemed almost infallible. They could shift from political anger, into 70s influenced dub, through to a deftly played cover tune without missing a beat. Their show from the Hammersmith Odeon in 1983 – still denied a DVD release – is a near perfect example of the early UB’s in full flight.
Throughout the 80s, UB40 barely put a foot wrong. Between their own politically charged anthems, experiments with dub and bringing several 60s Trojan cuts to a new audience, they became true ambassadors for reggae.
Given how good most of their 80s output is, it’s a shame that only two of their albums have been released as expanded deluxe editions, and two of their essential live VHS releases have still yet to surface on a digital format. This Hammersmith show from 1983 didn’t even get a sell through VHS release for the home market. If you’re ever lucky enough to find a copy that hasn’t gone to landfill, it’ll be a “big box” ex-rental with, by now, something of a dubious picture and sound quality.
With the decade coming towards its end, 1988 was a genuine mixed bag. Pet Shop Boys released some of their best ever work; Elton John’s ‘Reg Strikes Back’ album marked somewhat of a comeback for the megastar after five years of intermittently enjoyable material and Jane Wiedlin hit the UK singles chart with ‘Rush Hour’, arguably one of the decade’s greatest pop singles.
Few people could argue against 1984 being one of history’s finest years for pop music. Above all else, the mighty Frankie Goes To Hollywood came and gave pop a hefty kick up the arse with a combination of great tunes and greater controversy. They were the first band since the 60s to score three #1 hits in a row, but each one – ‘Relax’, ‘Two Tribes’ and ‘The Power of Love’ were deserving of their success. Each one sounds as good as ever and in the case of ‘Two Tribes’, there’s still a real edginess you’d think would be long gone.
Looking back, it’s easy to see that 1983 was a massive year. It represents the point where a few of its stars were making huge steps to being the decade’s megastars. Five years into his career, Prince had finally succeeded in gaining worldwide success with his ‘1999’ album (a double platter of much filthiness); with their ‘War’ album, U2 made the leap from successful rock band to being an act with much bigger potential and Madonna showed early signs of being more exciting than your average pop performer.