From the Stacks

From The Stacks: UB40, ‘Signing Off’

Back in 1983, Americans discovered a brand new band named UB40. This sensational discovery was made by turning on the radio, where the band’s cover of  Neil Diamond’s “Red Red Wine” was guaranteed to be playing somewhere along the dial. I could count on hearing it every day on my 13 mile drive to work after school, for example.

We argued about what the name meant. A friend insisted that it was a play on “U before T,” but he couldn’t explain exactly what that pun might possibly mean. Another friend, whose parents were rich enough to spring for one of those giant satellite dishes that made a residential backyard look like a NASA annex, rolled his eyes and said, “No, it’s the name of an English unemployment form.” We weren’t going to argue with a guy who had 24 hour access to MTV, so unemployment form it was.

Now, if we hadn’t been shipwrecked in South Carolina but rather the UK, we would not only have known that little bit of trivia because like everybody else at the time we would have been collecting unemployment, but we also would have known that UB40 had been kicking around for several years prior to their international success with “Red Red Wine.” Signing Off was the band’s 1980 debut album, and to my ear it remains their best. Check out the brilliant “King,” for example:

The record was very uniquely packaged, too, containing both a full length LP at the standard 33 1/3 and a three song EP spinning at 45 RPM.  Released on the indie label Graduate Records, Signing Off was an immediate critical success in UB40’s home country. Too bad it took us three more years to catch on stateside.

Prices are kind of all over the place for this one. The $10-20 range seems reasonable, but I’ve seen asking prices in the 50-75 dollar territory. If you’re just in it for the music, a CD reissue with bonus tracks  floats around for next to nothing. Happy hunting.

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