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by Eddie Sayago
There is a chance that you have come across a song (or two, or so many more) that you enjoy and did not realize that it's either been covered by someone else or is a cover itself. We hope that this series allows you to appreciate both the original and the covers they have inspired, and to seek out and enjoy new music in the process.
In this entry, we pay homage to a very popular drinking song that has been on a very crazy journey, from the pen and paper of its songwriter to the top of the pop charts on two continents at two different times during the 1980s.
The cover we will discuss is a dance party compared to Neil Diamond’s depressing look at lost love.
The song, which was a minor but unmemorable single from the Just For You album, is full of heartbreak, as Neil sings about a woman who left him and he is all alone with his bottle of red wine. It almost sounds like he’s holding back tears in the first verse.
There is also a cover of “I’m A Believer” on Just For You, which he wrote and was recorded by The Monkees, scoring Diamond his first big payday and #1 hit as a songwriter.
At this point of his career, he was best known for writing hit songs for other artists, and Just For You would be a turning point. He performs the song on occasion, which is a crowd favorite, along with “Cherry, Cherry” and “Sweet Caroline.”
From the album Labour of Love (Virgin, 1983)
By the time “Red Red Wine” found its way into the lives of UB40, Diamond had written and recorded so many songs that the reggae band from Birmingham, England had no idea this heartbreaking ballad was penned by the “Sweet Caroline” crooner.
They believed that Jamaican rocksteady singer Tony Tribe was the original creator with his cover released in 1969. (The late Astro thought the writing credit, N. Diamond, was another Jamaican.)
It was recorded and released in 1983, appearing on the all-covers album Labour of Love. UB40’s version was a big hit in the U.K, becoming their first #1 single. It would also hit #1 for one week in the U.S. in October 1988.
Earlier that year, a Phoenix radio director began playing an alternate version that featured Astro’s toast and other stations across the U.S. began playing this version.
“Red Red Wine” became the first reggae song to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, a shocking feat considering how Bob Marley never had a single enter the Top 40 during his lifetime. (This goes to show you that charts don’t mean much in terms of influence and longevity amongst legends.)
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