"Red Red Wine" revisited: The UB40/Phoenix connection

UB40: Friday, August 8, at Fort McDowell Casino

By Clay McNear

Ah, what a tangled web Neil Diamond unwittingly wove when he wrote the song "Red Red Wine" back in '67. For starters, it was a pretty un-Diamondlike tune, something borne out by what happened after Neil's own raspy-throated version came out in '68.

For reasons unknown, Jamaican rocksteady master Tony Tribe latched onto the song and gave it a reggae spin in 1969. That single nicked the UK charts before vanishing, presumably into the mists of eternity.

A young British band named UB40, scouting songs for its 1983 disc Labour of Love, thought it'd stumbled upon an obscure killer of a track when it unearthed Tribe's version. The group had no inkling until much later that the tune was from the Neil Diamond catalogue.

Result: smash in Britain, snores across the Pond. And life went on.

Well, everywhere but Phoenix, predictably. Five years after Labour, Guy Zapoleon, a disc jockey at PHX rock station KZZP-FM, started spinning the UB40 single in heavy rotation, just for grins. The song became a huge local hit, then spread regionally, pushing the band's stateside label, A&M, to re-release the five-year-old track to the American market. (Naturally, this being America, the preceding version of the story is disputed by some dude in Atlanta who thinks he deserves the credit for breaking "Wine.")

In October of '88, the UB40 version of "Red Red Wine" hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts.


Neil Diamond is 67. He just released a new album, Home Before Dark. It entered the Billboard Hot 200 chart at No. 1.

Tony Tribe has vanished, presumably into the mists of eternity.

Guy Zapoleon is now a superfly radio consultant out of Houston, Texas. He spearheaded the wave of prepackaged radio-station formats, bless his heart.

KZZP, once the Valley's rock flagship, is now tagged KISS-FM and plays shit like Jordin & Jesse.

My Web Editor places "Red Red Wine" -- UB40 version -- on his most-hated-tune list. Says he liked it a lot when he was 12.

UB40, once known as the great white hope of British reggae and always a bit disparaging about the U.S. market, is scheduled to perform at 8 p.m. Friday, August 8, at Fort McDowell Casino, 10424 North Fort McDowell Road in Fountain Hills. Tickets are $40. See Fort McDowell Casino.

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