Today in rock history: On this date in 1980, British reggae band UB40 released its independent debut album, the extremely well-received Signing Off. The album’s unusual cover displays a replica of a form necessary for receiving unemployment benefits in England named the UB40 form — the band took its name from the form and thought it would be appropriate to use it for the cover artwork of its first album. A mixture of reggae and dub with subject matter delving into themes of politics, racism and social injustices, the record was a bold statement from the brand new band at the time. A massive seller in the band’s home country, Signing Off climbed as high as No. 2 on British sales charts and eventually became a platinum-selling album in that part of the world. Often regarded as the band’s best and most adventurous album, its popularity was fueled by singles including “Food For Thought” and “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today,” a cover version of a song originally written by Randy Newman. UB40’s worldwide success wouldn’t occur until three years later when it released its international hit album Labour of Love which was comprised solely of cover versions including its massively successful version of Neil Diamond’s 1967 hit, “Red Red Wine."
Today in rock history: On this date in 1963, unique and inimitable Cocteau Twins lead singer Elizabeth Fraser was born in Grangemouth, Scotland. Forming the band (which took its name from a song title from another Scottish band, Simple Minds) with multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Robin Guthrie as a teenager, Fraser was heavily influenced by the music of The Birthday Party and Siouxsie and the Banshees, a band she admired enough to have a tattoo of the faces of the group’s members inked on her arm. Initially drawing vocal comparisons to Banshees lead singer Siouxsie Sioux, it wouldn’t be long before Fraser would carve out her own intoxicating blend of ethereal, engaging vocals which often dipped into unusual sounds and indecipherable lyrics and words. One of the most influential and unique vocalists of her era, Fraser’s contributions to the sound and style of the Cocteau Twins is undeniable. Lending her vocal gifts as a guest artist on recordings by This Mortal Coil, Massive Attack and Peter Gabriel to name a few, Fraser’s distinctive and offbeat vocal delivery is still loved and treasured by the many devout fans that still hold the band’s albums in high regard.
Today in rock history: On this date in 1970, soul singer Edwin Starr was at the top of the Billboard pop singles chart with the angry, forceful, anti-Vietnam war tune entitled simply “War.” The song had been recorded by leading Motown Records singing group The Temptations earlier in 1970 but was soon re-recorded by Starr in a more direct and aggressive style. “War,” which was written by legendary Motown songwriting team Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, stayed at the No. 1 spot for three solid weeks and earned Starr a Grammy nomination. One of the most popular and recognizable protest songs of the Vietnam era, its relevance and significance has never really waned; it’s since been covered by other artists like Black Stone Cherry, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Bruce Springsteen, whose version made it to the Top 10 on Billboard’s sales charts upon its release in 1986.
TODAY IN ROCK HISTORY
Jackson Browne On Empty, R.I.P. Roy Orbison and more
Today in rock history: On this date in 1964, legendary vocalist and songwriter Roy Orbison released the most successful single of his long career, “Oh, Pretty Woman.” The single rose to the No. 1 spot on American sales charts and became Roy’s second single to top the charts, after “Running Scared” had achieved that feat in 1961. “Oh, Pretty Woman” remained at the No. 1 spot for three straight weeks and eventually went on to sell more than 7 million copies, making it Orbison’s best-selling single of all time. Orbison went on to top singles charts in many countries around the world with this recognizable classic. The song was later covered by American rock and roll band Van Halen which also had a hit with it; the band’s version climbed as high as No. 12 on Billboard’s pop singles chart in 1982 and was the lead single taken from their album of the same year, Diver Down.