“Red Red Wine” is a song written and originally recorded by Neil Diamond, that was then covered by Tony Tribe, and more famously by British reggae group UB40, whose version topped the U.S. and UK singles charts. In the song, the singer finds drinking red wine is the only way to forget a lost love.
Diamond’s version reached number sixty-three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1968. The single version of his recording includes a backing choir not found in any other version. It was also remixed for the compilation album, Classics: The Early Years. That same year, Jimmy James and The Vagabonds released a cover version for the UK market. It charted at number thirty-six.
Tony Tribe, a Jamaican rocksteady singer, recorded a reggae-influenced version in 1969 which reached number forty-six in the UK Singles Chart. Also in 1969 the song was covered by swamp rock/pop artist Charles Mann. In 1970, a remake by Vic Dana became a minor Billboard Hot 100 hit. In early 1972, country singer Roy Drusky enjoyed a Top 20 hit with his cover version.
UB40 made their rendition for their cover versions album Labour of Love. According to the band, they were only familiar with Tony Tribe’s version, and their version featured a lighter, reggae-style flavor compared to Diamond’s somber, acoustic ballad. This version reached number one in the UK chart in August 1983, and number thirty-four in the U.S. in March 1984. This cover version adds a toasted verse by UB40 member Astro, opening: “Red Red Wine, you make me feel so fine/You keep me rocking all of the time”.
The song received a second life in the US in 1988 when DJ Bobby Stark started playing it at a dance club in Atlanta called Scenario. UB40’s label, A&M Records, re-released the song as a single, and it reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 that October.
Diamond later performed a UB40-inspired version of the song on tour. In it, Diamond makes a slight complaint about UB40 misunderstanding the lyrics because of the happy tone to their version. This version was released on Diamond’s The Greatest Hits (1966-1992).
The Hobos did a cover of this song on their 2004 double album Radio Jah Jah. “Red Red Wine” was also performed by Peter Tetteroo, former singer of Tee Set, a Dutch band, in 1968. The song has also been performed by Cas Haley along with UB40 on the last episode of the season 2 show America’s Got Talent.
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