Who Did ‘Red, Red Wine’ First Before UB40?

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Song: Red, Red Wine (1968)

Artist: Neil Diamond

Album: Just For You (Bang)

Writer: Neil Diamond

In 1988 UB40, a group from Birmingham UK had a no. 1 hit with a song called Red, Red Wine, done in a reggae style (they were not the first, see below). Although UB40 has plenty of original material, their hit-making formula mostly consisted of taking good songs from way back and doing them in a reggae style. And yes, Red, Red Wine was a good song from way back in 1968. It was written and recorded, originally, by Neil Diamond for his album Just For You.

Neil Diamond didn’t have much of a hit with his original rendition, although it did reach 62 on the Billboard Hot 100. And I have to say, while you hear a song there, it is perhaps languid and almost sleepy as if Neil had already finished a few bottles. Or, maybe it was those strings doing a lullaby in the background. Perhaps that was his intention but it just doesn’t have that extra something needed to hook you and although many people say they love the Neil Diamond version today, I have to wonder if they would have loved it having not been introduced to it by UB40.

But then again, UB40’s 1988 release was their second attempt at the song. Their first hit had come in 1985. They covered Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe which went to no. 28 on the Pop charts. In 1983, on their Labour Of Love album, they released Red, Red Wine and it did pretty well in the U.S. reaching no. 34 on the Billboard Hot 100. Those in the U.K. liked it a lot more and it reached no. 1.

Then, in 1988, they re-released the song in a slightly reworked version which went all the way to the top of the charts reaching no. 1 in October 1988 and spending an impressive 40 weeks on the charts. For this version, they inserted a rap line (in reggae a toast), which most people probably associate with the song to this day:

Red red wine you make me feel so fine, you keep me rocking all of the time…

The jouncy reggae beat brought the song out of its shell, but it may have been the rap line that provided the much-needed hook.

As for Neil Diamond, Red, Red Wine should not be considered his finest red wine moment. The song is about a man who turns to wine to get over a breakup. Many people mistakenly believe the same it true of his other red wine song, Cracklin’ Rosie.

Neil Diamond didn’t hesitate to give UB40 a call out during his live performances, and do a reggae version of Red, Red Wine himself, inserting a rap himself: Red red wine you make me feel so good, even if the word aren’t understood…You can listen below!

See Neil Diamond Performing Reggae Version of Red, Red Wine

UB40 was Not the First Reggae Version of Red, Red Wine

I wonder if Neil would have been so generous if he had known that UB40 had never heard of his original version when they recorded their own. According to Robin Campbell, singer, and guitarist, “We had no idea Neil Diamond had anything to do with it. The only version we were aware of was the Tony Tribe version.” Tony Tribe was, that’s right, a Jamaican singer who had recorded the song in 1969, only a year after Neil Diamond. I’ll bet he was aware of the original. Tribe, for himself, had a no. 46 hit in the U.K.

UB40’s version, then, was at least the third version of Red, Red Wine. There may have been others of which I am unaware.

If you’re thinking “oh, so UB40 just copied Tony Tribe,” not so much. The two versions are really quite different.

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