Tuesday, 2 June 2009

1985 UB40 & Chrissie Hynde: I Got You Babe

A strange pairing on paper maybe, but there's history here - Chrissie Hynde gave UB40 their big break in 1980 when she heard them playing in a pub and offered them a support slot on the next Pretenders tour. Written by Sonny Bono, 'I Got You Babe' was a 1965 number one hit for Sonny & Cher , a good natured 'fuck you' to the hippie hating 'man' and a love letter to his then wife Cher. All in one. And therein lies the problem with this or any other version; covering 'I Got You Babe' in any way other than parody will forever and a day be automatically hamstrung by its being so rooted and specific to time, place and person.To sing 'I Got You Babe' and not be Sonny and Cher would be a bit like digitally superimposing the face of you and your wife onto Charles and Diana's wedding footage and then trying to pass the ceremony off as your own. But that's not the only thing that hobbles this attempt at it.

UB40 do what they always do and nail the vocals on to a standard reggae lite groove while Ali Campbell intones the lyrics in same flat, one key delivery that's a dictionary definition of 'business as usual'. Hynde, on the other hand, doesn't even bother to try to keep within the tune or spirit of the music and belts out the words to a hard rock backing track playing in a different key that only she can hear. She overwhelms Campbell's delivery so completely that there's little doubt who would wear the trousers in that particular relationship.

But Ali Campbell and Chrissie Hynde were never even 'an item' and the complete lack of chemistry between them makes the song's message more or less meaningless in this context. Further, t
here's something faintly comical about Hynde's:"Don't let them say your hair's too long" delivery when Campbell looks like he's got a Weetabix balanced on his head. And I'll wager if any bloke asked her "Then put your little hand in mine" then she'd rip it off at the elbow.

If you're going to take the basic 'I Got You Babe' on face value then there's no real harm done, but UB40 and Chrissie Hynde's version adds nothing at all to the original and it's a lazy and formulaic (for UB40) re-hash that put another nail into their coffin of credibility. Though by now you'd have to move the headstone and dig it out from under six feet of earth to be able to hammer it in.

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