Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


iPod song of the week – UB40

Filed under : iPod Song of the Week
On May 31, 2009
At 2:00 am
Comments : 3

This is not about Red Red Wine.

Still reading? OK. When I was a kid, I wrote a song, lyrics only. I’m sure it was crappy, I was probably in 6th or 7th grade, but I really felt as a person who listened to at least thirty songs a day that I could do this. And so I did. I gave it to a friend of mine (I have no idea why) and her mother, who was a piano teacher, wanted to put it to music. It was going to be a lovely piano tune and so I said no. You see, it was all about the Rock ‘n Roll, man. Yeah!

I remembered this story this week when I was looking through the exciting database of scanned Billboard magazines on Google. I used to read this magazine every freaking week back in the day. Ironically, now that I’m at a label, I never do. Maybe I see all the same stuff on the Internet anyway. But in re-reading, I’ve come across lots of interesting things and, of course, there’s lots of looking back at the past through the present lens (CD’s will last forever! Music sales increase every year! The Internet will be our salvation!) and snickering,

I wonder what would happen if one day I was listening to the radio and I heard my awful 6th grade lyrics in some hit tune. How weird would that be? Of course, I don’t even remember the lyrics but work with me here. Because this did happen to someone and when I read about the lawsuit (in a 1995 issue) I sat bolt upright. Because this song, my favorite UB40 song ever, has the stupidest, most simplistic lyrics you could imagine. I felt no surprise at all knowing they were not written by someone who made a living writing songs. In fact, I always assumed UB40 had written them because, as we all know, UB40’s stock in trade is remaking other people’s songs, probably because their songwriting skills were on the level of this number.

So why did I love it? Well, of course there was the catchy melody and gentle reggae lilt, but really, when you’re 14 years old, lyrics like these just appeal to you:

You shoot me down in flames
You put me down a lot
I’m giving you my heart
Go on take it
Please be careful
Not to break it
Just remember it’s the only one I’ve got
It’s the only one I’ve got

Don’t break my heart
Don’t break my heart
Don’t break my heart

You make me laugh a lot
And buy me silly things
I’d rather be with you
Than anyone else
But if you make me mad
But if you make me mad
You’ll wish that you had not
You’ll wish that you had not

Don’t break my heart
Don’t break my heart
Don’t break my heart

Right. Yeats it is not. Actually, it was written by a secretary from Birmingham England named Deborah Banks who penned amateur poetry and had a friend who was looking for songs. So she wrote him a couple and he said, don’t worry, I’ll see you right if I ever end up doing anything with it. We now know how that went. Later, he sold it to UB40 for £10,000, which is about $16,000, and they had a massive worldwide hit with it in 1985. Now, I don’t know how she figured out that it was her song but I like to imagine that one day she was folding laundry or typing a memo and listening to the radio when something sounded familiar… The thing I do know is that she won her lawsuit by proving the song was hers (I wish, too, that I knew how she did this… notebooks? Diaries? Letters?) when the friend denied it. She was awarded damages and royalties and the song credits now lists her as a co-writer. Go Deborah Banks!

I always knew UB40 couldn’t write their own songs. Even the trite ones.


3 Comments for this post

  1. Solace says:

    I remember that song!

  2. kb says:

    I don’t remember the song. Actually, the lyrics alone aren’t too bad, but the melody they’re put to rather destroys them.

    I’ve been told you should mail your work to yourself (and never open it) if you want to unofficially protect your work.

  3. Becca says:

    We’ll have to agree to disagree, as I think the complete opposite. 😀

    Good idea! Plus the stamp would have only been a nickel back when I wrote my song.

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