By the time Chrissie Hynde invited them to tour with the Pretenders during the summer of 1980 and their debut single "King b/w Food For Thought" had sailed into the UK Top 5, all the essential elements of UB40 were already in place. Their line-up will remain unchanged for almost thirty years, and they will continue playing a mix of original material and inspired choice of reggae covers in a style that’s instantly accessible with its bright melodies and sweeping horn arrangements – one that’s allied to a formidable rhythm section, capable of holding its own with anything from Jamaica.
UB40’s first album was released the following September, on Graduate Records. Their deal allowed them more creative freedom than if they had signed with a major label. The cover artwork memorably duplicated an unemployment benefit card, with the title "Signing Off" rubber-stamped in red, but it was the music that quickly worked its way into the affections of a young, mainly student crowd with its knowing lyrics, solid reggae rhythms and dubby, instrumental passages, offset by warm horn s olos and Jamaican style scatting. There was nothing else like it at the time. As a multi-cultural band from Birmingham, UB40 weren’t drawn into trying to sound "authentic," and there was considerably more depth to their music than that of many punk and 2Tone bands. "I’m a British subject, not proud of it, whilst I carry the burden of shame," they sang on one of the tracks. Accepting the truth of their own situation amidst a sea of other reggae songs proclaiming black heritage gave us a valuable insight into where UB40 were coming from. They were unafraid to stand up and be counted, and British audiences instinctively loved them for it. "Signing Off" duly went to No. 2 in the UK and stayed on the nation’s album charts for 72 weeks.