Dec 08


FT + Popular63 comments • 4,946 views

#475, 21st February 1981

The extended artist credit is a giveaway: Aussie origins or no, this is a music hall number – perhaps the last such to get to No.1, complete with comical national caricature and audience participation. On record, the all-join-in section demolishes the song’s momentum, turning it into a chore. On screen, blackboard at the ready, Dolce made more sense, and at the time “Shaddap You Face” was a welcome relief after two months of piety. But almost anything would have been.

People upset that Ultravox were kept from the top by this have a good case: for a start, “Vienna” is a great deal funnier. The laughs in Joe Dolce arrive from i. the deathless comic value of a mock Italian accent, ii. the joy of yelling “Shaddap-a you face!”. I can vouch for ii, having submitted it to continuous testing that spring, but it’s not a gag whose appeal has crossed the gulf of years.



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  1. 51
    H. on 15 Dec 2008 #

    Hmmm. ‘Vienna’ is probably one of those ‘you had to be there’ records. I remember being quite obsessed by it at the time, to the extent that I even bought a Berlitz pocket guide to Vienna! Of course, I later read that Ure et al. had never actually been to Vienna when they wrote the song. I wonder why a whole swathe of postpunk was so wrapped up in ‘ye olde continental Europe’ imagery.

  2. 52
    Malice Cooper on 15 Dec 2008 #

    utterly hideous garbage that was about as funny as a world war

  3. 53
    Erithian on 15 Dec 2008 #

    #51 – In the case of “Vienna”, repeated viewings of the aforementioned “The Third Man” probably had a lot to do with it. I know when I visited the city for the first time I was actively looking out for echoes of the postwar café culture and the atmospheric cityscape that the “Vienna” video sought to portray – and I was gutted that the Riesenrad, the big wheel in the Prater and scene of Harry Lime’s “cuckoo clock” speech, was closed off-season. “Ye olde continental Europe” seemed very much the chessboard upon which the Cold War was being played out, and that probably influenced many a track of the time.

    Billy #44 – Fred Wedlock! Now there was a comedy record that was funny more than a couple of times.

  4. 54
    vinylscot on 15 Dec 2008 #

    I had been a fan of Foxx-era Ultravox, having seen them support Eddie and the Hot Rods in 1976-ish at the Apollo. Midge Ure Ultravox started off OK, but to my mind rather disppeared in a flood of post-Vienna pretentiousness. (The two pre-Vienna singles, Sleepwalk and Passing Strangers had both been quite strong, and far more like the Ultravox I knew) I liked Vienna; in comparison with a lot of what was around at the time it was really quite good, especially the late instrumental break, but it’s not really the classic the media would have you believe.

    Funnily enough, Ure-era Ultravox did have a decent (first time round) end to their career with their collaboration with the Chieftains (All Fall Down), and their overblown but quite splendid (in a naff sort of way) take on Live Aid, “All In One Day” – the 12″ is just so OTT it is brilliant!!

  5. 55
    AndyPandy on 16 Dec 2008 #

    Re 49@ No it wasn’t it was a real mistake I meant Lemon Jelly (just before they had that hit song about “ducks in the rain’) werent Green Jelly some American rock band from I’d guess the early 90s when I used to still sometimes come into contact with Radio 1?

  6. 56
    Martin Skidmore on 18 Dec 2008 #

    I’m with Lex re Vienna.

    I didn’t hate Dolce as much as most seem to – I quite liked his sweet, high, small, trilling voice, and I thought his delivery was quite bouncy and likeable. Obviously the yellalong chorus did get annoying pretty instantly.

  7. 57
    Brooksie on 19 Feb 2010 #

    @ Lex # 50:

    Vienna is overblown and pompous, but if it’s the first time you’ve heard it you should also bear in mind it’s something of a grower that improves with repeated listenings.

  8. 58
    thefatgit on 19 Feb 2010 #

    In a perverse way, I’m glad that Joe Dolce kept Ultravox off the top spot. It serves as a salutory lesson that sometimes, not getting to #1 can make a record all the more memorable, not for it’s own merits, but because it was held off by a far inferior novelty piece. The truth is, that “Vienna” would most probably be regarded as a High-Concept novelty piece itself, these days.

    At the time, I loved “Vienna” in a way only a teenager could. I bought into the whole imagery, read The Third Man and bought a trenchcoat from Oxfam to wear to an Ultravox concert at Hammersmith Odeon. A whole bunch of us caught the Green Line coach there, dressed in skinny tie & trenchcoat combos (even the girls!) like some weird spiv-gestapo jolly boy outing. The gig was OK. “All Stood Still” was the stand-out song. “Vienna” was saved for the encore. I seem to recall Billy Currie had a neon bow for his violin (or was that with Gary Numan, the previous year? Memory playing tricks again?).

    Anyway, looking back I kind of wish I hadn’t been such a prat, being so up-my-own-arse about Ultravox, and Vienna in particular. It’s a fine song, but SO up-it’s-own-arse. In a bad way. I can’t listen to it without cracking up into hysterics now. The Ultravox phase passed as soon as it arrived, as is the case with fickle teenage fancies. But for a few months in ’81, they were all I really cared about.

  9. 59
    Rory on 21 Oct 2010 #

    I just learned this and had to post it somewhere: Joe Dolce subsequently co-wrote and produced a song that ended up on the soundtrack of… The Terminator. It’s not bad, either.

    No, really. If you like that electronic dance-oriented 1984 sound, go and have a listen. He doesn’t sing on it, one of his Aussie collaborators does.

    While I’m here I may as well respond to a couple of the old comments. Dolce only moved to Australia from America in his late 20s, in 1978, so he had only been there a couple of years when this song became a hit. If I’d made a record in 2003 and someone had called me Scottish or British, I’d have been rather bemused… but Australians do take any excuse to claim migrant/expat-led productions as their own, as long as there was some local involvement; c.f. Men at Work, Crowded House. The song was inspired by Dolce’s own Italian-American grandparents – so, caricature and affectionate – but the Italian emigrant experience was certainly something Melbourne audiences could relate to at the time. 1981 was at the tail-end of ’70s attitudes to race in comedy, before the alternative comedy boom started questioning these stereotypes and getting all postmodern about them; but the reclaiming and reworking of racial stereotypes by the children of migrants in late-’80s Australian comedy arguably wasnt that different from what Dolce did.

    That doesn’t mean the joke of “Shaddap” didn’t wear thin pretty quickly in Oz too. I heard plenty of it around the playground at the time, and the catchphrases lingered in the collective memory, but nobody played it on radio after 1981 much.

  10. 60
    Kinitawowi on 9 Feb 2013 #

    It remains a truism that the perceived quality of any given Number 2 is proportional to the rubbishness that denied it the top spot; Vienna’s quality is magnified beyond proportion when compared against this. 1991 will see my vote for Favourite Song Of All Time – Sit Down by James – denied in similar manner, while in 1995 A Design For Life by the Manic Street Preachers is blocked off by… well, just wait. The perfect counterexample is provided in 1984, where the biggest selling Number 2 of all time is sort of accepted as “fair enough” because the actual Number 1 is perceived as sufficiently worthy to top the chart.

  11. 61
    Mark G on 15 Oct 2013 #

    A song about an entertainer and his highs/lows? Think about it: He tells his audience how humble his beginnings are and the temptations of bunking off school to play pool with the bad kids (shades of Maggie May?), but what he wants to do is to become an entertainer, get rich and famous, but will keep his humility and happy-go-lucky nature (still dance and sing), but in his darker moments he hankers for some support and love, but he knows this resource is not unlimited..

    Possibly the saddest sound since “Chirpy chirpy cheep cheep”

    Anyway, it’s not that I hate “Vienna”, it’s just that I couldn’t think of a moment when I’d rather not listen to “Shaduupa you face” instead..

  12. 62
    iconoclast on 16 Oct 2013 #

    @61: It’s certainly a plausible reading of the song, although even if it’s correct it gets a bit lost in the not-very-funny comedy.

    I’d rather listen to “Vienna”, though; it’s a dead cert TEN in my books. But I think the “honorary number 1” is nonsense; “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” is a more appropriate choice.

  13. 63
    Mark G on 17 Jul 2016 #

    Playing the PM Dawn album yesterday, heard a couple of lines from this in there..

    ‘What’s the matter you, why you look so sad?’

    I was, like, really?

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