9
Oct 09

MIDGE URE – “If I Was”

FT + Popular55 comments • 3,833 views

#557, 5th October 1985, video

I don’t know what you lot are complaining about sometimes. A number one hitmaker from the 70s returns with a thundering mid-paced synth-rock track in which speculation on alternative existences becomes a tool for considering the metaphysics of love? Frankly, who even needs “Running Up That Hill” at number one when you have “If I Was”?

Perhaps “Do They Know It’s Christmas” had awoken an unsuspected popular taste for the thoughts of Midge Ure, Philosopher. If so, this fully satisfied it – his further singles, generally more cryptic though no less doughy and earnest, are not on our agenda. “If I Was”, essentially, takes the worst line from Elton’s “Your Song”, cries, “but then again, YES!” and runs doggedly through a series of unlikely Midgeian careers that would secure the love of his intended. Among them is “dishing up love to a hungry world” – a coy reminder for the public somewhat spoiled by frightening later talk of Ure’s “hot food of love from above”. If he was a poet – but he’s not, and the high comic clumsiness of the lyric is the closest the song comes to a virtue.

Musically this is almost as pure an example of the 1985 sound as you’ll find. Box-fresh synthesisers gliding and soaring above Midge like antiseptic seagulls. No snare left ungated. And the guitar sound! The word “industrial” has sadly been taken by music that’s generally aggressive and preposterous – the guitars on “If I Was” bring to mind a different face of modern industry, the endless clean chunk-chunk-chunk of the milk bottling plants and biscuit factories that used to be shown in the educational bits of pre-school TV.

As for Midge Ure himself, the combination of the lyrics, the strained delivery, and the sense of abjection in the face of love makes him seem like Phil Collins after too long in the self-help section. “Carrying the weight of popular demand” – no no, I assure you Midge, the weight is all ours. Few acts of charity in the wake of Band Aid were more generous than the record-buying public taking this to Number One.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    pink champale on 9 Oct 2009 #

    no wonder he was in such a bad mood. “grotesque spectacle” is pretty apt.

  2. 27
    MikeMCSG on 9 Oct 2009 #

    #13 punctum,good to find someone else who appreciates “Rage In Eden”. It was one of a number of LPs released in the wake of Joy Division’s “Closer” which seemed to echo its existential bleakness and melancholy – OMD’s “Organisation”, Echo and the Bunnymen’s “Crocodiles”, Teardrop Explodes “Wilder”, The Cure’s “Faith”, U2’s “October” and New Order’s “Movement” (ironically by far the least impressive). While “Ghost Town” expressed the external anger of 1981 it was these LPs that caught the internal mood.

  3. 28
    Rory on 9 Oct 2009 #

    I’m genuinely surprised by the dislike here; I was clicking through wondering if the mark would be a 6 or a 7. Okay, he messed up the subjunctive, which should really only be of concern to word-tragics like myself, but otherwise I thought this was a pleasant listen, even though I couldn’t recall it at all until re-watching the video. I suspect it’s precisely because it evokes fond memories of “Vienna” and “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes”, and doesn’t sound very 1985 to my ears as a result. A number 10 in Australia, and a six from me.

    Reading Midge’s Wikipedia entry was a revelation. Not only did he play a part in “Vienna” and “Fade to Grey”, he was briefly in Thin Lizzy (in between Gary Moore and Snowy White) and turned down the lead singer spot in the Sex Pistols (imagine how different history would have been if he’d taken it… all those London punks dressed up for tourists would have been up here, for a start). A pretty fascinating musical history for a bloke who wasn’t one of the Big Names.

  4. 29
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 9 Oct 2009 #

    He was in the Rich Kids!

  5. 30
    Erithian on 9 Oct 2009 #

    Rory – it sounds like you might not be aware of this either:
    http://freakytrigger.co.uk/ft/2008/04/slik-forever-and-ever/?cp=0

  6. 31
    Pete Baran on 9 Oct 2009 #

    Oddly I remember the cover of this single more than the really pedestrian dross contained on the song. Those pin-face executive toys (yes the era of the exec toy has arrived) which I coveted for a bit, until a mate got one and almost poked his eye out with it (hint kids, Midge has his eye shut before pushing his face into the pins).

    I also always mix it up in my head with XTC’s Dear God, which is actually quite a different song, but feels similarly pompous. But while O have a love/hate relationship with that song (why hasn’t Richard Dawkins covered it?) I think If I Was is pure tat.

  7. 32
    Jeremy on 9 Oct 2009 #

    As for Midge Ure, me and a friend when we were 16, said “Midge Ure, with this Ferrero Rocher you are really spoiling us”.

  8. 33
    admin on 9 Oct 2009 #

    tanya anticipost in the related articles

  9. 34
    anto on 9 Oct 2009 #

    I’m leaping to the defence of this one. I’ve always thought it has rather a handsome melody. Admittedly the tracks flaws stick out. Other posters have been listening to those words closer than I ever did and yes the lyric is gauche. Midge Ure is a limited vocalist probably at the very top of his range here (he certainly seems to be really pushing it on ” se-ven oh-shuns I’d SAEE-L to her “) and as for the production – not only of it’s time, but also heavy-handed.
    For all that I like the build and the way the chours swoops and soars. Also I think the restraint of the middle-eight is creditable.
    In short a score of 2 seems rather harsh to me.

  10. 35
    Izzy on 9 Oct 2009 #

    Haha, terrific review – except that I’ll need to go and hear the thing now!

  11. 36
    MBI on 9 Oct 2009 #

    I really, really don’t understand the hate for such an innocuous song. It’s like saying you hate Jay Sean’s “Down” — I mean, I guess you can, but WHY? It doesn’t leave enough of an impression to prompt such emotions. You guys confuse the living fuck out of me.

  12. 37
    AndyPandy on 9 Oct 2009 #

    I’d have thought the worst line in “Your Song” was the one about sitting on the roof and kicking “off some moss” and it making him “quite cross” which forget just in the song but along with Squeeze “Up The Junction”‘s “…telly/nappies smelly”, Adrian Gurvitz “gonna write a classic gonna write it in an attic” and the Specials “Too Much Too Young”‘s “spread some manure in your bed of roses” (well isn’t that want roses want to make them grow?)must be 4 of the worst lines in the history of pop…

  13. 38
    anto on 9 Oct 2009 #

    On earlier entries there’s been talk about typical January number ones and the like. I think of ” If I Was ” as a typical one-week-at-number-one number one i.e it neither caught the wider imagination nor burgeoned in popularity once it was top of the charts. Rather it was fortunately timed to gain sufficient notice in a week when record-buyers had no particular hobby horse, but had nonetheless lost the taste for whatever was at number one before it. Fern Kinney or ” A Little Time ” by The Beautiful South would be similar instances.
    Of course such a theory became redundant between 1996 and 2006 when countless records spent one week at number one, but at this stage I think there were tracks that benefitted from slow weeks on the chart or lulls from one craze to the next.

  14. 39
    Bolanzipgun on 9 Oct 2009 #

    I still remember this song being a big event for a few weeks. After watching the video again I liked the song as much as I did at the time. It’s ok. Strange clobber worn by Midge and that 80s pop style of doing up the top button without a tie. I don’t think I’ve ever met an ‘Ultravox fan’ in my life though (could probably say the same for U2 since about 1993)

  15. 40
    Izzy on 9 Oct 2009 #

    I like that ‘one week at number one’ theory. The 1996-2006 period blew even those meagre achievements out the water, by removing the need to acquire momentum to climb the charts in the first place. I saw a list recently of number ones by longevity, ranked by weeks at no.1, top five, top ten and so on – the bottom of the list totally dominated by that era, it’s remarkable how short a lifespan some of them had*.

    We’ve had on a long run where I’ve been familiar with almost every record (Midge being an exception) – but I’ve a feeling it will come to a shuddering halt around then, which ought to have been a time when pop meant most to me. Getting to the top via manipulation and never daring to even try to attract the public, these will be the Gordon Browns of popular.

    * I shan’t say too much, but by these measures Blur are likely to forever hold the all-time record for least successful number one

  16. 41
    swanstep on 9 Oct 2009 #

    @#38. Your observation makes me think about what a very particular construction a #1-record, and #1-watching really is, and how it (deliberately) makes the sort of thought you want us to have rather difficult.

    Compare with the movie box-office-watching culture that’s sprung up in the last 15 years or so (before that only movie execs followed this stuff). Although people do have some sense of what, say, the #3 movie in the land is, what they really care about and know most about is how much money’s being made. Something can open as the #1 movie but everyone can know that that was just a slow week, or that the movie in question had a huge budget and that *this* level of performance for *that* film makes it a friggin’ disaster (lots of people *will* now lose their jobs). The upshot is that people (god knows why if they’re not in the biz. really) have their eye on cumulative box office, per-screen averages, that sort of thing. Whether something makes it to #1 on a given day or week is treated as an epiphenomenon of no interest whatsoever. (There will never be a Popular-like review of #1 movies.)

    A #1-record by way of contrast (& perhaps especially in the UK) has always been the most mystified state of chart feeling. One can be quite sure if one has it or not, but not of what it is that one has just had. Is it just a fortunate parting of the waves, or is it really a #1? Is it just the ejaculation of particular die-hard supporters and assorted record company low-lifes, or are you #1? Is it just involuntary fan-boy and -girl contractions? Or is one *having* a #1? Thank you, and good-night.

  17. 42
    anto on 10 Oct 2009 #

    Izzy if it makes you feel better I also found #1-watching became frustrating around the same time. Even when my beloved Manics conquered the top 10 I don’t recall feeling especially triumphant.
    In that case it wasn’t so much hype as it was their ” turn ” to have a number one (Another pet theory I won’t go into tonight).
    It’s likely the discussion as to wheter that period took some of the shine off even the acheivment of 7 days at the top is something we will return to.
    What reversed the trend? A stand-up comic from Bolton and a crooner from Steel City singing about Amarillo. The movement of the charts got faster but diversions were no less weird?!?!

  18. 43
    TomLane on 10 Oct 2009 #

    Ultravox/Midge Ure neither combination charted much in the U.S., and this didn’t either, and after revisiting it I think we got this one right. One of those bands/artists that was big over there but not over here. I have some stray Ultravox singles on 80’s comps, and the only way I remember them is having seen this and the bands songs on MTV back in the day. I keep meaning to buy an Ultravox compilation though.

  19. 44
    wichita lineman on 10 Oct 2009 #

    Re 42: I think Tom has mentioned this already (?) but there’s a type of number one that happens when an act is ripe – often immediately after a massive record that should have reached no.1 (the Troggs’ With A Girl Like You, an upcoming Norwegian entry) – or overripe. Midge, though in my head Once I Was sounds like a 5, was definitely overripe.

    Re 40: Izzy, can you remember where you saw that list? It sounds like a beautiful set of stats.

    Anto, Not wanting to be pedantic, half a dozen no.1s in 2003 (pre stand up/crooner effort) were at the top for 4 weeks or more, one of them for 6. But I will say no more as, hey, we’re still in gruesome ’85!

  20. 45
    Garry on 10 Oct 2009 #

    I liked it – I’d completely forgotten about it until now, but it was one of those songs I remember from when it came out. I was eight, but the chorus was memorable and the lyrics were about soldiers and sailors and other boys things, even if I didn’t understand what the song actually meant. I still think it holds up as a good piece of pop.
    Tom is right though, it is so 1985, but there is nothing wrong with that. Wouldn’t it be harder to be nostalgic if everything sounded ageless…

  21. 46
    Izzy on 10 Oct 2009 #

    All your number one stat needs here: http://www.everyhit.com/1000numberones/index.html – it’s the second set of links.

  22. 47
    Izzy on 10 Oct 2009 #

    Midge in a very creditable joint 781st place, incidentally.

  23. 48
    lonepilgrim on 10 Oct 2009 #

    re 46/47 Midge @ 781: “in your face Cocker!”

  24. 49
    anto on 10 Oct 2009 #

    Thanks for the link to everyhit Izzy. A useful site to check what the competition to the songs on Popular actually were.

  25. 50
    Rory on 10 Oct 2009 #

    Erithian @30 – yes, I’d missed that – wasn’t as scrupulous about checking on every Popular entry before I started commenting.

    I’m still a little bemused by the strong reactions here: 4’s I could understand, but 2’s? Oh well. I wasn’t really listening much to the lyrics or the production, but I like the soaring chorus here; been humming it for the past day, in fact. There were so many more offensive 1985 number ones than this.

  26. 51
    The leveller on 12 Oct 2009 #

    Much maligned (only partially unfairly – the handshapes in the video and the sharp japanese designer suits didn’t endear him) -I remember Smash Hits slamming the album this came off as being for people who don’t really like music and also quoting James Last for some reason. Ultravox weren’t a bad band by any stretch -maybe they kept Midge’s more sickly/naff tendencies in line to boot.

    and #41 Swanstep – enjoy the pleasuredome

  27. 52
    MikeMCSG on 12 Oct 2009 #

    #51 I remember that review and took it rather personally. Having said that I’ve applied it myself to the likes of Whitney Houston and most of all Dido !

  28. 53
    The leveller on 12 Oct 2009 #

    I think his ‘A certain smile’ – which only scraped the charts a few months later – was a better song too

  29. 54
    seekenee on 28 Apr 2012 #

    Didn’t he name his autobiography after this song?
    So far the default category for me for the Popular entries since 1978 when I discovered the charts is I Know this Record and I Know It was a Number One.
    Midge’s entry is the second that comes under the category I Know This Record But I Didn’t Realise it made Number One (the other was My Camera Never Lies). Other categories include I Know This Record Was Number One but I Don’t Know the Record (Xanadu) and I Don’t Know This Record At All (Goombay Dance Band).*
    I’m curious about when one of these latter categories will dominate -sooner than I think I’d say – this one is a real surprise. I never felt the need to investigate the Ure Ultravox but I’ve been earworming this without hearing it for two days now in great detail which says something for it I suppose.
    * there must be further categories, apologies if these have been discussed on parts I haven’t yet reached.

  30. 55
    mrdiscopop on 21 Dec 2014 #

    I’m not an expert – but I believe the chorus melody Is a straight run through the notes of whatever key the song’s written in. IE Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La Te, Do.

    That’s either phenomenally lazy or brilliantly audacious, depending on how you look at it.

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