9
Oct 09

MIDGE URE – “If I Was”

Popular57 comments • 6,318 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. 1
    Billy Smart on 9 Oct 2009 #

    It’s not very good, is it?

    As with Boy George two years later, the success of this one appeared to be a sympathy vote from the British public for Good Bloke Midge. If it would have been 2005 he could have just gone into the jungle and the public could have voted to confirm that they thought he was a decent fellow, without having to buy a record to prove it.

    The most vivid memory of this at the time was the Top Of The Pops performance, where the unlikely Midge careers were accompanied by suitable mimetic gestures – holding a rifle for a soldier, swimming for a sailor, etc.

  2. 2

    Had he only titled this “Were I…” …?

  3. 3
    pink champale on 9 Oct 2009 #

    i was saying on another thread that it’s very rare for me to properly dislike anything. this segment of 1985 is proving that it’s not impossible. ‘if i was’ is a wretched stink of a record. presumably midge (why “midge ure” by the way???? if nothing else he’s the worst-named pop star in history*) is aiming for the kind of slow burn grandeur he sort of nearly achieved on ‘no regrets’ but the lyrics are so wordily full of themselves that you just want to punch him. plus half of the couplets don’t even make sense “if i was a leader/on food of love from above i would feed her”**. is that what a leader does then? what it reminds me of most (whisper so rosie doesn’t hear) is that truly hateful sting song from the early nineties (i can’t remember what it’s called but by no means the worst lines went “she asked me if i am mouse or man/the mirror squeaked away i ran”) that tormented me seemingly every fifteen minutes during my first term at university and is to me the definitive sound of pre-Bannister radio one.

    *ah. wiki reckons “midge is a phonetic reversal of his real name, jim”. erm, so that’s that cleared up. after a fashion.
    **or maybe “hot” food from above!

  4. 4
    Billy Smart on 9 Oct 2009 #

    TOTPWatch: Midge Ure twice performed ‘If I Was’ on Top of the Pops;

    19 September 1985. Also in the studio that week were; Red Box and Lloyd Cole & The Commotions. Simon Bates and Peter Powell were the hosts.

    3 October 1985. Also in the studio that week were; Colonel Abrams, Cameo and Rene & Angela. Paul Jordan (who?) and Gary davies were the hosts.

  5. 5
    Steve Mannion on 9 Oct 2009 #

    I can only think of one #1 with a worse rhyming attempt than “I’ll keep you safe and warm, I will never leave you A LAWN”

  6. 6
    Billy Smart on 9 Oct 2009 #

    Re #3: “If I was a leader/on food of love from above I would feed her”

    Might make sense IF HE WAS a religious leader like a priest, I’m guessing.

  7. 7
    Billy Smart on 9 Oct 2009 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Midge Ure was always willing to appear on television;

    CELEBRITY READY, STEADY, COOK: with Ainsley Harriott, Midge Ure, Toyah Willcox (2001)

    FILTHY RICH AND CATFLAP: with John Wells, Midge Ure, John Bird, Robert Dougall, Gareth Milne, Michael Redfern (1987)

    NEVER MIND THE BUZZCOCKS: with Simon Amstell, Bill Bailey (Team Captain), Phill Jupitus (Team Captain), Romeo Stodart, Midge Ure, Nicholas Hoult, Russell Howard (2007)

    THE O ZONE: with Charles and Eddie, Midge Ure, Take That (1993)

    ORS 85: with Midge Ure, Chris Cross, The Thompson Twins, Bronski Beat, The Loft (1985)

    POP QUIZ: with Dave Gilmour, Midge Ure, Ian Gillan, Phil Collins, Elkie Brooks, Barry Mason (1981)

    POP QUIZ: with David Grant, Rick Parfitt, Cliff Richard, Barry Gibb, Midge Ure, Paula Yates (1981)

    POP QUIZ: with Kevin Godley, Simon Kirke, Midge Ure, Alvin Stardust, Toyah Willcox, Stuart Coleman (1982)

    POP QUIZ: with Midge Ure, Tracie, Paul Young, Bob Geldof, John Moss, Tom Bailey (1983)

    POP QUIZ: with Roger Taylor, Limahl, Midge Ure, Dave Edmunds, Mari Wilson, Leee John (1983)

    POP QUIZ: with Phil Collins, Elvis Costello, Huey Lewis, Midge Ure, Nick Lowe, John Martyn (1984)

    A QUESTION OF POP: with Noddy Holder (Team Captain), Richie Neville, Carol Decker, Midge Ure, Claire Richards (2001)

    RIVERSIDE: with Eddie and Sunshine, Mick Karn, Midge Ure (1983)

    THIS IS YOUR LIFE: Midge Ure (2001)

    THE TUBE: with Jools Holland, Paula Yates (Host, Except Number 11), Malcolm McLaren, Paul Shriek, Mark Hurst, Midge Ure, David Coverdale, Cosy Powell, Shalamar, Culture Club (1982)

    THE TUBE: with Jools Holland, Paula Yates, The Damned, Del Fuegos, Muriel Gray, Midge Ure, Vince Clarke, Barry Ryan, Propaganda (1986)

    WHISTLE TEST: with Long Ryders, Billy Idol, Midge Ure, Michael Ochs, Squeeze, John Parr (1985)

    WOGAN: with Anthony Burgess, Marvin Mitchell, Midge Ure, June Whitfield (1985)

    WOGAN: with Richard Briers, Albert Finney, Telly Savalas, Midge Ure (1986)

    WOGAN: with Geoffrey Boycott, Frances Edmonds, George Martin, Midge Ure (1987)

    WOGAN: with Michael Cockerell, Peter Marsh, Denise Morse, Martin Morse, Professor Laurie Taylor, Midge Ure (1988)

    WOGAN: with Yvonne Gibson, Trevor Goodwin, Ron Lacey, Sir Fitzroy Maclean, Kay McLennon, Midge Ure, Mike Yarwood (1988)

    WOGAN: with Julian Russel, Midge Ure, Michael Wood, Millo Jovovich (1991)

  8. 8
    Tom on 9 Oct 2009 #

    I am reluctantly prepared to admit it might not be hot food of love :(

    I was a big Ultravox fan (not a fandom I’ve really carried with me) and even as such was very disappointed in this. When I played “The Gift” – which I did enjoy, it had a Jethro Tull cover version – I would skip “If I Was”.

  9. 9
    pink champale on 9 Oct 2009 #

    i dunno, i’m coming round to hot food…

  10. 10
    pink champale on 9 Oct 2009 #

    I’ve just seen your guardian piece, btw tom – lovely stuff about two of my favourite songs.

  11. 11
    lonepilgrim on 9 Oct 2009 #

    i have only a vague memory of this – I had to watch the video to realise I was confusing it with another (possibly an Ultravox) song. I’m happy to say that it has already faded from my consciousness.
    My only thought on the video when watching MUs sad dance moves was to ask myself “Did Elvis swivel his hips for this?’
    I quite like the sleeve though.

  12. 12
    Conrad on 9 Oct 2009 #

    Pink C at #3, is your last-but-one line a sly nod to one of Midge’s collaborations?…

    Funny that we’ve now covered 2 Midge Ure Number Ones, but nothing by Ultravox.

    I always liked Smidge (as Mike Read accidentally called him on one of the above Pop Quiz appearances), but its amazing how quickly the rot set in. “No Regrets” is a far superior recording, and for someone who brought a genuine love of La Dusseldorf, Can and Scott Walker to Ultravox (when they were still attempting to push the boundaries), it’s difficult to reconcile the 79-81 Ure with such a wretched production, and such awful drum and synth sounds as are on show here.

  13. 13
    punctum on 9 Oct 2009 #

    As already mentioned, Ure’s only solo number one was largely achieved as a result of immense post-Live Aid goodwill, and although the song is superficially another list song (“If I was a painter,” “If I was a poet,” etc.) it isn’t hard to deduct a few good-natured sideways jibes at Geldof in such lines as “If I was a stronger man/Carrying the weight of popular demand” or especially “If I was a kinder man/Dishing up love for a hungry world.” Ure was and remains respected as the quiet backroom boy who got on with facilitating the actual Band/Live Aid work while Geldof roared and bellowed in the foreground, and both his humility and good humour come through strongly here. Though worlds away from the diseased howls of side two of Ultravox’s Rage In Eden (from which Ure’s Ultravox subsequently and noticeably backed away), “If I Was,” though a minor work, is thoughtfully and intelligently assembled and executed. Bassist Mark King, on loan from Level 42, wisely kept his lines simple, even though they are largely cribbed from the bassline of the Jacksons’ “Can You Feel It?” and Ure as arranger and producer is sufficiently astute to vary his backing from verse to verse and chorus to chorus, from the bountiful bounce of the chorus itself to the vague humming threat of the “Come here my baby” sequence.

    The reason it works so well in a 1985 context is that Ure retains the sonic fullness which he learned from Conny Plank at the Vienna mixing desk, so “If I Was” provides a refreshingly full reminder of the sublime richness of New Pop production at its (1981-2) peak amidst the blustering bigness of its 1985 peers. There have been rare occasions on Popular when I’ve been taken aback by liking a record about which I felt I would be at best politely indifferent, and I’m pleasingly surprised at how well “If I Was” has endured.

  14. 14
    pink champale on 9 Oct 2009 #

    #12 *frantically tries to work out what the sly nod could be* *fails*

    yes, of course it is!

  15. 15
    Tom on 9 Oct 2009 #

    Blimey Punctum – I was expecting a couple of people to be kinder to this but I’m surprised you enjoyed it – have to say I never thought of the Ure Ultravox as a New Pop band in the first place, but I’ll happily take your word for it. I see the “audience mark” has crept above 3 now too :)

  16. 16
    Conrad on 9 Oct 2009 #

    I always thought “The Voice” was one of THE great New Pop moments.

    Tom, how do I ‘upload’ a short mp3 clip to a thread? I’m completely hopeless at that kind of thing. Am I even allowed to?

  17. 17
    Tom on 9 Oct 2009 #

    I suspect you’re not allowed to – though you can link to it if it’s uploaded elsewhere (or to YouTube). Alan or Steve might know (Alan is dealing with a week-old-baby though!)

  18. 18
    LondonLee on 9 Oct 2009 #

    I didn’t remember a note of this but having watched the video, and after reading the comments, I’m almost a little bashful about saying that I think it’s not bad at all. Are you all wrong or is my taste that bad?

    The lyrics are a bit ropey admitedly, like a sixth form poet’s version of “If I Were A Carpenter”, but… I like it!

  19. 19
    Conrad on 9 Oct 2009 #

    Ah, thanks

    I’ll try and upload it elsewhere and link it…

  20. 20
    will on 9 Oct 2009 #

    I actually quite liked this and I still find it one of 1985’s more agreeable Number Ones, especially if you take it at face value as a heartfelt, if slightly wet, love song. 6 from me.

    And it’s better than Geldof’s chest-puffingly awful post-Live Aid single, This Is The World Calling.

  21. 21
    MikeMCSG on 9 Oct 2009 #

    I’m an unrepentant Ultravox fan so I look on this favourably without thinking it’s all that fantastic.

    Midge actually wrote very little of this song according to his autobiography. Danny Mitchell of support act The Messengers gave it to him almost fully-formed and he just polished it up a bit so it’s possible there were even worse lyrics in the original version.

    I do agree with punctum and Billy that it did seem to be a pat on the back from the public for his Band Aid work. Midge himself seemed surprised to find himself back on top of the pile and when you consider how rapidly his career declined from this point it does seem like a going away present. “The Gift” disappeared from the LP charts quickly and follow-up single “That Certain Smile” didn’t make the Top 20. Then his last LP with Ultravox “U-Vox” (or U-Bend as he retrospectively calls it) wasn’t very successful.Two years later he came up with “Answers To Nothing” an LP which drowned in a sea of portentous lyrics and too many guest stars, produced no hits and that was more or less it. The book says Chrysalis were trying to market him as a new Peter Gabriel or Sting but that was never going to happen. Besides Ultravox never being as popular as Genesis or The Police as a launching pad, he was just too much of an artisan lacking real creative inspiration.

  22. 22
    swanstep on 9 Oct 2009 #

    Horrible. The ‘If I was x, I’d be/do y’ form, which a witty writer could do a lot with, is just wasted here as far as I can see. I’d redo the song as a duet and use the text from _The Runaway Bunny_ [a classic kids book where a young rabbit says to its mummy, e.g., ‘I’ll jump in the water and become a fish’ and mummy replies ‘If you become a fish, I will become a fisherman and fish for you’. And so on. (It turns up in a stunning scene in a great Emma Thompson film, _Wit_, e.g., here if you’re interested)].
    2

    @16 Conrad. Oh no, not ‘*Look* at the *sound* of *The Voice*’. Dear God, no. Quite a nice vid. for (most of) the lovely Astradyne here tho’.

  23. 23

    omitted lyric :(
    all day long I’d biddy-biddy-bum/If I were a wealthy man

  24. 24
    Jungman Jansson on 9 Oct 2009 #

    An odd concoction, this. The lyrics are somehow unsettling, I agree with Billy Smart on the priest observation. It sounds like a kind of sermon, or maybe an act of demagogy. I certainly don’t trust Ure when he claims that he would “never harm her at all”. Is it meant to be a love song, or is the intention just to project some sort of grandiosity?

    I don’t think I remember this consciously, but it seems a tad too familiar to make me think that I’ve never heard it before. Or maybe it’s just the “Can You Feel It” bassline that makes me think so.

    Somehow, I want to like it. I’m not averse to shiny 80’s production in itself, and I’m a sucker for all kinds of string sounds, synthesised or not. But there’s too much of it, the layers are too thick. Yet the core feels hollow. On the other hand, I can’t imagine the song working better if it were more pared-down. It needs the bombast, but still it can’t really pull it off. It has some sort of unmemorable quality too. I’ve listened to it a couple of times, and yet I have no idea what it sounds like once it’s finished.

    A two, though, seems a bit too harsh for me. It’s not cloying enough to make me genuinely annoyed.

    Sweden Watch: Didn’t chart in the top 20, but it did get to #6 on the listener voted Tracks chart (which is a lot more culturally salient – Tracks has always been the gold standard for Swedish pop chart aficionados. Presumably the record labels and artists are quite interested in the actual sales charts, but otherwise, Tracks is THE Swedish chart).

  25. 25
    Erithian on 9 Oct 2009 #

    Not a classic by a long chalk, but again I can’t work myself into the apoplexy of some of those above. Punctum’s quite right about Midge being respected as the backroom boy behind Band Aid (not least by Geldof, who’s always given him full credit for the record): each did what suited their talents, although in the 20th anniversary documentary Ure came across as a well-briefed advocate for what had been done since their initiatives.

    The song’s OK if not great, the lyrics are clunky and most of all you wanted someone like John Cleese’s Roman soldier in The Life of Brian to bash him over the head and go “WERE, Ure, if I WERE… write it out a hundred times.”

    Another facet of the modern world started to fall into place the day this reached number one. The chart was announced on 1 October 1985, and that very afternoon Opposition leader Neil Kinnock made his famous speech at the Labour conference denouncing left-wing Labour councils, which so angered Derek Hatton. The birth of New Labour right there, arguably…

  26. 26
    pink champale on 9 Oct 2009 #

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

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

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

    He was in the Rich Kids!

  30. 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

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