Dec 09

CHRIS DE BURGH – “The Lady In Red”

FT + Popular84 comments • 16,654 views

#574, 2nd August 1986, video

In a market economy, value is not intrinsic – it’s determined by the extent to which other people desire a thing you possess. “The Lady In Red” captures this at the romantic level – Chris De Burgh’s realisation of the value of a woman occurs only when he sees higher than expected demand for her in the marketplace of a dance. A “dah-nce” no less. De Burgh lengthens and stresses the vowel, breaking its rhyme with “romance” – this is not some high street discotheque he’s in, we are given to understand: it’s a place where his lady can be properly appreciated. After all, high ticket items realise part of their value through their status as display objects and the true audience for “The Lady In Red” is that crowd of suitors, not the lady herself. The song lets De Burgh proclaim his monopoly position in this market to them: “the Lady In Red is dancing WITH ME”, and they simply vanish from the lyric. De Burgh sways across the floor victorious, an unlikely alpha male – there are many things I dislike about his performance on this soporific record, but his mock-spontaneous interjections of “’swhere I wanna be” carry off the crown for their grasping smugness.

After the song became successful, a number of women claimed – or apparently claimed – to be its inspiration, and De Burgh’s own story changed over time. Was it his wife, or a woman he had fleetingly seen, or perhaps Princess Diana, who the singer suggested had once confronted him in the knowledge that only she could be the Lady, that modern day Mona Lisa, muse of the synthpad and the fretless bass! We may never know for sure. Besides, the actual identity of the Lady In Red is quite irrelevant: what matters is her value, not her self.



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  1. 1
    punctum on 10 Dec 2009 #

    Is this how Nick Drake might have ended up had he survived? Drake and Chris de Burgh were contemporaries at Marlborough School in the early sixties and even played in a band together. Then again, de Burgh’s music has always been decidedly less complex and troubled, at least on its placid surface. Musically and lyrically he is the equivalent of a Jilly Cooper or a Jeffrey Archer; easy emotions designed to appeal to the widest possible demographic.

    “The Lady In Red” was his biggest hit, helped not a little by the contemporaneous and coincidental wedding of top Sloane Rangers Andy and red-headed Sarah (unlike Chas and Di, the shops and offices did not close down for the occasion). The production is one of expensive-sounding minimalism; a drum machine, a wistful Fairlight, tasteful fills from guitar and bass. Of its kind it’s a ruthlessly constructed across-the-board hit single, perfectly symmetrical and ending with a whispered “I love you,” though de Burgh’s anxious vocal, wherein he manages not to rhyme “dance” with “romance” with “chance,” is like being kissed with Marmite-covered lips. But the cynicism of the whole enterprise is reinforced by the fact that, despite the song being written about his wife, he was actually fucking the nanny at the time. Sadly, not that many cared, or noticed.

  2. 2
    Matt DC on 10 Dec 2009 #

    Is this the lowest mark so far? It’s pretty deserving of it, in any case.

  3. 3
    pink champale on 10 Dec 2009 #

    the way chris db sings “cheek to cheek” in an urgent erotic* whisper is endlessly a little bit amusing, so that’s a plus. otherwise, lir reminds me of “wonderful tonight” – the singer can’t actually find much to say about his veryspeciallady except that she’s his veryspeciallady and looks very nice, but choses to express this sentiment in a kind of pained moan. very strange

    famously, chris db later dumped his wife (who i always thought was the lady in red) and went off with their teenage babysitter. this event was celebrated with comparable literalism, though rather less chart acclaim, in “blonde hair, blue jeans” – apart from richard hammond’s haircut, the single clearest expression of a mid life crisis in western culture. (ohmygod, i’ve just googled the lyrics – chris is going to” take her on the floor/and when morning comes she’ll beg for more” aaargh!).

    *this word should be inside more quote marks than exist in the universe.

  4. 4
    MikeMCSG on 10 Dec 2009 #

    Hope you had a good holiday Tom !

    When this came out you could hear the hinges of a thousand cupboard doors creak as graduates rushed to stash away their copies of “Far Beyond These Castle Walls” and “Crusader” lest people think they endorsed this tripe. In the late 70s/early 80s he was a middle class cult,one of those English-speaking artists (see also Roger Chapman, Fischer-Z, Flash and the Pan) who were big everywhere but the two big Anglo-Saxon markets, a sort of Irish Al Stewart. To those of us who were partial to him this represents one of the biggest sell-outs since Rod Stewart’s “Atlantic Crossing” (others might cite the Fuzzbox re-invention).

    You can’t listen to this now without recalling its 1994 follow up “Blonde Hair Blue Jeans” a similarly sincere ode to the babysitter he was banging during his wife’s illness.Nice chap.

  5. 5
    Steve Mannion on 10 Dec 2009 #

    About 5-6 years ago I was on the bus to work and as usual the air was filled with the tinny treble of someone’s earphone output just being too loud. At the exact same time that the guy sitting opposite me glanced around with mild annoyance at the hiss we both realised that the song playing was in fact The Lady In Red. Somebody was listening to THIS song of all songs on the bus on the way to work that morning. We exchanged a brief look of horror and puzzlement and waited out the remaining aeons.

  6. 6
    MikeMCSG on 10 Dec 2009 #


    “this event was celebrated with comparable literalism, though rather less chart acclaim, in “blonde hair, blue jeans” – apart from richard hammond’s haircut, the single clearest expression of a mid life crisis in western culture.”

    They come in 2nd and 3rd to Tin Machine in that category !

  7. 7
    Tom on 10 Dec 2009 #

    The nanny thing I think was later than TLIR. As for the identity of the Lady, he claimed it was his wife when necessary I think – he seems also to have claimed it wasn’t (presumably when the nanny was involved).

  8. 8
    Tom on 10 Dec 2009 #

    #5 this is one of the most shameful aspects of Popular – I always keep the next dozen or so tracks on my mp3 playlist and occasionally have had to scramble to pull out the headphone cord when something like this comes on in public.

  9. 9
    Tom on 10 Dec 2009 #

    #2 would I take “Grandma” or “Liverpool” over this? Hmmmm, not sure. It’s down there in the basement though.

  10. 10
    Steve Mannion on 10 Dec 2009 #

    I’m assuming the song is about meeting his wife for the first time. “I hardly know…this beauty by my side”. But does that makes Chris the beast?

  11. 11
    pink champale on 10 Dec 2009 #

    #7 no, no, no, tin machine weren’t a mid-life crisis, they were a PROPER BAND.

  12. 12
    Nick D on 10 Dec 2009 #

    I always assumed it was about a horse.

  13. 13
    pink champale on 10 Dec 2009 #

    er, why?

  14. 14
    col124 on 10 Dec 2009 #

    This is the sort of song that seemed deliberately intended to become Muzak, but its grotesque cheesiness and its already-synthetic production made a Muzak version superfluous. I worked at a grocery ca. 1988-1990, and this song cycled through the PA system at least once every four hours, triggering each time, perhaps subconsciously, a number of customers to start murmuring the chorus while they pushed their carts along the frozen foods aisle.

    Quintessence of a 1 rating.

  15. 15
    David Belbin on 10 Dec 2009 #

    I’m afraid that Punctum’s comments about Nick Drake being in a band with Chris De Burgh at no.1 are one of those urban myths. It’s in neither of the biographies and Trevor Dann’s excellent “Darker Than The Deepest Sea” lists the members of The Perfumed Gardeners as Drake, MIke Maclaran, Randall Keynes (grandson of JMK) Simon Crocker, Johnny Glempser (‘who couldn’t keep time’ and ‘a boy called Payne’. They were at Marlborough at the same time, though.

    As for whether Drake would have tranmogrified into DeBurgh, that’s a gross calumny. More likely, had he recovered from the depression that led to his death, Nick would have continued his tentative career in computer programming, where he would have had a successful and lucrative but low profile career and taken early retirement a few years ago. His music was so good that it was bound to have re-emerged without the ‘suicide chic/tragic death’ aspect, much at Vashti Bunyan’s has, perhaps via an ad campaign. A new album might have been released three or four years ago, containing songs written since ‘Pink Moon’, titled, perhaps, ‘Black Eyed Dog’. Drake, however, would have refused all attempts to get him to perform live or grant interviews, but would still live at Far Leys, in Tanworth-In-Arden with, it would be nice to think, his wife of thirty years and frequent visits from his grandchildren.

  16. 16
    Jimmy the Swede on 10 Dec 2009 #

    A week or two after this colourless dirge came off the top, I was on holiday (basically just a piss-up) in Jersey with a couple of salty pals – we were all in our mid twenties at that time. “Lady in Red” was still extremely popular, being played all over the island, which was and remains a favoured destination for honeymoon couples from the mainland. But the record to us was like a bad stain which simply wouldn’t go away and to this day, I don’t think it ever will. Grrrrr!!!!

    Twas also at this time that Ted Moult, the double-glazing geezer, followed the principle of Pete Duel and shot himself. Hence:


    “Suicide Teeeed
    He is no more (He’s a stiff)
    He took out a gun
    And put himself out the door
    What a bore
    But I hardly know-ohhhh
    Why he filled his bonce with lead
    Never forget
    Ted Moult is dead.”


  17. 17
    MikeMCSG on 10 Dec 2009 #

    #16 Thanks for that one Jimmy, you’ve set a precedent for when we get to a football-related one in 1994.

  18. 18
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 10 Dec 2009 #

    “A Boy Called Payne” is a good name for a song. Esp.if written by another boy.

  19. 19
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 10 Dec 2009 #

    Plus the notion of “kissing marmite-covered lips” is generally to me a win-win proposition: even with CdB on the other end of the lips it would be “lose oh wait win”

  20. 20
    Conrad on 10 Dec 2009 #

    #14, did it trigger any particular purchasing patterns? perhaps more cat food than really necessary, or a tendency to zone in on the luxury microwave dinner for two range – nice bit of coq au vin, that sort of thing?

    I had to sit through de bore’s new single last night at Anfield, a cover of you’ll never walk alone in christmas style. i don’t think it will be troubling the scorers

  21. 21
    lonepilgrim on 10 Dec 2009 #

    I’m not sure if ‘A spaceman came travelling’ which popped up on some Christmas compilations was better or worse.
    The only pleasure I associate with CdB is when he appears on ‘The Mighty Boosh’ played by Noel Fielding’s dad

  22. 22
    thefatgit on 10 Dec 2009 #

    When the spark goes out of a marriage, Relate tend to advise try to rediscover what brought the couple together in the first place. This usually involves nightclub + drink + erection section = “your place or mine?”. So a jaded couple dress up in their finest and do the “fantasy roleplay” thing of pretending to meet for the first time. After all, what do they have to lose? They are decent people with nice kids and a nice home. It would be a shame if they didn’t give it “one more try”. They send the kids off to stay at her sister’s house for the weekend, then make their plans for the evening. They get seperate taxis to the club where they met, both dressed to impress.

    So it’s getting late. After the initial embarassment, and a few more drinks for dutch courage, the scenario plays out. The DJ slows the pace down and from opposite ends of the dancefloor they walk towards each other. She chose a brand new red dress especially for this. He notices it for the first time and her. Maybe it’s the drink or the heat of the dancefloor but she looks gorgeous. They meet in the middle and begin that “walk around slowly whilst holding on for dear life” dance. Then they begin to relax and get into it. She’s wearing that perfume he likes and he’s wearing that aftershave she bought him for xmas 4 years ago. They exchange corny chat up lines and strangely, they are beginning to enjoy this fantasy of pretending to be strangers. The talk flows like the drink and they put aside their routines and petty squabbles for just one night.

    In the taxi home, they can’t keep their hands off each other and the night draws to a close. But the morning comes around all too quickly and the hangover just underscores the cold realisation that this is all there is. “What was that song we danced to last night?”
    ” ‘The Lady In Red’ by Chris De Burgh”.
    They both shudder and realise that their marriage is more doomed than they thought.

    Does anybody know if Relate publish figures on how successful they have been in keeping marriages afloat?

  23. 23
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 10 Dec 2009 #

    A reminder: CdB on his critics (or one of them)

  24. 24
    MichaelH on 10 Dec 2009 #

    There is one extraordinary line in this song, which marks it of its time – it now sounds absolutely baffling, but in 1985 must have placed it in the wine bar-Howard’s Way-new middle class continuum:

    “I have never seen that dress you’re wearing
    Or the highlights in your hair that catch your eyes”

    Yes, he’s really complimenting her on her highlights. That line stops me in my tracks every single time, but I can’t tell if it’s for clunkiness or for showing complete understanding of his market.

  25. 25
    punctum on 10 Dec 2009 #


    “I want to do it.”
    “You can’t stop me.”
    “Who are you to judge me?”
    “I’m as good as you are.”
    “You don’t understand me.”
    “I’ve got a right to.”
    “Do it for me now.”
    “You’ve got to.”
    “What have you ever done for me?”

    Polonius, ending up cowering behind the arras.

  26. 26
    Tom on 10 Dec 2009 #

    “Returning the favour, presumably, he departs the stage for Lady in Red , invading boxes and draping himself over audience members, some of whom have worn red for the occasion.”

    :-0 this sounds less lady in red and more woman in black.

  27. 27
    Jimmy the Swede on 10 Dec 2009 #

    The Holy Trinity of Tom, Sukrat and Punctum are mocking de Burgh here. And by cracky they’re spot-on! Precious twat. Did poor old Ted Moult really level himself over this git?!

  28. 28
    wichita lineman on 10 Dec 2009 #

    Re 23: If I had CdB’s track record I’d have settled for “slightly tarnished squeaky clean persona”. It makes him sound more like Davy Jones than Alan Partridge and his blonde haired blue jeaned accoutrement.

    Re 22: I was shocked but pleasantly surprised to recently hear that a friend’s marriage had been saved by a counsellor. He’s American though – possibly the advice goes deeper than smelly candles and The Lady In Red in the States.

    I think A Spaceman Came Travelling might be even worse than TLIR; it’s as if Greg Lake’s snowdome of a hit had been hijacked by modern Christian hymn writers with a Blakes Seven obsession. At least, I’ve always assumed it’s about Jesus. Maybe it’s about Jas Mann.

  29. 29
    johnny on 10 Dec 2009 #

    can’t let this occasion pass by without a mention of The Lady in Red’s cameo in the brutally hilarious 2000 screen adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel “American Psycho”. This song pretty much typifies what Ellis was spoofing in his book which, correct me if I’m wrong, was set in 1986 (and published two years later).

  30. 30
    TomLane on 10 Dec 2009 #

    This peaked at #3 in the U.S. This song is sort of the 80’s version of Dan Hill’s 1978 “Sometimes When We Touch”. And like that song it won’t ever go away. I still hear it on AC stations and even in TV commercials. Interestingly, Hill’s song also peaked at #3. As a big fan of cheesy guilty pleasures I should like this more, but to be honest I never cared much for it when it was popular. And Dan Hill’s song is better, anyway.

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