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. 31
    MichaelH on 10 Dec 2009 #

    re 23 To be fair, that does read like a review written by a part-time critic in a country with a population the size of Greater Manchester.

  2. 32
    JonnyB on 10 Dec 2009 #

    As ever, unanimous dislike in a comments box is usually enough to make me go searching for the positives.

    But I’m with the mob on this one. Would you pass a flaming torch and pitchfork, please?

  3. 33
    swanstep on 10 Dec 2009 #

    As they say in Spinal Tap, there’s a fine line between clever and stupid (and between cloyingly naive and cynical, and refreshingly direct), and this song isn’t a million miles removed from clever and beautiful Blue Nile stuff I’ve loved over the years (see esp. ‘Saturday Night’ from their Hats album – or most of that album really). And, #24, consider that ABC’s ‘Many Happy Returns’ also discussed highlights in hair.

    Yet, I’ve always (like everyone else here) reacted allergically to LIR. I’m honestly not sure why that is. At any rate, I don’t quite buy Tom’s attempt to rationalize what’s distasteful here: that the singer is appreciating the gal extrinsically, or for her market value, or some such thing. De Burgh *is* getting at a real, interesting, relatively benign phenomenon: couples often fairly quickly end up so accustomed to each other that each becomes almost invisible to the other. Suddenly, on a special occasion when your partner is dressed up for an event of some kind you see them again as others see them (maybe as you first saw them), and you also see the attention they’re understandly getting, and so on. That’s a rather good topic for a song and not the nasty, distastefully objectivizing (or whatever) thing that Tom tried to stick onto LIR.

    Still, this record is limpid enough to be genuinely irritating, even if it isn’t exactly morally objectionable. I’ve hated a lot of the (literally) pathetic #1s since Power of Love, and I’ve criticized a lot of them for their ‘woe is me’ character. LIR, however, has a ‘wow is me’ character which is evidently worse. Triumphant patheticalism – if it starts to grow on you, scrape it off (maybe ‘marmite kiss’ can’t be improved on now I think about it):
    2 (my heart says 1)

  4. 34
    Stevie T on 11 Dec 2009 #

    Swanstep has managed to articulate – right down to the Blue Nile comparison! – precisely how I feel about this song.

  5. 35
    Tom on 11 Dec 2009 #

    #33 – yes, I admit my write-up here was a bit of a stretch, and a little tongue in cheek: my dislike of the song casting about for a suitably damning frame. But the comments thread has done the record’s cynicism and wetness justice.

  6. 36
    Mark M on 11 Dec 2009 #

    This represents something of a portent of doom for me: a month or so after this reached number one, I arrived at de Burgh’s alma mater and embarked on two of the lousiest years of my life…

  7. 37
    tim davidge on 11 Dec 2009 #

    My goodness, people don’t like this one, do they? And I’m not going to disagree with them, at least not by much. It’s a reasonable performance of a syrupy, over-sentimental song with a not particularly imaginative arrangement – what with the gauzy electronics that were becoming more and more widespread, and that bass. It’s better than the Christmas novelties and kiddie claptrap that usually get ones and twos on here, but only just. It has a kind of self-satisfaction about it that I find irksome. A four – just – from me.

  8. 38
    Jungman Jansson on 11 Dec 2009 #

    Like JonnyB, I wonder – doesn’t anyone like this song here? Not a single voice of dissent so far. That’s quite remarkable.

    I can’t stand it either. It’s just dreadful to listen to. De Burgh sounds at once unspeakably smug and anxiously wavering; it’s not a successful pairing. But what is it that we’re all missing? This isn’t a quick novelty hit riding on the wave of a specific phenomenon – like TomLane says, “Lady in Red” just won’t go away. There must be something about the song that speaks to a good amount of people – people who don’t see it as wet, cynical and smug, but as beautiful and moving – but for the life of me I can’t figure out what it is. It’s not like we live in a world that’s lacking better songs about romantic love.

    SwedenWatch: #3 for two weeks. Bizarrely, it got to #1 on the Tracks chart – strange considering the show’s youthful bent. It’s not the kind of song I’d imagine being a big hit with a predominantly teen audience.

  9. 39
    David L on 11 Dec 2009 #

    An 8 or 9 for me. The Lady In Red is a wonderfully observed oneiric fantasy: a sombre, hermetic track with beautifully layered synth lines and that mysterious synth choir effect achieving something similar to 10CC’s I’m Not In Love, interspersed with subtle guitar licks. The ambiguous lyrics hint at a story without ever really giving it, playing a series of dreamlike binaries off each other. Are they on a crowded dancefloor, or are they alone? There is that lovely lyric slippage from the “highlights that catch your eyes” to “blind”. By the end of the song we are no clearer as to who the lady in red really is – a wife, a lover or merely a masturbatory fantasy figure? We are forever left in the dark.

  10. 40
    Rob K on 11 Dec 2009 #

    It seems a good time to wheel out my favourite Chris De Burgh story courtesy of Popbitch some years ago.

    Some time post Lady In Red, Chris completed the recording of a new album. After the sequencing was decided he had a full play through with his engineer and they got to the penultimate track, a ballad very much in the mould of LIR.

    After sitting through the track, (Chris with his eyes closed swaying back and forth with the melody, the engineer picking his nose), the last notes wafted gently into the ether. There then followed a 30 second gap until the last track kicked in.

    “Don’t worry”, piped up the engineer, “We’ll cut that gap down to a couple of seconds”. “You will not”, replied Chris knowingly, “People need at least 30 seconds to get over a De Burgh ballad.”

  11. 41
    Erithian on 11 Dec 2009 #

    A deliciously ambiguous phrase Rob!

    As sometimes happens, I don’t object to this one quite as much as some others have done, but it is a bit of an ear-strain to hear him approaching (as opposed to hitting) some of the notes. With the right people and in the right atmosphere I can understand it being effectively romantic (or romahntic) but it doesn’t quite do it for me. Thing is, as Mike points out at #4, he’d been around for years and produced some pretty good stuff – the historically based material as opposed to the spaceman-based material, obviously – and even on the Lady in Red album (which my sister taped for me, thanks hon!) tracks such as “Say Goodbye To It All” show a flair for storytelling and drama.

    One of my oldest friends was a big fan, and took me to a Chris de Burgh gig in 1981! We went to Fairfield Hall in Croydon with his girlfriend and a mate of hers, and by the end of the evening we’d paired off. His girlfriend was named Pat and it was during “Patricia the Stripper” that the sparks started flying with her friend. Our relationship lasted about three months, his is coming up for thirty years – but if the friend ever reads this, I hope you’re well and thanks for the memory!

    Anyone remember de Burgh turning up on the Liverpool coach on a Cup Final Grandstand in the 90s? He serenaded them with “The Team in Red”. I think a few players had to go the treatment room afterwards to have their toes uncurled.

    Number 2 Watch – the pretty appalling “So Macho” by Sinitta, she of the outsized palm leaves. It was an example of a record selling far better in one region than in the country as a whole – in this case the North of England, just as Viz comic and Sid the Sexist were expanding their empire beyond Newcastle. Go figure.

  12. 42
    StellaVista on 11 Dec 2009 #

    “Lady Di…muse of the synthpad and the fretless bass!” Brilliant!!!

  13. 43
    LondonLee on 11 Dec 2009 #

    His “Spanish Train” album was a surprisingly consistent seller when I worked at WH Smith in the late 70s/early 80s, never enough to really bother the charts but every weekend you were guaranteed that some dad or mum would come in and buy a copy.

    If ‘Abigail’s Party’ was set in the 80s I think this is the record Beverley would play instead of Demis Roussos to conjure up a sort of middle class aspirational hell. Though while Demis makes you think of Greek Islands this one is about as sophisticated as a Bernie Inn.

  14. 44
    LondonLee on 11 Dec 2009 #

    #24 Howard’s Way! Yes, spot on.

  15. 45
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 11 Dec 2009 #

    I’ve only ever seen it explored spitefully but there’s a fascinating essay to be written about the “cool” and the “uncool” sides of 80s cultural aspirationalism: the sub-suburban outreach towards the Cultural Other read as a bold post-punky* move or as a naff and sad move — is peter saville actually abigail? (or beverley, but that doesn’t sound so well…)

    *i’m tidying continuity mod into postpunk here, which will rile andypandy!

  16. 46
    johnny on 11 Dec 2009 #

    i suppose i could’ve mentioned in my first post yesterday that i don’t really mind this song. in fact, i think it’s a good deal more interesting than many of the recent chart-toppers discussed here. it’s what a friend and i jokingly refer to as “business psych”; that is, music predominately for squares that is a good deal weirder than most so-called “head” music. it’s like de Burgh told the engineer to get him “that Avalon sound” and this is the best they could do.

    This was a huge hit in the states when i was 7, and was a fixture on the lite-rock radio stations my mom would listen to as we drove to the grocery store. it seemed mysterious to me at that age. i thought it held all the secrets of the nature of adult love. forbidden passion, intrigue, deception, jealousy. years later i realized maybe the guy was just being a douchebag. i’ll still leave it on if it comes over the radio. the phase of ironically appreciating cheesy ’80s songs ended for me long ago, but the pompous hilarity of this particular tune still endures.

  17. 47
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 11 Dec 2009 #

    “business psych” is a terrific phrase and actually i think a better stab at what “american psycho” is exploring — certainly mary harron’s film of same catches this well

    n effect, it’s not about “ironic appreciation”: or rather, the term “ironic appreciation”, used positively or negatively, is really a dodging of the vertiginous terror the fact that hipsters (by whuch of course i mea “us” not “them”) do not now and have never understood more about the systems and the passions of the world than anyone else, however lame, after all…

    disclaimer: for years i failed to distinguish between chris de burgh and chris spedding

  18. 48
    CarsmileSteve on 11 Dec 2009 #

    so normally when I’m reading the comments (and i do read the vast majority of them like some sort of lurky mclurkington) the number one in question stays in my head whilst i’m reading and for the next few hours.

    today i am singing Drive by The Cars, clearly my brane has some sort of malfunction/safety override with regards to LiR

  19. 49
    Matthew H on 11 Dec 2009 #

    Chris De Burgh always looks the type to be wearing aftershave so old, it smells of vinegary whiskey.

    One of those songs I didn’t quite get, assuming it was for people of my parents’ generation who paid rather more attention to the charts than my folks actually did. The sort I thought were a bit flash. God, I’m probably one of them now; fortunately, Lady In Red still makes me squirm. De Burgh is simply ticking boxes.

  20. 50
    johnny on 11 Dec 2009 #

    #49 – yes, as i kid i assumed those sort of people were its audience as well. along with the omniprescence of this song, this period also marked the debut of adverts for expensive designer ice creams. for some reason, as a child i always equated the two.

  21. 51
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 11 Dec 2009 #

    haha the totality of the market that i knew for those ice creams was my gran who ate ALL OF THEM (but was unmoved by CdB)

  22. 52
    Kat but logged out innit on 11 Dec 2009 #

    I always got Chris DeBurgh mixed up with Chris Rea until that dude did him on Stars In Their Eyes – there’s a videoclip on that website of them singing together – it’s excruciating.

  23. 53
    Alan on 11 Dec 2009 #

    RIGHT THEN – it’s up to me is it?

    ok, so i am not going to defend this song, nor take up the unusually (for popular) untouched contrarian angle


    I do like this song. I shouldn’t for all the reasons already cited and for the bonus personal reason that my mum was a huge CdB fan prior to this song’s popularity and I must have heard this song any number of times at just the wrong age…

    But I like it all the same. It’s nice. It’s *shudder* pleasant. It’s very very saccharine of course, but the sentiment that inspired the song is a mushy one. It would be hard to make this sentiment expressed in song sound anything but cheesier than melted (and then deep fried?) brie to most people and it doesn’t help that his acting, the whispered asides, would shame the resident band at a wine bar.

    The melody is fine, memorable even, and the wash of sound is spot on erection-section fodder. Being suddenly overwhelmed with feelings of mush for someone you are in a long term relationship. Nice one Chris. It’s less hokey than Escape! (The Pina Colada Song).

    Anyway, I have to stop and go and cook for my wife who has been looking after my poorly sons all day. Look how lovely she is there watching Eastenders. aw.

    I am now determined to sing this song at Karaoke. I will be very embarrassed. But that is a cast-iron guarantee karaoke chums. HOLD ME TO IT

  24. 54
    moongolfer on 12 Dec 2009 #

    Did you kno that chris de burgh was bullied by supertramp? Yes, think about that for a moment. Bullied by Supertramp. He played support on their tour and they used to stuff him in a box. Also de burgh claims to have healing hands and has claimed to ‘heal’ his roadies when they’ve put their backs out. That is all.

  25. 55
    inakamono on 12 Dec 2009 #

    I would agree this is the most well-deserved “1” rating since Grandma.

    Not trying to suggest a positive side to Lady In Red, but I guess more than 90% of the comments here are by men; I wonder how a similar exercise whose commentators were predominately female would rate this?

    I was in the UK when this was released, and I knew a lot of 20- and 30-somethings [all female] who loved it.

    Was it speaking to a desire to be somehow objectified? Maybe women “past-the-first-flush-of-beauty” looking for an assertion that they were “still” attractive and desirable? It’s a sentiment I could understand, even if it’s lacking in PC credentials.

    I can imagine a parallel-universe Popular where this gets a “10” — which makes it kind of unique among the No.1s rated “1” here, which are mostly devoid even of parallel-universe potential.

    Despite which, it’s still a definitive “1” for me…

  26. 56
    Tom on 12 Dec 2009 #

    Surely there is a parallel world Popular read only by Grandmas!

  27. 57


  28. 58
    inakamono on 12 Dec 2009 #

    And, hate to think, a parallel-universe inhabited solely by long-haired lovers from liverpool…

  29. 59
    AndyPandy on 12 Dec 2009 #

    *What’s this “romARnce” bollocks?!Is it some obscure Anglo-Norman Irish (CDB’s backround?)pronunciation because I know no-one else pronounces the it like that…no I think he’s just being a contrary jerk.

    *Cant quite see why the middle-classes get it in the neck with this one -I realise prior to this he had a bit of a following amongst that class but as someone mentioned most of those fans cringed when confronted with this. However I’ve heard versions of this in Working Mens Clubs (a friend of mine was a member of one in Wakefield being my excuse for being there – incidentally they have one positive – they must be the only places where you can be turned 40 and still feel 20 years younger than the average punter!)on more than one occasion and I should imagine that the a majority of its buyers were from the working classes (or that grey area where the working mesh with the lower middle class). Which brings me to “Abigail’s Party” that I’d wager is a bit of a red herring as Abigail has far more than one foot placed firmly in the lower class than that she aspires to. And that leads me on to a pet theory of mine that the major fissure in the English class system is not between the working and middle classes but between the lower (extended families usually a mix of both) and middle middle classes (very culturally different, a harder bridge to cross
    and scornful of their lower middle class neighbours)but that’s another story…

    *I’ve mentioned on here before the parallel universes as regards the soul/funk/dance world and the rock world ie in the 80s most rock either completely ignored or slagged unmercilessly in the soul press with the exception of such as Steely Dan which werent exactly regulars in the 80s NME etc, However this track briefly united the two worlds as I remember how “Blues and Soul” reacted with horror when extremely cool jazzy combo Pieces Of A Dream (of “Mount Airy Groove” etc underground fame)included a version of this on an album.
    Maybe shades of the bewilderment of the white boy press at
    the black props for Phil Collins?

    Don’t find it particularly offensive just pretty boring and to have lasted this long (without an iota of trendiness)and be checked out by the jazzers it must have some kind of musical merit – so I suppose that’s a 3 for me.

  30. 60
    thefatgit on 12 Dec 2009 #

    @53…oddly enough, I discussed this song with my mum the other day (69, twice-married, BIG Journey and Phil Collins fan), and she mentioned the CdB and Rupert Holmes songs as 2 of her favourites. So now I shall attribute this and others like it to those “women of a certain age” who are the chosen target market. It certainly makes sense that this particular market went out and spent big to get it to #1.

    I put Tom’s hypothesis to her regarding TLIR and she never saw it that way until now. I think she’s never gonna hear it in the same way again. Sorry Mum!

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