Dec 09

CHRIS DE BURGH – “The Lady In Red”

FT + Popular84 comments • 17,224 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.



1 2 3 All
  1. 61
    Caledonianne on 12 Dec 2009 #

    Hmmm, I was 27 when this was around, and loathed it. I do, however, remember attending a wedding in August 1986, wearing a red dress, and having this warbled to me. I cringed, but had a wee secret smile, even amid my sneering.

    But I like the Dan Hill. He actually sounds as if he knows what passion is!

  2. 62
    swanstep on 12 Dec 2009 #

    God help me, but the talk about grans and CdB’s mangled ro-mahnce, has suggested speeding LIR up from its 77 BPM to 119 BPM, then mashing away with Gaga as follows:
    (I’ve never seen so many men)
    [1]Ask you if you wanted to dance
    They’re looking for a little ro-mahnce
    Rah rah ah-ah-ahah!
    Ro mah ro-mah-mahah
    Gaga Ooh-la-laa!
    Want your (bad) romance
    I want your ugly
    I want your disease
    I want your everything
    As long as it’s free
    The lady in red
    is dancing with me
    Cheek to cheek
    There’s nobody here
    It’s just you and me
    I want your love
    I want your love…

    And so on. For some reason, one appears to be able to slip Gaga in anywhere!

  3. 63
    rosie on 13 Dec 2009 #

    Don’t know about this being a grrl think, or even an older woman thing. This middle-aged woman enjoys a good smooch as much as anybody, and the best smooch records are great. In Popular terms, I’m Not In Love is a clear 10 in my book and If You Leave Me Now not far behind. In both cases the man is being emotionally vulnerable, and that is a big turn on.

    Mr de Berk is not being vulnerable. He’s being a big prat, and if I were the lady in red I’d be feeling used, a trophy not a person with a brain to be cherished. I hate TLiR with a vengeance and it well deserves its score.

  4. 64
    Matthew H on 14 Dec 2009 #

    #50 Ha HA. My wife bought a Viennetta the other day and I said I’d never had it before, probably because my mum – whether consciously or un- – refused to buy food advertised on the telly. So I’m equating the two as well, Johnny.

  5. 65
    MichaelH on 14 Dec 2009 #

    It’s not a “middle-class” record. It’s an aspirational record: it’s like a newspaper supplement selling a lifestyle that doesn’t actually exist, or like the Ferrero Rocher ads – of course ambassadorial recceptions are not like that. LiR is the ambassadorial reception of pop.

  6. 66
    weej on 15 Dec 2009 #

    I’m no fan of this dirge, but another song with similar sentiments seems to me to be worse – Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” – though for some reason it doesn’t enjoy the same terrible reputation.

  7. 67
    Mark G on 15 Dec 2009 #

    Possibly because Eric explained the song is about going to a do and drinking too much and having the wife drive them home.

    Also, it’s about the man being definite/strong in tha face of the woman’s mild insecurity about her look.

  8. 68
    Billy Smart on 16 Dec 2009 #

    TOTPWatch: Chris de Burgh performed The Lady In Red on Top Of The Pops on four occasions;

    17 July 1986. Also in the studio that week were; Steve Winwood, Hollwood Beyond and Stan Ridgeway. Mike Smith was the host.

    31 July 1986. Also in the studio that week were; Spandau Ballet, Five Star and Stan Ridgeway. Mike Read & Janice Long were the hosts.

    7 August 1986. Also in the studio that week were; Status Quo, Lulu and Sinitta. Mike Smith was the host.

    14 August 1986. Also in the studio that week were; It Bites, Anita Dobson and Phil Fearon. Simon Bates was the host.

  9. 69
    Billy Smart on 16 Dec 2009 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Mawkish balladeer De Burgh has been a frequent presence on UK television;

    CANNON AND BALL: with Chris Collins, The Brian Rogers Dancers, Nosher Powell, Linda Lusardi, Dennis Waterman, Chris De Burgh, Brother Beyond, Kim Wilde, Rosie McClure, Toni Contay (1988)

    CHRIS DE BURGH IN CONCERT: with Chris De Burgh (1985)

    GRACE KENNEDY: with Jack Jones, Chris De Burgh (1982)

    LATE NIGHT IN CONCERT: with Chris De Burgh (1984)

    LATE NIGHT IN CONCERT: with Chris De Burgh (1985)

    LIVE FROM THE PALLADIUM: with George Benson, Les Dennis, Chris De Burgh, Gloria Estefan, Maggie Moone (1988)

    THE OLD GREY WHISTLE TEST: with Bob Harris, Ox, Claire Hamill, Chris De Burgh (1975)

    THE ROYAL VARIETY PERFORMANCE: with Michael Ball, Elaine Boosler, Melvyn Bragg, Frank Bruno, Chris De Burgh, Lance Burton, Harry Carpenter, The cast of Coronation Street, Wayne Dobson, David Essex (1989)

    SIGHT AND SOUND IN CONCERT: with Gilbert O’Sullivan, Chris De Burgh (1978)

    SIX FIFTY FIVE SPECIAL: with Chris De Burgh, Clifford Ward (1981)

    A SONG FOR CHRISTMAS: with Chris De Burgh (1986)

    SUNDAY, SUNDAY: with Chris De Burgh, Paul Nicholas, Fatima Whitbread, Pia Zadora (1988)

    THIS IS YOUR LIFE: Chris De Burgh (1992)

    VAL DOONICAN’S HOMEWARD BOUND: with Chris De Burgh, The Fureys (1989)

    WOGAN: with Barbara Castle, Chris De Burgh, Giant Mice, Baroness Sear, Baroness Trumpington (1987)

    WOGAN: with Chris De Burgh, Ann Miller, Milo O’Shea, Ride For The Rhino, Sir Stephen Spender (1988)

    WOGAN: with Chris De Burgh, Kathy Lee, Regis Philbin (1989)

    Stephen Spender was on Wogan! I’d endure several dDe Burgh performances to see that.

  10. 70
    abaffledrepublic on 4 Jan 2010 #

    Re A Spaceman Came Travelling: didn’t David Brent write something on a similar lyrical tip?

  11. 71
    lonepilgrim on 4 Jan 2010 #

    re 68 I’m guessing that was Stan Ridgeway singing ‘Camoflage’ (“he was an awfully BIG marine”) – which he gave a compellingly straight delivery – but which almost begs for a camper reading.

  12. 72
    ace inhibitor on 11 Jan 2011 #

    Came to this via a discussion of hauntology on the Wire website, of all places:


    So many of you have tried and failed, here, to find the redeeming feature of LiR – could this be it, looped to repeat as endless existential crisis?

  13. 73
    punctum on 11 Jan 2011 #

    Wow, that was amazing – Toronto as well! Made me feel a little homesick… :-(

    Got a lot of time for OPN and that will be reflected in our EoY list. The only other cut-up of “LiR” I’ve heard is the v/vm one from Sick Love about ten years ago which in comparison sounds rather cynical; this is great, though, an alternative soundtrack to the film Last Night.

  14. 74

    […] published a list of ‘The top 20 political songs’.  There is even one journalist who argues for a message in Chris de Burgh’s Lady in […]

  15. 75
    Lazarus on 15 Nov 2013 #

    Just hearing this on the radio now, for the first time in maybe 15 years. It’s not so bad, and I don’t think we should be marking songs down because of failings in the artist’s personal life, otherwise where would we start with Gary Glitter? 3, I reckon.

    PS I admit to owning a copy of ‘High on Emotion’, couldn’t tell you when I last played it though.

  16. 76
    Paulito on 21 Nov 2013 #

    How exactly do you infer that the song has had marks deducted because of ”failings in the artist’s personal life”?

  17. 77
    Lazarus on 21 Nov 2013 #

    I was wondering when and if that would get a response. I didn’t mean to suggest that that was necessarily what Tom had done. I think it can be too easy to mark down something like this on the basis of the artist rather than the song, though. “I don’t like X, he’s a smug git, and he left his wife – I’m giving it 1” sort of thing. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of that myself at some stage. As I said, I don’t think the song is that bad – there are far more deserving candidates for the lowest score.

  18. 78
    Kinitawowi on 21 Nov 2013 #

    This song… it all depends on the angle of attack, I guess. It’s one of those that was destined to be picked in karaokes and jukeboxes by loved ones, inviting their scarlet-clad partners to the slow dance floors; is that “WITH ME” a tacky presentation of the lady as a trophy, or a personal celebration that you were the one lucky enough to land her?

    It’s this dichotomy that ultimately resulted in my parents’ divorce two years later (he thought the latter, she thought the former, and that was his first clue that maybe they didn’t know each other as well as they thought they did), so clearly this stuff matters. It doesn’t really matter who it’s about specifically – the song is sufficiently benign that any numer of people could claim it was about them, which was almost certainly the point – it’s just a cold, calculated weepie intended for anybody about anybody.

    It’s generic, it’s tosh, it’s generic tosh, it’s nowhere near as good as A Spaceman Came Travelling or Spanish Train or even Patricia The Stripper. It’s a song to be called “Our Song” by couples for decades. It’s not being called that by me. 2 at most.

  19. 80
    Tom on 22 Apr 2014 #

    The best part of that is his dangerously Partridgean swerve into talking about liking smooth jazz but “not so smooth”. (Shades of the much-missed Andypandy’s comment about ‘the jazzers’ digging CdB!)

  20. 81
    Ed on 22 Apr 2014 #

    @80 You get the sense with Coogan that the boundary between his personality and his comic creation is pretty fuzzy. See also Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David.

    To be fair, though, I did laugh out loud at ‘Babysitter in sweatpants’.

  21. 82
    hectorthebat on 17 Jan 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Theater van het Sentiment, Radio 2 (NL) – Top 40 Songs by Year 1969-2000 (2013) 24
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  22. 83
    mapman132 on 30 Jan 2015 #

    I have to say I’m not feeling the hate here….I liked it then, I certainly don’t hate it now. Yet another late 80’s song on which my views are at right angles to the consensus. I wonder if it’s because this was the period of my adolescence (I turned 14 in 1986)….I’d probably dislike this if it came out today, but fond memories die hard. 6/10.

  23. 84
    Gareth Parker on 1 May 2021 #

    It’s all rather flat and uninspiring to me. 3/10 at most in my opinion.

1 2 3 All

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)

If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page