NFB Listens To Number Ones: “The Lady In Red” – Chris de Burgh

Let us try to not immediately go to the invective. De Burgh’s signature track strikes me as a 1980’s Nikelback: a totally acceptable, even forgettable, tune, that’s had any kind of legacy it wanted to create ruined by being dramatically overplayed. I don’t know if I can even name another de Burgh song honestly. It’s also really outdated, with its inherent objectification of the titular subject matched with a very toxic male “mine, mine, mine” sentiment (you can imagine de Burgh snarling at the other guys at the dance floor as he says “The lady in red is dancing with me”). But I do have to be as truthful as I can be. I think that this is a bad song. Easily dismissed, even more easily mocked, if you were to ask someone to name one of the worst number one’s in history, this would probably not be a mile off.

It’s a real confluence of suck: the basic-as-hell backing music, that feels like de Burgh pressed a sample input on his keyboard and just let it play; that weird white noise choir accompaniment that 10cc were the only band to ever actually make good on in “I’m Not In Love”; de Burgh’s voice, which honestly seems a little too faux-faltering and hollow at times (it’s like the guy is trying to make you think he’s crying while recording this, and what’s with his pronunciation of “dance” as “dahnce”?); and those lyrics, which are as needlessly saccharine, mawkish even, as you would like. One feels that he was going for a song that contained the entrancing nature of the “The Way You Look Tonight” mashed with the soulful delivery of “Wonderful Tonight”, with 80’s music tropes dumped in. The result is a mishmash guaranteed to send older people into a frenzy of nostalgia, and the younger running for the hills. I also have to call out the frankly rubbish music video, which makes the rather odd decision to have the focus of the production be a lady in mostly white. It’s in the title guys!

But I mean it’s not the worst song ever made, as some like to pretend it is. It was well-received at the time for a reason, with it’s overt emotion perhaps suited for the age that it was released. I’d say a lot of the lingering distaste for the song, #1 in Ireland for seven long weeks in July/August 1986, might be tied to the frequently controversial personality of the singer, the poster boy for being unable to handle criticism. Even he’s seemed a little ambivalent about “The Lady In Red” since. But there’s no getting away from it: this will probably be a go-to for classic radio stations and soppy 80’s playlists from now until the heat death of the universe. Just keep it, and the image of de Burgh being “cheek to cheek” with anyone, away from me.

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