557. ‘If I Was’, by Midge Ure

Fresh from saving the world with Band Aid, the UKs very first charity chart-topper, Midge Ure returns to the day job…

If I Was, by Midge Ure (his 1st and only solo #1)

1 week, from 29th September – 6th October 1985

…with a record that is completely and utterly of its time. There are certain records that transcend, that you believe could have been a hit at any point in time. Then there are records like ‘If I Was’, that you can date almost to the week. This is the mid-1980s, in all its synthy, soaring, clinical glory.

I like the upward-moving chord progression. It gives the song purpose from the start, and gets you ready to expect something great. Something great that never comes… If I was, A better man, Would fellow men, Take me to their hearts…? It’s a very earnest song, in which Ure seems to doubt himself at every turn. If he was a soldier, a sailor, a candlestick maker (OK, one of those three may not be the actual lyrics…) would life be easier? Would he be loved?

It’s all very well being clever in a pop song. But I prefer when the cleverness is hidden behind a great tune. Here the music can’t make up for the lyrics, and it just comes across as a bit pretentious. I want to like the over-the-top-ness of it – the pure eighties-ness of it – but something’s missing. It’s not catchy enough, not silly enough, not something enough… Like I said: it’s clinical. It ends up a bit dull, and a bit long.

My favourite part is the clanging, ascending synth chords that lead up to the chorus. They remind me of a gameshow theme-tune, and are the one moment where Ure lets the silliness shine through. It doesn’t last, though, for straight off comes the chest-thumping chorus: If I was a soldier… Captive arms I’d lay before her…

I genuinely hadn’t heard this record before today, which is an increasingly rare thing as we head closer and closer to my own lifetime. Is this because ‘If I Was’ is very of its time, and hasn’t been played on radio since 1987? Or is it because it’s not very good…? A combination of both, I’d say. I’d also suggest that it only made #1 because of Ure’s Band Aid fame, but that might be a little harsh. He was a big star in Ultravox, and this was the lead single from his first solo album. Ure has been at #1 before, with the teeny-bopping, glam-rocking (and for my money much better) ‘Forever and Ever’, in 1976 with his first band Slik. This would be his last Top 10 hit, though he continues to record and tour, as well as keeping up his sterling charity work.

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9 thoughts on “557. ‘If I Was’, by Midge Ure

  1. Without being rude about it, this seems to be one of the more or less forgotten chart-toppers. (You made a similar observation about Mungo Jerry’s ‘Baby Jump’ not long ago – a record that has always been a lifelong favourite of mine). I don’t think I’ve ever heard ‘If I Was’ played as an oldie on the radio. It’s nice enough, very inoffensive, and you hate to say anything negative about it, especially as Midge comes across as one of the genuinely decent guys in the business. But it’s not very interesting. I probably only remember it as I was DJ’ing every week at the time and constantly keeping a close eye on the charts. It never really stood out that much, which suggests that the rest of the Top 30 at that time had nothing to get excited about and music was about to go through one of its rather dull phases.

    • Yep, I’m not sure there will be many more #1s I have genuinely never heard – it used to be a much more common occurrence when I was plowing through the 50s and 60s – as we are just a few months away from me being born (in blog terms…) It screams ‘chart-topper in a quiet week’ to me.

  2. Maybe it’s just coz I can place where I was and what I was doing around this time, but i love it! John is right – you don’t hear much of this as a radio ‘oldie.’ More’s the pity, I think. and yeah – Midge does come across as thoroughly decent bloke. 🙂

  3. Midge was a musical jack of all trades by 1985, Pop star for the Slik preteens and early teens, Rich Kids indie New Wave act, Ultravox synth pioneers, not least one of the greatest number 2’s of all-time in Vienna, and then there was the groundbreaking Fade To Grey for Visage, the new Top Of The Pops theme tune with Phil Lynott, his first solo top 10 with a cover of No Regrets (Walker brothers), and in between his own non-stop barrage of Ultravox singles he managed to be the lesser-known (but chief architect musically) of Band Aid.

    So TBH he was owed a chart-topper by 1985, and this was a great single with a stunning video. The video sold it, I bought it. I can’t view it dispassionately as of its time cos its still fresh precisely because its not overplayed – but then to be fair, apart from Vienna, Fade To Grey and Band Aid, precious little of his back catalogue gets airplay these days – and it may be for the reasons you cite: doesnt have that singalongafun fun 80’s vibe, doesn’t have the Big Ballad appeal and even the big hits tend to be overshadowed by those that sound great at an 80s party, or gloomy and dark and brooding, and Midge tended to occupy a middle ground that was neither. I still think his stuff is generally pretty good, and occasionally wonderful though. Including his 21st century stuff (which nobody buys except me occasionally!) 🙂

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