Oooh baby. Who doesn’t love a #1 song that shimmies in, draped in furs and faux-silk, sounding like a soft porn soundtrack…
The Lady in Red, by Chris de Burgh (his 1st and only #1)
3 weeks, from 27th July – 17th August 1986
She’s slick, she’s glossy, she’s the eighties-est thing ever. It’s ‘The Lady in Red’. When Chris de Burgh’s vocals arrive, though, the sexy spell is broken. What diction! Never seen you looking so lovely as you did tonight… Never seen so many men asking if you wanted to dance… (There’s no way of accurately transcribing how he pronounces the word ‘dance’. ‘Darwnce’? De Burgh is the only person who has ever pronounced it this way. With a straight face, at least.)
This is a terrible song. The music is the worst kind of soulless soft-rock, all finger clicks and thick, gloopy synths. The vocals are overwrought. The lyrics are at best cringey, and at worst truly vomit inducing. You can imagine Chris de Burgh writing the chorus… The lady in red, Is dancing with me… And thinking hmmm, that’s just not rotten enough. Aha! I know… *whispers Cheek to cheek…*
Two bits stand out as particularly nauseating. The mm-hmm-hmm in the first verse, as Chris closes his eyes and pictures this goddess. And the whispered I love you… at the very end. Both send shudders right up the spine. ‘The Lady in Red’ was his wife, Diane, who was wearing a red dress on the night she chose him over all the other men who’d asked to dance. De Burgh wrote this, his biggest hit, as an apology after they had argued. (Whatever the fight was about, it wasn’t worth this. I’d have taken the divorce…) The song also – according to de Burgh – reduced none other a Lady than Princess Diana to tears. Whether they were sad tears, tears of boredom, or tears of relief when the song finally ended, remains unclear.
I was expecting this to be awful, and it is. But… But. It isn’t as truly heinous as I had imagined. I thought this would walk straight into the Top 5 Worst #1s ever, alongside J.J. Barrie and the St. Winifred’s kids. Yet there is something epic about the way De Burgh wails his way through it, the way he revels in its utter cheesiness, like a pig rolling in its own filth, that just about drags it out of the gutter. But I hardly know… (It has an extra chorus on top of the regular chorus, for goodness sake!) This beauty by my side…. Plus I kind of like the funky, plucked guitar.
I don’t think Chris de Burgh thought this was cool. I’m not sure he has any idea what ‘cool’ is, and I don’t think he cares. ‘The Lady in Red’ is a stinker; and yet it went to #1 in twenty-five countries… Coolness be damned! Do I want to hear this again, ever? Nope. Do I admire its relentless, undiluted schmaltz? Yes, somewhat (grudgingly…) De Burgh has only had one further UK Top 10 to his name, though he has been in the music business for nigh on fifty years. He continues to record and tour, and to be wildly popular in countries where English isn’t the first language (make of that what you will…)