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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384. ‘Forever and Ever’, by Slik

Our recent run of number one singles has taken us past some illustrious names, some of the pillars of pop history: Art Garfunkel, David Bowie, Queen, ABBA… now Slik…

Forever and Ever, by Slik (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 8th – 15th February 1976

Hmm. Initially I had to do a double take, as I thought it should have been ‘Silk’. Some smooth and silky, mid-seventies soul perhaps. But no, ‘Slik’ it is, and they kick off their one and only #1 single with some church organs, and some ominous chanting. I have genuinely never heard this song before…

When the vocals come in, they come in a Scottish accent. Make that two Scottish chart-toppers out of the past four. As it was in the beginning, Then so should it end… Are we at a funeral…? Don’t let a lover, Become just a friend… It’s quite new-wave, the synthy heartbeats and the half-spoken delivery.

Come chorus time, though, I am pleased to announce: glam is back. The bridge hints at it – the guitars start to growl as the singer builds it up in his best Glaswegian: didnae ya know, didnae ya feel… Then boom. It’s a chorus straight out of 1973, worthy of Wizzard or Eurovision-era ABBA: I dedicate to you, All my love, My whole life through, I’ll love you. Forever and ever…

As a declaration of love, it’s a bit much, a bit stalkery. As a pop song, it’s great. I’m really enjoying this. Why isn’t this on all the seventies ‘Best Ofs’, alongside ‘See Me Baby Jive’ and ‘Come Up and See Me’? The way it spins on a sixpence, from verse to chorus and back again, reminds me somehow of the old Johnny Preston hit from 1960, ‘Running Bear’, which also swung from goofy verses to rocking chorus.

By the end, the rock ‘n’ roll vibe has been boosted by doo-wop backing vocals, sealing this record’s place as a hidden gem I’m very glad to have discovered. Any song that descends into doo-wop backing vocals is fine by me. Slik were a band from Glasgow, and were fronted by James ‘Midge’ Ure (all the other band members took nicknames too: Oil Slik, Lord Slik and Jim Slik… a full twenty years before the Spices!) Ure, of course, is much better known as the frontman of Ultravox, who will famously never have a #1 single, and you can definitely hear the roots of his later work in this pop hit.

Slik were marketed as a new Bay City Rollers, and their hits were written by Bill Martin and Phil Coultier, who wrote many of the Rollers’ songs. This hit was turned down by the Rollers, after being recorded by 2nd rate glam rock outfit Kenny, eventually finding its way into Slik’s hands. I’d place ‘Forever and Ever’ as head and shoulders above either of the Bay City Rollers’ chart-toppers, or indeed any of their non-chart topping singles too. It’s a cracker. Slik faded away quickly, registering just once more on the Top 40, but their lead singer will be back in this countdown, in a decade or so.