Top Ten 80s Songs #5: Vienna – Ultravox
I’m a child of the eighties and proud of it. Musically, it was a funny old decade with some serious songs but also many bizarre ones as well. I think of the eighties as a colourful, fun decade of dominant cheesy pop but with some timeless masterpieces not far behind the chart toppers. Over the next ten days I will attempt to disclose what are for me the ten greatest songs of the eighties. It’s always hard to compile a list of this nature and my opinion is likely to change in the near future, but for now here are my golden ten.
I am indebted to www.songmeanings.net and to all those that have contributed to some very interesting discussions about all the songs featured here. It’s important that everyone finds their own meaning in any song but some of the opinions I heard were certainly eye openers for me. I intend to share my own thoughts on these songs and how, after all these years, they still have a profound impact on my life.
Ultravox: Vienna (1981)
Released in the UK in January 1981, Ultravox’s most famous song peaked at no.2 and was kept off the top spot by Joe Dolce’s “Shaddap You Face,” a chart injustice that still annoys many, including me. Midge Ure confirmed the song is about a brief love affair between two people that meet in Vienna then return home to their respective lives. It’s been appropriately described as a ‘haunting’ song with the vocals some of the best you are ever likely to hear.
The music video is said to be based around Carol Reed’s 1949 film “The Third Man,” which was also set in Vienna. Midge Ure wanders different settings – desolate streets, a graveyard overlooked by a cathedral and a party – seemingly lamenting his past. Elsewhere in the video we see a woman frequently pursued by photographers, perhaps briefly Ure’s lover in Vienna, but now seeing her life fall apart, while Ure seems, at times, to be moving on and happy. This episode culminates in the woman shooting a man while Ure stands close by but he is separate from the event, perhaps reflecting on the past he is struggling to let go of.
I can’t recall when I first heard “Vienna” but I can tell you it should have made me a 100 Euros. After finishing my History and English degree in 2003 I went on a two week holiday to Tenerife with my best friend, Kevin. On our daily nights out in the local bars we came across a musician armed with a keyboard that we referred to as “the surfer dude.” He challenged the audience to name a song and if he couldn’t play it he would give us 100 Euros. In a rare moment of assertiveness, I stepped forward and suggested Vienna or anything by Erasure. To his credit the musician played the opening segment of “Vienna,” so reminiscent of a beating heart, but he didn’t know the words. He didn’t even have a stab at any songs from Erasure’s catalogue so I can safely say he owes me a lot of money. I’ve yet to see a cent. What I do have is a continued appreciation of “Vienna.” It’s a beautifully emotive song and I have to say, once again, how did it not get to no.1?
Top Ten so far:
5) Ultravox: Vienna (1981)