30/5/16 – Ultravox – Vienna – 1981

Ultravox Vienna 7 inch single

When singer John Foxx and guitarist Robin Simon left Ultravox it seemed like the band must be over. When Midge Ure ex-Slik and The Rich Kids joined to replace them – it seemed like the band must be over. Then came Vienna, the third single from the album of the same name.

The last album with John Foxx had been produced by Kraut Rock producer and legend Conny Plank and the relationship continued with Vienna. By now Midge Ure had already been a member of Teeny Boppers Slik, achieving a No.1 single on the UK chart in 1975 with the song Forever And Ever. Unable to follow up their success they finally changed their name to PVC2 and courted Punk before Ure left and formed The Rich Kids with ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock, guitarist Steve New and future Visage and Steve Strange collaborator and drummer Rusty Egan. The New Romantics were ironing the multi-folds of their blouses and Midge Ure would soon find himself aligned with Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran.

The first two singles hadn’t set the world on fire, Sleepwalk had scraped into the Top 30 at No.29 and Passing Strangers stalled at 57, the label had spent too much already and thought it was all over. In another case of the record company not really believing in it, Vienna, the third single from the album wasn’t expected to perform well and they refused to pay for the video.

The label hadn’t considered that the most interesting and evocative song on the record might also be commercially successful. Soon after release Vienna found itself at No.2 behind John Lennon’s Woman and as Lennon’s single dropped down the charts the coveted No.1 spot was theirs for the taking. Suddenly the sky went black, dark forces took hold, a rusting Fiat 500 was seen slowly driving down the streets of London, gelato began to melt, the Leaning Tower of Pisa began to tip further to the right, Julius Caesar pushed Brutus under a bus on Oxford Street and out of the plumes of smoke and settling dust came the scariest vision of horror that the world had ever seen – Joe Dolce singing Shaddap Your Face.

It had happened again, a novelty song was keeping what should have been a dead cert No.1 from the top spot. Although the John Foxx fans weren’t happy to see Midge Ure take the lead vocalist position and keep the name Ultravox, it was hard to deny that this was an artistic and deserved commercial success. The Film clip inspired by Orson Welles’, The Third Man, the electronics and the drama, the look and the soaring line, “It means nothing to me, Oh Vienna”. As with Crowded House the label had failed to have any vision and were unable to see past the catchy less interesting songs, only to witness Vienna receiving a Brit award for Single of the Year and selling over 500,000 copies, more that either single that stopped its path to the top. Although it’s hard to predict what might have happened, one might consider that if they’d released this song first, the competition would have been different and the No.1 spot may possibly have been theirs.

It’s hard to imagine Slik, The Rich Kids and Ultravox Mk 2 having the same lead singer (Ure also played guitar and synths on the first two Visage albums), even more unlikely is the fact that when Ure was finally asked by remaining members Billy Currie, Warren Cann and Chris Cross to join Ultravox, he was playing guitar with Thin Lizzy. In 1984 he co-wrote Do They Know It’s Christmas? Performed by Band Aid with all royalties going to charity, the single sold 3.7 million copies.

We walked in the cold air
Freezing breath on a window pane
Lying and waiting
A man in the dark in a picture frame
So mystic and soulful
A voice reaching out in a piercing cry
It stays with you until

The feeling has gone only you and I
It means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
Oh, Vienna

The music is weaving
Haunting notes, pizzicato strings
The rhythm is calling
Alone in the night as the daylight brings
A cool empty silence
The warmth of your hand and a cold gray sky
It fades to the distance

The image has gone only you and I
It means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
Oh, Vienna