Story of the Song: 'Vienna', Ultravox (1981)

Robert Webb
Friday 22 August 2008 00:00
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Fans thought Ultravox had pulled the plug on any chance of success in 1979, when their frontman John Foxx quit and they were dropped by Island.

The arrival of Midge Ure heralded an unlikely revival of fortunes for the proto electro-poppers; Ure had charted with the Scottish teeny-bop outfit Slik, before teaming up with Rusty Egan and the former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock in The Rich Kids.

His association with Egan brought him to the attention of a mutual friend, Billy Currie, Ultravox's keyboard player. Currie was impressed with Ure's guitar playing and his ability to sing rather than "shout with attitude". With Ure, in 1980 Ultravox began rehearsals for a new album.

Several sessions in, the drummer, Warren Cann, rolled out a pattern in search of a song. "I said something like, 'What about this, then?' and began the 'Vienna' rhythm," Cann recalled. A couple of verses were prepared by Ure and, working in an existing chorus idea ("It means nothing to me, Vienna"), the song was ready. The band settled into RAK, Mickie Most's London base, with the German producer Conny Plank, who had steered Kraftwerk to stardom.

Currie tinkled on the piano and played a violin solo, but synth pads and a Roland drum-machine defined the austere sound. For some, the song evokes the Vienna Secessionists or Carol Reed's film The Third Man. But not Ure: "I lied to the papers about [it] at the time," he told Rolling Stone. "I wrote a song about a holiday romance, but in this very dark, ominous surrounding."

"Vienna" was the title track to the band's fourth album, released in summer 1980 (and remastered and reissued in 2008). Ure thought it might make a single, dismissing concern at Chrysalis, the band's label, who viewed it as too long and slow. It made it to seven-inch in January 1981. With a memorable black-and-white video shot in Covent Garden and the Austrian city, "Vienna" was kept from No 1 by Joe Dolce's novelty hit "Shaddap You Face". It charted again in 1993 and has been performed solo by Ure.

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