IT REALLY WAS A CRACKING DEBUT SINGLE (48)

Wow.

Just when I thought the blog was fading quietly away into obscurity, a few words about the debut single from Duran Duran sparked a lively response, the majority of it on the favourable side.  My special thanks, however, to my dear friend Drew for his pithy ‘fuck off’.  Reading it made me laugh out loud, which is no mean feat these days – partly as I knew that if he had chosen to make any sort of response it would have been exactly along those lines; above all else, when a mate from round these parts tells you to fuck off, he knows that there is likely to be some sort of comeback line rather than taking the advice/instruction to heart.

Which is why the latest entry in this series is another shiny product from another shiny new act from 1981.  It was tempting to go with Spandau Ballet, but that would have been taking the piss (although I do reserve the right to feature To Cut A Long Story Short at some point in the future).  Instead, I’m heading out of London and to the steely industrial city of Sheffield, which arguably, along with Glasgow and Manchester, were the UK’s most innovative and interesting cities music-wise in the late 70s/early 80s.

ABC made it big in 1981, just reward for the efforts in particular of Stephen Singleton and Mark White who, together with Ian Garth and David Syndenham, had been members of Vice Versa, part of the city’s vibrant electronica scene since 1977. They had supported many acts that had gone on to enjoy critical and occasionally commercial success, going as far as establishing their own label, called Neutron Records on which there were two EPs in 1979 and 1980. The latter piqued the attention of a fanzine writer/editor from Greater Manchester by the name of Martin Fry who, having interviewed Singleton and White, then found himself being asked to join Vice Versa on keyboards.

Within a year, having learned that Fry was a superior singer to Singleton, Vice Versa had put him upfront and began to move towards a sound that was more pop-orientated, including Singleton taking up the sax. In late 1980, the decision was taken to change the band name to ABC, stripping back to a trio and then adding a bassist and drummer.

They were snapped up by Phonogram Records, who were so confident of immediate success that they agreed to allow the band to continue to use the Neutron Records imprint. The first 45 via the new arrangement had catalog number NT101, released in late October 1981:-

mp3: ABC – Tears Are Not Enough

It was a pop/soul/funk debut that had barely a trace of electronica. It must have come as a shock to those who had followed Vice Versa through thin and thin with barely a nod to all they had written and recorded the previous four years.  It was bright, breezy, fresh and infectious.

Listening to it now, it offers a template for the pop sounds that would emerge in 1982 – I’m surely not alone in thinking that George Michael was listening and adopted it for the early Wham singles – not forgetting also that the new wave kids who had loved The Jam were picking up on this sort of sound as Paul Weller incorporated brass and keys onto the records and the live shows, and thus laying the foundations for The Style Council.

Phonogram, despite the single going Top 20 after a slow and steady climb up the charts, took the decision to ditch producer Steve Brown and bring in Trevor Horn to add something just a bit more substantial to the sound, including the latest synth technology and orchestral arrangements. The results, the following year, saw hit singles in Poison Arrow, The Look of Love and All of My Heart, as well as the album The Lexicon of Love eventually selling 300,000 copies in the UK and more than 500,000 in the USA.

I think it’s fair to say that the change of producer nailed it for ABC, that and the expensive marketing and promo campaign offered up by the record label. It brought fame and fortune but in the long-run caused friction between the band members with neither Singleton nor White choosing to be part of the modern-era ABC which tours the nostalgia circuits, preferring instead to reform Vice Versa in 2014.

Tears Are Not Enough was a very fine and cracking debut single but it got dwarfed by what followed, with the Look of Love being as near a perfect pop single as there has ever been. I’m still not sure if Horn hadn’t been brought on board whether or not ABC would have been an international success. It’s interesting to note that they struggled to enjoy much success with different producers in later years.

Here’s the b-side to the debut.

mp3: ABC – Alphabet Soup

This is a gazillion miles removed from the polished stuff on the debut album.  Lots of bass-slapping and funk elements abound… I think it’s fair to say if they had gone down this road in 1982, they wouldn’t have stood out.

JC

17 thoughts on “IT REALLY WAS A CRACKING DEBUT SINGLE (48)

  1. I can’t wait for Drew to wake up and see this one. Through the years, we have gone round and round on Lexicon of Love in our little corner of the internet. I seem to recall Drew being a firm “nae.” On the heels of Duran Duran, this could be epic. As for me, the Horn version on the album is good, but there is something about this earlier take that I have always loved… especially the 12″.

  2. I am with Brian on both counts! Waiting on Drew’s response and the fact that Tear Are Not Enough is magic. Steve Brown might not have had the backing of Phonogram for the album, but the original single has a wonderful urgency and Real dance floor confidence – Post Punk Chic, ready for the Soul Train dance off. It remains, in every version, my favorite ABC song.

  3. In line with the early Duran and Spandau singles this did fit like a glove, loved it to bits. Got the Look of love 12″, but really liked the so called US special DJ remix 12″ version, which was pretty messed up – and in my eyes very good. It seems a lot of these new romantic or glamour pop bands (however you want to call them) had just one or maybe two albums in them. From time to time I still play these records, there is a glimmering teen nostalgia shimmer over them :).

    Side note JC: Must confess I had expected something on Joy Division here today.

  4. I recall this being massive (I’d have incorrectly guessed Top 5) but, for me, it made no impact. Martin captures the mood for me with his descriptor “glamour pop bands” … ABC felt a tad style over substance for my taste. I’m not at all adverse to a bit of glamour but their sound rang hollow.

    From the little I do recall the band seemed like affable enough chaps as they trolled Saturday morning kid’s shows.

    I wouldn’t choose to listen to them but if a ‘hit’ popped onto the radio I wouldn’t feel the urge to turn it off.

  5. It was indeed a fine debut. There was so much good pop music around for a short while before it all got diluted into mainstream pap. And I would support you with To Cut a Long Story… Love that song too!

  6. Alphabet Soup is what The Pop Group would have sounded like had they grown up and developed a sense of humour.

    JC – I think this is the LP version of Tears and not the Neutron 7″. On the LP version the instrumental break is that synthesised harpsichord sound. On the 7″ they featured a bongo solo – yes, a bongo solo. I had forgotten the original until it turned up on deluxe edition of Lexicon in 2004, when I bought the damn thing for a third time.

    Eric.

  7. Of course it’s a great pop song (as is Planet Earth). Lexicon Of Love is the finest “pure pop” record ever recorded.

  8. First of all Lexicon of Love is the best lp ever made . This is a fact proven in a deep underground lab filled with sciencey things “ .
    Now that’s out of the way , always felt even in its Trevor horn re-recorded version this is slightly out of place on the lp , a great a single as it is . Would they have had the success without Trevor Horn. I doubt it to the same extent and I’m out of synch as I love a lot of their later stuff . Having said that I think how to be a millionaire was a bigger hit lp stateside so maybe. It’s a classic out of love of love lp . Trevor Horn describes the lp as all about the singers broken heart scribbled down in a lyric book ( Martin fry’s lyrics are just fabulous throughout every song) . To such an extent that Trevor Horn got the girl who had dumped in in reality to come into the studio to record the “goodbye” in the look of love . It really is the perfect lp right from the cover to the arrangements to the songs to the videos . The other major credit should go to Anne Dudlley who did all the strings and amazingly was I think her first arranger job . Just go listen to all of my heart and swoon at those strings . When i ended my blog cathedrals of sound the second to last post was all about this lp as anything but a goodbye would have been downhill from there

  9. The only addition is that mark white stayed with the band for long after lexicon of love . And lexicon of love 2 manages to recapture some of the magic and rises above a simple pale imitation

  10. It took years to find the 7” of this version. The LP track recut with Horn was a what-were-they-thinking event where it should have been the fourth single pulled of of LOL. I can’t say it stood out as much as the Horn re-record. Say what you will about those whitefunk boys like ABC and Spandau; they certainly benefitted from Horn polishing their sound to the max. This track slotted closely in with the LP mix of “Instinction” as recorded with Richard Burgess on “Diamond.” But the TCH versions were beyond widescreen epics.

  11. Per thegreatgog: “Loved this and the Lexicon Of Love. Didn’t care for a right lot afterwards.” My sentiments exactly.

  12. FoRW – I was so looking forward to your comment! That next to last post on Cathedrals Of Sound was so very memorable. I remember the that feeling of elation the first time I played Lexicon of Love from start to finish. It is certainly among my favorite albums of all time.

  13. Having been spoon fed the astonishing “Poison Arrow” on import airplay on college radio I was way primed for LOL for long months of that single being heaving played.

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