A GUEST POSTING by KHAYEM
Something To Believe In: An ABC ICA
I posted an ABC selection over at my blog back in November 2022, which was well received. JC had the following to say:
Here’s the thing……
The Lexicon of Love was such a perfect album that I reckoned ABC would never be able to come close to matching it. As a result, I more or less ignored everything that followed and had no idea so much material had been released since. I’ll need to give this mix a good listen over the coming days/weeks/months – I’ve so much to catch up with just now.
PS : Do you fancy adapting this piece to turn it into an ICA?
How could I refuse an offer like that? However, I was clear from the start that, rather than a rehash of my original post, I wanted to come up with something new. Over four months later…
I confessed then, and I’ll admit now, that I must have been one of the few people on the planet who didn’t buy The Lexicon Of Love in 1982. In my defence, I was 11 years old and didn’t get enough pocket money to spend it all on records. However, I belatedly caught up with ABC’s albums up to and including The Lexicon Of Love II in 2016. I admire that Martin Fry resisted attempts to do the latter until then – there must have been an incredible pressure to go there with each ABC album in the past three decades. When he eventually revisited that world, it was with the benefit of all that lived experience and an older, wider perspective.
Not that any ABC album is bad. The musical styles and genre-hopping may have been frequent between 1982 and 2016 (rest easy, there’s not an experimental drum ’n’ bass ABC album hiding in there) but the characteristic ABC sound and lyrical themes remain intact throughout.
I played around the 10-song selection here a fair bit but I’m happy that the final ICA gives ABC a fair shout, from their debut single to their last (to date) album.
1) The Very First Time (Traffic, 2008)
Traffic was ABC’s first album of the 21st Century and over a decade since their previous release. This is the second song but was an immediate choice for an opener here, a modern take on classic ABC.
2) The Greatest Love Of All (Album Version) (Up, 1989)
ABC go clubbing. There was a whiff of bandwagon-jumping with this one, but their choice of collaborators was impeccable: Graeme Park and Mike Pickering on this track, Frankie Knuckles, David Morales and Derrick May on the single remixes. Up is not my favourite album, but Martin Fry and Mark White had definitely not ‘sold out’.
3) Tears Are Not Enough (Extended Version) (Tears Are Not Enough EP, 1981)
What a statement of intent for your debut single. If anything, the song is even better in it’s extended 12” version, a format that ABC immediately embraced with some stunning results throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Would I lie? Could I lie?
4) Bad Blood (Alphabet City, 1987)
I wasn’t a fan of When Smokey Sings when it was released as a single, though I’ve come to appreciate it much more since, particularly when I paid more attention to the lyrics. The record buying public clearly disagreed. Whilst the single narrowly missed the Top 10 in the UK, fourth album Alphabet City scored ABC their first Top 10 hit since The Lexicon Of Love. It’s chock full of poptastic tunes, as Bad Blood attests.
5) Who Can I Turn To? (Skyscraping, 1997)
ABC released two albums in the 1990s, Abracadabra in 1991 and Skyscraping six years later. By the time of the latter, ABC was essentially a solo vehicle for Martin Fry, writing with collaborators including Heaven 17’s Glenn Gregory on this song. This ‘comeback’ album wasn’t a commercial success and it was more than 10 years before a new album emerged. A shame as Skyscraping deserved more.
1) Vanity Kills (U.S.A. Remix) (Vanity Kills EP, 1986)
Third album How To Be A… Zillionaire! delivered a new ABC line-up and diminishing chart success, again which is a shame as there are some great pop songs within. Vanity Kills made #70 in the UK singles chart and #91 in the US Billboard Hot 100. This rather good remix by Mark ‘Spike’ Stent didn’t get a UK release until the 2005 expanded issue of … Zillionaire!, as far as I can tell.
2) What’s Good About Goodbye? (Love Conquers All EP, 1991)
I’ve opted for a B-side rather than an album track from Abracadabra, not because the album is poor but I just really like this song. What’s Good About Goodbye? features earlier as a line in Bad Blood. Clearly it stuck in Martin Fry’s brain as he returned to it a few years later, pairing it with the equally great line, ‘What’s fair about farewell?’
3) Valentine’s Day (Album Version) (The Lexicon Of Love, 1982)
I briefly toyed with the idea of not including anything at all from The Lexicon Of Love. I mean, everyone knows it surely and for many, it raised the bar so high that ABC couldn’t hope to match it for brilliance. Then again, how could I ignore it? Valentine’s Day is so familiar, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t actually a single (apart from in Japan, who knew their onions). A classic Trevor Horn and Gary Langan production, eminently quotable lyrics from Martin Fry and a band who were really at the top of their game.
4) I Believe In Love (The Lexicon Of Love II, 2016)
For the sequel, the only returnee from the 1982 crew apart from Martin Fry was Anne Dudley. She co-wrote a few songs, though not this one, which Fry wrote with Matt Rowe, who I only knew from his time as one half of remix/DJ duo Biff & Memphis. It’s a slow-building song, starting off with acoustic guitar and ending as a bit of a banger. Great stuff.
5) United Kingdom (Beauty Stab, 1983)
Beauty Stab suffered at the time from not being The Lexicon Of Love II, keeping some of the lush, string-laden sound of it’s predecessor for a rawer, guitar-based sound. United Kingdom is a simple, piano-led piece, Fry duetting with himself on a sadly still-relevant song about life on the dole. A perfect closer to both Beauty Stab and this iCA.
7 thoughts on “(BONUS POST) AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #338: ABC”
Great selection, cheers
I had no idea ABC went on to create so much more music. Loved this ICA.
Always love a good ICA. Wot no ‘If I ever thought you’d be lonely’ from Beauty Stab? Its a dirty nasty classy track. I think ‘Valetine’s Day’ was almost a single instead of ‘All of my heart’.
Like everyone else I loved ‘Lexicon’ and even saw the band tour it at the Palladium in NYC. Then they totally went off my radar. Psyched to check out this set, Khayem!
wow so much ABC I was unaware of! Martin Fry is a great songwriter. Looking forward to this!
Great stuff but I think I might have found room for When Smokey Sings
Thanks as ever to JC for posting my guest ICA and for all of your comments, I’m glad you enjoyed the ICA. If that’s left you wanting more, I have re-posted original Dubhed selection from Nov 2022 – follow the link in the opening paragraph.
@Mopyfop, I think Beauty Stab is a criminally underappreciated album and “If I Ever…” is a great song. I could only pick one for this ICA though and United Kingdom had to be there as the ICA closer. I had a very long short list, so lots of tough calls on the final 10!
@Charity Chic, When Smokey Sings wasn’t an immediate favourite for me but I’ve grown to love it over the years. Adhering to my own strict rules, it couldn’t feature in this ICA as I’d included it in my Dubhed selection last year. Them’s the breaks!