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ABC

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History

ABC was formed in 1980 in Sheffield after Martin Fry, a music journalist, interviewed the band Vice Versa for his fanzine Modern Drugs. They adopted Fry as lead vocalist and changed their name to ABC. The revamped band were pigeonholed as part of the New Romantic movement of the time, which included the likes of Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and The Human League.

The band would offer many stylistic spins within its career and perhaps they are better labelled as Northern Soul, their obvious inspiration and the most universal element to influence all of their offerings. Perhaps the most distinguishing fact is the bands non-ominous use of synthesizers. Ominous, dischordant, or minor-keyed synthesizer parts were something that would unite the majority of true New Romantic bands. Also, ABC from the very beginning incorporated a predominate funk and soul sound into their compositions.

Their first single, "Tears Are Not Enough", made the UK Top 20 in 1981. Soon afterwards, David Robinson left the band and was replaced by now-revered drummer David Palmer (no relation to keyboardist David Palmer). The band had three Top 10 hits during 1982: the singles "Poison Arrow", "The Look of Love (Part One)" and "All Of My Heart" and shot high-concept music videos that captured a suave Great Gatsby-meets-James Bond aesthetic.

Later that year, the band released their debut album The Lexicon of Love. Heavy on rhyming couplets and tales of unrequited love, the album was a big hit, reaching number one in the UK album charts. Produced by Trevor Horn, it often features in UK critics' lists of favourite albums: it ranked 42nd in The Observer Music Monthly's "Top 100 British Albums" (June 2004) and 40th in Q magazine's "100 Greatest British Albums" (June 2000).

The album is revered for its uncanny mixture of wit, overall musicality (tightly bound by funk basslines and Palmer's steady drumming), attention to recorded sonics, and exceptional graphic design. In 2002, the song "Poison Arrow" was featured on the soundtrack to the video game "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City".

Beauty Stab

ABC found it difficult to follow up their debut. Lickley and Palmer left the band before Beauty Stab, the second ABC album, was released in 1983. It performed poorly in comparison to its predecessor. Beauty Stab was, by design, a dramatic departure from the lush, melodramatic pop/funk of The Lexicon of Love, with emphasis instead placed on guitar-based rock. Gary Langan (who had engineered The Lexicon of Love) produced the effort.

The new sound was underpinned by the presence of the Roxy Music rhythm section of Andy Newmark and Alan Spenner, most notably on "If I Ever Thought You'd Be Lonely". The first single, "That Was Then But This Is Now", a clear attempt to mark a new chapter in the band's career, briefly appeared in the UK Top 20, followed by a Top 40 showing for "S.O.S.". The band eschewed remixes for the project, and the 12" single for "That Was Then But This Is Now" featured the disclaimer "This record is exactly the same as the 7" version. The choice is yours." Stephen Singleton retired from the band in 1984.

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How To Be A...Zillionaire!

Now a duo of Fry and White, augmented by two non-performing band members, Fiona Russell-Powell and David Yarritu, who were chosen for their unusual looks,[citation needed] ABC's chart fortunes in the UK further dwindled with the 1985 album How To Be A...Zillionaire!. It marked another change of style, in this case toying with mid-1980s dance beats and samples. Keith LeBlanc from Tackhead programmed much of the beatbox work for the album.

While the group did score its first American Top 10 hit with the infectious "Be Near Me", at home in the UK it failed to break the Top 20. The album also featured the hits "How to Be a Millionaire", "Vanity Kills" and "Ocean Blue". The record's greatest distinction would likely be that it is among a handful of 1980's albums that made extensive (almost extreme) use of the Fairlight CMI (and similar sampling synthesizers). Others in this vein would include "Naked Eyes" by the band of the same name, "The Dreaming" by Kate Bush, "Zoolook" by Jean Michel Jarre, "Stella" by Yello.

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Alphabet City

Following a hiatus while Fry was treated for Hodgkin's disease, ABC returned to the studio to record Alphabet City, which they thought might be their final album. Best known for "When Smokey Sings", a tribute to Smokey Robinson, the album also spawned "The Night You Murdered Love" and "King Without a Crown" as singles. Many critics lauded Alphabet City as a return to form for the group, noting its polished production by Fry and White in conjunction with Bernard Edwards, best known for his work with CHIC.

For the B-sides of the album's first two singles, the band offered two rhythmic vignettes ("songs" would be a stretch) inspired by their time in the States. One was simply called "Minneapolis" and was a striking homage to the early Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis sound. The other was slightly more abrasive, hard-hitting and titled "Chicago" (presumably after the burgeoning House Music scene). Add in the fact that "When Smokey Sings" was featured in a Motown doppleganger called the "Detroit Mix" and it is obvious ABC were in love with American soul music and its many derivations. All three tracks would make the c.d. version of the group's first anthology.

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Up

In 1989, the duo issued Up, their fifth and final PolyGram studio album. This time experimenting with house music, ABC scored a minor UK hit with the single "One Better World", an ode to love, peace and tolerance. They then released another single, "The Real Thing". it is during this period that the group worked on a couple of outside productions aimed at the House music scene. One was Paul Rutherford's (Frankie Goes to Hollywood) solo album and first single release, the other was for signee Lizzie Tear on the group's own Neutron label. The Rutherford tracks made the bigger stir.

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Absolutely

In 1990, the band released a comprehensive greatest hits package called Absolutely. This covered all of ABC's albums up until 1990 and feaured all of their singles. A video package featuring promos was also released. One new song, "The Look of Love 90", was released to promote the package, though neither the band nor Trevor Horn (who had produced the original) approved of the mix. ABC implored fans not to buy the remixed single.

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Abracadabra

The group then moved to the EMI label (and MCA in North America), where they recorded the LP Abracadabra, a tightly produced fusion of early 1990s techno sounds and 1970s dance grooves which, despite the enlistment of "precision" producer/mixer David Bascombe, was met with muted critical approval. "Love Conquers All", the first single, barely placed in the UK charts, though Black Box ("Ride on Time") provided remixes of "Say It" which were well received on the U.S. dance charts.

ABC split up in 1992, with White leaving the music business to pursue an interest in Reiki therapy. Martin Fry continued to work with EMI in the months thereafter, but he was axed from the label before his solo material was released.

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Skyscraping

Fry resurrected the band's name in 1997 for the album Skyscraping, an homage to several of his musical heroes, including David Bowie, Roxy Music, and The Sex Pistols. A collaboration with Glenn Gregory of Heaven 17 and Keith Lowndes, the album again was met with critical approval rather than broad commercial success. However, three singles were released, "Rolling Sevens", "Skyscraping", and "Stranger Things", complete with extra b-sides.

Trivia

A different band called ABC released a 7" single in 1979 in the United States. That band played country & western music.

ABC was one of the first bands to do "video scratching" for several videos from the How to Be a... Zillionaire album, including the video for "Be Near Me." This fad was briefly highlighted by MTV News but never caught on.

On a similar note, The Look of Love (part 5),issued only to club dj's, was perhaps the first pop song to be remixed with scratching (courtesy of Trevor Horn). In an Amazon online review of the 2004 Lexicon of Love (Deluxe Edition), Stephen Singleton has also claimed it was among the earliest remixes to be based upon samples.

LINKS

Official ABC/Martin Fry Website - http://www.abcmartinfry.com/

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BUY ABC CDS AND VINYL HERE

 

 

 

 

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I've thrown many a hot runner bean at Martin Fry! We both worked at Batchelors in the summer of 1981, he was working on the hot-roasting beds (covered over by wire-mesh, so he couldn't retaliate), I was on the butterly-beds, basically 40 feet of metal-slatted "beds" that you could vibrate as hot air dried the beans, till they were "done" and progressed down a hopper into bags. I could pick up the semi-dried beans, and had endless hours of fun chucking 'em at Martins bum when his back was turned !

He also wrote a song at the time, he asked me for a subject, he got "Manacled Stick Insect", it was never going to be a hit :rolleyes:

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Vice Versa were an aquired taste and as far from ABC as you could get. In the days before Mr Fry.

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Vice Versa were an aquired taste and as far from ABC as you could get. In the days before Mr Fry.

Did anyone else see ABC perform at Penny's Nightclub? on the night there was fresh fruit on each table, very odd for a club night, not sure if they were miming, but the songs were much more funky, simmilar to the Higsons prior to Trevor Horn getting his hands on them.

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Did anyone else see ABC perform at Penny's Nightclub? on the night there was fresh fruit on each table, very odd for a club night, not sure if they were miming, but the songs were much more funky, simmilar to the Higsons prior to Trevor Horn getting his hands on them.

I did see them there just as "Tears are not enough" was released - was that it ? - I seem to remember they just mimed and it was just the one song. They were indeed quite funky at the outset shame they took the plastic pop route. I travelled to Leeds to see them live once and they were quite good. ;-)

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I did see them there just as "Tears are not enough" was released - was that it ? - I seem to remember they just mimed and it was just the one song. They were indeed quite funky at the outset shame they took the plastic pop route. I travelled to Leeds to see them live once and they were quite good. ;-)

That would probably have been the same night, but I think they played a few songs including Tears are not enough and Alphabet Soup, but probably only about four.

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I saw ABC at an early gig at 'the Maze' at the University, on the same bill as Bass Tone Trap (50p). They played only a handful of songs: the next time I saw them was at the City Hall (£3) on their first headlining tour.....

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I saw ABC at an early gig at 'the Maze' at the University, on the same bill as Bass Tone Trap (50p). They played only a handful of songs: the next time I saw them was at the City Hall (£3) on their first headlining tour.....

One of the most memorable gigs I have ever been to - this was Oct 81, my first week at University - like seeing James Brown in a tiny club - matched only by Prince in Frankfurt .....

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Hi there,

I'd like to introduce my new ABC fansite named "Lexicon of ABC Martin Fry":

http://www.abcmartinfry.de/

Hope you'll like it.

I'm looking for 80s photos, scans, snipplets, adverts, reviews to complete that fansite.

If you have some old ABC pics send them please to contact@abcmartinfry.de

Thanks a lot

cheers

Michael

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Ask him if he remembers being pelted with Runnerbeans at Batchelors, summer 1980 or the song "Manacled Stick Insect" ....

Hi there,

I'd like to introduce my new ABC fansite named "Lexicon of ABC Martin Fry":

http://www.abcmartinfry.de/

Hope you'll like it.

I'm looking for 80s photos, scans, snipplets, adverts, reviews to complete that fansite.

If you have some old ABC pics send them please to contact@abcmartinfry.de

Thanks a lot

cheers

Michael

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