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English Synth Pop Group ABC

Updated on February 24, 2013
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Lush orchestration, disco funk and eighties' pop. Martin Fry in a gold lamé suit singing songs about love.

The high point for British band ABC was their 1982 debut, The Lexicon of Love. A mix of synth-pop, R&B and funk, the album included a selection of beautifully arranged tunes. It was a symphony for the eighties.

Made in Sheffield

ABC began life in the northern, industrial city of Sheffield in the late seventies. Other bands to come out of the British city of Sheffield include Def Leppard, Cabaret Voltaire and Human League. Originally going by the name of Vice Versa, the group got together in 1977. The lineup to begin with included Stephen Singleton, David Sydenham and Mark White.

Martin Fry was busy writing about local bands for his fanzine Modern Drugs when Vice Versa released the EP Music 4 on their own label Neutron Records. After interviewing them, the band members invited him to a gig in Middlesborough. Letting him join them on stage as a synthesizer player, they later asked him to join the band full time.

Fry took over lead vocals from Mark White who became the band's guitarist. David Palmer later joined on drums. Fry said that the name ABC felt appropriate because it was as if they were "starting from scratch."

The Look of Love

The Lexicon of Love

The groups first hit came with the single Tears are Not Enough in 1981. Their debut album The Lexicon of Love made it to number one in the UK albums chart in 1982.

Produced by legendary 80s producer Trevor Horn, the man behind popular records by Frankie Goes To Hollywood and The Pet Shop Boys, the album included orchestration by Anne Dudley, who later went on to form the Art of Noise.

The biggest hit singles on the album were The Look of Love and Poison Arrow. The video for Poison Arrow was directed by Julien Temple, who also directed the punk mockumentary The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle.

Poison Arrow

ABC in The Eighties

Like a lot of acts, ABC found it difficult to follow up the success of their debut. Their second album Beauty Stab, released in November 1983, didn't quite receive the acclaim of The Lexicon of Love. The single That Was Then But This is Now made it into the Top 40, but for a short time only.

Around this time, there were a few personnel changes. Stephen Singleton left the band in 1984. Fiona Russell-Powell and David Yarritu joined the band for the 1985 album How To Be A...Zillionaire!

For Fry, the aim of How To Be A...Zillionaire! was to make a record completely different to anything they had done before, producing something completely synthetic and machine made. One thing they did get from the album was a US Top 10 hit with the single Be Near Me.

In 1987, ABC recorded Alphabet City. Best known for the Smokey Robinson tribute When Smokey Sings, the album also included the singles, The Night You Murdered Love and King Without a Crown.

In 1989, ABC brought out their fifth album, Up. As well as giving them a small UK hit with the single One Better World, the album also included the single The Real Thing. Next came Abracadabra in 1991. Although the first single from the album didn't chart highly in the UK, a remix of the song Say It did make to the US dance charts.

The Eighties Revival

It wasn't until 1997 that another ABC was released. The album Skyscraping was a homage to Martin Fry's musical heroes, including David Bowie, Roxy Music and the Sex Pistols. Three singles came off the album, Rolling Stevens, Skyscraping and Stranger Things. In 1999, ABC's first live album was released, The Lexicon of Live. Fry was the only band member left, but he had a backing band. Look of Love - The Very Best of ABC was released in 2001.

Nostalgia has prompted re-interest in a number of eighties bands. In 2004, Fry and Palmer performed together for the VH1 Show Bands Reunited. After a tour of the US in May and June of 2006, Fry and Palmer recorded a new album Traffic.

In 2009, ABC performed their classic album The Lexicon of Love at London's Royal Albert Hall. The band were accompanied by the BBC Concert Orchestra, which was conducted by Anne Dudley.

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    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      I'd never heard of this group before but certainly enjoyed the hub and the videos. Sounds like revival will be a good thing for this group and I hope they are able to keep going, especially with a Concert Orchestra!

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

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