Sheffield band ABC revolved around Martin Fry (a onetime fanzine editor of a rag called Modern Drugs) and rose from the ashes of post-punk group Vice Versa.
On their first album, The Lexicon Of Love (1982), Fry set his own Bryan Ferry-influenced vocals in lustrous pop production (by Buggles frontman Trevor Horn) laden with keyboards and strings to a techno-soul disco pulse and succeeded admirably with Poison Arrow and The Look of Love.
Horn and Fry programmed the arrangements for every song on the LP using a primitive sequencer, a Mini-Moog, and a drum machine. Then the band re-recorded every part, erasing the synth demos as they went along. “It was like tracing,” Horn said. “Which meant that we got it really spot on, and snappy and in your face.”
The album hit the #1 spot in the UK.
It was always going to be a problem following the debut album and their subsequent records, however varied, were inevitably compared unfavourably with their debut.
Several band members left but Fry and White chose to soldier on and found that in trying to move on musically they had been left behind by critics and public alike.
Beauty Stab (1983) was a lunge into rock, complete with guitar solos – it was almost universally loathed, but in retrospect, it was one of the more daring career moves of the time, and it pre-empted a trend of political pop two or three years later.
How To Be A Zillionaire (1985) was a better record but showed that, once again, Fry and White were in the right place at the wrong time. This time, they were under the influence of New York disco and the emerging electro and hip-hop trends which were not quite yet mainstream genres in Britain.
ABC nearly split up, not least because Fry had fallen seriously ill during 1985-86. Thankfully he recovered and, inspired by the American success of Be Near Me (Zillionaire‘s closest relative to the much-missed sound of Lexicon), the next album was very much a back-to-basics affair.
A contemporary pop-dance LP, Alphabet City (1987) was their most successful since their first. It also contained their tribute to Smokey Robinson, When Smokey Sings, a big hit single on both sides of the Atlantic.
Fry and White’s enthusiasm for the burgeoning house trend led to the spirited but ultimately forgettable UP (1989), while Abracadabra (1991) was a half-hearted attempt to reheat the formula created and perfected a decade earlier.
With no official announcement of a split, it was something of a surprise to find ABC (now essentially a Fry solo project) returning in 1997 with a brand new LP Skyscraping.
Unfortunately, sporadic glimmers of pop excellence failed to propel it into the public consciousness, and judging by their inclusion on the bill of Culture Club‘s comeback tour at Christmas 1998, it would seem that ABC and Fry can only exist as part of an 80s revival bubble.