The 1960s and 1970s had some exquisite examples of artists producing blue-eyed soul: Dusty Springfield, The Righteous Brothers and Boz Scaggs to name just a small sample recording in one of my favourite genres. Thankfully, the 1980s brought me yet more.
Among the most successful and productive of the period was the British band ABC which, by the time of the release of Alphabet City, comprised of lead singer Martin Fry and synthesizer player and guitarist, Mark White.
The group was among a swathe of early ’80s British talent, such as Adam and the Ants, Duran Duran, Soft Cell, The Cure and Echo and the Bunneymen which were characterised under the general label of “pioneers of new wave”. Personally, the reality was each of these bands brought their own flavour and style to the popular music scene of the time.
ABC was hardly radical, but Fry and co knew how to deliver highly polished productions, full of lush string arrangements, funky keyboards and quirky lyrics. In retrospect, they were the neo-soul group of the period and I was glad that I had discovered their sound.
The band’s first album, The Lexicon of Love, began what proved to be a bold acknowledgement of elements of the Motown sound and the Northern Soul era of the Sixties and Seventies. I loved it!
A slice of mid-Eighties soul
By 1987, Alphabet City brought those elements full circle, with the help of the late Bernard Edwards – the bass player, singer and songwriter with funk and disco outfit, Chic.
As a fan of both he and the legendary Nile Edwards – his partner in Chic – it’s fun to hear his influence run throughout this album. He brings it to bear on songs like the inspirational When Smokey Sings, Martin Fry’s homage to Motown’s Smokey Robinson.
Possibly needless to say, but when you have Edwards involved in a project, listeners like me are going to benefit from some heavily-infused pop funk. Tracks like The Night You Murdered Love, Think Again, Rage and Regret and Ark Angel have it in bucketfuls, while the slower tunes have a sophistication in their melodies that transport one back to a different era.
I bought this album on cassette when it was first released and it was played constantly in my car for some months. However, as with all good things, it came to an untimely end when the tape player decided that enough was enough and it ate it.
It was several years before I replaced it on CD and it sounded just as good then as it had back in the Eighties. In fact, there are some extra tracks that are as equally as appealing as the originals. A couple of remixes and new compositions have been included that define the late 80s in terms of funk and dance music, but which still sound as fresh to me as when I heard them all that time ago.
Now, in the digital era, I can opt to download the entire album as well.
When Smokey Sings
The video for Martin Fry’s and Mark White’s tribute to Smokey Robinson encapsulates in five minutes what ABC’s style and sound are all about.
It’s obviously a British view of American soul, referencing early on the influence on the pair of the UK’s Northern Soul phenomenon (Wigan All-Nighters, DJs and vinyl) and Detroit’s Tamla Motown studios from the ’60s which produced so many successful girl groups.
While it acknowledges the past, it is also an early blueprint for what was to come in the UK’s new wave of soul, funk and dance music.
Intro image courtesy of UK ABC Amazon Store