Thursday, 23 May 2013

Desert Island Discs 1 Lexicon of Love by ABC

1 Lexicon of Love by ABC 1982

number 1s are meant to be irrational aren't they?

What makes a perfect pop record? It needs to be immediate but have depth, timeless but tied to memories , catchy but smart, be able to dance to and be able to sit down and listen to, influenced by but unique, throwaway but impossible to shift.

For me ABC's debut is about as near to the perfect pop lp as you can get. Is it also the only pop concept lp? I'm struggling to think of another.

Driven by a combination of the band's understanding of club culture , Martin Fry's lyric book and love of puns and metaphors , Trevor Horn's obsession with building a song up brick by brick note by note and of course a broken love affair.

The cover sets the scene with high drama, crime of passion on the front shown to be all an act , a staged scene on the back.

The inner sleeve was a red velvet curtain with a cut up technique stream of consciousness snatches of lyrics from the lp, a technique I copied for every compilation tape I did for years afterwards.

There is no gritty realism here , it is all widescreen . cinematic romanticism but with  a knowing wink.

Show Me kicks things off with a sweeping strings and horn introduction before the echoes of Chic bass lines kick in . The opening lines tell you all you need to know of where we are

Once I needed you love
But that was just one thing left on my mind 
Then I needed to feel you near me
You said "Don't have the time"

It is a broken heart but one with a sense of humour

It seems odd now that the prominence and high mix of the strings would seems so different. Strings and dance music had been done thousands of times before but in the time of synths dominating it did feel a bit different. A lushness and extravagance that was much more appealing than lying on a beach in Sri Lanka with Duran Duran.

Next up is the first "big" single with its playground taunt , nursery rhyme chorus. It is clear now that the girl of the singers dreams has gone and that the Show Me of the first track is a failed attempt at a last hurrah

Right from the start when you knew we would part with the killer kiss off as the singer a fool "I thought you loved me but it seems you don't care" is answered by the cool aloof "I care enough to know I could never love you"

The spoken word bits (corny as they are)  and the instrumental interludes  / fade outs all add to film sound track feel. They even ended up making a film with Julien Temple built around the lp. Mantrap has all the faults of those 80s extended pop videos and I remember when it was shown on channel 4 desperately wanting it to be fantastic . well ......

When she's gone all I get to learn
is the law of diminishing returns

After Many Happy Returns , it is the song closest to their original sound. Already released as a single , it was re recorded for the lp by Trevor Horn. A knowing lyric again , it is as if Martin Fry is saying its a cliché but at least I know its a cliché

Blueprint, that says that boy meets girl
Picture, girl meets boy
A blueprint that says that the boy meets the girl
Picture in a magazine

This must have been their first top of the pops appearance and it is pretty horrendous

Valentines Day brings side one to a close with its again it wears its influences high on its sleeve. It mixes the usual 80s drum whack with a disco backing mixed in with some easy listening cocktail music. Over which a rather unhinged Martin Fry mourns the state that love has left him in ,

When they find you beached on the barrier reef
And the only pleasure treasured is in map relief
The choice is yours sure, saint or thief
Don't ask me I already know

Yes they baked your cake in little slices
Kept your eye on rising prices
Wound up winning booby prizes
I'm sure you'd like to think you know what life is

Find destiny through magazines
Lip-licking, unzipping, Harpers and Queens
From here to eternity without in-betweens
Don't ask me, I already know

With your heart on parade and your heart on parole
I hope you find a sucker to buy that mink stole
School for scandal, guess who's enrolled?
So ask me, I already know

When I'm shaking a hand, I'm clenching a fist

If you gave me a pound for the moments I missed
And I got dancing lessons for all the lips I shoulda kissed
I'd be a millionaire, I'd be a Fred Astaire

This live version comes from when they toured the lp in 1982

Side two starts off with their most well known song and the one that cursed by 100 70's compilations has suffered through over familiarisation. Apparently Trevor Horn got the girl who had left Martin Fry and became the focus of all of his songs to come in a record the "goodbye". Not sure if it is an urban myth but if it is its a good one.

The gold lame suit and the dance routines did the trick whereas the video is  a massive misstep full of moments to make you cringe

Listening to it again properly , it is still a classic single with everything slotted together perfectly and as with the rest of the lp Anne Dudley's string arrangements spot on (amazingly her first go at arranging) , it is a shame it has been ruined by too many 80s discos and wedding parties.

Datestamp however benefits from being one of the lesser known songs . Trevor Horn adds in the ringing cash registers , before the Chic bass kicks in. Despite the best sales talk from sales assistants , the cynicism of a broken heart wins out

Love has no guarantee
promise of eternity
no chance of certainty
even with a pedigree
love has no guarantee

All leading up to the lps masterpiece.

The mixture of a poppy ballad, sweeping strings , everything including the kitchen sink production, a glossy sheen , high drama , clever clever word play - they are all present and correct.
skip the hearts and flowers , skip the ivory towers
You'll be disappointed and I'll lose a friend
I remember when it was released as a single , straining to hear the top 40 on a long car journey ( we didn't have a radio in the car , but we did have a small portable in which me , my mum and sister would take turns holding to try and get some kind of reception). I was convinced that it would straight in at number 1 and go on to be the biggest seller of all time.  When it emerged at 3 or 4 I knew then that there were an awful lot of people buying an awful lot of rubbish.
One of the reason I wont be doing a 125 singles (apart form wanting to stop the blog at 1000 posts) is I'll end up repeating myself - my favourite 3 are in reverse order Rattlesnakes , When Love Breaks Down and All of My Heart
It used to annoy the hell out of me that the single version would fade out and miss of the last 90 seconds where everything just melts together. It is as if the band , Trevor Horn and Anne Dudley just couldn't bring themselves to end it. Still the single version is all I have to offer
Yes I hope and I pray
That maybe someday
You'll walk in the room with my heart
And I shrug and I say
That maybe today
You'll come home soon
Surrendering that part-all of my heart
From the sublime to the ... well the bonkers that is Forever Together ( I even could live with the naff Prince like spelling 4ever 2gether of the title)
There is bitterness and defiance at the end
I stuck a marriage proposal
In the waste disposal
If that's the trash aesthetic,
I'd suggest that we forget it
The calm after the storm comes in the form of The Look of Love part 4 - a string instrumental of Look of Love., the message that the singer is still searching.
Lots of writers have tackled the lost love issue but as poetic as the Laughing Lens , the Dylans , etc are what this process has reminded me is that at heart I'm a pop fan and that often the music greats , over complicate and over analyse and spend maybe a tad too long tummy button staring. What is great about this lp is that it is universal language - totally disposable but just smart enough and with just enough depth to stick around. The art is pretending its art as another bunch of posers once said
As a result despite odd excursions into flavours of the rock week noisy guitar bands with attitude , scratchy guitar bands , arty guitar bands singer songwriters grasping at the meaning of life , the  music royalty new and old. this lp has refused to be shifted from the top of the pile.
As I got into the top 10 all the lps started to have something in common and that was when they came out there was a that feeling of "wish I'd made this" that was strong enough to be an ache. I love loads of stuff with a passion and I've got a taste broader than my top 125 may suggest but that feeling has only come maybe 10 or 12 times and never more so than with the Lexicon of Love   
Garry Mullholland in his book the Fear of Music sums it up nicely and with just the right level of ridiculous pretentiousness "Punk , Post Punk , disco , Mowtown , glam and all the possibilities suggested by all the best pop found a home somewhere among the gleeful pretensions and intense integrity housed inside the swelling strings and the swaggering swing of an album as familiar as wham yet as multi layered and deep as Dylan. The Lexicon of Love is the Citizen Kane of British pop albums and the anonymous girl that broke Martin's heart is its Rosebud"


  1. Great No 1 and really nice piece. Love this record. I still spin it fairly regularly.
    There's been a few POP concept LP's though, Sgt Pepper?

  2. Bravo! I had only a slight inkling of what album and what band might be your No. 1. I am greatly satisfied I must say. I decided to listent to the album as I read your post and you have hit all the right buttons. More satisfying than most of their mega celling contemporaries, yet just as well known. ABC would always travel their own chosen path and rarely repeat themselves.
    As much as I always wished Beauty Stab would have continued the shimmering, dense drama of Lexicon Of Love, I'm sure it was all for the best that it didn't happen.
    Tears Are Not Enough ranks in my all time favorites and Date Stamp and Many Happy Returns exist in a rarified Pop air for me.

    Favorite line from Lexicon Of Love -" When she gone, all I have to learn, is the law of dimishing returns. When shes near, one thing I've found, things get better second time around."

    Even with all that Trevor Horn production there is still a Punk attitude behind much of this album. Along with it you have Fry's homage to the Glam of Roxy Music, the disco bounce of Bernard Edwards and Nile Rogers and the lyrical wit of the best of 60's British Pop.

    Lexicon Of Love is a decade defining album set forth at the beginning of that decade.

    Thanks so much for this brilliant countdown. It inspired me to chose the 50 song which have had the most impact on me in my 50 years. Now I just have to get around to getting them down on my blog.

    1. Always thought Alphabet City wold have made a good follow up, although by default by design and sos from beauty stab could have fitted on lexicon

  3. So that's it! I completely forgot your admonishment when I had this at #30! I can't add much to your fine review and the comments already made, except to say...

    "Hip hip hooray, ay! Yippy ai, yippy ai, ay, ay!"

    #1 - ALASKA - "MIRACLE MILE" (2003)

    Easy choice... However given the opportunity it would be a tie - Alaska + Limbo. I've always said that Limbo is the perfect album, but Alaska first-love & the one closest to my heart. Note: My good buddy Eric's #1 desert island disc is Limbo, so were covering the bases!

    It took me years to eventually break out of my paranoid shell, and plunge into on-line purchasing. Alaska's intriguing 30 second sample teasers on Rainsound/Amazon were the catalyst in my search for the elusive Miracle Mile. Also a bit of a life-changer. I'd alway detested that on-line chat/blog thing that my wife was so mesmerized by. But somehow I got sucked into it with Hissyfit, and I must admit to being very grateful as I'd probably have remained dormant in a cultural vacuum. Music has always been a passion. With the demise of record stores, formatted radio and general indifference to intelligent music, I really can't express how much I appreciate all of the sharing with kindred spirits meeting at Hissyfit & COS... keeping that passion alive.

    We've already discussed at length how special Alaska is, and I don't want this to turn into a brown-nosing eulogy, although I'm sure Di's boy-friend wouldn't mind. I'll just say that fantastic musical magic emanates fom that infamous "Cinnamon Chair." I'm thinking it's probably due for a good cleaning or reupholstering by now...

    PS: This Top 125 was a hell of a climb! Thanks guys for a wonderful ride...

    1. You are a gent Tim. I'm always a little overwhelmed when I get this kind of response to my music. Marcus and I do write to connect; because we don't gig we seldom see the connections so... the pats on the back are all the more precious for that.
      The Cinnamon Chair will remain untouched.
      There's plenty of good juice left in it...
      You need to come visit to see it and sit in situ TT...

    2. I went for Alaska as well although up until the night before it was going to be limbo . Ask me today as me and the wife look through photos of our trip to californiyiia and it is candids. I think it is a measure of the artist rather than the record when you have 2/3/4 lps jockeying for being the best

  4. A sweet sugar rush this album.
    Punchy as hell too.
    Soundtrack to my college years...
    Great call David... and thanks for starting all of this.
    I fear that I became one of your over analytical belly button gazers but I just couldn't help myself.
    Why use 10 words when 100 will do?
    Thanks for indulging me )amongst others).
    We all need to find a reason to share a bar and drink beer...

    1. can never have too many words and a dose of self absorption is healthy! what I love about this is that it gets the mixture of flippancy and depth absolutely right (as all the best pop bands do - pet shop boys and smiths two others that when on song got it right). I guess I meant there are some singers I love but occasionally want to give them a good shake and tell them to lighten up a bit!.

  5. I wonder what Fry's up to these days... I hope that he is still in music.
    I fear that he might be a computer software salesman.
    I'd rather he was a plumber...

    1. I think he is pretty much a perm fixture on the 80s nostalgia tour circuit.
      he released 2 more recent lps under the abc name both with some great stuff on and a much stronger early roxy influence. ..... And he is great at fixing leaking taps

    2. I love both Skyscraping and Traffic. Have to agree that Roxy plays a very big part in both but especially Skyscraping. In fact Skyscraping is really one of the "band's" strongest albums for me. With the help of Glenn Gregory and Keith Lowndes, Fry was able to find is muse again and come up with the goods.

  6. It's an awesome album but one thing that's always just slightly bugged me is that I wish they'd swapped some of the lyrics around in "4 Ever 2 Gether". It would have been fantastic to have "You saw Mohammed move the mountain" as the last words on the album.

    Has anyone ever checked whether the scene on the front comes from the book seen lying on the floor on the back?

  7. Alex you have me rummaging around for my vinyl version

  8. Thats it, the end!? Thanks for a great series, David and thanks for letting me hitch a ride. I've been entertained, amused and educated every step of the way.I'm now the proud owner of quite a few more CD's thanks to you. Think the last one through the post box was Balloon. Totally new to me but what a great album.Also got turned on to House of Love, The Hit Parade and Gene some 15 to 20 years after the event.Still better late than never, eh?
    So , to the matter at hand. No wonder you gave me a TOO LOW when I put Lexicon at my #110 spot! Although I really like the album, ABC,to me were very much a singles band. They were at their peak when I was a DJ at a local indie/elecro club and if I wanted to fill the dance floor ABC would certainly do that for me, usually in 12" form.
    #1 Miracle Mile - Glow
    At the time of 'Glows' release Prefab Sprouts 'Jordan' had been my #1 album for 15 years, and that had nudged out 'Steve McQueen' from the #1 spot, so I really thought Jordan would be at the top until my dying day or if it was to be de-throned it would be by another Prefab Sprout album. Then 'Glow' arrived.Even the CD packaging was fantastic!, but those songs just somehow connected me with my past.I'd sit and listen to it night after night sipping at my Glenfiddich. Marcuss' furnishings of Trevs songs are remarkable. The addition of hammond organ and fugle horn together with BJ Cole and Melvin Duffys Pedal steel all make the album have a 60's feel while still sounding 21st century. I love the album as a whole, but if I had to pick favourite tracks it would be'What Kate Did Next' ( Bacharach eat your heart out), 'Heels For Dust' ( memories from the playground), 'Call it Home' ( memories can creep deep into your bones) and 'Hey,Light Of Day'.
    Glow, really is music for the soul.

    1. Cheers Phil

      Glow is a great lp as they all are - top 5 glow tracks for me
      can I start again please
      what kate did next
      heels for dust
      an average sadness
      paper planes and ponytails

  9. Thumbs way up Phil! Glow very deserving of top slot...
    'Kate' is pure bliss. Those horns... Ah!!!

  10. After following your list for lo these many weeks, I found myself a little nervous about seeing your No. 1. What if it was a pick I didn't love? Could I still give a big thank you for all of your labor at the bottom of said album?

    I should have had more faith. Inspired choice, my friend.

    Your list got me to the record shop on more than one occasion. I especially owe you big for 'George Best.' I can't stop listening to that one. Keep up the good work. I'm in awe of your passion for the music.

    1. Cheers Brian - appreciate the comments - gald George Best has struck a chord - anyone I should be listening to?

  11. I hope you guys won't mind but I'm going to copy some of your MM affirmations over onto Hissyfit.
    If you'd rather I didn't, please just speak up...
    Cheers and thanks again for the company...


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