1980 in Sheffield, England
Core '80s Group Members:
- Martin Fry (born March 9, 1958 in Manchester, England) - Lead vocals, songwriter
- Mark White (born April 1, 1961 in Sheffield, England) - Guitars, synthesizers, backing vocals, songwriter
The genesis of ABC is one of those rare stories in the music business where rock journalism actually promoted and nurtured a collaboration of significance. In most cases, as Cameron Crowe's 2000 film Almost Famous reminds us, such relationships are tenuous at best and not given to creative fusion, but when Martin Fry interviewed members of Vice Versa for his fanzine, the band issued an invitation for him to join as lead vocalist. At this point ABC settled on a name change and, under the direction of Fry, became a versatile pop band marketed under the umbrella of new wave and New Romantic styles.
Lacking the dark, atmospheric flourishes of many contemporary synth pop bands with which they were aligned, ABC emerged quickly with a soul/R&B influence that drew distinction among early-'80s new wave offerings. The group's debut album, The Lexicon of Love, burst onto the British charts in 1982, eventually climbing to No. 1 and becoming one of the year's most well-regarded records. American success took some time, but both "Poison Arrow" and "The Look of Love (Part 1)" became prominent Top 40 U.S. pop hits, establishing ABC as one of the era's earliest imports of electronic pop elegance.
A Risky Change of Pace:
Perhaps not completely satisfied by its uncomplicated placement within the new wave of stylish English pop, ABC switched things up for 1983's Beauty Stab, employing a much more rock-oriented, guitar-based approach. The somewhat tepid reception to the album combined with personnel changes (distinctive drummer David Palmer left the same year, while original member and saxophone player Stephen Singleton exited in 1984) to create the appearance of a decline in the band's fortunes. Perhaps its UK success was on the wane, but American audiences would warm up nicely to the duo of Fry and White moving forward.
The ABCs of a Solid Career:
Showing impressive resiliency, Fry and White celebrated 1985 with their first Top 10 American hit, the tunefully pleasant "Be Near Me." The use of session musicians and even a couple of non-performing members for image enhancement did not detract from the effective songwriting partnership of the duo, and following a bout with Hodgkin's disease, Fry bounced back to contribute nicely to Alphabet City, a record that surprisingly maintained ABC's momentum well past the life spans of many other so-called New Romantic artists. "When Smokey Sings" emphasized a retro soul interest and was a radio favorite.
More Adaptation Defines Fry's Vision:
For its final studio releases of its first, most vital phase, ABC began to delve explicitly into house music, the electronic music style that would come alive in England during this period and go on to dominate the '90s. The duo's interest in techno sounds was not completely new, as ABC's music had always contained formative elements of that style. Still, one of the primary reasons for the group's remarkable consistency on both the charts and on the radar of pop audiences continued to be the duo's willingness and eagerness to explore related genres within the framework of accessible pop.
Fry Takes Hiatus, Leads ABC Revival Alone:
The original '80s core of ABC would not reform after 1992's split, with Fry joining White in exiting the business for most of the decade. However, Fry revived the name for touring purposes in 1997 and has kept at it rather consistently ever since, showing up often for '80s nostalgia tours, frequently in tandem with other contemporaries looking for similar returns to glory. Palmer returned to the fold in 2004 and has collaborated with Fry continuously ever since, most recently on tour and for a new album release, Traffic, in 2008.