Like a shaft of gleaming gold light the Lexicon of Love by ABC illuminated the dance floors across the UK, as the girls and boys got on down to some love strutting. The album’s sharp, high-gloss production by the Sheffield- based band saw their long player top the charts in 1982.
It took blue-eyed British funk to new heights with the help of the indomitable producer/musician wunderkind Trevor Horn. Along with Fry’s heart-rending emotional lyrics, that every girl wanted to hear and every guy wanted to whisper, it connected and found an audience that took it to the top of the British charts with songs for the dance floor like The Look of Love, Poison Arrow, the funk-infused Tears Are Not Enough and its magnum opus, All of My Heart, all helped along by some magnificent orchestration by Anne Dudley. Lexicon still sounds sharp and focused and for me has lost nothing of its original appeal.
Sitting down with the very talkative lead singer and writer Martin Fry is a joy, for one thing you ask him a question and you can sit back and listen in detail to an era when synthesizers were becoming affordable and that huge high drama cinematic production was in its infancy:
“We wanted to make something very emotional. A lot of music at the time was about electricity pylons and abstract concepts and we wanted to take our audience on an emotional rollercoaster ride,” explains Fry. “We tried to incorporate two different worlds. We were listening to the Cure and Joy Division along with Earth, Wind and Fire and Chic. It has been a lifelong attempt to try and fuse those two worlds together.”
The roots of the album and its writing go back to Martin’s formative years in the north. He was born in Stretford, Manchester, before moving to Cheadle Hulme in Stockport and formed his first band Vice Versa, while he was studying English literature at Sheffield University.
He had realised as a kid that he was never going to play for Manchester United and when he saw the likes of Bolan, Bowie and Ferry on Top of the Pops, he saw a way out at the advent of punk. “In 1977 I was going to the Electric Circus and the Lesser Free Hall and I saw the Sex Pistols for the first time. These days about fifty thousand people claim to have seen them at that gig but I was genuinely one of about 200 people there.
“The Pistols were fantastic to a 17-year-old like myself, wandering around the streets of Manchester, dreaming of being in a rock and roll band. Punk was exactly what I needed. It opened a lot of doors and it made music more approachable to someone who had no skills like myself. It was inspiring.”
The production of Horn on Lexicon of Love was a masterstroke that paid great dividends. “We heard Hand Held in Black and White by Dollar, which Trevor Horn had produced and it was like a widescreen record, it was a revolutionary sound and we wanted that kind of sound.”
“We were full of ourselves at the time and we would talk to the music papers and tell them that we were going to be incredible and then you realise you can talk it, but then you’ve got to walk it, so we had to make a great record. Every band at the time had a manifesto and we were done with matt and got into gloss. We wanted to make people dance.”
Listening back now, it sounds lush with high-production values, augmented with a smattering of beautifully crafted songs that got you off your seat. This album must have taken acute, detailed planning and an age to make?
“The record was recorded in about six to seven weeks; back then other bands would spend a year or more making an album, so it was done quickly by comparison. It was strange when it was finished. We didn’t sit back and enjoy its success, we were too busy looking over our shoulder to see what Soft Cell, Spandau Ballet or Duran Duran were doing, we had little time to pat ourselves on the back”.
You can see ABC performing Lexicon of Love accompanied by the South Bank Sinfonia, conducted by Anne Dudley in March at Birmingham Symphony Hall (28th), The Lowry Salford (29th) and at the Theatre Royal Dury Lane London (30th).
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news