All-Time Albums: #56


ABC How To Be A Millionaire!

Fear Of The World 3:51
2 Be Near Me 3:39 (UK Single, #26)
3 Vanity Kills 3:28 (UK Single, #70)
Ocean Blue 3:33 (UK Single remixed, #51)
15 Storey Halo 5:35
6 A To Z 2:50
(How To Be A) Millionaire 3:35 (UK single, #49)
8 Tower Of London 3:39
9 So Hip It Hurts 4:19
10 Between You & Me 3:19

Pop stands still for no one. But equally, if you change too fast, or change too much, pop will leave you behind just the same. Ask ABC.

A little over 3 years on from their seminal Lexicon Of Love topping the UK charts after consecutive Top 10 hits (Poison Arrow, Look of Love, All Of My Heart), …Zillionaire was unleashed to a chorus of deafening apathy. Debuting at #28, it would be gone forever from the Top 100 in less a month.

Of course, the ABC of 1985 were frankly unrecognisable from the 1982 model. There was no Trevor Horn in the producer’s chair and two of the band had left, to be replaced by “non performing” members from the US (Eden and David Yarritu). A complete image overhaul saw them presented as gaudy Hanna Barbera cartoon characters, a mass of bright yellows, blues, reds and pinks. ABC’s commercial fortunes had already begun to decline by 1984, when “S.O.S.” – the 2nd single from their 2nd album Beauty Stab – tanked at #39, and the UK record-buying public didn’t know what to make of it all.

America was far kinder, recognising the brilliant electro-influenced beats of the (almost) title track and elevating the fairly old-school ABC ballad Be Near Me into the Hot 100 top 10 at #9. Nevertheless, the Zillionaire line-up was soon disbanded, Martin Fry and Mark White going back to the Lexicon blueprint for the next album.

Beneath the cartoon capers, this is one of ABC’s best albums. Strip away the concept of the members who don’t play instruments and the distracting visual stylings, and you are left with some really, really good music. Martin Fry’s lyrics have rarely been sharper and cleverer than on How To Be A Millionaire, the lead single issued a year ahead of the album (and sadly not in its 7″ form on here; you have to buy an obscure ’80s compilation to get that on CD!).

Some album campaigns just seem to get everything wrong; either through circumstances beyond their control, bad luck or poor timing. Whilst there’s little the band or Phonogram could do about the first single only making #49, releasing it just before Christmas was hardly a great idea. Then, as Be Near Me regained a little momentum in early 1985 (partly, it has to be said, because the single was double-packed with their old hits), the band/label didn’t put the album out. Instead, they waited 6 more months, by which time the worst ABC single in history (Vanity Kills) had bombed spectacularly, Live Aid happened, and absolutely nobody gave a damn about the band by October 1985.

Martin Fry had also become unwell during the year, which might explain why the album was delayed so much (and why a planned single release of 15 Storey Halo was pulled). They waited until early 1986 to release the record’s true standout moment, the gorgeous ballad Ocean Blue. In some ways, it was a minor miracle that the single made #51.

There is a fantastic album here (Vanity Kills aside, although a subsequent US remix made it slightly more palatable). Imagine if they’d launched with the Millionaire single in early 1985, then Be Near Me, then the album, followed by Fear Of The World (or 15 Storey Halo) and rounded off with Ocean Blue. One of pop’s great “what ifs” for me.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s