Number Ones: #104


  • ABC When Smokey Sings (Mercury)
  • Week Ending 20th June 1987
  • 2 Weeks At #1


As glorious returns (and unexpectedly successful returns) go, few felt sweeter than ABC’s comeback in the early summer of 1987. In truth, they had only been away for less than 18 months, thanks to the belated release of Ocean Blue which had finally brought the curtain down on a troubled period for Martin Fry and company.

Fry’s brush with severe health issues in 1985 saw the campaign for How To Be A Zillionaire end in a whimper (not that it ever actually got going, with a flop lead single, a poor third single and the aforementioned Ocean Blue emerging long after the album’s ship had sailed). Some chart action in America, where Be Near Me and How To Be A Millionaire went Top 20, helped to compensate for all the cards ABC were dealt at the hands of fate. Yet, where the UK was concerned, it had been a puzzling decline since the heady months of 1982 when The Lexicon Of Love topped the album chart and its trio of classic singles peaked at #4, #5 and #6.

1983’s Beauty Stab confused everyone, and the label pulled the plug after just two (albeit fantastic) singles both underperformed.  The trials and tribulations of …Zillionaire, along with a radical (and even more confusing) image change, compounded their problems. Exactly who and what were ABC anymore, and did ABC themselves actually know?

Happily, by 1987 ABC had decided that they were going back to being the ABC everybody loved in 1982. More or less. The line-up was down to Martin Fry and Mark White, and the sound was Lexicon-y enough while also keeping up with contemporary styles. Having sounded so strangely out of place as recently as 1986, ABC now slotted in perfectly with the emerging sounds of Swing Out Sister, Curiosity Killed The Cat, Terence Trent D’Arby and Hue & Cry.

It also helped hugely that, in When Smokey Sings, ABC had come up with their most commercial and appealing single in half a decade. The stars aligned in a confection that managed to pay homage to the Motown legend of the title, riff on Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ most famous hit Tears Of A Clown with its clever horn refrain, and of course evoke that Lexicon-y sound in the process. Hurrah!

(ABC being ABC, there had to be a catch….and, just as the album mix of 1984’s How To Be A Millionaire decided that some clumsy samples would improve a magnificent 7″ version, the mix of When Smokey Sings that appeared a few months later on Alphabet City had a new middle-eight that added some extra tributes to Luther Vandross and James Brown where a gorgeous string arrangement had previously been.)

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