Songs That Changed My Life - Part One of a New Series
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Part One - ABC "That Was Then, But This Is Now"
Why make the past your sacred cow?
I guess you've changed,
You've changed and how
Those prophetic words kicked off "Beauty Stab," the second album from Sheffield's ABC, and boy, they weren't kidding. After achieving worldwide success with their debut, "Lexicon of Love", and its two hit singles "The Look of Love" and "Poison Arrow", anyone expecting more syrupy ballads and white soul funk from the now-reduced to a trio were sorely disappointed. They changed and how. And sales of this follow-up album reflected that. Whereas "Lexicon" went Gold in the U.S. and around the world, "Beauty Stab" quickly sank without a trace.
Vocalist Martin Fry and his bandmates Mark White and Steve Singleton took a breath from their previous whirlwind success and stopped to look at the United Kingdom, circa 1983. And what they saw must have pissed them off royally, because "Beauty Stab" reflects plenty of stab, hold the beauty. Unemployment, violence, Eighties greed, you name it, they were railing against it, and nothing sums up the entire album better than the lead-off single "That Was Then, But This Is Now". It also doubles as a message to their fans, telling them they better forget seeing another goofy Benny Hill-ish video and hearing another sappy heartbreak song. There's a new ABC in town. This ABC cranked up the Roxy Music-isms on HIGH, drowning the tunes in washy guitar, thundering drums, sax riffs and lush orchestration that actualy hightened the tension, rather than soothing it. And the lyrics...there was bile and anger, then goofy couplets like this:
Help yourself to another piece of
Even now I'm not sure if that's brilliant, stupid or stupidly brilliant.
I first heard this song via the video on MTV, and thought I got hit by a sledge hammer. It was like nothing my 15-year old ears had heard before, this beautfully arranged rage. I ran to Kamm's Record Shop in downtown Elyria, Ohio, got the 45 (with the instrumental b-side, the appropriately named "Vertigo") and ran it into the ground. I had the single's picture sleeve, a close-up of Mark White's hand strumming an electric guitar so hard it blurred, hung on my locker door.
I'd like to think I did my part to help this single peak at #89 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart.
ABC was the shit. And just when I didn't think they could get any better, two years later they would surprise me again. But that's a tale for an upcoming chapter.
Until then, enjoy ABC's "That Was Then, This Is Now"