"We are committed and if we succeed we'll succeed magnificently, and if we fail it will be a magnificent failure. The magnificence is important." - Martin Fry, The Face, 1981
"I wanted to dress the city and create something that was opposite to all the drabness that was infiltrating my vision." Billy MacKenzie
"This year belonged, more than to anyone else in British pop, to ABC and The Associates - New Pop's last stand." Garry Mulholland, This is Uncool (Cassell, 2002)
"William it was really nothing." Morrissey, 1984
In 1982 I left home.
In 1982 I fell in love.
In 1982 I believed in pop more than I believed in anything.
These two records are why.
I'm cheating again. But the Not Fade Away Standards and Ethics Committee aren't back yet from their half-term holiday and in truth I can't separate these two records. They're locked together in my head. The sound of being 19. Twin visions of impossible glamour. A Scottish pop song that is laughing at the drunkenness of things being various. A Sheffield post-punk band who called on the producer of the day to make a sound so huge, so crisp, so modern they come to embody the romance they sought to dramatise.
I must have first seen ABC on Saturday morning children's telly. I fell for them at that moment on Poison Arrow when the drums fall off a cliff after the woman in the song tells singer Martin Fry "I care enough to know I can never love you". Implausibly, their next single, The Look of Love was even better. It had things in it I've always loved - and still love - in pop records. Real strings, trumpets, a talky bit ("And though my friends just might ask me/ They say "Martin maybe one day you'll find true love"/ I say "maybe, there must be a solution/ To the one thing, the one thing, we can't find").
It also had a girl - the girl, the actual girl, who had dumped Fry, who had broken his heart, who made him write the songs that made up the album The Lexicon of Love - telling him on the record "Goodbye".
The Look of Love is playful, poised, possibly perfect. ABC had heard something in the pristine sheen of pop duo Dollar's singles and sought out their producer Trevor Horn, formerly a member of The Buggles and Yes. Horn was the vehicle to fulfil the band's pop dream.
"At the time I used to say it was Chic meeting the Sex Pistols," Fry told Daryl Easlea in 2004. "It was in the air - people wanted to make music that was more sophisticated, but still had some attitude. Punk rock taught us that your record had to have an indelible stamp; it had to have your personality right through it. We wanted to create our own world, definitely. We wanted to create a stage play, a movie - that's why there's a stage on the [Lexicon of Love] cover. We wanted to make The Human League sound like Chicory Tip; we wanted to make Cabaret Voltaire sound like Showaddywaddy."
ABC were ambitious. With Horn's help they would sound it too. Some of that ambition was for success, for hits, for magazine covers, yes. Some of it was for the sound they sought and the ideas they wanted to express (Fry had a Costello-esque delight in wordplay). The resulting album was the acme of that idea so much in the air in 1982, New Pop. And The Look of Love single was its most welcoming, confident calling card.
Still, there were other challengers to the title. Simple Minds even managed a glittering album in 1982 before becoming stadium bores. It was a good year for Scottish pop all round. Even the haunted, slightly stoned disco of Odyssey's Inside Out came with a tartan label, courtesy of its writer Jesse Rae. But ABC's most fervent, most gifted, most excessive challengers came from Dundee.
If Fry needed a gold lame suit to make him look like a pop star, Billy MacKenzie and Alan Rankine were pop to their very cheekbones. Two beautiful men making music that was voluptuous, giddy, overwrought, sumptuous. And that's just on Party Fears Two.
"The first time I heard the Associates was when I saw 'Party Fears Two' on Top Of The Pops," music critic Simon Reynolds wrote in the Melody Maker in 1990. "It was one of those moments - the first snarl of 'Anarchy in the UK', the first spin and reel of 'This Charming Man', the first giddy sip of Prince - when the mind gapes, you exhale sheer awe. Billy Mackenzie oozed such illegal self-assurance, lethal panache, supernatural elegance. It was a revelation, a ravishing."
The Radio 2 DJ Steve Wright once said Party Fears Two was the sound of a man going mad. And it is a manic record. Those eerie, artificial opening notes, the trebly skitter of the music, and MacKenzie's preposterously rich voice; a singer who sounds as if he's as ready to topple over. As if he's reached as high as he can go and only willpower and self-belief is keeping him up.
Talking about making the accompanying album Sulk, producer Mike Hedges told Uncut's Paul Lester in 1997: "We used everything that was available to us to make it sound as unusual as possible. If you knew Billy, it was OK. Because he would say things like, 'It's got to sound like Abba meets Bet Lynch on acid,' or 'It must sound like after it's been raining and the sun comes out,' and I would instantly know exactly what he meant."
Party Fears Two sounds like Abba meets Bet Lynch on acid times 20. It makes me yelp in delight every time I hear it.
Of course the contradictions of new pop - the desire for glamour and the desire to put quotation marks around that glamour at the same time - meant that it couldn't last. Soon others - Duran Duran, Phil Collins and all the rest - would hollow out its core and wear its brazen, shiny skin to the top of the charts.
Fry and MacKenzie both did their best to destroy their own pop careers. ABC's second album Beauty Stab - although never as bad as is claimed - failed because it wasn't Lexicon of Love, And for being slathered in guitar. MacKenzie, meanwhile, fell out with Rankine and could never recaptured the hiccuping pleasure he delivered in 1982. He died by his own hand in 1997. A lost boy in every way.
I met Martin Fry in Glasgow some years ago. He turned up to be interviewed wearing a tracksuit. I felt betrayed.
Walking on Sunshine, Rockers Revenge featuring Donnie Calvin
Say Hello, Wave Goodbye, Soft Cell
Inside Out, Odyssey
Club Country, The Associates
The Message, Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five
Poison Arrow, ABC
Town Cryer, Elvis Costello and the Attractions
Shipbuilding, Robert Wyatt
Back on the Chain Gang, The Pretenders
The Day Before You Came, Abba
Straight to Hell, The Clash
Our House, Madness
Sexual Healing, Marvin Gaye
B Movie, Gil Scott Heron
Temptation, New Order
Just an Illusion, Imagination
The Revolutionary Spirit, The Wild Swans
Back of Love, Echo and the Bunnymen
Forget Me Nots, Patrice Rushen
Love Come Down, Evelyn Champagne King
Living on the Ceiling, Blancmange
New Gold Dream, Simple Minds
Golden Brown, The Stranglers
State of Independence, Donna Summer
Mambo Bado, Orchestra Makassy
I'm a Wonderful Thing, Baby, Kid Creole and the Coconuts
Torch, Soft Cell
My Jamaican Guy, Grace Jones
Buffalo Gals, Malcolm McLaren and the World's Famous Supreme Team
Lion in My Own Garden (Exit Somone) , Prefab Sprout
Come on Eileen, Dexys Midnight Runners
The NME single of the year: The Message, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
And the best-selling single of 1982: Come On Eileen, Dexys Midnight Runners