Well, I’m anxious to at least get a little further into the ‘A’ section of my collection than ABC, so maybe I’m a little glad that I don’t actually have the album this one is associated with, and I can keep it brief.
After the third album, ABC came back with a fourth in 1987, “Alphabet City.” Between 1982’s “The Lexicon of Love” and this fourth release, something huge had happened in the music business — the compact disc. CD players became within reach of the average stereophile in 1985. I bought my first one, a very nice Denon disc player, for a really pretty stiff $350 — representing something very close to a week’s work at the time. CDs also carried a staggering price, retailing at $15-17 when the top vinyl was no more than $12 and usually less, and being in very limited range. But, particularly for someone who was on a classical binge at the time, the “perfection” and permanence of the CD was a huge draw. And by 1987, when Alphabet City came out, I was thinking seriously about whether I preferred to buy something in vinyl (more for music I wasn’t sure of) or CD (when I knew I would want it forever). “Alphabet City” fell into the “I’m sure I want it” camp, so I do not have it on vinyl, but apparently I still bought the 12” singles because I was that much of a fanboy. Not surprisingly, the big single was “When Smokey Sings.”
“Alphabet City” is an excellent album, the best followup to “Lexicon” that they made. Intricate, interesting, and a little bit inventive. For me, the track that always stood out was the extended (“The Whole Story”) version of “The Night You Murdered Love,” with an early-ish rap break that actually adds to the song. But that was only on the CD.
“When Smokey Sings” falls into a problematic area for me: the name-drop song, the song that elicits recognition of a some other familiar artist or song or thing, and tugs at your affection for that other thing. Some are laundry list songs, like Reunion’s “Life Is A Rock” — a stack of associations that are meant to make us feel something about the bands and songs they’re recalling. Amy Rigby’s “Dancing with Joey Ramone” is a more recent example. Because I know I’m reacting to those associations, not to the song itself, I sometimes hate that I like them.
So yes, this whole song is built around an appreciation for Smokey Robinson, and it borrows a bit from “The Tears of a Clown.” It’s still a good song — the lyrics are decent, though not nearly their finest. A bit of an earworm, it will climb into your brain whether you want it to or not.
Coverwise — meh. A vaselined photo of Martin Fry and Mark White, looking debonair, but still . . .
While we’re at it, let’s just dispose of this one. In 1989, ABC came out with an album called “Up.” I know that I have the CD in my collection. I also know that I have, almost inexplicably, the 12” single for “One Better World.” Not trying to be cruel, but I’m not even going to play these to remember what I thought of them, because they’re simply unmemorable. “Beauty Stab” had the virtue of being annoying and having some memorable if unsatisfying songs. This? Again, meh.