139. Genesis, “Abacab”
“It was just time to be a bit braver,” Mike Rutherford explained about the creative process that eventually resulted in Abacab, the eleventh studio about from Genesis, released in 1981. Driven largely by the deliberately overblown theatricality favored by Peter Gabriel, the band’s founding lead singer, Genesis were prog rock cult heroes in the nineteen-seventies. As the band pared down through the years, eventually settling on bassist/guitarist Rutherford, keyboardist Tony Banks, and singer/drummer Phil Collins. Established as that trio, the group started finding a way to pare down their sound with the hope for more radio-friendly singles as part of the goal. “We did try to avoid Genesis cliches on this album,” Banks said. “Things like always bringing in a tambourine on the chorus and the big instrumental passages we had used on the previous five albums.” The album’s title cut, which also served as the second single, took its name from a bit of working shorthand. The original progression of the song went from verse to chorus to verse to bridge to verse to chorus. On their internal documentation, the verse was designated by the letter A, the chorus by the letter B, and the bridge by the letter C. When written out, it read “ABACAB.” Though the structure changed, the studio notation remained and became the title of the song and, indeed, the whole album. Among other embellishments, the track featured an audio-manipulated horn section, provided by the uncredited EWF Horns. According to Collins, this particular addition was an especially flagrant refutation of former sounds to certain fans. “Who said we can’t have horns on it?” said Collins. “It’s our fucking record! So we did it, and people hated it.”
There was a little chart action for the Fixx from the singles released off of their 1982 debut album, Shuttered Room, but the band’s flaring success truly arrived the following year. Their sophomore effort, Reach the Beach, had a delivered a string of Top 40 hits, including the second single, “One Things Lead to Another.” That represented the Fixx’s most successful trek up the charts, making into the Billboard Top 5. According to lead vocalist Cy Curnin, the song also delivered a political statement, weighing in on the virulent dishonesty of prospective leaders. “If you’re going to be a liar, you’d better be a damn good liar and remember what you said,” Chernin explained, “or the whole thing’s going to get pear shaped.” Like many bands in the early nineteen-eighties, the Fixx benefitted from committing to music videos at precisely the point that MTV became an unexpected arbiter of the music of the moment. They worked regularly with director Jeannette Obstoj, who brought her own arty interpretations to the songs, including “One Thing Leads to Another.” “You know, Jeannette’s concept on that video with the big tube was that it was a birthing canal, with that constant movement forward,” Curnin later explained. It may not have matched his own conception of the track, but it undoubtedly helped lift it to the upper reaches of the chart.
In 1985, Simple Minds were on top of the pop culture world, and they felt the excitement of the moment. Though there was a slightly bittersweet element to the enormous chart-topping success of the single “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” since the band were effectively hired hands brought on to deliver a song they didn’t write, it was undeniable that their profile had been raised significantly enough to draw eager ears to whatever they did next. “Alive and Kicking,” released in the fall as the first single to the album Once Upon a Time and the official follow-up to their huge hit culled from the soundtrack to The Breakfast Club, was composed in the glow of all that newfound possibility. “We had the music first, and it just sounded so glorious, so positive,” lead singer Jim Kerr said. “At the time we were working in America. I remember we recorded some of it upstate in the Catskills and then we came down to finish it off. We were in New York, it was summer, Manhattan. We could feel the band was really on the verge of something, and I think that positivity and that idea of hope formed the lyrics.” That premonition of pending accomplishment proved accurate. “Alive and Kicking” made it up to #3 on the Billboard chart and represented the first of three straight Top 40 singles from the album.
As we go along, I’ll build a YouTube playlist of all the songs in the countdown. The hyperlinks associated with each numeric entry lead directly to the individual song on the playlist. All images nicked from Discogs.