White Label Wednesday: ABC, “How to Be a…Zillionaire,” the remixes

Written by Music, White Label

They’ve mostly been forgotten in the US, but ABC is one of David Medsker’s favorite bands — and their 1985 remixes are perfect for this week’s installment of White Label Wednesday.

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Truth be told, How to Be a…Zillionaire! (1985) is probably my fifth favorite album by ABC. The Lexicon of Love (1982) is easily my favorite, followed by 1983’s much-maligned Beauty Stab (that sound you just heard was Mojo Flucke saying “Aww, HELL yeah!”). Their two most recent albums, the import-only Skyscraping (1997) and Traffic (2008), come next. You read that right: ABC released an album last year. And it’s damn good.

But 1985 was the year when remix culture caught up with ABC, so I was perfectly happy to buy the 12″ singles and leave the album to collect dust on the record store shelves. I finally bought it in the early ’90s, when I wanted those 12″ mixes on CD. I’ve still never listened to the album all the way through since then, though. I know it, of course, from listening to my friends’ cassette copies – ooh, does your copy have the version of “A to Z” where Eden says “I want you to kiss my snatch”? – but I would not call Zillionaire essential listening, largely because the 12″ mixes blow the doors off of the album versions.

I should qualify the statement that remix culture caught up with ABC. That’s technically true, but in the case of our first remix, it’s catch-up by means of going way back.

Be Near Me (Munich Disco Mix)
It may not seem like it now, but the decision to go full disco in 1985 was incredibly ballsy. Remember, earlier that summer, John Cusack played a character whose father was trying to talk him into attending a dance because there would be disco music, and “you kids are into that disco thing.” To which Cusack, exhausted by his father’s attempts to relate to him, says, “Disco?! Come on, Dad.” But ABC knew us better than we knew ourselves. The wah-wah percussion, the string hits…they’re completely unlike anything out at the time, which is why they sound so fantastic. This version is about 30 seconds shorter than the version that appeared on the US 12″. Not sure why they felt the need to fade it out so early, but I do know that I gotsta get me a damn USB turntable.

UPDATE: I clearly haven’t played the Zillionaire CD in a while, because the full-length mix of “Be Near Me” is on it. I’ve since replaced the edit with the full-length. I R baboon.

Be Near Me (Ecstasy Mix)
This is the B-side mix of the song, a remix/dub mix hybrid of sorts. It has a lot of the same elements as the Munich mix, but isn’t as, um, fabulous. Still, I love the processed ‘ecstasy’ and ‘next to me’ bits, plus the break where someone, presumably then-bassist David Yarritu, is slappin’ the bass.

How to Be a Millionaire (Bond St. Mix)
This was also a B-side mix, and a marked departure from the merely extended Nickel & Dime Mix that graced Side I of the US 12″. This mix is actually quite groundbreaking, as there are elements here that Phil Harding would go on to use in nearly every mix he had a hand in assembling. The galloping kick drum is the most obvious bit, but the delayed hand claps are not far behind. My favorite part, though, was the guitar solo, if you want to call it that. It’s just a guy running his pick down a string, over and over. How awesome is that?

How to Be a Millionaire (Wall St. Mix)
My favorite ABC mix, right here. This is from a 1984 UK 12″ single, and as you’ll quickly see, it bears little resemblance to its American counterpart. The instrumentation is nothing but a couple keyboard parts and a heavy kick-driven drum track. There is also a chorus of vocal samples in the ‘billions, billions, billions, billions, billions of pounds’ segment, along with some wild EQ trickery. We learn that this mix was the birth of the pick-on-string guitar solo, and they EQ’d the bejeezus out of that, too.

Vanity Kills (USA Remix)
This 12″ came several months after “Millionaire,” and the generic sleeve suggests that its release was an afterthought. Which is a shame, because they did a magnificent job stripping out everything that was overdone on the original track and making this sound as Lexicon-y as possible. They even put a beefy sax bit before the instrumental break, to suggest Steven Singleton was back in the band. (He wasn’t.) Even better, the B-side contained a really nice ABC Megamix, featuring four songs from Zillionaire, and ending with, of all things, “15 Storey Halo.” Go figure.

Tower of London (Extended Mix)
Also on the B-side to the US “Millionaire” 12″ single, this mix is nothing extraordinary, just an extended instrumental of sorts. But it has yet to appear on any official releases that I’m aware of, so if you’ve been looking for it, here ya go.