ABC’s “The Lexicon Of Love” album is one of the high watermarks of 1980s pop, released in 1982 it’s shiny surfaces and theatrical romanticism pretty much set the template for the flashy, hedonistic, post-modern decade to come. Which makes it a little ironic that the day I bought it I found myself in a place haunted by the once-glamourous ghosts from another pop era and as a result it’s always linked in my mind with rather more dismal surroundings than the grand, velvet-draped ballroom you imagine ABC playing it in.
I bought the album one Saturday afternoon when I was down the King’s Road in Chelsea with some mates and when we stepped out of the Our Price record shop with our purchases it started to piss down with rain — real monsoon-like buckets of it — so we ran to take shelter in the nearest boozer, which happened to be The Chelsea Drugstore.
This was the first and only time I’d been in there and had no idea then about it’s legendary past, to me it was just this dingy place I’d walked past a million times that never looked very inviting. But when it opened in 1968 The Chelsea Drugstore was one of the epicenters of Swinging London counterculture and hangout for the beautiful people, with three glitzy floors containing a bar, restaurants, clothes and record shops and a late-night chemist. They even had a delivery service made up of young girls on motorcycles wearing purple catsuits — it doesn’t get much more groovy than that. It’s most famously mentioned in The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” as the place where Mick Jagger went to get Marianne Faithful’s “prescription filled” when they lived together on nearby Cheyne Walk and she had a heroin habit. It’s also where the record shop scene in A Clockwork Orange was filmed.
But the youth culture parade is always moving on and the place must have already seemed like a relic from another era in 1976 when Punk and the Sex Pistols emerged from Malcolm McLaren’s shop “Sex” down the other end of the King’s Road, and far as I know The Drugstore’s last fling with pop history was in 1980 when it was an early hub of the new futurist/electronic music scene with it’s Monday night “Sci-Fi Disco” run by a young DJ by the name of Stevo who later founded Some Bizzare records and discovered Soft Cell, The The, and Depeche Mode. By the time I ran in there soaking wet in 1982 it really looked like the party had gone somewhere else, the place was almost empty and with it’s dingy lighting, dusty black walls, tatty black carpet and cheap chrome trimmings the vibe I got was more of a working man’s club for ageing Motorhead roadies. The rather shabby atmosphere was compounded by the appearance of a stripper on the little stage, a young girl who had that pasty-skinned, bored Reader’s Wives look common to nearly every stripper I’ve seen in a grubby English pub. It was all a bit sad and felt more suited to a seedy Pulp song than the glamour of Swinging London.
Looking back now, it might have turned into a shabby dive but at least it had some character which the King’s Road is sadly lacking these days as it’s become just another bland British high street with no trace of the vibrant counterculture and underground scenes it once spawned. When I walk down there now all I see are the ghosts of what used to be there: The Great Gear Market, Shelley’s, Fiorucci, Robot, Flip, American Classics, Acme Attractions, Johnson’s — they’ve all gone, replaced by mobile phone sellers, supermarkets and dry cleaners, not exactly the sort of places you can imagine a youth explosion starting from. The Chelsea Drugstore is long gone too, and in a perfect illustration of how far the King’s Road has fallen, on the site of what was once the hippest, most-happening scene in London there now stands a McDonald’s. There’s a giant metaphor for all of modern pop culture right there too.
I don’t think anyone needs me to post any tracks from “The Lexicon of Love” so how about all the b-sides of their first three 12″ singles instead?
Download: Alphabet Soup – ABC (mp3)
Download: Theme From “Mantrap” – ABC (mp3)
Download: Mantrap (The Lounge Sequence) – ABC (mp3)
Download: The Look of Love (Part 3) – ABC (mp3)
Download: The Look of Love (Part 4) – ABC (mp3)
Read: “King’s Road: The Rise and Fall of the Hippest Street in the World” (book)