ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions - FAQ

Published March 30, 2010

What follows here is a FAQ related to my book, ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions. Most of the questions and answers appeared in earlier forms in interviews made with me by various ABBA fanzines over the years: The Official International Agnetha Benny Björn Frida Fan Club magazine, ABBA Scene (since defunct), International ABBA Express (since defunct), and the Agnetha, Benny, Björn, Frida Fan Club News Service newsletter (since defunct). A few questions and answers have also been taken from a live interview conducted by Graeme Read at the 1999 ABBA Day in Roosendaal, The Netherlands.

This FAQ was originally a feature on my first website, launched in 1998. The FAQ was updated in 1999 and has been subject to further amendments in March 2003.

Should you have further questions, you are welcome to submit them to me (click Contact in the bottom left hand corner). If the questions are of general interest, they may very well end up on this page.

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Can you tell us something about what prompted you to write ABBA — The Complete Recording Sessions? 

In 1988 I read an excellent book entitled The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn. Being a Beatles fan, it was a big eyeopener for me, and I still regard this as one of the best and most interesting books about the group. In the beginning of the 1990s, I decided that I also wanted to try to write music books, specifically about the recorded work of my favourite artists. Together with my friend Thomas Winberg, I did a discography about Monica Zetterlund, the Swedish jazz singer. By the end of that project, I had already decided that the next book would be about ABBA. I realised that despite the fact that ABBA's combination of strong melodies and innovative recording work should have prompted more questions from interviewers and authors about their working methods, this was not the case.

The start of this project, coincided with the start of a recession in Sweden, and I found that it was difficult to get a job after finishing my university studies in late 1992. However, this gave me a perfect opportunity to concentrate full time for more than a year on researching and writing the book. I doubt that the book would have been published even today if this hadn't been the case.


What were your working methods? How did you set a schedule and how did you go about compiling all the information once it was ready? 

I had my sights on completing my manuscript before the end of 1993, and I more or less managed to do that. I had several files on my computer, one of which was a massive chronology where I entered all dates that I could possibly find - everything from recording dates to newspaper quotes about ABBA attending this or that event. I also had one file where I assembled all the facts I could find about each individual ABBA recording from books, newspapers, magazines, TV interviews, my own interviews, etc. Furthermore, I had separate files where I collected all the facts, quotations, etc. that I could find about different subjects, such as "songwriting", "recording methods", and "how and why ABBA dissolved".

After all that had been done, the book more or less wrote itself. The "only" difficulty was making the text come alive, considering that there were so many facts I wanted to cram into the book, and that some of the information - such as "this mix was not used" and the string section credits - was perhaps less than thrilling.


Was there ever a time that you felt like the book was like a monster you'd never be able to finish, it was too much work ? 

It was like that all the time. I was unemployed at the time so I didn't have any money - I didn't have anything. What little money I had was spent on research fees for different archives and buying batteries for the tape recorder for the interviews, stuff like that.


How do you approach the research? Is it like a 9—5 thing or do you wait for inspiration? How do you write these books? Are you disciplined in the way you approach it? 

Yes, I'm very disciplined, I think you have to be. If I was to wait for inspiration, the work would never be done: the inspiration comes through writing. Generally, I'm working kind of systematically when I'm writing.


Where were the interviews with Benny and Björn conducted? Were they happy to answer your questions or were they sceptical? 

The interviews were conducted at the Mono Music offices. They were sceptical in a sense - as they say in the foreword: "Who would want to read about this?" By the time I got to meet Benny and Björn they said: "We don't remember anything, you won't get anything out of these interviews." But as we went along it turned out they remembered quite a lot of things.

Once we started talking they said: "We are also interested in getting the facts straight here, so you can come back as many times as you like." The were very nice, very relaxed, very friendly, polite, everything. It was more like conversations than interviews. Sometimes Björn would be asking me questions such as: "When did we do that? Are you sure about that?" It got crazy sometimes. He would start laughing, saying, "This is wrong, you're supposed to be asking me the questions".


Is it true you interviewed Benny, Björn and Frida in person but only interviewed Agnetha by correspondence?

Yes, that's true. I wrote Agnetha a letter and asked "do you want to do this?" By that time, she had obviously found out that I knew my stuff, and she said yes. She wrote back and basically said, "It's really good that someone is going to write about the music instead of a lot of gossip about our private lives. Good luck to you and these are my answers to you questions".

 

Where did you interview Frida? 

At a Stockholm restaurant. Görel Hanser, who represents Frida in these matters, set up a meeting and we spent about an hour talking. I followed this up with a fax with more questions which she answered in writing: whatever she could remember about specific songs and also some other things that I wanted to clarify after we had spoken the first time.

 

Frida seems to have gotten most out of the box set. When it came out, it really put her in touch with ABBA, it made her feel proud that she'd been involved in that kind of stuff. When you were interviewing her, did that come across or was she surprised that someone was writing such a book about ABBA? 

She didn't say anything about being surprised but she said: "Well, all the other books out there aren't very good and I hope this is going to be better" and I said: "I'm going to try my best". At that time, she had not started listening to all the songs for the box set, but I got the impression that, out of all the ABBA members, she was the one who really didn't apologise for anything. I said: "How were you able to do all those vocal overdubs so quickly, just in one day?" And her reply was: "Well, I guess we were all pretty talented", which I liked. You did not have to waste a lot of time going "Oh, but you're so good". It wasn't like I had to butter up Björn or Benny either - or Agnetha, for that matter - but they tended to be a bit more self-critical.

 

Apart from the fact that the ABBA members answered your questions and that you were granted access to the tape archives, how much help and support did you get from ABBA and/or their record company? 

Getting the ABBA members full and official blessing for the project in May 1993, opened a lot of doors, and many things became a lot easier after that. However, I did not have the same kind of supportive working situation that Mark Lewisohn enjoyed when he wrote his Beatles book. In fact, he was commissioned by the record company to write the book, and I understand he had an office all to himself and full co-operation and back-up from everyone concerned. In my case, I alone had to be the driving force behind the project all the time.

I'm certainly not trying to belittle Lewisohn's work - quite the contrary - I'm just pointing to some of the differences between our respective projects. For instance, the 1960s bureaucracy of EMI (The Beatles' record company) meant that Lewisohn could rely on 99% of everything that was ever done being neatly and properly documented, whereas Polar had other priorities altogether in the 1970s. Accordingly, I had to piece together ABBA's recording history from several different sources, many of which were incomplete and contradictory. Also, Lewisohn had the opportunity to listen to every single tape in the EMI archives, whereas I only was allowed to listen to a select few during my six hour session with Björn, Benny and Michael. A thrilling experience to be sure, but I would obviously had liked to hear much more.


Why doesn't the book have an index? 

I had every intention to include an index in the book, and it's a major irritant that there isn't one there. However, the publisher decided that there wasn't room for an index, and at the time there was little I could do about it, unfortunately. Thanks to the efforts of Rick Flener in San Francisco an index is now available.

 

Was any of your material left out of the book due to, for example, lack of space or being blocked by Benny and Björn and, if so, what did it consist of? 

The only material that was left out was such that I felt went outside of the concept of the book or was uninteresting. No one has "blocked" anything.

 

Why wasn't every song that is mentioned in the book awarded it's own diary entry, especially songs like 'Ljuva sextital' in the first chapter? 

The answer to this question can be found in the introduction on page 5: "Since the subject of the book is ABBA's recordings rather than solo efforts and production work for other artists, the recording dates of the first chapter covering the period 1966-1971, have primarily been chosen to point out how the four ABBA members gradually started working more closely." The purpose of the first chapter, then, was to give the reader some background, and I could easily have left out the recording date for 'Ljuva sextital' and others altogether. However, I chose to mention them briefly because I thought they were interesting. The ABBA members' solo work before and after ABBA will hopefully be covered in detail in future books that I may write.

 

Why did you leave out other Björn & Benny-related tracks altogether, for instance Lena Andersson's recording of Language Of Love? 

Again, quoting from the introduction: "[S]ince there would be no room to catalogue all recording sessions with a Björn and Benny connection, whether they functioned as songwriters, producers or both, I have mainly chosen to only include recording sessions where they were the featured artists themselves, or if Agnetha or Frida were involved in some way."

In a sense, I have counted Björn and Benny as "one" ABBA member. The rule for the book was that if at least two ABBA members were involved in a recording session, it would be included. So just Björn and Benny was not enough, then - at least one of the girls had to be involved as well.


Why wasn't the recording date for the Spanish versions of Andante, Andante and Happy New Year (Felicidad) mentioned in the book?

The answer is obvious - these dates were unavailable. This is a good example of the sometimes random nature of which dates I could find or not: Frida just happened to mention the recording date for the Spanish versions of When All Is Said And Done and Slipping Through My Fingers in a 1981 radio interview I was lucky enough to get access to during my research.

 

Why wasn't the promo single En hälsning till våra parkarrangörer included in the book? 

In retrospect, I guess it might have been a good idea to include it, but remember that the main subject of my book was ABBA:s musical development and their creative process. I felt a spoken word record like this (with a few snatches of otherwise available music) hardly qualified as a proper recording session, and thus fell outside of this context. Besides, I had a hard enough time trying to get the facts straight regarding what in my mind were the truly interesting facts about the ABBA story.

 

What is the label and catalogue number of the tape Showcase (with the edited version of SOS), mentioned in the discography on page 126? 

The label and catalogue number is CBS XPC 4003. Showcase seems to have been a promo cassette featuring selections from albums featured in CBS' Nice Price catalogue. SOS was featured as a track off the ABBA album. It is not so much an edit as an earlier fade. Thanks to Adriaan Hout for this information.

 

Why wasn't Every Good Man included in the book? 

As most ABBA fans know, the recording of Every Good Man featuring Agnetha singing (which has been bootlegged) is a demo version of Heaven Help My Heart from Chess. There is a rumour that this was in fact recorded during the ABBA period, ie before the end of 1982. I asked Benny about this, and he replied that it was recorded in 1983 when they were trying out the melodies intended for Chess with various vocalists, just to hear how they would sound when they were sung. The recording was made at Polar Music Studios.

 

Why isn't there a listing of the complete tours in the book? 

As is evident from the title of the book, I only ever intended to include a complete recording sessions listing.

 

Weren't all the tours recorded even for prosperity's sake? 

As far as I know, unmixed online reference recordings directly on cassette tapes were made on at least some of the 1977 concerts, and possibly also in 1979. Before that, I don't think they recorded anything. I am fairly sure that I have covered all the professional multi-track recordings made, which was the purpose of The Complete Recording Sessions.

 

Was there ever a lyric sheet for the proposed Spanish version of Waterloo (CRS page 39)? 

I was unable to find out anything about this. Those concerned didn't remember anything about it.

 

In your book you mention Agnetha's unreleased song Turn Of The Tide. Was it an instrumental or a vocal title? 

It was a title she mentioned that she was working on at the same time as I'm Still Alive, or at least it existed as a song during the rehearsals for the 1979 tour. I don't think it was ever properly recorded. But I haven't been able to find out anything more than that. I have a suspicion that it might be the song that she entered in the Swedish selections for the Eurovision Song Contest in 1981, Men natten är vår, sung by Kicki Moberg. It may possibly be an early version of that one. I'm not sure, it's just a theory.

 

There seems to be some confusion about your Swedish book, ABBA — Människorna och musiken [The People And The Music] (1996). Can you tell us exactly how it differs from The Complete Recording Sessions? 

Basically, I had realized, much to my own naïve amazement, that the format of the first book was too detailed and too complex for many readers, which I thought was a pity. I wanted to reach a wider audience, wanted people to read what I had found out: the stories and the anecdotes from the ABBA members themselves, all those interesting facts. So I jumbled the paragraphs around, removed the diary format and tried to make it a more straightforward read. I also added a couple of pages about Kristina från Duvemåla, some biographical details, plus some other facts and observations. The chronology and discography (easy to understand even for a reader who does not know any Swedish) at the back of the book is hopefully an easy way to access certain important dates in ABBA's career. There are 18 b/w pictures in the book: some of the pictures are quite common, some rare, and one or two previously unpublished.

 

Apart from ABBA fanzines, what kind of reaction have your books got from reviewers? 

For The Complete Recording Sessions, there were only two major reviews. The first appeared in VOX Magazine in the UK, where it was awarded a 7 out of 10 rating. The other was published in the Dutch magazine Oor, who were very positive and gave it 5 stars out of 5. Most other reviews - some good, some bad - only consisted of a few lines.

Regarding Människorna och musiken, I got a few good reviews but also some really bad ones. I gather that certain reviewers had expected a full-scale biography of ABBA, and it seems they were not very interested in the details of how ABBA created their music. To this I can only reply that my aim was to take the first step towards some kind of serious writing on the group, and also to put some facts straight. Certainly, there are many interesting analytical observations to be made about ABBA and their music, but I deliberately tried to put myself and my own opinions in the background as much as possible. I felt it was more interesting to learn what the actual people who made the music had to say. It seems to me that so much of what passes for "analysis" is really only opinions, or indeed, analysis made on the basis of inaccurate information.

To conclude this "review of my reviewers", I also get the feeling that what many are looking for is one book to cover detailed biographical information, facts about the creative aspects, and some kind of analysis of all the aspects of the ABBA phenomenon. That, however, is a journey that was only begun in the 1990s, and with all due to respect to the many lightweight biographies that have been published over the years, extremely little in-depth research has been made available for those of us interested in pursuing this goal.

Hopefully, my 2001 release, Bright Lights, Dark Shadows - The Real Story Of ABBA goes some way towards giving a more full-scale account of the ABBA phenomenon.


You said in an interview that you hoped that The Complete Recording Sessions would "help ABBA...take the prominent place in the history of popular music that they so rightly deserve." Do you feel that this is any closer to becoming reality? 

Judging by the comparative indifference and lack of reaction to ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions (outside ABBA fan circles), I would say that ABBA are, to some extent, still stuck in the "superficial kitsch lightweight airhead" department. Part of the problem is, I think, that if you compare them with acts like The Beatles or Bob Dylan, they got recognition and were held up as "important" very early in their careers. Several hundred books have been written about them over the years.

With The Beatles for instance, there are a number of biographies of the group, of the individual members and their manager, books written by people who worked with them and by ex-wives and ex-lovers, countless discographies, volumes on their recording sessions, their live concerts, their films, their radio and TV appearances, etc. In their case, this has been going on for more than thirty years, helping to reinforce the notion that this is a group of musical importance, worth taking seriously.

As I pointed out before, with ABBA there had only been a number of lightweight books before The Complete Recording Sessions, "career overviews" if you will. This is not to criticise those books, they are good for what they are, but they hadn't really helped creating a platform for a book like The Complete Recording Sessions when it was published.

Nor have critics in general over the years. Although many of them are much more positive towards ABBA these days, the main point of view is still that they are only "lightweight fun" (part of the attraction, true, but not the whole story). I think most people wondered why anyone would want to write, or indeed read, a recording sessions book on ABBA. Even Björn and Benny themselves were sceptical. Historically, then, ABBA have perhaps been perceived as somewhat anonymous providers of excellent pop music, and not so much as "Artists".

If I should venture into some light psychological analysis, I also think that part of the attraction for many ABBA fans is the "underdog" aspect. The fact that the group still hasn't received any truly affirmative recognition - and probably never will - seems to provide a great number of fans with a sense of purpose.

(Note: Much has changed in the public perception of ABBA since the above answer was first written in the late 1990s. Today there are more critics etc. who feel that  ABBA "deserve a prominent place in pop music history". However, for historical purposes I'm letting this reply remain here as originally written.)


So, what about future ABBA book projects? 

There are many things that I want to do. I have so much research that hasn't been used for anything, and I would love to make all that available in books. However, as new projects come my way, the plans do keep changing. Whatever I decide to do it will be announced on this website.