Part 9 (of 12): Interviewing the musicians and visiting the tape archives

Published March 30, 2010

Intermixed with the interviews with the former ABBA members, I also talked to the session musicians who had played on their records. Because of time restraints I had to limit myself to the musicians who had appeared on more than just the odd session. However, as it turned out, most of the session musicians didn't really have many specific memories of their studio work with ABBA, at least not specific songs. This is not so hard to understand; after all, they would come to the studio, spend a few hours recording the backing track and then they would be off. They were never a part of the process of actually turning the song into a finished recording with all the overdubs, and throwing ideas back and forth. The day after the backing track session they might very well have been in some other studio with some other artist, with the memories of the ABBA session quickly fading into the distance.

Some of the musicians told me that most of their memories from the actual songs would come from the tours, because that's when they played them night after night and really had time to get acquainted with the song. That said, the talks I had with the musicians were certainly no waste of time, as they were able to tell me in general terms what it was like being in the studio with ABBA. And for some of the songs, they certainly contributed interesting background stories.

In the summer of 1993 I also finally gained access to the PolyGram tape archives. Needless to say, having the cooperation of Björn and Benny for the project, made things a little easier, although I'm not sure the responsible people at PolyGram ever really felt entirely comfortable with having me there. After all, they didn't really know who I was and whether I had any ulterior motives.

Michael Tretow was kind enough to accompany me to the archives on a sort of introductory visit, showing me where all the tapes were and so on. On June 23, 1993, I had my first proper research visit to archives. If PolyGram felt slightly uncomfortable having me there, I was no less uneasy about the responsibility myself: making certain the vault was properly locked when I left for the day formed the basis for a neurosis or two. Occasionally, someone would pass by and ask "who I was and what I was doing there". This did nothing to make me feel more comfortable. However, the feeling of uneasiness did mean I made sure that my work was completed as quickly as possible. It didn't take me more than three days in total to go through the ABBA tapes.

One of the many documents I found in the PolyGram tape archives. This one describes what was on the different tracks on the original 24-track tape for The Name Of The Game. Several of these sheets were reprinted in ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions.My working method was simply to pick down each and every tape from the shelves, open up the box to see if there were any further documents in there - often there were - and study the box from all conceivable angles to extract every little piece of information available. Often, however, the tapes wouldn't really tell me anything beyond the fact that they contained, for example, a mix of a certain song. It was generally impossible to determine exactly which mix, and, consequently, also if it was different to what had been previously released. I would not be able to answer those questions without actually listening to the tapes, and that, as far as I knew, was not on the cards.

During my visit to the archives I also realised that I would never be able to create a complete chronicle of every single day ABBA spent in the studio. Most of the dates would pertain to the backing track sessions or overdub contributions made by outside musicians. The particulars of the days and nights spent overdubbing Benny's keyboards, and most pertinently the recording of Agnetha and Frida's vocals, would for the most part remain unknown. The information on when the actual recording artists (i.e. ABBA) were spending time in the studio was seldom entered into any session logs. This was because Polar Music and its producers (ie Björn and Benny) spent little time on bureaucratic issues such as noting each and every day they were working in the studio; compare this with The Beatles, where there were complete session logs for virtually every single minute spent in the recording studio.

The realisation that there was so much information missing made me decide that the book would probably be better titled something like "ABBA In The Studio - A Guide To Their Recordings", avoiding all mention of "complete recording sessions". Eventually, however, it was decided that it should be titled ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions so as to avoid any confusion about what type of book it was. And after all, the story was about as "complete" as anybody would be able to make it, at least from the viewpoint of days spent in the studio.

Read more about my findings in the tape archives in the "Box set story", accessed from the page for the
Thank You For The Music box set.