Liner notes, part 2

Published April 12, 2010


While Knowing Me, Knowing You was climbing up the US charts in May and June 1977, ABBA was already back in the studio, having completed a tour of Europe and Australia in February and March. The first single to be released from what turned out to be ABBA - The Album was The Name Of The Game, a song inspired by the then current music scene in Los Angeles. Björn, Benny and Michael Tretow had been there in May in order to check out suitable equipment for their new Polar Music Studios, which was to be built in Stockholm. The Name Of The Game eventually reached #9 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart.

Just like the Army of Lovers' recording of Hasta Mañana, the version of The Name Of The Game featured on this collection has been taken from the album ABBA - The Tribute. The artist is Swedish singer Irma, who had enjoyed success with a Top 5 album in her home country in 1991. Moving away from the intricate textures of the ABBA arrangement, Irma turns the song into a relaxed pop ballad, in fact adhering more closely to the American soundscape that originally inspired the songs conception.

Having had some encouraging success over the past few years - not least the Number One hit with Dancing Queen - it was decided that 1978 would be the year when ABBA really tried to conquer the US market. Thus far, many of the group's singles had been Top 20 hits, but album sales had been a little slower. Polar and Atlantic enlisted the help of notorious promoters Scotti Brothers, who worked out a detailed $500,000 promotional campaign which started at the end of March 1978.

The campaign was centered around ABBA's two-week visit starting at the end of April and continuing into early May - the latter month had been declared "ABBA Month". The most important part of the group's visit was the taping of an Olivia Newton-John coast-to-coast special, with Andy Gibb as fellow guest star. A giant billboard featuring the slogan "The largest selling group in the history of recorded music" was also erected above Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.

The most obvious end results of the campaign were that ABBA - The Album became ABBA's highest charting album ever on the US album charts, reaching #14 and selling over one million copies, and that Take A Chance On Me became the group's second most successful single on the pop chart, peaking at #3.

On this compilation, Take A Chance On Me has been included in a version that must surely be one of the most successful ABBA covers ever recorded. The synth-pop duo Erasure had long had an idea about recording an ABBA tribute album, and had already issued a version of ABBA's Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) as a single B-side. By 1992 the project had been whittled down to an EP, containing four ABBA covers which were recorded in only nine days.

Considering that it was conceived as something of a lighthearted break from their other Erasure work, Andy Bell and Vince Clark must have been surprised when this turned out to be their biggest hit to date. Entering the UK charts at #1 in June 1992 and spending five weeks at the top position (in the US it charted as a Top 100 album), it arguably also helped pave the way for the ABBA revival that exploded in the fall of the same year and has been going on ever since.

The true ABBA fan in Erasure is singer Andy Bell. "To me, the pop charts haven't been the same since ABBA's demise", he said. "It was the first time I'd heard gorgeous harmonies and angelic choruses that made you feel really elated." Vince Clark commented: "The melodies are miniature masterpieces, so it's not surprising that ABBA's music lives on."

This being on the eve of the 1990s ABBA revival, Björn Ulvaeus was characteristically understated in his musings on Erasure's homage: "We are flattered. Most groups who stopped 10 years back are forgotten now." As the following years of the decade were to prove, the world remembered ABBA more fondly than he could ever have imagined.

Back in 1978, ABBA completed the promotional campaign that was the first major step towards conquering the United States, and 1979 saw the group going to stage two: Finally, the all-important tour that had been in the cards for so many years was going to take place.

The start of the tour had been postponed since sessions for the group's latest album Voulez-Vous dragged on. A few singles were released during the period of recording, one of which was Chiquitita. Although it was not released in the United States until later in the year, the song was premièred on January 9, 1979 at the UNICEF benefit concert A Gift Of Song at the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations in New York. All proceeds of the song had been donated to UNICEF in recognition of the United Nations' International Year Of The Child. The Bee Gees, Earth, Wind & Fire, Olivia Newton-John, Rod Stewart and Donna Summer were among the other participants at the internationally televised all-star gala.

At the end of the gala, all participants performed He Is Your Brother, one of the earliest ABBA songs. It was also one of the tracks on the platinum album Greatest Hits, released in the US in 1976. Included as a bonus track on the cassette edition of this collection is a version by Polar act Svenne & Lotta. Lotta, who was known as Charlotte Walker when she came to Sweden in the late 1960s, had been a member of American girl group The Sherrys who scored a Top 30 R&B hit with Pop Pop Pop-Pie in 1962.

A married couple, Svenne & Lotta were also former lead singers in Benny's 1960s group the Hep Stars, and Björn and Benny wrote and produced many of the duo's recordings between 1972 and 1976. Their version of He Is Your Brother, featuring several of the musicians who played on ABBA's records, was recorded in August 1974 during sessions for their album Svenne & Lotta/2, and has until now only ever been available as a rare single B-side.

The Voulez-Vous album was finally completed in the spring of 1979, and the first and most successful single it spawned in the United States was Does Your Mother Know, which eventually reached the Top 20. On this compilation, it is performed by Irish rock band Ash, who recorded it at a British radio session for the BBC on April 15, 1996. It was later released as a bonus track on the group's UK Top Ten single Oh Yeah.

On September 13, 1979, ABBA started their three and a half week tour of North America in Canada with a concert in Edmonton, Alberta. The United States part of the tour started in Seattle on September 17th, and encompassed 13 dates. Most of ABBA's concerts during this tour took place in the northern states, since this was where the group was most popular. Certainly, the success of the tour proved that ABBA did indeed have several dedicated American fans - as one of them so memorably put it before one of the concerts: "I've waited my entire life to see this group. The day I heard Waterloo, I totally flipped out. This is the most orgasmic moment of my life."

The tour was completed without too many hitches, except for a traumatic flight between New York and Boston when ABBA's plane got caught up in bad weather. For Agnetha, who was also battling the flu, the experience was so horrific that the Washington concert one day later had to be canceled so that she could rest and come to terms with what had happened. Sadly, this also meant that Amy Carter, daughter of then President Jimmy Carter, was only able to meet three of the members of one of her favorite groups at a reception at the White House.

Washington would have been the final concert in the United States, and Agnetha was still not well when the two last concerts of the North American tour - in Montreal and Toronto in Canada - were to be performed, but somehow she found the strength to pull through. As she remembered later: "I wanted to show up at any price for the audience there, although my legs were unsteady. They also showed up for me and that carried me through. When twelve thousand people in Montreal get up and wave and applaud, a wave of energy hits you. You are given strength and are rewarded for all the hard work, and it feels fantastic."

It is no secret that none of the ABBA members were especially fond of touring, and while Frida truly got a kick from being on stage, Agnetha not only felt slightly uncomfortable in the limelight, but also loathed being away from home for weeks on end more than anyone in the group. All in all, when the European and Japanese legs of this tour had been completed, this meant that there were to be no further tours at all, and the 1979 visit proved to be the last time ABBA appeared as a group on American soil.

1979 had also seen the first cracks in the harmonious picture of the group beginning to appear, when Björn and Agnetha announced their divorce in January 1979. If anything good at all came out of this experience, it must have been the song The Winner Takes It All, the first single to be released from ABBA's Super Trouper album in 1980. Björn's poignant lyrics about a relationship gone wrong, and Agnetha's heartfelt delivery of them, made for one of ABBA's very best recordings - in the United States they were rewarded with their last Top 10 pop hit as well as the last of two #1 Adult Contemporary hits (the first was Fernando in 1976).

Taken from an album of dance versions of ABBA songs, on this collection The Winner Takes It All is performed by Hazell Dean, who enjoyed cult club success in the US in the 1980s. Her version of The Winner Takes It All was released as a single off her album of the same name in 1996. The CD edition of this compilation includes Hazell's original recording, while the vinyl version offers a remix.

Another dance act - this one devoting itself completely to the music of ABBA - is Abbacadabra from the UK, whose version of The Visitors, the title track of ABBA's last album, is taken from their 1992 album Abbasalute. Ten years previously, ABBA's original version was a Top Ten hit on the Billboard Dance/Disco chart, where it enjoyed an unusually long run. German eurotechno duo E-Rotic has also put a dance beat to their interpretation of the Arrival track Money, Money, Money, taken off their 1997 ABBA tribute album Thank You For The Music.

If The Winner Takes It All represented the wistfully romantic side of ABBA on the Super Trouper album, On And On And On and Lay All Your Love On Me were tracks that begged you to step down to the dance floor. In 1981, both recordings were coupled on a single release, and although On And On And On received only moderate success on the Billboard pop charts, at least one famous US citizen was paying close attention to the song's arrangement.

Benny Andersson has pointed out several times how much he loves The Beach Boys, and how great an inspiration they have been to him from an arrangement and production point of view. "We wanted our records to sound like real records, like the ones the Beach Boys did", he said. "We thought they sounded great with all those great harmony vocals, and that became one of ABBA's trademarks as well."

Although the inspiration from The Beach Boys seldom manifested itself in any blatantly obvious way on ABBA's records, On And On And On became the major exception when Benny himself contributed falsetto backing vocals that featured strong echoes of The Beach Boys' 1968 Top 20 hit Do It Again. Beach Boys lead singer Mike Love, who has always been keen to point out the band's influence on other acts, recorded his own version of On And On And On for his first solo album Looking Back With Love in 1981. His interpretation has been included on this collection.

Although Lay All Your Love On Me was a #1 smash on the Billboard Dance/Disco chart in 1981, it was not to feature on the pop Top 100 until a version by Information Society was released as a single in 1989. The CD edition of this compilation includes that hit recording, while the vinyl version offers a remix.

Information Society, who had enjoyed two Top Ten hits in 1988, apparently recorded Lay All Your Love On Me somewhat reluctantly at the suggestion of their record company - the group itself wanted to do a Gary Glitter cover. However, by recording Lay All Your Love On Me and releasing it as a single at a time when ABBA was considered less than fashionable, it could be argued that Information Society actually helped pioneer the wave of ABBA cover versions that has flooded the record industry since the early 1990s.

One such recording is Go West's 1993 version of One Of Us, originally included on ABBA's last album The Visitors, released in 1981. Go West, who had a US Top Ten hit with King Of Wishful Thinking in 1990, reportedly recorded One Of Us for a UK ABBA tribute album project that was never completed. Instead, the recording ended up as a bonus track on their CD single We Close Our Eyes '93.

In early 1981, Benny and Frida divorced, and after releasing their final album The Visitors in late 1981 and then completing a few recordings in 1982, ABBA as a group ceased to exist, with the four members moving on to other projects. Björn and Benny started by collaborating with lyricist Tim Rice on the musical Chess which, although a huge success in London's West End, enjoyed a short stint on Broadway in 1988. However, in 1985 the musical had spawned the #3 Murray Head hit One Night In Bangkok, and has gone on to enjoy cult status, being consistently performed across the US by regional theater groups.

In 1995, Björn and Benny premièred their Swedish musical Kristina från Duvemåla ("Kristina From Duvemåla"), dealing with the fate of Swedish immigrants in the United States of the late 19th century. The storyline of the musical dealing with such an integral part of American history, it seems to call for a Broadway staging, and at the time of writing such plans are tentatively discussed.

Agnetha and Frida both recorded a few solo albums in the 1980s before withdrawing from the music scene: Frida enjoyed a Billboard Top 15 hit with the Phil Collins-produced I Know There's Something Going On in 1982, while Agnetha, in addition to her 1988 Adult Contemporary hit with Peter Cetera, entered the pop Top 30 in 1983 with Can't Shake Loose, produced by Mike Chapman.

Frida has since returned with her Swedish language 1996 album Djupa andetag ("Deep Breaths"), but since the early 1990s she has mainly used her celebrity status to draw attention to environmental issues. Indeed, all royalties for her and The Real Group's version of Dancing Queen on this collection are being donated to Stiftelsen Anni-Frid Lyngstads miljöfond ("The Anni-Frid Lyngstad Environmental Foundation").

Closing this tribute CD is the instrumental Bridal Dancing Queen from the soundtrack of the successful 1994 Australian movie Muriel's Wedding, in which the music of ABBA was heavily featured. Although Muriel's Wedding has certainly become a major part of the international ABBA revival of the 1990s, it nearly did not happen that way, as director P.J. Hogan remembered:

"If I'd known it was going to be so hard to get [the rights to use] ABBA songs, I think I'd have thought of something else. Finally, I threatened to go over to Stockholm and act the film out for them … and not leave until they said yes. We sent them a photo copy of my plane ticket - I was ready to go - and they said yes to keep me away."

With the success of spin-off phenomena such as Muriel's Wedding and an overall reevaluation of the group's music, the 1990s have also seen ABBA become more popular than ever in the United States - the undoubtedly soon to be certified triple platinum greatest hits album ABBA Gold has sold more copies than any of the group's original albums. Certainly, the fact that ABBA - A Tribute, The 25th Anniversary Celebration has been conceived in the US should prove beyond any doubt that ABBA has finally become a natural ingredient in American popular music culture.

Carl Magnus Palm, Stockholm, 1999

 

ABBA - A Tribute, The 25th Anniversary Celebration (Relativity 1733-2) was released in the US on March 30, 1999.

ORDER FROM