Published April 11, 2010
'Dancing Queen', 'Fernando', 'Mamma Mia', 'Knowing Me, Knowing You' and 'Thank You For The Music' - these are all well-known ABBA songs which pop music fans the world over are more than familiar with. But the fact that those five tracks, plus a further 10 titles, were also recorded in Spanish is perhaps not so well-known. It is those 15 recordings that have been collected on this compilation album: ABBA Oro.
The marvellous success story that was ABBA's rise to world domination has been told many times. After careers in Sweden in the 1960s - in groups or as solo acts - the four members began a musical collaboration in the early 1970s. By that time, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus were firmly established as a songwriting team, and in 1969 Benny became romantically involved with Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad, while Björn met and fell in love with Agnetha Fältskog.
In 1974, the group achieved their international breakthrough with 'Waterloo' when they won the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton, England. This marked the start of a string of international hits over the next few years. Quite simply, by the end of the 1970s ABBA were firmly established as one of the world's biggest recording acts.
However, there was still one part of the world where the group's success hadn't been that overwhelming: South America. Buddy McCluskey, an employee at RCA Records - ABBA's record company in this territory at the time - thought he had the answer to the problem. In Latin America, the audience was usually a bit reluctant to accept the otherwise universal pop language of English, so why not record a song in Spanish? Singing in languages other than English and their native Swedish was not a new concept for ABBA: in the early days they released records in both German and French. These didn't make much impact on their intended markets, however, and after 'Waterloo' the group had recorded exclusively in English.
The year 1979 provided the perfect candidate for the suggested South American experiment, for that was when ABBA released their single 'Chiquitita'. Not only did the song have a Spanish title, but the arrangement had been clearly inspired by Latin American music. Together with his wife Mary, Buddy McCluskey set about translating the lyrics into Spanish, and, this mission completed, ABBA went into the studio to record the new vocals.
When the single was released, it was clear that they had done exactly the right thing. In Argentina, for example, not only did the Spanish version of 'Chiquitita' hit number one on the charts, but the popularity of the song meant that the original English version also became a hit, peaking at number seven. And Voulez-Vous, the LP from which the song was taken, reached the top of the album charts. The success of the 'Chiquitita' single was mirrored throughout the Latin world, where it also stormed up the charts. Naturally, the song was a number one hit in Spain as well. Finally, ABBA had gained their desired foothold in the Spanish-speaking world.
Later in the year a second attempt was made, this time with 'I Have A Dream', which acquired the Spanish title 'Estoy Soñando'. When this single also became a hit, it was decided that ABBA should release a whole album of Spanish-language songs. Buddy and Mary McCluskey again took care of all the lyrics, and in January 1980, Agnetha and Frida joined forces with sound engineer Michael B. Tretow to add new vocals to the original backing tracks (Björn and Benny were on a songwriting trip to Barbados at this time). "It was something of a challenge to record in Spanish," said Agnetha many years later, "and I remember that we had a nice time with [journalist] Ana Martinez, who helped us with the pronunciation." Frida had equally fond memories: "We just enjoyed ourselves," she said.
The track selection was evident enough: a number of ABBA's biggest hits, such as 'Dancing Queen', 'Knowing Me, Knowing You' and 'Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)' coupled with album tracks that had Spanish titles or a Latin flavour in the arrangement, such as 'Hasta Mañana' and 'Move On'. Some, like 'Fernando', fulfilled all three criteria: a hit with a Spanish title - and the right arrangement! The resultant 10 track LP, Gracias Por La Música, was released in May 1980, and was an instant success, reaching the Top Five on the albums chart in Argentina. The songs included on the LP make up the first 10 tracks on this compilation.
For their next regular album, Super Trouper, released in 1980, ABBA decided to include two songs in Spanish in South American countries, and also in Spain. The choice fell upon 'Andante, Andante' and 'Happy New Year', the latter song acquiring the title 'Felicidad'. This trick was repeated the following year for ABBA's final studio album, The Visitors, when 'Slipping Through My Fingers' and 'When All Is Said And Done' received the Spanish treatment. Their new titles became 'Se me està escapando' and 'No hay a quien culpar', respectively. Naturally, those four tracks have also been included on ABBA Oro.
The final track on this CD is actually ABBA's very first Spanish language recording, which was only discovered in the archives in 1993. The song, 'Ring Ring', dates from 1973, when it constituted ABBA's very first attempt to enter the Eurovision Song Contest. They didn't succeed, but were instead rewarded with a massive hit in their native Sweden, and also considerable success around Europe. At the time the song was one of those "multi-langugage releases", being issued in Swedish, English and German. For reasons long forgotten, however, the Spanish interpretation remained in the vaults for two decades.
But the release of ABBA Oro means that it is now freely available. ABBA themselves went their separate ways as a group back in 1982, but interest in the Swedish foursome remains as high as ever. The musical Mamma Mia!, based on ABBA songs, triumphs around the globe, and new admirers of the group constantly discover their music, primarily through the multi-million selling compilation ABBA Gold. And it looks like this is how it will remain for many years to come.
Carl Magnus Palm, 2002
with thanks to Ian Cole and Trent Nickson