Liner notes

Published April 08, 2010


As anyone who as ever attempted to write about ABBA knows, it is very easy to get lost in mind-boggling statistics. Worldwide record sales rivalled by few other acts, export figures reportedly comparable to large-scale enterprises, record-breaking chart history all over the planet – these are all aspects of ABBA’s achievements that frequently pop up when their history is told.

The 1990s revival for the group gave us yet another piece of statistic that might come in handy for ABBA chroniclers: How many other groups could release a Greatest Hits compilation packed with 19 of their most familiar songs one year – ABBA Gold in 1992, which to date has sold more than 26 million copies – and then follow up with a companion volume – More ABBA Gold (first released in 1993) – and have this latter compilation notch up sales figures of close to 2 million, far more than most other acts would have gained with their ”true” Greatest Hits release? Not many, that’s for certain.

However, More ABBA Gold is anything but an exercise in scraping the bottom of the barrel, as a roundup of some further statistics will prove. Four of the songs included here have reached #1 in at least one country, and a further seven were Top Ten hits. Indeed, although the US and UK charts are acknowledged as the most important and influential indicators of “what’s hot” in the music industry, More ABBA Gold is something of a tribute to the songs that were major hits in other parts of the world – where records are actually bought and sold as well! The lower parts of our proverbial barrel will certainly not be subject to any serious damage.

This point is perhaps further strengthened by the fact that this compilation includes four songs that are featured in that extraordinary worldwide phenomenon known as the musical Mamma Mia!, based on the music of ABBA. Those songs are ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’, ‘Honey, Honey’, ‘Our Last Summer’ and ‘Under Attack’. At one point it was even five, for just shortly before the London world première in April 1999, ‘ Summer Night City’ was removed from the show, as so often happens during the process of knocking musicals into shape. However, fragments of the song are still featured as linking music between scenes.

The earliest hit on More ABBA Gold was also ABBA’s first major success in their home country of Sweden, the 1973 #1 smash ‘Ring Ring’. The song finished third in the Swedish selection for the Eurovision Song Contest, but proved to be more successful than any of the other selection entries that year. Added to its triumph in Sweden, it went on to become a hit in countries as diverse as Norway, Austria, The Netherlands, Australia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. At that time the group was still known as Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid, after the first names of the four members.

By the following year and the Eurovision Song Contest win with ‘ Waterloo’, the group’s manager, Stig Anderson, had jumbled around the initials of each member’s name, coming up with the name ABBA. Many countries chose the flirtatious Waterloo album track ‘Honey, Honey’ as the follow-up single to the group’s international breakthrough hit; the song reached #2 in West Germany, hit #4 in Switzerland and Austria, and also entered the Top 30 in Australia and the United States. Around the same time, a cover version by Sweet Dreams made the UK Top Ten.

By August 1974 ABBA were back in the studio recording their next album, releasing the single ‘So Long’ as a taster before the end of the year. Although not very successful in most countries, this glam-rocker did peak at #3 in Austria, reached #7 in Sweden, and was a Top 15 hit in West Germany. In April 1975 the new album, entitled ABBA, was finally released, preceded by the single ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’. Because ABBA’s history has so often been written from a British perspective, today the song has come to be known as a flop. It is certainly true that it barely scraped into the UK Top 40, but it was in fact a major hit in many other countries, reaching #1 in New Zealand, Australia (the song was an important part of ABBA’s extraordinary breakthrough “down under”), Switzerland and South Africa, and also entering the Top Five in Austria, The Netherlands, Zimbabwe, Norway and Belgium.

By the end of 1976, most of the important music markets of the world, including the UK, had succumbed to ABBA’s charms; during the year the group enjoyed three British #1 hits with ‘Mamma Mia’, ‘Fernando’ and ‘Dancing Queen’. In October ABBA’s fourth album, Arrival, was released, with ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’ as the lead-off track. It was one of those solid ABBA album tracks that could have been successful as singles, but with such riches to choose from it is hardly surprising that the song was left behind in favour of the equally strong ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Money, Money, Money’ and ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’.

On January 28, 1977, ABBA kicked off their tour of Europe and Australia, which featured a brand new “mini-musical”, entitled The Girl With The Golden Hair, as a spectacular 20-minute finale to the show. ‘I Wonder (Departure)’, one of the songs from the mini-musical, was a showcase for Frida and later released as a single B-side in a recording from the tour. During sessions for ABBA’s fifth album, ABBA – The Album, the song was re-recorded in the studio, and that version has been included on this collection. Another standout track from ABBA – The Album was the majestic opening number, ‘Eagle’. An edited version of the song received a limited single release in May 1978 and was a Top Ten hit in West Germany , Switzerland and The Netherlands, even topping the charts in Belgium.

When ‘Eagle’ was released ABBA had already started work on their sixth album, eventually titled Voulez-Vous upon its release a year later. The sessions produced several songs that weren’t included on the album, one of which was ‘ Summer Night City’, released as a single in September 1978. ‘Summer Night City’ became a #1 hit in Finland, Ireland and Sweden (ABBA’s final chart-topper in their home-country), also reaching the Top Five in the UK, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Zimbabwe, Belgium and Norway. Another song recorded during the Voulez-Vous sessions was ‘Lovelight’, which was relegated to the B-side of the ‘Chiquitita’ single. ABBA had quite a few single flipsides that were never released on any of their regular albums, and certainly, ‘Lovelight’ is one of the best of those hidden nuggets.

In the summer of 1979 the disco-flavoured title track of the Voulez-Vous album was released as a single, with the more ABBA-poppy ‘Angeleyes’ as its flipside. However, in some countries it was felt that both songs should be given a chance, and so the single was released as a double A-side. In the UK and Ireland, where ‘Angeleyes’ was side “A1”, this proved to be sound judgement, for the single peaked at #3 in both countries, a higher position than in most other places.

The release of the Voulez-Vous album was followed by a tour of North America and Europe between September and November 1979, which showcased ABBA’s long list of hits and popular album tracks, but also some brand new songs. ‘The Way Old Friends Do’, an ‘Auld Lang Syne’-style tune that closed the show before the encores, was recorded for posterity at London’s Wembley Arena. The following year this recording was used as the closer on ABBA’s Super Trouper album, and performs the same function on this collection.

That live recording notwithstanding, sessions for the new album truly kicked off in February 1980. One of the first songs to be recorded was the rocker ‘On And On And On’, featuring falsetto backing vocals by Benny – an obvious tribute to the sound that brought The Beach Boys such success in the 1960s (the Californian pop pioneers were hugely influential on Benny and Björn’s production aesthetics). Australia and the United States were among the few countries to release ‘On And On And On’ as a single; the song was particularly successful in Australia, where it became a Top Ten hit. The lyrics for ‘Our Last Summer’, also from the Super Trouper album, were based on lyricist Björn’s memories of a romance he enjoyed with a girl in Paris when he was a teenager. The strong narrative structure of the lyrics certainly came in useful when the Mamma Mia! musical was put together – it is one of the few songs in the show that is not a familiar ABBA hit.

When Super Trouper was released in November 1980, one of the two marriages within the group was already over – Björn and Agnetha had separated in late 1978 – and the other was on the verge of collapsing. Indeed, when the recording of the group’s final album, The Visitors, started in March 1981, Benny and Frida had just recently announced their divorce. Björn has pointed out that this emotionally charged event provided the basis for his lyrics to ‘When All Is Said And Done’, sung by Frida and recorded shortly after her split-up with Benny. Arguably one of the strongest tracks on The Visitors, which reached record shops at the end of 1981, it was unfortunately only released as a single in a limited number of territories, entering the US Top 30 in early 1982.

Around the same time, the tongue-in-cheek ‘Head Over Heels’ was chosen as a single from the album in most other countries, but met with limited success, only reaching the Top Five in Belgium and The Netherlands. In the US, the dramatic title track off The Visitors was chosen as the next single A-side, managing a Top Ten placing on the Billboard Dance/Disco chart.

1982 proved to be ABBA’s final year together. In hindsight it was a transitional period, with the individual members pursuing outside projects such as film roles and solo recordings. During the year only six songs were recorded, four of which appear on More ABBA Gold – and one of those four made its début when this compilation first appeared in 1993.

In May and June 1982, ABBA began recording sessions for what was meant to be their ninth studio album. Those sessions yielded three synth-pop tracks: ‘You Owe Me One’, which became the B-side of ‘Under Attack’ later in 1982, ‘Just Like That’, an edited version of which is available on the box sets Thank You For The Music and The Complete Studio Recordings, and ‘I Am The City’, which was first made available to ABBA fans on More ABBA Gold in 1993.

By August, the studio album plans had been shelved and the sights were instead set on a compilation double-album, entitled The Singles – The First Ten Years, celebrating the group’s decade-long history. Two brand new single A-sides were needed for the album, so the group entered the studio again, creating what ultimately turned up to be their final three recordings. The melodrama tour-de-force ‘The Day Before You Came’ was issued as a single in October 1982, and although it did not become a massive international hit, it was a Top Five hit in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Switzerland, The Netherlands and Belgium. With time, this excellent Agnetha-led recording has become a cult favourite among ABBA fans, and stands out as one of their most compelling recordings. Its B-side, ‘Cassandra’ – featuring Frida on lead vocals – is another ”lost gem” brought to the well-deserved attention of the record-buying public through its inclusion on this compilation.

November saw the release of The Singles – The First Ten Years, featuring ‘The Day Before You Came’, as well as the third recording from the August sessions, ‘Under Attack’, which was released as a single in December. Although it reached the Top Five in The Netherlands and Belgium, ‘Under Attack’ largely met with the same muted enthusiasm from record buyers as ‘The Day Before You Came’.

This waning interest in ABBA from the general public was mirrored by the group’s own feelings, with Benny and Björn being particularly eager to try something new. Thus it was announced that ABBA were to take a break, and that for the next few years Andersson/Ulvaeus would join forces with lyricist Tim Rice to write the musical Chess. Meanwhile, Agnetha and Frida would record solo albums. However, by the mid-1980s it was clear that there was very little air left in the ABBA balloon – the group’s temporary break turned out to be permanent. Except for a TV appearance in January 1986, when the four members were videotaped performing a song for inclusion in a Swedish This Is Your Life programme devoted to Stig Anderson, to date no more ABBA music has been recorded.

After a few years when public interest in ABBA was fairly low, the 1990s saw a tremendous revival for the group’s music, and today few would dispute that ABBA can lay claim to their own special place in pop music history. Or to put it in other words: as long as people go on listening to pop music, they will also listen to ABBA.

Carl Magnus Palm

with thanks to Ian Cole, Trent Nickson and Paul Carter

 

More ABBA Gold. Originally released June 1, 1993. Super Jewel box edition released June 2, 2008. Catalogue number: Polar 060251724733.

ORDER FROM

MORE INFO