Thank You For The Music - The Making Of A Box Set, part 5 (of 8)

Published September 17, 2011

Part 5 (of 8): ABBA UNDELETED IS BORN

But what about those other, half-finished tracks, where the same lyrics were repeated over and over again, often with a demo vocal by Björn? Michael came up with the solution to that problem as well. Edit those recordings down to snippets, and then put the snippets together into one long medley, interspersed with studio chatter, to emphasise the point that this should be regarded as a peek into the working process and not as a collection of "official ABBA tracks". Thus, the ABBA Undeleted medley was born.

Michael Tretow set to work on the medley, largely drawing from the tapes we had heard on that October day in 1993. He also took a listen to some digitally recorded tapes, which he could only listen to at the Polar Music Studios: that was the only place in Sweden that still had the 3M digital recorders that Polar bought back in 1981. One example of a digital recording in the medley is the Givin’ A Little Bit More demo. Some of the studio chatter and working versions came from Michael’s own collection of tapes that he made to keep track of where they were at with a particular song. I believe Baby, the early version of Rock Me, may have come from those sources.

At the end of July 1994, Björn, Benny and Michael Tretow got together at the Polar Music Studios to make proper mixes of Put On Your White Sombrero and Just A Notion, both of which were scheduled for inclusion in their entirety. Put On Your White Sombrero was completed without any problems: an effect or two were apparently added, but that was all.

Björn, Benny and Michael Tretow in the studio in 1981.
Björn, Benny and Michael Tretow in the studio in 1981.

The mixing of Just A Notion was stopped fairly quickly, however - this was not going to appear as a complete track on the box set. When I asked Björn why, he replied that the recording was "unmixable". By that I believe he meant that it just wasn’t up to standard; there might have been too few overdubs, or perhaps the song felt unfinished as a whole. Personally, I believe this was one instance where they were too hard on themselves.

It is true that the complete recording of Just A Notion drags a bit in places, some parts outstay their welcome and the same bit gets repeated over and over again without anything really happening. But if a few bars had been edited out here and there, the recording would have been tightened up considerably, neatly solving the "dragging" problem. And as is evident from the snippet that was ultimately included in the ABBA Undeleted medley, the backing track and the vocal performances constituted a package powerful enough to merit inclusion as a complete recording, especially compared to some of the extremely bare and unfinished recordings that have been issued by respected acts such as The Beatles and The Beach Boys.

But ultimately, only three previously unreleased studio recordings were included in their entirety: Put On Your White Sombrero, Dream World and the first take of Thank You For The Music. Incidentally, this latter track featured some synthesizer playing that was not included in the final mix. The reason was that the song should sound more like the ragtime music of Scott Joplin, which apparently had influenced the arrangement.

Another casualty of Björn and Benny’s quality control was a track called Chiquitita Story, one of Michael Tretow’s ideas. With this track the listener would have been guided through the evolvement of Chiquitita: from the original version, In The Arms Of Rosalita - which featured a completely different backing track - through the new backing track and the creation of the acoustic guitar introduction, and then up to the final version. This would probably have been interspersed with some studio chatter, to make up a sort of mini-documentary of the recording of a specific song. However, I believe Chiquitita Story was ditched before Michael had even begun editing the various parts together.

Part 6: The box set helps Agnetha and Frida rediscover ABBA

 

Thank You For The Music. Released October 31, 1994; catalogue number: Polydor 523 472-2. Revised version released August 13, 2008; catalogue number: Polar 060251743234. Four discs. 66 page booklet with essays and discographical notes.

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