The Complete Studio Recordings - the details

Published April 05, 2010

THE BOX SET CONCEPT

When The Complete Studio Recordings was conceived in 2005, talk of creating a new CD box set had been ongoing at Polar Music International in Stockholm, Sweden for a number of years. At some point, it was agreed, a new box set should be put together (an earlier 4-CD set entitled Thank You For The Music was issued in 1994; read all about it elsewhere on this site). However, the priorities during the first few years of the new millennium was to get the visual side of ABBA (the promo clips, ABBA In Concert and ABBA - The Movie) out on DVD.

But in the late spring of 2005 Polar received a request for a new box set from Universal Music International in London, something that could be released this year. After some internal discussions at Polar regarding the format of the box set, it was decided that the concept would be "to include everything". After all, the former ABBA members are usually not interested in making any previously unreleased material available - be it unheard songs, alternate mixes or whatever - so there would have to be another kind of theme to the package. And the conclusion reached was to make it "the complete works".

However, the definition of "complete" was not exactly clear-cut - it never really is. I was given the task of deciding on a track listing for the box set, i.e. come up with a definition of "everything". The concept I came up with was fairly self-evident: to include everything ABBA had ever recorded in the studio. Since there were vague plans to release a completely new live album at some point, I felt that it would be better to give ABBA's live recordings full attention for that project, should it materialise. The present box set should instead be a celebration of the group's musical creativity, their work in the recording studio - that's where they always felt most at home and that's where they truly excelled.

So the definition of "complete" in the context of this box set goes something like this: Every single track recorded by ABBA in the studio between March 1972 and August 1982 and then commercially released at some point (under the name "ABBA" and/or "Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid/Frida") on vinyl, cassette or CD - including remixes and versions in languages other than English - but not the many edits that are out there, nor the "unremixed" extended versions. My reasoning here was that removing something from an ABBA recording to make it more radio-friendly, to fit it on a compilation album or to make it work better during a television playback performance - or extending it for whatever dim reason - has very little to do with ABBA's creative talents and hard labour in the studio.

There is one track on the box set which had not previously been available on vinyl/cassette/CD, and that is the mono video soundtrack version of 'On And On And On'. However, it was certainly so different and interesting that it warranted inclusion on the box set, and it did fit the "creativity" concept of the box set perfectly - consider it a bonus, folks!

Naturally, the present track listing was approved by Universal Music and the former ABBA members. I should also mention that my "co-conspirator" Ian Cole in Australia acted as a sounding-board, offering his usual helpful advice and assistance.

For more details on the track listing and some of the unique features of the box set, see "Box set contents" and "Notes on the contents" under More info.


THE DVDs

Universal and Polar also wanted to include a DVD or two in the box set. The natural choice was to put all the available promo clips on one DVD. But what to do with the second DVD? Someone suggested that the documentary The History (as previously featured on the ABBA Gold DVD) could go on that one, but we needed something more. I suggested that the Dick Cavett live concert could be an interesting choice. After all, those performances had never been officially released on VHS or DVD, so there would be something previously unavailable in the box set.

As the most ardent ABBA fans are well aware, there were nine songs taped during the live performance in April 1981, but the contents of the completed show - which began with a talk show style interview conducted by Dick Cavett - varied somewhat from territory to territory. The Swedish broadcast, for instance, contained only five of the nine songs, while for example the Dutch broadcast featured seven songs - and one or two of those were not identical with the songs in the Swedish broadcast. The list goes on...

Although one would have thought that Sveriges Television (SVT), who produced the special, had saved all nine songs for such a prestigious big-budget production (this was filmed in 1981, when ABBA were firmly established as an important force in Swedish popular culture), this, apparently, was not the case. Despite a fairly thorough search, they could only provide us with the five songs included in their original broadcast.

The German television station ZDF were co-producers of the original show, so we thought it would be an easy process to acquire broadcast quality copies of the show from their archives - especially since some of the songs had been aired not so long ago. But unfortunately ZDF were unable to provide tapes that were good enough for a commercial DVD release. With the deadline for the box set rapidly approaching, Universal Music decided that five songs were better than nothing and decided to go ahead with the tapes that SVT could provide them with. Perhaps the remaining four songs will be made available in acceptable quality somewhere, someday...

See Box set contents under More info for more details on the DVD track listings.


THE BOOKLETS AND THE DESIGN

Finally, the box set also includes two booklets. One contains lyrics to all the songs contained in the box set, the other features a timeline of significant dates throughout ABBA's career. The Timeline booklet has been illustrated with photos from the Polar Music International and Premium Publishing archives. The CDs come housed in miniature replica sleeves (replicating both back and front of the original Polar albums), while the remaining discs have been designed in a style consistent with the look of the actual box set. The designer was Niclas Håkansson of Ogilvy Design.

 

The Complete Studio Recordings. Released November 7, 2005. Catalogue number: Polar Music 0602498723272. Out of print.

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