Liner notes, part 1
Published April 11, 2010
Theoretically, anyone completely uninterested in popular music between 1974 and 1982, could very well have missed out on the worldwide pop phenomenon that was the Swedish group ABBA. Or in the case of those too young way back then, perhaps not even born, it is unlikely if not impossible that the extraordinarily successful revival of the 1990s also passed them by. How, then, to explain to such a person that some two decades after they went their separate ways, there are still several million people out there who care about the music made by Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad?
The 37 tracks contained in this collection ought to make a convincing case for the group and their music. Here you will find, for the first time exclusively collected in one package, each and every single as conceived and released by ABBA and their record company Polar Music between 1972 and 1982. In addition, a few significant tracks selected as singles during this period by licensing record companies outside Scandinavia have been included.
Note: In fact, not all the singles conceived by Polar were released in ABBA's home country since Swedish radio didn't give much airplay to pop music in the 1970s. If the songs weren't going to be played, reasoned Polar, why release them in the first place? Also, the albums received extremely healthy domestic sales as it was, so the promotional value of extracting singles from albums was fairly limited. However, every single on the Polar label was released in at least one of the Scandinavian countries.
In strictly commercial terms, most of those singles were highly successful. Like all true hit factories (a term the ABBA members dislike, but used here as sincere praise), from Phil Spector and Motown in the 1960s, to Stock/Aitken/Waterman in the 1980s and Swedish turn-of-the-century tunesmiths such as Max Martin, ABBA were a dominating presence on the singles charts during their heyday. The statistics speak for themselves: 19 UK Top Ten hits out of which 9 were number one, 15 Australian Top Ten hits including 6 number ones, 12 Top Three hits in Sweden out of a total of 15 charting singles, 11 consecutive Top Ten hits in Japan, including four number ones, 23 Top Five Singles in the Netherlands - 8 of which were number ones - and 9 number one singles included in the 21 Top Ten hits notched up by the group in West Germany.
The one well-known comparative glitch in this staggering success story was the United States. However, for a Swedish group to achieve 10 Top Twenty hits, including one number one, on the American charts - seemingly impenetrable for anyone outside the English-speaking world during the 1970s - was undoubtedly an impressive feat.
Polar Music used to collaborate with a small group of trusted associates from other record labels to figure out which tracks should be released as singles. Quite simply, the chosen songs were usually those that received the most votes.
But chart statistics and hit potentials aside, the true mark of ABBA's longevity and significance is, of course, that after being mercilessly beaten by those "in-the-know" and violently squeezed through the Test-Of-Time machine, the majority of the songs included in this package have won through and have now taken their rightful place on the shelf marked Timeless. These are the kind of songs where the mere mention of titles will provoke instant humming, the kind of songs used by movie producers to evoke a certain mood or a memory shared by their intended audience.
From self-confessed clever imitators to finger-on-the-pulse hit makers and purveyors of mature melodrama, these songs are, in a way, the true ABBA story - and it all began in the early 1970s...
People Need Love
In the early 1970s there was a recurrent theme to much of the music produced within the lighter side of popular music. It was a more hummable version of the late 1960s hippiedom message of peace, love and understanding, which manifested itself in songs like 'I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing' by the UK group New Seekers.
It was not so strange, then, that Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid, all four at that time working in the Swedish middle-of-the-road field, would conclude that "people need love" on their very first single release in 1972. This was also the first attempt for a while by the Andersson/Ulvaeus team to write a contemporary pop hit in English. The direct inspiration for making a record featuring a shift between male and female vocals came from the UK-based group Blue Mink, whose main repertoire also consisted of pleas for global harmony.
Indeed, this was the theme for many of the Swedish songs released by the recording act Björn & Benny during the preceding years. On quite a few of those, their respective fiancées Agnetha Fältskog (married to Björn in 1971) and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, recording artists in their own right, had contributed uncredited backing vocals. The combination of the four voices made for a very attractive sound, so in March 1972 the decision was made to cut a record where all four were featured artists.
This did not mean the formation of a permanent group, however, for Agnetha and Frida had careers of their own and were both signed to other labels. As the somewhat clumsy credit "Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid" suggested, the two girls were in effect guesting on the new Björn & Benny single, certain to be included on the boys' next album. When released in June 1972, the 'People Need Love' single reached number 17 on the combined singles and albums chart used in Sweden at the time. Take away all the albums from the chart on its peak date, and you have a number seven single hit for 'People Need Love' - a promising start and an indication that it may be worth trying the foursome concept again.
He Is Your Brother
Continuing on the lyrical theme of reaching out to your fellow man, 'He Is Your Brother' became the second Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid single, released in November 1972. By this time it had been decided that the group should record an album together. 'He Is Your Brother' did not enter the Swedish sales chart but was a big radio hit. Later, it was the sole survivor from the group's first album in ABBA's live set when they toured Europe and Australia in 1977.
In the autumn of 1972, Björn, Benny and lyricist/manager Stig Anderson were invited to submit a composition for the Swedish selections for the 1973 Eurovision Song Contest. When they completed 'Ring Ring', they were certain they had a song that would win the Swedish part of the contest.
The previous two singles had been strong indications that there was potential magic waiting to be extracted from working as a group of four. The recording of 'Ring Ring' in January 1973 was the first major step toward the combination of wall-of-sound arrangements, studio wizardry and the blending of Agnetha and Frida's voices that resulted in the famed "ABBA Sound".
Invaluable ABBA engineer Michael B. Tretow had recently read about the multi-overdub techniques with which legendary American producer Phil Spector achieved the bombastic sound on his records. Tretow now suggested that this method should be tried for the recording of 'Ring Ring'. All concerned were amazed by the result.
When the time came for the contest selection, the jury was less convinced about the merits of 'Ring Ring', however, and the group was placed at number three. Whatever disappointment they may have felt was quickly brushed aside when the Swedish and English single versions and the album of the same name battled it out for the top three positions on the sales chart. It was on the back of this success that the group decided that this was where their future lay. But it would actually take a further three years before Björn and Benny finally gave up their commitments as producers for other artists, and Agnetha and Frida put their solo careers on hold.
Love Isn't Easy (But It Sure Is Hard Enough)
With Anni-Frid abandoning her Christian name as a recording artist, the fourth ABBA single was both the first and last on Polar to be exclusively issued under the name 'Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Frida'. Although many copies of the 'Ring Ring' single had also featured this slightly amended name, it was originally released with Frida billed as Anni-Frid.
Other variations on this name over the world included the ludicrous 'Björn & Benny with Svenska Flicka' ("Swedish Girl") and 'Björn & Benny, Anna & Frida' (sometimes with the last name spelt "Frieda"). Indeed, the simplification of Agnetha's name into "Anna" would be
used in many countries for the duration of ABBA's career. In Mexico a more drastic solution was used - for a short period the group was simply called 'Los Suecos' ("The Swedes").
'Love Isn't Easy (But It Sure Is Hard Enough)', released in June, was one of the last songs to be recorded for the Ring Ring album. It was a brief throwback to the shift between male and female lead vocals, very seldom heard on subsequent single releases.
A year after 'Ring Ring', Björn, Benny and Stig were once again invited to submit an entry for the Eurovision Song Contest. When Björn and Benny had finished writing the catchy melody it was Stig's task to write the lyrics, and he started by trying to find the right title. Having abandoned his first idea, 'Honey-Pie', he found the title 'Waterloo' in a book of familiar quotations.
Recorded in December 1973 during sessions for what was to become the Waterloo album, the song faced some "competition" from another brand new track, the Agnetha-sung mid-tempo ballad 'Hasta Mañana'. But 'Waterloo' was ultimately chosen, precisely because it broke with that tradition and also because the song focused on both Frida and Agnetha as lead vocalists, which was a better way of introducing the group to the world.
In February 1974, 'Waterloo' won the Swedish selections, and on April 6 it came out the victor in the contest in Brighton - the first Swedish winner ever, and perhaps the most famous image-defining moment in the whole ABBA story. The four members singing an upbeat, hummable tune, dressed in otrageously glittery costumes, somehow became the eternal perception of ABBA by the general public. 'Waterloo' soon reached number one on the charts in England, Ireland, West Germany, Norway and Belgium, and was a Top Five hit most everywhere else (number six in the US). ABBA were on their way to worldwide success, even if the road would be slightly rocky over the next 18 months.
With the release of the 'Waterloo' single in March 1974, a third variation of the group name was used. Having reached the conclusion that Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Frida was a much too clumsy name, Stig Anderson had taken to referring to the group as ABBA, based on the first letters of their Christian names. In fact, as early as the spring of 1973, this name had started appearing in newspaper articles about the group. However, to ensure a smooth transition, the Waterloo album and singles - the Swedish and English versions were released on two different singles in Sweden - featured the group billed as 'ABBA (Björn, Benny, Agnetha & Frida)'. It was not until the next single that they became simply ABBA and nothing else, at least on their Polar singles.
The difficult question of how to follow a Eurovision Song Contest winner was answered differently depending on which ABBA-releasing record company you asked. (Stig Anderson had arranged it so that different record companies in different countries licensed the rights to release ABBA's records. That way, he ensured that they ended up with the labels that worked the hardest on marketing and promoting.) Polar themselves opted for the Waterloo album track 'Honey, Honey', released in April, and many of the labels who followed their example were rewarded with a sizeable hit.
The spring and summer of 1974 had seen ABBA travelling all over Europe promoting their 'Waterloo' single and planning subsequent follow-ups. By the end of August the group were back in the studio again recording tracks for what was to become their next album, simply titled ABBA.
The very first track to be recorded was also their next single: 'So Long' was released in November 1974. Far from the strongest of the tracks they had finished by that time, it nevertheless had the same uptempo beat as 'Waterloo', and therefore was considered having hit potential. In Sweden and West Germany it was thumbs up from the record buying public, but most other countries shunned it - in the UK it did not even chart. The lesson learned? That singles should always be the best songs, whatever their style.
I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do
One of the last songs to be recorded for the ABBA album was this romantic song, heavily influenced by the European schlager music of the 1950s and something of a tribute to the saxophone sound of orchestra leader Billy Vaughn. Released just before the ABBA album in April 1975, 'I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do' was a major hit in several countries, still with the notable exception of the UK.
Is 'SOS' ABBA's first truly classic pop single? Some people would certainly argue so. The song was firmly rooted in the English and American pop tradition, but featured clever countermelodies, layers of Swedish melancholy, and Agnetha's plaintive lead vocal as uniquely personal distinguishing marks. The release of the 'SOS' single seems to mark the moment when all suspicion that ABBA were just another Eurovision one-hit wonder was erased. During the late summer and autumn of 1975 it became a Top Three hit in several countries. It reached number 15 in the US, and also hit the number six position in the UK, marking the start of a consecutive run of 18 Top Ten hits in that territory.
The very last song to be recorded for the ABBA album in March 1975, and the fourth and last worldwide single to be taken off the album, 'Mamma Mia' has also become the symbol for ABBA's breakthrough in Australia in 1975. Promotional films had been made for four tracks off the ABBA album, and when the clips for 'I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do' and 'Mamma Mia' were shown on the Australian TV show Countdown, the whole country went ABBA crazy, with the peak of their frenzy occurring during the group's tour there in March 1977. Certainly one of ABBA's catchiest singles, 'Mamma Mia' reached the number one position on the Australian charts - it stayed on top for ten weeks - a feat also achieved in the UK, Ireland and West Germany.
After a short summer tour of Sweden, by early August 1975 ABBA were back in the studio, recording two songs that were to rank among their biggest hits. However, it would take several months before both recordings were completed. The first of the two to be released was 'Fernando', originally written and recorded in Swedish for Frida's solo album Frida ensam (Frida Alone). Björn, Benny and Stig Anderson saw its potential to become a worldwide hit, and the decision was made to record an English language vocal and release it as an ABBA single in March 1976. 'Fernando' was a number one or number two chart hit most everywhere it was released - in Australia, along with The Beatles' 'Hey Jude', it still holds the record for the most weeks spent at the top of the charts: 14 weeks.
If 'Waterloo' is the song that will forever be linked to the most famous moment in ABBA's history, 'Dancing Queen' is surely their most famous song altogether, and certainly their all-time biggest hit. With a rhythm track slightly influenced by George McCrae's groundbreaking 1974 disco hit, 'Rock Your Baby', it was recorded around the same time as 'Fernando'. 'Dancing Queen' was the first single off the Arrival album and is also notable for being ABBA's only US number one. Indeed, it seemed the single topped the charts almost everywhere that records were released.
Money, Money, Money
As ABBA were struggling to keep up with all the promotional activities that followed with the success of the 'SOS', 'Mamma Mia', and 'Fernando' singles during the end of 1975 and early months of 1976, recording sessions for their next album were put on hold. By the end of March, however, the group found time to start recording sessions proper for what was to become the Arrival album. The cabaret-tinged 'Money, Money, Money' was recorded in May, at one time sporting the working title 'Gypsy Girl'. Released as a single in November 1976, the song showcased a dramatic Frida lead vocal and followed the previous few singles to the top regions of charts the world over.
Knowing Me, Knowing You
'Knowing Me, Knowing You' was the last single to be released from the Arrival album. The record reached shops in February 1977 just as ABBA were busy touring Europe, with live concerts in Australia following in March.
'Knowing Me, Knowing You' could perhaps be said to be the first ABBA song to genuinely reflect the fact that the members were four grown-ups, creating a sense of true melancholy while still remaining a catchy pop song - yet another of those qualities that seemed to separate ABBA from most every other pop artist at the time. Incidentally, one of the working titles for the song had been 'Number One, Number One' - if that was a prediction for the single's chart success it certainly was fullfilled in the UK, Ireland, West Germany, Mexico and South Africa.
The Name Of The Game
The European and Australian tour over and done with, on May 31, 1977 ABBA started work on their fifth album, ABBA - The Album. The unusually complex song they recorded that day, evolving from the starting-point of the opening bass and synthesizer riff, was to be released as the first single from the sessions later in the year. 'The Name Of The Game' also marked one of the very last times Stig Anderson helped Björn and Benny with the lyrics for one of their compositions - his commitments as manager and head of Polar meant that he had very little time for any wordsmithery. By 1977 his contributions were limited to titles only, but as Björn and Benny have acknowledged, he knew how to make them catchy: 'SOS', 'Dancing Queen', 'Knowing Me, Knowing You' - they were all his.
Take A Chance On Me
Like all good pop lyricists, Björn always maintained that the sound of the words were equal in importance to their meaning - often even more important. 'Take A Chance On Me' is a prime example of this philosophy. The idea for the title started out with the combination of the sounds "t-k-ch" that lodged themselves in Björn's brain and were transformed into the phrase "take a chance". One of ABBA's bounciest, bubblegummiest singles, 'Take A Chance On Me' was released in January 1978. It was ABBA's second biggest US hit, reaching number three.
The third and last official single from ABBA -- The Album was recorded early during the album sessions under the working title 'High, High', and was released in May 1978 in an edited version. Not all countries chose to release the 'Eagle' single, the UK and the US being notable exceptions. It did, however, reach the Top Ten in countries as diverse as West Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland and Zimbabwe.
Summer Night City
In the midst of promotional activities for ABBA - The Album during the spring of 1978, ABBA started recording tracks for what was to become their Voulez-Vous album. In May, their own Polar Music Studios was officially opened, and one of the first songs to be completed there was the Bee Gees-influenced 'Summer Night City'. It was also the first single to be released from the album sessions, although it ultimately never appeared on Voulez-Vous, an LP that took a full year to complete. Released in September 1978, 'Summer Night City' turned out to be ABBA's last chart-topping single in their native Sweden. Incidentally, October 6, the day it hit number one, was also the day that Frida and Benny finally got married, 9 1/2 years after they first met.
A song about a former lover who now prefers to be "in the arms of Rosalita"? Well, that was the theme of the lyrics to the original version of this song, committed to tape in December 1978. A revised version, somewhat influenced by the sound of the song 'El Condor Pasa' as made famous by Simon and Garfunkel, was soon recorded, and 'Chiquitita' was released as a single in January 1979. Famously premièred at the all-star UNICEF gala A Gift Of Song in New York, it was a Top Five hit most everywhere. To this day, all the proceeds of the song goes to UNICEF in recognition of the United Nations' "International Year Of The Child" in 1979.
Does Your Mother Know
Released as a single around the same time as the Voulez-Vous album in late April 1979, 'Does Your Mother Know' was the first and last of ABBA's singles to focus solely on Björn as lead vocalist. Although in hindsight Björn himself feels the group would have enjoyed a bigger hit with female lead vocals on the recording, it did in fact reach the Top Ten in several countries.