Liner notes, part 2
Published April 11, 2010
'Voulez-Vous' was the song that somehow seemed to mark the peak of what is sometimes referred to as ABBA's disco period and their affinity with the work of The Bee Gees. Significantly, this was the only ABBA song (excepting live recordings) to be recorded outside of Sweden: in Criteria Studios, Miami, where the brothers Gibb made most of their disco-era records. The song had been composed in the Bahamas just a few days before the recording session on February 1, 1979, and was completed in Stockholm near the end of the Voulez-Vous album sessions.
'Angeleyes' was originally the B-side of the 'Voulez-Vous' single, but the two songs were released as a double A-side in the UK. It turned out that 'Angeleyes' was the preferred track, and it eventually reached number three on the charts. Most everywhere else in the world 'Voulez-Vous' was featured as the A-side, however, reaching number one in Belgium and the Top Five in Spain and The Netherlands.
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)
The Voulez-Vous album completed and released during the spring of 1979, ABBA set about preparing for their autumn tour of North America and Europe, due to commence in September. Although they were fresh off the long, hard work on their album, the band wanted to have a brand new single released in conjunction with the tour. During the summer, several attempts were made to find the right song until Björn and Benny finally came up with 'Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)', released in October. In global chart terms it was actually more successful than any of the singles off the Voulez-Vous album, with the exception of 'Chiquitita'.
I Have A Dream
With the tour completed in mid-November 1979, one last single was released off the Voulez-Vous album: the optimistic anthem 'I Have A Dream'. With its children's choir, this December single neatly rounded off the "International Year Of The Child".
The Winner Takes It All
After the virtual deluge of single tracks during 1979, it took quite a while before ABBA released a single in 1980. Songs had been written and recorded for a new album since the beginning of the year, with the exception of a three week break in March. The reason for the time-out was a tour of Japan, an extension of the trip to North America and Europe the previous year. It turned out to be ABBA's final tour.
In June, however, the group finally came up with a song they felt would be a suitable first single off the upcoming album. Featuring what could very well be held up as Agnetha's best vocal performance ever, 'The Winner Takes It All' is the song where Björn admits that the sad experience of his and Agnetha's divorce the previous year left its mark on the lyrics.
The release of the song in July 1980 seemed to mark the start of ABBA's final years, a period of reflective maturity. Although there had been songs of heartache and painful split-ups before, the layer of doom and gloom would be more upfront and personal than before. Those observations aside, 'The Winner Takes It All' was also one of ABBA's very finest singles, returning the group to the number one spot in several countries and also reaching the US Top Ten.
By late September 1980, the new ABBA album was virtually complete and due for release in just a month. But Björn and Benny felt they needed one more, really strong song and sat down to try to come up with the right tune. It had already been decided that the name of the new album would be Super Trouper, and now they found that this title fit in the chorus of their new composition. With some effort, Björn managed to construct lyrics around the somewhat unusual theme of a gigantic spotlight.
Featuring Frida on lead vocals, with her own special blend of restraint and warmth, 'Super Trouper' was also selected as the lead-off single from the album in November 1980. It was ABBA's last UK number one.
On And On And On
The Beach Boys have always been one of Benny's all-time favourite bands, and during the ABBA years they were his starting-point for everything that record-making was supposed to be about. Real, solid productions, paying attention to detail and with strong emphasis on harmony vocals -- that was the lesson Björn and Benny learned from The Beach Boys' creative genius, Brian Wilson.
Apart from a few passages here and there, however, 'On And On And On' was the only time that ABBA paid obvious tribute to their American inspirators. Listen to the falsetto backing vocals in the chorus - performed by Benny, naturally - and compare them with The Beach Boys' 'Do It Again'. The band's lead singer, Mike Love, was sufficiently amused to include a version of 'On And On And On' on his 1981 solo album, Looking Back With Love.
'On And On And On', the closest ABBA came to rock on the Super Trouper album, was another of the singles that were never Polar Music releases. However, a few countries decided to try their luck with it: in Australia the song became a Top Ten hit, while Japan pushed it all the way up to number three.
Lay All Your Love On Me
Although mature introspection certainly coloured much of ABBA's music in the 1980s, the somewhat hymn-like Super Trouper track 'Lay All Your Love On Me' proved that the group was still able to come up with a solid dancefloor filler. A year after the 1970s disco-inflected music that coloured the Voulez-Vous album, with 'Lay All Your Love On Me' ABBA were arguably providing a blueprint for the electronic beats of the 1980s.
One of the few recordings on this collection not to be conceived as a single by ABBA and their record company Polar, it was released as a 12" single in selected territories in the spring of 1981. 'Lay All Your Love On Me' reached number seven on the UK charts, the highest placing of a song exclusively released as a 12" single up to that time. The song also hit number one on Billboard's Dance/Disco chart in the United States.
One Of Us
In March 1981 ABBA started recording their eighth album, The Visitors. However, it took until late October before they had written and recorded 'One Of Us', the song that they felt was the best track to release as a single. With only a few weeks to go before single and album was to be released, the decision was made so quickly that the single was not available in Swedish shops until after the album had been issued. It still became a sizeable international hit.
When All Is Said And Done
Not every territory opted to release 'One Of Us' as the first single from The Visitors. One of the notable exceptions was the United States where they went for 'When All Is Said And Done', rewarding ABBA with a Top 30 hit. The song was written just shortly after the announcement of the divorce between Benny and Frida in February 1981. Björn has acknowledged that this sad occasion was at the back of his mind when he wrote the lyrics, and lead vocalist Frida contributed a truly heartfelt performance. It was one of the strongest tracks on the album.
Head Over Heels
Again, when the time came to choose a follow-up single from The Visitors, the choices differed between territories. The selection made by Polar and most other countries was the somewhat lightweight 'Head Over Heels', but in chart terms it became one of ABBA's least successful singles since their international breakthrough. Although it did reach the Top Five in one or two countries, 'Head Over Heels' didn't do much business in the rest of the world. In hindsight it would have been interesting to see how well the more captivating 'When All Is Said And Done' had fared if it had been chosen as the official follow-up single instead.
In the United States, the 'Head Over Heels' single was flipped over and its B-side - the title track off the current album - was chosen as the A-side for the second US release from the album. The lyrics, dealing with the fears of dissidents in the Soviet Union of that era, marked one of the few times ABBA even came close to a political statement, although Björn deliberately made the words obscure enough to be open to other interpretations.
This mix of a psychedelic, Indian-flavoured verse melody and 1980s synth rock in the chorus, was an unusual and intriguing step for ABBA. Unfortunately, it peaked just outside the Top 60 on the US chart, and didn't have any success in any other countries.
The Day Before You Came
For the first few months of 1982 the four ABBA members devoted themselves to separate activities. It was clear that the group was no longer the close entity they had been just a few years previously. In May, however, they were back in the studio again, as usual with the view to record a new album. But the subconscious feeling that the group had run its full course somehow put the damper on their inclination to complete yet another album project. Only three tracks were completed: 'You Owe Me One', which became a single B-side later the same year, 'I Am The City', belatedly released in 1993, and 'Just Like That', still unreleased in complete form.
Instead, the decision was made to release a double album compilation of their singles (although due to the running time restrictions of the vinyl age, quite a few significant tracks were in fact missing from the package). The collection, The Singles - The First Ten Years, was to include two new songs, so in August the group returned to the studio for what turned out to be their final recording sessions. The very last track to be recorded by the group was the melodramatic, Agnetha-led 'The Day Before You Came'.
The song was written in the studio under the working title 'Den lidande fågeln' ("The Suffering Bird") and - but for a snare drum overdub and some acoustic guitar - it featured Benny as sole backing musician. Arguably one of ABBA's finest recordings and certainly a swansong to be proud of, it received a mixed reaction when released as a single in October 1982. In the UK - traditionally an ABBA stronghold - it only reached number 32. In several European countries, however, 'The Day Before You Came' was a Top Five hit.
For all its brilliance, the song did lack the immediate hit feeling that had usually been ABBA's 7" trademark. As Björn later pointed out, its narrative structure and Agnetha's "in character" performance, clearly showed that he and Benny had their minds on more theatrical work. During the year, plans for a collaboration with lyricist Tim Rice on a musical - the realization of a dream they had nurtured for the past decade - had gradually become more tempting for the Andersson/Ulvaeus team. At the end of 1982 it was finally decided that ABBA would take a break so that they could concentrate on writing the musical.
The very last ABBA single to be conceived and released by the group while they still existed was 'Under Attack', recorded during those final ABBA sessions in August 1982. Although the 'Under Attack' single reached record shops in December in most countries, Polar themselves didn't release it until February 1983 in the Nordic countries.
A Top Five hit in The Netherlands and Belgium, Under Attack did not make many waves in other charts, only just creeping into the Top 30 in the UK. One reason was of course that it had already been included on the successful The Singles - The First Ten Years compilation, but perhaps there was also something about ABBA themselves that the record-buyers could sense: their hearts just weren't in it like they used to be. Even the video for 'Under Attack' seemed to provide a clue, subconscious or otherwise, as it ended with the four members walking away in the distance, their backs to the camera.
The group decided to take a "break", but in fact they never got back together again. Björn and Benny devoted the next few years to the Chess musical project, while Agnetha and Frida recorded solo albums. By the mid-1980s no-one had any illusions that ABBA would ever record together again.
Thank You For The Music
'Thank You For The Music' is, without a doubt, one of ABBA's most well-known songs - but it was never a major single release for the group. Originally a song from ABBA's 1977 mini-musical, The Girl With The Golden Hair, the song did receive a limited release in some countries. It was the B-side of the 'Eagle' single in 1978, and in some countries the two tracks were promoted as a double A-side. In those countries 'Thank You For The Music' became a Top Five hit. In the UK the song wasn't released as a single until 1983, and then as promotion for a compilation album of the same name.
Although, strictly speaking, the track appears out of chronological order here, we have chosen to place 'Thank You For The Music' as the last "proper" track on this compilation. This is partly as a fitting tribute to ABBA themselves, but the people who put together this collection also want to extend a warm thanks to all the fans who have supported ABBA over the years.
We now know that whatever new steps they may take in their careers, Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Frida will forever be first and foremost associated with their ABBA years. The 1992 ABBA Gold compilation album - having, at the time of writing, sold well over 20 million copies worldwide - is perhaps the most obvious evidence that the songs have acquired a life of their own and will continue to be discovered and re-discovered for as long as people go on listening to popular music. And although memories of 1970s glammy stage outfits and stories of the group members' interpersonal relationships will continue to fascinate, it is the music that will remain the true ABBA legacy.
Ring Ring (1974 single remix)
After ABBA achieved their international breakthrough with 'Waterloo', most countries chose to release 'Honey, Honey' as a follow-up. In the UK, Epic Records wanted it differently and suggested that a brushed-up version of 'Ring Ring' might be the way to go. Some saxophone was added, along with a fuzzy electric guitar, and the entire recording was slowed down just slightly. The resultant track was released as a single in June 1974. In the UK the song failed to become a major hit, but it did reach the Australian Top Ten during the height of Abbamania two years later.
Incidentally, this same re-jigged recording of 'Ring Ring' was subject to a second mix, which was included on the US release of the Waterloo album. 'Ring Ring (US Remix 1974)', is currently available as a bonus track on the CD version of Waterloo.
Voulez-Vous (extended remix)
When 'Voulez-Vous' was released as a single in the United States in August 1979, ABBA's American record company at the time, Atlantic Records, requested an extended disco remix. The purpose was to get the track played in clubs, thus increasing public interest in the song. The original recording was extended by a minute or so, and more emphasis was put on drum and bass sounds. The remix of 'Voulez-Vous' was then issued as a 12" promo release to American DJs only, but has never been commercially available until now.
ADDITIONAL BONUS TRACKS ON AUSTRALIAN VERSION OF THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION
The frenzied Australian interest in ABBA in the mid-1970s has become the most striking symbol of the group's extraordinary popularity during their heyday. It manifested itself in several different ways: hysterical airport receptions, record-breaking television broadcasts and a multitude of ABBA merchandise in every shop. The story of 'Rock Me' is another good example. Originally, it was simply the B-side of 'I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do', but six months after that song hit number one, the record company flipped the single over and promoted 'Rock Me' instead. The result was a Top Five hit in both Australia and New Zealand. It appears as the first of two additional bonus tracks at the end of CD 1 on the Australian edition of this compilation.
The second bonus track exclusive to Australia is the ballad 'Hasta Mañana', which has a story similar to that of 'Rock Me'. The song dates back to 1974, when ABBA almost chose to make it their submission for the Eurovision Song Contest in the place of 'Waterloo'. That obviously didn't happen, and instead the song became a popular album track. In Australia, 'Hasta Mañana' was also used as a B-side on the 'So Long' single, which never charted. But "Abbamania" provided an opportunity to promote 'Hasta Mañana' instead - like 'Rock Me', it had been featured in the immensely popular 'The Best Of ABBA' television special, broadcast in March 1976 - and this time the record company was rewarded with a Top 20 hit in Australia and a Top 10 success in New Zealand.