ABBA In Japan - liner notes, part 2

Published September 15, 2011

Strike two of the promotional campaign was implemented in November, when, for the first time in six years, the four ABBA members visited Japan in person. A detailed 10-day campaign in Tokyo had been worked out, jam-packed with strategic television appearances and plenty of interviews with other media, not to mention a press conference at the Swedish Embassy attended by 300 media representatives. “I’ve seen our itinerary and there is no room at all for any time off,” said Agnetha shortly before the trip. “We’ll be doing TV, TV and more TV, plus some radio!”

The high-point of the Japanese effort, naturally, was the 50-minute television special featured on this DVD. Filmed on November 26, the special featured a sort of “greatest hits” of ABBA’s recorded output thus far – from ‘Waterloo’ up to ‘Take A Chance On Me’ – plus selected album tracks and, of course, their current single, ‘Summer Night City’. There was also an exclusive preview of a track from the upcoming Voulez-Vous album – in fact, it was the first public unveiling of the song. At the time the supremely catchy ‘If It Wasn’t For The Nights’ was slated to become the group’s next single, but was relegated to “album track” status when ‘Chiquitita’ was written and recorded shortly after the return to Sweden.

Somewhat unusually for ABBA, who liked to have complete control over sound issues, three songs in the television special – ‘Money, Money, Money’, ‘SOS’ and the closing number ‘Thank You For The Music’ – were in fact performed live. Moreover, ABBA were backed up by a full-scale studio orchestra, resulting in some unusual arrangements for songs that featured neither strings nor horns on the original recordings. Note: The ardent ABBA fan will notice that the sound mix on the three live numbers on this DVD release is a little different than the versions originally broadcast, allowing for a more unpolished experience of the performance. You will also notice that ‘Summer Night City’ is presented as a performance focusing entirely on ABBA, not as originally broadcast: with the group as a quarter of a split-screen featuring summer scenes from Sweden. Also, whereas ‘Fernando’ had been edited down to include only two verses and a chorus in the original broadcast, the complete version is featured here. Finally, ‘The Name Of The Game’, which was nowhere to be seen in the television special at the time, has now been reinstated on this DVD.

Seen today, the lavishly produced special offers an intriguing glimpse of the way television programmes would look in the late 1970s, and, more specifically, how they were produced in Japan. For example, on some songs ABBA were supported by extraordinarily enthusiastic dancers, something that was never seen in the group’s television appearances in other countries. But most of all, of course, ABBA Special showcased the group in their prime, full of zest and performance energy.

The bonus feature on this DVD is a film entitled ABBA In Japan Nov. 1978, a minute-by-minute fly-on-the-wall depiction of the group’s hectic schedule during their Tokyo visit. Films like these were made in order to satisfy Japanese fans’ hunger for seeing more of their idols. Screened in big halls, the films would simply follow the artists from the minute they set foot on Japanese soil until they boarded the plane that would transport them back to their home-country. In this particular case, the film does indeed offer a fairly raw depiction of the hectic life of pop stars on a promotional visit, constantly surrounded by fans and media representatives.

“We figured out afterwards that we had two and a half hours of free time,” said Agnetha after the trip. “We really didn’t see more of Japan than the hotel and a long row of TV and radio studios. But we had fun.” Like many other visitors before and since, she was also amazed at the military-like precision of the visit, labelling Japan “the most efficient country I’ve ever been in.” Needless to say, ABBA’s promotional efforts paid off handsomely. Within half a year the group had sold 1.5 million records in Japan, with several of their albums entering the Top Ten and the Voulez-Vous LP spending two weeks at number one.

With the heightened visibility of ABBA in Japan there was naturally a demand for them as live performers as well. In March 1980 the time had finally come for the group to visit the country again, for what turned out to be their very last concerts in front of a paying audience. Over a period of 16 days, ABBA performed a total of 11 shows attended by more than 100,000 people, beginning on March 12 at Tokyo’s famed Budokan arena. In fact, spread out over the itinerary, a total of six sell-out shows were performed at the Budokan – according to ABBA’s tour producer Thomas Johansson, only acts like The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan have sold out this prestigious venue to the same extent. But although no-one knew it for certain at the time, when ABBA stepped off the Budokan stage for the last time on March 27 they said farewell to touring forever.

The 1980 live shows were never captured on film in their entirety, so what remains from ABBA’s Japanese adventures is the television special from their visit two years earlier. All in all, this DVD hopefully provides a fascinating look into ABBA’s confrontation with Japanese media and culture as they were in the late 1970s. In its own way ABBA In Japan constitutes a unique time-travel piece from just a few decades ago, but seemingly from another era altogether.


ABBA In Japan


Regular single disc

Limited Special Edition DVD

(featuring additional bonus material)