That's Me - liner notes

Published August 24, 2010


It was as an international superstar that Agnetha Fältskog entered the Polar Music Studios in Stockholm in January 1983 to record her first solo album in eight years. As one quarter of ABBA, she had acheived success on an almost unprecedented scale, certainly for a Swedish act. During those years, she and Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad had been the main instruments of expression for the talents of composers, producers and fellow band members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus.

On her most recent solo album, the Swedish language Elva kvinnor i ett hus ("Eleven Women In One House"), released in 1975, all music had been written and produced by Agnetha herself (excepting her Swedish version of ABBA’s SOS). But for this new phase in her solo career, although she was of course very much involved as unofficial co-producer, Agnetha would instead continue to use her voice to express the visions of other producers, most of whom had coincidentally enjoyed parallel careers of extraordinary achievements themselves during ABBA’s years at the top.

The year 1982 had seen ABBA recording and releasing what proved to be their very last songs, and it was a period that had been characterized by all four members branching out into other projects, or at least beginning to contemplate major work outside of the group concept. For her part, Agnetha had spent part of August filming her debut as actress in the Swedish movie Raskenstam, and in October she released the duet single Never Again with Tomas Ledin. It was ABBA manager Stig Anderson’s idea that Ledin’s composition should be recorded as a duet between him and Agnetha, and the single’s success as a Top 5 hit in Sweden and Norway, and a major hit in South America, proved that this was a good idea.

Agnetha had also spent part of the autumn choosing songs for her first ever English language solo album, Wrap Your Arms Around Me, which was to be recorded between January and March 1983. The first producer after Björn and Benny to be afforded the task of providing a suitable aural environment for Agnetha’s special talents was Mike Chapman, who could count writing and production credits for UK glam rock acts such as The Sweet, Mud, Suzi Quatro, and US new wave stars Blondie, among his merits.

For Agnetha’s album, however, the nearest comparison would be the more laid back pop sound of his work with groups such as Exile and Smokie. On Chapman’s suggestion, members of the latter group even provided backing vocals for several tracks on the album, for example the calypso-flavoured The Heat Is On, which was the first single in most territories. A Number One hit in Sweden and Norway, and reaching Number Two in Holland and Belgium, this song has remained Agnetha’s favourite from her English language solo albums. In USA and Canada, however, the more rocky Can’t Shake Loose was chosen as the lead-off single, and duly became a Top 30 hit. Chapman himself had contributed the album’s smoochily sensual title track, Wrap Your Arms Around Me, which was also selected as a single release, becoming a Top 5 hit in Belgium, South Africa and Holland.

Upon its release in June 1983, Agnetha was pleased with the variety of style on the album, and added: "We...said from the start that it was going to be a very positive album with a warm atmosphere – and I think that we have succeeded. I had a wonderful time working on this album. Mike has revealed a lot of new sides within myself." Much of the record buying public seemed to like what the pair had come up with, and the album entered the Swedish charts at Number One, also becoming a chart-topper in Norway and Belgium and reaching the Top Five in Holland and Finland.

Agnetha ended the year 1983 with a single release of songs from the Swedish movie P&B, a satirical comedy about the rise and fall of two low-life "businessmen". The A-side, It’s So Nice To Be Rich, was possibly the most ironic lyrical statement ever delivered by Agnetha – 15 years later it stands out as one of those songs that perfectly sum up the nouveau riche atmosphere of the 1980s. Produced by long time ABBA bassist and string arranger Rutger Gunnarsson, it was one of Agnetha’s very best solo releases, as well as a Top Ten hit in Sweden.

In October 1984, Agnetha again started working on a new album, eventually titled Eyes Of A Woman. This time around, Eric Stewart, member of romantic ironists 10cc, occupied the producer’s chair. As main writer of the group’s most famous song I’m Not In Love, Stewart had always leaned more towards the straightforward pop side of their work, and it was primarily in that capacity he started working with Agnetha on her second solo album of the 1980s.

The first single off Eyes Of A Woman, I Won’t Let You Go, a Swedish and Belgian Top Ten hit, had been written by Agnetha herself with Eric Stewart contributing the lyrics, and was arguably the strongest track on the album. Despite stellar efforts like this, Agnetha has always been very underrated as a songwriter, not least by herself. "I still try to compose, but to be really good, to come up with something really original, is very hard work and requires a lot of discipline, at least in my case", she said at the time of the album’s release. "But I think it’s fun to have one or two of my own songs on my album, so I continue."

Sadly, along with its B-side You’re There (included on this collection as a bonus track), I Won’t Let You Go was to remain her last published composition to date, and her talent for writing solid, inventive melodies is deeply missed on the Swedish music scene. Other singles from the album included the title track Eyes Of A Woman, and a contribution from Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra, One Way Love – its flipside Turn The World Around, not included on the album, is a bonus selection on this CD. Eyes Of A Woman was released in March 1985 and reached Number Two in Sweden, as well as entering the Top 20 in Norway, Holland and South Africa.

Over the next 18 months not much was heard from Agnetha on record, but in November 1986 she once again found herself at the top of the Swedish single charts with The Way You Are. The single, conceived as part of the Swedish campaign for hosting the 1992 Olympic Winter Games, was recorded as a duet with Ola Håkansson, who had enjoyed international success as a member of Secret Service. The B-side, Fly Like The Eagle, makes its CD debut as a bonus track on this collection.

The campaign may have failed, but for Agnetha, the release of the single marked the start of an unusually productive year, and 1987 saw her recording no less than two albums. The first was a more low-key project, a Swedish album of children’s songs recorded with her son Christian. The other was her third international solo album, I Stand Alone, produced by Peter Cetera, whom she had met the previous year when both of them appeared at a United Nations gala in Stockholm. Cetera, formerly the lead singer of successful American group Chicago, professed to be an admirer of ABBA’s music, and Agnetha liked Cetera’s work as well. An album project was discussed, and during the spring of 1987 Cetera started collecting suitable songs for the album. In the summer, Agnetha travelled to Los Angeles to record the album, the first time she had recorded a whole album outside of Sweden.

The sound of Cetera’s production was typical for the American West Coast, something of a radical departure from the English/European sound of Agnetha’s previous albums. Despite her reluctance to spend too much time away from home, she found the experience worthwhile. "It was great to work with Peter. He was so careful with the vocal tracks, he’s so sensitive, and has a really good ear", she said.

Released in November 1987, I Stand Alone entered the Swedish charts at Number One, and out of the three singles released from the album, The Last Time was the most successful, entering the Top 30 in Belgium. Agnetha herself named the other two single tracks, the Peter Cetera duet I Wasn’t The One (Who Said Goodbye) and Let It Shine, as her favourites on the album.

So far, I Stand Alone remains the last new solo album released by Agnetha, her need for a more relaxed lifestyle away from the spotlight taking priority. During the 90s, however, interest in her work with ABBA has grown stronger than ever, and therefore it is only fitting that this collection includes a few selections from her years with the group that made her an international star in the first place. The chosen tracks speak for themselves, two of them being all but solo performances by Agnetha: The Winner Takes It All is arguably Agnetha’s strongest vocal performance ever, and was a worldwide Number One smash in 1980. On the ballad Slipping Through My Fingers, off the 1981 album The Visitors, Björn provided her with lyrics that dealt with the mixed emotions evoked by seeing daughter Linda growing up. The 1976 Dancing Queen single B-side That’s Me, where Agnetha and Frida share lead vocal duties, is one of Agnetha’s favourite ABBA tracks, and as such an obvious recording to include on this CD.

Finally, when this CD collection was put together, a box marked "The Queen Of Hearts, demo 1981" was discovered among the Agnetha Fältskog tapes in the archives. When played back, the tape revealed an English language version of Agnetha’s own composition "När du tar mej i din famn", originally recorded in 1979 for inclusion on her Swedish Greatest Hits package Tio år med Agnetha ("Ten Years With Agnetha"). Ingela Forsman had provided the Swedish lyrics and did so again for this English version, which was to be recorded by Swedish singer Agneta Baumann and released on her 1981 album I Am An Illusion. Using the original 1979 backing track, Agnetha’s own previously unreleased recording of The Queen Of Hearts features a stunning lead vocal performance that certainly belies the fact that this was a "demo", never intended to be released by Agnetha herself. Indeed, the fact that such a splendid track could be so casually tossed aside and then filed away in the vaults for 17 years says something crucial about Agnetha as an artist: remarkably talented, yet eternally modest – that’s her.

 

Carl Magnus Palm, 1998

 

That's Me. Released May 18, 1998. Catalogue number: Polar 539 928-2.

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