Liner notes, part 2

Published April 06, 2010


By August 1976 it was high time that ABBA released a new single as a taster for the upcoming album. There was little doubt as to what that song would be: ‘Dancing Queen’. In fact, if fate had willed otherwise it might have very well been released back in March, instead of ‘Fernando’. Both songs were completed at the same time, and ABBA and Stig Anderson were in the unique position of being able to choose which one to release first. Björn and Benny argued that ‘Dancing Queen’ should take precedence, but Stig insisted that ‘Fernando’ was the right choice, presumably because this ballad broke off from the most recent single, the uptempo ‘Mamma Mia’.

When ‘Dancing Queen’ was finally released, it further confirmed ABBA’s phenomenal popularity by actually becoming an even bigger single than ‘Fernando’. Today it is widely regarded as one of the best pop singles of all time. ABBA provided a unique take on the rhythm patterns of then-current American dance music, with Agnetha and Frida’s voices cutting like laser through the soundscape and Benny’s keyboards tinkling jubilantly in the high register – it was hard to comprehend that not so long ago some had still regarded the group as Eurovision one hit wonders.

As ‘Dancing Queen’ hit Swedish record shops on August 16, ABBA were out on the Stockholm archipelago island of Viggsö, where the two couples in the group and manager Stig Anderson’s family all had houses. Famously, this was also the location of the small song writing cottage where Björn and Benny wrote many ABBA songs. With the ABBA members’ eagerness to spend as much time as possible on Viggsö during the summer months, it was natural that much of the filming for the television special was made there. Between the end of June and mid-August, the crew visited the island on two or three occasions, filming an interview with the group but also Björn and Benny at work in their cottage – the only such film in existence.

Per Falkman has a particularly vivid memory of one of the early Viggsö filming sessions and how the production team’s efforts to dispel the “aloof” image foisted on the ABBA members had certain ironic limitations. The team had been filming just prior to the traditional Swedish Midsummer holiday, and were invited to a party arranged on Viggsö by Stig Anderson, attended by the ABBA members, their friends and families. The day after, Falkman visited Frida and Benny’s house. “Frida was standing with flushed cheeks in front of a smoking stove, frying herring, and I immediately ran to Leonard, shouting: ‘You’ve got to come here! The world-famous star frying herring for all her friends in a smoking kitchen in the Stockholm archipelago – what a great picture! Get the cameraman!’ But Leonard said, ‘There is no way we can film that, because people won’t believe in it. They will think it’s been staged; that we’ve filled the kitchen with smoke and that’s she’s turning plastic fish around in the frying pan. It’s too good to be true.’ And yet that’s really how it was.”

The picturesque settings of the archipelago made it an attractive location for the filming of one of the songs to be included in the special, the choice falling on ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’. Although the verses featured an appropriately melancholy Frida wandering around on the island, for the choruses the two happy ABBA couples were filmed on a sailing-boat, jarring somewhat with the marital-split-themed lyrics. “Today, maybe I wouldn’t have chosen a sailing-boat,” admits Leonard Eek, “but there was the thought that this programme would perhaps be shown internationally and for that reason I wanted to expose the Stockholm archipelago.”

Eek has more unequivocally positive feelings towards his production of the other songs filmed during the summer months. ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’, where the setting and the mood of the clip were certainly in perfect tune with the song, was filmed at the Hedvig Eleonora school in Stockholm, with Swedish comedian Magnus Härenstam in the role as the suitably bewildered teacher. Incidentally, the version of ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’ included in the programme features an early mix of the song, which differed quite a bit from the version released on the Arrival album – it appears on the DVD of this Deluxe Edition as originally broadcast. The third and final song to be captured on celluloid was ‘Tiger’, filmed late at night and featuring a tough, jeans-clad ABBA being chauffeured by Agnetha through central Stockholm.

On August 20, ABBA were back in the recording studio for an intense, almost month-long period of wrapping up the album. So far, while Frida had shone on leads for two songs, Agnetha had only been afforded a solo spot for a few lines on ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’, so it was high time that she was given a number of her own. The ballad ‘My Love, My Life’ was originally recorded as ‘Monsieur, Monsieur’, a slightly more uptempo number. The final version of the song was turned into one of Agnetha’s classic “woman abandoned” tearjerkers, with a backing vocal arrangement inspired by the whispery sounds on 10cc’s recent mega-hit ‘I’m Not In Love’.

Leonard Eek has particularly fond memories of the song and the way it was presented in ABBA-dabba-dooo!! “I had this idea, ‘We should only have a close-up of Agnetha’s face throughout the entire song, and yet it must be compelling; we have to show what a great singer she is and how beautiful she is, as a contrast to the more informal scenes in the programme’. We spent one day just on that song, which was highly unusual back then. We worked with lighting and with chroma key [a then relatively new television technique wherein a person is filmed against a single-colour backdrop, creating a background ‘key’ which can then be replaced with any video source]. I didn’t have a clear-cut vision of what I wanted so we tested the limits of how far we could go, which meant that it took time, but it was also fun and exciting.”

The recording of the Björn-led version of ‘Why Did It Have To Be Me’ was then followed by the final track for the album. The strings-keyboards-and-wordless-vocals number, originally entitled ‘Ode To Dalecarlia’, was largely a result of Benny’s life-long love affair with Swedish folk music played on fiddles, which is especially prevalent in the Swedish county of Dalecarlia. However, when cover art designer Rune Söderqvist’s then common-law-wife suggested that ‘Arrival’ could be a good title for an album, the name of the tune was promptly changed to make it the title track. The cover picture for the stylish sleeve, featuring ABBA sitting in a helicopter, was taken at the Barkarby airfield northwest of Stockholm.

With the album completed, there was only the matter of the live performance before ABBA could also sign off on their contribution to the ABBA-dabba-dooo!! special. On September 29, the group, their backing musicians and an expectant audience gathered at a Stockholm television studio. The songs selected for the live performance were ‘Dum Dum Diddle’ and ‘Why Did It Have To Be Me’. “Their live performance was a pretty unique event,” recalls Leonard Eek. “The entire television studios were vibrating and the engineers were really polishing their cables, because we were all so happy that they wanted to do this.” The live concert environment was also the setting for the playback performance of ‘Money, Money, Money’, with ABBA premiering their brand new Twenties style costumes.

The trust between ABBA and the production team that had made the live concert possible, also rubbed off on the interviews made with the members at the Polar Music offices. Because of the long production period, an excellent rapport developed between Per Falkman and the group, to the extent that certain ABBA members feared they had been too openhearted. Said Agnetha at the press conference for the programme, “He [Falkman] has an ability to draw more things out of you than you’d want to tell. So we hope that some of it is edited out.” Confirms Falkman today: “I felt our talks were so interesting and they were so generous with themselves, that we could have made a one-hour interview programme without one note of music in it.”

Although ABBA-dabba-dooo!! was a Swedish production, it was actually first broadcast in Australia, where all television channels had an insatiable appetite for ABBA programmes in the group’s most successful year on that continent. Australia’s Channel 9 broadcast an edited version of the special under the title ABBA From The Beginning on October 27, before the Swedes finally got the see it on November 5. Today, the special still holds up as one of the very best programmes ever produced about ABBA, certainly during their years together as a group.

On October 11, 1976, the long-awaited Arrival album was finally released. Reviews ranged from the highly positive to the strongly negative, as usual, but regardless of their feelings about ABBA’s music, no critics could deny that the group had a hundred per cent grasp of their craft. In terms of audience response, the sales figures spoke for themselves: in Sweden, with more than 750,000 copies sold to date, it is ABBA’s best-selling album and is still among the all-time best-sellers; in the UK it went on to sell more than 2.4 million copies and was the biggest-selling album of 1977; in Australia it sold more than 1 million copies, only the second album to do so; and in West Germany it was certified double platinum and the most successful album of 1977, just to name a few countries. At this particular point in time it is doubtful if any other group or artist on the planet was more popular than ABBA.

In hindsight, Arrival seems to mark the culmination of ABBA’s early, innocent days, wherein they perfected their own particular Seventies take on the most melodic and hummable Sixties pop music, conveying their singular view of what modern popular music may sound like and be about, marrying aural sophistication with lyrical to-the-point simplicity. But for all the convenience of historical perspectives, it all boils down to a simple fact: over the three decades since its original release, Arrival has weathered whatever storms or controversies that may have surrounded ABBA as a group, and stoically defended its status as one of the finest pop albums ever made.