Liner notes, part 2

Published July 18, 2015

With Stig’s Swedish lyrics in place, now they had the song they needed. The next step would be to turn it into a powerful piece of seven-inch vinyl. Perhaps fired up by the enthusiasm generated by the possibility of international exposure, everyone was intent on making something special out of the recording. This included Metronome studio engineer Michael B. Tretow, who would be ABBA’s constant companion as they explored the studio and developed their work throughout their career. Michael was the kind of engineer who was constantly curious on innovations in the world of sound recording and was a keen listener to the trend-leading recordings made in Great Britain and, above all, the United States. He shared Björn and Benny’s feeling that there was no reason why the recordings they made in Stockholm couldn’t sound just as modern and exciting as whatever was coming out of London or Los Angeles.

Late one night, shortly before the recording session for ‘Ring Ring’, which had been booked for January 10, 1973, Michael stayed back at Metronome, experimenting with the studio’s newly acquired 16-track tape recorder. He had read music journalist Richard Williams’ book about Phil Spector, Out Of His Head, which described in detail how the legendary producer had achieved his famous “wall of sound” by having numerous musicians playing the same parts at the same time: several guitars instead of just one, for example. ”That explained why it sounded like five guitars,” Michael recalled, ”it was because Spector really did use five guitars.” But Polar Music couldn’t afford to have a virtual orchestra of backing musicians in the studio at the same time, so Michael figured he could achieve the same effect by letting each musician do several overdubs of his instrument instead. That night in the studio he recorded himself playing the electric guitar and then overdubbed himself playing the exact same guitar part again. To this he added another electronic trick. If he changed the speed of the tape recorder just slightly before the overdub, in fact rendering it out of tune, he figured it would probably widen the sound. And it certainly did. ”It sounded like the world’s biggest guitar,” Michael recalled. ”It was like stepping inside of a five feet high guitar. Then I thought, ’What would this sound like if you tried it with a whole band: letting everybody play their parts twice, but changing the speed between the overdubs?’”

At the ‘Ring Ring’ session, Björn and Benny were both in on the idea of playing the instruments twice, but Michael hadn’t informed them of his plans to change the speed between the overdubs. This was something he did “on the sly”, as he remembered, worrying that it would all fall to pieces, and that valuable studio time would go to waste. But it was anything but a waste of time. ”It was like the roof was caving in, Björn and Benny were ecstatic. And I can still remember the chills and how the hair stood up on my arms. It really was something else.”

To this backing track for ‘Ring Ring’ was added Agnetha and Frida’s vocals, also recorded in layer upon layer, blending in with Benny’s mellotron and the other sounds competing for space in the sound spectrum, adding further textures and shades to ABBA’s very own wall of sound. The result was nothing less than astounding – at least in Sweden, where nothing like it had ever been recorded before.

Now that they were aiming for an international market, the group were also keen to ensure that the lyrics for the English version were exactly right, with no unfortunate “Swenglish” slip-ups. Stig Anderson approached the late Fifties/early Sixties star Neil Sedaka, whom he knew through his publishing contacts. Sedaka was a perfect choice: with roots in the straightforward early Sixties Brill Building pop – essentially what the group were trying to re-create – he and his then-song writing partner, Phil Cody, would know exactly what was needed. With this internationally competitive recording completed, Stig Anderson didn’t waste any time. Taking the ’Ring Ring’ tape with him to the annual MIDEM music fair in Cannes, he secured licensing deals with more than 15 countries in Europe, Latin America and Australasia.

But initially it seemed that all these preparations were for naught. On February 10, 1973, the Swedish selections for the contest were held, with ’Ring Ring’ as the outstanding favourite among all the entries. For Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid, it wasn’t simply the contest itself that provided tension, but also the fact that Agnetha was highly pregnant with her and Björn’s first child and was due to give birth any day. Fortunately, they were able to get through the song from start to finish without any babies being born, and gave a brisk and energetic performance crowned by rapturous applause. But during the voting their hearts quickly sank. The jury, consisting of selected music business professionals, only gave ‘Ring Ring’ enough points to have it finish third in the contest. No victory in the selection meant no ticket to the Eurovision finals.

Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Frida were disappointed, but the hot-tempered Stig Anderson was furious. If the expert jury wasn’t dispensed with, it was unlikely the song writing team he formed with Björn and Benny would want to participate again, he thundered. It seemed the general public would agree with Stig, as an overwhelming majority of the viewers phoning the evening papers to share their opinion on whether “the right song won” – a popular tradition in Sweden for many years – felt that ‘Ring Ring’ should have been the victor.

’Ring Ring’ may have failed in the contest, but it was a winner with record-buyers: a month after its mid-February release, the Swedish version began a six-week run at the number one spot on the sales chart. With a major hit single on their hands, it became imperative to complete the new album as quickly as possible. On January 25, the group had recorded the Frida-led ‘Me And Bobby And Bobby’s Brother’, but by mid-March this and ‘Ring Ring’ were the only tracks completed since the new year started. At some point during the recording sessions, they dug out the backing track for a single by actor Jarl Kulle in September 1972, entitled ‘Jag är blott en man’ (“I Am Just A Man”; see Notes On The CD Bonus Tracks below). With new English lyrics, entitled ‘I Am Just A Girl’, the group added their vocals and, hey presto!, an album track had been completed. On March 14 and 15, they dashed off a further three recordings. The first was the only Agnetha tune to ever grace an ABBA album. ‘Disillusion’, a piano-based ballad featuring lyrics by Björn, was starkly arranged, very much in tune with current singer/songwriters such as Carole King, whom Agnetha sought to emulate at this time. Notably, Agnetha’s vocal interpretation hinted at her future as ABBA’s queen of heartbreak in songs such as ‘The Winner Takes It All’. As a contrast, the second track, ‘Love Isn’t Easy (But It Sure Is Hard Enough)’, represented the cheerful and tongue-in-cheek side of ABBA. The very last song was ‘I Saw It In The Mirror’, a three-year-old tune, previously recorded by Swedish singer Billy G-son (see Notes On The CD Bonus Tracks below), to which Björn and Benny added a brand new middle eight before recording it for the new album.

Only 11 days later, on March 26, the Ring Ring album was available in Swedish record shops – credited to Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Frida; “Anni-Frid” had become “Frida”, but the name-change to ABBA didn’t happen until later in the year. The success was instant: after the album had entered at number 18 on the singles-and-albums sales chart, the following week the group dominated the upper regions of the chart completely – the Swedish ‘Ring Ring’ single was at number one, the English was at number two, and the Ring Ring album was at number three, a position all three releases held the following week as well. “We had expected it to become a hit,” said Benny, “but we never dared dream that ‘Ring Ring’ would be this big.”

Having a major hit in Sweden was all right, but what about international success? That, after all, was what they had hoped ‘Ring Ring’ would give them. Despite being robbed of the opportunity to enter the Eurovision Song Contest, the sheer momentum of Stig Anderson’s relentless campaigning and belief in the song, had impressive results in continental Europe. In Belgium ’Ring Ring’ was number one for seven weeks, and featured in the higher regions of the charts in Norway and The Netherlands. It also fared well in Denmark, Finland, Austria and South Africa, as well as several South American countries. Notably, though, it flopped in Great Britain, a market where Björn and Benny wanted desperately to make an impact. In retrospect, both Stig and ABBA would actually be almost grateful that they didn’t get to enter the Eurovision Song Contest with ‘Ring Ring’ – the year that elapsed before they finally went all the way with ‘Waterloo’ in 1974 gave them valuable time to secure healthy relationships with record companies all over Europe, meaning that all the key people were fully aware of who these four Swedes were.

Ring Ring – album and song – was the first step. The title track provided them with the ABBA “formula”: the rewards of spending hours upon hours on an ambitious, multi-layered recording that focused on the superior lead vocals of Agnetha and Frida. And the success of the album as such showed them that the group was the future for all four of them. The next step? Finally securing that elusive entry in the Eurovision Song Contest …

 

NOTES ON THE CD BONUS TRACKS

Apart from the English version of ‘Ring Ring’, the song was recorded in three other languages. The Swedish-language version ‘Ring Ring (bara du slog en signal)’ was actually the opening track on the original issue of the album; it was only on international versions of the album that the track listing was shuffled around, with ‘She’s My Kind Of Girl’ (a Björn & Benny recording originally released as a single A-side in 1970) replacing the Swedish ‘Ring Ring’. The German version was released as a single A-side in 1973, while the Spanish version wasn’t issued until the CD Más Oro in 1993.

‘Merry-Go-Round’ was the B-side of the ‘People Need Love’ single, while ‘Santa Rosa’ was found on the B-side of ‘He Is Your Brother’. ‘Wer im Wartesaal der Liebe Steht’ was the German version of ‘Another Town, Another Train’, originally issued on the B-side of the German-language ‘Ring Ring’ single. ‘En hälsning till våra parkarrangörer’ (“A Greeting To Our Park Arrangers”) is a promotion single issued in December 1972, featuring the four friends promoting their forthcoming June–September 1973 tour of Sweden, interspersed with excerpts of recent hits. This ultra-rare track makes it CD debut on this release.

The Ring Ring CD also features a selection of additional bonus tracks, including the original versions of two songs featured on the album. ‘I Saw It In The Mirror’ was the B-side of a 1970 single by singer Billy G-son, written and produced by Björn and Benny. It has been included here along with its A-side, ‘There’s A Little Man’, which features prominent backing vocals from Agnetha – her first recorded collaboration with Björn and Benny. Both songs were recorded in February 1970. ‘Jag är blott en man’ (“I Am Just A Man”) was another Björn and Benny production. Performed by Jarl Kulle – an actor of some international renown through his performances in Ingmar Bergman films such as Smiles Of A Summer Night and Fanny And Alexander – the single was recorded in September 1972 as the theme song for children’s movie Ture Sventon, based on a popular children’s book character. ABBA used Kulle’s backing track when they turned the song into ‘I Am Just A Girl’ for the Ring Ring album.

Finally, we have also included a number of tracks highlighting the various ways in which the future ABBA members would collaborate during the years when they were moving towards the foundation of the group. ‘Hej gamle man!’ was the 1970 Björn & Benny single which famously featured Agnetha and Frida on backing vocals, making it the first recording on which all four members appeared. ‘Man vill ju leva lite dessemellan’ is a 1972 Anni-Frid Lyngstad hit single, produced by Björn and Benny, and featuring backing vocals by the producers and Agnetha. ‘Välkommen till världen’ (“Welcome To The World”) – originally a rejected submission to the Swedish selection for the Eurovision Song Contest – was a 1971 hit single, written and produced by Björn and Benny for singer Lill-Babs, and featuring energetic backing vocals by all four future ABBA members.

 

NOTES ON THE DVD SELECTIONS

PEOPLE NEED LOVE
The newly formed Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid group made their first television appearance as a pop band on the Swedish quiz show Vi i femman (“We In Fifth Grade”). Broadcast on April 30, 1972, the performance anticipated the release of the ‘People Need Single’ in May.

RING RING
Throughout the recording of the Ring Ring album, Agnetha was first pregnant with her and Björn’s first child and then the mother of a new-born daughter, named Linda, which made it difficult for her to travel. Yet, during this period, there was demand for the group on various television stations in Europe. The solution? Since few audience members outside Scandinavia were familiar with the individual members, for these performances a decision was made to replace Agnetha with a friend of Frida’s named Inger Brundin. At the time, Inger, who later married and recorded Christian music as Inger Heinerborg, downplayed her part in ABBA’s international adventure as “just for fun” and “nothing special”. This performance of ‘Ring Ring’ was video-taped in Austria in March 1973 for the television programme Spotlight. Its inclusion here is dedicated to the memory of Inger Heinerborg, who passed away in 1993.

RING RING REVEALED
The recording of ‘Ring Ring’ was a groundbreaking event in the ABBA story, its multi-layered sounds showing the way forward for the group. On March 13, 2012, Swedish television broadcast an episode of the series Låtarna som förändrade musiken (“The Songs That Changed Music”), in which Benny told the story of how the song came to be and revisited the original multi-track tapes to show us how the recording was constructed. Included here is an edited excerpt of the ‘Ring Ring’ segment.