Liner notes, part 2

Published April 28, 2012


After a summer break, by mid-August Björn and Benny were back in their song writing cottage on the island of Viggsö, and on September 8 they returned to the recording studio with three new songs. One of them, ‘Put On Your White Sombrero’, was left off the album, but the other two made it onto the final track list: the split-personality themed ‘Me And I’, featuring an intensely vibrant, Eartha Kitt-inspired lead vocal from Frida, and the Agnetha-led ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’, a disco track that had actually started out as a hymn. After considering various arrangement ideas, Björn and Benny found that it would be effective to put a disco beat underneath the tune while still emphasising the hymn-like “congregation chanting” in the chorus. “I remember how we overdubbed the vocals over and over to get that true congregation sound,” says Björn.

Both ‘Me And I’ and ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’ are typical Super Trouper tracks in that they are very much dominated by Benny’s Yamaha GX-1 synthesizer. Benny had first got in touch with the instrument in November 1978, when Led Zeppelin arrived at ABBA’s own Polar Music Studio in Stockholm to spend a couple of weeks recording tracks for their In Through The Out Door album. Zeppelin’s keyboard player, John Paul Jones, had brought along his own GX-1, an enormous contraption featuring no less than three keyboards. “I thought, ‘What the hell is this?’” recalls Benny, who, as luck would have it, was leaving for an ABBA promotional trip to Japan just a few days later. “I spoke to Yamaha in Tokyo and they demonstrated it for us. They called it an organ – I said, ‘That’s no organ, that’s the world’s nicest synthesizer!’ I bought it, and it was expensive: more than 300 000 kronor (approximately US$68,000 at the time), which was and still is quite a lot of money for a synthesizer.” Programming and saving sounds on the GX-1 was a laborious process, taking “for-bloody-ever”, as Benny puts it. One of the first sounds he created was the distinctive synth bass that opens the Voulez-Vous album’s ‘Does Your Mother Know’. “Then I thought: Worth every penny!”

By the time sessions for the Super Trouper album began, Benny’s love affair with the GX-1 had only deepened, to the extent that the synthesizer would replace parts that would normally have been played by an orchestra, such as the string-like theme that opens ‘Happy New Year’, or even the electric guitar, as heard in the intro for ‘On And On And On’. Notably, ‘The Winner Takes It All’ is the only Super Trouper track to feature real strings. For Benny there was an attraction in not having to translate his ideas to an arranger, but to be able to put his own fingers directly on the keyboard and achieve the sounds he was after. He also points out that the Yamaha synthesizer didn’t so much imitate live instruments as provide a distinctive sound of its own. Indeed, majestic keyboard-based motifs such as the intro for ‘Me And I’ probably wouldn’t have existed if it hadn’t been for the GX-1.

After these September-recorded tracks had been laid down, the new album was nearing completion. As an album-closer, a recording from the previous year’s concert tour was dug up. The ‘Auld Lang Syne’-style show closer ‘The Way Old Friends Do’ had been created especially for the tour. “It was written as a final encore, so that the audience would understand that the show really was over,” explains Benny. The recording itself came from one of the shows at London’s Wembley Arena in November 1979.

With most of the album tracks in place, it was high time to start thinking of a concept for the album sleeve. It was the era of extravagant sleeve ideas and certainly, among ABBA albums, none was more elaborate than the one thought up for Super Trouper. The original intention was to shoot the sleeve picture in London’s Piccadilly Circus. “We talked about doing a publicity stunt, trying to make some noise now that we were releasing a new album,” recalls Benny. “The idea was to bring in a real-life circus: tents, elephants and everything.” Album designer Rune Söderqvist and tour producer Thomas Johansson actually went to London for discussions with the authorities, but because there was a regulation against performers and animals appearing in central London for entertainment purposes, the idea came to naught.

Plan B was to stage something similar in a studio in Stockholm. A date was set for the evening of Friday, October 3, when ABBA, their friends and acquaintances, and assorted circus performers were to assemble at Europa Film studios outside Stockholm for the elaborate photo shoot. Two circuses had been hired, but, according to Rune Söderqvist’s recollections, when it was time for the photo shoot one of the ensembles had left the premises in a huff – it turned out that the two circuses were enemies. Not to worry, though, because around 70 friends of ABBA and their immediate circle had turned up. Things were done quickly in those days: the call-out to friends who could take part in the photo shoot had gone out just a few days earlier. Recalls Björn, “It was a really great evening, and we were happy and grateful that everybody turned up like they did.”

While all the logistics surrounding the upcoming cover shoot were arranged, Björn and Benny were busy in the recording studio, trying to write one more song for the album; preferably something that could work as a single. “Both Benny and I felt, ‘Damn it, there’s something missing, that little extra something is needed on this album’,” explains Björn. “So we sat down in the studio, late one night when we had been mixing, and wrote this tune.” Meanwhile, the album title still hadn’t been decided, and it was only at the sleeve photo session that they finally found it. Explained Björn in the Words And Music documentary, “Seeing the spotlight coming up and down on us, it looked very much like one of the spotlights that we use on tour: they’re very, very big ones. They’re called ‘super troupers’ and that’s where it came from.”

Once the album title had been decided upon, it turned out that “super trouper” was also a perfect fit as the title for the new song. “When I wrote the lyrics I realised, ‘This actually works – it’s great!’” says Björn today. “Then I had the idea for the theme. The previous year I had just met my current wife, Lena, and she flew out to visit me when were out on tour. So I found that this spotlight could be used as a vehicle in the lyrics.” His conceit was to tell the story from the perspective of a star on tour, longing to be in the arms of her lover. “And then, of course, thanks to the title we could have that ‘su-pa-pa, trou-pa-pa’ thing!” With a distinctively earnest Frida lead vocal, and a trademark ABBA arrangement featuring numerous counter-melodies and harmonies, they had a new winner on their hands. ‘Super Trouper’ was selected as the album’s kick-off single, hitting the number one spot in five countries.

As for the album – released just a month after the sleeve photo shoot – it seemed interest in ABBA’s music was higher than ever; advance orders in Great Britain alone exceeded one million, a record-high figure for its time. Super Trouper hit number one in nine countries, and reportedly went on to sell more than any other of ABBA’s studio albums. For the group it was also a highly satisfactory long-player – today Benny feels that it’s probably their best album, in stiff competition with Arrival. “It’s an album that sounds good. By the time it was recorded, we’d really got to grips with the Polar Music Studio. And”, he adds with a hint of understatement, “it’s got a number of good songs on it.” Even at the time of the album’s original release, some band members felt that there was something special about Super Trouper. Said Frida, “You usually feel that each album you do is the best you’ve ever done, but I have to say that Super Trouper is a little different. Because we’re pleased with each and every song on this album.”


NOTES ON THE CD BONUS TRACKS

‘Elaine’ was recorded during the Super Trouper sessions, but was released only as the B-side of the single ‘The Winner Takes It All’. The full length version of ‘On And On And On’ was mixed in the spring of 1980 and then used as the soundtrack for its video, made up of still photographs taken by Anders Hanser during ABBA’s tour of 1979. However, by the time the song was released on the Super Trouper album a verse had been excised from the recording. The original version has previously been released in mono, but now appears on CD for the first time in stereo. Finally, the Frida-led ‘Put On Your White Sombrero’ was recorded during the Super Trouper sessions, but ultimately left off the album and not released until 1994. Coming relatively soon after ‘Chiquitita’, “I think we felt that we were overdoing the Latin American bit,” says Benny. “But it’s a pretty nice song, it’s got really good choirs on it.”

Further bonus tracks come in the shape of the Spanish versions of ‘Andante, Andante’ and ‘Happy New Year’ (‘Felicidad’). New vocals were added to the original backing tracks in October 1980 and subsequently released on the Super Trouper album in Spanish-language territories.

NOTES ON THE DVD BONUS SELECTIONS

ABBA ON GERMAN TV (SHOW EXPRESS)
In conjunction with the release of Super Trouper, ABBA were scheduled to appear on television in a handful of countries, among them West Germany. However, after only one such trip, all visits abroad were cancelled because of a security threat against the group. The production team behind Show Express, still determined to have ABBA on their programme, simply brought the necessary props to one of the studios of Swedish Television (SVT) in Stockholm, where three songs from the new album were performed: ’The Winner Takes It All’, ’Super Trouper’ and ’On And On And On’. The whole appearance was broadcast live via link-up.

HAPPY NEW YEAR
On the day that ABBA appeared in the satellite broadcast of Show Express, they also taped a version of Happy New Year as a “thank you” to SVT. The performance was first broadcast on New Year’s Eve (actually about ten minutes after Midnight, so formally in the early hours of January 1, 1981), and then on each New Year’s Eve for several years.

WORDS AND MUSIC (DOCUMENTARY)
This documentary was produced by Polar Music International in the autumn of 1980 and features all four members of the group talking specifically about the Super Trouper album. However, it seems Words And Music didn’t receive its first broadcast until April 1981, five months after the album release.

SOMEWHERE IN THE CROWD THERE’S YOU – ON LOCATION WITH ABBA
This unique featurette has been assembled especially for this DVD. Featuring never-before-seen footage from the making of the Super Trouper album sleeve and the videos for ‘Super Trouper’ and ‘Happy New Year’, it tells the story of how it all was conceived.

SUPER TROUPER and HAPPY NEW YEAR
As a bonus, the original promo clips for these two songs, featuring scenes from the Super Trouper sleeve photo session, are featured here in their latest digitally remastered versions.

SUPER TROUPER – TELEVISION COMMERCIALS
These two album commercials were made for the British market.