Super Trouper liner notes
Published April 05, 2010
Super Trouper, ABBA's seventh album, was released in Sweden on November 3, 1980, only a few weeks after the last mixing sessions for the album. This was not the first time that ABBA had completed an LP just shortly before it was due for release. In this case the recording of the title track started as late as a month before the album reached record shops.
Work on the Super Trouper LP had commenced in January, when Björn and Benny flew to Barbados for a songwriting holiday. It was a repeat of the previous year's fortunate experience on Bahamas, where they wrote several of the songs for the Voulez-Vous album.
This time they completed no less than five songs: 'Andante, Andante', 'The Piper', 'Happy New Year', 'On And On And On' and 'Elaine'. The first four songs were included on the completed album, while 'Elaine' ended up the B-side of the single 'The Winner Takes It All' later the same year. It has been added as a bonus track to this CD release of Super Trouper.
Among the other of these first few songs was 'Happy New Year', which actually started life as an idea for a musical. The plot would be centred around a New Year's Eve, a thought that got into Björn and Benny's heads on the plane over to Barbados. They ran into the comedian John Cleese at the holiday resort and asked him if he would be interested in writing a manuscript. When Cleese turned them down, the idea was abandoned.
After the first basic recordings had been completed, Abba travelled to Japan in March for a two week period of concerts. It marked the completion of the tour that had been started in North America and Europe the previous autumn. It was also the group's last-ever live performances on foreign soil. Abba were never especially fond of touring, so it has to be assumed it was not with especially heavy hearts that they returned to Sweden afterwards.
April saw the completion of the first tracks for the album. Songwriting and recording sessions then continued throughout the spring and summer of 1980. This period produced the first single to be released from the album. 'The Winner Takes It All' is by common consent regarded as one of ABBA's very best recordings, and perhaps Agnetha's finest vocal performance ever.
Lyricist Björn has admitted that the words to the song were coloured by the divorce between himself and Agnetha. But he has also pointed out that the lyrics were more a reflection on the painful experience of splitting up, rather than a literal depiction on what the couple had been through. "There were no winners in our divorce," as he so succintly put it.
'The Winner Takes It All' was accompanied by an evocative video, as ever directed by Lasse Hallström (today a prominent movie director in his own right: What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, etc.), with Agnetha acting the part of an abandoned woman amidst the other three, happily laughing band members. The single hit number one in countries such as Great Britain, The Netherlands, Belgium and South Africa, reaching the Top 5 in plenty more.
Around the same time that 'The Winner Takes It All' was made, Abba also recorded 'Our Last Summer'. On this song, it was Frida who handled the lead vocals. The words were yet another example of Björn's tendencies to write more personal lyrics. 'Our Last Summer' was based on his own melancholy memory of a teenage romance in France.
Towards the final sessions for the album, it was decided that the LP was going to be titled Super Trouper. The name referred to the colloquial term for the gigantic spotlights used at events such as stadium concerts. Album cover designer Rune Söderqvist and photographer Lars Larsson associated the spotlights with a circus environment, however. "Circus" became the keyword in their discussions, and one thing led to another. Their idea for a sleeve design was to take a picture of ABBA surrounded by circus performers - in London's Piccadilly Circus.
But those plans soon ground to a halt. Söderqvist was informed by the London authorities that there was a law against entertainers or animals appearing in the central parts of the city. Apparently, this was because there are so many theatres in the area, and they would otherwise have taken the opportunity to stage publicity stunts.
That effectively killed the London idea. Instead, the decision was made to stage a photo shoot in Stockholm. The Europa Film Studio was booked for the evening of October 3, 1980. Genuine circus performers were hired, while the ABBA members and their friends brought together as many acquaintances as they could find. The purpose was to create the feeling of a huge crowd surrounding ABBA in the picture.
Apart from the circus artists, the people appearing in the cover picture are employees from ABBA's record company Polar Music, some fellow musicians and singers, as well as personal friends who had absolutely no connection to the music business. All the assembled acquaintances were instructed to dress up in various festive costumes and to apply heavy make-up.
While plans for this album sleeve photo session were made, ABBA were in the very last stages of recordings for the new album. A few weeks earlier they had recorded stand-out tracks such as 'Me And I', featuring an Eartha Kitt-inspired lead vocal by Frida, and 'Lay All Your Love On Me', an Agnetha-led dance track which gained a limited single release in the spring of 1981. The group also started work on a song called 'Put On Your White Sombrero'. But a while into the recording of the track, the group started feeling that they hadn't got it exactly right. The decision was made to leave the track unreleased.
Just a few days before the photo session for the album sleeve, Björn and Benny set to work in the studio to try to come up with a new song. By pure luck, the album title that had already been chosen happened to fit as the title to the new composition as well. 'Super Trouper' became the opening track on the new album, as well as the second single to be released from the sessions. With Frida on lead vocals, 'Super Trouper' became yet another worldwide smash hit for ABBA.
'Put On Your White Sombrero', which also featured a Frida lead, would languish in the vaults for 14 years before it was included on the box set Thank You For The Music in 1994. By that time, Björn and Benny had changed their minds about the recording and were quite happy to see its release. Naturally, 'Put On Your White Sombrero' has been included as a bonus track on this CD.
Super Trouper became one of ABBA's best-selling albums ever. The closing track of the LP was 'The Way Old Friends Do', a live recording from the group's shows at Wembely Arena in November 1979. In hindsight, this 'Auld Lang Syne'-style song functioned as a farewell to the more public part of the group's career. ABBA's wind-down years were waiting around the corner.