Voulez-Vous liner notes
Published April 05, 2010
It was a long journey before Voulez-Vous, ABBA's sixth album, was completed and ready for release. Between the first recording session in March 1978 and the last, just over a year later, quite a few dramatic changes had taken place within the group.
If one should attempt to find a main thread on the album, "rhythm" would perhaps be an appropriate keyword. Several tracks on Voulez-Vous were most suitable for dancing, or had a slightly funky feel to them - after all, it was the era when disco music reigned supreme. ABBA delivered their very own interpretation of the dancey atmosphere that coloured much of the world's popular music at the time.
Another key phrase for the album might have been "unreleased tracks," for no other ABBA project would leave quite so many discarded recordings in its wake. The very first session set the tone: an instrumental rocker adorned with the curious working title 'Dr. Claus von Hamlet' never reached the record-buying public (16 years later a minute or so of the recording was included in the 'ABBA Undeleted' medley of outtakes on the box set Thank You For The Music).
The group was luckier with their next attempt. 'Lovers (Live A Little Longer)', one of those funky tracks that left its mark on the album, featured a seductive lead vocal by Frida, and was promptly included in the track listing. But after that, although ABBA were working hard on the album for the rest of the year, it seemed every second attempted track was scrapped.
In the autumn, a single was released from the current album sessions: the Bee Gees-inspired 'Summer Night City'. The song, which was a Top 10 success in many countries, was slated for the Voulez-Vous track listing, but was eventually not included. 'Summer Night City' appears as a bonus track on this CD.
The recording was also among the first to be completed in ABBA's own Polar Music Studios, which had opened in central Stockholm in May. One of the most modern such facilities in the world at the time, this was where the remainder of the group's albums would be made.
While ABBA's latest hit was climbing up the charts, Benny and Frida finally got married after nine years' engagement. The October wedding was a low-key affair at their local church, which not even their closest friends had been informed about - including Björn and Agnetha.
In December 1978, ABBA came up with the second single from the Voulez-Vous sessions. Initially, it was called 'In The Arms Of Rosalita', but after a re-recording and completely new set of lyrics, the song instead gained the name 'Chiquitita'.
1979 had been proclaimed as The Year Of The Child by the United Nations, and ABBA had been asked to perform one of their songs at the televised gala A Gift Of Song in the Assembly Hall of the United Nations in New York. They would also donate the royalties of this song to UNICEF.
The hopeful tone of 'Chiquitita' made it perfect for this purpose. On January 9, 1979, ABBA performed the songs as part of an all-star line-up at the gala. Among the other artists appearing were The Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, Olivia Newton-John, Earth Wind & Fire, Donna Summer and John Denver.
Less than a week after this celebratory event, Björn and Agnetha had a sad announcement to make. They had decided to go their separate ways, a decision that had matured during the previous year. Despite the divorce, they both felt that they wanted to carry on working within the context of ABBA - and that's exactly what they did.
Björn and Benny's immediate concern was to come up with more songs for the current album project. They were complaining that Swedish radio played far too little rock and pop that could inspire them to musical creations of their own. To remedy this situation, they decided to go away to the Bahamas for a fortnight. The two songwriters hoped that the round the clock music that was available on a multitude of radio stations in that part of the world would give them the kick they needed.
It worked: half of the tracks that ended up on the album were in fact recorded during the last two months of sessions, in February and March 1979. Moreover, those tracks included three of the single A-sides that were released from the album: 'Voulez-Vous', 'Does Your Mother Know' and 'I Have A Dream'.
The backing track for 'Voulez-Vous' (the song) was recorded at Criteria Studios, Miami, where The Bee Gees made most of their disco-era records. It was the proximity to the studios from the Bahamas that gave Björn and Benny the idea to try this venture. The musicians they used were members of the disco group Foxy, who'd recently enjoyed a US Top Ten hit with 'Get Off'. The rest of the recording was then completed back in Stockholm.
Björn's track as lead vocalist on the album was 'Does Your Mother Know', originally titled 'I Can Do It'. Björn certainly could, and this, the last ABBA single ever to be released with his lead vocals, was a sizeable hit in many countries. The strong dance beat of the song probably helped make it popular in the disco dominated spring of 1979.
Shortly after release of the single, the Voulez-Vous album was released, storming to number one in more than 10 countries and reaching the Top 5 most everywhere else. The album had been a long time coming, but record-buyers seemed to feel that it was worth the wait.
Two further tracks recorded during the first problematic year of sessions have been included as bonus selections on this CD. 'Lovelight' ended up being released as the B-side of the 'Chiquitita' single in January 1979. It has since become something of a cult favourite among the group's diehard fans: many consider it one of the best ABBA tracks not to be included on their original albums.
Incidentally, another of those shelved tracks was a song entitled 'Dream World'. Björn and Benny often let bits of songs travel through several compositions before they finally found the right place for them. Once they had decided to scrap 'Dream World', the song's bridge found its natural home in 'Does Your Mother Know' (the "take it easy..." part), which was written a few months later. 'Dream World' itself remained unreleased until 1994, when it was included on the Thank You For The Music CD box set.
Shortly after the release of Voulez-Vous, ABBA started rehearsals for their autumn 1979 tour of North America and Europe. It was to be the first time they toured the United States and Canada. The group felt that they should have a brand new single released around the time of the tour, and in the summer Björn and Benny started new songwriting sessions. Backing tracks for two new titles were attempted before they finally came up with the right song, which turned out to be 'Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)'. Released in October, this new single became one of ABBA's biggest hits of 1979. The song has been included as a bonus track on this CD.
All in all, it had been a successful year for the group: a hit album, several high-charting singles, and sell-out houses everywhere on the European part of their tour. The six nights in a row at London's Wembley Arena was undeniable proof of ABBA's continued strong popularity.
As a commemorative release after the tour, the Voulez-Vous track 'I Have A Dream' was issued as a single at the end of the year. Complete with a children's choir, the song reached the Top 5 in several countries. But after that, the first year of the 1980s was waiting around the corner: there were new songs to be written, and a new album to be recorded.