The Visitors Deluxe Edition - liner notes, part 2

Published March 30, 2013


With ‘One Of Us’ and ‘The Visitors’ secured, the vexed question of ‘Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’ was addressed and finally resolved. After a further week of final mixing the album was completed and, to the great relief of record companies around the world, could be released at the end of November 1981, just in time to catch the Christmas market. Featuring an atmospheric and slightly mysterious sleeve, shot at the Stockholm studio of late 19th/early 20th Century painter Julius Kronberg, The Visitors reached number one in at least eight countries. However, its success was in fact a little less overwhelming than ABBA’s previous long-players. In Great Britain, for instance, although the album entered the charts at number one it remained there for “only” three weeks – just a year earlier the Super Trouper album had spent nine weeks at the top of the charts and was the best-selling LP of 1980. In formerly ABBA-crazy Australia, The Visitors didn’t even enter the Top 20. For ABBA themselves, the album represented a new step and a new direction, but it seemed a fair proportion of their audience wasn’t prepared to follow them along that path.

Further ominous signs came when the second and final international single from the album, ‘Head Over Heels’, was issued in March 1982. For the first time since ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’ in 1975, an ABBA single failed to reach the Top 10 in Great Britain, stalling at number 25. For ABBA, who viewed the British chart as an indicator of what was hot and what was not, this was bad news indeed. In retrospect, neither Björn nor Benny are very happy with the choice of ‘Head Over Heels’ as a single, both of them feeling that the recording just didn’t realise the full potential of the song. “One of our record companies must have suggested that it should be a single; we would never have chosen that ourselves,” says Benny, although Björn admits that there weren’t many other candidates to choose from.

In any event, as the year of 1982 progressed it was clear that the energy was running out of ABBA – or rather, the energy formerly invested in the group and their recordings was now directed elsewhere. Whereas the completion of a new album had historically been followed by a break of no more than a few months before work started on the next one, this time around Björn and Benny (both remarried) saw the arrival of new-born children in January, prompting them to take extended time off from the group. In the meantime Frida recorded her first solo album in seven years, the Phil Collins-produced Something’s Going On, while Agnetha took a break from music to spend time with her children. But more important than any of these events was the first meeting between Björn, Benny and lyricist Tim Rice, which had taken place in December 1981. With famous Andrew Lloyd Webber collaborations such as Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita under his belt, and being an admirer of ABBA’s music to boot, Rice was a promising prospective partner for the musical Björn and Benny had dreamed of writing for so many years. A certain restlessness as far as ABBA were concerned began taking hold of them.

It wasn’t until May 3 that the group were back in the studio again, starting work on what was to be their ninth studio album. But a month later, after the first three tracks – ‘You Owe Me One’, ‘I Am The City’ and ‘Just Like That’ – had been recorded and mixed, the group did something they had never done before: they decided to file away those three tracks, put a halt to recording sessions, and postpone any further work on the album until the following year. Instead, after the summer holidays they would record a handful of new tracks, two of which would hopefully work as single A-sides that could also be included on a double-album compilation of ABBA’s most successful singles. “Without actually putting it into words among ourselves, I guess we hadn’t exactly run out of steam, but there was something that wasn’t like it used to be,” says Björn as he tries to recollect the moods and thoughts within the group at the time. “We didn’t feel that same kind of strong spirit, and perhaps a feeling was starting to creep in that ABBA couldn’t go on forever. And, of course, Benny and I must have talked more and more about doing a musical. When we were writing songs I’m certain we kept drifting into musical-type tunes all the time: ‘But this isn’t pop!’”

In August 1982 ABBA began what turned out to be their final recording sessions. Three songs were produced: ‘Cassandra’, ‘The Day Before You Came’ and ‘Under Attack’, the latter two of which became the A-sides of their final singles. The crowning achievement of those final ABBA sessions was ‘The Day Before You Came’. Written in the recording studio, as Benny began playing the embryo of a tune on his Yamaha GX-1 synthesizer, the whole melody was completed in less than an hour. Benny ended up performing the bulk of the music on the recording, with the then state-of-the-art Linn drum machine providing rhythm accompaniment, augmented only by snare drum hits by percussionist Åke Sundqvist. The lyrics, as performed by lead singer Agnetha, chronicle all the dull, ordinary things the protagonist ”guessed she must have done” the day before she had an emotionally charged encounter with a man. “The tune is narrative in itself,” says Björn, “and relentless. That almost monotonous quality made me think of this girl who was living in a sort of gloominess and is now back in that same sense of gloom. He has left her, and her life has returned to how it ‘must have been’ before she met him.” The result was something of a masterpiece and a more than worthy finale to the ABBA era. The austerity of the arrangement, with the synthesizers chugging and chopping themselves through the song, along with a Minimoog intro melody that Benny describes as “a little nervous and threatening,” makes for a powerful contrast to Agnetha’s sad tale, preventing the recording from slipping into maudlin sentimentality.

But although today ‘The Day Before You Came’ is often lauded as one of the very best ABBA recordings, upon release the charms of the group’s two final singles were largely lost on audiences. While a number of ABBA-loyal countries pushed them into the Top Ten, in the British singles chart the inexorable downhill slide continued: ‘The Day Before You Came’ struggled up to number 32, while ‘Under Attack’ improved only slightly on that position by peaking at number 26. By contrast, the attendant compilation album, the ultimately ironically-titled The Singles – The First Ten Years, shot to number one and spent seven weeks in the Top Three. Chock-full of the old-style ABBA, the message seemed to be that the audience preferred the pure pop side of the group and didn’t want to know about their new introspective and blatantly bleak direction. On ‘The Day Before You Came’, Björn and Benny had asked Agnetha to really get into character and sing it like that ordinary woman she was portraying in the song. “It’s not the sound of a happy person,” notes Björn, “and I think that if we’d done it like ‘Fernando’ or whatever else, and let her sing her heart out instead of having her inhabit a role, it would have been a hit. But artistically we made the right decision. We wanted her to sound ‘ordinary’ and really be that person.” Adds Benny, “We could possibly have done it differently. With Agnetha’s singing and the arrangement being what it was, it was as minimalist as it could possibly be. And in a way it’s all right as it is, because it has some kind of presence. The lyrics are really excellent, there’s a great idea behind them. If you just read them they’re not sad at all, but the message of the music is truly sad. And that’s what’s nice about it.”

After promotional duties for the singles and the double album had been completed in December 1982, no-one knew for certain what would happen with ABBA. During the final few months of the year, press releases and interview statements had made it clear that no, the group had no intention to split, and yes, they would continue work on their next studio album in 1983. However, it was also reported that Björn, Benny and Tim Rice had finally made the decision to collaborate on a musical together. By the end of the year a Polar Music press release stated that the musical would keep Björn and Benny “very busy for quite a long time, but they also hope to be able to work with ABBA and their recordings at the same time.” At the start of 1983 the tune changed yet again, as ABBA’s male half decided to devote all their time to their musical for the foreseeable future. “We haven’t packed it in as a group – we’ve only taken a long break,” Frida stated. “And I believe we’re going to work together again – but no earlier than 1985. Until then we’re all busy with other things.”

But the Chess project took longer to complete than expected, and by the time a concept album had been released, followed by the stage opening in London’s West End in May 1986, none of the four ABBA members even talked of getting the group back together again. In truth, the reunion game was up well before that. ”It could never happen,” said Agnetha in a 1985 interview. ”We have little in common and it’s seldom that we meet. The guys have Chess, and Frida and I have our own lives.” Many of the pop songs that crept up during the Chess writing sessions were released in late 1985 on an album by the Swedish brother-and-sister duo Gemini, a project that had Björn and Benny’s roles as writers and producers as its basis – in effect, their pop music efforts had been transferred from ABBA to Gemini. While Björn and Benny busied themselves with Chess, Frida and Agnetha recorded solo albums, but before the Eighties were over they had both said goodbye to the record business. ABBA’s extended break turned out to be a full stop to the story.

When asked to sum up the difference between the ABBA who started out in 1972 with cheerful sing-a-long hits such as ‘People Need Love’ and the group who recorded contemplative creations such as ‘The Day Before You Came’ a decade later – essentially, who ABBA were in the early days, and what they had become – Benny says that as far as his own feelings went, there was no difference. “It was the same thing: You try to write as good a song as possible and then record it to the the best of your ability, and in the end you have a result. The working method was the same for the early songs and the later songs, and the feeling for what ABBA were was the same. But then, of course, there’s a personal development over a ten-year period, and with that follows some kind of development in terms of music and lyrics.” Björn adds further shades to the picture. “In the beginning we were a fumbling, young pop group who only had a very strong desire to sing pop songs and reach out in some kind of way. The same kind of driving force that most groups have when they start out: no artistic ambitions, no need for credibility, but simply, ‘Hell, we’ve written this song and now we’ve recorded it and, my god, it sounds so cool!’ Carefree, but still with a tremendous ambition behind it. But then, ten years later, we’re these mature artists who have found a way to express themselves and who are serious about what they’re doing. A certain amount of artistic ability and awareness that is far, far removed from that young quartet in the beginning.”

And that, when all is said and done, must be a fairly satisfactory accomplishment for the group that “never started, never ended”.


NOTES ON THE CD BONUS TRACKS

The Frida-led ‘Should I Laugh Or Cry’ was recorded in September 1981, during sessions for The Visitors, but was released only as the B-side of the ‘One Of Us’ single. Featured here is a version with a brief count-in, which was originally released on the ‘One Of Us’ single in Great Britain and South Africa.

This CD also brings together five of the six recordings from ABBA’s final studio sessions in May, June and August 1982. ‘I Am The City’ was recorded for the ultimately unfinished studio album and was first released on the compilation album More ABBA Gold in 1993. ‘You Owe Me One’, initially intended for the unfinished album, was instead released as the B-side of the ‘Under Attack’ single. ‘Cassandra’ was used as the B-side of ‘The Day Before You Came’, which itself, along with ‘Under Attack’, made up the A-sides of the final two ABBA singles. The sixth song recorded in 1982 was ‘Just Like That’, only available as a snippet in the ‘ABBA Undeleted’ medley of outtakes in the CD box sets Thank You For The Music and The Complete Studio Recordings.

Concluding this Deluxe Edition of The Visitors is an extra bonus track in the shape of the outtakes medley ‘From A Twinkling Star To A Passing Angel’, tracing the creation of ‘Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’. The selections included in the medley were recorded in May, June, October and November 1981. See main essay for more details.


NOTES ON THE DVD BONUS SELECTIONS

This DVD features a generous helping of rare end previously unreleased 1981–1982 television appearances from the archives.

TWO FOR THE PRICE OF ONE / SLIPPING THROUGH MY FINGERS
On April 27–29, 1981, ABBA took a break from recording work on The Visitors to tape a television special in Stockholm, entitled Dick Cavett Meets ABBA. As the title implies, talk show host Dick Cavett had been flown in from the United States to conduct an interview with the group. This was followed by a 9-song live performance, in which ABBA previewed these two tunes from their forthcoming album.

WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE (original video)
Here’s a selection for the ABBA fan who wants it all. ‘When All Is Said And Done’ was first heard in public when this video was shown as part of the Dick Cavett Meets ABBA television special, originally broadcast in Sweden in September 1981 – the video had actually been filmed at the end of August, three months before the release of The Visitors, indicating that it was considered a possible candidate for single release at the time (ultimately, only a handful of countries made this a single A-side). The original video of the song does not include the first few bars of the recording, and there is also a subtle difference in the way Frida sings the line “there’s no hurry anymore” towards the end of the song.

ABBA IN LONDON, NOVEMBER 1982
One of ABBA’s final television appearances took place when they visited London for the purpose of promoting ‘The Day Before You Came’ and the compilation album The Singles – The First Ten Years. On The Late Late Breakfast Show, ABBA were interviewed by host Noel Edmonds and performed ‘Thank You For The Music’ live. The programme was broadcast live on November 6, 1982.

ABBA IN STOCKHOLM, NOVEMBER 1982
ABBA’s final appearance on Swedish television occurred on Nöjesmaskinen (“The Entertainment Machine”), broadcast live on November 19, 1982. Interviewed by hosts Stina Lundberg and Sven Melander, the group also performed ‘Thank You For The Music’ live and ‘Under Attack’ to playback.

THE VISITORS – TELEVISION COMMERCIALS
These two commercials were made for the British and Australian market, respectively.

THE SINGLES – THE FIRST TEN YEARS – TELEVISION COMMERCIAL
These four commercials (two for each album) were made for the British and Australian market, respectively.