Carl Magnus Palm

Published January 14, 2019

Carl Magnus Palm biography
January 2019

If ABBA is the first word that comes to mind when you hear the name Carl Magnus Palm, it’s not so strange. Having devoted more than a quarter of a century to researching and writing about ABBA, including eight written or co-written books, coupled with co-producing acclaimed television programmes, a hands-on involvement in the reissuing of the band’s music on CD and DVD, contributions to Stockholm’s ABBA – The Museum, and giving lectures about the legendary Swedes, today Carl Magnus Palm is regarded as the world’s leading ABBA historian. “I love my job – there’s always something new to discover and it’s all about music, which means more to me than anything in this world,” he says.

Born in 1965 and growing up in the greater Stockholm area, the award-winning author’s first ABBA book, ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions, chronicling the writing and recording of the group’s songs, was published in 1994 and made quite a splash in the fan community. Being granted unprecedented access to tape archives and other documentation, not to mention receiving input from all four ABBA members – the first time the four members had contributed to the same project for almost a decade – the book was something of a sensation.

ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions marked the start of an ongoing career, much to Palm’s own surprise. “I’ve been a pop music fan since I was a toddler,” he recalls, “and so I began writing music books on a gut feeling that if I did something that I thought was fun, it would lead to other good things. I never thought I would end up making a career out of researching and writing about ABBA, but it turned out there was a need for someone like me, who not only loved their music but had a strong interest in keeping track of the hows and whys of their career.”

A number of other ABBA books have followed since then, the most acclaimed of which is the 2001 volume Bright Lights Dark Shadows – The Real Story Of ABBA, the first comprehensive biography about the group. The Sunday Times wrote that the book “achieves the difficult feat of capturing the multiple layers of Abba … with a deftness unusual in a rock biography,” while Mojo marked it as a “compelling and incredibly detailed account” of the band’s story, and “essential reading for anyone wondering what the pop world looked like in the 1970s.”

The first one and a half decades of the 21st Century saw Carl Magnus Palm heavily involved in planning and conceiving numerous ABBA re-releases on CD and DVD, acting as a consultant for the group’s label, Polar Music International, in Stockholm. Perhaps the most celebrated releases during that period were the Deluxe Editions of ABBA’s original studio albums, all of which came with a DVD of archive television performances and booklets featuring extensive essays, written by Palm, on the making of each album. Most of the essays included comments from brand new interviews with ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus.

In 2017, Palm realized a long-standing dream in revisiting ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions, adding information that had come to light since the original edition was published. This revised and expanded edition met with rave reviews: Jan Gradvall, one of Sweden’s leading cultural journalists, wrote that “Carl Magnus Palm deserves recognition as one of Sweden’s foremost cultural historians”, while ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus labeled the book “a fantastic work”. More accolades followed in 2018, when ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions won the Association for Recorded Sound Collections award for Best Popular Music Discography.

Carl Magnus Palm’s working life isn’t all about ABBA, as he’s written books about The Beatles, Swedish jazz singer and actress Monica Zetterlund, and also co-written the memoirs of Swedish singer and actress Siw Malmkvist. He also wrote liner notes for the multi-CD box sets Disco Fever (2006) and Hard & Heavy (2008), both issued by Time-Life in the United States and elsewhere.

At the end of the day, though, the ABBA work has been the mainstay of Palm’s career – and he’s looking forward to many more years of researching and writing about the group. An exciting development in recent years has been the lectures he’s started giving about the group. “As a writer and researcher, I’m often sitting all alone by my desk or delving into some archive or library, which I enjoy”, he says. “But it’s a nice change to meet and share my knowledge with an appreciative audience every now and then.”

And what about books? Surely, there can’t be much more to say about ABBA? Oh yes there is, according to Carl Magnus Palm. “The ABBA story is still under-researched and I’m constantly digging up new or long-forgotten facts and stories,” he says. “ABBA is the biggest popular music phenomenon Sweden has ever seen, and one of the biggest and most-loved acts on the planet, and that alone is justification for continuing my research.” Palm plans to present his findings in a number of books, focusing on various aspects of the ABBA story. And if that sounds like hard work, you shouldn’t feel too sorry for him. “Researching a subject and presenting the results in book form is what I live for. I get excited just thinking about it!”