Head Over Heels - was it right to make it a single?

Published September 17, 2015

An important part of the revised and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions is to take a look not only at how the music was written and recorded, but also how it was released: for example, which songs were chosen as singles, and how they were promoted and reviewed.

While I was in London recently I spent much of my time at the British Library, where I found the attached brief review and ad of the Head Over Heels single in an issue of music industry journal Music Week. First of all, confronted with the single on a full page like that I was struck by the sheer awfulness of that sleeve: the photo of Frida is lovely, but she's not the lead singer on that song, so my gut reaction to her dominant exposure on that sleeve is: "that's just plain wrong!". Plus, of course, by the time the single was released she no longer had that perm but her spiky haircut. Overall, the sleeve looks like very litte care or thought has gone into it.

Secondly, there's the review, which reads in full, "Hitting the Top 20 since 1975, there are no signs of bad times for Swedish foursome." As most long-term ABBA fans will know, that assessment turned out to be wrong: Head Over Heels only reached number 25 and none of the group's singles that year did in fact hit the Top 20 in the UK. Certainly, Head Over Heels charted higher in some European countries, but overall it wasn't a terribly successful single.

This subject has been discussed many times before, but I still can't help wondering: would any of the other tracks from The Visitors have fared better as a follow-up to One Of Us, the first single from the album? When I was working on The Visitors Deluxe Edition I asked Björn and Benny - who both feel today that Head Over Heels was the wrong choice for a single - which song they would have chosen instead. Björn took a look at the track listing and realised that, in his opinion, there actually wasn't much else to choose from. Benny suggested Slipping Through My Fingers, but that was mainly because it's his favourite track from the album. An introspective ballad as an ABBA single? Who knows, perhaps it could have worked; it is indeed one of the best songs on the album.

Personally, I think When All Is Said And Done would have been a great single: it's uptempo, energetic, very direct and Frida's singing is incredible. It's got that blend of melancholy and positive forward-movement that often worked so well for ABBA. Another candidate would be the title track, The Visitors, where Frida's vocals are equally incredible, although perhaps Björn and Benny would have had to do some editing: it takes 30 seconds before the vocals come in, for example. As a song and recording it seems to say, "hey! We're ready for the Eighties!", although the question is whether it would have fallen between two stools: ABBA's core audience would perhaps not have been prepared to accept this slightly "challenging" track as a single, while others would largely have dismissed it because it was ABBA.

What do you think?

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ABBA's Head Over Heels single reviewed and advertised. But should that single have featured something else from The Visitors?