Language Of Love - Björn & Benny's sexploitation adventures, part 1

Published June 04, 2014

"Man sa så mycket om sex / Att man fick nya komplex" ("They said so much about sex / That you got new complexes") wrote Stig Anderson in his satirical lyrics for the 1969 hit 'Ljuva sextital' ("The Good Old Sixties"), the music for which was written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. The Sixties was indeed the decade when sexual liberation was, shall we say, highlighted, and the subject explored from, it seemed, every conceivable angle.

Whatever irony projected in the song written by Benny, Björn and Stig, however, later in 1969 it transpired that none of them was above contributing to projects that "talked about sex" in a most explicit way. In fact, November 1969 saw Benny and Björn write music for not one but two films that today are regarded as prime examples of the so-called sexploitation genre. Sexploitation - a term that was not used at the time, it should be noted - is defined by Wikipedia as “a class of independently produced, low-budget feature films generally associated with the 1960s, and serving largely as a vehicle for the exhibition of non-explicit sexual situations and gratuitous nudity.” This would serve as a fairly accurate description of Language Of Love and The Seduction Of Inga, the two films to which Björn and Benny contributed soundtrack tunes in 1969. In this blog post, we will take a look at the music written for the first of these two films.

The film Language Of Love aimed to educate heterosexual men and women in their attitudes towards sex. Danish psychologists Sten and Inge Hegeler (very famous at the time), Swedish sex advisor Maj-Brith Bergström-Walan and Swedish gynecologist Sture Cullhed were filmed discussing various aspects of sexual behaviour, and these scenes were interspersed with sequences illustrating the matters under discussion, including authentic sexual intercourse. So controversial were these scenes – the first such scenes ever to be approved by the Swedish board of film censors – that the film opened in a reported 22 countries, in September 1969, before it could premiere in the country where it was produced: Sweden. According to Swedish press, Erik Skoglund, the head of the board of film censors, had to take a three-day holiday after watching the film twice.

For me personally, having seen the film and expected something really dull and kitschy, it was actually better than I thought. The experts taking part in the film seem very earnest in their endeavours to make people more relaxed about sex, spotlighting behaviour and attitudes that create unnecessary hang-ups in people. Sadly, many of the problems discussed seem to be just as topical today, 45 years after the film was made. I would describe the film as "quaint", for want of a better word, although, admittedly, the sex scenes do make for awkward viewing. And I don't think I could improve on the description of the worst part of the film, as conveyed by British film critic Victoria Radin: "[A] pointlessly extenuated explanation of contraception, [wherein] one of the panel dons a white coat and examines three women in turn, issuing one with a pill and - in appalling close-up - fitting the others with cap and loop". Nuff said.

Nevertheless, the film became a huge box office hit when it finally opened in Sweden on 2 October 1969. According to authoritative sources the original Swedish title of the film at this time was Ur kärlekens språk (“From The Language Of Love”), subsequently changed to simply Kärlekens språk (“The Language Of Love”). However, it should be noted that it was advertised in the papers under the latter title at the time of the opening. Incidentally, there is actually a minor Benny connection even in the Swedish premiere, for one of the Stockholm cinemas where the film opened was Rival - only a cinema at the time, it is now part of the hotel and entertainment complex Rival owned by Benny.

So, apart from that little tidbit, what has all this got to do with Björn and Benny? After all, the Swedish version of the film does not feature any soundtrack contributions whatsoever from the male half of ABBA. Instead, the music was mainly written by Swedish composer, conductor and record producer Mats Olsson; the film also includes ‘Sarabande’ by Johann Sebastian Bach, while the opening credits features a version of ‘Lustvin dansar en Gavott med de fem sinnena’ (“Lustvin dances a Gavotte with the five senses”), a song dating back to the 17th Century and performed here by an unidentified male singer (another Benny connection: Helen Sjöholm recorded her own jazzed-up version of this song for her 2002 album Visor, issued on Benny's Mono Music label). Presumably, the version of the film distributed to the 22 countries that premiered it before its Swedish opening date also used the Swedish soundtrack.

The English-language version of the film was produced parallel with the Swedish - the experts were filmed speaking English, they have not been dubbed - and the Swedish press reported that American distributors visited Stockholm towards the end of October 1969 in order to negotiate a deal for the film. Perhaps it was somewhere around this time that Björn and Benny were approached - presumably through Stig Anderson - to contribute a new theme song for the English-language film. What they came up with was entitled 'Language Of Love', with lyrics by one Jack Fishman (lyricist of late-Sixties hits such as Tom Jones’ ‘Help Yourself’ and Amen Corner’s ‘If Paradise Is Half As Nice’). The only recording date I've been able to find regarding the original version of 'Language Of Love' (the song), made by Polar Music in Stockholm, is 26 November 1969, although nothing is known about the personnel appearing on the recording.

At any rate, the film ran into all sorts of censorship problems in the United States, and couldn't open in New York City until 30 June 1971. The film premiered  in London prior to that, on 4 February 1971, at two cinemas in the Jacey chain: Charing Cross Road and Trafalgar Square (click here for an ad). In Time Out's review of the film in the March 21-April 4, 1971 issue, they picked up on the film's earnestly educational ambition, but also on the fact that this was hardly the reason it was shown in the cinemas: "Livingroom-type discussion of sex interspersed with mimed or actual illustrative sequences. Genital close-ups including at one stage 5 penises in a row - sight for sore eyes. Hard to say what good it will do the raincoat trade but should be shown in schools compulsorily."

Nevertheless, "the raincoat trade" seems to have been good, for the film ran for months and months in London. Certain British citizens were less enamoured with the film, seeing nothing but immorality and filth in the film: in September 1971 they even arranged a demonstration, led by Cliff Richard, outside the Jacey cinema in Trafalgar Square.

The original recording of Björn and Benny's theme song, then, probably wasn't heard in public until perhaps February 1971. The song is performed by an unidentified choir - the film doesn't even credit Björn, Benny and Jack Fishman with writing the song, much less inform the viewer who's singing. So who were these anonymous singers? I recently asked Björn and Benny if they remembered anything about the recording of 'Language Of Love'. Björn had no recollections whatsoever, but Benny said he thought that the recording was made in the United States. This does sound plausible, for, as there are no traces of any accents, the vocalists do sound like English is their first language. If this is accurate, then the recording made in Stockholm on 26 November 1969 was probably only a demo used as a blueprint for whoever the Americans were who recorded the version of 'Language Of Love' heard on the soundtrack.

The song was used twice in the film: once over the opening credits, when Fishman’s lyrics are sung by the choir, and then at 00:17:35, when the tune is merely hummed by the choir, during a segment showing couples of various ages in everyday situations, as well as some sexually charged scenes. Click here to hear the version used over the opening credits.

Clearly, Stig Anderson - and perhaps Björn and Benny themselves - really believed in ‘Language Of Love’ as a song, as it seemed to be one they focused on over the following two years or so.  The tune subsequently acquired Swedish lyrics by Stig, entitled ‘Livet går sin gång’ (“Life Goes On”), and was then recorded by Björn and Benny for inclusion on their 1970 album Lycka. The following year, in January, the duo recorded a German version, 'Was die Liebe sagt' (lyrics by Hans Bradtke), released as a single B-side in West Germany.

Then, in February 1971, Björn and Benny participated in a song festival in Málaga, Spain, performing ‘Language Of Love’ in its original English-language version, but only finishing sixth in the contest. The winner was Donna Hightower and her performance of 'If You Hold My Hand'. Despite the "failure" on part of 'Language Of Love', the song itself attracted a great deal of interest, press reports stating that music publishers from nine countries had acquired the rights to the tune. However, although these same press reports also stated that several recordings were definitely going to be made – including one by French recording star Françoise Hardy – it appears none ever materialised (if you know differently, I would love to hear from you).

As far as I've been able to ascertain, the final chapter in the history of this song was written in February and March 1971, when Polar Music recording artist Lena Andersson recorded her own version of ‘Language Of Love’, subsequently featured on her album Lena, 15 and also on a single B-side.

Something of a damp squib, then, for despite the lo-fi quality of the original soundtrack version, I have to say that it was only when I heard this for the first time a few months ago that I truly appreciated how beautiful this tune really is. It's a shame 'Language Of Love' has largely been lost to posterity. But perhaps someone will rediscover it and do the ultimate recording of it. We live in hope.

Stay tuned for part 2 in the sexploitation saga, coming soon...

Ordering tips: Use the convenient ordering links in the menu to the right to buy the Language Of Love DVD. If you're located outside the US and have problems ordering via Amazon, Movies Unlimited will deliver abroad.

Note: Although it's been reported that Language Of Love is the highly inappropriate date movie to which Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) takes Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, the film they're watching is in fact another, unidentified Swedish sexploitation film. Take it from someone who's actually seen Language Of Love.


Language Of Love. American film poster.