More vintage reviews of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions

Published January 23, 2015

Only five days now before the crowdfunding campaign for ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions kicks off. Lots to prepare and plenty of things to consider, but I believe I'm almost there. And inevitably, now that thoughts on this particular book occupies so many of my waking hours, I think a lot about the original 1994 edition.

About a week ago, I shared a Russian story about ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, originally published back when the book was first released. It triggered a desire to dig out old reviews of the book, many of which I had completely forgotten - or should I say put out of my mind? There were only a handful of mostly very brief reviews in the English-language press at the time, and they weren't all positive. Let's go through them all, starting with the negative ones:

An anonymous reviewer in the NME had this to say: "ABBA: The Complete Recording Sessions (Century 22) is a rather poor attempt to give the Scandinavian popsters the completist treatment archivist Mark Lewisohn gave to The Beatles with a day-by-day guide to their recording schedule with mora data than insight." Ouch! So you mean you didn't appreciate my efforts to detail the facts of 'Rubber Ball Man' and 'Lady Bird I'? (Sobs softly...)

In the Financial Times, Peter Aspden was also dismissive, but perhaps more of ABBA than of my book: "Carl Magnus Palm's ABBA: The Complete Recording Sessions (Century 22, £12.95) is a good example of a pop act, notwithstanding phenomenal sales and even a cult retro following, being unable to withstand detailed critical attention. Palm has done his homework, however, and some of the early pictures are hilarious." Which I guess translates as, "What's the point of writing a complete recording sessions book about ABBA?"

Moving on to more positive, or at least neutral, assessments, Record Collector's Pat Gilbert noted that the book was "meticulously researched", before continuing: "Considering the wealth of material it contains, and the quality of all the fascinating 'extras' - facsimiles of handwritten lyrics and studio bills, plus scores of archive photos - 'The Complete Recording Sessions' is virtually impossible to fault, though its appeal will be lost on the casual fan." Hmm, sounds like Mr. Gilbert browsed through the book without actually reading very much of it. This review was part of a one-page article about ABBA, the Thank You For The Music box set, and my book (the cover of which received prominent exposure). Read the full article here.

The fourth and final review from UK media that I'm aware of was published in the now defunct magazine VOX. Written by Steve Malins, I'd say this was the only proper review, assessing the good and the less successful aspects of the book, and doing it with a sense of humour to boot. Malins awarded ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions a score of 7 out of 10, which I think was fair. The complete review is available here.

As I look back on these reviews, I remember feeling that the book was something of a failure, even though I was, in many ways, proud of what I'd accomplished (despite the book's shortcomings, of which I was painfully aware). While I had hoped that ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions would generate plenty of attention, it was like no-one really cared that it had been published. I seem to recall it took a while before it started trickling down to me how much ABBA fans all over the planet had enjoyed the book, and it was only then I began understanding that I had been reading the wrong reviews, as it were.

Well, 20 years on I'm hopefully a much better writer than I was back then, and I know a lot more about ABBA, their career, and their music, so I'm confident that the brand new edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, which will hopefully become a reality soon, will be a much, much better read. No more "rather poor attempt" reviews, OK?

The crowdfunding campaign for the revised, expanded and updated edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions kicks off 28 January 2015. Read all about it here.

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ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions (original 1994 edition, the new edition will have a completely different cover).