Forthcoming book about Frida's solo career

Published June 17, 2020

A couple of years ago I was contacted by ABBA/Frida fan Remko van Drongelen, asking me if maybe I intended writing a book about Frida's career as a singer before and after ABBA. I had indeed been collecting information about that subject for many years, as I have for all four ABBA members, all with the intention that one day I might write a book about it.

Remko explained to me that he didn't really care who wrote the book, his main concern was that such a book would be written. He told me that he would be willing to do it himself in case no-one else was up for it. And that's when I realised that, actually, I have far too many projects lined up and that it would take forever for me to reach the stage where I would have the time to write a book about Frida's career. Much better that someone like Remko, who was prepared to start research that very second, did this.

I was sitting on quite a lot of publicly unavailable information, and I now decided to share this with Remko for his book, which is entitled Frida Beyond ABBA. I've also tried to help him as much as possible in providing contact info, advising on this, that and the other, and going through my archives to try to straighten out question marks.

But the bulk of the work, of course, is Remko's own. And let me tell you, from what he has told me about the people he's spoken to, the facts he has unearthed, the recordings he has listened to, the lists of Frida's live performances he's shown me, and the extracts of the book that I've read, purely from an information point of view this promises to be one of the most important ABBA-related books ever published.

Like so many similar projects, the passion and dedication on part of the author is not matched by financial resources, which is why Remko has chosen to conduct a crowdfunding campaign to make the book a reality. On Monday 22 June, the crowdfunding campaign kicks off at the Indiegogo crowdfunding site; click here to learn more and place your order. I do urge everyone who can to support it, so that this milestone of a book will see publication.

There is also a Facebook page for the book, where you can learn more about the project. I for one can't wait to read Frida Beyond ABBA.

 

An early artistic jackpot for Michael B. Tretow

Published June 12, 2020

When I interviewed ABBA engineer Michael B. Tretow for ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions in 1993, he reminisced about his early years as a recording engineer, which mostly consisted of capturing what was going on in the studio, with little opportunity for enhancing the sounds. "But," he pointed out, "there was one group called the Jackpots who were more open to experimentation, and I made some interesting recordings with them."

I was reminded of this conversation when I listened to a recent episode of the podcast Popnördspodden ("The Pop Nerd Pod"), co-hosted by my friend Ulf Henningsson. This series is mainly devoted to exploring the history of Swedish pop music acts from the 1960s, from the north to the south. The research done is astounding: when you get to hear unreleased recordings by obscure bands that never released a record in the first place, you know that you're in the company of some truly ambitious people.

The latest episode was almost all about the Jackpots, and one of the songs played was the mindblowing title track from their 1968 album Jack In The Box. The album was produced by the band members themselves, but Tretow was the engineer, and I don't think it's too far-fetched to say that he contributed a lot to the sound of the record - much as he would do on the ABBA records, where he was never credited as a co-producer, even though his input went far beyond just twiddling the knobs.

In a just world, 'Jack In The Box' would have been a global hit single. But is it a just world? No. The recording survives, however, and if you're interested in hearing some great 1960s pop, and get a feel for exactly how accomplished Michael Tretow was at age 24, then I advise you to listen to this:

Spotify

YouTube

ABBA On Record - I'm working on it

Published April 23, 2020

It's been a while since you heard from me on the subject of my forthcoming book,  ABBA On Record - Packaged Promoted Reviewed, so here's a report from CMP headquarters.

The main message is: I'm working on it, and everything's going really well. I try to avoid the dreaded C-word that's on everybody's lips these days, but I can report that the current, depressing state of the planet doesn't affect my work very much. I've been working from home for the best part of three decades, so I just go on as before. In a way, isolation is my natural state of being.

For me, writing books isn't only about imparting whatever knowledge I may have amassed through research, but also about the excitement of my own discoveries. It's often only when I pull all my research together on a certain subject - say, the release of the 'SOS' single, to take a random example - that the full story reveals itself to me. It's such a buzz, and suddenly the almost-mechanical hoarding of information becomes meaningful. It's happening a lot when I'm working on this book, so I'm confident that you will feel the same buzz when you read the finished work.

I'm keeping safe and staying healthy. I've always been a walk-a-holic, and these days, since I avoid public transport altogether, my walks are even longer, which can only be a good thing. I help an elderly lady in my building with the shopping, which feels good: at least I'm doing something for the show (ABBA fans will understand the reference). But otherwise it's work as usual.

The delay of the book - I naïvely had originally expected to publish in the spring of 2020 - has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It would have been disappointing not to be able to do some kind of event when ABBA On Record is published, and I do hope that will be possible when the book is finished in 2021.

In the meantime, thanks again to everyone who has pre-ordered the book so far. Your excitement and faith in the project is what now enables me to concentrate fully on writing the book.

If you want to learn more about the book and perhaps support the project, please visit abbaonrecord.com.

 

Blue Mink - their influence on ABBA

Published March 26, 2020

Back in 1993, when I interviewed Björn Ulvaeus for the very first time, we discussed the origins of the first ABBA song, 'People Need Love', recorded in March 1972. Björn seemed to remember that there was a specific influence behind the song. "Weren't there these duos around then, a guy and a girl, who sang these types of songs?" he said. I couldn't immediately think of any such duos, but Björn held on to the thought. "I believe it was something that was recorded in England that inspired us," he continued. "This thing with guys and girls - or guy and girl, probably. I believe there were a number of such constellations around then, that had one or two hits."

Since neither Björn nor I could think of a specific act, I dropped it for the time being. But a while later, I interviewed session guitarist Janne Schaffer about his ABBA work. "'People Need Love' - there was actually an idea behind it," Janne suddenly said, without being prompted by me. "There was an English group called Blue Mink. There were a few ideas borrowed from them."

When I met up with Björn again, I told him what Janne had said, and he confirmed that Blue Mink was indeed the group he had been thinking of. Bingo!

By then I had researched Blue Mink a bit and discovered that by the time 'People Need Love' was recorded, 'The Banner Man' was their most recent hit - in the summer of 1971 it spent 14 weeks on the UK singles chart, peaking at #3 - although it had done nothing in Sweden. I suggested that this might have been the record that inspired them, but Björn didn't think that this was it specifically.

And, as I wrote in ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, "it could have been one of several [Blue Mink songs], since the group’s hits were often based on the trading of lines between lead singers Roger Cook and Madeline Bell, much like the male-female alternating vocals heard on ‘People Need Love’. The theme of the lyrics – basically about reaching out to your fellow man – was also mirrored in many Blue Mink hits."

How many of you have actually heard Blue Mink? (Strictly speaking they weren't a duo and they weren't all British, since some of their members were American.) They were one of those middle of the road bands that I suspect weren't highly regarded by the cognoscenti at the time, but nevertheless had an audience.

Consisting of A-list session musicians, they were probably a lot better than you'd expect them to be. This was brought home to me recently as I happened to hear 'The Banner Man' for the first time in many years. The bassist in Blue Mink was Herbie Flowers, whose main claim to fame is perhaps his contribution to Lou Reed's 'Walk On The Wild Side'. But listen to his incredible playing in 'The Banner Man', from circa 01:40 onwards. Any self-respecting band would be proud to have someone play like that on their recordings.

 

ABBA: Song by Song - new book by Ian Cole

Published February 24, 2020

Similar to so many of my latter-day friendships, I first met Ian Cole online, more than two decades ago. This was 1998: he was a member of the mailing list ABBAMAIL, and I was a lurker. I soon noticed that the posts made by someone named Ian Cole were very much up my alley: factual and informative. I thought, "This is someone I should get in touch with". Which I did after unlurking myself. After we'd got to know each other, it quickly transpired that we were both Beatles fans and familiar with the work by writers such as Mark Lewisohn, the author of The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, which was the inspiration behind my own ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions. Small wonder that Ian and I shared many of the same attitudes to ABBA and the group's universe.

From 1999 onwards, Ian has been the trusted proofreader of virtually everything I've written in the English language, whether it's about ABBA or one of my Swedish-to-English translation assignments about another subject entirely. Everyone should be fortunate enough to have someone onboard who can correct grammar slips, point to factual errors and - this is most important - deliver criticism in a constructive manner. It's often said that "so-and-so can't take criticism", but delivering criticism is also an art form, which Ian has mastered like few others. Over these more than two decades, he has become a close friend to the point that I was his witness at his and husband Ian's wedding a couple of years ago.

When Ian told me that he was going to write a song by song book on ABBA, as part of Fonthill Media's series of similar titles, I was delighted for several reasons. Firstly, I feel there aren't enough ABBA books written by people with in-depth knowledge of the group, and it was welcome for that very reason. Secondly, although there have been similar titles published about ABBA (my own long-out-of-print ABBA - The Complete Guide To Their Music, for instance), I knew that Ian, as someone who has thought about ABBA's music since the mid-1970s, would not just say what everybody else has already said.

After so many years of tireless proofreading on his part, I was very happy to finally be able to offer him the same service with ABBA: Song by Song. And it was work I really enjoyed, for, having written so much about ABBA myself, I found it very refreshing to get someone else's perspective on the songs and the albums. Ian has brought up aspects that I'd never thought of myself, and pointed to facts which I maybe wasn't aware of. Most importantly, all of the observations in ABBA: Song by Song come from someone who actually knows a lot about ABBA, rather than a johnny-come-lately jumping to conclusions and presenting them as facts.

For me, there was an especially thrilling moment during Ian's work on the book. We were chatting online when he mentioned that a fan had pointed to an historical fact that may have had some bearing on the lyrics of a certain ABBA song. Having access to a Swedish online archive, I was able to quickly find evidence that yes, it's very likely that Björn was inspired by a particular set of circumstances when he wrote those lyrics. ABBA: Song by Song will be the first book where this theory is presented.

So, if you're an ABBA fan who likes to think about the group's music, or just someone who likes to have a handy, up-to-date and authoritative reference book about ABBA's recorded output, this book is most definitely for you.

ABBA: Song by Song will be published 6 March 2020. Ian has put together a page with handy pre-ordering links. It can be accessed here.

 

Is the melody sacred or not?

Published February 20, 2020

In a 1997 interview with the Bee Gees, discussing their songwriting methods, they claimed that once they'd written a melody they were happy with, they would not change it. In other words, they would not adjust it so as to accommodate the lyrics.

In a similar example, Carole Bayer-Sager has told the story of writing the lyrics for the mega-hit 'That's What Friends Are For'. Her opening line was "I never thought I'd feel this way", but this would mean that the first note of the melody, written by Burt Bacharach, would have to go. He was adamant that that first note must remain, which explains why the opening line ultimately turned out to be the somewhat odd "And I never thought I'd feel this way".

I always thought that Björn and Benny were similarly protective about their melodies, but listening to The Michael B. Tretow Tapes for my forthcoming book ABBA On Record, I've discovered that this was not always the case. For instance, you can often hear, when they're working out a backing track, that there was originally an additional note or two in the tune, which had to go when the lyrics were written.

More recently, I realised something similar that I'd never thought of, regarding the Swedish and English versions of 'Waterloo'. In the Swedish version, the opening line is "Jo, jo, vid Waterloo Napoleon fick ge sig" and in the English it's "My, my, at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender". But there is actually one more syllable in "Napoleon did surrender" than in "Napoleon fick ge sig". If they'd wanted to protect the original melody, they could've written "Napoleon surrendered" instead, as that phrase had the correct number of syllables. However, it probably sounded better when the line ended with a vowel sound - "surrend-ah!" - so the melody was fiddled with just a bit. In other words, Björn and Benny weren't above changing things just slightly, if it would help the overall outcome.

The insights gained from The Michael B. Tretow Tapes are just one of the many revelations in ABBA On Record. You can support the project by pre-ordering your copy here: abbaonrecord.com

Your support matters!

 

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