Fab Dutch ABBA TV series - you can watch it!

Published June 11, 2021

As announced earlier this year I was interviewed for a Dutch TV series and documentary, Take A Chance On Me, all about ABBA. The set-up is that musical duo Nick & Simon and their friend Kees travel to Sweden to meet up with people who had some connection to ABBA, plus also do a few musical performances. The story of ABBA is intervowen into this format.

First, six episodes were broadcast, showing the making of the documentary, followed by the finished documentary. The series concluded recently and I am in the final "making-of" episode and then in the actual documentary.

As of this writing, both that episode and the documentary are available to watch online. Since I could watch them in Sweden, I guess the programmes are available in many other countries as well - hopefully including yours. You will have to sit through a couple of Dutch commercials, but it's worth the effort, as both the series and the documentary are quite ambitious.

Contrary to many other European countries, The Netherlands don't use dubbing on television, so when people speak English in the interviews, that's what you will hear as well.

Watch the making-of episode, where I'm interviewed about ABBA's album sleeves, here.

Watch the finished documentary here.

 

A proofreader has his say on ABBA On Record

Published June 10, 2021

For an incredible 22 years, fellow ABBA fan and author of the fab book ABBA: Song by Song, Ian Cole, has proofread virtually everything I've written in the English language. Right now I'm keeping him busy with my forthcoming book ABBA On Record, which I currently hope to publish in the first half of 2022.

Since Ian will have more of an outside fan perspective as a reader than I have as a writer, I asked him to share his thoughts on the book and what he's read so far. So, without further ado, heeeere's Ian:

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As readers of this blog will be aware, ABBA On Record grew out of the revised and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, published in 2017. Additional details about the release, promotion, and reaction to ABBA's records that didn't fit into that book due to space.

Carl Magnus has been busy researching and writing the new book for quite a while now, finding more information that will make ABBA On Record just as interesting and essential as The Complete Recording Sessions.

Again I've been honoured to help Carl Magnus with proof reading the manuscript of the work in progress. So far we've worked through chapters covering 1972 to 1976, from the first single People Need Love, through to the Arrival album and Money, Money, Money single.

What's been included so far is fascinating, and expands so much about what we've known for decades about ABBA's records and promotion. On top of the research that Carl Magnus has already collected over the past 30 years for various projects which has come in handy for this book, he has tenaciously trawled through archives to find long-lost details from the various record companies that released ABBA's records around the world (including, of course, Polar Music in Sweden), contemporary reviews and advertisements, actual sales figures, and single and album charts in several of ABBA's major markets. He has interviewed people who were involved in the release and promotion of ABBA in Scandinavia, the UK, USA, Australia, and more. He has delved into promotion on TV and radio, ABBA’s classic TV specials, and pivotal performances.

The book is a fascinating journey. We read about the early days when packaging and promotion seemed almost an afterthought, such as the Ring Ring album sleeve being cobbled together with existing publicity photos (the one on the front being many months old); developing coordinated concepts for ABBA's image, such as the costumes worn for Eurovision-winner Waterloo in performance, publicity photos, and album cover; the lack of control of ABBA's record releases around the world with a wild variety of record sleeves; the unfettered promotion of ABBA on TV that led to massive overexposure in Australia; and attempts by Polar to reign in and standardise the look of ABBA's releases that started with the creation of the classic ABBA logo. These topics and more in the book have been covered before, but never with so much detail or analysis.

In addition, I was thrilled to read the chapter on the so-called Michael B. Tretow tapes, which ABBA's recording engineer surreptitiously recorded on the side during some of ABBA's studio sessions. These tapes have revealed many amazing discoveries, which add to or in some cases contradict previously known details about some songs, plus fascinating glimpses of music that never advanced beyond tryouts that weren't committed to proper studio recordings, and thus were not reported in The Complete Recording Sessions. Intriguingly there are songs that until now no one has heard since those studio sessions, while there are other snatches of melodies that have popped up many years later in other songs created by Benny and Björn in post-ABBA projects.

Recent discussions between us hint that there is even more exciting information to be revealed. Carl Magnus tells me he has tracked down several people who were present for the Super Trouper album sleeve shoot. I'm looking forward to reading what will come in future chapters. I'm sure you'll be as excited as I am when the book is published and you all get to read what I've been lucky enough to view so far.

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Ian!

Learn more and pre-order your copy here.

 

Interviews for ABBA On Record - a tangled web

Published May 25, 2021

First things first: I'm still working on my forthcoming book ABBA On Record - Packaged Promoted Reviewed virtually every day. It has taken much, much longer than expected, and for that I'm truly sorry. But it's all for a good reason: more work on the book will give the reader better value for money, as the extra time goes into doing more research and conducting more interviews. Another obstacle is, of course, the new ABBA songs, which I've promised to cover in ABBA On Record. The songs have been delayed several years, which no-one anticipated when they were first announced in April 2018. And until they have been released - according to ABBA themselves, one or more will definitely be issued before the end of 2021 - I won't be able to write about them in the book.

Meanwhile, of course, I concentrate on the main parts of ABBA On Record. I'm not one of those writers who do all the research and interviews first, then go on to write. For me, it's a parallel process. However, you will be pleased to learn that I'm currently in the process of wrapping up most of the interviews. There may be one or two later in the year, but I'm trying to reach an end in that process. This is an indication that I'm starting to see the end of the project.

Securing interviews is not for the faint of heart, let me tell you. While you can track down some people easily, and they agree to be interviewed equally easily, with other potential interviewees it may be a long, arduous journey. Social media has made it easier to find people, but then actually connecting with them is another kettle of fish. Unless you're friends on Facebook, for instance, they won't necessarily notice that you've sent them a message. And if you send a friend request, they may not even be aware of it: not everyone's on Facebook regularly, nor, consequently, observant of all the alerts they might be getting.

Sometimes you have an actual email address, but that's no guarantee that you will receive a reply. Because the person isn't interested and they reason that "if I don't reply, this guy will know that I haven't got anything to contribute"? Or is it because your message has been classified as spam or somehow been lost in cyberspace? You can never know.

You might phone them up and be met by voicemail; with so many unwanted "Hello Sir, do you have Windows?" calls these days, people tend to screen their calls. You might leave a message, but that's no guarantee they will call you back or answer your call the next time you try the number. In one case, where I had the feeling that "this might be a person with valuable insights, if I could just get hold of them", I even resorted to sending a good old-fashioned snail mail letter. It led to an initial contact, but, for whatever reason, fizzled out just as quickly again. No-one's obliged to be interviewed by me, of course, but it's just so much easier when you get a firm "no". Then you can move on.

The above may sound as I'm complaining - and maybe I am, a bit - but the setbacks are more than balanced by the many friendly people I've talked to in the course of this book project. Some of them have been patient beyond anything I had the right to expect, and even put me in touch with other people they feel I should talk to, and so on. And it's all going into the book, making it so much better.

Recently, I've been concentrating a lot on the Super Trouper sleeve story, and I've already secured a number of "I was there" stories that will add colour and depth to my re-telling of that photo shoot. Can't wait to share it with you all. At the moment it looks like I will be able to publish the book in the first half of 2022 - if ABBA do indeed release some new music in 2021, like they've promised.

You can learn more about ABBA On Record here and, if you should feel so inclined, support the project with a pre-order. Your support matters!

 

New ABBA series starts airing in The Netherlands

Published April 29, 2021

I am one of many Swedes interviewed for the new ABBA series "Nick, Simon & Kees: Take a chance on me", which starts airing on Dutch TV tomorrow, Friday 30 April 2021. If I recall correctly, it's a six-part series.

Applying the format from a previous series about Simon & Garfunkel (one of the duo Nick & Simon's inspirations), this time the team has travelled to Sweden to trace the history of ABBA: out of the three, it's Kees who's the major ABBA fan.

Apart from myself (interviewed at Julius Kronberg's studio, where The Visitors sleeve was photographed), ABBA-related people appearing in the series include guitarist Janne Schaffer, costume designer Owe Sandström, and tour sound engineer and ABBA pal Claes af Geijerstam. I believe Tonny Roth of the Hootenanny Singers may also have been interviewed for it, along with lots of other people.

The production team was quite ambitious, so there's every chance this might be a good series.

Read more here (in Dutch).

Thanks to Jan van den Berg for the alert.

 

Talking Elvis, Hep Stars, ABBA and more

Published April 28, 2021

Is there nothing I won't blab about? Clearly not, as I'm taking part in the Talking Elvis podcast chatting about Hep Stars lead singer Svenne Hedlund's Elvis album, various other ABBA/Elvis connections - and the time my dad met Elvis on the set of either Viva Las Vegas or Kissin' Cousins in 1963 (it's related to the glass ashtray Elvis is holding in the picture).

Listen here or here.

ABBA features in new book

Published April 14, 2021

My friend Staffan Olander is a long-term fan of The Beatles, and the go-to person in Sweden for expertise on everything connected with the group. As a consequence of his winning Sweden's equivalent of The $64,000 Question in 1973 (this being Sweden, the win was a more modest SEK 10,000), he became a close personal friend of Beatles producer George Martin, and Staffan has contributed to many official Beatles projects over the years. For instance, if you see Beatles single and EP sleeves on official merchandise these days, they're likely to come from Staffan's immaculately preserved and catalogued collection.

I grew up listening to his "Beatles Hour" programmes on Swedish radio and got to know him personally in 2003. As a life-long Beatles fan, I was honoured to accompany Staffan on a trip to London, when he took me along to a visit with Sir George Martin as they were working on the book Summer of Love - The Making of Sgt Pepper. George served us tea and biscuits in his London flat and I remember thinking that this would probably be the first and last time that a "Sir" would ever serve me tea.

Staffan has just published a kind of memoir, entitled Staffan & Beatles: popmusiken blev ett livsprojekt ("Staffan & The Beatles: Pop Music Became A Life Project"). In the book, he looks back on his life, not least the many Beatles-related projects he's been involved in - and above all his friendship with George Martin.

For the ABBA fan, there are a number of items of interest in the book, perhaps particularly the three pages covering the story behind the video greeting Paul McCartney sent to Björn and Benny in June 2016, as the male half of ABBA celebrated the 50th anniversary of their first meeting. There are also pictures from the video greeting that Björn and Benny sent back to McCartney. Staffan was instrumental in making all this happen.

Other ABBA-related features in the book include a meeting between the Martin family and Björn & Benny in 1995 (including a picture); a telegram George Martin sent to Björn and Benny; and an invitation to the the Martin family to see the Mamma Mia! musical.

The book is in Swedish and if you want a signed copy you can order it directly from Staffan at info@olander.se. The price is SEK 300, plus postage, which varies according to your location on the planet.

The book is also available worldwide from Book Depository.

It's a beautifully designed book with a lot of warmth in it, which is very nice just to flick through, even if you don't understand Swedish.

 

Blue Mink – their influence on ABBA

Published March 26, 2021

This Is Pop - I was interviewed for it

Published March 01, 2021

I was interviewed for this long-in-the-making series back in 2019, and so was Benny Andersson. The series starts airing in Canada this Saturday. The episode Benny is in - and maybe I too, if I made the final cut - is “Stockholm Syndrome” (Saturday, March 20 at 10 p.m. ET).

For those of us not based in Canada, it is my understanding that the series will be available on Netflix in the not too distant future. I have no exact dates for this, nor do I know exactly which Netflix territories will make the series available.

Click here for more information about the broadcast on Canadian TV.

ABBA On Record - it's all about the stories

Published February 19, 2021

It's now about two years since I announced the publication of my forthcoming book ABBA On Record - Packaged Promoted Reviewed (abbaonrecord.com), so I thought it might be a good time to post a reminder of what the book is actually about.

ABBA On Record is a sort of companion volume to ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, the most recent edition being published in 2017. If The Complete Recording Sessions described how ABBA's music was written and recorded, then ABBA On Record tells the story of what happened with the music when it left the recording studio: the stories behind the record sleeves, the way the record companies worked with a single or an album to promote it and, of course, what ABBA themselves did to make their music heard around the world.

In telling all these stories, I've been trying to go back to the drawing board, as it were, and not take anything for granted. In other words, instead of just repeating material from previously published sources, I've taken a fresh look at it all to see if the truth about a particular subject might be different than we've thought. And often it has turned out to be.

I've received quite a lot of help from people who worked with ABBA at the various record companies, not least the United States, where Jerry Greenberg - president of Atlantic Records at the time - has put me in touch with a great number of people who were involved with ABBA in one way or another. The Atlantic people - as well as record company people elsewhere - have shared so many fascinating stories and anecdotes, including, of course, their dealings with ABBA themselves.

A random selection of detailed features in the book:

- How ABBA got their name, and how the famous logo came together.

- The major promotional trips to Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom: I even have a complete itinerary for one of their days on the 1976 trip to the US, which gives us a good view of the many different things ABBA had to do to promote themselves and their music.

- The efforts that went into making 'Fernando' and Greatest Hits/The Best Of ABBA successful in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom.

- The televised gala performance of 'Dancing Queen' on the eve of the marriage between Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf and Silvia Sommerlath.

Well, I could go on - and I haven't even mentioned the "extra stuff", such as the mind-blowing contents of The Michael B. Tretow Tapes, revealed in a 39,000 word essay. Suffice it to say that we will all have a better understanding of ABBA's career when this book is published.

If you want to learn more about ABBA On Record and perhaps support it with a pre-order, please visit abbaonrecord.com. Your support matters!

 

Research - a never-ending story

Published January 28, 2021

I first started collecting material and doing research into ABBA's history - with a focus on the their music - back in 1990. This means that although work on the first version of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions didn't kick off for real until 1993, I've now been researching ABBA for more than 25 years.

Since then, this research on all things connected to the group and its members has never stopped. Over the years I've been constantly collecting newspaper and magazine cuttings, radio and television items, and books, and then, in most cases, made notes of what I have and where I have it. Sometimes I've asked myself what I'm doing this for - the information just gets filed away and I don't know when or where it's ever going to be put to use. But I go on collecting stuff, because you never know: one day it might come in handy. True, some of it has gone into my Deluxe Edition liner notes, or one of my books, but much of it has never been used for anything.

However, as I've been working on the revised and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Reccording Sessions, I've had several moments of gratitude towards myself for saving and archiving all that stuff - not forgetting, of course, the people who have shared their own collections generously and those who have assisted me in putting everything into order over the years. It happens regularly that I think, "I wonder if I have something somewhere where an ABBA member has said something about this or that", or something along those lines, and usually I've located it with just a quick computer search. More often than not I didn't even remember that I had that information filed away.

This diligence in collecting over the years, then, is paying off in a big way in the new edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions. I'm sure you will agree when you read the book.

Pre-order your copy here: abbathecompleterecordingsessions.com


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