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!

 

Notes about ABBA On Record

Published February 13, 2020

I am just now working hard on my forthcoming book ABBA On Record - Packaged Promoted Reviewed (abbaonrecord.com), which will be published in 2021. As I'm writing, the format of the book is starting to take concrete shape, and since it's been a while since I said something more detailed about its contents, I thought now might be a good time.

As previously announced, the heart of the book is an annotated discography: using the Polar Music releases as the starting point, there will be commentary text about the way each release was packaged (backgrounds stories about the sleeves, and so on) and how it was promoted and what kind of success it achieved, primarily in Sweden/Scandinavia, the UK, the US and Australia. Each commentary text ends with the chart positions for the release in the territories mentioned, plus a selection of review excerpts (where available).

The commentary text will be factual, since that's the nature of the book, but I've also endeavoured to make it human and three-dimensional and to offer something new. For instance, through close study of vintage newspaper cuttings, and new interviews with the surviving main players, I've managed to put together a much more detailed story about how ABBA got their record contract in the United States. I found it fascinating, and I can't wait to share it with you.

Next Thursday, I shall reveal more details about the contents of the book.

If you want to support ABBA On Record by pre-ordering a copy (everyone who pre-orders will get their name printed in the book, plus their copy signed with a personal dedication), you can do so by clicking here. Your support matters!

 

Waterloo was first performed by ... Ajax?!

Published January 30, 2020

So you thought that ABBA were the original artists who performed 'Waterloo'? Wrong! Well, in a sense, at least.

ABBA performed 'Waterloo' in Melodifestivalen - the Swedish selection for the Eurovision Song Contest - on 9 February 1974. But in advance of that year's broadcast, all the entries were performed in the Swedish television magazine, Sveriges Magasin, which aired Monday–Friday between 6.30 and 7.30 pm. Two songs were performed in each programme by the vocal group Ajax (who would also serve as Melodifestivalen backing singers for artists that required them). On 30 January, they performed ‘Min kärlekssång till dig’ (“My Love Song For You”, Lasse Berghagen’s entry) and also ‘Waterloo’, marking the first time that the ABBA song was heard in public, albeit not performed by Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Frida.

The four members of Ajax were:

Karin Stigmark - in the mid-1960s, she released a number of singles and EPs in France under the name Karine, before returning to Sweden towards the end of the decade. She continued her recording career in Sweden, co-wrote songs for Melodifestivalen (including one in 1973), and was a member of the Swedish progressive super group Baltik, the other members being ABBA musicians such as Janne Schaffer, Mike Watson, Malando Gassama and Ola Brunkert, to name just a few.

Beverly Glenn Sundel - an American singer who came to Sweden in 1964, and eventually did session work (she sings on Agnetha's Elva kvinnor i ett hus album) before concentrating on jazz and gospel; she passed away in 2009.

Peter Lundblad - although never a major star, he emerged on the Swedish music scene in the 1970s, and a handful of songs he released in the 1980s have remained popular; he passed away in 2015.

Göran Wiklund - became a member of Ajax through his friendship with Peter Lundblad, later went on to a progressive band, and is still around today, mainly as a soul music singer.

Later in 1974 the budget album Svensktoppen 2 was released, where Ajax performed a number of recent hits, including Waterloo. This recording, then, should be fairly close to that first TV performance. I recently located a copy of the LP, and I've uploaded Ajax' version of 'Waterloo' here. (May not work on mobile phones.)

This is just one of a myriad of similar stories to be included in my forthcoming book ABBA On Record - Packaged Promoted Reviewed. Read more here.

 

Sold out: ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions

Published January 26, 2020

The hardcover edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions (Revised and Expanded Edition) is now sold out. I don't know if or when I'm going to reprint, but this edition with the dust cover etc. is gone forever. The ebook will remain available for the foreseeable future.

Depending on how you count, you could say that 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions - at least the start of my journey, as 1990 was the year I began collecting information about ABBA in the hope that I would write a recording sessions book one day. Most of the work on the first edition of the book was conducted in 1993, and ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions was published in 1994.

In 2007 I began tentative work on a revised edition, but it wasn't until 2014 that I was finally in a place where I could take the plunge and start exploring the possibilities of self-publishing the new edition, and financing it through crowdfunding. The first crowdfunding campaign was launched in January 2015 - it failed, but a second attempt two months later was successful, and I could finally get to work on the book (the picture here shows me listening to archive recordings in May 2015). ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions (Revised and Expanded Edition) was eventually published in March 2017. And now, the last hardcover copy has been sold.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who supported the initial crowdfunding campaign and to everyone who has bought the book since then, whether it was the hardcover edition or the ebook. I know I've written this many times before over the past few years, but it's worth repeating: I quite literally couldn't have done it without you. The support and the enthusiasm were truly inspiring for me.

My only goal was to produce a book that would please those who were interested in the details of how ABBA wrote and recorded their music. I had not expected the overwhelmingly positive reaction from reviewers, Björn's very nice comment about the book in an interview, and then the Best Popular Music Discography award from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections.

To sum up: I am so pleased with how this project turned out. Everything has gone beyond my wildest expectations.

Now back to work on ABBA On Record, which will be published in 2021.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Almost sold out: ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions

Published January 23, 2020

UPDATE, 25 JANUARY: The book is now completely SOLD OUT!

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Based on years of in-depth research and interviews, ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions is the book that tells the story of how ABBA wrote and recorded their music. Since the publication of the Revised and Expanded Edition in 2017, the 448-page book has received rave reviews from everyone from ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus to fans and reviewers, ultimately going on to win the Association for Recorded Sound Collections 2018 award for Best Popular Music Discography.

Now, almost three years after publication, there are less than 20 copies left of the hardcover version of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions. It is far from certain that the book will be reprinted, and if it is, it won't be in this nicely produced version with a dust cover and all the rest of it (the ebook will remain available for the foreseeable future).

So if you want a copy before they're all gone, now is the time to order!

 

Turn every goddam page

Published December 19, 2019

The image attached to this post is something I put together when I was about to launch the pre-ordering campaign for my forthcoming book ABBA On Record - Packaged Promoted Reviewed earlier this year. I thought it would be a good way of presenting what the book would be about. Mercifully, clearer heads prevailed and I don't think this winner of the 2019 Dog's Dinner Design Award was ever seen in public.

However, I came across it recently, and I realised it would be the perfect illustration to today's blog post, as it mirrors the somewhat chaotic nature of the ABBA On Record book project thus far. Since this book was originally conceived as a companion volume to ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, I had, naïvely, assumed that it wouldn't take so long to put together. But, not for the first time, along the way I discovered that there was a bigger and much more interesting story to uncover than I'd first thought.

In the course of 2019 I've spent a lot of time on additional research, getting access to large collections that I hadn't quite counted on and then sorting through it all, cataloguing it so that it becomes useful in my work. The consequence is that all of a sudden you look up from your work and realise that several days, or a number of weeks, or many months have passed and you're not quite certain where all the time went.

But, at the end of the day, this is all positive: you just have to remind yourself that it will make the book much, much better. I recently read a fascinating book by the author Robert Caro, entitled Working. Caro is famous for his multi-volume biography about Lyndon B. Johnson - he began the project in 1976 and the final volume hasn't yet been published. In Working, he describes how he first discovered he had a knack for research and the advice he got from the editor of the newspaper he was working for at the time: "Turn every page. Never assume anything. Turn every goddam page."

I'm not comparing myself to a Pulitzer-winning writer such as Robert Caro, but the research principle is a sound one. With some regularity people remark to me: "Surely, there can't be anything new to learn about ABBA? You must know everything that's worth knowing?" Well, actually there is and I don't. I keep discovering new things all the time. But there is no getting around having to wade through a lot of junk or over-familiar stories to find the nuggets that will tell you something new. If you want to do the job properly, it takes a lot of time.

What all this boils down to is that ABBA On Record - Packaged Promoted Reviewed is far from finished. I'm not sure it will even be out in 2020, maybe early 2021 is more realistic. While time-consuming research is one major factor for this postponement, it's not the only one. Let me list the main reasons here:

1. Research taking a lot more time than expected, as described above.

2. I can no longer work at the pace I did when I wrote ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, when I was working seven days a week for more than two years. I still work about six days a week, but I do need to relax every now and then.

3. The new ABBA songs: When I first announced ABBA On Record, we all expected that the two new ABBA songs would be released in the course of 2019. They have now been postponed until at least 2020. I do want to write about the songs in my book, but I can't write about them until they have been made public. There are also all sorts of rumours flying about regarding additional new tracks being recorded - I'll believe it when I see it, so until there has been official confirmation, I won't know exactly how to deal with it.

4. I want to enlist the services of Maria Nicholas, who did such a fantastic job designing ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, but Maria is working a full-time job besides having other extracurricular projects similar to designing my books. This means I will have to wait until she has more time to take on designing ABBA On Record.

It's important to me that everyone who has pre-ordered ABBA On Record, or will do so in the future, knows that I am very grateful for the faith that has been put in me to see this project through. It is fascinating work and a great part of what fuels me is a feeling of, "wait until they read this", as I know that I'm writing for a readership that's just as excited as I am at the prospect of learning new facts about ABBA - things that go beyond the well-known story, but are nonetheless highly interesting and, in some cases, changes what we thought we knew.

Thank you for your patience - I am confident that you will enjoy the book when it's finally finished. Meanwhile, I'll go on turning every goddam page.

Learn more about ABBA On Record and pre-order your copy at abbaonrecord.com.

 

Get ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions for Christmas

Published November 09, 2019

ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions is the perfect Christmas gift for the dedicated ABBA fan - or perhaps even for yourself. If you live outside Europe, I would advise you to order before mid-November if you want it delivered in time for the holidays.

Before very long, all copies of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions will be gone. It's far from certain that it will be reprinted, and definitely not with the dust cover and all the rest of it. So, if you want a copy, there's no time like the present.

Uncertain if ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions is for you? Click here to read what dedicated ABBA fans have said about the book.

Order your copy here: abbathecompleterecordingsessions.com

ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions at 25

Published October 21, 2019

Did you know that October 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions (abbathecompleterecordingsessions.com)? The original edition was published in October 1994 and, although it seems like just a while ago, a quarter of a century has actually passed since then.

As many of those reading this will be aware, a thoroughly revised and expanded edition, with at least four times as much text was published in 2017 (you can basically forget about the original book). Sales have been ticking along since then, and now I don't have that many copies left.

If you haven't got it yet, I strongly advise you to buy as soon as possible, before they're all gone. It's far from certain ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions will be reprinted (there's a dedicated but very small audience for a book like this), and definitely not in this attractive presentation, with a snazzy dust cover and all the rest of it.

Perhaps you'd like to treat someone or even yourself with the book for Christmas? If you live outside Europe, I would advise you to order before mid-November if you want it delivered in time for the holidays.

The book has attracted some really good reviews - even ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus talked about it in glowing terms in an interview - and the fans have been raving about it. Forget that I wrote it: the contents will interest every dedicated ABBA fan.

Learn more and order your copy here: abbathecompleterecordingsessions.com


What's in a name and how did ABBA get theirs?

Published October 03, 2019

If you've read ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, you may recall there were a number of "sidebars" - additional articles focusing on certain aspects - throughout the book. ABBA On Record (abbaonrecord.com) will have such articles as well.

Right now I'm working on a detailed article that will explore how the group changed their name from Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid to ABBA. Unfortunately, so many contradictory accounts have been doing the rounds over the years that it's impossible to arrive at a definite truth, but I will at least be able to tell the story in some detail. It's this kind of challenge that makes my job so interesting - I hope you will enjoy reading the article in the finished book.

Pre-order your copy here: abbaonrecord.com. Your support matters!


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