Makeup to Breakup on Sirius XM radio

Published January 09, 2021

In case you haven't had enough of me talking about ABBA, Sirius XM - the U.S. satellite and online radio company - have launched a podcast series entitled Makeup to Breakup. In the series, they take a look at how various bands started and how they ended. I provide the narration on that subject for the ABBA episode, which was published on 6 January.

For those who are interested, here's a direct link to the podcast. However, listening to Sirius XM requires a paid subscription.

I will be interviewed by ABBAtalk tonight

Published January 07, 2021

When the clock strikes eight in Sweden tonight, I will be parked in front of my laptop computer for a live interview with Chris Williams of ABBAtalk. I'm sure we will be talking about my forthcoming book ABBA On Record (abbaonrecord.com), as well as other subjects.

If you'd like to watch, you can access the live broadcast by going to abbatalk.com (it's viewable for everyone). Hope to see you there!

ABBA On Record - Latest News

Published December 31, 2020

As the unlovely year of 2020 draws to a close, I thought I should post an update on where I'm at with the seemingly never-ending book project that is ABBA On Record - Packaged Promoted Reviewed.

As reported in an earlier blog post, the pandemic has not affected my day-to-day routines very much. In basic terms, I'm at my desk, sorting through my research, contacting people for interviews, and then writing the chapters. It's just that this book takes so much longer to write than expected.

If you're into details, like I tend to be, you want to try your best to verify that what you're writing is accurate. This, in turn, sometimes means that before you're really aware where all the time went, you find that you've spent hours on one tiny detail - and sometimes a detail that, at first glance, may appear to be not very important. Nevertheless, it's all those details that, taken together, make up the story that I want to tell.

Let me point to one example: the story behind the sleeve of the 1975 ABBA album. In the album sleeve essays, it's my ambition to turne a two-dimensional image into a three-dimensional story. In other words, I'm trying to "open it up" so that we can learn as much as possible about how the sleeve was put together, and whatever related anecdotes there may be about the locations and the people involved.

I should also point out that in these endeavours I'm indebted to those who went before me: Jean-Marie Potiez's wonderful essay about the sleeve in his book ABBA - The Scrapbook, for instance, not least because he had the foresight to interview people who are no longer around to be asked about it. I have also had further discussions with Jean-Marie about the sleeve, which has helped a lot. Sara Russell has also shared information gathered for her excellent The ABBA Guide To Stockholm book.

Coupled with my own research, it all adds up to is a text that currently stands at 5,760 words - just about the ABBA album sleeve. That's longer than the entire sleeve notes I wrote for the Deluxe Edition of that album!

So, will ABBA On Record be published before 2021 is over? I certainly hope so, but it also depends on when the new ABBA songs are released, and when I will be able to access information about their creation. There is also additional research I would like to do, which is currently impossible because of the pandemic. To everyone who has pre-ordered the book, I can only extend my heartfelt thanks for your patience. Trust me, it will be worth the wait.

If you want to support the book by pre-ordering a copy (your name will be listed in it, plus you will have it autographed by me), please visit abbaonrecord.com. Your support really does matter.

In the meantime: Happy New Year!

 

 

Super Trouper half-speed master released 30 October

Published August 31, 2020

Following on from similar vinyl issues of Arrival, ABBA - The Album and Voulez-Vous, 30 October 2020 sees the release of a half-speed mastered 45 rpm double LP version of Super Trouper.

Three vinyl singles are also issued in tandem:

The Winner Takes It All/Elaine
Super Trouper/The Piper
Lay All Your Love On Me/On And On And On

These singles will be released in two editions:

A box set of coloured 7-inch singles

Separate 7-inch picture singles

My involvement was limited to writing the liner notes for double LP.

More info here.

 

ABBA On Record - A Progress Report

Published August 27, 2020

In April 2020, when Paul McCartney was interviewed on the Howard Stern show about the forthcoming re-edited version of The Beatles' Let It Be movie, he was asked when it would be released. The film had previously been announced for September 2020, but the current pandemic had turned things upside down. As McCartney replied, "Nobody knows when anything is coming out right now".

This is pretty much the situation I'm in at the moment with my book ABBA On Record - Packaged Promoted Reviewed. The plan is to publish it in 2021, but there are factors beyond my control that will affect the schedule. The book will be published, no doubt about that, but the publication date is not just dependent on my own input to the project. For instance, I have promised to include information about the new ABBA songs, and at the moment we don't know when they will be made public. There are also other factors related to the production of the book that I have limited control over.

To be perfectly honest, part of the reason for the long delay is also that this book project turned out to be much bigger than I'd expected. In many ways, it's harder to see through than ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, and I'm far from finished at this stage.

However, I've been very gratified by the feedback from my proofreaders on the completed chapters so far: plenty of new information that we never knew. It's so easy to lose perspective on of what you're writing, but I'm confident that I'm doing good work and that going the extra mile will be worth it in the end.

Right now, for instance, I'm trying to make sense of the charts used in a number of countries during ABBA's heyday. In the main part of the book, I'm listing the chart positions for the various record releases, but I thought that I should also have an explanation at the start of the book on how those various charts were compiled. It's so easy to say "number one in Sweden" or "UK number one", but what do these chart positions really mean and what are they worth?

Through researching the charts I've also made a startling discovery from the very beginning of ABBA's career, that could very well have affected the future of the group. Intriguing stuff, and all will be revealed in the book. In short, I haven't lost any of my excitement for this book, and discovering new or long-forgotten facts.

Thank you for reading this and thank you for your patience in waiting for ABBA On Record. If you want to support this project, you may pre-order your copy here.

 

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.

 

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