Ted tribute album with tracks produced by Björn and Benny

Published June 24, 2014

June 4 saw the release of a tribute album to the late Polar Music recording artist Ted Gärdestad, whose first four albums were produced by Björn and Benny and also featured vocal backing from various combinations of the four ABBA members. Entitled För kärlekens skull - svenska artister hyllar Ted Gärdestad, the tribute album features an array of Swedish artists performing a selection of Ted's songs; one of them is Ted's daughter Sara Zacharias. Among artists with some kind of ABBA connection are Niklas Strömstedt, who wrote the Swedish lyrics for the Mamma Mia! musical - he contributes a version of 'Eiffeltornet' - and ABBA session guitarist Janne Schaffer, who does an instrumental version of 'The Reason'.

However, the main interest for ABBA collectors are the previously unreleased bonus tracks performed by Ted himself, for two of them - 'Kolapapperskung' and 'Pricken' - were produced by Björn and Benny. According to the liner notes the recordings were made in 1972, which suggests that they were part of the sessions for Ted's second album, simply entitled Ted. Don't expect any lavish production values, though: both of these songs were recordings of tunes Ted wrote at the age of ten and his vocals are only backed by acoustic guitar, bass and, on 'Pricken', kazoo.

The songs as such have been released on record before, on the 1975 album Kika digga ding, featuring songs from the Anders Hanser-produced television series of the same name (although the version of 'Pricken' comes from a radio programme entitled Pick-Up). However, they are not the same recordings as now featured on the tribute album.

For Ted fans there is also a previously unreleased and unheard track entitled 'I Know There's A Song'. The producers have taken Ted's lo-fi cassette demo and created a brand new backing track for it, along the lines of The Beatles' 'Free As A Bird' recording (where a John Lennon demo cassette tape received new backing from the surviving Beatles).

The Seduction Of Inga - Björn & Benny's sexploitation adventures, part 2

Published June 15, 2014

In a recent blog, I examined the story behind the film Language Of Love, for which Björn and Benny wrote the theme song. Around the same time - in fact, parallel with the Language Of Love commission - Björn and Benny also wrote music for another sexploitation film produced in Sweden. Both films had the same Swedish distributor, which may have had something to do with this sudden "deluge" of film soundtrack work.

In the autumn of 1969 American film producer Vernon Becker was putting together a follow-up to the internationally successful 1968 sexploitation flick Inga, to be filmed in Sweden. “Since the leading character of the film was a rock musician ["Rolf", played by singer Tommy Blom*, formerly of the group Tages, The Hep Stars’ main competitors during the Sixties], and there were scenes in a discotheque, I needed rock music for the soundtrack,” recalled Becker. “My lawyer introduced me to Stig Anderson[.] I only had a few thousand dollars, but I hoped to buy some older rock recordings from him. Stig told me he had a better idea.” That idea, of course, entailed involving his two protégés, Björn and Benny, in the project. Recalled Björn, ”Stig approached us with the offer of providing some of the music for this film. We thought ‘Wow, imagine writing music for a movie,’ and so we agreed to do it.”

Unfortunately, however, if they had hoped that this assignment would lead to a glorious future as film music composers, or to any kind of international fame, they were sadly mistaken – at least initially. Directed by obscure American director Joseph W. Sarno, the finished film, The Seduction Of Inga, featured an absurd plot that mainly served as an excuse to titillate the audience with allusions to various sexual “perversions” (lesbianism, incest etc.) and semi-nude scenes.

Today, although like Language Of Love the film has attracted some cult interest for those interested in trashy exploitation cinema of the era, its main curiosity value perhaps lies in the fact that Andersson/Ulvaeus contributed a few tunes to the film. But they did not write all of the music: there were also tunes by Peter Himmelstrand - a journalist (co-writer of Harry Edgington's 1977 biography "ABBA") as well as a prolific song writer and lyricist - and Sven-Olof Walldoff (ABBA’s string arranger up until 1976 and also their Napoleon-dressed conductor when they won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974).

Here is a “who-wrote-what” run-down of the tunes and musical cues in the film. The timings all refer to the American version of the film, released on DVD by Seduction Cinema in 2004 (see ordering link to the right).

Björn and Benny’s contributions are limited to three tunes. ‘Inga Theme’ was of course the title song of the movie, and can be heard at several points throughout the film: at the start, and also in different variations both in terms of performance and mixing, for instance at 00:18:35, when the characters of Inga and Stig are driving out to Stig’s place and at 00:20:24, when Inga and Stig are discussing the latter’s book.

‘She’s My Kind Of Girl’ is heard on three occasions in the film: being “composed” by Rolf (Tommy Blom) at 00:12:03; performed in a scene at a club at 00:42:36; and finally as the end title music of the film at 01:19:40 (these last two instances both feature Björn and Benny’s recording with Tommy Blom’s vocals on top).

The third Andersson/Ulvaeus tune heard in the film is ‘Where Are We All Headin’’, an early instrumental version of a song that was re-recorded as ‘Nånting är på väg’ (“Something’s On The Way”) for Björn and Benny’s Lycka (“Happiness”) album in 1970: at 00:09:55 in the film when Inga is seen caressing herself; at 00:21:25 in a different version during a scene at the club; and finally in this different version again at 00:52:50 during the seduction scene between Rolf and his ex-girlfriend. Lyrics exist for ‘Where Are We All Headin’’, written by Jack Fishman (who also wrote the lyrics for 'Language Of Love'), although these are not heard in the film.

Peter Himmelstrand contributed two tunes. ‘Crash’ can be heard at 00:31:55 during a club scene and again at 00:40:35, during another club scene. A tune simply entitled ‘Vals’ (“Waltz”) on a tape box containing some of the titles from the Inga II sessions is probably the working title for ‘Barnen sover’ (“The Children Are Asleep”, later recorded in a vocal version by Frida on her first solo album), since it’s the only waltz in the movie. This tune is heard at 00:23:25, when Stig and Inga start kissing, and again at 00:31:12, when Stig and Inga make love. At some point this song also received words by English-language-lyricist-du-jour Jack Fishman, entitled 'Love Is Always Young', although these are not heard in the film.

Sven-Olof Walldoff is the composer of a tune entitled ‘It’s You Or Nothing’, the barely audible lounge music that features at 00:03:10 in the film; this song again has lyrics by Jack Fishman, although not heard in the film. Walldoff also composed ‘Greta’s Theme’, a largely improvised instrumental, bearing a strong resemblance to Spencer Davis Group’s 1967 hit ‘I’m A Man’ (indeed, although the tune is copyrighted as ‘Greta’s Theme’, on the tape box in the Polar Music archives the title is given as ‘I’m A Man’); this tune is heard during the club scene at 00:36:30 and again at 01:03:40 during the seduction scene between Stig and Greta.

Walldoff also received a composer credit for his arrangement of the Finnish folk song ‘Vem kan segla förutan vind’ (“Who Can Sail Without The Wind”), which recurs at several points throughout the film: for example at 33:50 as the character Stig leaves Inga to fly abroad; at 00:45:35 when Rolf and Inga are making out; and at 00:50:40 when Inga writes a letter to Rolf. (ABBA-related note: 'Vem kan segla förutan vind' is the song Agnetha sings a cappella during the interview part on BBC TV's Wogan show in 1988; her version appears at circa 06:20 in this clip.)

The Polar Music tape box featuring music from the film also lists a tune entitled ‘It’s Love’, registered as written by Sven-Olof Walldoff. This may possibly be the title of the otherwise unidentified classical-style chamber music heard in the sex club scene at 00:15:05, unless this is in fact a bona fide classical music piece or perhaps simply some library music.

Although filming presumably wrapped before the end of 1969, it would take more than a year until The Seduction Of Inga opened. The release in March 1970 of Björn & Benny’s ‘She’s My Kind Of Girl’ / ‘Inga Theme’ single (where the film is still credited under its working title, Inga II) indicates that Polar expected an imminent release of the movie. However, it was only on March 1, 1971, that the film opened in the Swedish town of Västerås under the title Någon att älska (“Someone To Love”) – it didn’t receive its Stockholm premiere until October 30, 1971. The English-language version, The Seduction Of Inga, opened in the United States in February 1972.

‘She’s My Kind Of Girl’ has sometimes been noted as the first recording to feature all four future ABBA members. But since it's impossible to hear any female voices on the track it is probably safe to conclude that the female half of ABBA did not contribute to this recording (the debut recording by Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Frida was of course the Björn & Benny hit single 'Hej gamle man!', recorded later in 1970).

The B-side of the 'She's My Kind Of Girl' single was ‘Inga Theme’. Although several decades later Benny would claim that, ”even if you [threaten to] murder me I can’t remember how it went,” consciously or subconsciously the organ intro on his and Björn’s recording of the song must have stuck in his mind at least for the following 12 years or so, since it was recycled for the first seven notes of the verse melody in ABBA’s 1982 recording ‘I Am The City’.

Upon release in 1970, ‘She’s My Kind Of Girl’ made no impact whatsoever in Sweden. It wasn't until two years later, when - through a curious series of events involving a Japanese publisher hearing and liking the song at the offices of a French colleague - the single was released in Japan that it finally achieved commercial success, reaching number seven on the sales chart and number one on the radio chart. Interestingly, according to IMDb.com, The Seduction Of Inga actually opened in Japan in November 1971 - might this have played a part in piquing the interest of the Japanese publisher, one wonders.

According to a Swedish press report in April 1970, Polar Music were toying with the idea of releasing a soundtrack album in the US and the UK. In his review of the 2006 CD reissue of Björn & Benny's Lycka album in The Official International ABBA Fan Club magazine, Peter Palmquist wrote that "the instrumental version of ['Language Of Love'] featured on an American promo LP for the movie Inga II", indicating that an album was in fact manufactured, although this writer has never seen any sign of it. I've asked Peter if he has further evidence of the existence of this album, but so far he's been unable to help me.

In the same review Peter writes that "the unreleased English versions of Nånting är på väg (Where Are We All Headin') and Livet går sin gång (Language Of Love) [...] have been circulating in fan circles." 'Language Of Love' is of course available from the film soundtrack, but I've yet to hear a vocal version of 'Where Are We All Headin''. If you are reading this and are one of those fans who have been able to circulate 'Where Are We All Headin'', or if you have information on the American Inga II promo LP, I'd love to hear from you (click "Contact" in the bottom left hand corner).

*Tommy Blom passed away on May 25, 2014.

Many thanks for their help with this story to Regina Grafunder of ABBA Intermezzo Fan Club, who provided me with copies of the sheet music for the music in The Seduction Of Inga, and Chris Patrick (author of Let The Music Speak), who helped me identify which song was which on the soundtrack.

 

Language Of Love - Björn & Benny's sexploitation adventures, part 1

Published June 04, 2014

"Man sa så mycket om sex / Att man fick nya komplex" ("They said so much about sex / That you got new complexes") wrote Stig Anderson in his satirical lyrics for the 1969 hit 'Ljuva sextital' ("The Good Old Sixties"), the music for which was written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. The Sixties was indeed the decade when sexual liberation was, shall we say, highlighted, and the subject explored from, it seemed, every conceivable angle.

Whatever irony projected in the song written by Benny, Björn and Stig, however, later in 1969 it transpired that none of them was above contributing to projects that "talked about sex" in a most explicit way. In fact, November 1969 saw Benny and Björn write music for not one but two films that today are regarded as prime examples of the so-called sexploitation genre. Sexploitation - a term that was not used at the time, it should be noted - is defined by Wikipedia as “a class of independently produced, low-budget feature films generally associated with the 1960s, and serving largely as a vehicle for the exhibition of non-explicit sexual situations and gratuitous nudity.” This would serve as a fairly accurate description of Language Of Love and The Seduction Of Inga, the two films to which Björn and Benny contributed soundtrack tunes in 1969. In this blog post, we will take a look at the music written for the first of these two films.

LANGUAGE OF LOVE
The film Language Of Love aimed to educate heterosexual men and women in their attitudes towards sex. Danish psychologists Sten and Inge Hegeler (very famous at the time), Swedish sex advisor Maj-Brith Bergström-Walan and Swedish gynecologist Sture Cullhed were filmed discussing various aspects of sexual behaviour, and these scenes were interspersed with sequences illustrating the matters under discussion, including authentic sexual intercourse. So controversial were these scenes – the first such scenes ever to be approved by the Swedish board of film censors – that the film opened in a reported 22 countries, in September 1969, before it could premiere in the country where it was produced: Sweden. According to Swedish press, Erik Skoglund, the head of the board of film censors, had to take a three-day holiday after watching the film twice.

For me personally, having seen the film and expected something really dull and kitschy, it was actually better than I thought. The experts taking part in the film seem very earnest in their endeavours to make people more relaxed about sex, spotlighting behaviour and attitudes that create unnecessary hang-ups in people. Sadly, many of the problems discussed seem to be just as topical today, 45 years after the film was made. I would describe the film as "quaint", for want of a better word, although, admittedly, the sex scenes do make for awkward viewing. And I don't think I could improve on the description of the worst part of the film, as conveyed by British film critic Victoria Radin: "[A] pointlessly extenuated explanation of contraception, [wherein] one of the panel dons a white coat and examines three women in turn, issuing one with a pill and - in appalling close-up - fitting the others with cap and loop". Nuff said.

Nevertheless, the film became a huge box office hit when it finally opened in Sweden on 2 October 1969. According to authoritative sources the original Swedish title of the film at this time was Ur kärlekens språk (“From The Language Of Love”), subsequently changed to simply Kärlekens språk (“The Language Of Love”). However, it should be noted that it was advertised in the papers under the latter title at the time of the opening. Incidentally, there is actually a minor Benny connection even in the Swedish premiere, for one of the Stockholm cinemas where the film opened was Rival - only a cinema at the time, it is now part of the hotel and entertainment complex Rival owned by Benny.

THE MUSIC IN THE FILM
So, apart from that little tidbit, what has all this got to do with Björn and Benny? After all, the Swedish version of the film does not feature any soundtrack contributions whatsoever from the male half of ABBA. Instead, the music was mainly written by Swedish composer, conductor and record producer Mats Olsson; the film also includes ‘Sarabande’ by Johann Sebastian Bach, while the opening credits features a version of ‘Lustvin dansar en Gavott med de fem sinnena’ (“Lustvin dances a Gavotte with the five senses”), a song dating back to the 17th Century and performed here by an unidentified male singer (another Benny connection: Helen Sjöholm recorded her own jazzed-up version of this song for her 2002 album Visor, issued on Benny's Mono Music label). Presumably, the version of the film distributed to the 22 countries that premiered it before its Swedish opening date also used the Swedish soundtrack.

The English-language version of the film was produced parallel with the Swedish - the experts were filmed speaking English, they have not been dubbed - and the Swedish press reported that American distributors visited Stockholm towards the end of October 1969 in order to negotiate a deal for the film. Perhaps it was somewhere around this time that Björn and Benny were approached - presumably through Stig Anderson - to contribute a new theme song for the English-language film. What they came up with was entitled 'Language Of Love', with lyrics by one Jack Fishman (lyricist of late-Sixties hits such as Tom Jones’ ‘Help Yourself’ and Amen Corner’s ‘If Paradise Is Half As Nice’). The only recording date I've been able to find regarding the original version of 'Language Of Love' (the song), made by Polar Music in Stockholm, is 26 November 1969, although nothing is known about the personnel appearing on the recording.

At any rate, the film ran into all sorts of censorship problems in the United States, and couldn't open in New York City until 30 June 1971. The film premiered  in London prior to that, on 4 February 1971, at two cinemas in the Jacey chain: Charing Cross Road and Trafalgar Square (click here for an ad). In Time Out's review of the film in the March 21-April 4, 1971 issue, they picked up on the film's earnestly educational ambition, but also on the fact that this was hardly the reason it was shown in the cinemas: "Livingroom-type discussion of sex interspersed with mimed or actual illustrative sequences. Genital close-ups including at one stage 5 penises in a row - sight for sore eyes. Hard to say what good it will do the raincoat trade but should be shown in schools compulsorily."

Nevertheless, "the raincoat trade" seems to have been good, for the film ran for months and months in London. Certain British citizens were less enamoured with the film, seeing nothing but immorality and filth in the film: in September 1971 they even arranged a demonstration, led by Cliff Richard, outside the Jacey cinema in Trafalgar Square.

The original recording of Björn and Benny's theme song, then, probably wasn't heard in public until perhaps February 1971. The song is performed by an unidentified choir - the film doesn't even credit Björn, Benny and Jack Fishman with writing the song, much less inform the viewer who's singing. So who were these anonymous singers? I recently asked Björn and Benny if they remembered anything about the recording of 'Language Of Love'. Björn had no recollections whatsoever, but Benny said he thought that the recording was made in the United States. This does sound plausible, for, as there are no traces of any accents, the vocalists do sound like English is their first language. If this is accurate, then the recording made in Stockholm on 26 November 1969 was probably only a demo used as a blueprint for whoever the Americans were who recorded the version of 'Language Of Love' heard on the soundtrack.

The song was used twice in the film: once over the opening credits, when Fishman’s lyrics are sung by the choir, and then at 00:17:35, when the tune is merely hummed by the choir, during a segment showing couples of various ages in everyday situations, as well as some sexually charged scenes. Click here to hear the version used over the opening credits.

Clearly, Stig Anderson - and perhaps Björn and Benny themselves - really believed in ‘Language Of Love’ as a song, as it seemed to be one they focused on over the following two years or so.  The tune subsequently acquired Swedish lyrics by Stig, entitled ‘Livet går sin gång’ (“Life Goes On”), and was then recorded by Björn and Benny for inclusion on their 1970 album Lycka. The following year, in January, the duo recorded a German version, 'Was die Liebe sagt' (lyrics by Hans Bradtke), released as a single B-side in West Germany.

Then, in February 1971, Björn and Benny participated in a song festival in Málaga, Spain, performing ‘Language Of Love’ in its original English-language version, but only finishing sixth in the contest. The winner was Donna Hightower and her performance of 'If You Hold My Hand'. Despite the "failure" on part of 'Language Of Love', the song itself attracted a great deal of interest, press reports stating that music publishers from nine countries had acquired the rights to the tune. However, although these same press reports also stated that several recordings were definitely going to be made – including one by French recording star Françoise Hardy – it appears none ever materialised (if you know differently, I would love to hear from you).

As far as I've been able to ascertain, the final chapter in the history of this song was written in February and March 1971, when Polar Music recording artist Lena Andersson recorded her own version of ‘Language Of Love’, subsequently featured on her album Lena, 15 and also on a single B-side.

Something of a damp squib, then, for despite the lo-fi quality of the original soundtrack version, I have to say that it was only when I heard this for the first time a few months ago that I truly appreciated how beautiful this tune really is. It's a shame 'Language Of Love' has largely been lost to posterity. But perhaps someone will rediscover it and do the ultimate recording of it. We live in hope.

Stay tuned for part 2 in the sexploitation saga, coming soon...

Ordering tips: Use the convenient ordering links in the menu to the right to buy the Language Of Love DVD. If you're located outside the US and have problems ordering via Amazon, Movies Unlimited will deliver abroad.

Note: Although it's been reported that Language Of Love is the highly inappropriate date movie to which Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) takes Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, the film they're watching is in fact another, unidentified Swedish sexploitation film. Take it from someone who's actually seen Language Of Love.

 

ABBA and the critics - times have changed

Published April 28, 2014

One of the points I'm making in the revised and updated version of Bright Lights Dark Shadows - The Real Story Of ABBA is how, in general, the average music critic's attitude towards ABBA has changed over the past decades. Back in 2001, when the book was first published, I wrote that ABBA would never be fully accepted as one of the truly important bands. Well, I was wrong. Today, in the UK, 4-star reviews are published of Waterloo, an album that would barely have been tolerated in the first decade of the ABBA revival. As early as 2005, which I also point out in the revised edition of Bright Lights Dark Shadows, the box set The Complete Studio Recordings was afforded a 5-star review. And, of course, these days ABBA are even in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

This made me remember, not that I've ever quite forgotten it, the two stars afforded the Thank You For The Music box set when it was released in 1994. It's interesting to read the review again, two decades later. It crosses off most of the points required in the typical ABBA review at the time: this is a singles band - check; the studio albums are not worth listening to - check; use of the word kitsch - check.

I recall being quite taken aback by the review. I'd been involved in putting together the box set, and to me it was the next step in the rehabilitation of ABBA. Naïvely, I thought most British music journalists had sort of agreed that ABBA were great and that there were many more songs than the one's featured on ABBA Gold to be rediscovered. "And here's a box set to help you do just that!"

Interestingly, all three reviews mentioned in this blog were published by Q Magazine, albeit by three different reviewers. I don't know if David Cavanagh, who panned Thank You For The Music, has changed his mind about ABBA since 1994 - and my point here is not that people should change their minds just to fit in with the current trends - but I wonder if Q would be quite so willing to publish his review today.

ABBA fan clubs - why you should join them

Published April 17, 2014

Now that the storm surrounding the 40th anniversary of ABBA's Waterloo Eurovision victory has subsided somewhat, I thought I'd post some reflections on the ABBA fan clubs out there, or at least a couple of them.

About three weeks ago I was one of the guests at the annual ABBA Day, arranged by The Official ABBA Fan Club in Roosendaal, The Netherlands (affectionately known simply as "Roo" by regular ABBA Day attendees). As you can see in the picture on this page I was interviewed on stage by Stany van Wymeersch (author of the book Let's Talk About ABBA, which, as I've already blogged about, I think you should buy).

I hadn't attended this event in 15 years, and although I was aware that much had changed since then - for one thing, the event has become much bigger - I was pleasantly surprised by the friendly and positive atmosphere throughout the day. Not that I'd expected any unpleasantness, but I was still unprepared for the pure happiness that seemed to inhabit everyone who was there.

It got me thinking what an amazing thing it is that Helga and Anita (who run the ABBA fan club with the aid of a team of collaborators) have created. Just consider this: the fan club started in 1986, when interest in ABBA was at an all-time low: the ABBA Live album, released that year, barely charted and many countries didn't even bother releasing it. Still, such was Helga and Anita's love for ABBA that they didn't really care what the group's current status was. From a platform of virtually nothing, and for almost three decades, they have built up and sustained an organisation that seems to be stronger than ever, and which attracts several hundred people to the ABBA Day each year. And make no mistake, despite having to keep a cool head when running a fan club like this, they are both still fans at heart: when I left the ABBA Day this year, I had to look up Helga on the dance floor to say goodbye.

Now, in this day and age, many people feel they can get all the information and sense of community they need from the internet. I don't agree. Certainly, there are many internet-based organisations doing a fantastic job, but membership in the official fan club not only gives you a quarterly glossy magazine with exclusive interviews and other interesting features not available online, it also gives you the chance to get exclusive tickets to various ABBA-related events and much more. As you can tell from this page, you get all this for a very modest sum. Plus the fan club runs a well-stocked online shop featuring innumerable ABBA items. 

And don't forget the other long-running fan club, ABBA Intermezzo Fan Club, based in Germany and running since 1990. Regina and her team of collaborators put out a quarterly, large-sized magazine, which, like the official fan club, offers interesting interviews and reports. This is also not to be missed and it's not super expensive either (scroll down this page for prices), plus Regina's fan club also have exclusive offers for fans. And both these mags sometimes even have interviews with the ABBA members themselves, as I've blogged about before.

So what are you waiting for? If you're an ABBA fan you should do yourself a favour and join these clubs. You won't regret it.

 

Some thoughts on going through almost your entire website

Published March 09, 2014


From time to time I try to go through my entire website to check for dead links, outdated information, and generally tweak and change things here and there. I've just spent a few days doing just that (not the blogs or the news items, though) and here's a few things I learned or concluded.

Number one: This will probably be the last time I go through the site from start to finish like this. Since I launched my first site "Carl Magnus Palm On The Web" in 1998, the amount of information and pages and links to this, that and the other has grown out of all proportion - or at least it's too much for one individual to keep track of. And as much as I want the site to be the best it can, I somehow feel my time could be more fruitfully spent than checking if the ABBA Gold DVD is still available from Amazon in France.

That said, I will certainly welcome input from site visitors, should you happen to come across any dead or inaccurate links. Please click on "Contact" in the bottom left corner and let me know - your help is much appreciated.

I also realised that a number of ABBA-and-related CDs have been deleted since the last time I went through the site. Apart from limited edition box sets, titles such as Frida 1967-1972, Cadillac Madness (The Hep Stars), and ABBA's The Definitive Collection are no longer in distribution; the latter title has of course been replaced by The Essential Collection. However, copies of all three titles are still doing the rounds; if you haven't bought any of them yet but want them for your collection, you might want to check out the ordering links for each title on this site.

Finally, yet another fine ABBA site seems to have gone offline. I linked to Jean-Marie Potiez's ABBA - Another Site because of his extensive coverage of the Frida 1967-1972 CD, but the entire site has now disappeared, which is a shame. It reminds me how fragile the Internet actually is in terms of long-time availability of information. Just because a site has been there for a long time it doesn't mean that it will be there forever, so if it's got information that interests you, you'd better download and save it while you can.

 

Waterloo released 40 years ago today

Published March 04, 2014

Today, March 4, 2014, it is exactly 40 years ago since ABBA released Waterloo in Sweden: two singles, featuring the Swedish and English versions, respectively, and the album of the same name. The release date, somewhere inbetween the group's victory with Waterloo in Melodifestivalen (the Swedish selection for the Eurovision Song Contest) on February 9 and the European victory in Brighton on April 6, was the exact date when, according to the Eurovision Song Contest rules, each country's entry could be heard in public again after winning the selection.

There's an unfortunate misunderstanding about ABBA and Sweden that refuses to go away, namely the perception that ABBA weren't popular in their home-country. Certainly, their music was regarded with some disdain in certain quarters, not least within the so-called Music Movement where the political awareness lacking in ABBA's music, coupled with their extraordinary success, made them a symbol for everything that was supposedly wrong with the modern music industry. There was also, which is often forgotten, a contempt for ABBA by those who advocated more overtly complex music. So there was some contempt for the group in the media, and a feeling, in certain quarters, that you weren't supposed to like them. I wasn't even in my teens at the height of ABBA's popularity in Sweden, but still I can remember that feeling. But the so-called general public? They couldn't care less what any critics or music movements thought. In Sweden, ABBA had the same cross-generational appeal they enjoyed in most other countries, and all their studio albums shot to the top of the charts.

Which brings us back to Waterloo. Last year I blogged about the dates when Ring Ring occupied the top three positions on Sweden's combined singles-and-albums sales chart for two weeks in a row. Well, with Waterloo ABBA only went and did it again, albeit for one week only. On April 30, 1974, the album was number one, the Swedish single number two and the English-language single number three.

The album was the biggest triumph of them all, of course, spending a total of 12 weeks at the top. Not only that: by the end of the year it had sold 250,000 copies, which, in a country of eight million people was a lot. It was even reported that no other album had sold as much in Sweden before (there were singles and 78 rpm records that had exceeded those sales, but the early Seventies was the time when the album took over from the 7-inch record in terms of sales). By mid-1977, Polar Music reported that the Waterloo album had sold almost 340,000 copies in Sweden. Today, with additional sales throughout the remainder of the vinyl era, and a number of re-releases on CD, I guess the figure must be in the vicinity of 400,000 copies.

More proof of ABBA's extraordinary popularity in Sweden: As mentioned above, Waterloo was the biggest-selling album in Sweden up to that point in time. The following album, 1975's ABBA, then broke the record set by Waterloo. After which Arrival broke the record again in 1976, holding the record for best-selling album in Sweden until 1983. ABBA's remaining studio albums couldn't quite match Arrival's sales record, but they went to number one - all of them (if Sweden had had a separate albums chart in 1973, Ring Ring would have been number one as well; it stalled at number two because the Swedish Ring Ring single was at the top of the charts).

So much for sales statistics, though. What about the music? Is the Waterloo album actually any good, or did it only sell because the title track was such a hit? If you haven't heard the album for a while, you can find out for yourself in April, when Waterloo is released as a Deluxe Edition with bonus tracks and a DVD (read more about that release here). But my own opinion: well, to quote from my Waterloo Deluxe Edition liner notes, "there is so much fun in the album grooves, so much excitement, so many unexpected but delightful quirks, and, above all, plenty of strong tunes, that the album is never less than entertaining".

 

ABBAtalk meets Carl Magnus Palm

Published December 28, 2013

On January 30, 2014, the revised and updated version of my book Bright Lights Dark Shadows - The Real Story Of ABBA will be published. In celebration of the publication, I will be the guest at an event hosted by ABBAtalk.com in Hammersmith, London on January 25, at approximately 6.30pm.

At the event, the revised and updated version of the book will be discussed, along with some of my other works. You can choose between a ticket just to attend the event, or a ticket that includes a copy of the book. The book, which is made available before the official publication date, will of course be signed with a personal dedication.

For more information about the event, and to book your ticket, please visit the ABBAtalk website.

The ABBAtalk Facebook group is here.

Read more about Bright Lights Dark Shadows here.

If you're unable to attend the ABBAtalk event, but would still like to acquire a copy of the book signed by me, the author, click here.

Two new ABBA books

Published November 25, 2013

There's been a lot of talk about upcoming ABBA books lately. In addition to ABBA - The Official Photo Book, there are also a couple of books featuring my own involvement: ABBA - The Backstage Stories and the revised edition of Bright Lights Dark Shadows - The Real Story Of ABBA. However, although that's all very excting, your cravings for new ABBA literature can actually be sated right now, by two great books.

ABBA w Polsce by Maciej Oranski was published in September 2013. Although I don't understand a word of its text, the book seems to be focused on ABBA's visit to Poland in October 1976, at which time they filmed the television special ABBA w Studio 2. The book is clearly a labour of love, with plenty of pictures from the making of the television special and ABBA's visit to Poland in general, and what I believe to be background info on what went on during the group's time there. How about an English-language translation of the text in the book? I, for one, would be willing to pay for a password-protected pdf of the translation.

The other new book is Let's Talk About ABBA by Stany van Wymeersch, published in November 2013. Available in Dutch and English versions, the book features interviews with people who worked with ABBA or its individual members, and with people who knew them, or are admirers of them. Or who have some other kind of connection: Do you want to know how Connie Francis feels about being Agnetha's biggest inspiration? It's in here. I haven't read the book yet, but I've looked through it from cover to cover and it seems very, very interesting, with lots of detail. Also, the book is crammed with pictures and the printing quality is excellent. In other words: I urge you to get this book.

These books are not so easy to buy outside Poland and The Netherlands, respectively, but you can get them from the ABBA Fan Club Shop (see links to the right). And I think you should buy them both.

 

Ring Ring bonus tracks and master tapes

Published September 30, 2013

With about two weeks to go before the scheduled release of Ring Ring Deluxe Edition, I thought I'd address some questions that always seem to arise whenever a new Deluxe Edition is released.


THE BONUS TRACKS

All the tracks credited to ABBA (or Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Frida, as they called themselves in the 1972-73 era) speak for themselves, of course: various-language versions of some of the album tracks, single B-sides, and the new-to-CD 'En hälsning till våra parkarrangörer'. However, some have questioned the logic behind the inclusion of the so-called Extra Bonus Tracks. My logic, as always, is to figure out the following: Given that the former ABBA members won't allow the inclusion of any previously unreleased material, how can I find stuff that's interesting but which hasn't been released on CD before? Sometimes that's not possible, but in this particular case there were a few opportunities.

I'd long had in the back of my mind that if we ever did a Deluxe Edition of Ring Ring, it would be fun to add the original versions of 'I Am Just A Girl' (the single A-side 'Jag är blott en man' by Jarl Kulle) and 'I Saw It In The Mirror' (a Billy G-son single B-side), so those tracks were at the top of my list. And then, as I was putting the list together, I thought, "well, if we have the B-side of the Billy G-son single, why not go for the A-side as well?" So there you have 'There's A Little Man'.

The next thought was that the inclusion of 'There's A Little Man' is primarily motivated by Agnetha's backing vocals contribution to a track written and produced by Björn and Benny, so we should try to balance that with something equivalent from the Frida catalogue. Her début recording of a Björn and Benny tune, 'Peter Pan', wasn't available to us because it's owned by EMI, and I also got an indication that the former ABBA members weren't so keen on its inclusion (if you want to own 'Peter Pan', it's available on the double-CD Frida 1967-1972). So then I thought that Frida's hit single A-side 'Man vill ju leva lite dessemellan', which was produced by Björn and Benny and featured backing vocals by all three of Frida's future ABBA colleagues, would be a nice replacement.

Once I had arrived at that theme of "pre-ABBA collaborations by the ABBA members", 'Hej gamle man!' was an obvious candidate, seeing as it is the first recording to feature the combined voices of Björn, Benny, Agneth and Frida. Finally, to showcase the forceful backing vocals of all four members, I thought the Björn & Benny-written & produced 'Välkommen till världen' by Lill-Babs could add further shades to the theme of "what they did before and during the years that ABBA were formed".

So, in conclusion, the idea was a) to bring some ABBA-related tracks into the digital format and b) to give a view of how Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Frida collaborated in various ways before they became ABBA.


THE MASTER TAPES

I don't have too much insight into this, but I believe the original album was mastered from the original Polar vinyl master tapes. I also believe most of the bonus tracks were taken from the relevant single masters etc.

For a while it looked like we would have to resort to vinyl for the Billy G-son tracks as well as 'En hälsning till våra parkarrangörer'. Those tracks simply weren't available in the archives. However, one of the advantages of having been involved in ABBA-related matters for 20 years is that you acquire information about the location of certain items that aren't exactly where they should be (the tapes hadn't been stolen, if you're wondering, they were just not in the Universal Music archives; that's about all I can reveal here). Incredibly, I had good leads for all of those tracks and so was able to find them for this project. In other words, no cleaned-up vinyl, but pristine master tapes all around!

Last but not least: if you plan to purchase Ring Ring Deluxe Edition I hope you will enjoy it. Click here for more information and to pre-order your copy.

 

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