More info about the new edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions

Published December 28, 2014

If you're interested in the stories and details of how ABBA wrote and recorded their music, there are exciting times ahead. After many years of requests from fans, I will finally go back to the book ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, which was first published in 1994, and present a revised and expanded edition. If all goes well, that is.

I've long wanted to revisit the book and ever since I started thinking seriously about it I've known that I would want to self-publish. Why? One reason is that by the very nature of the book - the details about how ABBA created their music - it was always going to be a "special interest" title, meaning that it would have a comparatively small readership but one that would be very interested in taking part of its contents. That would mean that although there might be publishers who would be interested in publishing the book, the edition would be so small that they wouldn't be able to offer me the kind of money I would need to spend adequate time on truly updating and improving upon the book (I should add that we're not talking about millions of dollars here, but even the relatively small amount I would need would be too much). However, by cutting out as many middle-men as possible, I would be able to put together a budget for the book allowing me to do such things as eat and pay the rent during the lenghty period of writing and researching.

Another reason for self-publishing is that I, as the author, want to have full control of the project. What will the book look like? My decision. When is the deadline for submitting the manuscript? My decision. When will it be published? My decision. This need for control is not because I'm a raging egomaniac, but simply because I want the book to be the best I could possibly make it - that would be my priority rather than having it out "in time for the Christmas market" or whatever other priorities a regular publisher would have (those priorities are completely understandable, but would be a hindrance for the kind of book I want to create). In other words, I want to make a book for the committed readers out there, rather than the casual browser.

The revised, upated and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions will be a lot thicker than the original edition - I'm looking at somewhere between 300 and 400 pages; probably closer to 400 than 300, actually. By comparison, the original edition comprised 128 pages. There will be A LOT more text in the new edition, plus all kinds of relevant illustrations, so that's why the book will be so much thicker.

With the ambitions I have, and the fact that I want it to be a good-looking, full-colour book, nicely produced and printed on nice paper, coupled with the fact that it's going to be a comparatively small edition, the book is going to be more expensive than the average book. The entire project has to carry all its costs. There is no financial backer investing in it from the goodness of his or her heart - the entire project will be financed by you, dear prospective reader. So, if you're interested in seeing this book become a reality, please back the crowdfunding campaign when it starts on 28 January 2015. And please spread the word to anyone you think might be even remotely interested in this book.

More information about the updated version of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions can be found here.

More details about the contents of the book in my next blog. It's easy to be notified of updates by following me on Facebook or on Twitter.

Oh, and if you want to hear me talk more about the revised edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, I will appear live at an event hosted by the Facebook group ABBAtalk in London on 7 February 2015. More details and tickets here.

 

Revised, updated and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions in the works

Published December 16, 2014

I'm delighted to announce the forthcoming publication of an updated edition of my very first ABBA book, ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions. Originally published in 1994, this revised version will incorporate all the new information that has come to light since the book was first issued. It will also feature hitherto unpublished or long-forgotten facts and stories that I've unearthed during my ongoing research on ABBA and their music.

Even more exciting: Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson - and Polar Music International - have authorised me to listen to much more unreleased music than was possible in the analogue days of the early Nineties. When Björn, Benny, Michael Tretow and I spent a day listening to tapes back in 1993, none of the multi-track tapes or the alternate mixes were available in a digital format. Since then, however, all the tapes have been digitized, meaning that it's much easier to access the music. Needless to say, in 1993 I would have wanted to hear much more than I was able to hear during the six hours I spent together with Björn, Benny and Michael, so I'm excited to finally get this opportunity to really delve into the archives.

Moreover, the scope of the book will also be expanded in many other different ways, but without ever losing focus of ABBA's music. Perhaps even more importantly, the prose will be significantly improved - I'm basically re-writing the book from the ground up.

I am going to publish the book myself, so as not to be beholden to a publisher's requirements regarding design, deadlines and so on. I hope to be able to publish towards the end of 2016, but the date may change: making the book as good and as nice-looking as it can possibly be will be my main objective.

The researching, writing and publication of the revised and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions has been funded by a successful crowdfunding campaign, which ended 9 April 2015. However, it's still possible to pre-order a copy of the book. If you do, your name will be listed in the finished book together with all other contributors. Moreover, your book will be signed by me with a personal dedication. The book is available here.

A series of blogs about the revised and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions are available here.

Updated: Bright Lights Dark Shadows 2014 edition - why should you read it?

Published November 22, 2014

Earlier this year I published a thoroughly revised and updated edition of my biography, Bright Lights Dark Shadows - The Real Story Of ABBA. I was very happy with the outcome, but I find that I struggled a bit in explaining to people who'd already read the original edition of the book, published in 2001, why they would enjoy reading the updated version. Which is a shame, as I think the book is much, much better now, what with the impoved prose and structure, and the new bits of information scattered throughout the book

So, I thought: Why not ask those who read the updated version what arguments they would use to convince someone who was uncertain whether to read the book again or not.

Quite a few readers heeded the call and came through with their comments; click here to read them.

If you also want to add your five cents on the subject of, "I think you should read the 2014 version of Bright Lights Dark Shadows because...", I'd be grateful for your comments. Please send your contributions to info@carlmagnuspalm.com and I will post them on the Reader reviews page.

Many thanks in advance.

More info about the book, along with ordering links, here. And signed copies are still available as well.

ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, 20 years on

Published October 31, 2014

I can't quite believe that it's been a full 20 years since my first ABBA book, ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, was published. But it's true: it reached bookshops around this time way back in 1994. It made quite a splash in the ABBA fan community at the time, and notwithstanding biographies such as Bright Lights Dark Shadows - The Real Story Of ABBA and ABBA - The Story, it has remained my best-loved book among hardcore fans.

I'm very much aware that there is a demand for an updated edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, and it's something that I'd really like to do myself. Without making any commitment, I can at least say that at the moment it looks a little more promising than it has for a long while. Please note: This is NOT an announcement that an update of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions is imminent, I'm simply saying that there have been some positive developments recently. But it could very well go the other way, that the book is not updated in the near future. Either way, whenever I have some definite information, it will be posted on this site.

In the meantime, I leave you with this very nice apprecation of the book, originally posted by Edward Veldman on the Facebook group ABBAtalk earlier today. Enjoy!

**********************************************************************

In this year of anniversaries (and what a year is has been so far, with still some more goodies to come), there is one more anniversary that I just have to bring up.

At the end of October 1994 Carl Magnus Palm published his first ABBA book ‘The Complete Recording Sessions’. It was the start of a series of books, liner notes and internet articles by Carl Magnus that took writings about ABBA to a whole new, more serious and professional level.

Many people have referred to the book as the ‘ABBA Bible’, and I can only agree. It gives such a fantastic and detailed insight into the creative process of ABBA’s recordings and is an inexhaustible source of information on ABBA’s studio work. An essential read for every serious ABBA fan!

When I bought the Thank You For The Music box set in 1994 I read in the booklet about the release of this “meticulously researched” book and I immediately knew I had have it.

Remember, this was all in a time when we did not have access to the shared knowledge of ABBA fans around the world on the internet, and as Carl Magnus himself puts it, “very little of what had been written about them dealt with the creative aspects of their work.”

I got the book in February 1995, started reading it and haven’t really put it down since. I love reading about who played on what songs, on what dates songs were recorded (or discarded...) and what magic ABBA used to produce those phenomenal records.
 
It is always interesting to hear some new details in ABBA’s music when you know what to listen for and the wealth of details and previously unknown facts about their recordings have deepened my appreciation and love for ABBA’s music.

By the way, on Carl Magnus’ own website there is an extensive series of articles about the book, a must read!

A lot has happened in twenty years, and more details about ABBA’s recordings have surfaced since the book was published. I’m sure I’m not the only ABBA fan to say that I hope Carl Magnus will one day find the time and funding to write a fully updated version of this book.

But even it that never happens, I will forever be thankful for this fantastic piece of work.

Thank you Carl Magnus!

 

ABBA-related material on Björn Skifs DVD box set

Published July 28, 2014

Most long-time ABBA fans know who Björn Skifs is: singer, actor, comedian, pal of ABBA, lead vocalist on the Chess song 'The Arbiter', and so on - not to mention the first Swedish artist to reach number one on the Billboard singles chart (with 'Hooked On A Feeling' back in 1974).

In 2010 a massive DVD box set was released, entitled Björn Skifs XL3 Deluxe and chronicling his life and career up until the present day. I never got around to buying it when it was first released, but recently I finally invested, and made a couple of fairly interesting discoveries for the ABBA fan.

The box set follows the format of Frida - The DVD, with current interview clips with Björn Skifs followed by vintage television performances and video clips - indeed, this box set was produced by the same people who put together Frida's DVD. The life-and-career overview takes up three DVDs, while the remaining three discs feature three movies that Björn co-wrote and starred in: Strul, Joker and Drömkåken. None of the DVDs in the box set feature English subtitles.

Of interest to the ABBA fan and collector are the excerpts from the 1970 TV series När stenkakan slog. Frida was one of the singers in this production and many of her songs were released on Frida - The DVD, including 'Kalle på Spången' (performed by Frida, Björn Skifs, Sten Nilsson and Mona Wessman), which is also featured in this box set. However, Frida also takes part in another song included in the Björn Skifs box set, namely 'Flickorna i Småland'. The song itself is performed by Björn Skifs and Sten Nilsson, but Frida and Mona are extras, mainly seen from afar in the clip. Not a very prominent contribution, admittedly, but she is in it - and it's a commercial DVD release. Both clips can be watched here for those who will make do with Youtube picture quality.

Although Björn Skifs doesn't talk about his Chess experience in the interview segments, the box set also features the official video clip of his performance of 'The Arbiter'. Presumably, this clip will be included on the DVD included with the upcoming remastered edition of the Chess concept album, but I believe Björn's box set may be the first time one of the Chess videos has been commercially released on DVD (please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong in this regard).

CDOn are selling this box set at a bargain price at the moment, please use the convenient ordering links to the right.

An olive branch in the Language Of Love wars

Published July 04, 2014

A while ago on this very website I took a closer look at Björn and Benny's soundtrack work for the sexploitation films Language Of Love and The Seduction Of Inga - it wasn't always pretty but someone had to do it. And now I have some more information to share about 'Language Of Love', the song.

As you may recall, I surmised that despite the best efforts of Stig Anderson, 'Language Of Love' was in fact never released on record by artists outside Sweden. Well, a friend of mine, ABBA-and-related collector Frank Axelsson, was able to put me right. In his collection he had a cassette tape which a fellow ABBA fan had sent him about 25 years ago. The tape included a word-less "humming" version of 'Language Of Love', performed by a vocal group identified as The Olive Branch.

After a bit of googling I found that the track was indeed included on an album by The Olive Branch, issued as part of Decca Records' Phase 4 Stereo series of releases. Phase 4 Stereo started back in 1961, and the Olive Branch album, entitled Winds Of Change, was released about a decade later - in 1970 according to the label, in 1971 according to the sleeeve - by which time one gets the feeling that Phase 4 Stereo was used for easy listening releases in general, and perhaps not so much for showcasing stereo recordings as such. I wouldn't be surprised if The Olive Branch was nothing more than a number of session singers, assigned this group name for this particular album and never heard from again.

The Winds Of Change album was released in both the UK (Decca Phase 4 Stereo PFS 4223) and the US (London Phase 4 Stereo SP 44152),  with 'Language Of Love' appearing as track three on side two. But - uh-oh! - what's this? Neither the sleeve nor the label credits Björn, Benny and Jack Fishman with writing the song. Instead, the track is credited to "Loudermilk", those responsible obviously confusing the film tune with John D. Loudermilk's charming 1961 hit of the same name. These two takes on the subject are very different: whereas Jack Fishman opines that "when we talk of love, we don't need words," John D. Loudermilk seems to be of the opinion that, yes, there are in fact specific words to be used.

Could there be a better illustration of exactly how difficult it was for Swedish songwriters to have their music heard outside Scandinavia in the early Seventies? Not only did they have to fight to be taken seriously, but when they finally got one of their tunes recorded they had to suffer the indignity of not receiving proper credit for their work.

The actual recording does sound virtually identical to the humming version heard in the Language Of Love film, so I suspect it might be the same recording, albeit differently mixed. If this is correct, I guess it's The Olive Branch performing the version with lyrics as well, as heard over the opening credits. However, all the credits on the album cover - arranger, producer, sleeve designer, photographer - seem to indicate that the recording was made in England (the people involved were mainly active in the UK at the time), which contradicts Benny's recollection that the recordings heard in the film were made in the United States. Incidentally, the cover picture was taken by one Ethan Russell, while the album was designed by John Kosh: this team was also responsible for The Beatles' Let It Be album - I think they probably did a better job with the fab four than with The Olive Branch...

Finally, in my googling efforts I actually came across an mp3 file of the recording on The Olive Branch's album. It sounds very clear and un-crackly, as if it has been ripped from a CD. So far, however, I've been unable to track down a CD where this track appears. If you have better luck I'd love to hear from you, as I'm interested in the release history of this particular track.

Meanwhile: Enjoy!

 

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.

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