Björn, Benny and Lonnie

Published January 16, 2012

In those dark post-teen-idol-years when Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson busied themselves with corny cabaret shows and dodgy sexploitation film soundtracks, they also wrote a number of songs that became notable hits for other Swedish artists. Among them was the 1971 recording 'Välkommen till världen' ("Welcome To The World") by singer Lill-Babs (featuring all four future ABBA members on backing vocals; this track is now available as a bonus selection on Ring Ring Deluxe Edition). It reached number 2 on the vote-based radio chart Svensktoppen, and number 12 on the sales chart.

ABBA manager Stig Anderson was a music publisher at heart and, with his network of international contacts, he never wasted an opportunity to promote the songs of Andersson & Ulvaeus to whomever was interested. I don't know exactly how the following happened but in 1973 a recording of 'Välkommen till världen' was made by British skiffle pioneer Lonnie Donegan. The story was reported in a Swedish newspaper in December 1973, where the reader also learned that Donegan's version was entitled 'I Lost My Heart On The 5.42'. Ever since I read the original newspaper report, when I was researching ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions back in 1993, I've wondered how his version sounded: in the days before ABBA's international fame it was one of the few Andersson/Ulvaeus compositions to be recorded by anything even resembling an international top act (admittedly, by this time Donegan's glory days were well behind him).

In the late Nineties I was in touch with a British Donegan expert who shared the following information regarding 'I Lost My Heart On The 5.42': "Donegan recorded the song for his own music publishing company Tyler Music but it was only issued on his own TYLER RECORDS LP, catalogue number LDNH 123, for sale at his own concerts. The performance date for the song on the LP is 1975 but the sleeve gives no details about any of the recordings or personnel. It is probable that the LP was pressed in 1975 but the song may well have been recorded in 1973 per the newspaper article." Unfortunately, he was unable to help me with a recording of the track, and since the album was so obscure I've only made half-hearted attempts to locate it myself.

A few days ago I was going through some old files when I came across the song title again. I decided to google it to see if anything came up, and voilà! Some enterprising individual had actually posted it on Youtube (it's been available on CD and as a download since 2008; try the links to the right). It was really interesting to finally get to hear it. The original song, about welcoming a new-born baby into the world, has been transformed into some kind of saucy knees-up music-hall number. I guess it shows that you can make whatever you want out of a catchy tune. Anyway, I'm glad I finally got to hear it - it only took 19 years after I first learned about its existence!

P.S. After a little research I've found out that the lyricist for 'I Lost My Heart On The 5.42' was one Bill Owen. I'm assuming that this is him. According to his Wikipedia entry, he was most famous for his role in the long-running television series Last Of The Summer Wine, but he also dabbled in songwriting, even co-authoring an entire musical. He also wrote the UK Top 30 hit 'Marianne' for Cliff Richard. Who knew that his cv included a contribution to an Andersson/Ulvaeus composition?

 

ABBA by Micke book

Published January 10, 2012

When you're spending most of your time working on various ABBA projects, as I do, after a long day's hard work you tend not to think, "gee, let's relax by listening to ABBA or watching an ABBA DVD or reading an ABBA book or magazine." As a result, I often end up with a backlog of ABBA-related releases to catch up with.

Recently I devoted some time to catching up with my ABBA reading, among them the book ABBA by Micke, by long-time fan Micke Bayart. The core of the book is the many articles the fan club team wrote for the German fanzine ABBA Fan-Blatt between 1984 and 1988. These mostly consisted of meetings with various ABBA members at airports, television studios and the Polar Music offices. The book gives a good view of the diligence with which some fans have tracked down and then met their idols - there is no shortage of photos of Björn and Benny carrying shoulder bags at airports, outside hotels and at other venues.

Most interesting for me are the interviews with the ABBA members, originally printed in German in the fan magazine. These have now been transcribed in English in the book, and you do get some fascinating fact nuggets here and there. These were something of "wilderness" years for Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Frida, where they certainly achieved media attention for their various projects, but the coverage was less intense. And with many fan clubs closing down shortly after the group stopped working together, not to mention the official ABBA magazine, only loyal fans such as Micke bothered to keep track of the four Swedes. For instance, this book was the first time I read a public comment from Benny on the controversial ABBA Live album. Not of earth-shattering importance, perhaps, but truly interesting for those of us interested in "ABBA details".

I'm hoping the people behind other ABBA fanzines will follow in Micke's footsteps and compile their material in books. I'm sure there are many other long-lost stories out there that deserve to be made available to a larger audience. And in English, please!