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!