Five stars for ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions

Published May 28, 2015

A while ago I posted some British reviews of my book ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, the revised and expanded edition of which can be pre-ordered here: igg.me/at/abbatcrs

If you read that blog, you may recall that there wasn't much love for the book among reviewers back in 1994, although, of course, many ABBA fans loved it. I don't know to what extent the book was reviewed outside the UK, but there was at least one very positive review in the Dutch music magazine Oor. I was completely unaware of it until ABBA fan Marleen Janssens translated it and sent it to me in the late 1990s. The reviewer actually gave the book five stars out of five - wow!

Here's the review in its entirety:

---------------

OOR No. 24; 3 December 1994

* = for the shredder!   ** = filler for fanatics   *** = not bad   *** = good ***** = excellent

ABBA, THE COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS - Carl Magnus Palm, Century 22 Limited,
ISBN 0-90738-10-8,  44,05 *****

Everybody has always had ABBA records at home, still it was ”not done”‚ to proclaim such a thing in progressive circles for years. It was a fact though that the Swedish quartet produced compelling and likeable tunes for a decade, which after having been played became firmly fixed in the memory: an achievement that at present, two decades later, is finally rated at its true value. Artists of repute include ABBA songs in their repertoire, Björn Again was a resounding success, a box with old and new material was released and now the history of the ABBA recordings has been thoroughly set down too.

From this it is quite clear that author Palm patterned on Mark Lewisohn, who wrote a similar book about The Beatles, and employs the same approach: a chronological outline of ABBA’s complete studio recordings, stating place and date and an extended discourse, from People Need Love from 1972 till the album The Visitors from 1981. Between the two the pop group developed from bubblegum pop (Ring Ring) into polyphonic choral parts with multiple melody lines and instrumentation (The Name Of The Game), and this development is followed by means of studio documentation and interviews with the musicians involved, among them the ABBA members themselves.

Interesting for those who love details are furthermore the facts about the solo projects of the four members before ABBA existed, although the selection criteria remain unsatisfactory: the first recordings of the Hootenanny Singers are lacking and even all Hep Stars records. A small irregularity in a most valuable standard work which is also very readable thanks to numerous old documents and single sleeves.

EVERT VERMEER

(translation Marleen Janssens)

Quiz time!

Published May 25, 2015

As I've mentioned elsewhere, I'm expanding the scope of the revised and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions in various ways. One of the new features is selected review extracts of ABBA's singles and albums, so as well as going through my archives I'm also conducting brand new research to find out how the group's music was received at the time.

Some reviews, however, are so bizarre that it may even be hard to determine whether the reviewer liked the record or not. And if you only read the review, without seeing the name of the artist or album/song first, you wouldn't even know who they were writing about. Take the following review, for instance, written by guest reviewer Ian Dury and published in the New Musical Express. Which single is it about? Is it

a) Knowing Me, Knowing You

b) Take A Chance On Me

c) Chiquitita

"Everyone is aching to see this year’s winter outfits, and just because Frankie Lymon is dead doesn’t mean that Benny and Bjorn should really be producing Frankie Vaughan. Or Frankie Howerd. The bookmakers of light music are probably really good sports in real life. If this record was a racehorse it would fail its interview at the stud farm."

Give up?

Correct answer: Take A Chance On Me. But of course.

Pre-order your copy of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions here:

igg.me/at/abbatcrs

Bang-A-Boome-what?

Published May 22, 2015

Here's an end-of-week report from my tape-listening sessions for the revised and updated edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions. Pre-order your copy here: abbathecompleterecordingsessions.com

Among the alternate ABBA mixes I've listened to this week are a handful of tracks from the ABBA album (the eponymous LP that was at number one in Sweden this time 40 years ago). At least two of those mixes were of the mind-blowing or at least surprising variety: both songs are perfectly recognisable, of course, but the choices made during mixing are often very different from how they ended up sounding in the familiar versions that we've lived with for the past four decades.

I've also reacquainted myself with the original version of 'Bang-A-Boomerang'. If you have the original edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, you will recall that this first take had a different arrangement and also verses with a completely different melody. This puts the spotlight on one of the really nice things about this revised and updated version of the book. Back in 1993, when I listened to tapes together with Björn, Benny and Michael Tretow, we had a lot of material to go through, so there simply wasn't time to listen to each track more than once or twice, forcing me to frantically make notes, so that I would be able to make some kind of meaningful description of what I heard.

In the case of 'Bang-A-Boomerang', which I believe we only heard once, I scribbled down a few key words such as "no galloping" (referring to the rhythm), "lots of acoustic guitars" and "partly different melody in the verses". Well, thanks to a rough mix that was made back in the day I am now able to listen to the recording over and over again, write down the lyrics, define exactly which parts are different and which carried over to the released version, time it for length - and, generally, make a more accurate and detailed description.

If you want to know all about that rare version of 'Bang-A-Boomerang', as well as the other discoveries I'm making in the archives, pre-order your copy of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions here: abbathecompleterecordingsessions.com

 

Oh, the glamour

Published May 19, 2015

Here's a picture of me as I'm listening to alternate ABBA mixes at the Polar Music offices in the Universal Music building in Stockholm. And why am I doing that? Because I'm working on a revised and expanded edition of my book ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, that's why. The book can be pre-ordered here: igg.me/at/abbatcrs

The set-up is glamorous in the sense that I get to share office space with Polar's General Manager, the lovely Mia Segolsson, but otherwise there's very little glamour involved. I'm sitting on a chair, my headphones plugged into a CD player, into which I put CDs containing an array of mixes. The pile of plastic boxes you see in the foreground contain some of those CDs. I play the mixes, time them, listen for anomalies, make notes so as to be able to describe the differences accurately in the book - and so on.

What this job lacks in glamour, however, is compensated tenfold by the sheer fun and excitement of listening to all this music. Even if someone said to me today that I wasn't allowed to listen to one more minute of those tapes, I would have enough new information to make the endeavour of updating ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions worthwhile - and I've only just started listening!

I will be back with more reports from the trenches later this week. Watch this space. And don't forget to pre-order your copy of the book here: igg.me/at/abbatcrs

"One, two, three, four..."

Published May 11, 2015

Björn: "We could stop after a while, of course." Benny: "Yes, that's right."

Benny again: "One, two, three, four...".

This piece of dialogue - although in Swedish, naturally - preceded each and every attempted mix of 'Ring Ring' that I listened to today, my first day of getting to grips with the ABBA tape archives (for the purpose of updating my book ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions). The first part of the dialogue is on-mike, i.e. clearly audible, suggesting that it was recorded while Björn and Benny were about to do some vocal overdubs. The off-mike count-in, meanwhile, obviously hails from the original backing track recording session.

This was not necessarily the most interesting or revealing bit of recorded sound I heard today, but still it's somehow symbolic of the prying-the-door-open activities I'm now engaged in. Brief dialogue like that tends to bring you right into the studio. All of a sudden I could see long-haired Björn and bearded Benny in front of me, both in their late twenties, standing on the floor of the Metronome Studio in central Stockholm, working out the first truly important ABBA recording. "One, two, three, four..." and then the first building blocks of the famed ABBA sound were in place. Great stuff.

The details of what I heard today will of course be revealed in the revised and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions. Pre-order your copy here: abbathecompleterecordingsessions.com

 

Listening to unreleased ABBA recordings and mixes - starting soon

Published May 07, 2015

Dear Diary,

Today I took a significant step in the research for the revised and expanded edition of my book ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, which can still be pre-ordered at igg.me/at/abbatcrs.

I visited the offices of Polar Music/Universal Music here in Stockholm to discuss the details of how and when I will listen to unreleased ABBA tapes, something that's of vital importance for the new edition of the book. While I was there I retrieved lists of all the ABBA recordings held in the record company archives, and tomorrow I'm going to select the tracks I want to hear for my first  listening session. I will sit down with the actual recordings for the first time on Monday.

"Can't wait" only begins to express my feelings.

So, Diary, if you want to know what I found while listening to the unreleased recordings and mixes, pre-order your copy of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions here: igg.me/at/abbatcrs

A truly global phenomenon

Published May 05, 2015

Research is ongoing for the revised and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, which can still be pre-ordered here: igg.me/at/abbatcrs

As I'm researching the book, I keep stumbling upon facts, features and insights of both major and minor interest. For example, with the United States and Great Britain being the dominating providers of modern popular music, and certainly the trend-leaders, it's easy to ignore the fact that records are bought and sold in other places as well. But Stig Anderson, who left few stones unturned in his endeavours to make ABBA as huge as possible, was no fool. "The big markets are important to us, of course," he told Music Week in 1980, "but we also look to do well in the smaller markets because - as people tend to forget - small markets added together make a big market."

An example of the success of Stig's philosophy is shown in the picture below, where he accepts a gold record for the Voulez-Vous album from ABBA's Greek record company. Us mere mortals can only imagine all the hard work that went into making ABBA a truly global phenomenon.

ABBA manager Stig Anderson accepting a Greek gold disc for the Voulez-Vous album.

ABBA manager Stig Anderson accepting a Greek gold disc for the Voulez-Vous album.