Headphone surprises

Published June 25, 2015

The attached picture is of Agnetha, but it could just as easily have been me on so many occasions over the past few weeks, as I've been listening to tapes for the revised and expanded edition of my book ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions.

Today I concluded my journey through the alternate mixes from the ABBA - The Album sessions. The Swedish holiday season starts about now, meaning that getting access to the tapes will be a bit hit-and-miss for the next month or so. I'm taking this as an opportunity to get some writing done, analysing the recording information I've amassed so far, and trying to make sense of it all - and, not least, finding a way to describe it all so that the reader will get an idea of all the fascinating ABBA recording secrets I've uncovered.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: If you love ABBA's music, you're going to enjoy this book so much. This is not me being conceited - OK, perhaps just a little - but simply a fact. The music is the core essence of ABBA, and this book is going to be full of it.

Pre-order your copy here.

Take a chance on this

Published June 18, 2015

This week's tape-listening for the revised and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions has been a little bit Arrival, a little bit The Album.

Thoughts of the week: So far during this project I've heard one or two alternate mixes of a particular track, but not much else. This does not mean that those mixes have been uninteresting - far from it - but it's been a small selection. This week has been different, however. Now I often find myself sitting beside Björn, Benny and Michael Tretow at the mixing desk, figuratively speaking, as they attempt a mix of a certain track, then stop the tape after perhaps only a few seconds - sometimes after a couple of minutes. Something goes wrong: someone forgets to push up a fader, or they realise that they actually don't like it when that particular instrument is that loud in the mix - or whatever else - and so they rewind the tape (and I can hear the sound of it being rewound) and start again. Fascinating.

Another observation. Those ABBA boys liked to edit their recordings. I'm not exactly shocked, but still a little surprised at how many of their songs were edited. Today I discovered a large, previously unheard chunk out of a track on ABBA - The Album. I've also heard edits that were less drastic, but nevertheless something had been taken out of those tracks. And I've heard a preliminary edit of another ABBA - The Album track where they first tried to take one bit out, but then changed their minds and decided to take another bit out. I'd say they made the right choice.

While I'm listening to the tapes, I'm typing away, making notes of my impressions, posing questions to myself, jotting down theories on what ABBA were trying to achieve with a certain mix of a familiar song, and whatever else comes to mind. A random page from my tape-listening document is what you're seeing in the attached picture.

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



Primitive conditions

Published June 11, 2015

If you've watched the video on the Indiegogo crowdfunding page for ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, you've seen vintage footage of me typing away on an ancient computer, writing the manuscript for the original edition of the book. I thought I had thrown away all the floppy disks I used at the time, but while I was going through an old box the other day, I found I still had a few of them. You can see one of them here. Please note that it says "scriptfile 1" - there was no way you could fit the entire manuscript on one of those disks. Those were the days...!

I recall that after I'd sent the floppy disks containing the manuscript to my publishers, Century 22, I got a fax where they said something like, "We had a little trouble extracting the text from your disks, but eventually we managed it". The subtext, of course, was, "Why the hell are you working on such ancient equipment!" I don't blame them.

Well, finding those disks the other day made me smile. Sometimes I still can't believe that the book actually got written.

If you haven't done so yet, pre-order your copy of the revised and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions here.


They were good because they worked hard

Published June 08, 2015

My current bedside reading is Bob Stanley's magnificent Yeah Yeah Yeah - The Story Of Modern Pop, originally published a couple of years ago. Briefly, the book traces the history of pop (including rock, soul etc.) from the early 1950s until the present day. I have enjoyed many of the CDs curated by Mr Stanley over the years (alone or as part of Saint Etienne, the group of which he is a member), and, also, from what I've read of his writings I have a feeling our tastes in music overlap a great deal, so I find his non-rockist take on popular music history very refreshing. 

I have just finished the chapter about ABBA - so far in the book, they're about the only act devoted a chapter of their own, which I suspect is mainly because they can't easily be placed into the historical or cultural context of American and British pop music. If you'd like to read some intelligent writing about ABBA and a myriad of other artists, I suggest you invest in this book. You may not agree with the author's every word, but that's hardly the point.

Personally, I especially liked Stanley's answer to the question why ABBA were so huge: "Nobody has ever worked harder, that's all." To some extent, it mirrors my own answer in recent years to the question why we're still listening to ABBA: "Because they were good." While it's tempting to come up with all sorts of sociological explanations - and certainly, nostalgia may play a part, even when it's nostalgia for a period you never lived through - I think in ABBA's case it was that they thought every single track was worthy of their best efforts in the studio. They may not have been satisfied with the end result, and sometimes nor were their listeners, but they did indeed work hard, and, in both the short- and long-term perspective, it paid off .

I was reminded of this fact recently when I listened to one of those "early-songs-sung-by-Björn-and/or-Benny" that are so easy to dismiss, namely 'Sitting In The Palmtree" from the Waterloo album. There are so many little keyboard riffs and backing harmonies going on in there that you just can't call it "filler", whether you like the song or not. They'd worked too hard on the recording for that label to be appropriate

But enough about me. Use the ordering links to the right to order your copy of Yeah Yeah Yeah: the ABBA chapter is only a part of a great book that I feel deserves the epithet "instant classic".

So long to the ABBA album

Published June 05, 2015

In my last blog about the revised and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, which can be pre-ordered here, I wrote that I was about done with alternate mixes from the 1975 ABBA album sessions. I'd temporarily forgotten about a couple of reference discs of mixes that I had yet to familiarise myself with, so it wasn't until today that I finally moved out of GlenStudio, figuratively speaking.

I think I've now heard enough alternate mixes from the ABBA LP to be able to assemble an alternate version of that album, save, perhaps, for one or two tracks. Would it be as great as the album we all know and love? No. Would it be interesting to hear it? If you're an ABBA fan who's lived with these songs for years and years and years - decades, in some cases - yes. Not every alternate mix is radically different to the ones we're used to, but all of them are different enough to tell us something interesting about ABBA's creativity.

So, even while I'm still in the early half of the group's career, I'm finding so many new things to write about in ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions. I don't know how to phrase this in a modest way, so I won't even try: If you're an ABBA fan, you won't want to miss this book. Pre-order your copy here.


Mixed emotions at the mixing desk

Published June 02, 2015

No tape-listening last week, but today I was back at Polar again, discovering more unheard alternate mixes from the 1975 ABBA album, all for the benefit of the revised and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions (pre-order your copy here). More insights gained, that's for sure and for certain.

Thought of the day: This may sound naïve, but listening to these alternate mixes I can't help wondering how Björn, Benny and Michael Tretow actually reached the conclusion of what worked, what didn't work, and what they were supposed to do to make it better. How did they know when an additional overdub was what was needed? Or when a little more echo or a little less echo would do the trick? Or, after including a certain overdub in mix after mix after mix, suddenly deciding that the recording would work better if they removed that particular sound ingredient from the equation? I guess it's all down to talent, intuition and many years's experience of creating music, but it's still something of a mystery.

I believe I've now listened to all alternate mixes up to and including the ABBA album. Next time: the Arrival era.

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