Slade and Bay City Rollers have nothing on ABBA

Published September 26, 2015

Going through old British music journals you stumble across so many interesting statements of fact. Take, for instance, that old argument whether Slade and Bay City Rollers are better than ABBA. Well, I for one didn't know that it was settled more than 40 years ago, in April 1975 (when, by the way, UK interest in the Swedish quartet was supposedly nil). Don't believe me? Just read this, published on the letters page (known as The Face) in an April 1975 issue of Record Mirror.

ABBA are superior to Slade and Bay City Rollers - fact.

Other facts and review quotes gleaned from these UK music journals will be available in the revised and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, available for pre-order here:


The proofreader's view of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions

Published September 24, 2015

Highly knowledgeable long-time ABBA fan Ian Cole has been my pal and invaluable proofreader for something like 17 years now. Naturally, he is also involved in the revised and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, offering his thoughts and comments on my texts. Here's what he has to say about the chapters he's read so far.

I'm very excited that my friend Carl Magnus Palm is writing a revised, updated, and expanded version of his first ABBA book, The Complete Recording Sessions.

With so much more information that has come to light since the book was published in 1994, through Carl Magnus's research for other ABBA book, CD, and DVD projects, and because it's long out-of-print and highly in demand, the idea of a new version of this book is something we've talked about for several years.

I've been honoured to read draft versions of the first four chapters, covering the period from Benny and Björn's first collaborations in 1966, through the gradual formation of ABBA, and up to the end of 1974. The most recent versions of the chapters include all the latest details and insights gleaned from Carl Magnus's unique opportunity to listen to the unreleased studio tapes from the so-called Polar Archive.

Particularly fascinating to me is learning just how much work went into the recording of 'Waterloo', as ABBA worked to create the song that would have the most impact for the Eurovision Song Contest. How instruments and vocals were added and removed from the song, how many different mixes were attempted to find the right sound, how the song was edited to fit within the mandated three minutes, and why the various released versions (in Swedish, English, German, French, the alternate English mix, and the playback version used at Eurovision) sound a bit different from each other.

But it's not just 'Waterloo' that's got me excited. As ABBA's recordings became more ambitious, when they began recording tracks for their third album later in 1974, they tried and discarded so much that was never heard on record, that will now be revealed in the book. Though we will probably never hear what's on those tapes, they are described in such detail that we can imagine what they sound like.

I can't wait to read what the rest of the chapters hold and what future research brings to the book. I'm really looking forward to the end of next year when we should all be holding copies of the book in our hands (and/or on our devices).

If you're an ABBA fan, even if you have the original edition - perhaps especially if you have the original edition - you will want to read this vastly expanded and improved version of the book. Pre-order it now at

Head Over Heels - was it right to make it a single?

Published September 17, 2015

An important part of the revised and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions is to take a look not only at how the music was written and recorded, but also how it was released: for example, which songs were chosen as singles, and how they were promoted and reviewed.

While I was in London recently I spent much of my time at the British Library, where I found the attached brief review and ad of the Head Over Heels single in an issue of music industry journal Music Week. First of all, confronted with the single on a full page like that I was struck by the sheer awfulness of that sleeve: the photo of Frida is lovely, but she's not the lead singer on that song, so my gut reaction to her dominant exposure on that sleeve is: "that's just plain wrong!". Plus, of course, by the time the single was released she no longer had that perm but her spiky haircut. Overall, the sleeve looks like very litte care or thought has gone into it.

Secondly, there's the review, which reads in full, "Hitting the Top 20 since 1975, there are no signs of bad times for Swedish foursome." As most long-term ABBA fans will know, that assessment turned out to be wrong: Head Over Heels only reached number 25 and none of the group's singles that year did in fact hit the Top 20 in the UK. Certainly, Head Over Heels charted higher in some European countries, but overall it wasn't a terribly successful single.

This subject has been discussed many times before, but I still can't help wondering: would any of the other tracks from The Visitors have fared better as a follow-up to One Of Us, the first single from the album? When I was working on The Visitors Deluxe Edition I asked Björn and Benny - who both feel today that Head Over Heels was the wrong choice for a single - which song they would have chosen instead. Björn took a look at the track listing and realised that, in his opinion, there actually wasn't much else to choose from. Benny suggested Slipping Through My Fingers, but that was mainly because it's his favourite track from the album. An introspective ballad as an ABBA single? Who knows, perhaps it could have worked; it is indeed one of the best songs on the album.

Personally, I think When All Is Said And Done would have been a great single: it's uptempo, energetic, very direct and Frida's singing is incredible. It's got that blend of melancholy and positive forward-movement that often worked so well for ABBA. Another candidate would be the title track, The Visitors, where Frida's vocals are equally incredible, although perhaps Björn and Benny would have had to do some editing: it takes 30 seconds before the vocals come in, for example. As a song and recording it seems to say, "hey! We're ready for the Eighties!", although the question is whether it would have fallen between two stools: ABBA's core audience would perhaps not have been prepared to accept this slightly "challenging" track as a single, while others would largely have dismissed it because it was ABBA.

What do you think?

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Author on camera - brand new video interview

Published September 08, 2015

Be very, very careful as you wander the dark, deserted streets and alleyways of central London - someone might come up to you, iPhone in hand and start asking you questions about your current book project: what tapes you've heard so far, how you're doing with the research, and so on. It happened to me just the other day. The results can be viewed here:

The man with the iPhone: Chris Williams.

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