How important are the lyrics?

Published July 22, 2016

In my continuing work on the revised and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, I recently completed a text about ABBA's lyrics; a companion piece, if you will, to the essay about writing the music (the subject of another recent blog). In the essay I explore the methods used for lyric writing, how Björn's attitude to his work changed during the ABBA era, Stig's involvement, and much more.

Writing it made me think more about song lyrics and their function in general, a query I've never quite been able to resolve. I've always felt that music is music first, lyrics second. For me to enjoy a song, it's not necessary I also feel that the lyrics are great. There are many songs I absolutely love that have fairly inconsequential lyrics. Then again, if I feel the lyrics are annoying in some way - illogical within their own context, or if there are too many bad rhymes - that might disturb me. But, in the case of ABBA, I don't enjoy, say, 'King Kong Song' any less than I do the other songs on the Waterloo album. The King Kong lyrics aren't saying anything important, but they carry the melody forward and, since there are so many other great things about that track (singing, production, the tune itself), sometimes that's all we need. Björn said in a recent interview that he feels lyrics should primarily be regarded as part of the song: one half of a complete package. They should not be judged as poetry, and I agree with him.

I know others feel differently: for some, if they can't relate to the lyrics, they can't enjoy the song. I think great lyrics can certainly enhance a song, and sloppy lyrics can definitely be detrimental - but that's sloppy as in "they don't quite work" or "they don't sound right", not necessarily in terms of message or emotional content.

Björn has been quite eloquent about the subject of writing lyrics over the years and I even found some unused, really good stuff in my original 1993 interview with him (for the first edition of the current book), so it's been fun putting this "Writing the lyrics" essay together. It currently stands at about 5,500 words and, even if I say so myself, it is actually quite interesting. It will, of course, be available to read in ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions.

You can pre-order your signed copy here: abbathecompleterecordingsessions.com. Every little pre-order helps make the book better. Many thanks in advance!

 

The ABBA Guide To Stockholm - why you should get it

Published July 16, 2016

This week's blog is not about my upcoming book ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions (revised and expanded edition; pre-order here: abbathecompleterecordingsessions.com). Instead, with the Stockholm tourist season in full swing, I'd like to focus on another book.

Sara Russell's The ABBA Guide To Stockholm was first published in 2010, with a revised edition being made available in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of ABBA's Eurovision Song Contest victory in 2014. I helped out a bit with the book and I was very happy to see it published. I remember Sara telling me that such a book should be put together the first time I met her, in Bristol in 1996.

If you're an ABBA fan and visiting Stockholm this summer (or at any time of the year), it's really a no-brainer: you should get this book. But, perhaps more pertinently, even if you don't intend to visit Stockholm, you will get so much out of this book. It's a book you can read just like...well, a book! You will learn where the ABBA members did this, that and the other; you will realise that several of these things were done in one and the same place; and you will marvel at the many, many photographs and illustrations featured on each and every page of this book. You will feel that you are right there. This is really one of the essential ABBA books.

When the first edition of the book was published, and Sara being in England, I appeared on Swedish television in her place to promote it. You can watch the two appearances I did here and here.

Order the book by using the links to the right on this page.

 

The genius of Michael B. Tretow

Published July 08, 2016

For someone who has written and thought about ABBA and their music as much as I have, it's easy to start taking certain aspects of their "universe" and the people who inhabit it for granted. At the moment I'm particularly thinking of Michael B. Tretow and his contributions to their recordings: I often find myself using phrases such as "their invaluable sound engineer Michael B. Tretow" almost as a matter of routine, because, hey, that's what he was and everybody already knows that, right?

A few recent events have renewed my appreciation and admiration of Mr. Tretow. One is the recent CD release of the recordings he made in his youth, while he was still living in his parents' apartment in the town of Norrköping. These mid-Sixties recordings were all made in Michael's room, where local bands would cram in to get their songs committed to tape on his Tandberg reel-to-reel tape recorder. The performances as such may not always be stellar (although some are), but considering the less than ideal circumstances in which they were recorded, the tracks on the CD sound great. Clearly, Michael knew how to make a good recording long before he'd even started his employment at Metronome Studio in Stockholm. This CD, entitled Kungsgatan 25 (named after the address where Michael lived in Norrköping) is highly recommended if you want to understand exactly how important Michael was; some of his own songs are also on the CD. Order your copy by using the ordering links to the right.

As I've been interviewing ABBA session musicians for the revised and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, many of them have also mentioned Michael Tretow and how essential he was in the studio. Even though he was only ever credited as "engineer" on ABBA's albums, he was clearly someone who didn't simply twiddle the knobs: everyone remembers how good he was at creating a good mood in the studio, and they also credit him with making many suggestions that enhanced the recording they were working on. Small wonder that from the Voulez-Vous album onwards, Michael Tretow received a royalty on ABBA's recordings even though he wasn't formally a co-producer.

From a personal point of view, Michael was also an invaluable supporter of this writer in the early stages of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, when the first version of the book was written in 1993. As I learned afterwards, he put in a good word for me with Björn and Benny, and after that all doors were opened. I wouldn't be where I am today if it hadn't been for Michael.

Read more about Michael's contribution to ABBA's magnificent discography in ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions. Support this project by pre-ordering your copy here: abbathecompleterecordingsessions.com