ABBA: Song by Song - new book by Ian Cole

Published February 24, 2020

Similar to so many of my latter-day friendships, I first met Ian Cole online, more than two decades ago. This was 1998: he was a member of the mailing list ABBAMAIL, and I was a lurker. I soon noticed that the posts made by someone named Ian Cole were very much up my alley: factual and informative. I thought, "This is someone I should get in touch with". Which I did after unlurking myself. After we'd got to know each other, it quickly transpired that we were both Beatles fans and familiar with the work by writers such as Mark Lewisohn, the author of The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, which was the inspiration behind my own ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions. Small wonder that Ian and I shared many of the same attitudes to ABBA and the group's universe.

From 1999 onwards, Ian has been the trusted proofreader of virtually everything I've written in the English language, whether it's about ABBA or one of my Swedish-to-English translation assignments about another subject entirely. Everyone should be fortunate enough to have someone onboard who can correct grammar slips, point to factual errors and - this is most important - deliver criticism in a constructive manner. It's often said that "so-and-so can't take criticism", but delivering criticism is also an art form, which Ian has mastered like few others. Over these more than two decades, he has become a close friend to the point that I was his witness at his and husband Ian's wedding a couple of years ago.

When Ian told me that he was going to write a song by song book on ABBA, as part of Fonthill Media's series of similar titles, I was delighted for several reasons. Firstly, I feel there aren't enough ABBA books written by people with in-depth knowledge of the group, and it was welcome for that very reason. Secondly, although there have been similar titles published about ABBA (my own long-out-of-print ABBA - The Complete Guide To Their Music, for instance), I knew that Ian, as someone who has thought about ABBA's music since the mid-1970s, would not just say what everybody else has already said.

After so many years of tireless proofreading on his part, I was very happy to finally be able to offer him the same service with ABBA: Song by Song. And it was work I really enjoyed, for, having written so much about ABBA myself, I found it very refreshing to get someone else's perspective on the songs and the albums. Ian has brought up aspects that I'd never thought of myself, and pointed to facts which I maybe wasn't aware of. Most importantly, all of the observations in ABBA: Song by Song come from someone who actually knows a lot about ABBA, rather than a johnny-come-lately jumping to conclusions and presenting them as facts.

For me, there was an especially thrilling moment during Ian's work on the book. We were chatting online when he mentioned that a fan had pointed to an historical fact that may have had some bearing on the lyrics of a certain ABBA song. Having access to a Swedish online archive, I was able to quickly find evidence that yes, it's very likely that Björn was inspired by a particular set of circumstances when he wrote those lyrics. ABBA: Song by Song will be the first book where this theory is presented.

So, if you're an ABBA fan who likes to think about the group's music, or just someone who likes to have a handy, up-to-date and authoritative reference book about ABBA's recorded output, this book is most definitely for you.

ABBA: Song by Song will be published 6 March 2020. Ian has put together a page with handy pre-ordering links. It can be accessed here.


Is the melody sacred or not?

Published February 20, 2020

In a 1997 interview with the Bee Gees, discussing their songwriting methods, they claimed that once they'd written a melody they were happy with, they would not change it. In other words, they would not adjust it so as to accommodate the lyrics.

In a similar example, Carole Bayer-Sager has told the story of writing the lyrics for the mega-hit 'That's What Friends Are For'. Her opening line was "I never thought I'd feel this way", but this would mean that the first note of the melody, written by Burt Bacharach, would have to go. He was adamant that that first note must remain, which explains why the opening line ultimately turned out to be the somewhat odd "And I never thought I'd feel this way".

I always thought that Björn and Benny were similarly protective about their melodies, but listening to The Michael B. Tretow Tapes for my forthcoming book ABBA On Record, I've discovered that this was not always the case. For instance, you can often hear, when they're working out a backing track, that there was originally an additional note or two in the tune, which had to go when the lyrics were written.

More recently, I realised something similar that I'd never thought of, regarding the Swedish and English versions of 'Waterloo'. In the Swedish version, the opening line is "Jo, jo, vid Waterloo Napoleon fick ge sig" and in the English it's "My, my, at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender". But there is actually one more syllable in "Napoleon did surrender" than in "Napoleon fick ge sig". If they'd wanted to protect the original melody, they could've written "Napoleon surrendered" instead, as that phrase had the correct number of syllables. However, it probably sounded better when the line ended with a vowel sound - "surrend-ah!" - so the melody was fiddled with just a bit. In other words, Björn and Benny weren't above changing things just slightly, if it would help the overall outcome.

The insights gained from The Michael B. Tretow Tapes are just one of the many revelations in ABBA On Record. You can support the project by pre-ordering your copy here:

Your support matters!


Notes about ABBA On Record

Published February 13, 2020

I am just now working hard on my forthcoming book ABBA On Record - Packaged Promoted Reviewed (, which will be published in 2021. As I'm writing, the format of the book is starting to take concrete shape, and since it's been a while since I said something more detailed about its contents, I thought now might be a good time.

As previously announced, the heart of the book is an annotated discography: using the Polar Music releases as the starting point, there will be commentary text about the way each release was packaged (backgrounds stories about the sleeves, and so on) and how it was promoted and what kind of success it achieved, primarily in Sweden/Scandinavia, the UK, the US and Australia. Each commentary text ends with the chart positions for the release in the territories mentioned, plus a selection of review excerpts (where available).

The commentary text will be factual, since that's the nature of the book, but I've also endeavoured to make it human and three-dimensional and to offer something new. For instance, through close study of vintage newspaper cuttings, and new interviews with the surviving main players, I've managed to put together a much more detailed story about how ABBA got their record contract in the United States. I found it fascinating, and I can't wait to share it with you.

Next Thursday, I shall reveal more details about the contents of the book.

If you want to support ABBA On Record by pre-ordering a copy (everyone who pre-orders will get their name printed in the book, plus their copy signed with a personal dedication), you can do so by clicking here. Your support matters!