In focus: Arrival – the making of a classic pop album

October 2016 marks the 40th Anniversary of one of ABBA’s best-loved and most classic albums. Arrival, first issued in Sweden on October 11, 1976, features some of the group’s most famous songs, such as ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’.

A promising kick-off

In the summer of 1975, when recording sessions began for what was to become ABBA’s Arrival album, the group already had three albums and a slew of singles to their credit. Aided by their dedicated manager, sometime lyricist and owner of the Polar Music record label, Stig Anderson, they had left a mark on the international music scene that was completely unique for a Swedish act. But although large parts of mainland Europe had fallen under their spell, in important pop markets such as Great Britain – where the group were really anxious to succeed – all the singles after the number one hit ‘Waterloo’ had failed to set the charts alight, and their albums were equally ignored. ABBA knew that all they could do was to keep on working, cross their fingers and hope that eventually they would be given another break. As work on their fourth LP kicked off on August 4 and 5, 1975, they hoped the album would be ready for release the following spring.

Hindsight will tell us that the group had an exceptionally good start, for these initial sessions produced two of ABBA’s biggest-ever hits, ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Fernando’. Indeed, just the unadorned backing track of ‘Dancing Queen’ evoked a strong reaction in certain ABBA members. Listening to a tape brought home by Benny after a late night mixing session, the melodic beauty and infectious rhythms at the core of the recording brought Frida to tears. Björn was equally excited by what they had created, but because of the late hour Agnetha was asleep and he ended up at his sister’s house. “I played it to her over and over again. We couldn’t believe how good it sounded.”

Eventually released as the first single from the album, in August 1976, ‘Dancing Queen’ swiftly became a worldwide number one smash and today is widely acknowledged as an all-time pop classic. ‘Fernando’, meanwhile, was not intended for ABBA at this early stage, but for Frida’s Swedish-language solo album Frida ensam (“Frida Alone”). (Read more about ‘Dancing Queen’ in the In Focus piece dedicated to that song, and about ‘Fernando’ and the Frida album in the In Focus piece entitled The Frida Solo Albums).

Marching back to the studio

Apart from intermittent sessions for ‘Dancing Queen’ until December 1975, ABBA worked on no other songs for the new album. The reason for this was certainly not laziness, but simply a packed schedule of recording dates – for solo projects as well as production work for other Polar recording artists – combined with a sudden upsurge in promotional activities. The group spent two weeks in the United States, and also journeyed to other ABBA-hungry countries across Europe. This included Great Britain, where ‘SOS’ had finally brought the group back into the Top Ten; from then on, the UK would remain as one of ABBA’s most consistently loyal markets. Well before the end of the year, all these demands on their attention made ABBA realise that the autumn of 1976 was a more realistic release date for the new album.

However, the first few months of the new year provided further distractions from song writing and recording. Certainly, the most spectacular event during this period was the March 1976 visit to Australia. ABBA had become immensely popular “down under” and were subject to a hysterical reception on a level that they had never experienced anywhere before. The international success was made even bigger through the release of ABBA’s English-language version of ‘Fernando’, their biggest hit up to that point.

It wasn’t until March 23 that ABBA could finally close the doors on the world and concentrate on creating music, rather than respond to the attention their earlier creations had caused. If the ‘Dancing Queen’/’Fernando’ sessions had been encouraging, this second recording period had an equally promising start, as the very first song recorded has come to be recognised as one of ABBA’s ultimate masterworks: ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’. This song, often held up as one of the group’s classic “divorce songs”, was actually written and recorded long before either of the couples had split up. Topped with a typically empathic lead vocal from Frida, and resting on one of those superlative Andersson/Ulvaeus productions, few would disagree with Benny’s retrospective assessment of ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ as “one of our five best recordings”.

Before the end of April, a further two songs had been completed: ‘That’s Me’ and ‘Happy Hawaii’. However, the latter title, featuring joint lead vocals by Agnetha and Frida, would ultimately be bumped off the album, and then re-written and recorded to become the Fats Domino-flavoured ‘Why Did It Have To Be Me’, a dialogue between Björn and ABBA’s female half. May saw the completion of yet another album highlight, the cabaret number ‘Money, Money, Money’. At one point entitled ‘Gypsy Girl’, the song was adorned by yet another dramatic lead by Frida.

Tearjerkers and folk music adventures

As the warm summer of 1976 enveloped Stockholm, ABBA kept themselves busy with further writing and recording. June saw the recording of the album’s opening track and perhaps also the album’s most obvious nod to the innocent American girl group teen pop of the early Sixties: ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’. In July, the group nailed the big-city-paranoia rocker ‘Tiger’, complete with heavy drumming as well as frenzied vocals from Agnetha and Frida, but also its complete antithesis on the album, the very light-poppy ‘Dum Dum Diddle’. The song’s lyricist, Björn, has expressed strong dissatisfaction with the final outcome, remembering how the words were written in a fit of desperation at five in the morning, because he simply had to come up with something for the impending vocal overdub session. For fans who appreciate the group at their most poppy, however, ‘Dum Dum Diddle’ is just as catchy, well-produced and vocally superior as anything else on the album.

With the summer drawing to a close, ABBA had amassed quite a strong collection of tracks for their album. However, a further two or three tracks were needed before they would be able to sign off on their work. Thus, on August 20 they were back in the recording studio for an intense, almost month-long period of wrapping up the album. So far, while Frida had shone on leads for two songs, Agnetha had only been afforded a solo spot for a few lines on ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’, so it was high time that she was given a track of her own. The ballad ‘My Love, My Life’ was originally recorded as ‘Monsieur, Monsieur’, a slightly more uptempo number. The final version of the song was turned into one of Agnetha’s classic “woman abandoned” tearjerkers, with a backing vocal arrangement inspired by the whispery sounds on 10cc’s recent mega-hit ‘I’m Not In Love’.

The recording of the Björn-led version of ‘Why Did It Have To Be Me’ was then followed by the final track for the album. The strings-keyboards-and-wordless-vocals number, originally entitled ‘Ode To Dalecarlia’, was largely a result of Benny’s life-long love affair with Swedish folk music played on fiddles, which is especially prevalent in the Swedish county of Dalecarlia. However, when cover art designer Rune Söderqvist’s then common-law-wife suggested that ‘Arrival’ could be a good title for an album, the name of the tune was promptly changed to make it the title track. With this album-closer completed, Arrival was finally finished and ready for release.

In-depth at prime time

The Deluxe Edition release of Arrival, upon its 30th Anniversary in 2006, came with a spectacular DVD of television performances, interviews and clips from the Arrival era. The main feature on the DVD is the one-hour television special ABBA-dabba-dooo!!, made by producer Leonard Eek and reporter Per Falkman for Swedish television. The special was filmed and produced parallel with the making of the album, and so it was natural that it featured performances of no less than eight of the ten Arrival songs.

In the essay included in the Deluxe Edition of Arrival, Leonard Eek recalls the resistance he encountered when he suggested that an entire programme should be devoted exclusively to ABBA, for the first time in the group’s home country. At the time, ABBA were labelled as “aloof” and “unreal” in the sternly left-wing cultural climate that prevailed in Sweden at the time. Fortunately for posterity, Eek eventually got his way and was able to produce what still stands up as one of the best programmes ever made about ABBA. “We wanted to show the best Sweden had to offer in popular music as a prime-time Friday night entertainment,” remembers Eek in the essay, “but we also wanted to show that the members were in fact ordinary people; ‘they have no ulterior motives, but are hard-working professionals’. We wanted to give a broadened picture of the human beings behind the fame and ‘the stardom’.”

When production started, Leonard Eek particularly hoped that he would be able to persuade ABBA to perform a couple of songs live in the television studio. Notwithstanding a handful of occasions, such as the Swedish heats for the Eurovision Song Contest, ABBA had never truly performed live on television, certainly not on their own terms. “They wanted to be certain that the outcome would be on the level where they wanted to be, and where they felt they had a right to demand to be. And rightly so; we all wanted the same thing.” To Eek’s great delight, ABBA said yes, and their live performances of ‘Dum Dum Diddle’ and ‘Why Did It Have To Be Me’ were released on DVD for the first time.

In addition to all the songs, the ABBA-dabba-dooo!! special also shows, for example, Benny and Björn at work in the small song writing cottage on the Stockholm archipelago island of Viggsö – apparently the only such film in existence. There are also a number of interviews with the group, individually and collectively. Because of the long production period, an excellent rapport developed between Per Falkman and the group, to the extent that certain ABBA members feared they had been too openhearted. Said Agnetha at the press conference for the programme, “He [Falkman] has an ability to draw more things out of you than you’d want to tell. So we hope that some of it is edited out.”

Ring Ring – ABBA’s journey towards Eurovision

The year 2014 marks ABBA’s 40th Anniversary. But their journey towards an international breakthrough was long and tangled. The first part of that journey was described in a previous piece about People Need Love (available in the In Focus archive). In this feature we take a look at the year leading up to ABBA’s Brighton triumph.

Trying for an album

The summer 1972 success of ’People Need Love’, the first Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid single, was something of a wake-up call for Stig Anderson, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. Stig was the owner of the Polar Music record label, where the duo act Björn & Benny released their records and where they were also employed as house producers. The threesome had long been trying to reach outside Swedish borders with their music, but for the past few years Björn and Benny had mainly been occupied with ”schlager” – easily digestible hits aimed at the kitchen transistor radios in Swedish homes. In reality, they wanted to make modern pop music, but at the moment it seemed their greatest success came with the milder material, the songs mum and dad could hum along to as well.

The change happened when they decided to try their luck with ’People Need Love’, for the first time using the superior vocal talents of their female companions, Agnetha and Frida, to full effect. Although they were far from convinced that this loose group concept would lead to any long-term success, Stig, Benny and Björn saw a certain potential and decided that the two couples should record an LP. However, the album wasn’t necessarily the main priority for any of the involved, and, to some extent, it turned out to be a grab bag collection of revamped tracks originally recorded for other purposes. It was understandable, for Björn and Benny already had their hands full writing songs and producing albums for other artists on the Polar Music label.

On September 26, 1972, the first recording session was held where it was clearly stated on the session sheet that the tracks were intended for an album by the group Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid. As it turned out, the backing track recorded that day, for a song adorned with the working title ’Contemplation’, was probably never used. The group did some work on one of those ”old” songs, not originally intended for the group. ’Rock’n’Roll Band’, which had been recorded for a B-side to a Björn & Benny single issued in Japan, received a fuzz guitar overdub and some additional re-jigging for the group album.

Adventure in Japan

The first recording session for a completely new song intended for the album didn’t take place until October 17, when the backing track for ’He Is Your Brother’ was completed. This song, which repeated the message of harmony between people conveyed in ’People Need Love’, was issued as a single a few weeks later. It became a hit in Sweden, at least on the radio chart Tio i topp (”The Top Ten”). Although this success probably further strengthened the feeling that there was real potential in the group concept, Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Frida still didn’t really consider the group their primary concern. Indeed, all four members were busy with several different projects during the autumn of 1972.

Björn and Benny had their production chores, and they were also writing songs for the movie Ture Sventon – privatdetektiv (”Ture Sventon – Private Investigator”). One of the songs from this project, ’Jag är blott en man’ (”I Am Just A Man”) – originally performed by Swedish actor Jarl Kulle – was given English lyrics and a new vocal overdub for inclusion on the group album as ’I Am Just A Girl’. As the duo Björn & Benny, the two songwriters were releasing a single entitled ’Love Has Its Ways’ (featuring ’Rock’n’Roll Band’ on the B-side) in Japan only. Frida and Agnetha, meanwhile, were enjoying hits with the songs ’Man vill ju leva lite dessemellan’ (”You’ve Got To Live A Little Every Now And Then”) and ’Så glad som dina ögon’ (”As Happy As Your Eyes”), respectively. Small wonder that Björn would later characterise their collective attitude to the group at this time as ”a hobby”.

However, they did perform at least one public group activity. Björn and Benny’s success in Japan earlier in the year led to an invitation to perform at the Yamaha World Popular Song Contest in Tokyo in November. The song they performed at this function was entitled ’Santa Rosa’. It had been recorded by the duo alone, but was released in Sweden as the B-side to the ’He Is Your Brother’ single. It was not the best song they had ever written, and the decision to perform it in the contest was actually made by their Japanese record company. Still, it did mean that the two couples were able to go to Japan, for although they don’t appear on the record, Agnetha and Frida were asked to perform backing vocals in the festival. But despite the female contribution, the Swedish entry was in fact awarded no prize whatsoever.

Bell song exploration

The group already had their mind on another contest, one they really believed could be their ticket to the international arena. While the group were in Tokyo, at home in Sweden it was announced that the songwriting team of Benny Andersson, Stig Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus had been invited to submit a song to the selection for the 1973 Eurovision Song Contest. During the holiday season at the end of the year, Björn and Benny headed out to their songwriting cottage at the island of Viggsö in the Stockholm archipelago. After hours and days of hard work, they came up with an upbeat song, a tune that seemed to hark back to the spirit of pop music as it used to be a decade earlier. They gave the song the working title ’Klocklåt’ (‘Bell Song’). Stig Anderson’s job was to write the lyrics, and he felt Benny and Björn’s new concoction was right on the mark. ”We wanted to do something poppy, something that reflected the popular music tastes of today,” he recalled. ”We wanted to get rid of all the pomp and circumstances surrounding the Eurovision Song Contest: the dinner-jackets and the evening dresses.”

When Stig was finished with his end of the job, the song had been adorned with the title ’Ring Ring’. To ensure that the lyrics sounded exactly right to an international audience, Stig even asked American pop star and songwriter Neil Sedaka – whom he knew through music publishing contacts – to pen the words for the English version, together with his songwriting partner Phil Cody. On January 10, 1973, the song was recorded at Metronome Studio in Stockholm. The studio engineer was Michael B. Tretow, who had become a valuable collaborator for Björn and Benny over the past few years. On this recording he made a contribution that must certainly be considered his most important so far. Michael had recently read a book about American record producer Phil Spector, who was famous for his ”wall of sound”. The book – entitled Out Of His Head, written by Richard Williams – revealed all the secrets on exactly how the Spector sound was achieved. Just like Michael suspected, it was simply a matter of several musicians playing the same instruments – three pianos, five guitars, and so on – in the same recording studio at the same time.

Michael was excited by this prospect, but realised that it would probably be much too expensive for most Swedish record labels. But he came up with a solution: why not simply record the backing track for the song twice? Then you would get that big, almost orchestral sound he was after. He also figured that if you changed the speed on the tape recorder just slightly between the overdubs, in fact making the instruments just slightly out of tune, it would increase the effect of  a big sound. He told Björn and Benny about his theories. Fortunately, they were just as excited as he was by this idea. And no one was disappointed with the result: ’Ring Ring’ was a record that rumbled and thundered; it sounded like nothing that had ever come out of a Swedish recording studio.

Top three triumph

Disappointingly, however, when Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid performed ’Ring Ring’ in the Swedish selection on February 10, they only finished third. There was to be no Eurovison Song Contest for them that year. This disheartening outcome for a song they believed so much in was soon balanced in the extreme, when the group issued ’Ring Ring’ on two singles – Swedish and English versions – and then finally completed and released their first LP, Ring Ring, on March 26. Among the more notable tracks included on the album were ’Love Isn’t Easy (But It Sure Is Hard Enough)’, later issued as a single in Scandinavia, and ’Disillusion,’ written by Agnetha (featuring lyrics by Björn) – the only Fältskog tune ever to be featured on an ABBA disc. All three Ring Ring releases were major hits, shooting to the top of the combined singles and album sales chart that Sweden used at the time, occupying the top three positions. The song that could easily have turned into an ambitious failure, was in fact the pop music triumph of the year.

This was the point when the Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Frida finally realised that their group should definitely be regarded as more than a hobby – they had something really good going for them, that much was obvious, and they must definitely go on working together. Their success was solidified in the summer of 1973, when they went out on an extensive tour of Sweden’s folkparks. As the tour concluded in September, they started thinking about recording a new album. And they also began preparing themselves for the following year’s Eurovision Song Contest…

In Focus: Happy New Year

Happy New Year – and Merry Christmas!

The song Happy New Year was probably the closest ABBA as a group ever came to a Christmas record. But over the years the individual members have made quite a few forays into the Christmas market. As we approach the end-of-the-year festivities, we take a look at Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Frida’s musical season celebrations over the years.

A vision now and then

In November 1980, two teenage girls were asked to review ABBA’s latest album, Super Trouper, on a Swedish radio show. The girls liked ‘On And On And On’ and ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’, but were critical of the track ‘Happy New Year’, which they felt was speculative and which they were certain had been included on the album to cash in on the upcoming Christmas and New Year season. Frida was asked to comment on their criticisms, and pointed out that the girls’ assumption was wrong. “It was written and recorded well before our summer holidays”, she said, “and at that time we had no idea when the album was going to be ready for release.” Frida wasn’t lying, for contrary to their reputation at the time, ABBA didn’t let perceived market demands dictate what kind of songs they would write and record. And ‘Happy New Year’ was indeed one of the first songs to be completed for the new album.

Written in Barbados in January 1980, ‘Happy New Year’ was originally intended for a musical about a New Year’s Eve, one of Björn and Benny’s many attempts to get started with a more ambitious piece of musical drama. They even pitched their idea to comedian John Cleese, of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers fame, hoping that he would want to write the book for their proposed musical. Cleese turned them down, however, and the songwriting team scrapped the project. It would be another three years before Björn and Benny finally started writing what was to become their first full-length musical, Chess (a collaboration with Tim Rice).

Back in 1980, however, they were still quite fond of the New Year’s Eve concept, and in February they began recording ‘Happy New Year’ for the upcoming album. It seems there were even plans on making the track a single at one point, for shortly before the November release of the Super Trouper album, a promo clip was made for ‘Happy New Year’. Festive scenes were filmed in conjunction with the making of the album sleeve, after which the ABBA members’ actual performance of the song was filmed in director Lasse Hallström’s apartment. These latter sequences underscored the song’s wistful reflections on what the future may hold, thereby providing a marked contrast to the party scenes.

Ultimately, however, ‘Happy New Year’ was not destined to be a single at the time. A Spanish version of the song, ‘Felicidad’, was issued in Spanish-language territories and reached the Top Five in Argentina, but for the rest of the world ‘Happy New Year’ would simply remain a popular tune each time December turns into January. Indeed, for many years, a performance of the song, especially made for Swedish Television, would be aired every New Year’s Eve in ABBA’s home country. It wasn’t until 1999 and the imminent millennium celebrations that ‘Happy New Year’ was finally released as a major single, reaching the Top 20 in some countries.

A thousand Christmas candles

Although ABBA never recorded a Christmas song as such, they often taped Christmas greetings, mostly for various radio and television stations. At least one such greeting was even released on record. In a December 1982 issue of the UK pop music magazine Smash Hits, a flexidisc was enclosed, featuring brief Christmas greetings from many of the biggest acts of the day. ABBA were part of the line-up, although Frida was absent from the recording. The Smash Hits flexidisc, entitled Happy Christmas From The Stars, seems to be the full extent of ABBA’s Christmas adventures on record.

For the individual members, however, the story is entirely different. Perhaps the most well-known and best-selling ABBA-related Christmas album is Nu tändas tusen juleljus (“Now A Thousand Christmas Candles Are Being Lit”), recorded by Agnetha with her and Björn’s seven-year-old daughter Linda in the autumn of 1980. However, the album was completed too close to Christmas, which meant that its release had to be postponed a year. On the album, mother and daughter – alone or together – sang their way through many of the most popular Swedish and international Christmas songs. The lushly orchestrated album was co-produced by Agnetha and ABBA engineer Michael B. Tretow, and reached an impressive number six on the Swedish album chart. Nu tändas tusen juleljus has been a popular album around Christmas every year since it was released. “The album was a big hit for mother and daughter and I still feel it sounds fresh,” ABBA manager Stig Anderson said in 1994.

Christmas oddities

Benny is the only other ABBA member to record an entire Yuletide album. In 1967, his pre-ABBA band, The Hep Stars, released an LP entitled Jul med Hep Stars (“Christmas With The Hep Stars”). This album contained a selection of the most familiar Christmas songs, but also a number of new pop songs, written especially for this album. Curiously, however, not one of them was composed by Benny, who by then had become quite a prolific songwriter. It has to be said that Jul med Hep Stars was quite a bizarre concoction: the tracks were interspersed with jokey babbling from the group members, recorded live at a party held in the recording studio (when Jul med Hep Stars was reissued on CD in 2001, all the chatter had been edited out). Despite this unusual approach the band’s faithful fans probably snapped up the LP in enough quantities to make it a moderate success. A single issued from the album, entitled ‘Christmas On My Mind’, was less fortunate, becoming the first single since The Hep Stars’ breakthrough not to show up on any charts whatsoever. This was unfair, for it was in fact a great recording, featuring especially cool Hammond organ work from Benny.

Although Björn and Frida never recorded entire Christmas albums, they did make contributions to the genre. In 1968, Björn’s group, the Hootenanny Singers, recorded a version of ‘Mary’s Boy Child’, made famous by Harry Belafonte in 1956. The Hootenanny Singers interpretation was included on their album Hootenanny Singers Fem år (“Five Years With The Hootenanny Singers”). Of course, a decade later ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ became a major hit for Boney M, one of ABBA’s main competitors for the top of the singles charts in the late 1970s.


Favourite songs

Frida’s contribution to the Christmas market came in 1972, when Polar Music decided to release a Christmas album, featuring their major artists. The album was produced by Björn, Benny and Stig Anderson, and featured two further Christmas tracks from the Hootenanny Singers: ‘Nu tändas tusen juleljus’ (later the title track on the Agnetha and Linda album) and ‘Gå Sion, din konung att möta’, a Swedish version of the hymn ‘Be Glad In The Lord, And Rejoice’.

The undoubted highlight of the album, however, was Frida’s heartfelt interpretations of two of her favourite Christmas songs. ‘När det lider mot jul’ (“When Christmas Time Is Approaching”) and ‘Gläns över sjö och strand’ (“Shine Over Lake And Shore”) are indeed among the most beautiful songs in the Swedish Christmas canon. The album, När juldagsmorgon glimmar (“When Christmas Day Morning Glistens”), was released by Polar Music at the end of 1972. In 1994 this LP was combined with Agnetha and Linda’s album to make up one CD, entitled Julens musik (“The Music Of Christmas”).

One of the few times that all four group members presented themselves in a full-on Christmas context was in a 1972 feature for the Swedish magazine Vecko Revyn. At the time, the group was still known as Björn, Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid, and the photographs that accompanied the article featured the foursome dressed up in Christmas gear, preparing for the holidays and eating traditional food. But although this festive private situation never translated into the recording of a true Christmas song, as we have seen they certainly contributed greatly to this genre as individuals. And, of course, ABBA fans will always have ‘Happy New Year’.

Deluxe Edition Of The ABBA Album Released In November!

Hot on the heels of the well-received Deluxe Edition of The Visitors, November 2012 will see another release in the ABBA Deluxe Edition series. This time the 1975 album simply entitled ABBA, featuring classic hits such as ‘Mamma Mia’, ‘SOS’ and ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’, will receive the Deluxe treatment.

The first disc in this 2-disc package is a CD, which features the original album plus three bonus tracks, all of which have been remastered especially for this release.  The second disc is a DVD, featuring 60 minutes of previously unreleased television performances, including the complete 1976 television special ABBA In Australia – the export version of the famous The Best Of ABBA special, which had higher viewer ratings than the moon landing in Australia. 6 of the 12 songs in the special are performances of tracks from the ABBA album. In addition, there are three songs from the 1975 television special Made In Sweden – For Export, along with two fab performances from the BBC archives: ‘SOS’ on Seaside Special, first broadcast in 1975, and ‘Mamma Mia’ on Top Of The Pops (1976). To round off the DVD there are two vintage television commercials, one for the Australian hits album The Best Of ABBA (along with the other albums released by ABBA in Australia up to that point) and the other for ABBA’s Greatest Hits album.

The package also includes a 24-page booklet featuring an extensive essay on the making of the album, for which ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus have contributed fresh insights and stories.

Don’t miss out on this Deluxe Edition of ABBA – featuring the hits that made Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Frida household names all over the world!

ABBA – DELUXE EDITION

DISC 01: CD

1.  Mamma Mia

2.  Hey, Hey Helen

3.  Tropical Loveland

4.  SOS

5.  Man In The Middle

6.  Bang-A-Boomerang

7.  I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do

8.  Rock Me

9.  Intermezzo no 1

10.  I’ve Been Waiting For You

11.  So Long

Bonus Tracks:

12.  Crazy World

13.  Medley: Pick A Bale Of Cotton – On Top Of Old Smokey – Midnight Special

14.  Mamma Mia (Spanish Version)

DISC 02: DVD:

1. ABBA In Australia (Television Special)

Mamma Mia

Hasta Mañana

Ring Ring

Tropical Loveland

Waterloo

I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do

Rock me

Dancing Queen

Honey, Honey

Fernando

So Long

SOS

2. Made In Sweden – For Export (SVT)

Mamma Mia

I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do

So Long

3. SOS (Seaside Special, BBC)

4. Mamma Mia (Top Of The Pops, BBC)

5. The Best Of ABBA, TV Commercial

6. Greatest Hits, TV Commercial

7. International Sleeve Gallery

The Visitors Deluxe Edition

The announcement that this Deluxe Edition would include the previously unreleased recording ‘From A Twinkling Star To A Passing Angel (demos)’ – the first release of unheard ABBA music since 1994 – caused quite a sensation in the media, with this exciting piece of news being reported in all corners of the world.

‘From A Twinkling Star To A Passing Angel’ traces the evolution of ‘Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’, the closing track on The Visitors. Back in 1981, this particular song was one of the more challenging tunes during original recording sessions for the album. With the first demos and backing tracks being laid down in May 1981, it wasn’t until several different versions later, in November 1981 – only three weeks before the album reached record shops! – that ABBA finally landed on the version heard on the album.

As the Deluxe Edition of The Visitors was put together, ABBA’s Benny Andersson had the idea that it would be interesting to revisit the various recordings of the song and put together a medley. And this he did in October and November of 2011. The nine-minute medley takes us from the very first demo, with vocals by Björn, to a run-through with Benny on electric piano and Frida on lead vocals, similar to the final version. In between are a demo recording by Frida and Benny (on grand piano) with alternate lyrics entitled ‘Another Morning Without You’; a completely different “disco” attempt, played by a full band and with the final lyrics in place; and a ballad interpretation, also with a full band backing, featuring Frida on lead vocals. “It was fun to put this thing together, just to show what the process can be like,” says Benny Andersson. “It’s an interesting observation on how you labour over things before you reach the final result.”

Elsewhere on The Visitors Deluxe Edition, the original album has been expanded with bonus tracks to include ‘Should I Laugh Or Cry’, recorded during sessions for The Visitors but only used as the B-side of the ‘One Of Us’ single. The Deluxe Edition features a version with a brief count-in, which was originally released on the ‘One Of Us’ single in Great Britain and South Africa. The remaining bonus tracks cover ABBA’s final singles and recording sessions in 1982.

The DVD of this Deluxe Edition opens with two performances from the television special Dick Cavett Meets ABBA, where ABBA previewed two tracks from their forthcoming album: ‘Two For The Price Of One’ and ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’. Another selection from the original broadcast of the TV special is the video for ‘When All Is Said And Done’, which featured an edit that differs slightly from the version heard on the album – this video is included here with its rare original soundtrack in stereo.

Also featured are two lengthy television appearances, which ABBA made as they were promoting their 1982 singles ‘The Day Before You Came’ and ‘Under Attack’, along with the compilation album The Singles – The First Ten Years. The first comes from Great Britain and the second from Sweden, wherein the group also performed ‘Under Attack’. Rounding off the DVD are four vintage commercials for The Visitors and The Singles – The First Ten Years, and a gallery of selected sleeves from the 1981–1982 era.

Get your copy in The Official ABBA Store Now ››

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Super sound on Super Trouper

Super Trouper Deluxe Edition is an exciting double disc package of a classic ABBA album, in the vein of previous Deluxe Editions of Arrival, ABBA – The Album and Voulez-Vous. We have already revealed the track listing of the CD and the DVD included in this package, the latter of which features previously unreleased television performances. We would also like to share some information on the work that has gone into the remastering of the original album.

On Super Trouper Deluxe Edition, all tracks on the CD have been remastered especially for this release. All of the recordings used in this process have been taken from the original master tapes of each individual track on the original album. In other words, these tapes are as close to the original recording as they could possibly be, making for the pure, unadulterated sound of ABBA in the studio. The same is also true of the bonus tracks.

The philosophy behind the CD mastering, made by Erik Broheden at Masters Of Audio in Stockholm, Sweden, was to remain as close to the original tapes as possible, retaining the original dynamics. Any enhancements have only been made to further bring out the sound as originally produced by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus in collaboration with their invaluable sound engineer Michael B. Tretow.

Super Trouper Deluxe Edition is out now!

Smiling, having fun – Super Trouper Deluxe Edition to be released in May 2011

A Deluxe Edition of ABBA’s seventh studio album, Super Trouper, will be released on May 9, 2011. Originally released in 1980, Super Trouper features classic hits such as the title track, ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’, along with the original version of one of the more poignant songs in the Mamma Mia! musical, ‘Our Last Summer’.

Super Trouper Deluxe Edition is a 2-disc release, featuring a CD with a remastered version of the original album along with relevant bonus tracks, plus a DVD of rare television performances and interviews from the archives, including previously unseen footage. More details about this exciting release will follow next week. Watch this space…

SUPER TROUPER DELUXE EDITION – THE TRACK LIST REVEALED

Last week, The Official ABBA Site announced the forthcoming release of Super Trouper Deluxe Edition, the latest in the series of ABBA Deluxe Editions. This week we are happy to reveal the track list for this attractive 2-disc package.

Disc 01: CD
01 Super Trouper
02 The Winner Takes It All
03 On And On And On
04 Andante, Andante
05 Me And I
06 Happy New Year
07 Our Last Summer
08 The Piper
09 Lay All Your Love On Me
10 The Way Old Friends Do

Bonus Tracks
11 Elaine
12 On And On And On (Full length version, stereo mix)
13 Put On Your White Sombrero
14 Andante, Andante (Spanish Version)
15 Felicidad (Spanish Version of Happy New Year)

Disc 02: DVD
01 ABBA On German TV (SHOW EXPRESS, ZDF)
Songs performed:
The Winner Takes It All
Super Trouper
On And On And On
02 Happy New Year (SVT)
03 Words And Music (DOCUMENTARY)
04 Somewhere In The Crowd There’s You – On Location With ABBA
05 Super Trouper (Remastered promo clip)
06 Happy New Year (Remastered promo clip)
07 Super Trouper TV commercial I (UK)
08 Super Trouper TV commercial II (UK)
09 International Sleeve Gallery

A few comments on the track list:
The original album and the bonus tracks have been remastered especially for this release, sounding better than ever. As for the bonus tracks, an exciting discovery was the stereo mix of the original, full length version of On And On And On, previously only available in mono. We are very happy to be able to include it on this Deluxe Edition of Super Trouper.

The DVD contains a number of television performances of tracks from the Super Trouper album, none of which have been released on DVD before. The same goes for the vintage documentary Words And Music, produced by Polar Music International, which features the group talking specifically about the Super Trouper album in the immediate aftermath of the album’s completion.

We are especially thrilled to be able to include a brand new featurette, entitled Somewhere In The Crowd There’s You – On Location With ABBA. This featurette is a brand new production, compiling footage that was shot on the night when ABBA and their album designer, Rune Söderqvist, assembled a crowd of friends and circus performers to create the spectacular photograph featured on the Super Trouper album sleeve. This archive footage has been gathering dust in the archives for three decades without ever being made public – until now.

As a bonus, we have included the original promo clips for ‘Super Trouper’ and ‘Happy New Year’ – both of which feature footage shot on the “album sleeve night” – to give the viewer further glimpses of what took place that night. The sequences included in the promo clips, shot by director Lasse Hallström, are completely different to the footage in the featurette, filmed by a separate film crew. The promo clips are the newly restored and remastered versions, out of which only ‘Super Trouper’ has been released before (on last year’s ABBA Gold CD/DVD Special Edition); the restored ‘Happy New Year’ is seen for the first time.

The Official International Fan Club is celebrating its 25th anniversary

The Official International Fan Club is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a spectacular ABBA Weekend from Friday, the 1st of April, to Sunday, the 3rd of April.

On the first day of the ABBA Weekend, Friday, there is going to be a Swedish buffet with entertainment by Katja and Camilla, better known as Waterloo and famous for their work with ABBA The Show. We have prepared a music quiz, and the evening gives you a chance to catch up with your friends (and make new ones) before the rather busy Saturday.

The main day is, as always, the Saturday with the big record and memorabilia fair, a disco that runs till midnight and quizzes and contests with more prizes than ever before. To mark the occasion, we have invited a number of special guests for you who will do interviews, on-stage presentations, exhibitions, tell you about their work with ABBA and/or play you some music:
Görel Hanser – the vice President of Polar Music, who today is Björn and Benny’s right hand and still very much in touch with all the former members of ABBA;
Bubi Heilemann who took many of the most iconic ABBA photos;
Janne Schaffer who played the guitar on most of ABBA’s records;
Ulf Andersson, best known for his sax solo on I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, but who also toured with ABBA.

On Sunday, we meet at the cinema to watch ABBA The Movie on the big screen.

The 25th anniversary celebrations are continuing throughout the year in the magazine that all members of the Official International ABBA Fan Club receive four times a year.

For more information and bookings go to http://abbafanclub.nl/abbaday/

ABBA SINGBOX CHRISTMAS NEWS!

ABBA Singbox is now not only available on iPhone but also on Android 2.2 + more songs to get!

Now you can enjoy the following ABBA classics on your Singbox:

Happy New Year
The Winner Takes It All
Dancing Queen
Mamma Mia
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme ! (A Man After Midnight)
Waterloo
Super Trouper
Money, Money, Money
Does Your Mother Know
Fernando
Ring Ring

and to round off the holiday season – don’t miss the end of year favourite:
Happy New Year

ANDROID
Finally the ABBA SINGBOX app is now available for Android 2.2 !
Get into the spirit of things and sing along to some of your all time ABBA favourites whilst seeing the classic videos and images. Post your score on the global scoreboard and challenge your friends.

Songs available:
Happy New Year
The Winner Takes It All
Dancing Queen
Mamma Mia
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)
Waterloo
Super Trouper
Money, Money, Money
Does Your Mother Know
Fernando
Ring Ring

We are also announcing a competition NOW. The winning score for ABBA’s classic end of the year favourite HAPPY NEW YEAR will win the exclusive limited ABBA THE VINYL COLLECTION box. Competition ends January 10th so start singing and report your highscore.

ABBAWORLD returns to Sydney!

After more than 30 years since ABBA’s first live performance in Australia at the Sydney Showgrounds in Moore Park on that wet evening of 3 March 1977, ABBA will return to Sydney in the first official exhibition about the 1970s global pop sensation. The exhibition, ABBAWORLD, is showing exclusively in Sydney at the Powerhouse Museum from 17 December 2010.

The exhibition will capture the music, memories and magic that made the Swedish group a worldwide phenomenon and whose music almost four decades later continues to attract new generations of fans.

Band member Björn Ulvaeus said: “It always seemed to me that people in the music press and also in the music industry sort of took it for granted that ABBA would be a one hit wonder. Why would we be different from any other Eurovision winner?

“We really had an up-hill struggle after Waterloo and our follow-up singles didn’t do well. Then the Australians came to our rescue. They released SOS and Mamma Mia and both songs made the charts in a big way down under. Suddenly everyone else around the world realized there was life in the band that was supposed to be dead. I’m forever grateful to the Australians for that!”

ABBAWORLD will examine where the four members of the group came from, the formation and success of ABBA and the post ABBA years. It will feature ABBA’s first major international live performance and Sweden’s first win at the Eurovision Song contest in 1974, their highly acclaimed concert tours including the Australian tour in 1977, and the impact of their music that has inspired several hit movies and a stage show – Muriel’s Wedding, Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Mamma Mia!.

The exhibition will feature more than 20 original costumes, the epitome of 70’s glam, live concert footage, promotional and behind the scenes photographs, album artworks and other ABBA memorabilia, as well as exclusive interviews with members Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, Anni Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Fältskog.

Replicas of an ABBA concert dressing room where a team of costume makers and make-up artists worked; the writing studio on Viggsö – an island in the Stockholm archipelago – where many of ABBA’s most popular songs were written; and ABBA’s own state of the art recording studio – Polar Studio in Stockholm – where they recorded their last two albums, will feature in the exhibition.

Visitors will be able to relive ABBA’s music and sing and dance their way through the exhibition using a series of interactives. These will include performing on a stage with ABBA, dancing in an ABBA video, recording a sing-a-long with ABBA and photographing yourself on an ABBA album cover.

The exhibition comes from Sweden, following its successful debut in London last January and a season at Federation Square in Melbourne earlier this year. For the Sydney season, new content about the group’s appearances in Australia and their impact on Australian pop culture will be added to the exhibition by the Powerhouse Museum.

According to Magnus Danielsson, President of Touring Exhibitions, the producers of ABBAWORLD: “No group has ever had such crossover success, bringing fans of all ages together, bridging generation gaps and cultural differences. This is a unique opportunity for the people of Sydney to see original ABBA material.” Danielsson continues, “The Sydney exhibition will be running in parallel with a run of ABBAWORLD in Györ, Hungary. ABBAWORLD has a universal appeal and we work hard to make it available to fans around the globe.”

For more than 35 years, ABBA has maintained international success with their songs that remain a fixture on radio playlists today. ABBA is one of the top three selling artists in the world, having sold 375 million records worldwide. They still sell over 3 million records a year.

On View: ABBAWORLD
Date: 17 December 2010 to 6 March 2011
Address: Powerhouse Museum, 500 Harris Street, Ultimo, Sydney
Telephone: (02) 9217 0111 or infoline (02) 9217 0444
Website: www.powerhousemuseum.com
Hours: 10.00am to 5.00pm (closed Christmas Day)
Admission: Adult $22/member $12; child $12/member $6; family $50/member $25 Concession / seniors $16

ABBA AUCTION

Next year, The Official International ABBA Fan Club celebrates its 25th anniversary with a big ABBA Weekend in the first week of April. To raise money to pay for the expenses of special guests and to make arrangements for an unforgettable party weekend, they are hosting an internet auction with lots of desirable items that will make the hearts of ABBA fans and collectors race.

Among the items are CD boxes, DVDs and posters signed by all four ABBA members, CDs to be autgraphed with a personal greeting to the winner by Benny, a unique ABBA photo by Bubi Heilemann signed by the photographer, rare books, records and posters – many of which are signed by Agnetha, Björn, Benny or Frida. There is also promo material from days gone by and much, much more. The auction starts on the 10th November ends on November 30 on the Fan Clubs website www.abbafanclub.nl/auction.

ABBAWORLD goes Hungary

The story of ABBAWORLD continues; from London by the way of Melbourne, the interactive multimedia exhibition is about to arrive in Györ, 100 kilometers west of Budapest, Hungary. Through the collaboration between promoters ShowTime Budapest, ETO Park in Győr and Viva Art Music, ABBAWORLD will open at Eto Park on the 4th of December. “The ABBAWORLD exhibition has been a success both in London and Melbourne,” says Marton Brady, Managing Director of ShowTime Group. “We are now ready to bring this exciting event to Hungary, and we are very much looking forward to hosting this exhibition.”

Magnus Danielsson, president of Touring Exhibitions, the producer of ABBAWORLD, is confident that the exhibition will bring joy and happiness to all its visitors. “ShowTime Group and Viva Art Music have all the experience needed to make ABBAWORLD into a successful event,” he says. “ABBA was hugely popular in Eastern and Middle Europe in the 70s, and ABBAWORLD will generate a lot of interest among all age groups – and you don’t need to be a fan of ABBA to enjoy the exhibition. It’s fun for everyone.”

For the original members of ABBA, the exhibition in Hungary is a form of compensation for the past.

“We are very happy to see ABBAWORLD come to Hungary,” the group says in a joint statement. “We never managed to tour Eastern Europe, and it feels great to finally give our fans there the opportunity to recreate the experience through ABBAWORLD.”

The interest in ABBAWORLD not only spans generations, it crosses borders all over the world. Marton Brady hopes ABBAWORLD will do just that. “We will be perfectly situated geographically in Györ,” he says. “We are as close to Budapest as we are to Vienna, and we are just 50 kilometers south of Bratislava. Six million people live within an hour’s distance from ABBAWORLD. It will be the perfect day trip for anyone looking for a unique experience.

Showtime Budapest has promoted several large exhibitions in Hungary, such as the Titanic, Dinosaurs, Diana, Beatles and the CSI exhibition. ShowTime is currently running a Da Vinci exhibition at the ETO Park that will end in November. Details on tickets for ABBAWORLD will be disclosed in the near future.

Check out ABBAWORLD here »

Kristina :The UK premiere of the musical in concert

THE UK PREMIERE OF THE MUSICAL IN CONCERT with Helen Sjöholm Russell Watson Louise Pitre Kevin Odekirk

Kristina is the inspiring story of one woman and her family’s struggle in Sweden and their subsequent emigration to America in search of a better life.

With stirring music by Benny Andersson and lyrics by Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA fame, this moving musical production has won awards, critical acclaim and is the most popular musical theatre piece in Swedish history. This epic masterpiece will be performed in English with lyrics by Björn Ulvaeus and Herbert Kretzmer and will make its UK premiere for one night only in concert at the Royal Albert Hall on 14th April. Be part of this historic evening featuring a cast of over 30 performers led by the original Kristina, Helen Sjöholm, together with Russell Watson, Louise Pitre, Kevin Odekirk and Symphony Orchestra and Choir conducted by Paul Gemignani.

Go to Kristinas website for tickets and more info »

ABBAWORLD to premiere at Earls Court on 27th January

THE WORLDS FIRST CHANCE TO INTERACT WITH ABBA AS PART OF A UNIQUE MULTI-MEDIA EXPERIENCE ‘ABBAWORLD’ THANKS LONDON FOR THE MUSIC AND CHOOSES EARLS COURT FOR THE WORLD PREMIERE

Fully approved and supported by ABBA, ABBAWORLD will make its stunning, sequin spangled, world debut in London at Earls Court on 27 January 2010. The hugely interactive experience will take visitors on a mind-blowing journey through ABBAWORLD’S 25 rooms, bursting with exclusive music, footage, images and never-before-displayed memorabilia from the personal collections of the world’s most cherished pop icons; Agnetha, Benny, Björn and Frida.

 

 

An engaging introductory movie by critically acclaimed film director, Jonas Åkerlund, will start the experience and a free audio guide will move visitors through the magical space at their own pace.

The phenomenon of ABBA will be brought to life with interactive highlights including ‘Perform with ABBA’ which will allow fans to get up on stage with their idols, as part of a stunning 3D holographic illusion. ‘Tretow MIX Challenge’ – a chance to mix things up and re-create the ABBA sound, the ‘ABBA Quiz’ which will test fans knowledge. There is also the opportunity to Sing-A-Long and dance with ABBA, plus a chance for fans to see themselves as part of an ABBA video.

Better still, as part of the ticket, all interaction will be recorded so people can choose to access it later online at http://www.abbaworld.com/, allowing their experience to live on and on, just like the music. On entry to ABBAWORLD, guests will have their photograph taken, this will appear during a number of the interactive features; fans will see themselves as part of ABBA album covers, posters and other iconic pictures.

London is the obvious choice for the world premiere of ABBAWORLD. The UK has a special place in the history of ABBA and it was here that global ABBA fever started with the glorious win of ‘Waterloo’ at the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton in 1974. ABBA topped the charts in the UK more times than anywhere else in the world and through the smash hit musical Mamma Mia and its ten-year success in London together with the Mamma Mia movie being the highest grossing movie of all time at the UK box office, a new audience has taken ABBA to their hearts.

The Swedish super group created a legendary sound that sold close to 400 million records and made the whole world take to the dance floor. ABBA once again create history through ABBAWORLD; the interactive and audiovisual experience of the world’s most loved pop icons. This major world event is a close collaboration with all four members of ABBA, making ABBAWORLD the definitive experience of this groundbreaking group. ABBAWORLD will bring fans closer to the music, the magic and the memories than ever before.

Frida said “On behalf of Agnetha, Björn, Benny and I, we are delighted to be part of ABBAWORLD and to have the opportunity to share our amazing experiences with our fans. The interactive elements mean this is the first time we can actually take them on the journey with us. London has a special place in all our hearts and we are looking forward to the world premiere of ABBAWORLD in January”

Tickets go onsale at 9am on Thursday 3rd December 2009 and are priced at £22.00 / £19.50 (subject to booking fee) and are available from http://www.livenation.co.uk/

For more information about ABBAWORLD and the exhibition please log on to:
http://www.abbaworld.com/

The Winner Takes It All – The Story Of A Masterpiece

Often lauded as one of ABBA’s most accomplished recordings, The Winner Takes It All was painstakingly worked out in the studio – and featured personal lyrics that would affect people for decades to come.

Stiff and metrical
When ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus brought their latest song to Polar Music Studios in Stockholm, Sweden, on June 2, 1980, they knew they had a winner on their hands. Even when they were writing it – just the two of them with piano, guitar and hummed nonsense words – they both got a great kick out of their new creation. It was, in some respects, a fairly “simple” composition, with only two melody lines repeated throughout, but that deceptive simplicity was also part of its strength. As yet, though, the two song writers hadn’t quite worked out how to best record it, and its final lyrics had not been written: at this stage, the song was still adorned with the working title ‘The Story Of My Life’. Also, as was usually the case, the tune they brought to the studio could end up with any type of arrangement; nothing was fixed, nothing was set in stone.

With Benny on keyboards and with the aid of session musicians Lasse Wellander (guitar), Mike Watson (bass) and Ola Brunkert (drums), this first attempt at the song took them into a fairly uptempo arrangement: an insistent beat, punctuated by handclaps – a bit “stiff and metrical”, as Benny would later describe it. It actually wasn’t a bad backing track and it could easily have formed the basis for an excellent pop song in its genre. A rough mix of this instrumental recording was copied onto a cassette tape for Björn and Benny.

 

A French “chanson”
As the two song writers drove home to the suburb of Lidingö, where they both lived at the time, they took a fresh listen to the backing track. They still sensed that they were onto something with this tune, but they concluded that they hadn’t quite captured its full potential. “We felt that it was a really important song, and we wanted to make sure that we didn’t ‘lose’ it”, Björn later recalled.

Something was needed to loosen it up, and it was Benny who found the key that would unlock the song: a descending melody line, played on the piano during the intro and then reoccurring throughout the tune. This simple yet effective device rubbed off the edges of the square, giving the tune a smoother flow: it was lifted out of the stiff and metrical territory and into a romantic French “chanson” landscape. A new backing track was recorded four days after the first attempt, on June 6, and it was certainly an improvement. The musicians were the same this time, with the addition of percussionist Åke Sundqvist, who no doubt contributed to the rhythmic elasticity of this second version.
Under the influence
By the time the new arrangement had been arrived at, the “chanson” feel of the song started to give Björn ideas for lyrics. He even recorded a demo vocal, where he sang in nonsense French. Björn often had a lead vocal on ABBA albums, and there were actually suggestions that he should be the featured singer on the finished recording of this tune. ”It’s a good thing I didn’t,” he determined many years later. This was clearly a song that called for expert singing by one of the girls.

But first of all Björn had to write the final lyrics. ‘The Story Of My Life’ had only been a preliminary title, words to sing while the song was being written. Now it was time for him to bring the cassette tape of the backing track home, listen to it over and over, and find a “message” in the tune – what was it trying to say to him? As he would later recall, he had a few glasses of whisky during the writing process: “not a whole bottle, but definitely a couple of big snifters!” Although he usually felt that writing “under the influence” never worked – the following day the lyrics would usually look quite unimpressive – for some reason this time it really helped him. “Don’t ask me why or how: ”, he recalled in the book Mamma Mia! – How Can I Resist You? “I hardly had to change a word, which was fantastic.”

A small masterpiece
The finished lyrics were entitled ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and had an especially personal, emotional resonance for Björn. Although he has pointed out that most of the song is pure fiction, he has also admitted that its narrative – dealing with a couple going their separate ways and the heartbreak that inevitably follows – had its roots in his and Agnetha’s separation, 18 months previously. It almost went without saying that Agnetha was to be the lead vocalist on this song. As she and Frida arrived at the studio to add their vocal magic to the recording, some of those present felt the tears welling up in their eyes. Agnetha herself has often singled out ‘The Winner Takes It All’ as her favourite from the ABBA years. “The lyrics are deeply personal, and the music is unsurpassed. Singing it was like acting a part. I mustn’t let my feelings take over. It was quite a while afterwards before I realised that we’d made a small masterpiece.”

The recording was completed and mixed on June 18, and a few weeks later, on July 12, the group reconvened in the town of Marstrand, on the west coast of Sweden, to shoot the Lasse Hallström-directed promo clip for the song. Hallström deliberately chose to visualise Agnetha’s role as the lonely, abandoned woman, as depicted in the lyrics. It made for a very poignant clip, with the message seemingly being: “This is what has become of the group that used to consist of two happy couples – the illusion has been shattered.”

Released as a single on July 21, 1980, ‘The Winner Takes It All’ quickly became a major hit, hitting number one in at least five countries and entering the Top Ten in plenty more. Since first being released, ‘The Winner Takes It All’ has almost taken on a life of its own, offering consolation and catharsis for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of couples who have found that they can no longer keep their relationship together. The song has also become the major show stopper in the Mamma Mia! musical – indeed, producer Judy Craymer has admitted that the emotional power of ‘The Winner Takes It All’ was what gave her the idea for the show in the first place. But, with all due respect to everyone who has given their all in their interpretations of the song, few would dispute that the original version, performed by ABBA themselves, will always remain unsurpassed.

Mamma Mia! – The DVD

The movie version of the Mamma Mia! musical was one of the biggest box office hits of 2008. Join us for this in-depth look at the DVD version of the movie, which offers a wealth of bonus material – and we also have exclusive comments about the movie from director Phyllida Lloyd.

Biggest-ever film
Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper in one of the deleted scenes from Mamma Mia! The Movie.Although there was quite a buzz surrounding Mamma Mia! – The Movie when it received its gala premieres in June and July of 2008, no-one could know for certain that it would become one of the biggest box office smashes of the year. But that is exactly what has happened. Indeed, in Great Britain, Mamma Mia! has become the most successful British film of all time: at the time of writing, it seems set to overtake Titanic as the biggest-ever film in Britain. Around the globe, there are plenty of statistics of a similarly overwhelming nature, as seems to be par for the course with the Mamma Mia! phenomenon.

Meryl Streep was interviewed on location for theThe DVD release, packed with extra goodies, is likely to become just as huge a success. Mamma Mia! is the kind of film that people want to watch over and over, and with the DVD, of course, there is no limit to the number of repeat viewings. Moreover, the DVD comes with a Sing-A-Long feature, giving you the chance to participate in the musical numbers.

Listening and looking
Director Phyllida Lloyd explains the shift from stage to screen.For movie buffs, one of the most interesting DVD bonus features will be the commentary track by director Phyllida Lloyd. While you wait for the opportunity to hear her comments on the DVD for yourself, she shares some insights about the making of the movie exclusively for this feature.

Being a first-time film director, albeit with plenty of experience under her belt from stage directing, Lloyd had to come to grips with the special circumstances of being in charge of a movie. “Shooting a movie is like opening a stage show – but every day – for months!”, she says. “In a theatre rehearsal you can have days where nothing extraordinary happens, both you and the actors may lack inspiration. You just have to wait for the magic to come. On screen every day of the shoot has to deliver magic.”

Among the wealth of extras on the Mamma Mia! DVD, are around half a dozen deleted scenes. Although the scenes were fine in themselves, every director has to face the sometimes painful task of removing anything that might slow down the pace of the movie, or is simply saying something that’s more effectively said elsewhere in the movie. Sometimes, the “temperature” of certain scenes may jar against the overall feel of the movie. “Although the shoot for a movie is like the most extreme part of putting on a stage show, the editing process is more like the rehearsal period in the theatre”, explains Phyllida Lloyd. “OK, there is only you and the editor there and technically the actors are not alive in front of you but they are CHANGING every day with each adjustment you make to the picture. […] And like the theatre rehearsal process, you could not expect the edit to come together straight away. It needs months of patience. Lots of listening and looking.”

Exacting taskmaster
Dialogue and general action scenes were not the only “victims” of the editing process; an entire musical number was deleted from the film: ‘The Name Of The Game’, performed by the character of Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) to Stellan Skarsgård’s Bill. But it is available for viewing on the DVD, which also offers a closer look at one of the songs that did make the final cut. In “Anatomy Of A Musical Number: ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’” we’re let in on how the number was put together, from the vocal recording to the actual filming.

The Anatomy Of A Musical Number featurette, as well as some of the other bonus features, shows just how exacting a task master Musical Director Martin Lowe was during the making of the film. By the looks of it, Lowe was constantly on hand, goading and cajoling the actors to give their all in terms of expression and phrasing. As is well-known by now, some of the actors were truly apprehensive at the prospect of having to sing, and this behind-the-scenes material shows exactly how important the support of Martin Lowe was to make it all work.

Greek god cameo
ABBA's Benny Andersson talks about the Mamma Mia! movie experience.Perhaps the pièce de résistance among the bonus features is the 25-minute, three-part documentary entitled “The Making Of Mamma Mia!” In the documentary, we get the story of the background to the Mamma Mia! musical and how it was turned into a film, including comments from the production team as well as ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. Among the other highlights on the DVD are the music video for Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!, featuring a cameo by Benny Andersson, and a much-extended version of Björn Ulvaeus’ cameo as a Greek god in the film’s ‘Waterloo’ finale.

Musical Director Martin Lowe gives instructions to Pierce Brosnan.In conjunction with the DVD release of Mamma Mia! comes a Deluxe Edition of the soundtrack CD. This package features the CD as we know it, along with an additional DVD containing a “making of the album” featurette. With the release of the Mamma Mia! DVD and Deluxe Edition CD, the enjoyment of the musical is extended and expanded upon. You will be able to relive the memories of watching the film in the theatre, and invite your friends to a sing-a-long evening. But you may also find out for yourself all the hard work that goes into putting together a movie like Mamma Mia!, an experience completely separate from the stage version. As Phyllida Lloyd concludes, “The director and the audience are always outside the action of a stage show. They may be made to participate but they are outside the ‘fourth wall’. With a movie the director has to put themselves right into the middle of the action – close enough to hear breathing.”

ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus during the recording of the Mamma Mia! soundtrack.The Mamma Mia! DVD is released November 24, 2008, in many territories, and reaches other territories over the next few months.

To learn more about the Mamma Mia! movie, please visit www.mammamiamovie.com

Photographs courtesy of Universal Pictures.

ABBA in the United States

The highly successful Mamma Mia! movie has helped spark a global ABBA fever, not least in the United States. So join us as we chart ABBA’s history in the land of Uncle Sam, where the group is now bigger than ever.

“Svenska flicka”, Playboy style
In the United States, People Need Love was released on the Playboy label.In 2008, with the Mamma Mia! movie – featuring ABBA’s songs – being a box office smash, and the ABBA Gold collection of the group’s greatest hits topping the Billboard Catalog chart (actually outselling most albums on the regular albums chart), it’s hard to justify the long-held claim that ABBA never made it big in the United States. And yet, during the group’s heyday, that was the true state of affairs. The group certainly scored a number one hit on Billboard’s singles chart with ‘Dancing Queen’, along with a dozen Top 40 hits, and enjoyed two further number ones on the Adult Contemporary chart with ‘Fernando’ and ‘The Winner Takes It All’. But ABBA’s single hits never quite translated into massive album sales, and the four individual members remained fairly anonymous, never quite turning into household names. Compared to the group’s success in Europe and Australia, the impact in the United States was fairly modest. In the words of Jerry Greenberg, the head of ABBA’s American record label, Atlantic Records, “We were doing okay, but they were nothing like they were everywhere else. Everywhere else it was like The Beatles.”

Honey, Honey gave ABBA a Top 30 hit in the aftermath of their success with Waterloo.ABBA’s story in the United States actually began with their very first recording, before they were even known as ABBA. ‘People Need Love’ was released as a one-off single in Sweden in 1972, credited to Björn and Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid. The group’s manager, Stig Anderson, made use of all his international music business connections to have the recording released in as many territories as possible. However, he only succeeded in a few countries, one of them being the United States where the song was released on the fairly tiny Playboy label. Credited to the ludicrous “Björn and Benny (with Svenska Flicka)” (translated as “Swedish girl”, the credit presumably being an attempt to transform Björn and Benny into Playboy-style swingin’ bachelors and Agnetha and Anni-Frid into sexy Scandinavian bunnies), the song actually showed up in the lower regions of two then-significant single charts, peaking at number 114 on Cashbox and 117 on Record World.

Echoes of Spector
ABBA received rave reviews in the US for the Waterloo album – much better than in Sweden.But despite this half-promising beginning the connection between ABBA and Playboy was soon severed. In 1974, with ‘Waterloo’ becoming a big hit in Europe, Stig Anderson had to find a new record label in the United States. No doubt he was determined to find a label with a bit more clout and muscle than Playboy, and after a while he signed with Atlantic Records, home of legendary soul performers such as Aretha Franklin, as well as massive rock acts such as Led Zeppelin. The fact that ABBA had won the Eurovision Song Contest meant very little in the United States, and it was the strength of the record alone that sold it to Atlantic. ”I happen to be a big fan of Phil Spector and everything that he did”, recalled Atlantic’s Jerry Greenberg. “When I first heard ’Waterloo’, to me it sounded like a Spector record: it had this kind of echoey drum sound. I didn’t know anything about the people singing on the record, but to me it was a hit.”

And, indeed, a hit it was. ‘Waterloo’ reached number six on the Billboard singles chart – with the exception of Blue Swede, who’d recently hit number one with ‘Hooked On A Feeling’, it was the best US chart-placing ever achieved by a Swedish act. Both ABBA and Atlantic Records were eager to build on this success, and in conjunction with the release of the follow-up single ‘Honey, Honey’ the group visited the United States for the first time. As promotional visits go it was a fairly modest outing: just a few days of meet-and-greets and appearances on radio and television. And although the group gained a Top 30 placing for ‘Honey, Honey’, the Waterloo album didn’t do so well. Despite highly favourable reviews – in fact, much more positive than their high-profile counterparts in the Swedish press – the album only reached 145. Although ABBA would go on to better their US album sales considerably, achieving platinum awards for the albums Greatest Hits (1976) and ABBA – The Album (1977), they never quite enjoyed the overwhelming success that was taken for granted in most other countries.

Being hip
Dancing Queen gave ABBA their one and only number one on Billboard’s pop singles chart.So what was the reason for these comparatively modest achievements for ABBA in the US? Well, there certainly wasn’t anything wrong with the music. Although hindsight tells us that the Seventies were dominated by introspective rock and extroverted stadium performers, America still had plenty of room for pure pop and good, solid tunes. Take, for instance, Carpenters and Paul McCartney and Wings. Like ABBA, both groups defended the right to write and perform melody-based and well-produced hit music at this time. Unlike ABBA, however, those acts achieved multi-platinum album success in the United States. One crucial difference was, of course, that they toured the US extensively – or otherwise made their presence felt – something that ABBA refused to do. Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Frida always preferred staying in Sweden, where their time would be spent writing and recording their music. As far as promotion went, they pioneered the art of the promo clip (today known as videos) and concentrated their efforts on television programmes with high viewer ratings. And although they devoted a couple of weeks in the US to such promotion, in both 1975 and 1976, it wasn’t quite enough.

ABBA – The Album earned the group a platinum award in America.ABBA simply weren’t prepared to “pay their dues” on the US live circuit with extensive tours. ”There is no demand for us as headliners in this country but that’s the only offer we would accept,” Benny told The Los Angeles Times, putting the finger on a paradox that would remain unresolved for the remainder of ABBA’s career. But despite the lack of concert tours ABBA managed to achieve a US number one single with ‘Dancing Queen’ in April 1977. As Jerry Greenberg recalled, it provided a window of opportunity for the group that they could have capitalised on, had they been so inclined. ”Up until then ABBA were very much considered a straight pop act, but ’Dancing Queen’ became a disco favourite, which I think really helped turn the image of the group around. They gained a new audience. All of a sudden ABBA were getting played in the clubs: they were hip.”

Million after million
The Winner Takes It All was ABBA’s final Top Ten hit on the US singles chart.However, in the immediate aftermath of their US number one ABBA had their hands full with writing and recording ABBA – The Album and finishing off ABBA – The Movie. It wasn’t until a year later that they took another crack at breaking the US. A $500,000 promotional campaign was launched and May 1978 was declared “ABBA Month”. ABBA starred together with Olivia Newton-John and Andy Gibb in a television special. The results were encouraging: the group’s current single, ‘Take A Chance On Me’, reached number three, while ABBA – The Album went platinum and peaked at number 14, their best-ever US album chart placing. But the success was still far from overwhelming – ABBA simply didn’t have enough presence in America.

In 1979 ABBA finally embarked on their first concert tour of North America. But although the tour was successful, it was a fairly brief outing and, in fact, signalled the beginning of the end of the group’s history as live performers. After ABBA left America in October 1979, they were never to return again as a foursome. The following year there was one more US Top 10 hit for the group, in the shape of the formidable ‘The Winner Takes It All’, as well as a gold-certified Top 20 album, Super Trouper. But after that, what little profile they had had in the United States soon faded away completely. For the average American, ABBA would largely be remembered as “the disco group who did ‘Dancing Queen’”.

But with the release of ABBA Gold in 1993 (it had been issued in most other countries the previous year), the group’s music gained new popularity. Although upon release it only reached number 63 on Billboard’s Albums chart, it has since gone on to sell more than 30 million copies – more than any of ABBA’s other albums – and has spent more than 300 weeks on the Catalog chart. With the added success of the Mamma Mia! musical, opening on Broadway in 2001 and covering the rest of the US with two touring versions, ABBA’s music has become ubiquitous. So although the American general public may perhaps never completely familiarise themselves with Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Frida as individuals, today they are fully aware that there was plenty more to ABBA than ‘Dancing Queen’.

Mamma Mia – The Song That Saved ABBA

Today, when we hear the title Mamma Mia, we think of the musical and the hit movie that was one of the box office smashes of 2008. But the song that gave the show its name was also the single that established ABBA as an international hit act.

Catchy title
Mamma Mia was first heard on the ABBA album, released in April 1975.In the summer of 1975, just a few months after ABBA released their third album (simply entitled ABBA), the group were a bit uncertain as to the future of their international career. Things were looking very good in most of Europe, where both their singles and their albums were lapped-up eagerly, but in Great Britain – the home of modern pop music, as far as ABBA were concerned – the story was somewhat less rosy. Certainly, the group had enjoyed a number one hit with ‘Waterloo’ a year earlier, but since then their singles had just kept flopping, and their albums were routinely dismissed. Because ABBA had achieved their breakthrough via the Eurovision Song Contest, they were automatically regarded as one-hit wonders. They simply weren’t supposed to have any more hits in Great Britain. But things were soon to turn around for the band, thanks to events on the other side of the planet – and thanks to one of the strongest tracks on their latest album

ABBA's Australian record company, RCA, pushed for the single release of Mamma Mia.‘Mamma Mia’ was the very last track to be recorded for the ABBA album, in March 1975. Today, not much is remembered about the creation of the song, except that Björn recalls that he and Benny wrote it in the library of Björn and Agnetha’s then home in the Stockholm suburb of Lidingö. Although Björn was ABBA’s main lyricist at this time, their manager, Stig Anderson, still contributed catchy, “international” song titles – ‘Mamma Mia’ was just the latest in a long row. “That turned out to be another distinctive and memorable title, and one that maybe a native English writer would have thought was too European – and very uncool”, reflects Björn in the book Mamma Mia! How Can I Resist You? “The saying ‘mamma mia’ is used very, very commonly in Swedish and is just as well known a phrase as it would be in English.”

Marimba Mia
Frida and Agnetha made an impression on audiences in the Mamma Mia promo clip.On March 12, 1975, less than six weeks before the new album was to be released, Björn and Benny began work on the backing track for ‘Mamma Mia’ at the Metronome Studio in Stockholm, ABBA’s favourite recording location before they opened their own Polar Music Studio. They were helped out by drummer Roger Palm, bassist Mike Watson, and guitarist Finn Sjöberg. Then, Agnetha and Frida added their joint lead vocals to the recording, before strings were overdubbed on March 15, with some additional guitar work by Janne Schaffer on the following day.

For Benny, ‘Mamma Mia’ is a good example of how ABBA would explore the possibilities of the recording studio, with the actual tune of the song being only one of the many things happening on the recording. ”‘Mamma Mia’ is one of those typical ABBA songs which really don’t work that well when you play them with just a piano and a guitar,” he once explained. ”It’s much too dependent on all the little whims and harmony parts and riffs and whatnot, which we somehow managed to organise, and which are what ABBA were all about.” One of those “whims”, the inclination to make the recording just a little more interesting, led to the overdub of a marimba, the tick-tocking sound of which is quite audible at the start of the song. “That came about because the marimba was sitting there in this little corner of the Metronome Studio. So when the song was going, and everybody was playing, we thought, ‘Well, that’s OK, but it’s not really a record is it? It’s like four or five guys just trying to play something together.’ … I started playing on [the marimba]. I just wanted to see what it sounded like. … And it changed the course of the song … it made for a really catchy start[.]”

Arresting visuals
It was clear from the beginning that ABBA and their record company, Polar Music, really believed in ‘Mamma Mia’. The song was one of four songs for which they filmed promo clips at the end of April 1975, the other three being ‘SOS’, ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’ and ‘Bang-A-Boomerang’. However, it was far from certain that ‘Mamma Mia’, perhaps the very catchiest song on the album, would be released as a single; to ABBA’s way of thinking, the clips were made to promote the album as much as the individual tracks. The first single to be released from the sessions had been ‘So Long’, in November 1974. Then, in conjunction with the release of the ABBA album, ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’ was issued as the second single. And finally, in June 1975, ‘SOS’ became the third single. That’s where ABBA and their management thought it should stop – no more singles that would detract attention from the album.

However, what they hadn’t counted on were events taking place on the other side of the planet: in Australia, to be exact. Starting with ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’, the Australian population had really taken a shine to the songs of ABBA. The four clips were repeatedly shown on television, with ‘Mamma Mia’ being especially popular. The combination of catchy pop music and arresting visuals caught the attention of the audience, with the tick-tock marimba opening of the song effectively pulling them in. Agnetha and Frida’s energetic vocal performance was matched by their appearance: a pair of dolls, two slightly surreal beauties in outlandish costumes.

The noise from down under
This colourful picture sleeve was used for the Mamma Mia single in West Germany.There was only one problem: ‘Mamma Mia’ was not available as a single, which prevented it from acquiring the status as the super-hit it really was. RCA, ABBA’s Australian record company, pleaded with Polar Music to let them issue ‘Mamma Mia’ as a single, but the Swedes steadfastly refused. Australia hadn’t released ‘SOS’ yet, and so that would have to be their next seven-inch issue – to pull a fourth track off the album was simply not an option. But in the end common sense prevailed – ‘Mamma Mia’ was begging to become a hit single – and Stig Anderson relented. ”We wanted to find out what the potential of ’Mamma Mia’ was, how strong it was.” And oh, how strong it turned out to be. After ’I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’ had spent three weeks at the top of the Australian charts, ‘Mamma Mia’ replaced it to occupy the number one position for a staggering 10 weeks. And contrary to Stig’s fears, the release of the ‘Mamma Mia’ single only gave the ABBA LP a boost, kicking it up the album charts, where it spent a total of 12 weeks at the top.

France went for a yellow look on their Mamma Mia single sleeve.The success in Australia was incredible in itself, but it also had the effect of making Epic Records – ABBA’s British record company – sit up and take notice. “From down under comes this noise, and [they] must have been thinking, ‘What the hell is this? There is still life in ABBA!’” recalled Björn. In the UK, ABBA’s current single was ‘SOS’ and Epic now started promoting it seriously, giving the group their first British Top Ten hit since ‘Waterloo’ 18 months earlier. And when ‘Mamma Mia’ was released as a single in the UK, it finally brought the group back to the number one position, in January 1976. The results were equally impressive all over Europe, with ‘Mamma Mia’ reaching the Top Five in at least 10 countries. As far as Great Britain was concerned, ABBA never looked back: with 18 consecutive Top Ten singles and millions of albums sold, they have enjoyed a steady, strong popularity in the decades since then.

This stark single sleeve was used in East Germany.Today, many decades after the song was first heard, ‘Mamma Mia’ as a concept has become something much bigger than just the album track it was originally intended to remain. But it may be worthwhile to remember that there would have been no blockbuster musical or movie of that name if the Australian population hadn’t responded so strongly to the song way back when. As Benny sums it up, “We have always been grateful to the Australian audience, because that’s when things started to happen.”

To learn more about the Mamma Mia! movie, please visit www.mammamiamovie.com

Mamma Mia! – The Movie

In July 2008 the star-studded film version of the Mamma Mia! musical opened in cinemas all over the world. In this feature we trace the background story of the movie, with exclusive comments from ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, as well as screen writer Catherine Johnson.

The turning-point
Meryl Streep as Donna in the Mamma Mia! movie.Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade or so, it’s highly unlikely you’re not familiar with the global success story that is Mamma Mia! After opening in London, England on April 6, 1999, the musical – about a single mother, her daughter, and three possible dads invited by the daughter to her wedding – has become a success beyond all comprehension. Mamma Mia! has played in innumerable stagings all over the world, and has so far been seen by more than 30 million people.

Although no one could have known exactly how successful the musical would become when it first opened, it didn’t take long before those involved began considering a movie version. “I knew early on that there would be a film sooner or later, although I don’t remember the exact turning-point”, says former ABBA member Björn Ulvaeus. Only a couple of years after the London opening, Mamma Mia! producer and mastermind Judy Craymer had a meeting in Los Angeles with eager agents and production companies. But at the time she felt it was too early: there was the concern that a movie version would “steal” attention from the various stage versions.

Amanda Seyfried plays the part of Sophie, Donna's daughter.However, according to Björn Ulvaeus those fears had been overcome just a few years later. “It used to be that one wouldn’t make a film until ‘the stage musical has had its run’,” he explains, “but that rule has been abandoned these days. There doesn’t seem to be a particular timing that is exactly right, but there is plenty of evidence that the stage version benefits from a film version, no matter what kind of business the latter does. ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ is an example of that. It was about to close on Broadway when the film – which wasn’t a major success – opened, but it could continue after all the media exposure from the film.”

Relishing the challenge
Julie Walters, Meryl Streep and Christine Baranski share a light moment in Mamma Mia!Nevertheless, it took until April 2006 – after much press speculation if and when there would ever be a movie version – before it was finally announced that the musical would indeed be filmed for the big screen. The production company responsible for bringing Mamma Mia! to the screen was Playtone, founded by Hollywood star Tom Hanks and producer Gary Goetzman. And although it was clear from the outset that Hanks himself would not star in the movie, many of the original production team from the stage version would be on board: for instance, original director Phyllida Lloyd would make her debut as film director – said Björn Ulvaeus about Lloyd, “If there’s anyone who knows this story, it’s her” – and Catherine Johnson, who wrote the so-called book (the musical manuscript), would write the screenplay.

Johnson certainly never thought twice about grabbing this opportunity to transfer her story to the screen. “I relished the challenge!” she enthuses. “I love movies, I want to write movies, this was an unmissable opportunity for me – and of course I felt ‘no-one knows these characters like I do, it has to be me writing the screenplay’.” That said, Johnson certainly had to find a unique way of approaching the process of screen writing, balancing the appeal of the original stage show against the opportunities afforded by a cinematic context. “What took me some time to accept is that the show has a very solid structure”, she admits. “My early drafts of the screenplay tried to move away from that and everything became over-complicated. I was excited to be doing something different and trying to re-write every line, but as they say ‘if it ain’t broke …’”

“I am Mamma Mia!”
Stellan Skarsgård, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth with Amanda Seyfried.As Catherine Johnson got to grips with the screenplay, the production team began considering who might be the right actors for the film version. While it had always been the point of the stage version that the musical itself was the “star”, obviously for a movie you need top-drawer names to help pull in an audience. In January 2007 it was announced that none other than Meryl Streep – one of the most famous and well-respected American actresses of the past three decades – had signed on to play the lead role of Donna. Well before the movie version Streep had made it clear that she was a fan of the musical, sending her compliments to the cast after seeing a Broadway performance. Naturally, the production team took note. When Streep was asked whether she would like to appear in the movie version, her reply was more enthusiastic than the production team had dared hope for: “Are you kidding? I AM Mamma Mia!”

Donna and Sophie share a tender moment.With Streep on board, there were no problems in attracting a stellar cast for all the main characters. It was soon announced that Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Sweden’s own Stellan Skarsgård would play the three possible dads, while Julie Walters and Christine Baranski would take on the parts of Donna’s friends. Amanda Seyfried had landed the part as Sophie, Donna’s daughter, with Dominic Cooper cast as Sophie’s boyfriend, Sky. “What a kick in the pants, to be able to go off and spend time with Meryl on some Greek island, singing ABBA songs”, said an impressed Pierce Brosnan.

Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan try to come to terms with seeing each other again after many years.Although few of the cast members are known as singers, the producers obviously did their casting with an important but often overlooked truth about musicals at the back of their minds, namely that it’s more crucial that the actors can be believable as their characters – and deliver lyrics like they really mean them – than that their voices are what may be described as traditionally “pretty”. That said, the actors’ vocal qualities were obviously a consideration, and in interviews especially Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård have been quite self-deprecating as to their singing abilities. However, ABBA’s Benny Andersson had complete faith in them and was 100 per cent satisfied with the end result. “They were primarily chosen for their qualities as actors,” he said, “but if they hadn’t been able to sing they wouldn’t have got the parts.”

Original musicians
With the shooting of the film scheduled to commence in the summer of 2007, all the music had to be pre-recorded well in advance. Along the way there had been a few changes in the manuscript, which meant that some songs were no longer a part of the musical, while others had been added. This process was, of course, mainly the work of screen writer Catherine Johnson. “It was a challenge to look at the songs and see how they could be used in the context of the screenplay, which can take us to so many more places than the stage show”, she explains of the problems she had to face in her adaptation. “Some of the songs are used in quite a different way, for example – ‘Our Last Summer’ in the show is a duet between Donna and Harry, but in the movie, the song accompanies footage of Sophie getting to know her Dads on the island. I really enjoyed reinventing parts of the show in that way. It was also frustrating when a couple of songs just wouldn’t ‘fit’, because of their more stagy aspects.”

It was self-evident that Benny Andersson – the man who, in partnership with Björn Ulvaeus, wrote and produced all of ABBA’s recordings way back when – would be in charge of the soundtrack recording. To get that authentic feel, a selection of the original musicians ABBA used on their recordings were asked to take part in the Mamma Mia! recordings: at the core during the sessions were bassist Rutger Gunnarsson, guitarist Lasse Wellander and drummer Per Lindvall, with Benny himself on keyboards. Benny describes the experience of reworking the old ABBA songs with the original musicians as “very pleasurable”. It probably says something about the musicians’ professionalism and familiarity with the material that everything went much quicker than anyone had expected. “I had counted on recording everything in three weeks – it took five days”, Benny notes.

When the stage version of Mamma Mia! was put together, the original ABBA backing track tapes were retrieved and the music on them faithfully transcribed, in order that the arrangements would be as close to the ABBA sound as it was. But now, revisiting songs that were originally recorded more than a quarter of a century ago, was Benny ever tempted to add something new to his tunes? “I’ve tried to keep as close to the original recordings as possible”, he explains, “but sometimes you get the urge [to change things] when a new thought pops up! However, the result is very close to ‘reality’.”

With the soundtrack in place, shooting could finally start – first on location on the Greek islands of Skopelos and Skiathlos, and then at Pinewood Studios in England. By the way, both Björn and Benny were present for parts of the filming and they each have their own cameo appearance in the movie.

Judging by trailers and advance buzz, it seems Mamma Mia! will become one of the major hits of 2008 – thus continuing what has turned out to be the greatest musical success story of the past decade. And in July, you may find out for yourself what the movie version of Mamma Mia! is really like.

Photographs courtesy of Universal Pictures.

To learn more about the Mamma Mia! movie, please visit www.mammamiamovie.com

The Folk Medley – ABBA’s rare cover versions

ABBA only ever recorded and released one set of cover versions: the so-called ‘Folk Medley’ that graced the B-side of their ‘Summer Night City’ single. Here’s the story of one of ABBA’s most unfamiliar recordings.

In the public domain
Alan Lomax and his father, John, made ground-breaking work in collecting and recording folk songs.Unlike many other of the biggest artists in rock and pop history, ABBA took pride in only recording and releasing songs written by the members themselves. In the 1960s, it became more common for artists to write their own material, inspiring Björn and Benny to make their firs attempts at song writing. And by the time ABBA started, in 1972, it was almost as if the team of Andersson and Ulvaeus took it as a decree that they should only perform their own tunes. For the group’s first album, Ring Ring, Agnetha and Björn wrote “Disillusion”, but with that exception, Björn and Benny wrote all of ABBA’s commercially released songs, sometimes with lyrical contributions from Stig Anderson. However, they deviated from that rule at one point – and for a good reason.

ABBA’s medley featured two Leadbelly songs: ‘Pick A Bale Of Cotton’ and ‘Midnight Special’.In 1975, ABBA were approached to contribute to an album entitled Stars Im Zeichen Eines Guten Sterns (“Artists In The Sign Of A Good Star”). This was a West German charity album, the proceeds of which went to the battle against cancer. The idea was that all participating artists should record medleys of folk songs that were in the public domain as far as copyright was concerned. Accordingly, no proceeds from sales of the album would “disappear” to song writing royalties. The songs ABBA chose for their contribution were American folk tunes: ‘Pick A Bale Of Cotton’, ‘On Top Of Old Smokey’ and ‘Midnight Special’. Björn had of course started his career in music as a member of the Hootenanny Singers, who originally played nothing but American folk music. ”They were songs that both Benny and I liked,” recalled Björn of the medley, ”and they were perhaps especially close to my heart, since it was the type of repertoire that we had in the Hootenanny Singers.”

Leadbelly and The Weavers
The Weavers, featuring famous folk music profile Pete Seeger, had a big hit with ‘On Top Old Smokey’.But what of the origins of the songs? How did they become known and with whom? Well, the very nature of folk songs, being passed down from generation to generation and spread from singer to singer – and often altered during that process – means that there are no clear-cut answers to those questions. ‘Pick A Bale Of Cotton’ seems to have become known when it was recorded in the 1930s by folklorist John A. Lomax and his son Alan, who travelled throughout the southern states of North America, recording traditional songs for their famed Folk Song Archive of the Library Of Congress. It was through their groundbreaking work that many of the songs that went on to become staples of folk singers’ repertoires first became known to a wider audience. In 1935, they recorded an African American singer known as Leadbelly (real name Hudson Ledbetter). Among the many songs he performed for the Lomax team was ‘Pick A Bale Of Cotton’, which went on to become one of the more well-known Leadbelly songs. Although Leadbelly wrote, or claimed to have written, many songs himself, ‘Pick A Bale Of Cotton’ is regarded as strictly traditional. The song, of course, hails from the days when African Americans were picking cotton in the Southern states. For that reason, this song and others like it are somewhat controversial today, as some feel that their lyrics glorify the days of the slavery. However, for most singers the song is merely regarded as a work-song without any strongly negative connotations.

‘On Top Of Old Smokey’ (the last word of the title is often spelled “Smoky”, without the “e”) was a traditional folk song hailing from the Southern Highlands, the mountain area in western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee and southwest Virginia. The song, which tells a quite dramatic tale of “false hearted lovers”, first gained wide-spread popularity in the United States in 1951, when a recording by folk group The Weavers reached number two on Billboard’s Pop Singles chart. That same year, the song was translated into Swedish and recorded by a number of popular artists. The Swedish title was ‘Högt uppe på berget’ (“High Up On The Mountain”), and for those who grew up in the Fifties – which the ABBA members did – it was a well-known and popular song.

Modernized pop-rock
Creedence Clearwater Revival recorded what is perhaps the most famous version of ‘Midnight Special’.The third and final song in the medley, ‘Midnight Special’, was again a song from the repertoire of Leadbelly. The singer was in fact a prison inmate at the time when John and Alan Lomax met him, and the subject matter of ‘Midnight Special’ is a train, the sound of which could be heard in the prisoners’ cells as it passed by. The train, of course, symbolizes freedom, and if the light from the train should happen to flicker through the window, landing on a prisoner, according to legend it meant that the man would soon be set free. ‘Midnight Special’ was recorded by artists as early as the 1920s, but it was Leadbelly’s later recordings – the first of which occurred in 1934 – and his distinctive arrangement of the song that made it truly famous. It has since been recorded by hundreds of artists and was, of course, especially popular in the folk music boom of the early 1960s. ‘Midnight Special’ is one of the most famous songs associated with Leadbelly and is regarded as a pillar of American folk music. For pop and rock fans, perhaps the 1969 version recorded by Creedence Clearwater Revival on their Willy And The Poorboys album is the most familiar.

Stars Im Zeichen Eines Guten Sterns – the charity album that first featured ABBA’s folk medley.On May 6, 1975, when ABBA entered Glenstudio to record their medley of the three folk songs, only two weeks had passed since they released their third studio album, the eponymous LP that contained ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘SOS’. They were accompanied by drummer Roger Palm and bassist Rutger Gunnarsson, two of their most frequently used session musicians, but also by guitarist Finn Sjöberg, who only played on a handful of ABBA sessions, but who went on to tour with them in Europe and Australia in 1977. Together with these musicians, the group put down modernized, pop-rock versions of the three folk songs, with screechy synthesizers and typically high-energy lead vocals from Björn, Agnetha and Frida. Frida even had a solo spot on ‘On Top Of Old Smokey’. “It was fun to do it”, recalled Benny of the recording session. “We felt freer because it wasn’t our own material, and I think it turned out quite well.”

Dusted off
The Japanese single sleeve of ‘Summer Night City’ – the B-side was a remixed version of the folk medley.The recording of the three folk tunes was then included on the Stars Im Zeichen Eines Guten Sterns album, billed as ‘Pick A Bale Of Cotton/On Top Of Old Smokey/Midnight Special’. Since this was a West Germany only release, at the time it didn’t reach the ears of many ABBA fans. However, three years later, when ABBA needed a B-side for their ‘Summer Night City’ single, the recording was dusted off and remixed for inclusion on the single. The title of the track was also slightly amended to clarify the nature of the recording: ‘Medley: Pick A Bale Of Cotton/On Top Of Old Smokey/Midnight Special’. As ‘Summer Night City’, released in September 1978, was a global hit single, it was heard by many more fans this time around.

But single B-sides seldom become very well-known tracks, and outside diehard fan circles the ‘Folk Medley’ was to remain fairly unknown. In the CD age, the recording has become easier to access, for example appearing on the 1994 box set Thank You For The Music. It is also a bonus track on the current CD version of the ABBA album. It is well worth investigating this lively recording, for a rare chance to experience ABBA’s enthusiastically modern take on some of the staples of folk music – and for that very rare opportunity to hear how they take on music not written by Björn and Benny.

Thanks to Ian Cole and Regina Grafunder.

Take A Chance On Me – ABBA’s farewell to innocence

Few would dispute that ‘Take A Chance On Me’ is one of ABBA’s most enduring hit recordings. January 2008 marked the 30th anniversary of its release as a single, and in this feature we trace the story of the last ABBA song to retain the joyful innocence of their early years.

The biggest hit
The Scandinavian single sleeve for Take A Chance On Me.When ABBA – The Album was recorded in the summer and autumn of 1977, the stated ambition of song writers Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus was to move forward with their music, take better care with the lyrics and generally aim for a more ambitious framework. As the completed album proves, they certainly succeeded in that goal. The first single, ‘The Name Of The Game’, was more adventurous and complex than anything ABBA had released on single before, and the ballad ‘One Man, One Woman’ was a compelling study of a couple struggling to save their marriage. Perhaps the most overtly ambitious part of the album was the three songs from the mini-musical The Girl With The Golden Hair, the story of which has been detailed in a previous essay at this site.

The Australian Take A Chance On Me single.But one thing that ABBA never forgot was the importance of communicating with their audience in a very direct way. As they would prove time and again over the following years, they never lost the knack for creating a pure pop hit single. The difference, however, was that ABBA had pretty much left their innocent “teen girl” pop behind them, and moved into more grown-up subject matters. The songs wanted to tell stories of marriage break-ups rather than relate the juvenile excitement of ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’. But ABBA – The Album featured one last song to retain some of the bouncy innocence of early ABBA. Perhaps it was no coincidence that ‘Take A Chance On Me’ became the biggest hit from the album.

Early take
Take A Chance On Me – the French single.The song was first brought to the recording studio on August 3, 1977. At the time it bore the working title ‘Billy Boy’ – perhaps it should be pointed out that it didn’t much resemble the 19th Century folk song of the same title. However, this first rocky attempt at the tune didn’t progress beyond the backing track. A fragment of that recording can be heard in the ‘ABBA Undeleted’ medley of session outtakes, available in the box sets Thank You For The Music and The Complete Studio Recordings. This early take of the song featured a guitar-piano-and-drums riff that would not be included in the final version.

Björn and Benny obviously felt that they hadn’t quite captured the full potential of the song with this first attempt, and so the backing musicians – Lasse Wellander, guitar, Rutger Gunnarsson, bass, Roger Palm, drums – were brought back to the studio on August 15 for a second version. This time they got it right and created a much more tightened-up, metronomic version of the song. The recording shifted between the almost nursery-rhyme simplicity of its chorus and the country-twangy feel of its middle section – today Björn refers to the song as “a German march crossed with country music”.

T-k-ch!
A Japanese Take A Chance On Me single sleeve.The next step in the creative process was for Björn to come up with the right lyrics for the song. As he explains in the book Mamma Mia! How Can I Resist You?, “Ideas for the lyrics pop up in different ways. Often it’s a little scenario that comes into my mind, but sometimes I start with a title. ‘Take A Chance On Me’ is a case in point.” Björn, who was an avid jogger at the time – he even ran the Stockholm Marathon at one point – found this particular title while out jogging in the Stockholm suburb of Lidingö, where he and Agnetha lived at the time. He knew that the backing track recording of the song suggested a percussive title, and as his feet moved relentlessly forward in his jogging path, the sounds “t-k-ch” started an equally insistent run around his brain. Within those sounds he found the phrase ‘Take A Chance’, and then he just added ‘On Me’ to make it a complete title.

The Take A Chance On Me video featured the ABBA members flirting with each other in a split screen.The completed lyrics for ‘Take A Chance On Me’ built on the up-beat mood of the backing track to make it a truly affirmative love song, something that would not feature very frequently in ABBA’s future repertoire. It certainly was the catchiest track on ABBA – The Album: the a cappella opening, with Agnetha and Frida’s crystalline high-register singing contrasting against Björn and Benny’s low-register “take a chance, take a chance” repeats, draws the listener into the song immediately. By the way, the boys’ repeats of that phrase, recurring throughout the song, was not recorded in one go, since the singers needed to catch their breaths every now and again. The solution was to record their parts in sections, overlapping the previous piece to make it one continuous section. Of course, with the digital technique of today they would simply have had to sing it a couple of times, and then insert that section into the recording however many times they wanted.

Affectionate tribute
ABBA – The Album – Deluxe Edition features rare TV performances of Take A Chance On Me.When ‘Take A Chance On Me’ was released as a single in January 1978, it became a big hit, going to number one on the charts in Great Britain, Ireland, Mexico, Austria and Belgium, and reaching the Top Three in at least a further five countries. Notably, it was ABBA’s second most successful single in the United States, where it reached number three on the Billboard chart (their biggest song was of course ‘Dancing Queen’, which was a number one single). For the song, Lasse Hallström also put together a tongue-in-cheek promo clip, featuring the ABBA members flirting with each other in a split screen. ‘Take A Chance On Me’ was a truly appropriate farewell to the joyful early days of ABBA.

Like so many other ABBA songs, ‘Take A Chance On Me’ has endured through the decades. It is, of course, included on the multi-million selling ABBA Gold compilation, and is also featured in the Mamma Mia! musical. It was, perhaps, no co-incidence that the synth duo Erasure chose to record an affectionate tribute version of the song. Their recording of ‘Take A Chance On Me’ was the most popular track on their 1992 EP Abba-esque, which went to number one in places such as the UK and Sweden. The duo made a fun video that parodied ABBA’s original promo clip, emphasising the colourful “kitschy ‘70s” angle that was such an important part of the early stages of the 1990s ABBA revival. Altogether a proud legacy for one of ABBA’s happiest songs.

NOTE: The Deluxe Edition of ABBA – The Album, released in 2007, contains the familiar version of ‘Take A Chance On Me’, but also, among its bonus tracks, a rare live version of the song, recorded during the group’s tour of 1979.

ABBA – The Album – Deluxe Edition also contains a DVD which features two rare TV performances of ‘Take A Chance On Me’, alongside a wealth of other unique and intriguing TV appearances and news reports from the time of ABBA – The Album. Additionally, the Deluxe Edition contains a comprehensive essay about the making of ABBA – The Album.

Learn more about ABBA – The Album – Deluxe Edition

Single and album sleeves courtesy of Wouter Timmers and Polar Music International.

The Girl With The Golden Hair – ABBA’s mini-musical

Long before Mamma Mia!, the song writing pair of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus created the musicals Chess and Kristina från Duvemåla. But even before them, there was something called The Girl With The Golden Hair. In this feature we take a closer look at the mini-musical that was such an important part of both ABBA – The Movie and ABBA – The Album.

Telling a story with the aid of music
The original cast album for Jesus Christ Superstar inspired Björn and Benny.A girl with a talent for singing, who leaves her home town, becomes a star and then finds herself trapped by fame – that was the simple plot that formed the basis for ABBA’s mini-musical The Girl With The Golden Hair. This creation marked the first few steps for ABBA’s song writing team of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus in realising a dream they had nursed since before the ABBA era. That dream was to write a full-scale musical. Ever ambitious and forward-looking, they felt even in those early days that at some point, this would be the logical next step in their development as composers. Telling a story with the aid of music and lyrics, and being able to expand beyond the restrictive format of the three-minute pop song, was a highly interesting challenge for them.

In December 1976, Benny and Björn treated Swedish TV viewers to a bit of Thank You For The Music.Neither Björn nor Benny had been great fans of musicals in their younger days. “But then I heard Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar”, recalls Benny in the book Mamma Mia! How Can I Resist You? “Stig Anderson, who was managing us and who was one of the leading music publishers in Sweden, had been sent the record long before it actually came out. I got hold of a copy and thought it was astonishing.” First released as a so-called concept album in 1970, the musical was very different to most earlier musicals in that it married a serious, historical subject such as Jesus Christ to modern pop and rock music. Explains Björn: “[When] Benny and I were talking about how to stretch ourselves, the success of Jesus Christ Superstar was hovering in the background. We thought, ‘This is fascinating. Why don’t we try this, why don’t we dabble in this for a while?’”

A simple plot
British actor Francis Matthews was the Mephisto-like narrator in The Girl With The Golden Hair.When ABBA were planning their first major tour, scheduled to take place in Europe and Australia between January and March 1977, Björn and Benny were provided with the perfect opportunity to dip their toes in stage-musical waters. Since they wanted the tour to offer something more than just a string of hits, they got the idea to put together a mini-musical. The plan was to make it a 20–25-minute extravaganza that could end the main show in a spectacular way, before the encores. After finishing work on the Arrival album, which was released in October 1976, Björn and Benny began putting together what was to become The Girl With The Golden Hair. By necessity, the plot had to be simple, while still lending itself to dramatic story-telling. Quite possibly, there was also the thought of keeping it within the world of music, which the whole group could relate to. What they finally came up with was a storyline “about a girl wanting to get famous, becoming famous and then seeing the downside of it,” as Björn puts it.

By early December 1976 at least one of the songs for the mini-musicals had been completed. In a feature in the Swedish news show Rapport, filmed on December 6, Björn and Benny treated the viewers to a few instrumental bars of the chorus of ‘Thank You For The Music’. This was, in all likelihood, the first public glimpse of this famous song. Today, this performance can be viewed on the DVD included with the Deluxe Edition of the Arrival album. There was to be no dialogue in the musical, and yet the music and lyrics alone were not quite enough to carry the plot forward. The solution arrived in the shape of a narrator, presented like a heavily made-up Mephisto-like character, who would appear between the songs to explain the plot points. The part of the narrator went to 24-year-old British actor Francis Matthews of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

The journey from Heaven to Hell
When the tour began in Oslo, Norway, on January 28, 1977, every piece was in place for the mini-musical. Since only those who attended the concerts more than 30 years ago have ever seen The Girl With The Golden Hair in full, here is a detailed depiction of its structure.

The narrator would begin with an introduction in rhymed verse, concluding with the couplet: “And all of a sudden you see her, she’s there! / The girl with the golden hair”. Then Agnetha entered the stage. She and Frida had both been decked out with identical costumes and identical golden wigs, to underline the fact that they were both playing one and the same character. Agnetha’s first song was ‘Thank You For The Music’. However, this version of the song was a bit more loosely structured and cabaret-like than the studio-interpretation recorded several months later. Also, in this original mini-musical version there were a few differences in the lyrics here and there. The greatest dissimilarity was perhaps in the four final lines of the second verse, which originally went thus:

Mother says I was a dancer before I could walk
She says I began to sing long before I could talk
And now I’m so grateful to all of the guys
Who bring the sweet memories into our lives
I’m in love with them all
I mean Brian, Chuck, John and Paul

“Brian” was, of course, Brian Wilson, the genius song writer and producer of The Beach Boys, and Beatles members John Lennon and Paul McCartney were also saluted in this couplet – Benny and Björn have often cited both Brian Wilson and the team of Lennon and McCartney as primary influences on their work. “Chuck”, finally, is a nod to 1950s rock’n’roll pioneer Chuck Berry, famous for rock standards such as ‘Johnny B. Goode’.

After ‘Thank You For The Music’, the narrator returned, setting the scene for the next song by describing the girl’s ambitions and her doubts as to whether she should really leave her home town for a career in music: “Uncertainty is starting / She’s feeling a little bit down.” Then Frida entered the stage to sing ‘I Wonder (Departure)’. After this big ballad the narrator would be back again. With the aid of interjections from Abba’s female trio of backing vocalists he would describe the claustrophobic experience of the girl getting more success than she bargained for: “She got what she wanted, and yet / She feels like a marionette!” Agnetha and Frida then performed ‘I’m A Marionette’.

This third number in the mini-musical segued into an uptempo, rhythmic instrumental section wherein the girls performed a dance routine of some length. Then, without so much as a short break, the fourth and final number would begin. During the intro, the narrator uttered his final words: “The journey from Heaven to Hell / Get on the carousel!” In a sort of “vocal duel” with the backing singers, Agnetha and Frida then performed the rousing uptempo song ‘Get On The Carousel’. In it, the girl desperately cries that she wants to leave the nightmare she’s finding herself in, to get off the carousel although the vocal chorus insists that she should get on it. The Girl With The Golden Hair was rounded off by short reprises of ‘I’m A Marionette’ and ‘I Wonder (Departure)’, before getting back to a bit more of ‘Get On The Carousel’. After approximately 25 minutes, the mini-musical then ended.

The Girl With The Golden Hair was certainly a daring experiment for Abba, in more ways than one, and opinions about the success of the venture are divided. When there were subsequent suggestions that the mini-musical should be extended into a full-length work, Björn admitted that “the story wasn’t quite good enough for that”. And today Benny even questions the wisdom of subjecting a largely pre-teen audience to what was after all a fairly gloomy depiction of stardom, not to mention the fact that all four songs were brand new and therefore completely unfamiliar. “I suspect the whole thing was probably quite weird for the audiences: they just wanted to see ABBA,” he states in the Mamma Mia! book, adding that “it was not a good choice for a tour.”

An intriguing first glimpse
Agnetha and Frida performing I'm A Marionette, complete with marionette-like choreography.Whatever the historical judgment on the mini-musical itself, it certainly contained a number of good tunes. When ABBA began sessions for their new album, two and a half months after the tour had ended, it was self-evident that those songs should be recorded for the album. However, there was one omission. ‘Get On The Carousel’, while an effective stage number, had a somewhat repetitive structure and was very much dependent on the visual action that accompanied it. Therefore, it was decided that it should not be featured on the album. But, in the tried and tested methods of the Andersson/Ulvaeus song writing partnership, the best bit of the song was used for a brand new tune to be included on ABBA – The Album. The melody for the section in ‘Hole In Your Soul’ that starts “Aha, you paint your world and use all colours” was lifted straight from ‘Get On The Carousel’.

Agnetha in character for Get On The Carousel.During the summer 1977 sessions for ABBA – The Album, the remaining three mini-musical songs were recorded. The first was perhaps also the most famous: ‘Thank You For The Music’, which by then had acquired its final lyrics, although it was first recorded in a more staccato-like arrangement. This first attempt is today known as the “Doris Day Version”, as an acknowledgment of Agnetha’s inspiration for her vocal interpretation. After a re-think by the group, ‘Thank You For The Music’ was then re-recorded in the familiar version. ‘I Wonder (Departure)’ and ‘I’m A Marionette’ were both recorded in arrangements that were almost identical to how they had been performed on stage.

ABBA - The Album featured three of the songs from The Girl With The Golden Hair.The very first mini-musical song to be released on record was a live version of ‘I Wonder (Departure)’, recorded in Sydney, Australia, and featured as the B-side to the single ‘The Name Of The Game’ in October 1977. The studio-recorded versions of the three songs from The Girl With The Golden Hair – presented as “3 scenes from a mini-musical” – were then issued on ABBA – The Album in December 1977. For those who are curious about ‘Get On The Carousel’, a lengthy section of the song can be heard in ABBA – The Movie, which premiered in tandem with the album release. The movie also features the original live version of ‘I’m A Marionette’; in the film it was partly used to illustrate the hectic life that besets pop mega-stars such as ABBA when they go on tour.

Although the story of The Girl With The Golden Hair was destined to start and end within the space of one year, it provides an intriguing first glimpse into the world of musicals that was to become so important for Björn and Benny after the ABBA era. And, not least importantly, it produced one of their most famous and best-loved songs in the shape of ‘Thank You For The Music’.

NOTE: The Deluxe Edition of ABBA – The Album, released in 2007, contains not only the three studio-recorded songs from The Girl With The Golden Hair, but among its bonus tracks can be found the first take of ‘Thank You For The Music’, the live version of ‘I Wonder (Departure)’, along with ‘Gracias Por La Música’, the Spanish version of ‘Thank You For The Music’.

ABBA – The Album – Deluxe Edition also contains a DVD which features two rare TV performances of ‘Thank You For The Music’, alongside a wealth of other unique and intriguing TV appearances and news reports from the time of ABBA – The Album. Additionally, the Deluxe Edition contains a comprehensive essay about the making of ABBA – The Album

The year 2007 also sees releases of ABBA – The Movie in the superior HD-DVD and Blu-ray formats.

To learn more about ABBA – The Album – Deluxe Edition and the new releases of ABBA – The Movie, please visit the News section here at ABBA – The Official Site.

Special thanks to Ian Cole.

ABBA – The Album – pushing boundaries

December 2007 marked the 30th Anniversary of the release of ABBA – The Album. ABBA’s fifth long-player found the group on an exploratory journey, with music and lyrics that were both more personal and more ambitious. To celebrate the release of a Deluxe Edition of ABBA – The Album, featuring bonus tracks and a DVD of previously unreleased TV material, we told the story of how the album came to be.

Trapped by fame
Agnetha on stage, performing The Girl With The Golden Hair during ABBA’s 1977 tour.Stretching and expanding – those were the key words that guided ABBA in 1977, the year that saw them opening new doors and widening the scope of what they could do in musical terms. They set the tone with a truly ambitious tour of Europe and Australia, the group’s first major outing as a live act. In the midst of the hysteria and “Abbamania” that was depicted in director Lasse Hallström’s ABBA – The Movie – filmed during the Australian leg of the tour – the group also premiered four brand new songs in the shape of the mini-musical The Girl With The Golden Hair. The mini-musical was based on a simple plot about a girl with a talent for singing, who leaves her home town, becomes a star and then finds herself trapped by fame. As if to hint that the plot held a grain of truth for some of the group, in the musical Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid “Frida” Lyngstad both played the girl, dressing up in identical wigs and costumes to emphasise that they were one and the same character.

Eagle received a limited single release in a few countries, such as Austria.The four songs included in the musical were ‘Thank You For The Music’, ‘I Wonder (Departure)’, ‘I’m A Marionette’ and ‘Get On The Carousel’. When the tour ended in March 1977, ABBA already knew that most of those songs would be included on their next album. The exception was ‘Get On The Carousel’: very much a stage number, with a somewhat repetitive structure, and therefore not considered a suitable song for inclusion on the album. But although they had these tried and tested songs at hand when sessions started on May 31, 1977, none of the mini-musical songs was the first to be recorded. Instead, the group directed their attention towards a brand new tune, provisionally entitled ‘A Bit Of Myself’. After ABBA manager and sometime lyricist Stig Anderson had mulled it over, the song was adorned with its final title: ‘The Name Of The Game’.

Blending into each other’s vocal spectra
The Swedish sleeve for The Name Of The Game, the first single to be released from the album sessions.This very first recording, which eventually became the first single from the album sessions, showed how ABBA were determined to further broaden their perspective. A slow bass-and-synthesizer riff, combined with a delightfully lazy drum pattern, formed the compelling rhythm track of ‘The Name Of The Game’, upon which layers of guitars, keyboards and heavenly vocal harmonies were stacked. The many different melody parts of the songs were somehow magically tied together and made to interact with one another, helped along in no small way by Agnetha and Frida’s lead vocals, where they would trade parts one minute and blend into each other’s vocal spectra the next.

The next song to be recorded was ‘Eagle’, the opening track on the completed album. Originally working-titled ‘High, High’, this majestic, soaring song was perhaps the closest ABBA would ever come to a guitar duel, with Janne Schaffer’s swirling improvisations contrasting against Lasse Wellander’s pre-written melody. The lyrics for ‘Eagle’ were no less unusual, for Björn had found inspiration in Richard Bach’s mega-successful 1970 novel Jonathan Livingston Seagull and its “sense of freedom and euphoria”, as he later recalled.

For the third song to be recorded, ABBA finally turned their attention to one of the mini-musical songs. But the ragtime-flavoured version of ‘Thank You For The Music’, recorded on June 2, was not what ended up on the album. A more flowing interpretation, committed to tape in July, is the familiar recording that can be heard on the album. However, the first attempt – known as the Doris Day Version because of Agnetha’s vocal inspiration from the American superstar – is a bonus track on the Deluxe Edition of ABBA – The Album.

In a good place
Take A Chance On Me was the most popular song from the album; this single sleeve is from Portugal.After a break in June when additional scenes for ABBA – The Movie were filmed, ABBA didn’t return to the recording studio until July 18. On this day they began recording the soft-rock ballad ‘One Man, One Woman’, which stands out as one of ABBA’s most affecting album tracks, and thus far, the most impressive result of Björn’s ambitions to develop his lyric writing. Björn had taken to heart the criticism levelled at ABBA that their lyrics were often inconsequential, even if he felt that the words were primarily meant to be functional as part of a pop song. “It’s important that the words go well with the music. They must have the same sort of rhythm,” he determined in an interview shortly before recording for the album started. ”But I guess the content has suffered because of that. This is something we’re going to get into, which is an interesting new step. Now we want to say something with the words as well.” With ‘One Man, One Woman’, sung by Frida, he proved himself the master of depicting the everyday person’s struggle to keep a relationship together.

This sleeve was used when The Name Of The Game was released as a single in Italy.The recording of the new album continued with the re-make of ‘Thank You For The Music’, and then the two other mini-musical songs to be included on the album: Frida’s “leaving home for an uncertain music career” ballad ‘I Wonder (Departure)’ and the dramatic “trapped by fame” number ‘I’m A Marionette’. The rocky ‘Hole In Your Soul’ followed, a song that actually “rescued” a melody section from ‘Get On The Carousel’, the discarded closing number of The Girl With The Golden Hair. Before the month was over the backing track for ‘Take A Chance On Me’, perhaps the most well-known song from the album, had been recorded, along with the spiritual reflection on the meaning of life that was ‘Move On’. It seemed ABBA were in a good place if they wanted to have the album out before the end of the year.

A new phase ABBA
This sleeve was used when The Name Of The Game was released as a single in Italy.However, a number of set-backs followed. Agnetha, who was pregnant with her and Björn’s son Christian, was ordered by the doctors to take it easy and was unable to attend as many recording sessions as were needed. In the days before ABBA had access to their own Polar Music Studio, there was also a constant problem with getting enough studio time. This was one of the reasons that ABBA had chosen to record most of their new album at Marcus Music Studio in Solna outside Stockholm, because the studio could be block-booked for a long period of time. However, it seems not enough time had been booked, because by mid-September the group found themselves at a studio in the west coast of Sweden, mixing ‘The Name Of The Game’, chosen as the first single over ‘Hole In Your Soul’. What with Agnetha’s absence and the problems to find studio time, ABBA admitted defeat and announced that the release of the album was postponed to early 1978.

In November, however, it turned out that their defeat had been premature. The group managed to scrape together enough studio time and Agnetha had been able to attend more sessions than expected – she recorded some of her vocals lying back in repose in a deck chair. The album, which had been titled ABBA – The Album to tie in with ABBA – The Movie, could actually be released in Scandinavia and South Africa in December 1977. But the rest of the world needed more lead time, and therefore most countries would have to wait until the first few months of 1978 before the album reached record shops. However, record-buyers seemed to agree that it was well worth the wait, as the album shot up to the top of the charts.

ABBA – The Album – Deluxe Edition is a tribute to an extraordinary album. Through its expansion with six bonus tracks and the companion DVD of news reports and rare performances, it also broadens the picture of how ABBA and the world around them looked, felt and acted at the time of the album. For it was a new phase ABBA that appeared before the public on the LP; “pretty different from what we’ve done before”, as Frida put it at the time. ABBA – The Album offered a more solemn, serious group, exploring the popular music landscape through partly introspective adventures, lasting close to six minutes in some cases. “Artistically it feels as if the latest album is the summit of what we’re able to do right now,” Björn told a reporter. “[People] say that we’re not as easily accessible anymore, that you have to listen several times to ‘get into’ the music. We’re not making any simple hits now.”

NOTE: Read a more comprehensive essay about the making of ABBA – The Album in the booklet enclosed with ABBA – The Album – Deluxe Edition. To read more about the CD and DVD contents on the Deluxe Edition, go to the News section here at ABBA – The Official Site. You can also read more about the making of ‘The Name Of The Game’ in the essay “The Name Of The Game – into a new world” here at ABBA – The Official Site.

Sleeves courtesy of Wouter Timmers and Polar Music International

ABBA in Great Britain

In their home country of Sweden ABBA had a strong following among record-buyers from the word go, and Australia is famous for its 18 months of unrivalled ABBA frenzy. But outside of those unique markets, few countries have been more loyal to the group than Great Britain – although for a while it looked as if ABBA would be forever regarded as one hit wonders on the British Isles.

The headquarters of pop music
ABBA’s original version of Ring Ring was their debut single in Great Britain – but it failed to chart.”It’s just like an incredible dream,” Björn Ulvaeus told a British reporter when ABBA’s ‘Waterloo’ single reached the top of the UK singles chart in May 1974. ”It’s always been our ambition to get a record to number one in Britain – it means more than a number one in the States to us. You see, for years Britain has been at the top – the headquarters of pop music.” Björn wasn’t just being polite to the reporter; he and Benny Andersson were truly “children” of the Swingin’ Sixties, with The Beatles and all the other bands and cultural phenomena that emerged out of Great Britain. When they first started out as song writers in the mid-Sixties, success in England must have seemed like an impossible fantasy for the Sweden-based duo, a holy grail to be coveted. For although from a production point of view they always acknowledged an influence from American names such as Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, it was the song writing talents of Brits John Lennon and Paul McCartney and the stylistic versatility of The Beatles that set the benchmark for what they wanted to achieve with ABBA.

The British sleeve for ABBA’s Waterloo album.But while the group found it relatively easy to charm audiences and the music business in northern and central Europe, initially they encountered some resistance in Great Britain. The first single to be released in the UK, ‘Ring Ring’, had been turned down by labels such as Polydor, EMI, Decca, Pye and WEA. It wasn’t until Paul Atkinson, the newly-employed A n’ R man at Epic (a label owned by CBS Records), heard the song that it finally was released. ”I played it all the time in the office to the point of driving everyone nuts,” he told Mojo magazine many years later. ”It would be my first signing and it became a bit of a joke around the building that I wanted to sign this obscure Swedish group. Atkinson’s Folly they called it.” Initially, his signing of ABBA did indeed appear to be less than a wise decision, for upon release in October 1973 ‘Ring Ring’ failed to chart and sold no more than 5,000 copies.

Stone dead
ABBA’s early British singles were mostly released in plain Epic sleeves like this one.Atkinson was finally proved right six months later, when ‘Waterloo’ was released. With the invaluable support provided by ABBA’s win in the Eurovision Song Contest, not to mention a few strategic appearances on the popular Top Of The Pops television programme, this super-catchy slice of glam-pop ended up spending two weeks at number one. Although one would have thought it would be plain sailing for ABBA in Great Britain after such a convincing breakthrough, what followed was actually a series of disasters, which seemed to erase all the success achieved with ‘Waterloo’. For a follow-up, Epic Records commissioned a special remix of ‘Ring Ring’, with added saxophone and heavier guitar parts to remind audiences of the ‘Waterloo’ sound. The single never got higher than number 32 on the UK chart. The next single, ‘So Long’, was another ‘Waterloo’ sound-alike and failed to chart completely. ABBA fared little better with their next UK single, the romantic ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’, which reached number 38 in the summer of 1975.

So what was the reason for these astonishing failures immediately after such a splendid success? Pop music history is full of so called one-hit-wonders, who may achieve an enormous triumph but then only reach the lower-region of the charts with their attempted follow-ups, if they even chart at all. For ABBA, it didn’t help that they had come to the world’s attention via Eurovision, where one-hit-wonder status is almost guaranteed. Reflected Björn many years later, “It’s incredible that a song contest was branded like that in England: ‘All right, now they’ve won that, which means that they are stone dead afterwards.’ It was like an agreement among all the DJs and among everybody else.” Add in the fact that ABBA came from Sweden – like most non-English-speaking countries viewed as a joke in terms of pop music at the time – and it’s not so hard to see why the British music industry was prepared to write them off so quickly. It certainly seemed as if Epic Records were also losing faith in the group; according to Björn, their arrivals in London for promotional visits were greeted with increasingly less enthusiasm for every single that bombed. In hindsight, it also seems clear that the ‘Waterloo’ follow-up singles were incorrect choices. For instance, had the UK gone with ‘Honey, Honey’, like most other countries did, they would almost certainly have achieved greater success than with the ‘Ring Ring’ remix – while ABBA couldn’t even make it into the Top 30, a cover version by the duo Sweet Dreams took ‘Honey, Honey’ into the Top Ten.

Back with a vengeance

The ABBA album was initially released without much fanfare in the UK.It wasn’t until the autumn of 1975, 18 months after their ‘Waterloo’ success, that ABBA’s luck changed in Great Britain, “When we released our next album, the one with ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘SOS’ and so on, [Epic Records] weren’t interested,” recalled Benny. “They thought it was hardly worth releasing at all – until ‘Mamma Mia’ was number one and ‘SOS’ was number one in Australia. Then the Englishmen began to wake up a little.” Released in the reverse order in the UK, Epic did indeed give both singles a push, with ‘SOS’ making it into the UK Top Ten. Then, with ‘Mamma Mia’, ABBA finally achieved their second number one. They were back in the UK, with a vengeance. “After that,” remembered Benny, “everything started happening, everywhere.”

ABBA’s Greatest Hits album was Britain’s second best-selling album of the Seventies.Indeed, for the next six years or so, ABBA could do little wrong in Great Britain. After ‘Mamma Mia’ had topped the chart, ‘Fernando’ followed hot on its heels. The group eventually achieved 18 consecutive Top Ten singles and a total of nine number ones, with ‘Dancing Queen’ as their biggest success with six weeks at the top. When the Greatest Hits album was released in March 1976, it went on to spend 130 weeks on the charts, occupying the number one spot for a total of 11 weeks and becoming Britain’s second-biggest-selling album of the Seventies. Moreover, Greatest Hits was the first of eight consecutive chart-topping ABBA albums in the UK, a mind-bogglingly impressive run that ended with The Singles – The First Ten Years in 1982.

ABBA Gold became an enormous success in Great Britain, selling more than 4 million copies.Likewise, once ABBA had secured their position as one of the most successful pop music acts in Great Britain, there was never any doubt that they would be a highly attractive live act. Although there were tentative plans for concerts in England and Scotland during ABBA’s first tour of Europe in 1974, they never materialised when interest in the group declined so rapidly. When they finally made their first UK concerts, in February 1977, the situation couldn’t have been more different. According to legend, there were 3.5 million ticket applications for ABBA’s two shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall, and one would imagine people were clamouring for tickets to the dates in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow as well. ABBA toured Britain only one more time, in November 1979, when they did six shows at London’s Wembley Arena, two shows in Stafford and one in Glasgow. Needless to say, the demand for ABBA tickets far exceeded the supply, and they could probably have extended their itinerary without having to worry about faltering ticket sales.

Every single should reach number one
Although ABBA’s UK album sales remained solid and strong right up until their very last release in 1982, that year proved to be a disappointment in terms of singles. Coming right after ‘One Of Us’, a solid Top Three hit, ‘Head Over Heels’ only reached number 25, their lowest-charting single since ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’. ABBA’s final two singles – ‘The Day Before You Came’ and ‘Under Attack’ – fared no better than 32 and 26, respectively. No doubt this dramatic slide down the UK charts jolted the members a little. As Agnetha recalled, “It became a habit that every single should reach number one in England. That was just how things should be.” One can only speculate about the reasons for this sudden decline in ABBA’s fortunes on the singles chart, but certainly the group’s efforts to reinvent themselves had taken them into a more complex, mature and sometimes aloof territory, where single buyers looking for catchy hits were less prepared to follow them. Mentally, it seemed, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus already had their sights set on the stage musicals that would be their future. After a decade as a pop act, they were prepared to leave the hit singles to the many bright young things that were only too anxious to get a stab at the pop charts – many of whom made no secret of their limitless admiration for ABBA.

While there were few signs of ABBA in the UK charts for the remainder of the Eighties, it wasn’t like they were completely forgotten. There may not have been any high-profile coverage of the group in the media, but all sorts of compilation albums kept selling in healthy quantities on the quiet. Then, exactly a decade after the group’s final recordings, enough time had passed for people to get nostalgic about them. With the release of the immensely successful 1992 hits collection, ABBA Gold – masterminded from Great Britain – ABBA shot to number one all over the world again. It seems ABBA Gold was especially successful in the UK, where it reached the number one spot in three separate time-periods, the second time in conjunction with the 1999 hoopla surrounding the 25th anniversary of ABBA’s Eurovision win and the opening of the Mamma Mia! musical, and then the third time in conjunction with the film version of Mamma Mia!. To date ABBA Gold has spent well over 300 weeks on the chart and sold more than 4 million copies to make it one of the best-selling albums of all time in Great Britain.

The British population may have been a little uncertain whether they would want to embrace ABBA wholeheartedly back in 1974 – but they have certainly made up for it since.

Sleeve images courtesy of Polar Music International and the websites ABBA World and ABBA For The Record.

Hasta Mañana – The song that didn’t enter Eurovision

ABBA’s win with Waterloo in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest is perhaps the most famous part of their story. But things could have turned out differently. In this feature we examine the song that ABBA almost chose over Waterloo as their submission to the contest.

A new ballad
Hasta Mañana was first released on ABBA’s Waterloo album in 1974.The story of how ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton, England, in 1974 has been told many times. ‘Waterloo’ triumphed beyond the group’s wildest expectations to become a global chart success and give them their international breakthrough. But what about the “runner-up”, the other song ABBA were considering as a submission for the contest? Well, far from being branded “a loser” or “inferior”, the main reason ‘Hasta Mañana’ wasn’t chosen was because it would have made less of a splash in Brighton. The previous four years’ winners had all been solo female singers equipped with a ballad, which was how the Agnetha-led ‘Hasta Mañana’ would have come across. For 1974, ABBA wanted to be different and really stand out from everybody else, throwing a rock’n’roll spanner in the well-oiled works of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Agnetha’s idol from her teen years, Connie Francis, provided vocal inspiration for Hasta Mañana.Both ‘Waterloo’ and ‘Hasta Mañana’ were written and recorded towards the end of the sessions for ABBA’s second album (ultimately entitled Waterloo) in December 1973. All the parts for the rocky ‘Waterloo’, including its lyrics, were in place, and it had been more or less decided that this would be ABBA’s submission for the Swedish selection for the Eurovision Song Contest. The new ballad was still entitled ‘Who’s Gonna Love You’ when its backing track was recorded. ABBA manager Stig Anderson, who often wrote the words for the most important of the group’s songs at this stage of their career, had already spent considerable time sweating over the ‘Waterloo’ lyrics. He was just about to leave for a Christmas holiday trip to the Canary Islands, when a cassette tape with the backing track was given to him with the instructions: “Please write some lyrics for this!”

A crackly telephone line
Although never a global hit, Hasta Mañana was featured on many compilation albums.Stig, ever the workaholic, relished the challenge and spent a great deal of his supposed holiday on finding the right lyrics for the new tune. As was his wont when writing for an international audience, he was searching for an expression or a phrase that would be recognised all over the world. The announcer on the Spanish radio channel Stig was tuned into finally came to the rescue, albeit unknowingly. Every night the broadcasts would be finished off with the phrase ”hasta mañana”, meaning ”see you tomorrow”. Stig knew that he had found the title. There was no time to be wasted, so once the lyrics had been completed Stig shocked his fellow tourists by dictating the lyrics very loudly down a crackly telephone line between Spain and Sweden.

At the end of December, Agnetha and Frida arrived at the studio to record the vocals for this yearning ballad. At first, the session did not go well: however hard they tried, they just couldn’t find the right way to interpret the song. It was Agnetha who finally came up with the right solution. As a young girl, her biggest idol had been American singer Connie Francis, immensely popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Judging by Agnetha’s own early solo hits, it was primarily the languorous, heartbroken Connie that had inspired her; in an interview she once mentioned Francis’ wistful ballad recording of ‘Carolina Moon’.

At the ‘Hasta Mañana’ recording session, she put the inspiration from her youth to good use. ”We realised that neither of us were able to sing it and we had actually started to give up on it,” she recalled. ”Then I ended up alone in the studio and fooled around a bit, thinking that I might do it like Connie Francis would. I sang it in that really emotional way and then we found that we were on the right way.” Agnetha’s approach, which included a melodramatic spoken part, was exactly what ’Hasta Mañana’ needed. With backing support from a melancholy, twangy guitar-part and Benny’s eerie mellotrone-generated strings, it all came together as one of the most compelling tracks from the ongoing album sessions.

Eurovision conundrum
Hasta Mañana was released as a single A-side in Japan, and became a Top 10 radio chart hit.The song was so convincing, in fact, that it felt as a suitable contender for the Eurovision Song Contest. By the look of it, ‘Hasta Mañana’ had every chance of becoming a success. With Agnetha at the solo microphone it aligned itself with every Eurovision winner since 1967, all of them a female solo artist, most of whom were performing dramatic ballads. Stig arrived back in Stockholm on January 5, just two days before the deadline for submitting entries to the Swedish selection contest. The next day, Björn and Benny arrived at his house to make that crucial decision – which song would they choose?

Debby Boone’s recording of Hasta Mañana provided plenty of royalties for its song writers.At first they discussed ’Hasta Mañana’, reasoning that this would perhaps be a better contender for the Eurovision Song Contest. But ultimately, the “solo female ballad” formula went against the image that ABBA wanted to project. ’Waterloo’ was the better choice precisely because it broke with the Eurovision tradition on every conceivable level. Also, the song focused on both Frida and Agnetha as lead vocalists, which meant that the actual performance of the song would work much better.

 

The story of ‘Hasta Mañana’ may have ended here, with its inclusion as a particularly strong track on the Waterloo album, released in March 1974. But it was far too catchy to be contained within the confinements of those vinyl grooves. Although it has never counted among ABBA’s most famous international hits, ‘Hasta Mañana’ was in fact a chart success in a handful of countries. Just a few months after the album’s release, the song reached number one on the much-loved Swedish radio chart Tio i topp (“The Top Ten”), simply through its status as an attractive album track. Meanwhile, a Swedish-language version by Polar Music recording artist Lena Andersson spent three weeks at the top of the Svensktoppen (“The Swedish Top Ten”) radio chart.

A real BooneHasta Mañana was featured on the Greatest Hits album. ‘Hasta Mañana’ was then released as a bona fide ABBA single in some countries, hitting number two in South Africa, entering the Top 30 in Italy and reaching the Top Ten on the Japanese radio charts. In Australia and New Zealand, where it was originally used as a single B-side, it was flipped over in 1976, reaching the Top Twenty and the Top Ten, respectively. Moreover, ‘Hasta Mañana’ was featured on immensely successful, multi-million-selling compilation albums released in 1975 and 1976, such as Greatest Hits (issued in the Nordic countries, the UK, and many other territories) and The Best Of ABBA (two different compilations thus entitled, released in West Germany and Australia). Finally, the title ‘Hasta Mañana’ made the song a natural inclusion on Gracias Por La Música, ABBA’s album of Spanish-language recordings, released in 1980.

As a curious coda to the story of ‘Hasta Mañana’, in 1977 the song achieved spectacular success in the United States – but not in ABBA’s version. ‘Hasta Mañana’ was recorded by a group called The Boones, consisting of the sisters Debby, Cherry, Lindy and Laury Boone, daughters of 1950s teen idol Pat Boone. “We got [ABBA’s original version] from one of our representatives in Europe,” explained the group’s producer, Mike Curb. “He had heard it and insisted that we really should listen to the song.” The Boones’ lively recording of ‘Hasta Mañana’ was released as a single, reaching the Top 40 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart in 1977. Later the same year, Debby Boone went solo, releasing her first single, ‘You Light Up My Life’. The Boones’ version of ‘Hasta Mañana’ featured Debby on lead vocals, so therefore it was used as the B-side of her solo début.

This decision turned out to be exceptionally fortunate for Benny Andersson, Stig Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus as songwriters. ‘You Light Up My Life’ became a massive hit of phenomenal proportions, spending 10 consecutive weeks at the top of Billboard’s singles chart. According to some sources, ‘You Light Up My Life’ was the best-selling single of the 1970s in the United States. But although ‘Hasta Mañana’ wasn’t the hit side of the single, it earned its writers just as much money on sales as the A-side did for its composer. It was estimated that Andersson/Anderson/Ulvaeus would receive more than $200,000 on single sales alone. Add to that the inclusion of ‘Hasta Mañana’ on Boone’s Platinum-selling début album, and the song did very good business indeed – without really becoming a major US hit on its own terms.

All in all a highly impressive run for a song that struggled to find its own platform under the overwhelming shadow of ‘Waterloo’!

 

Stig Anderson – master of words

May 7, 2007, saw the release of Text: Stikkan Anderson (“Lyrics: Stig Anderson”), a double-CD celebrating the famous ABBA manager’s career as one of Sweden’s most prolific and successful lyricists. This gives us reason to take a closer look at his life’s journey from abject poverty to powerful music industry figure.

Writing your own songs
Legendary ABBA manager Stig Anderson started out as a song writer and prolific lyricist.Stig Erik Leopold Anderson was born January 25, 1931, in the small town of Hova in the Swedish county of Västergötland. The son of Ester Andersson and a father he never knew, Stig’s early years were marked by abject poverty. Growing up in an almost shed-like cottage, Stig was nevertheless impressed by his mother, who worked with anything and everything she could to make ends meet. This resourcefulness was inherited by Stig, who began taking on various kinds of jobs at an early age. ”There was plenty of work to be had for anyone who wanted it,” he recalled.

Music entered Stig’s life while he was still a young boy. Despite her poverty, Stig’s mother managed to buy an old gramophone and six 78 rpm records when her son was about five years old. Stig felt an immediate connection to music, singing along to the hits of the day and the records his mother chose. It wasn’t long before he discovered that he also enjoyed singing in front of people. When he was in his teens his mother bought him a cheap guitar, and eventually he started performing in local revues.

This compilation album brought together many of Stig’s earliest songs.Before long he realised that performing current hits was one thing, but writing your own songs presented a more interesting challenge. Rejection from a girl he fancied set the ball rolling. ”I went home and wrote a satirical ballad about her. Then I performed it during a meeting with the local temperance society and got a great response. That’s when I realised that it’s fun to write songs.” At the tender age of 16, Stig wrote ’Tivedshambo’ (‘Hambo From Tived’), which in 1951 became the first of his songs to be recorded. A folksy number, its colourful depiction of a particularly wild traditional Swedish dance festivity in the woods proved that Stig was already able to tap into the public consciousness. The song was to become one of his most well-known, as well as a Swedish accordion classic.

Rough times
A 1959 comedy recording by singer Lill-Babs was Stig’s biggest hit as a song writer thus far.As the Fifties progressed, Stig’s career in music stumbled along. Although he was making a name for himself both as a performer and as a song writer, achieving the occasional hit, he never quite made it into the big league. In 1955 he married his wife, Gudrun, and by the end of the decade, they had two children: Marie and Lars (a third child, Anders, was born in 1966). To achieve some kind of security Stig had studied to be a teacher, and found employment at an elementary school in 1957. The following year he achieved his first major hit, when legendary Swedish football hero Nacka Skoglund recorded his composition ’Vi hänger me’ (‘We’re Still Here’). The record spent 20 weeks in the singles and EP chart, peaking at number six. Around the same time he acquired the nickname Stikkan, invented to establish a syntactic unity with a performer named Akke Carlsson, with whom Stig had a stage act. Stikkan would be the name under which he would be known in his home country for the rest of his life, although outside Sweden he remained Stig.

Following that first 1958 hit, over the next few years everything gradually came together for Stig. His friend Bengt Bernhag had emerged as one of Sweden’s top record producers, and in late 1959 Bengt produced a recording of Stig’s song ’Är du kär i mig ännu, Klas-Göran’ (“Are You Still In Love With Me, Klas-Göran”). As performed by singer Lill-Babs, Bengt decided that the song should be recorded as a comedy number – against Stig’s wishes. However, this turned out to be a master-stroke, as the song became one of the biggest hits of 1960.

That same year Stig founded his own publishing company, Sweden Music, and quit his teaching job. Instead, he began the career that would be his main source of income for the remainder of the decade. Stig threw his own song writing out the window and instead concentrated on importing songs and copyrights to Sweden, writing the Swedish lyrics himself, securing a cover version with a famous artist, and thus gradually built up a music publishing empire. However, for the first few years of the Sixties there were some truly rough times, when the Anderson family could hardly pay their bills.

Churning out lyrics
Stig was proud of his lyrics for the Swedish version of ‘Little Green Apples’.It is Stig’s career as a lyricist up until the mid-Seventies that is celebrated on Text: Stikkan Anderson. On the double-CD are his Swedish versions of Sixties and early Seventies hits such as ‘Green Green Grass Of Home’, ‘The Most Beautiful Girl’, ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’, ‘It’s My Party’, ‘Monday, Monday’, ‘You’ve Got A Friend’, ‘Honey’, ‘Hello Mary Lou’ and ‘Rose Garden’. He also saw the potential in more obscure songs, such as Buffy Sainte-Marie’s ‘I’m Gonna Be A Country Girl Again’, which, with Stig’s Swedish lyrics, became a major hit for singer Lena Andersson. ”It was hard work,” he recalled of the days when he would churn out lyrics by the dozens. ”I had office work to take care of during the day-time, so I had to write the lyrics in the evenings. During the night-time I would handle the correspondence with foreign publishers.”

‘Ljuva sextital’ (“The Good Old Sixties”) was the first hit Stig achieved together Benny and Björn.The opening track on the double-CD is ‘Gröna små äpplen’ by Monica Zetterlund (originally ‘Little Green Apples’), one of the lyrics Stig was proudest of. He had originally written a completely different set of lyrics, recorded by another singer, but upon Zetterlund’s request rewrote them, with impressive results. However, this Swedish version did not become a hit, and Stig often regretted that some of his most well-crafted efforts seemed to bomb, while something inconsequential dashed off in 15 minutes would become a big hit. But inconsequential or not, when Stig was at the top of his game, his highly developed sense of rhythm and meter – combined with a good feeling for the value of the words and a finely tuned sense of humour – resulted in effective lyrics that were a few notches above what could be expected from three-minute pop songs.

The sleeve for the double-CD Text: Stikkan Anderson.In 1963, Stig and Bengt Bernhag founded the record company Polar Music. Their very first signing was a group called the Hootenanny Singers, where one of the members was the 18-year-old Björn Ulvaeus. Hootenanny Singers were by far the most successful artists on Polar throughout the Sixties. Most importantly, when Björn brought his friend Benny Andersson – from The Hep Stars – to Polar and Sweden Music, the trio of Stig, Björn and Benny established a collaboration as song writers. One of their first works was a song entitled ‘Ljuva sextital’ (“The Good Old Sixties”). The lyrics, an ironic look back at the progress made during the past decade – including everything from the sexual revolution to trips into space –was Stig at the peak of his ingenuity. Together with ‘Gröna små äpplen’ and a third tune entitled ‘Mamma är lik sin mamma’ (“Mum is just like her mum”), Stig’s wordsmithery on the song earned him a Swedish Grammy.

International success
‘Ljuva sextital’ became a major hit, bringing the trio of Andersson/Anderson/Ulvaeus even closer together as a working unit. Stig insisted that Benny and Björn would one day write a song that became an international hit, something that was virtually unheard of in the Swedish music business at the time. When Bengt Bernhag died in 1971, Björn and Benny were brought on board as house producers at Polar Music. All the while they continued their song writing collaboration, with Stig as the lyricist for their most successful songs. As ABBA exploded on the global scene, Stig played an incredibly important part. Not only did he contribute lyrics and song titles that could work on an international level – ‘Waterloo’ being the prime example – but he put his relentless energy and ambition to good use, as he prepared the launch of ABBA once they had received the all important exposure in the Eurovision Song Contest.

By necessity, as ABBA’s international success became a full-time occupation for Stig, his lyric writing wound down, and after contributing three song titles for 1977’s ABBA – The Album, he stopped writing lyrics altogether. Nevertheless, the expansion of Sweden Music into a music publishing empire continued, with the acquisition of many of the major Swedish publishing companies.

By the end of the Eighties, the ABBA saga was long since over, and Stig, approaching 60, felt it was time to wind down. Thus, his publishing empire, including the Polar Music record label, was sold to PolyGram (which in itself was later merged with Universal Music). Part of the money he raised from the sale was invested in the prestigious Polar Music Prize, which was first awarded in 1992. Among the recipients since then are Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder. In 2007, the recipients are Steve Reich and Sonny Rollins.

Stig’s workaholic lifestyle had taken its toll on his health. Although he remained active in Polar Music after it had been sold, by the mid-Nineties his activities had wound down to a minimum. On September 12, 1997, he suffered a cardiac arrest. At the age of 66, Stig Anderson died.

Today, more than a decade after he passed away, his legacy and influence on the Swedish music industry is still felt. The songs for which he wrote lyrics – not only ABBA hits such as ‘Waterloo’, ‘SOS’ and ‘Dancing Queen’ – are still fondly remembered by the general public. The double-CD Text: Stikkan Anderson, which represents his entire career as a lyricist (and sometime tunesmith), celebrates his memory. And his best works can still provide a pointer or two to those who are working as lyricists in the 21st Century.

NOTE: Read more about Text: Stikkan Anderson and its contents in the News section here at ABBA – The Official Site.

Single and EP sleeves courtesy of Premium Publishing.

ABBA For The Last Time

When ABBA released their double album The Singles – The First Ten Years in November 1982, the title suggested that there would be further “years” of ABBA music. As it turned out, the group’s temporary break was a permanent one. With the release of the Number Ones CD and DVD collections, the latter of which features ABBA’s very last public appearance as a group, we take a look at that very last period of “abbactivity”.

Synthesized sounds
The last song to be recorded by ABBA was The Day Before You Came.In November 1981, as ABBA completed the recording of their eighth studio album, The Visitors, the members already knew that there would follow a few months where they wouldn’t be working together. Frida had pencilled in sessions for her first English-language solo album, to be recorded in February and March 1982, while Björn and Benny were both becoming parents for the third time in January and wanted to spend some time with their families. Except for making a video for their ‘Head Over Heels’ single on January 21, the group didn’t reconvene until May 1982. At that time, sessions for what was meant to become ABBA’s ninth studio album were begun. However, only three tracks were completed: ‘You Owe Me One’ (released as a B-side later in the year), ‘I Am The City’ (not released until 1993) and ‘Just Like That’ (still unreleased in its entirety).

The Singles – The First Ten Years replaced ABBA’s aborted ninth studio album.Although all three songs were perfectly in tune with the pop music trends of the times, characterised by synthesized, electronic sounds, the group were not particularly satisfied with the recordings. On the contrary, after the often troublesome making of The Visitors, they were now starting to feel how the energy was running out of their work together. Björn and Benny were also closer than ever to realising their long-time dream of writing a musical. Recent discussions with lyricist Tim Rice had been very promising, and all three were growing keen on giving it a go.

Under Attack was the group’s last single, released in December 1982 in most countries.At this point in time, ABBA realised, the motivation to complete an album was simply not there. To give themselves some breathing space, they decided to release a double-album of their most famous single A-sides, adding two new recordings to it, both of which would also be released as singles. For this purpose, three new tracks were recorded in August 1982: ‘The Day Before You Came’ (the first single A-side), ‘Cassandra’ (B-side of ‘The Day Before You Came’) and ‘Under Attack’ (the second single A-side). Like the “album tracks” recorded earlier in the year these new songs were also highly electronic concoctions; perhaps ‘Cassandra’ less so than the others, with ‘The Day Before You Came’, where the instrumental backing was virtually a solo performance by Benny, at the other end of the spectrum. As the group put the final touches to ‘The Day Before You Came’ and stepped out of Stockholm’s Polar Music Studios, they left this centre of their musical creativity for the last time. Although they did not know it at the time, they were never to return as a foursome again.

A sense of humour
By October, the plans for the launch of the new singles and the double album had been drawn up and were ready to be set in motion. On October 18, the single ‘The Day Before You Came’ / ‘Cassandra’ was released – a promo clip for the A-side had been filmed in September – and on November 8, The Singles – The First Ten Years hit record shops. In conjunction with the album release, ABBA began a bout of promotional activities, kicking off with a three-day visit to the UK, where they met the press and appeared on the television programme The Late Late Breakfast show, hosted by Noel Edmonds. From there they went directly to West Germany and further television work, most notably the spectacular performance of ‘The Day Before You Came’, ‘Cassandra’ and ‘Under Attack’ on the Show Express programme.

On November 19, ABBA made their last-ever performance on Swedish television, on the television programme Nöjesmaskinen (“The Entertainment Machine”). Ironically, this “finale” was certainly one of the best interviews they had ever done on Swedish television. The sometimes drab and over-serious Seventies had given way to the more light-hearted and colourful early Eighties, shifting the focus of the questions asked. Where formerly most of the interviewers had been preoccupied with how much money ABBA were making and the “commercial” nature of their music, pushing the members into a defensive corner, this time the subject matters were largely their career and their feelings in general. As a result, the ABBA members appeared more relaxed than usual, also showing that they quite obviously had a sense of humour about themselves.

UK return via satellite
Frida and Agnetha performing I Have A Dream, available on the new Number Ones DVD.During the time-frame of ABBA’s final promotions, they were also visited in Stockholm by a Dutch television crew, who interviewed them about their entire career up to this point. The result was the documentary The Story Of ABBA, which ended up being broadcast in a number of countries. As the month of December arrived, the very last ABBA single, ‘Under Attack’ / ‘You Owe Me One’, was released (curiously, in ABBA’s native Sweden the single was not released until the following February). It was accompanied by a promo clip filmed on November 16.

The very last promotional effort for the year happened on December 11, 1982 – at the time, of course, no-one knew that this was also the group’s very last public performance. If it had been an official farewell, certainly the occasion would have been far more extravagant than a return appearance on the UK’s The Late Late Breakfast Show – and it definitely would have amounted to something more than a short talk and a performance via satellite from a television studio in Stockholm.

Their last collective work
Benny enjoying ABBA’s very last public performance.As it was, the group was interviewed by host Noel Edmonds, all in the ultra-light style that seemed to be part of the general tone of the programme. In truth, nothing much of real importance was said during this chat, which took the shape of a Q & A wherein Agnetha was asked about her worst holiday, Benny about his best Christmas, and so on. Rather, the remaining legacy of this last-ever television appearance is the performance of two songs: the current single, ‘Under Attack’, and ‘I Have A Dream’, which was one of the tracks on the double-album of singles and, given its spiritual connotations, a highly appropriate song to perform with Christmas approaching. A final photo session for their photographer friend Anders Hanser was also accomplished on this day, but then, as the cameras were shut off and the satellite link to London was deactivated, ABBA had made their very last collective work as a group.

For I Have A Dream, ABBA were joined onstage by a large group of children.On the horizon for Benny and Björn were two years exclusively devoted to the Chess musical, while Frida and Agnetha both devoted themselves to their reawakened solo careers. When the dust had settled, the years apart had not resulted in a collective longing for a return to the ABBA set-up. The break from the group would have to be extended indefinitely.

Both songs from that last appearance on The Late Late Breakfast Show are now released for the first time on DVD, on the Number Ones collection. On the DVD, which collects the promo clips corresponding to the track listing on the Number Ones CD, there are further rare bonus selections in the shape of ABBA’s 1975 performance on the Norwegian television show Hei Sveis!, in which they perform ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’, ‘SOS’ and ‘Waterloo’. For a DVD that contains ABBA’s last TV appearance it is somehow fitting that it should also include an additional performance of the song that kick-started the group’s international career. From the April 11, 1974 edition of the BBC’s Top Of The Pops comes ABBA’s performance of ‘Waterloo’, taped just a few days after they won the Eurovision Song Contest, and featuring the group dressed in full regalia, as seen in the contest.

NOTE: To find out more about the Number Ones CD and DVD, please visit the Music and News section here at ABBA – The Official Site.

Knowing Me, Knowing You – three decades of heartache

February 18, 2007, marked the 30th anniversary of the single release of “Knowing Me, Knowing You”. In this feature we trace the journey of one of the Arrival album’s standout tracks, from its embryonic state to its success as a worldwide hit single.

Number one, number one
Knowing Me, Knowing You was first heard on ABBA’s Arrival album in 1976.March 1976 was an important month in ABBA history, marked by at least two pivotal events for the Swedish foursome. The first happened on March 4, when the group arrived in Sydney for their very first visit to Australia. For the past six months their popularity in that part of the world had grown to incredible proportions. When ABBA left the country nine days later, on March 13, they had been subject to innumerable interviews and also appeared on television a number of times, including a famous television special that attracted a record-breaking number of viewers.

The original Scandinavian single release of Knowing Me, Knowing You.The second event occurred a further ten days later, when they entered the recording studio to start work on perhaps their most celebrated studio album: Arrival. Sessions had actually begun tentatively in August 1975 – when ‘Dancing Queen’ was recorded – but since then they had been busy with promotional work, finishing up solo albums, and doing production work for other Polar Music recording artists. Now, finally, the four members had the time to concentrate exclusively on ABBA and recording brand new music.

The single sleeve design used in The Netherlands.The very first song to be started on March 23, the first studio day, was adorned with the working title ‘Ring It In’. Benny handled the keyboards as usual – in this case, an electric piano – Björn may have contributed some guitar, while other ABBA session regulars completed the line-up for the backing track recording: Janne Schaffer on electric guitar, Rutger Gunnarsson on bass, Ola Brunkert on drums and Malando Gassama on percussion. The working title was eventually changed to ‘Number One, Number One’, before ABBA manager and sometime lyricist, Stig Anderson, came up with one of his many famously catchy song titles: ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’.

A house being emptied
Whereas English-language lyric writing had often been a collaborative process in the past – with Stig Anderson preparing a lyric that Björn would then do further work on – by 1976, Stig was mainly contributing titles only (after the following year’s ABBA – The Album, Stig would have no hand at all in the group’s lyrics). It would then be up to Björn to build a story around the song title that Stig had come up with. Björn has described how this process would usually work. Armed with only the title and a rough mix of the basic backing track, he would listen to it over and over again to see what the song was “saying” to him in this rudimentary state. In the case of ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ the recording’s mid-tempo pace and slightly unsettling shifts between major and minor chords, combined with the pragmatic title, suggested a theme of a couple accepting the inevitability of their break-up – “we just have to face it, this time we’re through”, as the completed lyrics would have it.

Although much have been made of ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ being one in a long line of songs depicting the two ABBA couples’ real-life divorces, it should be pointed out that it was written and recorded years before either of them decided to go their separate ways. Although in the book Mamma Mia! How Can I Resist You, Björn admits that “It’s possible that I felt a premonition about something”, he also stresses that the lyrics were more about him trying to advance himself as a lyricist. “It’s as simple as me being able to imagine a house being emptied, with boxes standing against walls and all the furniture being taken away, just a few bits and pieces left behind, and the echoing steps of a man walking around those rooms and remembering the past.”

One of the highlights
Frida and Agnetha in Lasse Hallström’s promo clip for Knowing Me, Knowing You.In hindsight, the “fait accompli” theme of the lyrics and the dark drama of the song made it a natural song for Frida to handle as lead vocalist. She turned in a bravura performance, colouring her tones with her very own brand of restrained regret and resolved determination to see the crisis through. Full marks also to Agnetha’s supporting role, where her ghost-like echoes of “memories, good days, bad days” certainly add an eerie overtone to the song.

The Spanish version of Knowing Me, Knowing You was included on the Gracias Por La Música album.On May 24, guitarist Lasse Wellander added new guitar parts to ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’, including the characteristic guitar solo lines; this was the last known recording date for the song. One suspects that even at this relatively early stage in the game, with only about half of the songs for the album recorded, ABBA must have sensed that this was to be one of the highlights of the completed LP. Indeed, to this day it remains a favourite for the group members. “’Knowing Me, Knowing You’ is a great recording,” says Benny in the Mamma Mia! book. “I really like it, and the verse is one of my favourites.”

Summer and winter
The French single sleeve.In the summer of 1976, while ABBA were still working on their album, ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ was “visualised” for the first time. It was one of the songs to be featured in the upcoming television special ABBA-dabba-dooo!!, filmed by Swedish television between June and September. In this clip of the song, director Leonard Eek filmed the members in the Stockholm archipelago, on and around the island of Viggsö, where they all had summer houses and, famously, wrote many of their songs. This rarely seen clip, and indeed the entire ABBA-dabba-dooo!! television special, is now available for everyone to watch on the DVD included with the Arrival Deluxe Edition.

In October 1976 Arrival was released, and a few months later it was decided to release ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ as the third single from the album (after ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Money, Money, Money’). At that point, ABBA’s regular promo clip director, Lasse Hallström, was called-in to film a “proper” clip for the song. At some point in late 1976 or early 1977, when ABBA were otherwise busy rehearsing and preparing for their imminent tour of Europe and Australia, they trudged out in the snow-filled, almost too typically Swedish winter landscape to film a clip for ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’. Completed with interior scenes, the clip was one of the most famous examples of the clichéd video image of ABBA, where the group members would be coupled in different combinations of pairs, contrasting one against the other. Lasse Hallström’s film of ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ is available on a number of DVD releases, such as The Definitive Collection, ABBA Gold and Number Ones.

When the ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ single was released on February 18, 1977, it became a spectacular success, reaching number one in the UK, Ireland, West Germany, Mexico and South Africa, and the Top Three in Austria, Belgium, Canada, Switzerland and The Netherlands. Three years later, it was one of the songs selected for inclusion on ABBA’s Spanish-language album, Gracias Por La Música; the Spanish version, ‘Conociéndome, Conociéndote’, was recorded in January 1980, with the album release following a few months later (today it can be heard on the ABBA Oro CD collection of ABBA’s Spanish recordings).

Ever since first becoming a worldwide hit single, ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ has held a position as one of ABBA’s most loved and admired songs, often hailed as one of their first signs of true maturity. Like much of the group’s best work, this is partly because it strikes a chord with everyone who’s ever tried and failed at making a relationship work. But above all, with ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ ABBA created one of the finest pop recordings of the 1970s.

NOTE: To find out more about Arrival Deluxe Edition, visit the News section here at ABBA – The Official Site.

Single and album sleeves courtesy of Wouter Timmers and Ian Cole.

Summer Night City

Instead of being a triumphant showcase for ABBA’s brand new Polar Music Studios, ’Summer Night City’ turned into one of the group’s most complicated and frustrating recordings. In this feature, we explore the story behind the single ABBA wanted to forget.

Advanced tape surgery
Frida in the Summer Night City promo clip.SNIP! A quick and very simple motion was all it took to sever the 43 second introduction from the tape containing ABBA’s recording of ’Summer Night City’. In that instant, it was ensured that the song would henceforth be heard as quite a different creation than was originally intended. The ballad-style build-up – the dramatic strings, the tentative piano lines and the low-key introductory vocals, which was all that was heard in this first part of the song – was removed and discarded so that the track would start at full force from the word go, throwing the listener head first into its throbbing disco beat. However, this piece of ”tape surgery” was only one of many attempts to get to grips with a recording that just wouldn’t come off as it should – at least not in the eyes of its creators.

Sound engineer Michael B Tretow with Benny and Björn in the Polar Music Studio.’Summer Night City’ was one of the first songs to be recorded during the spring 1978 sessions for what was to become ABBA’s sixth album, Voulez-Vous. Although their new recording facilities, Polar Music Studios, had been officially opened at a grand party and press reception on May 18, 1978, it was not ready to use just yet. The group’s next recording date, on May 29, took place at Metronome Studio, where much of ABBA’s work over the years had been done. It was on this day that the first session was held for ’Summer Night City’.

Preparing the single
The Summer Night City single sleeve.Not long afterwards, however, Polar Music Studios were finally ready to receive its most famous clients. When the ’Summer Night City’ tapes were brought to the new studio it is likely that not much more than the backing track was completed, but by June 6, all vocal parts had been recorded along with several overdubs, including strings. ABBA then took a summer break for almost two months, and weren’t back in the studio until August 8. The group’s last international hit had been ’Take A Chance On Me’, released in early 1978, and it was high time that a brand new single was issued. Of all the recordings they had been working on during the past few months, ABBA felt that the only song suitable for single release was ’Summer Night City’. Thus, this first studio day after the holidays was spent putting some finishing touches to the recording.

Two days later, on August 10, Björn, Benny and their trusted sound engineer, Michael B. Tretow, sat down to mix the recording. But they immediately realised that they would have major problems getting to grips with the track – ’Summer Night City’ just hadn’t turned out the way Björn and Benny had envisioned. They tried everything they could think of, but it seemed that none of their tricks would achieve the desired results. An unusually high amount of compression was applied to the track, giving it a more pumping sound, and somewhere along the way the decision was also made to remove the ”ballad” introduction from the recording. Reportedly, the trio spent a week on ’Summer Night City’ mixes, probably more than any other track in ABBA’s recording history. ”We tried every way imaginable to get something from the tape that simply wasn’t there,” Michael Tretow recalled.

Finally, however, they had to admit defeat and simply choose the mix they felt was the most successful. ”Sooner or later you have to make a decision,” Benny reflected many years later. ”Either you release the song as it is, or you record another song, and then you have to wait another four weeks before you can release the record.” On September 6, 1978, ’Summer Night City’ was issued as a single. On the B-side, ABBA had put a track known as ’Medley: Pick A Bale Of Cotton/On Top Of Old Smokey/Midnight Special’. Originally recorded in 1975 and released on a German charity album in the aid of the battle against cancer, it was the first time that this medley of folk songs was heard by a wider audience.

Long, warm summer nights
Frida and Agnetha aboard Benny's boat in the Summer Night City promo clip.Despite Björn and Benny’s misgivings, ’Summer Night City’ became a sizeable hit. Most notably, it charted very highly in the Nordic countries: it was number two in Norway and number one in Finland and Sweden, making it ABBA’s very last charttopper in their home country. ’Summer Night City’ was accompanied by a promo clip that made full use of the allure of Stockholm’s long, warm summer nights, when the sun barely sets. Perhaps this aspect of the song – the celebration of summer – accounted for some of its success in the Nordic countries, a part of the world otherwise known for the dark and cold climate that prevails for most of the year.

Frida and Benny wandering the streets of Stockholm in the summer dawn.However, for a group that were used to reaching number one with almost everything they released, ’Summer Night City’ was regarded as something of a ”failure”. For example, in the UK the single only reached number five, ABBA’s ”poorest” chart performance since ’SOS’ three years earlier. In otherwise extremely loyal countries such as West Germany and The Netherlands, ’Summer Night City’ also peaked around number five. Agnetha later admitted: ”We were never blasé with success, but perhaps we were spoiled. It became a habit that every single should reach number one in England. That was just how things should be.”
Agnetha giving her all in the Summer Night City clip.In many ways, the problems experienced with ’Summer Night City’ were very much typical for the current album sessions. Quite simply, although Björn and Benny wrote many new songs, and these were then brought to the recording studio, an unusually high number of them were abandoned in various stages of completion. Although sessions had started as early as March 1978, by the end of the year only half of the tracks that would eventually end up on Voulez-Vous had been completed – the rest were written and recorded within the space of about two months in early 1979.

By that time, ABBA’s feelings for ’Summer Night City’ had cooled off considerably. Although the full length version of the song – including the ”ballad” introduction – had been slated for inclusion on the new album, they decided to leave the song outside the track listing altogether. However, it was clear that their dissatisfaction rested with the actual recording and not so much the song itself. During ABBA’s tours of North America, Europe and Japan in 1979 and 1980, ’Summer Night City’ was performed live – with the introduction restored to the song.

The full length, studio-recorded version of ’Summer Night City’ was finally made available to the public in 1994, when it was featured as a rarity on the box set Thank You For The Music. Today, 25 years after the recording was first released, it has to be said that ’Summer Night City’ remains as one of ABBA’s most lively and exciting songs. So whatever misgivings Björn, Benny and Michael Tretow may have had as they struggled with the track at the mixing desk back in 1978, the verdict is clear: You did all right, guys!

Dancing Queen

’Dancing Queen’ is not only ABBA’s biggest and most well-known hit, but a timeless pop music classic. We need no other reasons to take a look at the story behind this masterpiece.

A boogaloo beginning
The video for Dancing Queen was filmed at the Alexandra's discotheque in Stockholm.In early August 1975, ABBA were fresh off a summer tour of Sweden. But there was very little time for rest: for one thing, there were new recordings to be made. After their breakthrough with ‘Waterloo’ the previous year, the group had released their third album, simply titled ABBA, in the spring of 1975. The album yielded hits like ‘SOS’ and ‘Mamma Mia’. However, in the 1970s most major acts were expected to release an album every year, so the Andersson/Ulvaeus team was already working on new material.

On August 4, Björn and Benny entered Glen Studios, located in a Stockholm suburb, where they would spend two days recording backing tracks together with the session musicians. They brought with them the melodies for three new songs, all of which at this point only had nonsense lyrics – and titles that were equally preliminary. One of the songs was called ‘Tango’, but later turned into the more familiar ‘Fernando’. Another carried the working title ‘Olle Olle’, but was destined to remain unreleased. Composition number three, finally, was titled ‘Boogaloo’, suggesting that it had something to do with dance rhythms. And, indeed, this was the song that would eventually become ‘Dancing Queen’.

Agnetha and Frida giving their all in the Dancing Queen promo clip.Björn and Benny gave a lot of thought to how they would best achieve the dance feel they were after. For inspiration they turned to George McCrae’s 1974 disco hit ‘Rock Your Baby’, a pioneering recording within its genre. Added rhythmical influence came from the drumming on the 1972 album Gumbo by Dr. John, a favourite of ABBA session drummer Roger Palm and engineer Michael B. Tretow.

A good, solid backing track was put together for the song, consisting of drums, bass, guitar and keyboards. As basic as it was, just this first stage of the recording was enough to provoke a strong emotional reaction from Frida. ”Benny came home with a tape of the backing track and played it for me,” she recalled. ”I thought it was so enormously beautiful that I started to cry.”

Agnetha taking on the part of the dancing queen.It would take several months before the recording was completed, however – few ABBA songs had such a long journey from start to finish. It was ABBA manager Stig Anderson who came up with the title ‘Dancing Queen’, writing the lyrics in collaboration with Björn, and in September, Agnetha and Frida added their vocals to the track. But even as late as December 1975, Björn and Benny were still fine-tuning the recording, adding further overdubs.

 

The queen is snubbed
Agnetha and Frida in a typical profile shot.By coincidence, it happened that both ‘Fernando’ and ‘Dancing Queen’ were completed around the same time. ABBA wanted to release a new single in March 1976, and were unsure which of the tracks to choose:they knew that both had a strong hit potential. However, Stig Anderson insisted that ‘Fernando’ was the right song to go with at this point – a ballad seemed like a fresh contrast against the previous single, the uptempo ’Mamma Mia’ – and Björn and Benny eventually agreed with him. ‘Dancing Queen’ would have to wait another five months before it reached record shops.

A happy Björn playing guitar on Dancing Queen.But the song was introduced in some parts of the world long before its release as a single. At the end of January 1976, ABBA recorded a television special in Germany, where ‘Dancing Queen’ was one of the songs they performed. In March, on a visit to Australia, they taped a second performance of the song. This was included in a television special entitled ABBA In Australia, which was exported to other countries.

Finally, back in Sweden the song was also introduced to the public a few months before the release of the single – and it was on a very special occasion. June 19, 1976, was the wedding date for King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and Silvia Sommerlath. On the day before the wedding, June 18, a televised gala in their honour was held at The Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm. ABBA, as the only representative of pop music, were invited to appear, and chose to perform their upcoming single. For this occasion they dressed up in baroque outfits as a suitably tongue-in-cheek attempt to go along with the atmosphere of the ceremonious gala.

A worldwide number one
Benny behind the keyboards.On August 16, 1976, the ABBA single ‘Dancing Queen’ was finally released in Sweden. On the B-side it featured a song called ‘That’s Me’, taken from the ongoing sessions for ABBA’s upcoming album, Arrival.

The record sleeve featured ABBA posing in white hats, a picture that became one of the most widespread images of the group. The photograph was taken by Ola Lager, who was responsible for many ABBA single and album cover pictures. The ”white hats” photograph is said to be one of the group’s own favourite images of themselves.

The release of ‘Dancing Queen’ was accompanied by a promo clip (or video, as these short ”music films” are called today), directed by Lasse Hallström. The clip had been filmed in the spring, the venue being the Alexandra’s discotheque in central Stockholm, a very ”in” club at the time.

It didn’t take long before ‘Dancing Queen’ occupied the number one spot on charts all over the world. Its jubilant sound, characterized by Benny’s trademark piano figures and Frida and Agnetha’s distinctive vocals, made it an instant classic. In April 1977, ‘Dancing Queen’ became ABBA’s first and only number one in the United States.

‘Dancing Queen’ is not only ABBA’s most famous recording, but is widely regarded as one of the all-time greatest pop songs. ABBA themselves never doubted that they were onto something good, as Agnetha remembered: ”It’s hard to tell when a hit is being made, you don’t always sense it. ‘Dancing Queen’ was an exception, we knew immediately it was going to be massive.”

When All Is Said And Done – The Lost Hit Single

During ABBA’s final years together, they excelled in songs about romantic relationships gone wrong. Among the most poignant lyrics were those for When All Is Said And Done – the song that could have been a worldwide hit…

Triggered by marital splits
Frida and Benny in happier times“A thing like a divorce can be, for songwriters, a new experience and something to use in lyrics.” When Björn Ulvaeus uttered those words in the 1999 documentary The Winner Takes It All, he certainly knew what he was talking about. With the possible exception of Fleetwood Mac, few other groups have become as famous as ABBA for laying their emotions bare when exploring their own marital splits. Famously, when Björn and Agnetha saw their marriage come to an end, their feelings of sadness and regret coloured his lyrics and her lead vocals for ‘The Winner Takes It All’. A less familiar “divorce song”, perhaps, but no less powerful is ‘When All Is Said And Done’. Björn, who was responsible for all ABBA lyrics during the second half of the group’s career, didn’t stop at his own experiences when he investigated the circumstances of a marriage on the skids. For in the case of ‘When All Is Said And Done’, the immediate trigger was the breakdown in Frida and Benny’s relationship.

Björn and Benny in the studio during sessions for The VisitorsWhen sessions for ABBA’s final studio album, The Visitors, began on March 16, 1981, only one month had elapsed since Benny and Frida announced to the global media that their more than decade-long relationship had run its course. Although technically they had only been married since October 1978, their love affair began in the spring of 1969 and just a few months later they got engaged and began living together. But now they found that their relationship was running on empty – it was impossible to save the marriage.

Impassioned delivery
The Visitors album sleeveOver the past few years, Björn had become increasingly personal in his choice of subject matter, and for two of the three songs completed during the initial March 1981 Visitors sessions, he seems to have been in an particularly confessional mood. Although ‘Two For The Price Of One’ was a fictional “personal columns” story, the lyrics for ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ dealt with his feelings at seeing his and Agnetha’s daughter, Linda, grow up and ultimately away from him. And then there was ‘When All Is Said And Done’. Given that so little time had elapsed since the divorce was made public, Björn recalled being hesitant as to whether he should go down that particular route. But both Benny and Frida evidently gave their seal of approval. Today, Benny remembers the song as “a sad story – and very good lyrics”.

Creating a backing track where Benny’s predominant synthesizer work rested on an insistent drum beat, brightened up by sparkling acoustic guitars, ‘When All Is Said And Done’ was, even in this embryonic state, certainly the catchiest of the three new recordings. However, when Frida added her lead vocal, the song was brought to a whole new level. Although the lyrics conveyed a sense of the inevitable, where “neither you nor I’m to blame”, her impassioned delivery seemed to be fuelled by a lingering sadness and bitterness. Frida poured her heart out, not only for herself, but for everyone who had ever experienced the torment of a break-up.

Adding the finishing touches
Frida in the promo clip for the songFor all the emotional sincerity oozing from the recording, Björn and Benny hit upon several stumbling blocks when they were to add their finishing touches. They found it hard to arrive at the right structure and sound, and a number of different overdubs were attempted. One example was a violin line, recorded on April 8, that was ultimately left off the recording. Originally, ‘When All Is Said And Done’, was also a much longer recording. Going on for almost four minutes, the first verse was repeated as a fourth verse towards the end of the song. This last verse was eventually edited out of the recording, pruning it down to an economical 3.20, shorter than any of the other tracks on The Visitors. Apparently, although Benny is proud of the song, he was never truly happy with the outcome of ABBA’s interpretation. “The actual recording is a little hard and sort of ‘square pop’ – not the best representation of ABBA,” he said recently.

The American When All Is Said And Done single sleeveAt the time, however, ABBA and the organisation around them were aware that the song had hit potential. Throughout the spring and summer of 1981, there were intermittent announcements that a single would be released “as soon as possible”. Clearly, at this stage ‘When All Is Said And Done’ was the strongest candidate for such a release, for on August 29, 1981, a promo clip was filmed by faithful director Lasse Hallström. Desolate scenes of Frida walking around on a rocky outcrop in the Stockholm archipelago were married together with studio-filmed sequences of the entire group, filmed in and around a studio in the Stockholm suburb of Solna. In the clip the four appeared both mature and melancholy, a mix that was characteristic for their Eighties visual image (the clip can be seen on the DVD release The Definitive Collection, along with the video for ‘No Hay A Quien Culpar’, the Spanish version of the song). After all this hard work, however, and even though the clip was screened on Swedish television in the television special Dick Cavett meets ABBA in September 1981, no single release of ‘When All Is Said Done’ was forthcoming.

Respectable position
Benny during the filming of When All Is Said And DoneTowards the end of sessions for The Visitors, in October 1981, a song entitled ‘One Of Us’ was created. When tapes of potential single candidates were finally sent out to ABBA’s record company licensees all over the world, word came back that ‘One Of Us’ was the one they believed in. Thus, it was that this Agnetha-led song, also depicting the end of a relationship, was selected as the first single in most countries, charting in the Top Three in places such as Sweden, Great Britain, Germany and The Netherlands.

One notable exception in this release plan was North America, where Atlantic Records had more faith in ‘When All Is Said And Done’. The single reached number 27 on the US singles chart – considering the fact that ABBA’s physical presence in the United States was virtually nil around this time, thus meaning that there was probably little promotional buzz surrounding the song (except, perhaps, for screenings of the video), this was certainly a respectable position. In most other countries, however, ‘When All Is Said And Done’ was never a single A-side, so we will never know whether it would have been a success in territories where ABBA had a more loyal following. But such a catchy song and recording, and with such a poignant message? It is hard to believe that it wouldn’t have reached the Top Ten in the UK and most of continental Europe.

Such speculation aside, the song is still out there to enjoy – like many ABBA songs a hidden gem that has been largely overlooked by the general public. For Frida, ‘When All Is Said And Done’ has certainly remained a song of exceptional emotional power. The memories of recording this and other songs dealing with the end of a romance are still vivid for her, as she revealed in the documentary The Winner Takes It All. “I know that we talked it over and Björn asked me if it was sometimes too emotional to sing those lyrics. But I mean, that was also in a way a challenge, to be able to put your emotions into the lyrics and the songs, and sing it.”

Lycka – the only Björn & Benny album

The Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson album Lycka, released in 1970, contained the very first song to feature all four ABBA members: Hej gamle man! (“Hey Old Man!”). As the original album is reissued on CD with 14 bonus tracks, we explore the fascinating era between Björn and Benny’s years as Sixties pop stars and the first ABBA recordings.

First Inga, then Happiness
The very first Björn & Benny single, She's My Kind Of Girl, was released in 1970.The year 1969 was a crucial turning-point in the ABBA saga. That was the year when Benny Andersson’s group, The Hep Stars, split, and it was the year when the Hootenanny Singers, Björn Ulvaeus’ band, decided to quit touring for the foreseeable future, confining their infrequent group activities to the recording studio. It was also the year when Björn became romantically involved with Agnetha Fältskog, and Benny was engaged to Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Björn and Benny strengthened their working partnership as songwriters and producers, and solidified their connection with Stig Anderson of the record company Polar Music; he also contributed lyrics to many of their songs. In hindsight, it seems the scene was set for ABBA to happen, whenever those involved felt so inclined. The reality at the time, however, was quite different.

The Hej gamle man! single was the first recording to feature all four ABBA members.In Sweden, the late Sixties and early Seventies were a difficult period for former pop stars such as Benny and Björn. The first, innocent pop era collapsed when the discotheques became popular and killed off many gig opportunities. “Pop” became “rock” and there were demands for a “heavier” and more advanced musical setting; also, the lyrics had to deal with philosophical or political issues if artists wanted to be taken seriously. Those who wanted to devote themselves to pure entertainment found it tough: the market for Swedish light-pop was limited, so what remained was Swedish schlager (a form of European easy listening) and cabaret. That was how the duo Björn and Benny kept themselves afloat, although they dreamed about an international career in English-language pop. Stig Anderson was confident that their dream would come true: “One day you will write a song that becomes a worldwide hit!”

The German version of Hej gamle man! was entitled Hey, Musikant - today this single is very rare.The duo’s first recording project together was less than glamorous, however. In the autumn of 1969, they wrote most of the music for a not-very-good Swedish soft-porn movie, using the working title Inga II (it was a follow-up to a similar film entitled Inga). Two of the songs for the film were released as a single in the spring of 1970: ‘She’s My Kind Of Girl’ (later included on the international version of ABBA’s Ring Ring album) backed with ‘Inga Theme’. None of the songs became a hit, and the film didn’t even open until the autumn of 1971, at which time its English title had changed to The Seduction Of Inga.

Despite this setback, it was decided that Björn and Benny should record an entire album. As early as the summer of 1969 there had been talk of a demo album, for the purpose of attracting other artists to record Andersson/Ulvaeus compositions, but the plans weren’t realised until the following year. Also, it was decided to make it a “real” album for commercial release, even if there was still the hope that there would be cover versions of the songs. The album, eventually entitled Lycka (“Happiness”), was recorded between June and September 1970, although according to a contemporary interview with Björn Ulvaeus, only five days in total was spent in the studio for the 11 tracks on the album. In terms of style, the album was fairly eclectic: intimate ballads were followed by somewhat rawer electric guitar-based pop (the rocky ‘Nånting är på väg’ [“Something’s On The Way”] had appeared in an instrumental version in The Seduction Of Inga), which in turn was followed by folk-pop and perky schlager songs. But in general the album was characterised by a sort of singer/songwriter ambition, as if Björn and Benny wanted to become a Swedish version of Simon and Garfunkel.

Two young couples and one old man
However, it was not the more poppy material, rooted in the music revolution of the Sixties, that would give the duo their greatest success. When title track of the album, the ballad ‘Lycka’ – featuring Stig Anderson’s lyrics about simple, everyday happiness – was released as a single A-side, it was the Salvation Army-style flipside, ‘Hej gamle man!’, that became the hit. On the important radio chart Svensktoppen (“The Swedish Top Ten”) it was number one for five weeks, and the single reached number five on the sales chart. In all likelihood, the success of ‘Hej gamle man!’ was partly down to the fact that Agnetha and Frida appeared on backing vocals. The idea for a collaboration between the four had been born in the spring of 1970, when Benny and Frida accompanied Björn and Agnetha on their engagement trip to Cyprus. During their holiday they sang together and were struck by the extraordinary sound they made as a quartet. Their first plan was for a cabaret show in the autumn, but in the meantime they recorded ‘Hej gamle man!’ – the first time all four appeared on the same disc. “It was the birth of ABBA in a way,” Frida recalled many years later. “I don’t think it would have become such a hit if Agnetha and I hadn’t been on it.”

Stig Anderson, always diligent in his efforts to try to sell Björn and Benny’s music abroad, managed to secure a West German recording of ‘Hej gamle man!’ Recorded in January 1971, the single ‘Hey Musikant’, backed with ‘Was die Liebe sagt’ (a translation of ‘Livet går sin gång’ [“Life Just Goes On”]), did not become a hit, however. Nor did Lycka have much success as a demo album for other artists. Most of the cover versions that were recorded had a strong connection to Benny, Björn and Stig. For instance, Polar recording artist Lena Andersson recorded an English version of the ballad ‘Livet går sin gång’, entitled ‘Language Of Love’ (it was also said that French songstress Françoise Hardy was to record a version, but no such recording seems to exist), while her label mates Svenne and Lotta issued an English-language version of ‘Kära gamla sol’ (“Dear Old Sun”) entitled ‘Roly-Poly Girl’ on an album in 1975. Frida did a highly impressive version of ‘Lycka’ on her Benny-produced debut album, Frida, issued in 1971.

The cabaret show put together by the two engaged couples under the name Festfolk premiered in Gothenburg on November 1, 1970, but unfortunately it became a big flop. Notably, one of the few numbers to evoke fond memories in the ABBA members today is ‘Hej gamle man!’, which appeared in the show with alternate lyrics, entitled ‘Tyck om varann’ (“Care For Each Other”). But although this would have strengthened the resolve to go on working as a quartet, the subsequent tour with the show was not an enjoyable experience and effectively killed those plans. In the meantime, however, they all contributed to the records they each issued as solo or duo acts, whether as producers, musicians, backing vocalists or songwriters. One example of such a collaboration was the next Björn and Benny single, ‘Det kan ingen doktor hjälpa’ (“There’s No Cure For That”), which again featured backing vocals by Agnetha and Frida, as did its flipside ‘På bröllop’ (“At A Wedding”), although none of the songs became a hit of any particular note.

Björn and Benny had better luck with their next single, the ballad ‘Tänk om jorden vore ung’ (“Imagine If The World Were Young”) – also with Agnetha and Frida on back-up vocals – which spent two weeks at the top of the Svensktoppen chart in December 1971. The song is notable for being one of the few in the history of recorded music to include solo vocal parts from Benny. He is also featured on the Lycka album’s ‘Kära gamla sol’ and he has solo parts on the 1972 single ‘En karusell’. His last solo number to date is ABBA’s ‘Suzy-Hang-Around’ on the 1974 Waterloo album (there is also a brief solo vocal on the snippet of ‘Here Comes Rubie Jamie’, included in the ABBA Undeleted medley on the box sets Thank You For The Music and The Complete Studio Recordings). The B-side of ‘Tänk om jorden vore ung’ was entitled ‘Träskofolket’ (“The Clog People”), inspired by the same series of Swedish “Emigrant” novels that would result in the Andersson/Ulvaeus hit musical Kristina från Duvemåla (“Kristina From Duvemåla”) more than two decades later.

A Japanese kind of girl
The duo bravely soldiered on with this 1971 single, Det kan ingen doktor hjälpa.The year of 1971 had seen Björn and Benny recording tracks for their second album, although the sessions would have to be squeezed in between other recording commitments. In July 1971 Stig Anderson’s partner in Polar Music, the record producer Bengt Bernhag, died, which led to Benny and Björn’s subsequent employment as house producers at the record company. Meanwhile, the dream to get their music across the Swedish borders lived on. At the time, the international music business did not take Swedish music seriously, which meant that this was a tough task. However, Stig Anderson had an alternate plan: if they could just enter a song in the Eurovision Song Contest, they would bypass the sceptic foreign record companies and be able to reach 500 million viewers directly with a catchy hit. That would be the door-opener they needed, he reasoned. However, so far the team of Andersson/Anderson/Ulvaeus hadn’t even managed to enter the Swedish selection for the contest. For example, ‘Det kan ingen doktor hjälpa’ was a rejected entry for the 1971 contest. In 1972 they were more fortunate: Lena Andersson performed ‘Säg det med en sång’ (“Say It With A Song”), and although it didn’t win the selection, it became a huge hit in Sweden. The trio set their sights on 1973.

This Japanese single featured an alternate mix of Merry-Go-Round.Around the same time, the Björn and Benny duo achieved unexpected success in another part of the world. The flop single ‘She’s My Kind Of Girl’ caught the attention of a Japanese publisher, who felt the melancholy tone of the song would be perfect for his country. Issued in Japan in February 1972, the single became a major hit, reaching number seven on the sales chart and selling close to 190,000 copies – on a market traditionally dominated by domestic acts. Naturally, the Japanese craved a follow-up. 1972 became an exciting year in Björn and Benny’s journey towards an international career in pop: an often bewildering chain of events with many parallel developments.

The 1972 release Love Has Its Ways was the final Björn & Benny single to be issued in Japan.Perhaps inspired by the Japanese success, Benny and Björn had an idea of recording a pop song in English together with Agnetha and Frida. On March 29, 1972, the quartet entered Metronome studio in Stockholm to record two songs: ‘Merry-Go-Round’ and ‘People Need Love’. The former was primarily aimed at the Japanese market, which is quite evident from the Oriental-sounding intro on the recording. However, ‘People Need Love’ was infinitely more important in terms of ABBA history. Not only was it the first single where male and female vocals were equally prominent, but it was also the first to be credited to all four members, issued under the group name of Björn and Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid. The first true ABBA recording had been made. In Sweden, the flip side of the ‘People Need Love’ single was ‘Merry-Go-Round’.

Duos have their ways
In Japan, ‘Merry-Go-Round’ was issued as an A-side, but credited to Björn and Benny only. Furthermore, it was a different mix of the song than the one issued by ABBA. The B-side of the Japanese single was ‘Tänk om jorden vore ung’, in Swedish. However, when the single was issued there was quite a bit of confusion: the A-side acquired the “Swenglish” title ‘En carousel’ while the B-side somehow was labelled as another song altogether: ‘Lycka’! To confuse matters even more, in Sweden ‘Merry-Go-Round’ was issued as the Swedish-language Björn and Benny single ‘En karusell’. However, the single B-side, ‘Att finnas till’ (“To Exist”), actually became the bigger hit.

‘Merry-Go-Round’ failed to repeat the success of ‘She’s My Kind Of Girl’ in Japan. Therefore, the Japanese record label felt that they should contribute a melody of their own for the Swedes to record, something that was closer to the melancholy tones of ‘She’s My Kind Of Girl’. The writing of the lyrics was entrusted to Björn and Benny themselves, although with the instruction that the theme had to be “lost love”. At the end of August 1972, the duo recorded their third and final Japanese single: ‘Love Has Its Ways’. The B-side featured ‘Rock’n Roll Band’, which would later acquire backing vocals from Frida and Agnetha and be included on the first ABBA album, Ring Ring.

‘Love Has Its Ways’ did not become much of a hit, however. After a November visit to a song festival in Tokyo, together with Agnetha and Frida, Björn and Benny’s Japanese adventures came to an end. However, this didn’t matter so much at the time, for the duo had other projects in the works. ‘People Need Love’ had been a fairly impressive success in Sweden – it was the first time in several years that Benny and Björn achieved a true pop hit – and so it was decided at Polar that the constellation of Björn and Benny, Agnetha and Frida would record an entire album together. Sessions began in the autumn of 1972 (which also meant that the second Björn and Benny album was cancelled). Around the same time, Björn, Benny and Stig were invited to submit a contribution to the Swedish selection for the 1973 Eurovision Song Contest. The group competed with ‘Ring Ring’ in February 1973 and released their debut album the following month, which meant that the ABBA story began for real – but this is where our tale takes off in a direction that is not directly connected to the Björn and Benny duo.

For although June 2006 marks the 40th anniversary of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ first meeting and subsequent songwriting effort, and their collaboration is the main thread of everything they’ve done musically since then, the recording duo Björn and Benny ceased to exist in 1972. However, the remastered CD version of Lycka offers a previously unreleased bonus track, which was probably recorded in the mid-Seventies. Shortly after the release of the original album, the title track acquired English lyrics by Ernie Sheldon, entitled ‘To Live With You’, although it seems the song was never issued with those lyrics. For reasons that are unclear today – perhaps there was a thought that ABBA could record the song, or maybe some foreign publisher wanted to hear the song – the Björn and Benny duo was temporarily resurrected in the mid-Seventies to record a simple demo of the song with its English lyrics. This demo of ‘To Live With You’ is now released for the very first time.
(Single sleeves kindly supplied by Pepe.)

The Chiquitita Story

Since its original release in 1979, Chiquitita has come to be recognised as one of ABBA’s biggest-ever hits. But if fate had willed otherwise, Chiquitita might today have been known as – Rosalita.

If It Wasn’t For Summer Night City
Summer Night City was a problematic single for ABBA.It was early December 1978 and sessions for ABBA’s new album were if not exactly disastrous, at least not going as smoothly as could be expected. Sessions for the album that would eventually become Voulez-Vous had begun in March, picked up speed in April and then moved to the group’s brand new Polar Music Studios in June. So far, all the hard work had yielded one single release in September: ‘Summer Night City’. But the group wasn’t entirely satisfied with the outcome of that single, and although it certainly wasn’t a flop, it was a little less successful in international terms than ABBA had come to expect from their single releases (read more in 25 Years Of Summer Night City in the Articles archive). And now, after a period of almost nine months – a time frame that was twice as long as the recording period for the entire Waterloo album five years earlier – they didn’t even have half an album’s worth of tracks that they were truly satisfied with.

Chiquitita was first unveiled to the world at a benefit concert in New York City.However, they knew that they wanted to issue a new single fairly soon. Indeed, there was even a specific goal for their next release. On January 9, 1979, a very special benefit concert was scheduled to be held in the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. The purpose of the show was to raise money for UNICEF world hunger programs, but also to mark the beginning of the International Year Of The Child. There was also the idea that each of the participating artists should contribute a special song, donating the royalties for that song to UNICEF. The entire project had been dreamed up by The Bee Gees, their manager Robert Stigwood and television personality David Frost. ABBA were due to participate, and the other artists were The Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, Olivia Newton-John, John Denver, Donna Summer, Rita Coolidge, Kris Kristofferson, Rod Stewart and Earth Wind and Fire. The Bee Gees, for example, released their contribution, ‘Too Much Heaven’, as a single in November – achieving a worldwide smash hit – and ABBA planned to release their song in January. In early December, it looked as if the new single would be ‘If It Wasn’t For The Nights’, an up-tempo, dance-friendly number and one of the few recordings from the past months that they were happy with.

The tale of Rosalita
The Chiquitita single was released in January 1979 - this is the Japanese sleeve.Still, work on the new album had to continue, and on December 4, Björn, Benny and their trusted musicians gathered in the studio for the recording of a brand new song. At the time, it was adorned with the somewhat ludicrous working title ‘Kålsupare’ (loosely translated as “birds of a feather”), which had absolutely nothing to do with the actual tune. The backing track perfected, Björn came up with a concept for the lyrics wherein the protagonist addresses herself to a former lover who now prefers another woman. The title of this new tune became ‘In The Arms Of Rosalita’. Agnetha and Frida recorded their vocals, taking turns to sing the verses so that they both acted the part of the scorned woman.

But although this recording was compelling enough, the group felt that something wasn’t quite right with it. The backing was slower and heavier than they wanted, and the recording just didn’t realise the potential inherent in the tune. Further work on the track was halted for the time being, and while ABBA contemplated matters, on December 6 they went to London, England, for some television work. Most notably they appeared on The Mike Yarwood Christmas Show (broadcast on Christmas Day, December 25), performing what they then thought would be their next single: ‘If It Wasn’t For The Nights’.

Two wise guys
The Chiquitita sleeve used in Hungary.Upon returning to Sweden, Björn and Benny again asked the session musicians to come to the studio for a reworking of the backing track of ‘In The Arms Of Rosalita’. The date was December 13, 1978, and the contributing players were some of their most trusted collaborators: Ola Brunkert on drums, Rutger Gunnarsson on bass and Lasse Wellander on guitar. This second attempt at a backing track was adorned with the working title ‘Kålsupare II’, subsequently changed to ‘Three Wise Guys’. Working out the new arrangement, many of the features of the first version were retained. For example, the acoustic guitar intro by Lasse Wellander had been there from the beginning, although it was expanded upon a little for the new version. But the song writers also felt that they wanted to emphasise the Latin American feel of the tune, and on the session tapes they can be heard discussing ‘El Condor Pasa’ (as made famous by Simon and Garfunkel) as a suitable point of reference.

ABBA on location in Switzerland, where the promo clip for Chiquitita was videotaped.Another crucial decision was also made for the restructuring of the song: a bridge in the middle of the composition – featuring vocals from the group in its ‘In The Arms Of Rosalita’ incarnation – was moved to the end of the song instead, and relieved from its vocals. In fact, only the chord structure for this section remained, and a completely new instrumental melody played on piano was invented by Benny. The new backing track was certainly “lighter” in feel than the first attempt, and did indeed bear some resemblance to ‘El Condor Pasa’. For the vocal overdubs by Agnetha and Frida, Björn wrote new lyrics, at first entitled ‘Chiquitita Angelina’ and then reworked yet again to become simply ‘Chiquitita’. With Agnetha singing the first verse alone, joined by Frida for the remainder of the song, the lyrics were now transformed into a message of comfort and encouragement, wherein the singers try to instil some hope of better days to come into a heartbroken friend. A few lines here and there from ‘In The Arms Of Rosalita’ were actually retained for the new song, albeit in slightly reworked form, such as “enchained by your own sorrow” and “there is no hope for tomorrow”.

Nations united in praise for Chiquitita
The Spanish version of Chiquitita was released as a single in Argentina.With the song completed, finalised and mixed, ABBA themselves and everyone around them realised that they had a new strong contender for single release. Thus it was decided to let ‘If It Wasn’t For The Nights’ remain an album track, and to make ‘Chiquitita’ the new single and, most crucially, the song the group donated to UNICEF. Perhaps it was also felt that this ballad, with its hopeful ambience, was more suitable for a charity cause than an up-tempo disco track such as ‘If It Wasn’t For The Night’. In any event, ‘Chiquitita’ was first unveiled to the world at the UNICEF concert on January 9, 1979. The show was then televised in the United States on January 10, with broadcasts following all over the world. Then, on January 16, the ‘Chiquitita’ single was released, immediately becoming a big hit and performing much more convincingly in the charts than ‘Summer Night City’ had done, reaching number one in at least 10 countries and the Top Ten in plenty more.

Unusually for ABBA, but perhaps an inevitable consequence of the fact that the song was released just a month after having been completed in the studio, there was no Lasse Hallström-directed promo clip for the song. Instead, the group dashed off a simple performance for the BBC in February, while they were on location in Switzerland for a television special. This performance, filmed outdoors in front of a huge snowman, was subsequently used as the official clip for the song and can be viewed on the DVD compilations The Definitive Collection and ABBA Gold.

As a coda to the ‘Chiquitita’ success, the song was also selected as the tune that would help ABBA achieve a convincing breakthrough in South America, where they hadn’t enjoyed much success up to that point. Buddy McCluskey, an employee at RCA Records in Argentina, collaborated with his wife, Mary, on the Spanish lyrics for ’Chiquitita’, which was certainly the ultimate song for such an endeavour, seeing as it was Spanish-flavoured in both arrangement and title. The Spanish version was released as a single in Argentina in April 1979, hitting number one on the charts. Within a few months the Spanish ’Chiquitita’ had sold half a million copies in Argentina alone, and was said to be the biggest hit in South America in 25 years. No doubt, the Spanish-language success helped ‘Chiquitita’ become one of ABBA’s most popular songs, which was fortuitous in more ways than one: the song was recently estimated to have earned UNICEF more than £1 million (almost $2 million). That’s certainly a mighty honourable legacy for a pop song.

Hova`s Witness – Stig Anderson At 50

January 25, 2006, marked what would have been legendary ABBA manager Stig Anderson’s 75th birthday. This gave us reason to look back on the 25th Anniversary of ‘Hovas vittne’ – the song recorded by ABBA as a special tribute to Stig on his 50th birthday.

The ultimate birthday gift
ABBA with their trusted manager Stig Anderson in 1981.As birthday gifts go, most would agree that having a song written for you as a tribute would be pretty flattering. That song being recorded by one of the world’s most famous groups would probably approach mind-boggling status. And if that same group also made a video to accompany the song, it would probably qualify as beyond comprehension. But if you were turning 50, if you were manager/lyricist/songwriter/record-label-boss Stig Anderson and the group in question was ABBA, such a dream might indeed come true.

Sång till Görel, written for their friend Görel Hanser, was ABBA's first exclusive birthday record.For a successful man like Stig, with a large network of friends and associates, one could be fairly certain that his 50th birthday on January 25, 1981, would not go unnoticed. Many spectacular plans were being drawn up to make it a memorable day – and among them were the making of that special birthday record. It wasn’t the first time that ABBA had created a special song for the birthday of a trusted collaborator. When Polar Music Vice President Görel Hanser celebrated her 30th birthday in June 1979, a tribute song entitled ‘Sång till Görel’ (“Song For Görel”) was recorded. This one-sided 12” single, credited to ABBA and Stikkan (Stig’s Swedish nickname), was probably pressed in somewhere between 150 and 200 blue vinyl copies, making it one of the very rarest ABBA records. Stig wrote the lyrics: a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Görel’s organisational skills.

Sausages and vacuum-cleaners
ABBA dressed up in their Waterloo costumes in the Hovas vittne video.When Stig himself was the subject of a tribute song, the lyrics were no less humorous. Björn and Benny wrote an extremely catchy tune, but the lyrics were put together by a fairly unusual one-off team: Björn, Benny, Agnetha, Frida, sound engineer Michael B. Tretow and ABBA’s album sleeve designer Rune Söderqvist, all of whom were friends of Stig. According to Rune Söderqvists recollections, they all contributed ideas for the lyrics, coming up with stories that captured Stig’s personality. The completed lyrics were littered with endless in-jokes about Stig’s quirky personality and his many idiosyncrasies. For instance, his curious habit of making party guests leave by bringing out the vacuum-cleaner was mentioned. There were also references to his dog Lucas, his love for all kinds of sausages, and his fondness of raising the key a semi-tone at a certain point in a song – which ABBA actually do while singing about it in the song’s bridge. The completed song was entitled ‘Hovas vittne’ (‘Hova’s Witness’). The title was a play on words: Hova was the small village where Stig was born.

‘Hova’s vittne’ was recorded at ABBA’s own Polar Music Studios in Stockholm on January 20. For the B-side, Björn and Benny recorded an instrumental version of one of Stig’s earliest compositions, ‘Tivedshambo’ (‘Hambo From Tived’), which dated back to the late 1940s. The song’s lyrics were a colourful depiction of a particularly wild traditional Swedish dance festivity in the woods. Written when Stig was only 16 years old, it was to become one of his most well-known songs, as well as a Swedish accordion classic (the ABBA version is performed on accordion, acoustic guitar and synthesizer). The completed 12-inch single acquired the special catalogue number Polar JUB 50 and was pressed in 200 red vinyl copies. Although the single was only meant to be a gift for those attending Stig’s birthday party, a number of copies have been made available on the collector’s market over the years. Today, ‘Hovas vittne’ and ‘Sång till Görel’ are the most sought-after records ever made by ABBA.

Back to Eurovision
ABBA in 1981, the year when they recorded Hovas vittne and The Visitors album.On January 24, the day before Stig’s birthday, a special video was recorded for ‘Hova’s vittne’. The location was the Berns show venue in central Stockholm. ABBA dressed up in their original ‘Waterloo’ costumes, as a tribute to the most gloriously spectacular moment in the collaboration with their manager: the Eurovision Song Contest victory that kicked the door open to the global music scene.

ABBA performed Stig's Tivedshambo at their very last public appearance to date.The actual birthday celebrations meant one surprise after the other for Stig. It began at seven o’clock in the morning, when a ladies choir dressed in tail coats and net stockings entered his bedroom to serenade him with a birthday song. The choir consisted of Frida, Agnetha, Görel Hanser, Björn’s wife Lena and other friends of Stig. Then, Björn and Benny climbed in through the window and performed a traditional Swedish birthday song, accompanied by Benny on accordion.

During the dinner party later that night, Stig was presented with the video and single of ‘Hova’s vittne’. He was also given the publishing contract for the song, which came attached with one condition: that it should never be recorded with any other lyrics than the heartily sarcastic lines put together by the ABBA members and their friends. Ever the music publisher, Stig later remarked that it was a shame that a tune with such potential couldn’t be used for any other purposes.

Reunion for Stig
Stig Anderson - the man who helped ABBA achieve worldwide fame.Within two years of Stig’s 50th birthday, the ABBA saga was over. Although no-one had ruled out the possibility that the group would get back together again, it didn’t take too long before everybody involved realised that this probably would never happen again. To date, the four members of ABBA have only made one musical reunion that has been seen by the general public – and again, Stig was the centre of it all, almost exactly five years after ‘Hova’s vittne’.

In January 1986, Stig was to be the subject of the Swedish version of the television programme This Is Your Life. The format of the show called for important friends and relations from the subject’s life to show up in the programme. However, because of prior commitments the four ABBA members were unable to attend the live broadcast of the show in Malmö in the south of Sweden. They still wanted to contribute something and therefore a compromise was reached. Two days before the broadcast, the four members came together for the first time in years and taped a performance of ‘Tivedshambo’, the song that had been featured as an instrumental on the B-side of the ‘Hovas vittne’ single.

At the broadcast of This Is Your Life on January 18, 1986, the video was shown, followed by a surprise visit by Björn and Benny, who had decided to show up in person after all. Although there were lots of mixed emotions between ABBA and Stig at the time, it was somehow significant that he was the one who managed to bring them together again, albeit indirectly. Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Frida had no real desire to perform together as a group in public again – but they did it for Stig.

The Making Of Super Trouper

Divorce, fascism, split personalities – those were some of the subjects covered on ABBA’s seventh studio album. In this essay we explore the making of Super Trouper, the album that saw ABBA determined to grow up and project themselves as mature thirtysomethings.

Benny and Björn and Barbados
Björn and Benny at work in the Polar Music Studio.On November 3, 1980, ABBA’s seventh studio album reached record stores in their native Sweden, and subsequently in the rest of the world. It was, perhaps, the least complicated and most straightforward album the group ever made. There was a sense of neatness that surrounded its conception. In January, Björn and Benny went on a highly productive songwriting trip to Barbados, returning with no less than five songs. On February 4 recording sessions started at Polar Music Studios, and by mid-October work was concluded. The only interruption, aside from holidays, consisted of a two-week tour of Japan in March, but that venture was based on the previous autumn’s trek of North America and Europe, and was comparatively easy to see through. The Super Trouper sessions were a marked contrast to the 12-month gestation period for the previous album, Voulez-Vous, where Björn and Benny discarded plenty of songs in various stages of completion, where ABBA’s own recording studio, Polar Music Studios, was opened a few months into the sessions, where Agnetha and Björn decided to end their marriage midway through the production, and where the release date for the album was continually postponed.

Agnetha and Frida in the video for Happy New Year.So let’s explore how the Super Trouper album evolved, song by song. The tone of maturity, calm and ease was set with the first of the Barbados-written songs to be recorded: ‘Andante, Andante’, a romantic Frida-led ballad about the consummation of a love affair, told metaphorically through musical instructions. The group then continued with the synthesizer-based ‘Elaine’, ultimately destined to end up as the B-side of ‘The Winner Takes It All’. The third song was ‘The Piper’, in which lyricist Björn delved into a subject matter that had been quite unusual for ABBA up until this time. Inspired by the Stephen King novel The Stand, he wrote a lyric about the rise of a fascist-type leader. “The lyrics deal with the fear that there will come a time when people will want such a leader again,” Björn later explained. Politically related subjects would be even more frequent on ABBA’s last album, The Visitors, where the Cold War would overtly inspire at least two songs.

The story of their lives
ABBA filming the video for The Winner Takes It All.Next up in ABBA’s recording schedule was a song that originally was meant to be a part of a musical. For many years, Benny and Björn had been dreaming of stretching out into the musical world, to not be limited by the parameters of a 10-song album but to create a musical drama with a plot, wherein they could expand their musical palette. On the plane over to Barbados they came up with the idea of writing a musical taking place on a New Year’s Eve. Remembered Benny, “We thought it would be a good framework: a few people in a room, looking back on what has been, thinking about the future, that sort of thing.” In Barbados, they happened to meet up with John Cleese – of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers fame – and suggested that he write the book for the musical. Unfortunately, Cleese wasn’t too keen on that, and what remained of the idea was a song with a New Year’s theme: ‘Happy New Year’. (Note: Read more about this song and other Christmas-related recordings in the “Happy New Year – and Merry Christmas” essay here in the Articles section.)

After completing the backing track for one more song – the rocky ‘On And On And On’ – ABBA left the recording studio for almost two months, rehearsing and then conducting their two-week tour of Japan. Not only did these shows constitute ABBA’s last live concerts on foreign soil, but also in front of a paying audience in “regular” concert halls. The group’s very last live performance happened a year later in a Swedish television studio, as part of the Dick Cavett Meets ABBA television special.

With the return to Polar Music Studios on April 9, the remainder of the month was then spent recording vocals and mixing the five tracks already in the can. After yet another break from the recording studio in May, ABBA then returned on June 2 with three new tunes to be worked on. Many would agree that the very first of these was one of ABBA’s very finest recordings. It took a few attempts to perfect the backing track for the song ‘The Story Of My Life’, but once the flowing feel the song required had been arrived at, and the title changed to ‘The Winner Takes It All’, ABBA had a major hit on their hands. With one of the most personal lyrics Björn ever wrote, partly “inspired” by the break-up of his and Agnetha’s marriage, and then an impassioned lead vocal performance by Agnetha herself, few could fail to be moved by the song. Released as the first single from the album, in July 1980, ‘The Winner Takes It All’ was an immediate success, securing a place in the higher regions of charts all over the world.

Magnificently impassioned
Lay All Your Love On Me was released as an exclusive 12-inch single in a limited number of countries.During the same recording period, Frida also triumphed with her wistful lead performance on ‘Our Last Summer’, again with highly personal lyrics inspired by a teenage romance Björn had experienced in Paris two decades earlier. Alas, this track was never released as a single, but has become more familiar in recent years with its inclusion in the Mamma Mia! musical. Those early June sessions also saw the recording of the country-flavoured ‘Burning My Bridges’, the first song from the Super Trouper era to remain unreleased. However, a snippet was later included in the ‘ABBA Undeleted’ outtakes medley, first released in the 1994 box set Thank You For The Music.

The live recording The Way Old Friends Do was the closing track on the Super Trouper album.After a summer break, ABBA were back in the studio on September 8, with three brand new songs up their sleeve. The Frida-led ‘Me And I’ featured yet another set of unusual lyrics, wherein Björn explored the conflict of inhabiting various sides in one’s personality. Meanwhile, Agnetha turned in yet another vocal performance of devastating heartbreak in the electro-disco track, ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’, which received a 12-inch single release in limited territories in 1981.

The third song recorded during these September sessions was destined to remain unreleased for more than a decade. The Mexico-flavoured ‘Put On Your White Sombrero’ featured a magnificently impassioned Frida lead vocal, and stunning harmony vocals from both girls, but for some reason the group felt uneasy about the song and decided not to include it on the album. Fourteen years later it was one of the highlights among the previously unreleased tracks on the Thank You For The Music box set.

Global success
The title track on the Super Trouper album was released as a successful single.With the inclusion of a live recording from Wembley Arena, ‘The Way Old Friends Do’, by early October ABBA had nine songs lined up for their new album. It had also been decided that the new collection was to be entitled Super Trouper, named after the big spotlights used during stadium tours. But it was felt that a tenth song was needed, preferably something that could work as a brand new single as well. After a few hectic songwriting days in the recording studio, Björn and Benny had come up with the perfect song – and, by a stroke of luck, the title of ‘Super Trouper’ happened to fit perfectly as well. A new single and title track for the new album, all perfected in one go. Frida was selected as lead singer on ‘Super Trouper’ and the group were rewarded with yet another global single success.

Super Trouper (the album) was also immensely successful; with millions of copies being pre-ordered, it became one of ABBA’s biggest-selling albums ever. With only two discarded songs during the entire writing and recording period, which in itself was neatly rounded off in just a little over nine months, Super Trouper must have been the group’s smoothest album experience. There was a sense of maturity, accomplishment and fulfilment surrounding the album. With the next year’s album, The Visitors, and the aborted final album sessions in 1982, things would be considerably less smooth.

ABBA – The Movie on DVD

ABBA’s whirlwind concert tour of Australia in 1977 was vividly captured on film by director Lasse Hallström. As ABBA – The Movie is finally released on DVD, we take a look at the background to the film and the new DVD release.

A frenzied experience
ABBA waiting to go on stage in rainy Sydney.As the hard, relentless rain was pouring down on the audience on a dark Thursday night in March 1977, a tense and expectant ABBA were preparing to run on stage to perform their very first live concert on Australian soil. Much of the 25,000-head Sydney audience had braved the rain for hours and hours, queuing to get the best seats in the arena. For when ABBA visited Australia for their first – and, as it turned out, only – concert tour, make no mistake: it was an event that affected the entire nation. ABBA’s series of live shows marked the peak of the group’s unparalleled popularity in Australia, where their singles and albums occupied the number one spot on the charts for weeks on end, only occasionally allowing another act a peek in. Fortunately, this amazing and spectacular tour was captured on film. And now ABBA – The Movie receives its first-ever release on DVD, carefully cleaned up and restored frame-by-frame in all its widescreen glory, and featuring a brand new 5.1 surround sound mix.

Björn, director Lasse Hallström and Benny remembered making ABBA - The Movie.The director of the movie was Lasse Hallström, today an internationally renowned director with an ever-growing list of movies to his credit – from titles such as My Life As A Dog and The Cider House Rules, to 2005 releases like the Robert Redford/Jennifer Lopez vehicle An Unfinished Life and Casanova, starring Heath Ledger. But back in 1977 he was just starting out. In fact, although he had a decade’s worth of television experience, including one TV movie, ABBA – The Movie was only his second-ever cinema release. The reason he was assigned to direct the ABBA film was self-evident: he had almost single-handedly produced, filmed, directed and choreographed all of ABBA’s now-legendary promo clips, and would, with only a handful of exceptions, continue to do so up until the end of the ABBA story.

Completely concentrated
Robert Hughes as the interview-hunting Ashley, desperately trying to catch ABBA's attention.The ABBA film had in fact started out as a more modest 16mm production, intended for screening on television. However, at the behest of Reg Grundy Productions, one of the major producers of television entertainment in Australia, the project quickly grew into an ambitious Panavision project. With 25 per cent of the budget being supplied by Grundy, and the rest from Polar Music International – ABBA’s record label and production company – the film was ready to kick into production.

ABBA themselves hardly had time to consider the fact that a film was being made. Not least because the Australian trek was preceded by a European leg, which in itself was surrounded by excitement bordering on hysteria. “We were completely concentrated on the actual tour, the rehearsals and everything,” recalls Björn Ulvaeus in the brand new interview featured on the Limited Special Edition of the ABBA – The Movie DVD.

This lack of involvement on part of the group turned out to be to the film’s benefit in certain respects. Lasse Hallström had devised a plot for the film, involving the hapless disc jockey Ashley Wallace – played by Australian actor Robert Hughes – who is charged with the virtually impossible task of securing an in-depth interview with ABBA as they tour Australia. Initially, his identity wasn’t revealed to the group members, who were genuinely surprised and taken aback at “Ashley’s” constant attempts at grabbing their attention. ”I wondered who this odd, pushy journalist was,” recalled Frida. “He kept desperately asking strange questions all the time and always wanted us to ’go someplace where it was a little quieter’!” Watch out for the scene filmed on the steps outside Sydney’s famous Opera House and you will see what Frida means.

Relentless attention
Agnetha and Frida performing ABBA's mini-musical The Girl With The Golden Hair.Certainly, the character of Ashley Wallace wasn’t the only one who wanted to get close to ABBA. There was an intense, unrelenting attention from the media and the masses of fans, which started the moment the group’s plane landed in Sydney and didn’t end until they flew back to Sweden two weeks later. “Wherever we were, there was a crowd,” remembers Benny Andersson in the DVD interview. “Whether it was at the arenas, or at the hotel, or if they found out that we were out on a boat somewhere. Then 17 other boats would turn up. It was a pretty unique experience.” Most unique of all, perhaps, was the reception at the Town Hall in Melbourne, where thousands of hysterically screaming fans had gathered to greet the group. Naturally, this electrifying event is prominently featured in ABBA – The Movie as well.

ABBA in the movie's Eagle sequence.Another source for dramatic sequences – used as illustrations for the depiction of the pressure ABBA was under during the tour as well as the whirlwind atmosphere that marked their Australian visit – were some of the songs from the mini-musical The Girl With The Golden Hair. Conceived as a 25 minute extravaganza that closed the show (before the encores), Agnetha and Frida shared the part of the small-town girl who leaves her hometown to achieve stardom as a singer, only to find herself trapped by fame. With performances of mini-musical titles such as ‘I’m A Marionette’ and ‘Get On The Carousel’, coupled with scenes of ABBA talking to the media, dealing with enthusiastic fans, and so on, Lasse Hallström clearly had a field day in the editing room.

Fantasy sequences
Thank You For The Music was performed as the final encore during ABBA's 1977 tour.After the Australian tour was completed plenty of additional scenes were filmed in ABBA’s home town of Stockholm, Sweden. When the Swedish scenes were filmed, in June 1977, ABBA had just started work on their next album. Three songs had been completed: ‘The Name Of The Game’, ‘Eagle’ and ‘Thank You For The Music’. The first two songs were used for fantasy sequences in the movie, whereas ‘Thank You For The Music’ finished off the film nicely with scenes from the recording studio. But some scenes that supposedly took place in “Australia” were also shot in Stockholm, including many of the hotel scenes. Eagle-eyed viewers may even spot a few Swedish street signs here and here, in scenes that are supposed to depict events taking place on Australian soil.

Today, ABBA – The Movie works on several levels – for one thing, it offers a glimpse of certain moods and attitudes in 1970s Australia. But mainly, ABBA – The Movie is the film that depicts most clearly and unequivocally how extremely popular ABBA were in Australia and the energy that surrounded the group and left its mark on everyone who came close to them. Above all, along with ABBA In Concert (released on DVD in 2004), the film remains the only chance to get the feeling of experiencing the group on tour. For director Lasse Hallström, that is indeed the most important aspect of the film today. “I think that the concert parts hold up very well,” he says in the DVD interview, “I’m very proud of those sequences.” As well he should be.

The ABBA – The Movie DVD should reach retailers around the world, starting at the end of September and then following on throughout the month of October. The regular edition will contain the film only, while the 2-disc Limited Special Edition contains the 40-minute interview with Björn, Benny and Lasse Hallström that has been quoted throughout this text (this interview also contains rare glimpses from the tour rehearsals as well as scenes from the Stockholm premiere of the movie), along with the original theatrical trailer, two different ABBA – The Album TV commercials, a memorabilia picture gallery and a gallery of the original souvenir tour programme.

The Agnetha Fältskog Solo Albums

The world will always recognise Agnetha Fältskog primarily for her contributions as one of two amazing lead singers in ABBA. But her recording career started in 1967, and despite 17 years when she made no recordings at all, her solo albums actually out-number ABBA’s studio albums. The May 2013 release of her album, A, gives us reason to take a closer look at her career as a solo performer.

 

She was so in love

Agnetha Fältskog became a recording artist in 1967, when she was only 17 years old. A prolific songwriter for many years even at that tender age, her début single featured one of her own songs, ‘Jag var så kär’ (“I Was So In Love”). The single shot to number one on the Swedish sales chart in early 1968, kicking off Agnetha’s recording career with a bang. Four years later, when ABBA recorded their first single in the spring of 1972, Agnetha had four albums and a slew of hit singles to her credit, all of them released on the Cupol label; for the first few years of ABBA’s career, Agnetha would remain signed to that label. Her fifth album – Elva kvinnor i ett hus (“Eleven Women In One House”), released in 1975 – was the only of her albums to consist only of tunes she had written herself (except for her Swedish-language version of ABBA’s ‘SOS’), and seemed to usher in a new phase in her career: the female singer/songwriter, firmly in control of her recorded output. However, by the time of the album’s release ABBA had exploded on the international scene, so instead Elva kvinnor i ett hus constituted Agnetha’s farewell to the Cupol label. After that she became a full-time Polar Music recording artist and the remainder of the decade was almost exclusively devoted to her work with ABBA.

Her first release as a solo artist on the Polar label came towards the end of the ABBA era, in October 1981, and the album in question was no straightforward pop creation either. Agnetha had wanted to record something with her and Björn’s daughter, Linda, for a long time. In November 1980, mother and child finally entered Polar Music Studio in Stockholm, Sweden to record a collection of Swedish-language Christmas songs. Linda was seven years old at the time. The original intention was that the album should be rush-released in time for Christmas in 1980, but it was soon realised that the deadline wouldn’t be met. Therefore, Nu tändas tusen juleljus (“Now A Thousand Christmas Candles Are Being Lit”), as the album was entitled, wasn’t issued until October 1981. Upon release it reached number 6 on the Swedish album chart and has remained a consistent seller each Christmas since then.

 

Wrap your arms around her

The next time Agnetha had the opportunity to release an album under her own name was in May 1983. The previous year had seen the ABBA era grinding to a halt, with the group making what turned out to be their very last recordings. At the time, the intention was merely to take a break, so that Björn and Benny would have the time to collaborate with Tim Rice on writing and recording the musical Chess. In the meantime, Frida and Agnetha would concentrate on their solo careers. Frida had released her first English-language album, Something’s Going On, in 1982, and now it was Agnetha’s turn to make her début solo album for an international market.

Her choice of producer was Mike Chapman, who’d enjoyed a highly successful career during the 1970s as songwriter and producer for the likes of The Sweet, Mud, Smokie and Suzi Quatro, and producer for acts such as Blondie and The Knack. After Agnetha had trawled through hundreds of demo tracks in late 1982, she and Chapman met up at Polar Music Studio in January 1983 to record the best of those songs. She also asked singer Tomas Ledin – a very popular artist in Sweden, who had been afforded a solo spot on ABBA’s 1979 tour – to write something for her album, the resulting track being the reggae-flavoured ‘Take Good Care Of Your Children’. Mike Chapman collaborated with Holly Knight on what ultimately became the title track of the album, the seductive ‘Wrap Your Arms Around Me’. However, the most popular song to emerge from the recording sessions was the jubilant, calypso-styled ‘The Heat Is On’. It was the first single from the album and reached number one on the Swedish chart. The track was indicative of Agnetha’s overall intention for the album. “We wanted good songs with strong melodies, a positive spirit. Not just tragic ballads about someone having left you, or that life is difficult,” she explained in an interview.

When the Wrap Your Arms Around Me album was released it shot to number one on the Swedish album chart, becoming one of the biggest albums of 1983. In international terms, alongside Frida’s Something’s Going On, it is the most successful solo album ever released by an ABBA member, reaching quite respectable chart positions and selling a reported 1.2 million copies worldwide. Agnetha herself has said that it’s her favourite among her 1980s output. Another major single from the album was ‘Can’t Shake Loose’, written by Russ Ballard who’d penned the previous year’s Frida hit ‘I Know There’s Something Going On’. ‘Can’t Shake Loose’ gave Agnetha her biggest solo success in the United States, where it reached the Top 30.

 

Stewarded by Stewart

The period 1982–1986 was a highly prolific period for Agnetha as a recording artist, mirrored by the slew of bonus tracks included on the 2005 CD version of Wrap Your Arms Around Me. For example, her 1982 duet with Tomas Ledin on ‘Never Again’ was also recorded in a Spanish version, ‘Ya Nunca Más’, while the songs on her 1983 hit single ‘It’s So Nice To Be Rich’/’P&B’ – released shortly after Wrap Your Arms Around Me – were taken from the Swedish movie P&B.

Agnetha’s final album for Polar Music, Eyes Of A Woman, originally released in 1985, was also re-released with bonus tracks in 2005. Recorded in Stockholm in the autumn of 1984, with Eric Stewart of 10cc in the producer’s chair, the album project is notable for producing the last two Agnetha Fältskog compositions to be made public for almost three decades. One of them, ‘You’re There’, was not included on the album, but used for a single B-side (it is one of the bonus tracks on the Eyes Of A Woman CD). However, the second tune, ‘I Won’t Let You Go’, was not only included on the album but was also released as the incredibly catchy first single from the project. For Agnetha, though, this artistic triumph came at a price, as she found that it had become a battle for her to write songs. “I was struggling alone with ’I Won’t Let You Go’ for the whole of last summer,” she told a reporter. “It’s only a matter of hard work, no glamour at all.” The pressure she placed on herself to come up with high-quality tunes probably explains why she gave up songwriting altogether soon afterwards.

 

The way she is

The Eyes Of A Woman album was released in March 1985, reaching number two on the Swedish album chart and achieving respectable positions on other European charts. The album contained two tracks written by Eric Stewart, and also a contribution from Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues. The second major single release from the album, ‘One Way Love’, had been written by Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra. However, the next time Agnetha achieved a significant single hit in her home country was in 1986, when she teamed up with singer Ola Håkansson for the duet single ‘The Way You Are’ / ‘Fly Like The Eagle’. Both sides of this single are bonus features on the Eyes Of A Woman CD.

In 1987, Agnetha signed with Warner Music and released two more solo albums, the first of which was a children’s album with her son Christian, entitled Kom följ med i vår karusell (“Come Join Us In Our Carousel”). That was followed by the international pop LP I Stand Alone, recorded in Los Angeles and produced by former Chicago member Peter Cetera, entering the Swedish charts at number one. But after that, Agnetha’s motivation at remaining in the music business sank drastically. She had been a recording artist for 20 years and had barely stopped to take a stock of her life after ABBA’s final recordings. As she admitted recently, “I was so tired … and just wanted to be calm and be with my children.” It would be 17 years before she released another album. My Colouring Book, issued in 2004, featured a selection of covers of favourite songs, most of them from the 1960s. However, all soon went quiet again and most people, including Agnetha herself, concluded that this was probably her final album.

 

Back on our radios

But Agnetha also likes saying that she’s the kind of person that never closes any doors, and she did indeed prove true to her word when she was approached by the team of songwriter/producer Jörgen Elofsson, who’d written hits for artists such as Britney Spears, Westlife and Kelly Clarkson, and arranger/producer Peter Nordahl. Presented with a handful of songs that Elofsson and Nordahl thought might suit her and which might constitute the first step towards a new album, her reaction was instant and positive. “I just couldn’t say no,” she recalled. “I really loved the songs from the beginning.” The team were soon ensconced in the recording studio, working out a brand new album, which even featured a newly written tune from Agnetha, ‘I Keep Them On The Floor Beside My Bed’ (with lyrics by Jörgen Elofsson). Released by Universal Music in May 2013, A has become Agnetha’s most successful solo album, featuring in the higher regions of the charts in many countries.

Whether this success will be followed by further albums remains to be seen. But at the very least one more chapter has been written in the story of Agnetha’s solo career, enabling us to yet again enjoy her voice in a context quite different from ABBA: Agnetha Fältskog on her own.

ABBA en Español

With the 2004 opening of Mamma Mia! in Madrid and the release of the Todo ABBA compilation, ABBA’s Spanish profile was higher than in a long time. But the group has a long and rich history of Spanish connections.

Ring ring – sí, sí!
The CD ABBA Oro offers a complete collection of ABBA's Spanish recordings.When the details of ABBA’s incredible success story are discussed, we mostly think of Great Britain, Australia and the northern parts of Continental Europe. It is easy to overlook, for instance, ABBA’s long and fruitful relationship to Spain and Latin America, which stretches back to the group’s very earliest days. With the exception of English, ABBA recorded more songs in Spanish than any other language – including their native Swedish. With the recent release of the Spanish compilation album Todo ABBA, not to mention the opening of the Mamma Mia! musical in Madrid, Spain, we thought it might be the right time to look back on ABBA’s adventures in Spain and Latin America.

This was how the Honey, Honey / Hasta Mañana single was packaged in Spain.The very earliest Spanish-language connections for the group have a mysterious undertone to them. In 1973, the group recorded the song ‘Ring Ring’ in Swedish and English: both versions were highly successful in Sweden. With a view of facilitating a breakthrough in certain other countries, ABBA also recorded the song in two other languages: German and Spanish. The German version was subsequently released as a single – but the Spanish version was destined to languish in the vaults for two decades. At least, this appears to be the case, for to date, no one has been able to confirm that the Spanish version of ‘Ring Ring’ was released at the time. The mystery is further compounded by the fact that in an interview published in 1974 Agnetha was quoted as saying that the Spanish version of the song was “selling quite well”. In all likelihood this was some kind of misunderstanding, for it seems that the first the general public heard of ‘Ring Ring’ in Spanish was when it was released as a track on the 1994 compilation CD Más Oro.

Four señoras and señores in Madrid
Fernando gave ABBA a Top Three hit in Spain.In April 1974 ABBA achieved their international breakthrough with ‘Waterloo’, and again the song was recorded in several different languages: Swedish, English, German and French. Those versions were all released as singles in appropriate territories. But was ‘Waterloo’ also recorded in Spanish? Well, that certainly was the plan, according to newspaper reports at the time. In May 1974, ABBA visited Spain to do some promotion, and it was said that they would be recording a Spanish version of their current hit while they were in the country. But no such recording seems to exist. Or perhaps it was recorded but never released, still languishing in some record company archive in Spain. No one seems to know for certain…

What is certain, however, is that during their Spanish visit in May 1974, ABBA recorded an appearance on the television show Señoras y Señores. Although filmed and broadcast in black and white, today this ranks as one of the most hilariously watchable television performances ever made by ABBA. The producers of the show certainly had some very imaginative ideas on how to present the group. In the programme, ABBA performed ‘Ring Ring’, ‘Honey, Honey’, ‘Hasta Mañana’ and ‘Waterloo’. Today, that performance of ‘Hasta Mañana’ is available on the DVD included with the double-disc 30th Anniversary release of the Waterloo album, issued in April 2004.

After this equally illustrious and mysterious kick-off in the relationship between ABBA, Spain and the Spanish language, all was comparatively quiet for the next few years. After ‘Waterloo’, ABBA stopped recording songs in languages other than English, and as their success exploded on the world stage, they had their hands full with recording new music, choosing to cut their promotional visits to other countries down to a minimum. Perhaps partly as a result of their lack of personal presence, ABBA’s success in Spain was fairly modest for the following four years. The group, releasing their records on the CBS-owned label Carnaby, enjoyed a Top Three hit with ‘Fernando’, entered the Top Ten with ‘Dancing Queen’ and reached the Top 20 with ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’, but otherwise their singles stayed out of the sales chart. Likewise, their albums made very little impact.

Gracias, Chiquitita
The Spanish version of Chiquitita sent ABBA to number one in Argentina.This somewhat negative trend changed drastically in 1979. That was the year when RCA Records, ABBA’s record company in most of South America, proposed that the group would achieve greater success in that part of the world if they would record one of their current hits in Spanish. The suggestion came from Buddy McCluskey, an employee at RCA Records in Argentina. ’Chiquitita’, ABBA’s first hit of 1979, provided the perfect opportunity: after all, it was Spanish-flavoured in both arrangement and title. In collaboration with his wife, Mary, McCluskey put together the Spanish lyrics for ’Chiquitita’, and this version was released as a single in Argentina in April 1979. It stormed up the charts, hitting number one, while the English version was pulled along in the excitement and reached number seven. Within a few months the Spanish ’Chiquitita’ had sold half a million copies in Argentina alone, and was said to be the biggest hit in South America in 25 years. With relatively little effort, ABBA had gone from a virtual non-entity to a red-hot act in the Spanish-speaking world.

In 1980, ABBA recorded Gracias Por La Música, an album of Spanish-language versions of their songs.In conjunction with this success, at the end of May 1979 ABBA made their first visit to Spain in five years. The group appeared on the television shows 300 Millones and Aplauso, performing the Spanish version of ’Chiquitita’ along with songs from their then-current album, Voulez-Vous. A few months later, the group proved that their new-found Spanish success was no fluke, releasing ’Estoy Soñando’ – a Spanish version of ’I Have A Dream’ – as a follow-up single and enjoying another big hit.

With this consolidated success, the idea was put forward to release a whole album of Spanish versions of ABBA songs. In January 1980, while Björn and Benny were on a songwriting trip in Barbados, Agnetha, Frida and sound engineer Michael B. Tretow remained in Stockholm to work on the album. Sweden-based Spanish journalist Ana Martinez del Valle was enlisted to help out with the pronunciation.

The Más Oro CD was where the Spanish version of Ring Ring was first issued.

In the spring of 1980, the album of Spanish ABBA songs was finally released under the title Gracias Por La Música (Thank You For The Music). The selected titles were mainly songs that carried a Spanish/Latin flavour – such as ’Hasta Mañana’, ’Fernando’ and ’Move On’ – as well as some of ABBA’s most familiar hits. Gracias Por La Música was a highly successful venture, reaching the Top 5 in both Spain and Argentina – the most important South American market – and even charting in Japan. In conjunction with the album’s release ABBA made their second appearance on the Aplauso television show, although this time the Spanish production crew came to Stockholm to film the interview. The songs the group performed – ’Conociéndome, Conociéndote’ (’Knowing Me, Knowing You’ in Spanish) and ’Gracias por la música’ – were also pre-recorded in a Stockholm studio.

ABBA Oro
ABBA and their associates had certainly taken note of how helpful their Spanish-language recordings had been in their efforts to establish themselves in South America. Therefore, in that market their final two studio albums were both released with two tracks in Spanish, leaving the corresponding English versions off each album. On Super Trouper, the songs were ’Andante, Andante’ and ’Happy New Year’ (the latter track translated as ’Felicidad’), and on The Visitors, the selected tracks were ’When All Is Said And Done’ (’No hay a quien culpar’) and ’Slipping Through My Fingers’ (’Se me está escapando’). As a group ABBA never performed any songs especially for Spanish television again, choosing instead to film special promo clips for ’Felicidad’ and ’No hay a quien culpar’. But at the end of 1981, they were interviewed in Stockholm for the Argentine television programme Monica y Andres – La Carta Indiscreta. ABBA’s final Spanish-related interview happened in February 1982 and was made for the programme Aplauso.

Later in 1982, ABBA made their very last recordings together, and then went their separate ways. As their profile was lowered all over the world, their visibility in Spain and South America was decreased along with it. But in the early 1990s, as the ABBA revival kicked into gear, the group’s Spanish recordings were rediscovered and released on the compilation album ABBA Oro – Grandes Exitos, originally containing only the ten songs from the Gracias Por La Música album. The remaining five recordings known to exist (’Ring Ring’, plus the two songs from Super Trouper and the two tracks from The Visitors) were first released on CD on the follow-up compilation Más Oro. Today, however, all 15 tracks are available on the expanded edition of ABBA Oro, issued in 1999.

And in 2004, the Spanish visibility for ABBA and their music became higher than ever, with the compilation album Todo ABBA (see the News section, October 2004, for the details on this release) and the premiere of the Spanish version of Mamma Mia! Gracias, ABBA, por la música!

Sending Out An SOS

June 2005 marked the 30th anniversary of the release of ABBA’s ‘SOS’ as a single. Join us for this peek into the creation and the success of the song that marked a turning point in the group’s history.

Turn it on
The Spanish single sleeve for SOS.When Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Frida entered Glenstudio, located in the Stockholm suburb of Stocksund, in August 1974 to start recording their third album, their prospects for continued international success looked if not exactly bleak, at least a little uncertain. Only four months had passed since their triumph with ‘Waterloo’ in the Eurovision Song Contest, and ABBA’s success in their home country of Sweden and the rest of northern Europe was steady and continuing on its upward journey. But in Great Britain – the most important country for modern pop music as far as the group was concerned – their fortunes had taken a dramatic fall after ‘Waterloo’ hit number one. This worried the group a little, although they never truly lost faith in their ability to create good pop music. And the song that would eventually turn their fortunes around in Great Britain was actually among the first batch of tunes to be recorded during those initial album sessions.

SOS was first released in Scandinavia in June 1975.On August 22 and 23, ABBA recorded the backing tracks for three brand new songs: ‘So Long’, ‘Man In The Middle’ and ‘SOS’. ‘So Long’ was destined to become the first single to be released from the sessions, towards the end of the year, while ‘Man In The Middle’ was used simply as an album track and single B-side. At the time of this first session, ‘SOS’ had not gained its final title, but only had the working title ‘Turn Me On’. The personnel playing on the track were Benny Andersson on keyboards and Björn Ulvaeus on guitar, along with session musicians who graced many ABBA recordings: Janne Schaffer on guitar, Mike Watson on bass and Ola Brunkert on drums. Together, they laid down a solid backing track for the new song.

Just the right title
SOS was first released in Scandinavia in June 1975.The final title of the song, ‘SOS’, was dreamed up by ABBA manager Stig Anderson, an experienced lyricist with an exceptional knack for coming up with just the right title: an art-form that is often the result of a much more complicated process than the seemingly simple and self-evident titles would suggest. His first draft of English-language lyrics for the song, however, was almost completely re-written by Björn.

In hindsight, it seems self-evident that ‘SOS’ was a surefire hit, but from ABBA’s perspective – and that of the record companies that licensed their recordings all over the world – apparently this wasn’t so obvious. Instead of choosing this catchy track as their new single, due to be released in November 1974, the group were advised to go along with ‘So Long’ instead. Although this recording certainly had its exciting moments, it seems the main reason for choosing it was that it sounded more like ‘Waterloo’ than any other of the current recordings. Thus, it was reasoned, ‘So Long’ would remind record buyers that “this is the group that brought you ‘Waterloo’!”, and so it would stand a greater chance of becoming a hit.

This turned out to be not such a good move. Instead, ‘So Long’ bears the dubious honour of being ABBA’s worst-performing single in international chart terms until their very last few singles, released eight years later. One reason why the hit potential of ‘SOS’ may not have been apparent to the group during the autumn sessions was that the recording may not have been one hundred per cent completed at the time. Although the exact order of recording is not known, according to ABBA’s usual way of operating it is likely that the initial backing track session was followed by the overdub of the vocals, featuring Agnetha on solo lead in the verses.

Guitar and synthesizer
In The Netherlands SOS reached number two on the singles chart.Only after those fundamental parts of the construction were in place would Björn, Benny and sound engineer Michael B. Tretow go on to flesh out the soundscape of the recordings with various overdubs. In the case of ‘SOS’, the recording was in fact viewed as virtually completed when Benny and Björn came up with all the guitar and synthesizer riffs that kick off the recording and which form such a vital part of its sound. For all we know, this process may even have happened long after the release of ‘So Long’; it wouldn’t have been the first nor the last time that ABBA returned to a recording months after its presumed completion. But one thing is probably for certain: it would only have been after this additional work had been performed on the track that the full power of the song became clearly evident to the group.

The Mexican variation on the SOS single sleeve.By March 1975, the sessions for the new album – simply entitled ABBA – were drawing to a close, and with all recordings mixed and completed there were four tracks that crystallised themselves as having an exceptionally strong potential: ‘Mamma Mia’, ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’, ‘Bang-A-Boomerang’ and ‘SOS’. Thus, the production of promo clips for those songs were commissioned from director Lasse Hallström and filmed in April 1975. But when the choice for second single from the album was made, ‘SOS’ was again passed over, this time in favour of ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’. Although this single did much better than ‘So Long’ in international terms, its slightly anachronistic 1950s sound wasn’t quite enough to restore the group’s fortunes in the UK, where it stalled at number 38.

Pete’s favourite

Belgium, one of ABBA's most loyal strongholds, promptly sent SOS to number one.Then, finally, ‘SOS’ was released as the third single from the album. In Scandinavia, it hit record shops in June but it wasn’t until September that British consumers were able to lay their hands on it. As it turned out, this was the ABBA song the UK had been waiting for. The descending chords and ominous synthesizer melody line of the introduction set the tone for Agnetha’s frail vocals, sounding as if it was only through sheer will-power that she was able to stop herself from breaking down in tears. Just those first 20 seconds of the song constituted irrefutable proof that ABBA were no longer to be regarded as a Eurovision one-hit wonder: the four Swedes had mastered the art of creating pure pop, and, moreover, they were doing it on their own terms, within a soundscape that was all their own.

‘SOS’ reached number six on the UK singles chart, kicking off a string of 18 consecutive Top Ten hits in that country. As Björn later noted, “The strongest memory I have of ‘SOS’ is that it was the song that brought us back in England.” The song’s success was no less convincing in other parts of the world. In Australia, it was part of the string of hits that kick-started the Abbamania phenomenon, spending four weeks at number two while ‘Mamma Mia’ was at number one, before finally reaching the top of the chart. ‘SOS’ also hit number one in Belgium, Mexico, New Zealand and South Africa, as well as reaching the Top Five in plenty of other countries.

Today, 37 years after it was first released on vinyl, ‘SOS’ remains as one of ABBA’s most-admired recordings. It was the first single to make full use of each and everyone of ABBA’s formidable strengths – the mix of sadness and joy, the captivating sounds of the group’s female vocalists, the classical keyboard flourishes, the multi-layered soundscape. Some even argue that it’s more than just a triumph within ABBA’s body of work, claiming that ‘SOS’ deserves a place among the all-time classics in the history of pop music. This, at least, would be the opinion of discerning fans such as Pete Townshend, one of rock music’s most celebrated songwriters. Townshend once made Björn very happy when he approached him and declared that “’SOS’ is the best pop song ever written!” And here at ABBA – The Site we are certainly more than happy to let Pete’s verdict stand unchallenged.

The Frida Solo Albums

Most of the world knows Frida as one of two brilliant lead singers in ABBA. But her artistic expressions have also resulted in many solo recordings. In anticipation of the re-release of Frida’s three albums for the Polar label in May 2005, we told the story of her Polar years.

From EMI to Polar
Frida's first single for the Polar label was the 1972 release Man vill ju leva lite dessemellan.The illustrious and wide-ranging recording career of Anni-Frid “Frida” Lyngstad began a full seven years before ABBA became a worldwide phenomenon through their success with ‘Waterloo’. At this time – from her breakthrough in 1967 and for the next few years – she was recording for various EMI-owned labels. In 1969, she met Benny Andersson, and as the two artists became a couple, Benny also began producing Frida’s recordings. By the spring of 1972, the fledgling ABBA group – operating under the name Björn and Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid – had recorded their very first single, ‘People Need Love’. Later that year, Frida’s EMI recording contract expired and she signed to Polar Music. The label move was natural: Polar was run by ABBA manager Stig Anderson, and this was where her fiancé and his partner Björn Ulvaeus were releasing their records, in addition to their employment as in-house producers.

The Benny-produced Frida ensam album contained Frida's original Swedish version of Fernando.Frida’s very first Polar single was recorded in July 1972 – produced by Benny, naturally – and released not long afterwards. Both sides of the single were cover versions of Italian songs, adorned with Swedish lyrics by Stig Anderson. The A-side, ‘Man vill ju leva lite dessemellan’ (“You’ve Got To Live A Little Every Now And Then”), hit number one on the domestic radio chart, Svensktoppen (“The Swedish Top Ten”).

Both sides of the single are featured as bonus tracks on the new CD reissue of Frida’s first Polar album, the Swedish-language Frida ensam (“Frida Alone”), which was produced by Benny. Surprising as it may seem, the album was actually released in late 1975, a full 18 months after ABBA’s international breakthrough, when one would have thought that ABBA would take up all of Frida’s time. But the first few years of the ABBA story were marked by a less than 100 per cent commitment to the group: all four members were still busy with different side projects. When sessions for the Frida ensam album began in February 1974, no-one knew how well the new-born ABBA group would fare in the Eurovision Song Contest two months later, and the members were still hedging their bets. Ultimately, however, the many commitments to ABBA occupied so much of everybody’s time that it took more than one and a half year until the recording of the Frida ensam album could be concluded.

Frida in 1982, ready for a new chapter in her solo career.The Swedish Fernando
So, what did the album have to offer? Frida ensam was a largely eclectic mix of covers: well-known British and American pop and country songs such as David Bowie’s ‘Life On Mars?’, 10cc’s ‘Wall Street Shuffle’, The Beach Boys’ ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ and Charlie Rich’s ‘The Most Beautiful Girl In The World’ were given Swedish lyrics and then adorned by fresh vocal interpretations by Frida. A couple of dramatic Italian ballads were also thrown into the mix. “On the album I’ve included a lot of things that I wanted to do, but was unable to sing with ABBA because we’re a group,” Frida explained. The most famous song on the album, however, was ‘Fernando’. Although today it is more known in ABBA’s English-language version, the song was actually written and conceived for Frida’s album. It was only when the full potential of the song was recognised by Björn, Benny and Stig Anderson that the decision was made to record a version for ABBA. Largely thanks to ‘Fernando’, the Frida ensam album became an enormous domestic success, spending six weeks at number one on the Swedish album chart.

After the release of Frida ensam in November 1975, it would take almost seven years before a new Frida solo album hit record stores. In the meantime, of course, ABBA had become one of the most popular groups on the planet. But now it was 1982 and ABBA were nearing the end of their amazing story. The two married couples were divorcées and the four individuals had begun contemplating life outside the group. Frida, for her part, decided that it was time to resume her solo career, perhaps have it run parallel with ABBA. When sessions for her new album were started, in February 1982, ABBA had not yet split up and no-one knew that their recording sessions later in the year would be their last.

A Collins collaboration
A proud Frida displays the sleeve of her Phil Collins-produced Something's Going On album.In the painful aftermath of the break-up from Benny in 1981, Frida had been captivated by Phil Collins’ début solo album, Face Value, itself heavily coloured by Collins’ own divorce. This was a strong reason why Frida wanted Collins to produce her album. Sessions began at ABBA’s Polar Music Studios in Stockholm on February 15, 1982, and continued until March 31. Upon its release in September 1982, the album had acquired the title Something’s Going On. Said Frida, “I thought it was a good title, because something is going on. From the moment I began working on this album, I felt some kind of development starting inside me.” By her choice of producer and through the general tone of the album, it was indeed clear that Frida wanted to create something that was a radical departure from ABBA. The lead-off single, Russ Ballard’s ‘I Know There’s Something Going On’, was very much in the same mould as ‘In The Air Tonight’, the mega-smash from Phil Collins’ Face Value album, conveying a sinister and mysterious atmosphere, with Collins’ prominent drum work providing the backbone. ‘I Know There’s Something Going On’ was a worldwide success, selling 3 million copies (the single edit is a bonus track on the Something’s Going On remaster).

Frida recording her Shine album with producer Steve Lillywhite (left) in 1984.The album also included contributions from songwriting talent such as Bryan Ferry, Stephen Bishop, the team of Pete Belotte and Giorgio Moroder (their song, ‘To Turn The Stone’, had been culled from an as yet unreleased Donna Summer album) and Per Gessle, who later achieved fame as one half of Roxette. However, perhaps the most poignant moment on the album was Frida’s interpretation of the divorce ballad ‘You Know What I Mean’, written by Phil Collins and originally released on the Face Value album. The album closer was ‘Here We’ll Stay’, a lively duet between Phil Collins and Frida, but when the song was released as a single in 1983, it was as a solo interpretation by Frida. This rare version of ‘Here We’ll Stay’ is a bonus track on the Something’s Going On remaster.

Shining in the 1980s
Since Shine was released in 1984, Frida has only made sporadic visits to the recording studio.By the time Frida began recording her third and final Polar solo album in the spring of 1984, ABBA had, for all intents and purposes, broken up, even though no official statement along those lines had been issued. The album – recorded in Paris and eventually entitled Shine – was originally going to be produced by Phil Collins, but since their last collaboration, Collins had emerged as a global superstar and simply didn’t have the time to devote himself to any major outside projects. Instead, Frida turned to one of the hottest producers in the music business, Steve Lillywhite, who had productions with then-contemporary big names such as Peter Gabriel, U2, Simple Minds and Big Country to his credit. And placing her expressive singing voice smack in the middle of Lillywhite’s 1980s soundscape was exactly what Frida wanted. “The sound is bolder than on the last album”, she explained when Shine was released in September 1984. “Steve opened me up as a musician. All of a sudden I have reached sounds and a way of working musically that I had no outlet for before – but now I have discovered it.”

One of Frida’s ambitions for the new album was to write one or two songs herself, something that she hadn’t done before. The album ended up featuring one of her efforts, the ballad ‘Don’t Do It’, while the quirky ‘That’s Tough’ – a collaboration with her son Hans Fredriksson and Shine backing vocalist Kirsty MacColl – was featured on the B-side of the ‘Shine’ single. ‘That’s Tough’ is a bonus selection on the Shine remaster, along with the 12-inch mix of the title track. Elsewhere, perhaps the most notable inclusion on the album was the song ‘Slowly’, written by none other than ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. To date, it remains the last new song recorded by either of ABBA’s female vocalists.

Although Frida was proud of the Shine album, shortly after its release her priorities in life underwent a dramatic shift, and she decided to withdraw from the music business. Since then, although she recorded a one-off Swedish-language album in 1996 – Djupa andetag (“Deep Breaths”) – Frida has never returned to a full-time career as a singer, making only sporadic guest appearances on other artists’ records. But now that her work with ABBA is being constantly celebrated, it is high time to put the spotlight on another side of Frida: the wide spectrum of musical influences and inclinations that were expressed on her Polar solo albums.

The Name Of The Game – Into A New World

‘The Name Of The Game’ was ABBA’s first brand new single of 1977, opening up a new chapter in their amazing story.

What Rufus said
This Yugoslavian sleeve for The Name Of The Game featured an inversed version of the ABBA logo.While it is well-known that journalists and critics have often had a difficult relationship to ABBA and their music, the group’s love affair with the general public has generally been more straightforward. The same goes for ABBA’s peers – other musicians: their competition back in the 1970s, such as the members of Led Zeppelin, as well as those who came later, with U2’s Bono as the most frequently held-up ABBA champion. And lest there be any doubt about the group’s relevance in the current musical landscape, they also have plenty of admirers among the new generation of musicians. Take, for instance, Rufus Wainwright, one of the most acclaimed new artists in recent years. In a magazine article, the singer was asked to name a “guilty pleasure”. “ABBA are a bit of a guilty pleasure, I guess,” Wainwright replied. “I sing ‘The Name Of The Game’ when I’m looking in the mirror every morning. What a great song!” Visitors to ABBA – The Official Site no doubt agree that ABBA are a pleasure, guilty or not, and some may even agree with Rufus Wainwright in singling out ‘The Name Of The Game’ as a highlight in the group’s work. So why not use his endorsement as an excuse take a closer look at this fascinating and intriguing recording.

In ABBA - The Movie, The Name Of The Game was featured in a dream sequence.‘The Name Of The Game’ was the first song to be recorded for ABBA’s fifth album, ABBA – The Album. Sessions began on May 31, 1977, at Marcus Music Studio. The studio – located in Solna, just outside Stockholm – had never been used by ABBA before. There was fierce competition for their favourite studio, Metronome, and Marcus Music offered the opportunity for block booking over long periods of time. For ABBA, who were spending more and more time in the studio, fine-tuning their songs and working on endless overdubs, this was an invaluable advantage. Moreover, Marcus Music was a thoroughly modern studio in every sense of the word. The group and their record company, Polar Music, had already set in motion the plans for building their very own state-of-the-art studio, but in the meantime Marcus Music was probably the best alternative in the Stockholm area.

A bit of themselves
ABBA's latest masterpiece was one of the brand new songs included in ABBA - The Movie.The brand new song that kicked off the new album sessions had the working title ‘A Bit Of Myself’. It was a complex composition, consisting of six different parts, and as such certainly marked a new, decisive step forward. Those who thought they had ABBA pegged down with the cheerful, straightforward catchiness of ‘Mamma Mia’ had to think again. Along with sound engineer Michael B. Tretow, Björn and Benny had just been on a visit to Los Angeles, for the express purpose of checking out equipment for their own purpose-built studio. At the time, the pop and rock music scene on the west coast of America, specifically Los Angeles, was noted for its laid-back, sun-drenched polished sounds, as exemplified by artists such as The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and many others. Some of that relaxed feeling certainly put its mark on the new ABBA song.

The writing process began with the bass and synthesizer riff that opens the song. The riff sounded like a distant cousin to a recent hit entitled ‘I Wish’, written and recorded by another Los Angeles-based artist and ABBA favourite to boot: Stevie Wonder. Once the backing track had been perfected, the final lyrics were written for the song. ABBA manager and sometimes lyricist Stig Anderson contributed a brand new title, and thus ‘A Bit Of Myself’ changed into ‘The Name Of The Game’.

It was imperative that ABBA got going with the recording sessions for the new album. In actual fact, the end of May was a little late to get started, since the plan was to have the album out at the same time as the brand new feature film, ABBA – The Movie, scheduled for a December release. The bulk of the film had been shot in Australia in March 1977, while the group was out on a concert tour. The concert scenes were the heart and soul of the picture, but director Lasse Hallström had also concocted a story about a radio DJ, desperately seeking an interview with the group.

Cinematic dreams

Interview-hunting Ashley dreamed that he was a psychologist with Agnetha as his patient.In June, additional scenes featuring both ABBA and the DJ were scheduled to be filmed in Stockholm. The director knew that he needed a song for a dream sequence in which the DJ imagines himself being best friends with the ABBA members. ABBA only had a handful of songs finished when the scenes were to be filmed, and out of those ‘The Name Of The Game’ was used for the dream sequence. The lyrics dealt with a girl falling in love with her psychologist, so naturally Lasse Hallström threw in a scene wherein the DJ dreams that he is the psychologist, with Agnetha as his patient.

The Name Of The Game was one of the highlights on ABBA - The Album.However, when the film sequence was made, a preliminary mix of ‘The Name Of The Game’ was used for the lip-synching, since there was further work to be done with the song. On July 19, for instance, saxophone and flute overdubs were made, although it seems they were not included in the final mix – or if they were, they are buried so deep in the soundscape so as to be virtually inaudible. It is also likely that Benny continued adding and subtracting various keyboard overdubs to the recording, as was his habit when ABBA were working towards the perfect version of a song.

The original Swedish sleeve for the single, released in October 1977.As autumn approached, it was high time for ABBA to pick a single from the new tracks they had completed so far. The first suggestion was a rocker entitled ‘Hole In Your Soul’; in places such as Australia, this new single was even assigned a catalogue number and announced as ABBA’s forthcoming single. However, eventually ‘The Name Of The Game’ was chosen instead; after all, although ‘Hole In Your Soul’ was both lively and catchy, there could be little doubt that ‘The Name Of The Game’ was the superior song and recording.

In September, ABBA – minus Agnetha, who was pregnant with her and Björn’s son, Christian – travelled to the town of Kungälv on the west coast of Sweden to work at another ultra-modern facility, Bohus Studio. The purpose of the trip was to polish the live concert recordings for the film soundtrack, but also to mix ‘The Name Of The Game’ in preparation for the single release. A month later, on October 17, ‘The Name Of The Game’ was finally released in Sweden, with a live version of ‘I Wonder (Departure)’ on the B-side. That song hailed from ABBA’s mini-musical, The Girl With The Golden Hair, as performed on the concert tour earlier in the year.

Two voices becoming three
Accompanied by a promo clip filmed at Björn and Agnetha’s home, featuring the group playing the Ludo-like board game Fia, ‘The Name Of The Game’ stormed up the charts all over the world. However, although the single reached the Top Five in plenty of countries it seems the only place where it reached number one on the chart was Great Britain, where it spent four weeks at the top. In Australia, where almost everything ABBA released reached number one, the single experienced a slow climb to number six – certainly not a failure, but not as good as would have been expected for a brand new song in a country perceived as ABBA-crazy. Perhaps the group’s new direction simply took some getting used to.

There can be little doubt, however, that ‘The Name Of The Game’ is one of ABBA’s most captivating recordings, and one of their most “ABBA-like”, for want of a better expression. The sense of joy at testing the boundaries for what could constitute a catchy hit single is felt in each and every beat of the song. And rather than inviting pointless discussions on which of ABBA’s female vocalists was the better, it showcases the strengths of both voices, with Agnetha’s plaintive tones colouring some parts, and Frida’s warm intensity putting its mark on others. Above all, throughout the song the two women frequently joins forces to deliver the unique multi-layered vocal sound that was theirs alone: the famed “third voice”.

‘The Name Of The Game’ opened up a new chapter in ABBA’s musical history. The days of ‘Waterloo’ and ‘Mamma Mia’, brilliantly catchy as they may have been, were over. Since their international breakthrough three years earlier, ABBA had become experts at achieving the very best results in their songwriting and studio work. Now, as their new single made clear, it was time to apply the lessons learned to more complex and often more introspective musical creations. That, essentially, was the name of their new game.

North American & European Tour 1979

September 1979 saw the launch of ABBA’s autumn tour of North America and Europe. Join us for this look back on the group’s adventures on what turned out to be their last major tour.

Benny tickling the ivories as only he can on ABBA's 1979 tour.To tour or not to tour
In terms of the international rock scene in the 1970s, ABBA was, in many ways, a most unusual band. Take touring, for example. Many other acts saw this as something they simply had to do, whether they liked it or not. When an album was released it was the band’s “duty” to promote it as much as possible, and the way to do that was to go on tour. Some artists even toured parallel with their hard work in the recording studio, flying back and forth between audience-filled stadiums and the intensely private studio environment.

Björn, Agnetha and Frida giving their all.But that was not for ABBA. As far as their musical career was concerned, writing songs and working in the studio was always their number one priority. Everything else – from photo shoots and video filming, to interviews and promotion – they could have done without most of the time. Of course, as four individuals they each had a slightly different take on the matter. All four members loathed the travelling that comes with the touring experience, as indeed do most rock stars. But onstage their feelings were more divided. “I think its dead fun being onstage,” Frida once said. “I feel secure because I enjoy what I’m doing.” Agnetha was more ambivalent. Meeting the audience could be an emotional kick for her, but she never felt entirely comfortable as a stage performer. Björn and Benny’s feelings were somewhere inbetween most of the time: they had each performed at least 1,000 gigs during their careers as local pop stars in 1960s Sweden. With some reason, they felt that they had done their share of touring.

Frida and Agnetha during the 1979 tour rehearsals.However, even ABBA went out to meet their audience from time to time. But by 1979, five years after their international breakthrough, touring outside Swedish borders had been limited to a few weeks in Europe and a short venture to Australia. That was all. So far the band’s videos and their television appearances had worked very well for them as promotional tools. But the band knew – as did their manager, Stig Anderson – that there was one continent where touring was absolutely necessary if you wanted to make an impression: the United States of America.

So far, ABBA’s record sales had been impressive if not exactly explosive on the American market. Dancing Queen had been a number one, and a promotional campaign in the spring of 1978 had kicked Take A Chance On Me up to number three on the charts. But album sales had remained a little slower for ABBA, their LPs seldom staying very long in the Top 20. Therefore, they finally bit the bullet and decided to make a concert tour of the United States in the autumn of 1979. The tour would then be extended to Europe, concluding with two weeks in Japan in the spring of 1980.

Preparing for the Big show
For this tour, ABBA wanted to be especially well-prepared and began preliminary rehearsals in May 1979, four months before the start of the tour. “We tour so infrequently that we need to have a little warm-up”, said Benny. “Especially since we’re going to the United States, where we’ve never been before. … We need a little extra self-confidence as a stage act.” To try out their new band, ABBA even performed surprise concerts at clubs in two Swedish towns. For one of the biggest acts in the world to appear live onstage in front of just a few hundred people was certainly not an everyday occurence. Small wonder that the crowd was filled with dropped jaws.

After a summer break, rehearsals continued in August. At this time, Björn and Benny were also trying to come up with a brand new song that could be released as a single in conjunction with the tour. After a couple of attempts they finally came up with the tune they were looking for: the disco number Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight).

Björn, Frida and Agnetha surrounding guitarist Lasse Wellander during Does Your Mother Know.On the Stage tonight
Rehearsals concluded, costumes fitted and sown, and stage settings designed, ABBA were finally able to commence their tour. The first concert took place at Edmonton’s Northlands Coliseum in Canada on September 13, 1979.

In the backing band were mostly ABBA’s usual tour and studio regulars: Ola Brunkert on drums, Rutger Gunnarsson on bass, and Lasse Wellander on guitar. Anders Eljas, who later co-arranged and orchestrated Björn and Benny’s musicals Chess and Kristina från Duvemåla, provided additional keyboards. An unfamiliar name for international audiences was backing singer Tomas Ledin. Tomas – the boyfriend of Stig Anderson’s daughter, Marie – was a new signing to ABBA’s record label, Polar Music. He was also awarded a solo spot in the show, performing his current disco rock single, Not Bad At All.

In the Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! instrumental break, Frida performed a dance routine.The largely white, blue and purple stage set was meant to reflect the “chilly” Nordic origins of ABBA. The backdrops took the shape of icebergs, underlining the “north pole” theme. The man behind this concept was designer Rune Söderqvist, working closely with costume designer Owe Sandström.”We used the last three colours of the rainbow – blue, indigo and violet – as the starting point for our designs”, Owe recalled. “Then we studied all ranges of coulours imaginable; it’s no exaggeration to say that we looked at several hundred different shades of those three colours.”

Agnetha and Frida in the Owe Sandström-designed capes they wore at the start of the show.The tour went on from Canada to various cities in the United States, and then back to Canada again, before ABBA returned to Sweden for a break. The US part of the tour was only half-successful: a couple of concerts were not quite the sold-out smashes the group and their manager had hoped for. There was also an incident where ABBA’s private plane got caught up in bad weather, a horrific experience for Agnetha, who already had a fear of flying. “For one and a half hours our lives were in mortal danger – that’s how it felt for me”, she recalled. As a result of Agnetha’s trauma and a flu she was battling at the same time, a concert in Washington had to be cancelled.

The critics were divided in their opinion of the show, some praising the group, others complaining that ABBA were too well-behaved, far from the usual stadium rock’n’roll performance. But most audiences were well aware they weren’t up for a wild Led Zeppelin-style rock fest and simply enjoyed ABBA for what they were. The show featured energetic interpretations of a wide range of ABBA hits, with a particular emphasis on the group’s then current album, Voulez-Vous. Audiences were also treated to a brand new ballad, I’m Still Alive, written and performed by Agnetha (Björn provided the lyrics). ABBA never released the song on record.

On October 19, the European part of ABBA’s tour started with a concert in Gothenburg, Sweden. After mostly sell-out dates in Denmark, France, The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, England (including a mind-boggling six concerts at London’s Wembley Arena) and Scotland, the tour finished with a concert in Dublin, Ireland on November 15. After ABBA took their show to Japan for two weeks in March 1980, the group never went on tour again. “My musical home is the studio, not the stage”, Agnetha remarked at one point – and she might as well have been speaking for the whole group.

ABBA In Sweden

In conjunction with the Swedish premiere of the Mamma Mia! musical on February 12, 2005, we explored ABBA’s relationship with their home country.

People Need Love was the very first ABBA single, a hit in Sweden in 1972.Swede beginnings
When the story of a massively popular group such as ABBA is told, it is almost inevitable that parts of it are over-simplified. For example, the four members are often reduced to stereotyped personalities, the group’s music described as exclusively upbeat and happy despite evidence to the contrary – and so on. Another frequently repeated “myth” is that ABBA were never appreciated in their home country of Sweden. Although it is partly true that there was heavy resistance towards ABBA from certain critics and cultural commentators, this is not the full story. In fact, speaking from a purely statistical point of view – chart positions, album sales per capita, and so on – it could be said that ABBA were more popular in Sweden than almost anywhere else. The difference is rather that the Swedes afforded the group a more quiet form of massive admiration than, for example, the explosive Abbamania that hit Australia in the mid-1970s.

With the domestic success of the Ring Ring album, ABBA knew they were on to something big.In Sweden, of course, the four ABBA members were already established artists long before the group released their first record. As members of the Hootenanny Singers and The Hep Stars, respectively, Björn and Benny had ruled the charts and the touring circuit in the 1960s, while Agnetha and Frida sprang to fame as solo singers towards the end of the decade. When ‘People Need Love’ – the very first single by the group, known as Björn and Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid at the time – was released in 1972, all four members were well-known. The single only reached number 17 on the Swedish sales chart, but this was a time when singles and albums competed for space on the same chart. If all the albums had been removed to make it a pure singles chart, ‘People Need Love’ would have reached number seven on its peak date. Clearly, the group were on to something that struck a chord with the Swedish pop music audience.

Waterloo broke all previous album sales records in Sweden.Harsh critics
The success was further consolidated in April the following year, when the two singles of ‘Ring Ring’ – the Swedish and the English versions – and the album of the same name occupied the top three placings on the chart for two weeks in a row. The album eventually peaked at number two, stopped from reaching the summit only by the Swedish ’Ring Ring’ single. Again, had there been two separate charts the album would have reached number one, meaning that Sweden is the only country where each and every one of ABBA’s eight studio albums reached the top of the charts.

However, during the time that the Swedes were falling in love with the magic combination of Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Frida, there was also a parallel development in the world of domestic popular music. The so-called Music Movement set the tone for much of the cultural agenda, demanding that “real” music must have a strong political left-wing message and wanting to free it from the demands of the commercial music business, the motto often being that “everyone can play”. This was the exact opposite of everything that ABBA wanted to achieve: they were striving for musical perfection and professionalism, and as far as messages were concerned, they simply wanted to entertain. It didn’t help that they were so closely associated with their manager and record company owner, Stig Anderson, who was even more vehemently opposed to all that the Music Movement stood for – and who wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion in the media. This fact, combined with ABBA’s massive commercial success, made the group easy targets for those who reacted with outrage against even the smallest whiff of commercial pop.

In actual fact though, for most people – who wouldn’t have been active in the Music Movement or had any influence whatsoever on the current cultural agenda – the opinions of critics and commentators were largely irrelevant. They simply responded to the music they heard, and as the 1970s progressed ABBA grew ever more popular. The Waterloo album was even more successful than Ring Ring, and for a while each new ABBA album broke the record set by the previous one. Arrival, released in 1976, was said to have sold 740,000 copies, which pretty much meant that 10 per cent of the Swedish population had bought a copy of the album.

Dancing Queen was one of few ABBA singles to reach number one in their home-country.To chart or not to chart
The resistance towards ABBA from certain critics also spread into the world of radio and television. Admittedly, though, it was a bad time for pop music in general in these media. Some viewed radio chart shows with suspicion, seeing as they functioned very much as “advertisements” for the most commercial songs. Throughout the Seventies, although there always seemed to be some kind of chart programme, they were constantly attacked, often revised and frequently cancelled. The same went for television where there were scant few pop programmes – certainly nothing, for instance, such as Great Britain’s Top Of The Pops. ABBA’s famous promo clips were seldom if ever shown on Swedish television, simply because there was no natural outlet for them. The four clips made for the ABBA album – ‘Mamma Mia’, ‘SOS’, ‘Bang-A-Boomerang’ and ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’ – were broadcast as one long film, in a stand-alone programme entitled 4 x ABBA.

The Name Of The Game - one of many ABBA singles that didn't reach number one in their home country.This also goes some way towards explaining the somewhat astonishing fact that many of the most popular ABBA singles were never released in their home country. Although the group’s Swedish record company, Polar Music, issued singles of international mega-hits such as ‘SOS’, ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ and ‘Take A Chance On Me’, they were only released in the other Scandinavian countries. The radio climate being what it was, ABBA and Polar reasoned that there was no point in issuing singles that stood little chance of receiving any airplay. There was also the additional reason that Swedes tended to buy albums rather than singles. A glance at the Swedish charts seems to confirm that this was indeed true for ABBA. After ‘Waterloo’, there were only two singles that went to number one: ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Summer Night City’ (notably, the latter was not available on any studio album). Singles such as the 1977 release ‘The Name Of The Game’ stalled at number two in a year dominated by “freak” hits from acts such as Baccara, Boney M, Barbi Benton and the bird song imitator Jan Lindblad. In the case of ABBA, it seems many prospective buyers simply noted that the single had been released, but then decided to “wait for the album”.

The Swedish population loved Frida and Agnetha and made huge hits of all their post-ABBA solo albums .On television, whereas you’d think that a massively popular group such as ABBA would be featured regularly, the group were seldom seen. Although this was probably partly because some viewed the group’s music as inappropriate, there was also the fact that the group were far too busy writing and recording songs, and also doing promotional work in other countries. Thus, West Germany and Australia, not Sweden, became the first countries to devote entire television specials to ABBA.

Mamma Mia! comes to Sweden
That said, Swedish television did the first bona fide documentary about the group, entitled Abba-dabba-doo!! and broadcast in November 1976 (the programme actually received its first airing in Australia a week earlier in a re-edited version entitled ABBA From The Beginning). Earlier in the year ABBA had of course been bestowed the ultimate honour when they were chosen as the only pop act to perform on the televised gala tribute to Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf and future Queen, Silvia Sommerlath. The gala was broadcast on the eve of the royal couple’s wedding in June 1976.

After ABBA finally called it a day at the end of 1982, Sweden continued its extraordinary loyalty towards the former members. For instance, whereas Frida and Agnetha’s English language solo albums met with limited success in other countries, they were all hugely successful in Sweden, most of them peaking at number one or two on the album chart. This constantly massive popularity for ABBA individually and collectively gives Sweden the status as the most loyal stronghold for the group, despite the many negative judgements bestowed them in the newspapers. And with the approach of the 1980s and the attendant changes in the cultural climate, admitting to be an ABBA fan became significantly less controversial than it was during the band’s heyday.

So now that we’re approaching the opening date for the Mamma Mia! musical in Stockholm, Sweden, there might be good reason to ask why it has taken almost six years since the London premiere before the show reached ABBA’s home country. The main answer is simply that Björn and Benny originally didn’t want to translate the show into any other languages whatsoever. They felt that the ABBA songs were written to be performed in English, which meant that the entire show could only be performed in English. Eventually they were persuaded to try the concept with stagings in places such as Germany and The Netherlands. Contrary to their expectations it turned out to work very well, and so the possibility was considered to try a Swedish version. A number of the early ABBA songs – such as ‘Waterloo’ and ‘SOS’ – had in fact been recorded in Swedish by the group or its individual members, featuring lyrics by Stig Anderson. However, for the production of Mamma Mia! all lyrics have been rewritten from scratch by Niklas Strömstedt – a popular singer and songwriter in Sweden – and Björn Ulvaeus.

With the Stockholm production Mamma Mia! proving to be an instant sell-out success the moment the tickets were issued, it seems the Swedish loyalty to ABBA and everything connected to them is as strong as ever.

ABBA On Stage

During ABBA’s years as an active group, most top-level artists were expected to conduct regular, extensive worldwide tours. Although ABBA didn’t quite play the game according to the rules, they did meet their audience from time to time.

Benny on stage during the 1977 tour of Europe and Australia.To tour or not to tour
Among the essential requirements of pop and rock stars in the 1970s, ABBA complied with some while disregarding others. For example, at the time artists were expected to release roughly an album per year, and a glance at ABBA’s discography shows that they lived up to that rule almost without fail. But out of the other important ”demands” on a group of their stature, as regards the matter of regular and extensive touring, ABBA chose a path that was altogether different to almost all their competitors.

This rare flexidisc contains excerpts of five songs recorded on tour in Australia.So what was the reason for this reluctance to whizz across the world, enjoying the rapturous reception of the audiences, basking in the glow of unreserved adulation, rocking out with their fellow musicians? There wasn’t one single, convenient answer. Partly it was a matter of being “toured-out” already: Björn and Benny had each performed at least 1,000 concerts when they were members of the Hootenanny Singers and The Hep Stars, respectively, in the 1960s. Just before ABBA started, they had envisioned a future as songwriters and producers; they were moving away from stage performances and were counting on a quiet ”behind-the-scenes” career. Much of that thinking prevailed even after ABBA had become a worldwide phenomenon. The whole group felt that writing and recording the songs was what was really important and stimulating. There was also the matter of Agnetha, who became a mother twice during the ABBA years. She preferred to spend as much time as possible at home, together with her children, and found it impossible to favour long tours. Both Agnetha and Frida also had several hundred gigs and jobs as dance band entertainers behind them before ABBA started.

Frida, Björn and Agnetha - the enthusiasm for touring varied within the group.Park ventures and European explorations
Nevertheless, ABBA did perform the occasional tour during their time together. The very first time the four of them appeared on stage together was in 1970, when they put together the cabaret show Festfolk. The show opened at a restaurant in Gothenburg, and then went out on a short tour of Sweden. The cabaret experience was quite disastrous and almost meant the end of their foursome collaboration for all time. But after making yet another attempt at working together – this time in the less stressful environment of the recording studio – they garnered success as the pop group Björn and Benny, Agnetha and Frida. All of a sudden a hit group, they went on an extensive summer tour of the Swedish folkparks in 1973, playing a reported 80 gigs during a three-month period.

Then, in 1974, the international breakthrough with ’Waterloo’ happened. At the same time the four friends cemented their working relationships and changed their name to ABBA. It was only then that they conducted a tour that took them outside Swedish soil. The original plans for the outing were quite extensive, but it was soon clear that the ’Waterloo’ hit alone would not be enough to sustain a really major tour. Tentative dates in England, Scotland, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Turkey, Israel, Greece, Yugoslavia and Spain were abandoned, and only West Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Nordic countries remained. Agnetha and Björn didn’t want to be away from their one-year-old daughter Linda for too long either, and therefore the itinerary was divided into two parts: Denmark, West Germany, Austria and Switzerland in November (as it turned out, the Switzerland concert was cancelled because of poor ticket sales), with a trek of the Nordic countries following in January 1975. However, except for this last leg of the tour, the venture was only partially successful. Clearly, ABBA had not built up the broad fan base needed to truly attract a non-Scandinavian audience to a concert hall.

During the summer of 1975, Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Frida made their second and last trek of the Swedish folkparks, although it was much less extensive than the outing two years earlier. The folkpark circuit had traditionally been a very modest set-up, where artists were expected to perform two or sometimes three gigs a day – at different venues. They would rush in to the park, set up their gear and storm through a 30-minute show before dashing off to the next engagement. In 1975, ABBA were bona fide pop stars and had altogether different ambitions with their concerts, bringing a quite elaborate show with special effects into the parks. In part, the tour also served to compensate for a cancelled outing planned for the previous summer.

Björn and Frida performing Why Did It Have To Be Me on the 1979 tour.Overwhelmed in Australia
After the experience of the 1974/1975 tour it would take two years before ABBA played outside Sweden again. At the end of January 1977, they began a tour of Europe and Australia. Again, the venture had been divided into two parts to accommodate Agnetha and Björn’s need to be at home with their daughter. After the European trek had been concluded in mid-February the band took a two-week break before heading out to Australia. There they were confronted with what must rank as the most hysterical and overwhelming reception on any of their tours. Quite simply, during the two weeks spent in Australia fans and media besieged the group virtually around the clock, the streets were lined with people whenever they arrived in a new city, and in Melbourne they were even asked to step out on the balcony of the Town Hall to greet the ecstatic crowds. The experience of the Australian tour left an indelible memory on the entire group, not least Agnetha who later said that she never quite overcame the experience of being surrounded by fan hysteria everywhere she went.

Agnetha as The Girl With The Golden Hair on the 1977 tour.After the 1977 tour, the first real discussions about an ABBA live album took place. Most of the feature film ABBA – The Movie had been filmed in Australia, and in conjunction, a 24-track soundtrack of the concert performances had also been recorded. At one point, there was talk of making the upcoming album a double package, with one disc a new studio LP and the other a live album from the Australian tour. Alas, this was not to be: apart from a Sydney recording of ‘I Wonder (Departure)’ being featured on the B-side of ABBA’s ‘The Name Of The Game’ single in October 1977, only a few excerpts of songs from the tour were released on a limited edition flexi-disc at the end of the year.

The final shows
A further two and a half years elapsed before ABBA went on tour again. In the meantime, Agnetha and Björn had become parents for the second time and then divorced. Agnetha was now more eager than ever to stay home with her children. However, in 1979 the group agreed that it was high time that they did a tour again, and they also wanted to explore the possibility of improving their fortunes in North America, where they had only done television appearances before. In September they set out on a tour of North America and Europe, starting in Canada. The three weeks in North America were followed by a ten-day break before the group ventured out on their tour of Europe. Perhaps the most famous part of this tour was the six nights spent at London’s Wembley Arena, where ABBA’s television special ABBA In Concert was filmed. As it turned out, ABBA In Concert and ABBA – The Movie were to remain the only documents available to show the group live in a bona fide arena concert. In 2004, ABBA In Concert was released on DVD, with rare bonus selections. Read more about ABBA’s tour of North America and Europe in the Articles archive.

After returning home from the tour of Europe in November 1979, ABBA took a break, then started writing and recording what was to become the Super Trouper album. But in March 1980, they put on their stage costumes again, embarking on what was to be their very last tour as they spent three weeks visiting the arenas of Japan. After the Japanese venture, ABBA’s public profile became lower than ever, with a minimum amount of television performances as their only public outings. In early 1981, Benny and Frida announced their divorce, killing the last vestiges of romance in the ABBA image and further increasing the emotional distance between the four friends. At the end of 1982, the group finally called it a day. The ABBA era was over.

The 1986 release ABBA Live collected live recordings from 1977, 1979 and 1981.It wasn’t until four years after the break-up of the band, following insistent demands from fans, that a live album was released, simply entitled ABBA Live. This collection drew from the Australian 1977 recordings, the Wembley concerts in 1979, and a one-off concert on the 1981 television special Dick Cavett Meets ABBA. In recent years, the group themselves have been offered incredible amounts of money for a series of reunion concerts, but have refused all such suggestions. Today, then, it seems clear that ABBA’s brief concert history started and ended during the group’s time together. And it is only through DVD releases such as ABBA In Concert and ABBA – The Movie that the experience of ABBA in interaction with their audience will be kept alive for the present and the future.

ABBA tour dates
This list of live concerts covers the tours conducted during the period 1974–1980, when the group operated under the name ABBA. It lists only concerts actually played, not dates that were cancelled or prematurely announced. Furthermore, it is limited to concerts played as part of an official tour, not one-off club gigs.

1974 Tour of Europe
November 17. Copenhagen, Denmark: Falkonercentret
November 18. Hanover, West Germany: Kuppelsaal
November 19. Munich, West Germany: Deutsches Museum
November 21. Frankfurt, West Germany: Jahrhunderthalle
November 22. Berlin, West Germany: Hochschule für Musik
November 23. Nuremberg, West Germany: Meistersingerhalle
November 25. Innsbruck, Austria: Kongresshaus
November 27. Vienna, Austria: Stadthalle
November 29. Bremen, West Germany: Glocke
November 30. Hamburg, West Germany: Musikhalle
1975 Tour of the Nordic countries
January 10. Oslo, Norway: Chateau Neuf
January 11. Stockholm, Sweden: Konserthuset
January 12. Lund, Sweden: Olympen
January 17. Copenhagen, Denmark: Tivolis konsertsal
January 18. Gothenburg, Sweden: Scandinavium
January 20. Helsinki, Finland: Finlandiatalo
January 22. Umeå, Sweden: Universum
1975 Tour of the Swedish folkparks
June 21. Skellefteå, Sweden: the local folkpark
June 22. Sunderbyn, Sweden: Sunderby loge
June 25. Hudiksvall, Sweden: Köpmanberget
June 26. Björneborg, Sweden: the local folkpark
June 27. Borlänge, Sweden: the local folkpark
June 28. Eskilstuna, Sweden: the local folkpark
June 30. Stockholm, Sweden: Gröna Lund
July 3. Malmö, Sweden: the local folkpark
July 4. Storebro, Sweden: the local folkpark
July 5. Kristianopel, Sweden: Masten
July 6. Gothenburg, Sweden: Liseberg
July 7. Borgholm, Sweden: Slottsruinen
July 8. Linköping, Sweden: the local folkpark
July 9. Gamleby, Sweden: the local folkpark
1977 European and Australian Tour
January 28. Oslo, Norway: Ekebergshallen
January 29. Gothenburg, Sweden: Scandinavium
January 30. Gothenburg, Sweden: Scandinavium
January 31. Copenhagen, Denmark: Brøndbyhallen
February 1. Copenhagen, Denmark: Brøndbyhallen
February 2. Berlin, West Germany: Berliner Deutschlandhalle
February 3. Cologne, West Germany: Sporthalle
February 4. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Jaap Eden hal
February 5. Antwerp, Belgium: Arenahal
February 6. Essen, West Germany: Grugahalle
February 7. Hanover, West Germany: Ellenfriedehalle
February 8. Hamburg, West Germany: C.C.H.
February 10. Birmingham, England: Odeon
February 11. Manchester, England: Free Trade Hall
February 12. Glasgow, Scotland: Apollo Theatre
February 14. London, England: Royal Albert Hall (two concerts)
March 3. Sydney, Australia: Sydney Showgrounds
March 4. Sydney, Australia: Sydney Showgrounds
March 5. Melbourne, Australia: Sidney Myer Music Bowl
March 6. Melbourne, Australia: Sidney Myer Music Bowl (two concerts)
March 8. Adelaide, Australia: West Lakes Football Stadium
March 10. Perth, Australia: Perth Entertainment Centre (two concerts)
March 11. Perth, Australia: Perth Entertainment Centre
March 12. Perth, Australia: Perth Entertainment Centre (two concerts)
1979 North American and European Tour
September 13. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: Edmonton Sports Arena
September 15. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: Pacific National Exhibition
September 17. Seattle, Washington, USA: Seattle Arena
September 18. Portland, Oregon, USA: Portland Opera House
September 19. Concord (Bay Area), California, USA: Concord Pavillion
September 21. Los Angeles/Anaheim, California, USA: Anaheim Convention Center
September 22. San Diego, California, USA: San Diego Sports Arena
September 23. Tempe (Phoenix), Arizona, USA: The Active Center
September 24. Las Vegas, Nevada, USA: Performing Arts Theater, Aladdin Hotel
September 26. Omaha, Nebraska, USA: Civic Auditorium
September 27. Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, USA: St. Paul Civic
September 29. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA: Auditorium
September 30. Chicago, Illinois, USA: Auditorium Theater
October 2. New York, New York, USA: Radio City Music Hall
October 3. Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Music Hall
October 6. Montréal, Québec, Canada: Forum
October 7. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Maple Leaf Gardens
October 19. Gothenburg, Sweden: Scandinavium
October 20. Stockholm, Sweden: Isstadion
October 21. Copenhagen, Denmark: Falkonerteatret
October 23. Paris, France: Pavillion de Paris
October 24. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Ahoy Sportpaleis
October 25. Dortmund, West Germany: Westfalenhalle
October 27. Munich, West Germany: Olympiahalle
October 28. Zurich, Switzerland: Hallenstadion
October 29. Vienna, Austria: Stadthalle
October 30. Stuttgart, West Germany: Sporthalle Böblingen
November 1. Bremen, West Germany: Stadthalle
November 2. Frankfurt, West Germany: Festhalle
November 3. Brussells, Belgium: Forest National
November 5. London, England: Wembley Arena
November 6. London, England: Wembley Arena
November 7. London, England: Wembley Arena
November 8. London, England: Wembley Arena
November 9. London, England: Wembley Arena
November 10. London, England: Wembley Arena
November 11. Stafford, England: Bingley Hall
November 12. Stafford, England: Bingley Hall
November 13. Glasgow, Scotland: Apollo Theatre
November 15. Dublin, Ireland: R.D.S. Main Hall

1980 Tour of Japan
March 12. Tokyo, Japan: Budokan
March 13. Tokyo, Japan: Budokan
March 14. Kohriyama, Japan: Sogo Tai-iku-kan
March 17. Tokyo, Japan: Budokan
March 18. Tokyo, Japan: Budokan
March 20. Fukuoko, Japan: Kyu Den Tai-iku-kan
March 21. Osaka, Japan: Festival Hall
March 22. Osaka, Japan: Festival Hall
March 24. Nagoya, Japan: Aichi-ken Tai-iku-kan
March 26. Tokyo, Japan: Budokan
March 27. Tokyo, Japan: Budokan

How The ABBA Videos Were Made

In the 1970s, few other artists could match ABBA’s prolific output of videos – or ”promo clips” as they were called back then. These groundbreaking films have all been collected on DVD, which gives us ample reason to take a look at ABBA’s clip history.

Frida and Agnetha in the Ring Ring promo clip, one of the first such films ABBA made.Clinging to clips
As we entered the 21st Century, there were quite a few pop music fans who had never experienced a time when an artist’s current single wasn’t accompanied by a video. As far as these young fans are concerned, television channels such as MTV have existed their entire lives. But at the height of ABBA’s fame, during the 1970s, very few artists made ”promo clips”, as these short films were called at the time. Admittedly, it wasn’t as if the art form was invented by ABBA, for major acts such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones had already started making promo clips in the 1960s. In the following decade the Stones and the former Beatles members all produced sporadic clips, along with ”newcomers” such as ABBA, David Bowie or Queen.

The Mamma Mia promo clip introduced ABBA's famous profile-and-'en face' shots.However, ABBA’s approach differed a bit from their contemporaries: for the four Swedes, film clips were an integral part of how they managed their career from the moment they acheived their international breakthrough. Starting with ’Waterloo’, they made promo clips for almost every single they released – plus some tracks that never were singles at all. The reason for this working method? Partly, it was that the group wanted to travel as little as possible, doing only a few major tours during their years together. They had also found that television was the best and most efficient way for them to reach their audience. The conclusion was that sending out a promo clip to television stations all over the world could help them minimise their travelling – not least to far-off countries such as Australia and New Zealand – and also enabled them to retain complete control of their visual presentation.

Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) was filmed at ABBA's Polar Music Studio in Stockholm.Hallström hallmarks
The man they chose to help them out with the production of the promo clips was a young director named Lasse Hallström. His first clips, for ’Waterloo’ and ’Ring Ring’, were made in 1974. They were both quite simple affairs, featuring straightforward performances of the two songs. But a year later Hallström was commissioned to make clips for four songs on ABBA’s third album, simply entitled ABBA. In those films – ’Mamma Mia’, ’SOS’, ’Bang-A-Boomerang’ and ’I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’ – Hallström was a bit more ambitious, introducing many of the visual characteristics that would come to define ABBA’s video image. For example, he found that the four members of the band could easily be regrouped into different combinations of pairs, to great, poignant effect.

Stockholm's beautiful Årsta bridge featured in the promo clip for The Day Before You Came.When the clips from the ABBA album proved instrumental in helping the group achieve their breakthrough in Australia, there was no looking back. Henceforth, promo clips would be an important marketing tool for ABBA. This didn’t mean that the films were produced with any kind of lavish budget, however, nor was much time set aside for the filming: sometimes two clips would be completed in one day. But Lasse Hallström, who had been making clips for television under similar constraints since the 1960s, knew how to overcome those obstacles, and usually managed to create something that was simple, yet caught viewers’ attention.

Björn, Agnetha and Frida in the disco-flavoured Voulez-Vous video.Today, the only ABBA clip that Hallström himself is truly dissatisfied with is ’Fernando’, made in 1976. ”They’re sitting there around a fire, playing guitar with some kind of ’starry sky’ behind them,” he has remarked. ”It’s much too conventional.” However, the more lively ’Money, Money, Money’, made later the same year, is singled out as the director’s favourite of his work with ABBA. ”It was consistent with the lyrics and the music,” he reflected. ”I loved editing my films to fit the music, to emphasize the rhythm and the idea of the music, to provide musical support and not just tell a story.”

Watch the ABBA videos – see Stockholm
As a budding movie director and storyteller, Lasse Hallström would often find that the best approach was to give ABBA’s songs a visual framework that matched the songs quite closely. Where there was a dance beat, as in songs like ’Dancing Queen’ and ’Voulez-Vous’, the group would be filmed in a discotheque environment. When the lyrical theme was loneliness and heartbreak, as in ’The Winner Takes It All’ and ’When All Is Said And Done’, Agnetha or Frida would act the part of the solitary woman, whether standing all alone gazing out over a wide ocean, or being the odd one out in a group of friends.

Under Attack featured the four members symbolically walking away in the distance.To some extent, ABBA’s film clips are also something of a sightseeing tour of Sweden, particularly its capital, Stockholm. Some of the indoor locations, such as the Alexandra’s discotheque where ’Dancing Queen’ was filmed, do not exist anymore, and nor does ABBA’s Polar Music Studios – the location for the ’Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’ clip – which closed in 2004. Quite a few outdoor environments were also seen in the films, for example the Djurgården island and the Årsta bridge, featured in the clips for ’Bang-A-Boomerang’ and ’The Day Before You Came’, respectively. ’Head Over Heels’ includes several scenes from Stockholm’s city centre. Go down to the west coast of Sweden and the town of Marstrand, and you will find yourself at the location for ’The Winner Takes It All’.

Lasse Hallström was ABBA’s regular video director up until early 1982, during which time he also created the 1977 feature film ABBA – The Movie. When he made his first ABBA clip, his very first cinema release was just around the corner, and by the time he and ABBA went their separate ways he was firmly established as one of the most successful directors in Sweden. In 1985 his movie My Life As A Dog premiered, and the international success of that film led to a fruitful career in Hollywood.

ABBA’s two final clips, ’The Day Before You Came’ and ’Under Attack’, were created by the team of Kjell Sundvall and Kjell-Åke Andersson, both of whom also went on to highly successful careers as movie directors in Sweden. Those last ABBA songs were released in 1982, when videos were emerging as a vital marketing tool throughout the music business, and even ABBA spent a little more money on their films, although filming for both clips was still concluded pretty quickly.

The clips revisited
A decade later, when the ABBA revival began, all the old clips were dug up again and received repeated screening on television screens the world over. Certainly, they have played an important part in determining how ABBA are remembered visually today, with their strong depiction of 1970s hairstyles and outrageous costumes. Make a parody of an ABBA video, and everybody instantly recognises the reference. The clips are also an important part of the history of the music video, providing a crucial link between the first basic attempts in the 1960s to the million-dollar epics of the 1980s and beyond.

Today, it is much easier to get a hold of ABBA’s film clips than in the 1970s, when fans were at the mercy of broadcasting decisions made by television producers. Now the clips can all be enjoyed and studied on DVD compilations such as the 2012 release The Essential Collection, which is a restored collection of the original films, looking better than ever before.

Our Last Video Ever

The Eurovision Song Contest Semi-Final on May 12, 2004, saw the world première of a new ABBA video, Our Last Video Ever. In this exclusive interview for ABBA – The Site, director Calle Åstrand shared the secrets of the video that brought a doll-size version of ABBA to 100 million television screens across the world.

The ABBA dolls and their hopeful manager plead with the record company executive.Telling a story
Over the years, ABBA’s role in pioneering the art of the rock video has been thoroughly documented. It wasn’t until the early 1980s that the production of promo clips became a standard music industry practice – by which time ABBA had already made more than 30 such films, and were about to go their separate ways. And now, 22 years after ABBA’s last official promo clip – for the ’Under Attack’ single – the four dolls in ’Our Last Video Ever’ bring an unexpected conclusion to ABBA’s illustrious rock video history.

Björn has a laugh during a break in the filming of his cameo part.’Our Last Video Ever’ is more than a regular music video: with its simple but effective plot, it takes the shape of a short film. Indeed, the challenge of not doing an ordinary music video, but getting the chance to tell a story, gave director Calle Åstrand the idea for making the video in the first place. Åstrand has a background in advertising and is the director of several award-winning commercials. Over the past few years, he has complemented this experience with writing and directing television series for Swedish television.

The four ABBA dolls were created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.The idea for the ABBA video came to Calle Åstrand three years ago, during a conversation with a friend. ”He asked me why I had never made a rock video. I had done all those commercials and a TV series, so it would have been natural to try that as well. But I always felt rock videos were uninteresting – you just see the artists miming in front of a camera and I’m more interested in telling a story. ’But if you had the chance to tell a story in a rock video, which band would you choose?’ I replied that it would have to be a group like The Beatles or ABBA, or perhaps The Doors. He asked me if I wouldn’t consider choosing a band that was still active! But I said no.”

Doll idea
However, the seeds for an idea had been sown. If you were to do a brand new video with a band that doesn’t exist anymore, how on earth would you go about it? A week later, Calle Åstrand found himself on a location shoot in Prague and happened to pass by a shop-window. That’s where he came upon the solution to his problem. ”There were dolls in that shop-window, which made me think, ’Why not build a story around a doll version of one of those groups?’” Åstrand decided that ABBA would be the group most suitable for such a treatment, and contacted Björn Ulvaeus. The former ABBA member liked the idea, but asked the director to develop it a bit further. After some fine-tuning of the concept, Åstrand had come up with a story that featured the ABBA dolls seeking a record contract, auditioning their songs at the offices of a slimy record company mogul. Björn gave his approval and arranged a meeting with Universal Music, the owners of the ABBA catalogue.

The affectionate Frida doll clinging to the leg of the slimy record executive assistant.Naturally, the other three former ABBA members were also informed about the idea. They were sent an outline of the video story and immediately gave the project their full support. However, despite their enthusiasm, it was to take a long time before all the practical issues surrounding the production had been resolved. For instance, when would be the right time to present this video to the world? Eventually, the answer became self-evident: the spring of 2004, upon the occasion of the 30th anniversary of ABBA’s Eurovision Song Contest victory with ’Waterloo’.

Ring ring - Benny's cameo had him on the phone.Meanwhile, Calle Åstrand was considering which songs to feature in the video. The original idea was to string together a number of familiar ABBA hits in a medley. ”The selection process wasn’t easy, because there are so many good tunes. But finally I had a shortlist of 10 songs, which I showed to Björn to get his opinion, and then we managed to get it down to four songs. I wanted ’Take A Chance On Me’, because that fits the story. The record company felt that ’Dancing Queen’ should be included, since it’s the most popular ABBA song. ’Waterloo’ was self-evident, because of the 30th anniversary. And then we had ’The Winner Takes It All’, which would also be good for the story.”

ABBA cameos
Once the songs had been selected, Björn and Benny pointed out a problem with putting them all into a medley: they were all in different tempos and different keys. ”The solution was to feature dialogue between the songs and make use of the different environments in the film,” recalls Calle Åstrand. ”Björn arranged for me to attend a performance of the Mamma Mia! musical in London, so that I could see how they had solved it.” In Mamma Mia! the dialogue leads almost seamlessly into the songs, which inspired Åstrand to try a similar approach for his manuscript. ”I read through each and every Abba lyric to find phrases that we could use as lines of dialogue. Björn also contributed a few ideas; his best was ’I do, I do, I do, I do, I do’.”

Director Calle Åstrand with the ABBA dolls.The dolls in the film were created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. The late Jim Henson was of course the brain behind the muppets used in Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. Today, his groundbreaking puppet work lives on in the company that bears his name. British comedian Rik Mayall, who sprang to fame in the 1980s television series The Young Ones, plays the record company mogul. The live cast otherwise consists of Swedish actors, most of whom are very famous in their home country.

Shooting of the main scenes took place in March 2004, at Independent Studios, south of Stockholm. “It was especially convenient to do the filming in a place that wasn’t too centrally located; it made it easier to keep the project a secret,” notes Calle Åstrand. Björn, Benny and Agnetha all visited the studios to film their cameo parts in the video. However, Frida was unable to fit a Stockholm visit into her schedule at the time of the main filming, so her scenes were shot in London in April, around the time of the celebrations for the 5th anniversary of the Mamma Mia! musical. But with the aid of a little technical trickery, Agnetha and Frida are actually seen together in the same shot – the first such picture to reach the public in almost two decades. ‘Our Last Video Ever’ otherwise marks the first time that all four members appear in the same film since the 1999 documentary The Winner Takes It All – The ABBA Story.

Laughs allowed
Other cameo contributions in the video come from some very famous names. “Björn thought it would be fun to have a few more ‘extras’ in the film, other than the ABBA members themselves, watching the band’s audition for the record company boss,” explains Calle Åstrand. The result was that we now see Cher and infamous Iron Maiden “member”, Eddie – himself a doll – in the video.

The biggest technical challenge to the filmmakers was figuring out how to make vintage footage of the “real” ABBA interact with the dolls and the live actors. A scene of the ABBA members standing in an elevator, extracted from their 1977 film ABBA – The Movie, was used for this purpose. However, no clean shot of just the four members was available. “The actor who played the Australian reporter in the movie was in each and every scene, so we had to remove him, which was incredibly difficult. Also, we had to match the quality of the film stock used in those days with the picture quality of today.”

But those difficulties were indeed overcome, and after an intense editing period, ‘Our Last Video Ever’ was finally ready to be screened. Throughout the making of the film, everybody involved were keen to maintain a spirit of irreverent fun – not least the former ABBA members themselves. Says Calle Åstrand, “When Agnetha saw what her own doll looked like, she laughed and said, ‘I look like Miss Piggy!’ She thought that was a lot of fun. And Frida was delighted when we showed her what we had filmed so far.” The male half of the group was just as keen about this light-hearted approach. “One of the first things Björn and Benny said was, ‘The film mustn’t be pretentious. Make sure that it’s fun and tongue-in-cheek – you’ve got to be allowed to laugh at it!’ And I believe that’s what we accomplished.”

Note: When “Our Last Ever Video” was released on DVD, the title was changed to “The Last Video”.

Photographs: Copyright Joakim Strömholm.

Waterloo – 40 years since ABBA’s breakthrough

On April 6, 2014 it’s 40 years since ABBA’s victory at the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo. The circumstances leading up to this international breakthrough were described in previous pieces about People Need Love and Ring Ring (both available in the In Focus archive). In this feature we take a look at the events surrounding Waterloo – the song, the album, and the Brighton triumph.

The Waterloo single was a worldwide smash hit. This is what the Austrian single looked like.Big hits and a new name
April 6, 1974, was one of the truly unforgettable nights in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest. In the midst of a polite and well-behaved line-up of artists, two men and two women rushed on to the stage at The Dome in Brighton, England. The group was wearing the glammest, most glittering costumes this side of The Sweet, Gary Glitter and David Bowie. The sweet ballads and snappy Eurostompers that dominated the rest of that evening were brutally swept aside as the group burst into a song that forged a rocky beat with a catchy pop tune, all wrapped in a package of irresistible energy. The group and the song? ABBA, of course, and ‘Waterloo’. Needless to say, the group were that year’s victors in the Eurovision Song Contest, and the breakthrough they achieved gave them a worldwide mega-hit, the first in a long row of international smashes.

Honey, Honey was ABBA's follow-up single to Waterloo in many countries, including France.That moment in Brighton was the culmination of a process that had been going on for the past year, ever since the group failed to qualify for the contest with their previous submission, the 1973 song ‘Ring Ring’. However, it would be wrong to say that ‘Ring Ring’ had been a waste of time, for the song gave the group a massive hit in their native Sweden. Björn and Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid, as they were known back then, certainly sold more singles and albums than any other artist that year, and were able to embark on a successful summer tour. The only problem was the group name: they needed something that was less of a mouthful and a little more snappy. A competition was held in a newspaper, but that didn’t seem to bring any usable results: Baba or Friends and Neighbours, anyone? It seems that it was Stig Anderson, the group’s manager, who found the best solution. He simply jumbled around the first letters in each of the member’s first names – and came up with ABBA.

The Scandinavian sleeve for the Honey, Honey single.Finally facing his Waterloo
In September 1973, shortly after the group had completed their summer tour, they began work on their next album. Björn, Benny and Stig also had a parellel goal: coming up with a brand new song that could give them another shot at the Eurovision Song Contest. They had to place this much importance on the contest, simply because this was about the only way they could hope to attract massive attention from an international audience. In the early 1970s, few pop or rock groups outside the English-speaking world were taken seriously by the international music business. Trying to get attention through traditional channels – British or American record companies, publishers and media – was virtually impossible for a Swedish band. Stig Anderson was well aware that winning the contest wouldn’t necessarily have to be their ultimate goal – previous years had proven that the runners-up often became bigger international hits than the victors, so the exposure was what they were after, the chance to use the contest as a platform from which they could take the next step.

However, it took a while before the songwriting team came up with a song that would be perfect for the Eurovision Song Contest. The first track to be written and recorded for the new album was ‘Dance (While The Music Still Goes On)’ – a good start. “It’s very close to those early sixties Phil Spector type of songs that we really liked,” Björn later recalled. In mid-October, sessions continued with ‘Suzy-Hang-Around’ (featuring Benny’s only solo lead vocal on an ABBA album), ‘My Mama Said’, ‘What About Livingstone’ and the ultra-catchy ‘Honey, Honey’. Then, in November and December, ‘King Kong Song’ and Frida’s showcase ballad, ‘Gonna Sing You My Lovesong’, were completed. Still, although there were a couple of really strong tracks in there, the Andersson/Anderson/Ulvaeus songwriting team were still not satisfied that they had found the perfect song for the contest.

Björn and Benny retreated to their songwriting cottage on the Stockholm archipelago island of Viggsö, and quickly came up with a batch of new tunes. One of them, an uptempo, rocky number, seemed to be the right song with which to make an impression on the European television audience. Armed with a cassette tape demo of Björn and Benny humming and strumming their way through the tune, Stig Anderson set to work on the lyrics. The song was catchy, and Stig knew the importance of matching such a tune with equally catchy lyrics – above all, it was vital to find the right title.

At first, he landed on ‘Honey Pie’, but that just didn’t seem right; to Stig, it didn’t trigger any lyric suggestions. In the early hours of a Saturday morning, leafing through a book of familiar quotations, he finally found the word he had been searching for: ”Waterloo.” The concept, of course, referred to Napoleon Bonaparte’s legendary defeat by British and German forces at the battle near the Belgian town on June 18, 1815. Stig used that historical event as a metaphor for a girl surrendering to the courting of an insistent suitor, and before the day was over, the lyrics had been completed. Just a week before Christmas, the song was recorded at Metronome Studio in Stockholm. With an exuberant vocal performance from Agnetha and Frida added, ABBA had a track that was a winner in every sense of the word.

This was the Honey, Honey single sleeve used in West Germany.Who’s gonna love it?
However, the recent songwriting sessions had yielded a couple of other songs as well, one of which carried the working title ‘Who’s Gonna Love You’. The backing track for this mid-tempo ballad was recorded the day after ‘Waterloo’. Listening back to the tape after the session, the track triggered something in Björn and Benny. They realised that ‘Who’s Gonna Love You’ would be just as suitable for the Eurovision Song Contest as the rocking rhythms of ‘Waterloo’, perhaps even more so. Stig Anderson, who was headed for a Christmas holiday trip to the Canary Islands, had a cassette tape with the backing track thrust in his hand just as he was about to leave. His task, as usual, was to come up with suitable lyrics. In the Canary Islands, Stig kept hearing the phrase ”hasta mañana”, meaning ”see you tomorrow”, on the radio. He quickly put together the lyrics for the new song, and dictated them down a crackly telephone line between Spain and Sweden. ‘Who’s Gonna Love You’ had become ‘Hasta Mañana’. The song was soon recorded, adorned with a captivating lead vocal performance from Agnetha.

Hasta Mañana was released as a single A-side in Japan, one of a handful countries to do so.Björn, Benny and Stig now found themselves with a problem to solve. Should a “safe” tune like ‘Hasta Mañana’ be their submission to the Swedish Eurovision Song Contest heats? After all, it was in line with the previous four years’ winning entries: a female solo performance of a slow to mid-tempo ballad. Or was it better to go with ‘Waterloo’, precisely because it broke with the Eurovision tradition? After agonising a bit, they decided to go out on a limb and place their bets on the rock tune, not least because the song focused on both Frida and Agnetha as lead vocalists, which meant that the actual performance of the song would work much better.

Two songs each from the Waterloo and Ring Ring albums were combined on this Australian EP.He can’t be the songwriter!
It proved to be the correct choice. ABBA and ‘Waterloo’ sailed through the Swedish heats on February 9, 1974, scoring an overwhelming victory over the other contestants. And then, finally, came that fateful day on April 6 when the time had come to win over the Eurovision juries – and, above all, the European television viewers. It was an irresistible package: a catchy song, unforgettably zany costumes – created by clothes designer Inger Svenneke – and a zestful performance that smashed right through the television screens. Once all the contestants had performed their entries, it was time for the voting – a nerve-racking process for most of the group. Björn was so nervous that at first he didn’t want to watch the proceedings. In the end though, he couldn’t keep himself from grouping around the monitor together with Benny, Agnetha and Frida, biting his nails all the way through. ”No-one can imagine the tension of such an event,” he said. ”Your skin crawls, your stomach knots up and your throat gets all dry. You want to run away from it all, at the same time as you’re standing there transfixed and spellbound. Believe me, it’s a real ordeal.” Only Frida managed to keep her cool. ”I was surprised at myself because I believe I was pretty ice-cold,” she recalled. ”The reaction didn’t come until afterwards. It was hard to believe that we had won this major contest.”

Stig rushed onstage to accept his songwriting award and proceeded to repeat the phrase ”thank you” in the languages of several of the participating countries. He had rehearsed the phrases earlier in the afternoon when he thought he should prepare in some way for the eventuality of winning. The awards ceremony became somewhat anticlimactic for the other two songwriters. When Björn and Benny tried to get on stage, they were held back by security guards who insisted that ”only the composers are allowed on stage” for the ceremony. The guards were holding on to their legs as they were trying to climb the short steps leading to the stage. ”The guard [said], ‘You’re not a writer, you’ve misunderstood this, you dumb Swede! You have to wait’,” Björn recalled. ”The way I was dressed he would have thought, ‘He can’t be the writer.’”

In the hours after the contest, most of the group were swept away as if in a hazy dream. Björn and Benny remembered how they were both convinced that someone would soon tell them that the votes had been incorrectly calculated. Agnetha called her parents, crying with joy down the telephone line. It was a night ABBA would never forget.

The triumph in Brighton achieved results beyond anything anyone had dared hope for. The ‘Waterloo’ single charted highly everywhere – including the United States, Australia and a host of other countries where Eurovision was a largely unknown event – hitting number one in at least seven nations. ABBA had scored their first major global hit, finally proving that it was possible to break the boundaries imposed upon them by the international record business. The Waterloo album, first released in Sweden on March 4, achieved Top Ten placings in Europe and, at the height of Abbamania a few years later, it reached the Top 20 in Australia.

The door had been opened – and ABBA certainly weren’t going to let anyone close it ever again.

Ring Ring – ABBA’s journey towards Eurovision

The year 2004 marked ABBA’s 30th Anniversary. But their journey towards an international breakthrough was long and tangled. The first part of that journey is described in an article about People Need Love (available in the Articles archive). In this feature we take a look at the year leading up to ABBA’s Brighton triumph.

ABBA's follow-up after People Need Love was the He Is Your Brother single.Trying for an album
The summer 1972 success of ’People Need Love’, the first Björn and Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid single, was something of a wake-up call for Stig Anderson, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. Stig was the owner of the Polar Music record label, where the duo act Björn and Benny released their records and where they were also employed as house producers. The threesome had long been trying to reach outside Swedish borders with their music, but for the past few years Björn and Benny had mainly been occupied with ”schlager” – easily digestible hits aimed at the kitchen transistor radios in Swedish homes. In reality, they wanted to make modern pop music, but at the moment it seemed their greatest success came with the milder material, the songs mum and dad could hum along to as well.

The Ring Ring album's I Am Just A Girl utilised the backing track of this movie theme.The change happened when they decided to try their luck with ’People Need Love’, for the first time using the superior vocal talents of their female companions, Agnetha and Frida, to full effect. Although they were far from convinced that this loose group concept would lead to any long-term success, Stig, Benny and Björn saw a certain potential and decided that the two couples should record an LP. However, the album wasn’t necessarily the main priority for any of the involved, and, to some extent, it turned out to be a grab bag collection of revamped tracks originally recorded for other purposes. It was understandable, for Björn and Benny already had their hands full writing songs and producing albums for other artists on the Polar Music label.

The Swedish version of Ring Ring was issued in this generic label bag.On September 26, 1972, the first recording session was held where it was clearly stated on the session sheet that the tracks were intended for an album by the group Björn and Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid. As it turned out, the backing track recorded that day, for a song adorned with the working title ’Contemplation’, was probably never used. The group did some work on one of those ”old” songs, not originally intended for the group. ’Rock’n’Roll Band’, which had been recorded for a B-side to a Björn and Benny single issued in Japan, received a fuzz guitar overdub and some additional re-jigging for the group album.

Adventure in Japan
The first recording session for a completely new song intended for the album didn’t take place until October 17, when the backing track for ’He Is Your Brother’ was completed. This song, which repeated the message of harmony between people conveyed in ’People Need Love’, was issued as a single a few weeks later. It became a hit in Sweden, at least on the radio chart Tio i topp (”The Top Ten”). Although this success probably further strengthened the feeling that there was real potential in the group concept, Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Frida still didn’t really consider the group their primary concern. Indeed, all four members were busy with several different projects during the autumn of 1972.

Björn and Benny had their production chores, and they were also writing songs for the movie Ture Sventon – privatdetektiv (”Ture Sventon – Private Investigator”). One of the songs from this project, ’Jag är blott en man’ (”I Am Just A Man”) – originally performed by Swedish actor Jarl Kulle – was given English lyrics and a new vocal overdub for inclusion on the group album as ’I Am Just A Girl’. As the duo Björn and Benny, the two songwriters were releasing a single entitled ’Love Has Its Ways’ (featuring ’Rock’n’Roll Band’ on the B-side) in Japan only. Frida and Agnetha, meanwhile, were enjoying hits with the songs ’Man vill ju leva lite dessemellan’ (”You’ve Got To Live A Little Every Now And Then”) and ’Så glad som dina ögon’ (”As Happy As Your Eyes”), respectively. Small wonder that Björn would later characterise their collective attitude to the group at this time as ”a hobby”.

However, they did perform at least one public group activity. Björn and Benny’s success in Japan earlier in the year led to an invitation to perform at the Yamaha World Popular Song Contest in Tokyo in November. The song they performed at this function was entitled ’Santa Rosa’. It had been recorded by the duo alone, but was released in Sweden as the B-side to the ’He Is Your Brother’ single. ‘Santa Rosa’ was not the best song they had ever written, and the decision to perform it in the contest was actually made by their Japanese record company. Still, it did mean that the two couples were able to go to Japan, for although they don’t appear on the record, Agnetha and Frida were asked to perform in the festival. But despite the female contribution, the Swedish entry was in fact awarded no prize whatsoever.

A biography about producer Phil Spector inspired engineer Michael B. Tretow.Bell song exploration
The group already had their mind on another contest, one they really believed could be their ticket to the international arena. While the group were in Tokyo, at home in Sweden it was announced that the songwriting team of Benny Andersson, Stig Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus had been invited to submit a song to the selection for the 1973 Eurovision Song Contest. During the holiday season at the end of the year, Björn and Benny headed out to their songwriting cottage at the island of Viggsö in the Stockholm archipelago. After hours and days of hard work, they came up with an upbeat song, a tune that seemed to hark back to the spirit of pop music as it used to be a decade earlier. They gave the song the working title ’Klocklåt’ (‘Bell Song’). Stig Anderson’s job was to write the lyrics, and he felt Benny and Björn’s new concoction was right on the mark. ”We wanted to do something poppy, something that reflected the popular music tastes of today,” he recalled. ”We wanted to get rid of all the pomp and circumstances surrounding the Eurovision Song Contest: the dinner-jackets and the evening dresses.”

Love Isn't Easy (But It Sure Is Hard Enough) was released as a single in Denmark only.When Stig was finished with his end of the job, the song had been adorned with the title ’Ring Ring’. To ensure that the lyrics sounded exactly right to an international audience, Stig even asked American pop star and songwriter Neil Sedaka – whom he knew through music publishing contacts – to pen the words for the English version, together with his songwriting partner Phil Cody. On January 10, 1973, the song was recorded at Metronome Studio in Stockholm. The studio engineer was Michael B. Tretow, who had become a valuable collaborator for Björn and Benny over the past few years. On this recording he made a contribution that must certainly be considered his most important so far. Michael had recently read a book about American record producer Phil Spector, who was famous for his ”wall of sound”. The book – entitled Out Of His Head, written by Richard Williams – revealed all the secrets on exactly how the Spector sound was achieved. Just like Michael suspected, it was simply a matter of several musicians playing the same instruments – three pianos, five guitars, and so on – in the same recording studio at the same time.

Ring Ring was the first ABBA album, issued in March 1973.Michael was excited by this prospect, but realised that it would probably be much too expensive for most Swedish record labels. But he came up with a solution: why not simply record the backing track for the song twice? Then you would get that big, almost orchestral sound he was after. He also figured that if you changed the speed on the tape recorder just slightly between the overdubs, in fact making the instruments just slightly out of tune, it would increase the effect of a big sound. He told Björn and Benny about his theories. Fortunately, they were just as excited as he was by this idea. And no one was disappointed with the result: ’Ring Ring’ was a record that rumbled and thundered; it sounded like nothing that had ever come out of a Swedish recording studio.

Top three triumph
Disappointingly, however, when Björn and Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid performed ’Ring Ring’ in the Swedish selection on February 10, they only finished third. There was to be no Eurovison Song Contest for them that year. This disheartening outcome for a song they believed so much in was soon balanced in the extreme, when the group issued ’Ring Ring’ on two singles – Swedish and English versions – and then finally completed and released their first LP, Ring Ring, on March 26. Among the more notable tracks included on the album were ’Love Isn’t Easy (But It Sure Is Hard Enough)’, later issued as a single in Scandinavia, and ’Disillusion,’ written by Agnetha (featuring lyrics by Björn) – the only Fältskog tune ever to be featured on an ABBA disc. All three Ring Ring releases were major hits, shooting to the top of the combined singles and album sales chart that Sweden used at the time, occupying the top three positions. The song that could easily have turned into an ambitious failure, was in fact the pop music triumph of the year.

This was the point when the Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Frida finally realised that their group should definitely be regarded as more than a hobby – they had something really good going for them, that much was obvious, and they must definitely go on working together. Their success was solidified in the summer of 1973, when they went out on an extensive tour of Sweden’s folkparks. As the tour concluded in September, they started thinking about recording a new album. And they also began preparing themselves for the following year’s Eurovision Song Contest…

Happy New Year – and Merry Christmas!

The song Happy New Year was probably the closest ABBA as a group ever came to a Christmas record. But over the years the individual members have made quite a few forays into the Christmas market. In this feature, we take a look at Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Frida’s musical season celebrations over the years.

Happy New Year was featured on the Super Trouper album.A vision now and then
In November 1980, two teenage girls were asked to review ABBA’s latest album, Super Trouper, on a Swedish radio show. The girls liked ‘On And On And On’ and ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’, but were critical of the track ‘Happy New Year’, which they felt was speculative and which they were certain had been included on the album to cash in on the upcoming Christmas and New Year season. Frida was asked to comment on their criticisms, and maintained that the girls’ assumption was wrong. “It was written and recorded well before our summer holidays”, she said, “and at that time we had no idea when the album was going to be ready for release.” Frida wasn’t lying, for contrary to their reputation at the time, ABBA didn’t let perceived market demands dictate what kind of songs they would write and record. And ‘Happy New Year’ was indeed one of the first songs to be completed for the new album.

The flexidisc Happy Christmas From The Stars featured Christmas greetings from ABBA.Written in Barbados in January 1980, ‘Happy New Year’ was originally intended for a musical about a New Year’s Eve, one of Björn and Benny’s many attempts to get started with a more ambitious piece of musical drama. They even pitched their idea to comedian John Cleese, of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers fame, hoping that he would want to write the book for their proposed musical. Cleese turned them down, however, and the songwriting team scrapped the project. It would be another three years before Björn and Benny finally started writing what was to become their first full-length musical, Chess (a collaboration with Tim Rice).

Back in 1980, however, they were still quite fond of the New Year’s Eve concept, and in February they began recording ‘Happy New Year’ for the upcoming album. It seems there were even plans for making the track a single at one point, for shortly before the November release of the Super Trouper album, a promo clip was made for ‘Happy New Year’. Festive scenes were filmed in conjunction with the making of the album sleeve, after which the ABBA members’ actual performance of the song was filmed in director Lasse Hallström’s apartment. These latter sequences underscored the song’s wistful reflections on what the future may hold, thereby providing a marked contrast to the party scenes.

Ultimately, however, ‘Happy New Year’ was not destined to be a single at the time. A Spanish version of the song, ‘Felicidad’, was issued in Spanish-language territories and reached the Top Five in Argentina, but for the rest of the world ‘Happy New Year’ would simply remain a popular tune each time December turns into January. Indeed, for many years, a performance of the song, especially made for Swedish Television, would be aired every New Year’s Eve in ABBA’s home country. It wasn’t until 1999 and the imminent millennium celebrations that ‘Happy New Year’ was finally released as a major single, reaching the Top 20 in some countries.

A thousand Christmas candles
Although ABBA never recorded a Christmas song as such, they often taped Christmas greetings, mostly for various radio and television stations. At least one such greeting was even released on record. In a December 1982 issue of the UK pop music magazine Smash Hits, a flexidisc was enclosed, featuring brief Christmas greetings from many of the biggest acts of the day. ABBA were part of the line-up, although Frida was absent from the recording. The Smash Hits flexidisc, entitled Happy Christmas From The Stars, seems to be the full extent of ABBA’s Christmas adventures on record.

Agnetha's Christmas album, recorded with her daughter Linda, became a firm favourite in Sweden.For the individual members the story is entirely different. Perhaps the most well-known and best-selling ABBA-related Christmas album is Nu tändas tusen juleljus (“Now A Thousand Christmas Candles Are Being Lit”), recorded by Agnetha with her and Björn’s seven-year-old daughter Linda in the autumn of 1980. However, the album was completed too close to Christmas, which meant that its release had to be postponed a year. On the album, mother and daughter – alone or together – sang their way through many of the most popular Swedish and international Christmas songs. The lushly orchestrated album was co-produced by Agnetha and ABBA engineer Michael B. Tretow, and reached an impressive number six on the Swedish album chart. Nu tändas tusen juleljus has been a popular album around Christmas every year since it was released. “The album was a big hit for mother and daughter and I still feel it sounds fresh,” ABBA manager Stig Anderson said in 1994.

The Hep Stars, Benny's pre-ABBA band, released a Christmas album in 1967.Christmas oddities
Benny is the only other ABBA member to record an entire Yuletide album. In 1967, his pre-ABBA band, The Hep Stars, released an LP entitled Jul med Hep Stars (“Christmas With The Hep Stars”). This album contained a selection of the most familiar Christmas songs, but also a number of new pop songs, written especially for this album. Curiously, however, not one of them was composed by Benny, who by then had become quite a prolific songwriter. It has to be said that Jul med Hep Stars was quite a bizarre concoction: the tracks were interspersed with jokey babbling from the group members, recorded live at a party held in the recording studio (when Jul med Hep Stars was reissued on CD in 2001, all the chatter had been edited out). Despite this unusual approach the band’s faithful fans probably snapped up the LP in enough quantities to make it a moderate success. A single issued from the album, entitled ‘Christmas On My Mind’, was less fortunate, becoming the first single since The Hep Stars’ breakthrough not to show up on any charts whatsoever. This was unfair, for it was in fact a great recording, featuring especially cool Hammond organ work from Benny.

This Christmas album featured both Frida and the Hootenanny Singers (Björn's pre-ABBA group).Although Björn and Frida never recorded entire Christmas albums, they did make contributions to the genre. In 1968, Björn’s group, the Hootenanny Singers, recorded a version of ‘Mary’s Boy Child’, made famous by Harry Belafonte in 1956. The Hootenanny Singers interpretation was included on their album Hootenanny Singers Fem år (“Five Years With The Hootenanny Singers”). Of course, a decade later ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ became a major hit for Boney M, one of ABBA’s main competitors for the top of the singles charts in the late 1970s.

It wasn't until 1999 that Happy New Year was released as a major single.Favourite songs
Frida’s contribution to the Christmas market came in 1972, when Polar Music decided to release a Christmas album, featuring their major artists. The album was produced by Björn, Benny and Stig Anderson, and featured two further Christmas tracks from the Hootenanny Singers: ‘Nu tändas tusen juleljus’ (later the title track on the Agnetha and Linda album) and ‘Gå Sion, din konung att möta’, a Swedish version of the hymn ‘Be Glad In The Lord, And Rejoice’.

The undoubted highlight of the album, however, was Frida’s heartfelt interpretations of two of her favourite Christmas songs. ‘När det lider mot jul’ (“When Christmas Time Is Approaching”) and ‘Gläns över sjö och strand’ (“Shine Over Lake And Shore”) are indeed among the most beautiful songs in the Swedish Christmas canon. The album, När juldagsmorgon glimmar (“When Christmas Day Morning Glistens”), was released by Polar Music at the end of 1972. In 1994 this LP was combined with Agnetha and Linda’s album to make up one CD, entitled Julens musik (“The Music Of Christmas”).

One of the few times that all four group members presented themselves in a full-on Christmas context was in a 1972 feature for the Swedish magazine Vecko Revyn. At the time, the group was still known as Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid, and the photographs that accompanied the article featured the foursome dressed up in Christmas gear, preparing for the holidays and eating traditional food. But although this festive private situation never translated into the recording of a true Christmas song, as we have seen they certainly contributed greatly to this genre as individuals. And, of course, ABBA fans will always have ‘Happy New Year’.

The Making Of The ABBA Album

ABBA’s third album was the bridge that carried the group from Eurovision one-hit-wonders to a vital force in pop. In this feature we explore the journey that ended with worldwide smash hits such as ‘SOS’ and ‘Mamma Mia’.

So Long was the first single from the ABBA album sessions - but it did not become a major hit.Together or apart – or both?
What do you do with your time after you’ve enjoyed a Eurovision winner and worldwide breakthrough smash hit? That was largely the question that ABBA had to deal with in the summer of 1974, as they were winding down after the chaos of unexpected promotional activities that had followed their victory with ‘Waterloo’ at the Eurovision Song Contest in April. Write and record new songs, thereby building on the success you’ve achieved, you say? Certainly, but for Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Frida, that wasn’t necessarily the entire answer to the question. Although there was little doubt they would go on working as ABBA, there were also other projects on the agenda. Björn and Benny were still house producers at the Polar Music record company, and had several such assignments to attend to: believe it or not, but one of them was actually an album with Björn’s “old” group, the Hootenanny Singers. One would have thought that group would be dead and buried after ABBA’s overwhelming triumph, but at the time Björn actually envisioned a future where he could divide his attention between both groups.

The original recording sheet for So Long.Benny also oversaw the recording of Frida’s second solo album, Frida ensam (“Frida Alone”), sessions for which would continue until the end of 1975. Agnetha, meanwhile, started sessions for her fifth album, Elva kvinnor i ett hus (“Eleven Women In One House”), which also wouldn’t be released until late 1975. Also, the ABBA members had to find some time for relaxation in the midst of all this behind-the-scenes acitivity. That meant the cancellation of a tour of Sweden’s so-called “folkparks”, much to the chagrin of the arrangers who were looking forward to a lucrative summer with the nation’s most popular band.

The SOS single helped turn things around for ABBA.Going to work
On August 22, 1974, work finally began on what was to become ABBA’s third album. On the two first recording days, basic backing tracks were completed for ‘So Long’, ‘Man In The Middle’ and ‘SOS’. Those three tracks, like most of the album, were committed to tape at Glen Studio, located in the basement of the house owned by producer and arranger Bruno Glenmark. Up until then, ABBA had mainly been recording at Metronome Studio, but when their talented and inventive sound engineer, Michael B. Tretow, left his employment at Metronome and moved on to Glen, ABBA followed him there. It was also easier for the group to block book Glen Studio for extended periods of time than it had been at Metronome Studio. The block booking was something that became increasingly important for them as their ambitions grew and more and more time was spent on recording each song.

Initially, the somewhat optimistic intention had been that the new album should be ready for release before Christmas 1974. However, although the completion of three backing tracks at the very start of the sessions was an encouraging sign, the more time ABBA spent on perfecting each recording, the more obvious it was that there was no chance that they could have an album ready within just a few months. Also, a tour of Europe was scheduled for the last two weeks of November, followed by a fortnight on the Scandinavian roads in January – not to mention promotional trips to various European countries as well as the United States. The album deadline was soon pushed back to the spring of 1975.

Part of ABBA’s new quest for perfection was that they were more prone to scrapping entire recordings, throwing away songs that they would previously have kept simply because they needed to get an album finished. During the sessions for this third album, titles such as ‘Rikky Rock’n’Roller’, ‘Terra del Fuego’ and ‘Crazy World’ were all left on the scrapheap, although the latter recording was later resurrected, polished up and issued as a single B-side. In other cases, such as ‘Bang-A-Boomerang’, a backing track had been completed when Björn and Benny decided that they needed to re-write parts of the actual tune. Thus, a completely new version of the song had to be recorded. There was also the case of a song like ‘Rock Me’, originally with lyrics entitled ‘Baby’ and featuring Agnetha as lead vocalist – when the song was finally released it was, of course, Björn who performed it.

I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do was a successful single in many countries, including France.So long to ABBA
The recording sessions for the new album were conducted at a somewhat troubled time for ABBA, at least as far as their career outside Scandinavia was concerned. It wasn’t necessarily going to be so easy to sustain the success they had achieved with ‘Waterloo’. Chart positions for their follow-up singles – ‘Honey, Honey’ and a remixed version of ‘Ring Ring’ – were largely discouraging. The group realized that they were the victims of The Curse Of Eurovision, dictating that you were entitled to one hit and then were expected to disappear off the face of the earth forever. “We felt that ‘they have decided that ABBA are something which we simply aren’t!’,” Björn recalled.

The elegant photo for the back of the ABBA album was taken in the lobby of Castle Hotel in Stockholm.Unfortunately, the first single to be issued from the current recording sessions only confirmed the downhill slide. ‘So Long’ was an uptempo rocker with much the same kind of beat and general style as ‘Waterloo’, which was probably why it was chosen for single release. But it was not the strongest track they had in the can at the time: in terms of chart performance, upon hitting record shops towards the end of 1974 it turned out to be ABBA’s all-time biggest flop. It only reached the Top Ten in Sweden, and failed to register completely on the UK charts, something that the group found especially worrying. After all, as far as they were concerned Great Britain was the centre of everything that was trend-leading and cool about modern popular music.

With Mamma Mia, ABBA achieved a number one hit in countries such as West Germany.In Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia, however, the audience was as loyal and enthusiastic as ever. Upon release in April, the new album – simply entitled ABBA – quickly shot to number one, remaining there for several months and smashing the domestic sales record set by Waterloo, the group’s previous album. The front of the glamorous sleeve was shot outside Stockholm’s Castle Hotel, while the back featured the group posing elegantly in the hotel lobby. The single issued around the same time, the 1950s “schlager” hommage ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’, proved to be a significant improvement on the international charts, although the UK still adopted a wait-and-see policy.

Big hits and great success
It wasn’t until the second half of 1975 that everything finally came together in a big way, for that was when the group finally released the two strongest LP tracks as singles. The first of them was the mind-blowingly brilliant ‘SOS’, featuring a characteristically plaintive lead vocal from Agnetha. ABBA had made promo clips for four of the songs off the album – ‘Mamma Mia’, ‘SOS’, ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’ and ‘Bang-A-Boomerang’ – and when these were shown on Australian television it was the start of an ABBA fever of incomprehensible proportions, with the group occupying the number one spot on the singles chart for 14 weeks in a row.

Indeed, it was only through the enthusiastic prompting of RCA, ABBA’s Australian record company, that ‘Mamma Mia’ was released as the fourth worldwide single off the ABBA album. It was a fortuitous decision, as this song alone accounted for 10 of the weeks the group spent at the top of the Australian charts, and in the UK – where ‘SOS’ had finally brought ABBA back in the Top Ten again – ‘Mamma Mia’ became the group’s first number one since ‘Waterloo’. The derision traditionally afforded former Eurovision winners was clearly not applicable on ABBA.

Although the group’s recordings had an identity particular to the four members from the moment they started working together, it was the ABBA album – particularly in knock-out pop tracks such as ‘SOS’ and ‘Mamma Mia’ – that made it clear that they had truly found their own voice, arriving at the famed “ABBA sound”. The recordings were crisp and clear, the vocals shimmered in multilayered harmony, and every last bit of the soundscape was filled with imaginative keyboard flourishes, guitar riffs or other sonic effects. Quite simply, ABBA was the transitionary album that brought the group from Swedish hopefuls to a significant force in current popular music. And, most importantly, the phenomenal success the songs from the LP brought them, meant that the ABBA album erased any lingering doubts as to where the four members would be concentrating their musical efforts over the next few years.

ABBA in Germany

A decade after its world première, the ABBA musical Mamma Mia! continues to be a global success. The show opened in Hamburg, Germany in November 2002, which gave us reason to take a look at ABBA’s career in Germany over the years.

Even the earliest ABBA singles were released in West Germany.Similar musical tastes
When the musical Mamma Mia!, based on ABBA songs, received its German première in Hamburg on November 3, 2002, one could have been forgiven for thinking that it was the late Seventies or early Eighties all over again. Television stations were broadcasting marathons of vintage ABBA performances from their archives, while Björn Ulvaeus conducted plenty of interviews and Benny Andersson attended the opening of the musical. It was almost as if ABBA had never gone away at all, but had remained as one of the most popular acts in the nation.

ABBA were popular behind the Iron Curtain, as this East German issue of the Waterloo album proves.This was not so surprising. For although a lot has been said about ABBA’s phenomenal success elsewhere – the hysterical fan worship in Australia, or the group’s nine number one singles in the UK – West Germany was in fact one of the very first countries outside Scandinavia to take an interest in the Swedish foursome. West Germany was also one of the few nations where ABBA were consistently popular throughout their entire career.

Musical tastes in Northern Europe have traditionally been quite homogenous, and when the group first started releasing records in Germany, export of Swedish artists had been going on for a long time. Some performers acheived considerable success on that market, particularly in the 1960s. Indeed, in that decade, Björn (as a member of the Hootenanny Singers), Benny (with The Hep Stars) and Agnetha all released German language records and appeared on television in West Germany. Agnetha’s German solo

The West German sleeve for the SOS single.

career continued until the early 1970s, at which time Björn and Benny also released a single as a duo.

It was logical, then, that when the four ABBA members started working together as a group in 1972, their very first single, ’People Need Love’, was picked up by Polydor Records in West Germany. In early 1973, the group even promoted the song on the television programme Disco, certainly the first time the group was seen on television screens outside the Nordic countries. Alas, at that time Agnetha was pregnant with her daughter Linda, so she was replaced by Frida’s friend, Inger Brundin, who mimed along with the rest of the group. At the time the group was still so unknown that few viewers were likely to notice.

Recording in German
When Björn and Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid, as they were known at the time, came up with ’Ring Ring’, it, too, was released by Polydor. The group even recorded a German language version of the song, which was released as a single. The B-side featured a version of the Ring Ring album track ’Another Town, Another Train’, entitled ’Wer im Wartesaal der Liebe steht’. One year later, when the group broke through with ’Waterloo’ – their first number one hit – this song was also treated to an alternate German version. But that was the last time that ABBA ever recorded in German. Although it was thought that these recordings would help the group in their attempts to achieve a convincing breakthrough, it turned out that sales were insignificant in comparison with the regular, English language releases.

When ABBA experienced a slump in their popularity in certain countries following the ’Waterloo’ hit, West German pop music fans never stopped buying their records. And when the group embarked on their very first tour outside Scandinavia in November 1974, they performed more concerts in West Germany than anywhere else. Incidentally, shortly before the tour, they managed to squeeze in their East German television début on a show entitled Ein Kessel Buntes. ABBA were very successful on the other side of the Iron Curtain, and it was said that if they had only been allowed to meet the demand – most Eastern Bloc countries had strict regulations as to how many records could be manufactured and sold by Western acts – their sales success would have been spectacular instead of simply impressive.

In the autumn of 1975, most of the world had capitulated completely to ABBA’s charms, as their ’SOS’ single proved beyond any shade of a doubt that they could come up with truly inventive, classic pop. Accordingly, this single was the first of six consecutive charttoppers for ABBA in West Germany, a run that continued with ’Mamma Mia’, ’Fernando’, ’Dancing Queen’ and ’Money, Money, Money’, before ending in 1977 with ’Knowing Me, Knowing You’. During ABBA’s active years the group also scored six number one albums in West Germany. The most successful of these was Arrival, which spent a mind-boggling 14 weeks at the top of the charts.

ABBA played five shows in West Germany on their 1979 tour of Europe.Media frenzy
Naturally, the West German population was eager to see the group they loved so much performing live in concert. ABBA’s tour of Europe in January and February 1977 included no less than five concerts in West Germany, while their autumn 1979 outing included a further five shows. Ticket sales for their 1974 tour had been a bit shaky in some venues, but a few years later there were no such problems – every single performance was sold out.
With such phenomenal triumphs it followed that ABBA turned into a highly interesting subject for the West German press, not least the colourful pop magazine Bravo. From the moment the group became famous in 1974, the magazine started publishing features, more often than not illustrated with pictures taken by photographer Wolfgang ”Bubi” Heilemann. So prolific was Heilemann in his coverage of the group that in 2004 he was able to publish a mammoth volume of his photographs, entitled ABBA – Photographs 1974-1980.

One of the many ABBA pictures snapped by photographer Bubi Heilemann.

Incredible as it may sound, it was also through Bravo that Frida was reunited with her father, Alfred Haase, in 1977. Reading a biographical profile on Frida, a young reader happened to notice that the name of Frida’s supposedly deceased father – a sergeant in the German army during the Second World War – was the same as her uncle’s. One thing led to another and a little over a week later, father and daughter were able to meet each other for the very first time.

The press was not alone in devoting extensive attention to ABBA; their popularity ensured that they were also frequent guests on West German television. Indeed, with their pre-fame appearance in 1973 and regular appearances right up until the end of the group in 1982, it is likely that no other country can boast as many exclusive television performances by ABBA as West Germany.

ABBA performed live via satellite from Stockholm on the West German television programme Show Express.Perhaps their appearance on the programme Show Express in 1980 was the most striking example of just how eager television producers could be to secure the group’s participation. Shortly before this particular edition of Show Express, ABBA had experienced a kidnap threat, and were advised by the police not to leave Sweden. Consequently, they had no choice but to cancel their appearance. But the Show Express producers would hear of no such thing – they were determined to have ABBA and simply arranged for a live link-up from a television studio in Stockholm. Problem solved!

Farewell – and return
One of the very last public appearances ABBA did as a group also happened on Show Express. In November 1982, they performed their three final songs on the show: ’The Day Before You Came’, ’Cassandra’ and ’Under Attack’ – the first two titles were never featured on any other television show. Furthermore, West Germany was one of the few territories where ’The Day Before You Came’ became a sizeable hit, reaching number five on the chart.

As 1982 drew to a close, it was time for ABBA to say goodbye to the world, West Germany included. But after a complete absence from the charts for almost a decade, ABBA returned with a vengeance on the German market in 1992, just as they did everywhere else at the same time. By that time the Berlin wall had fallen and Germany was one united nation again. The brand new ABBA Gold compilation album proved that neither half of the country had forgotten the group – the album spent 60 weeks on the chart, 11 of which at number one.

With Mamma Mia! having playing to sold out houses in West Germany – and with especially translated German lyrics to boot – it seems certain that ABBA will continue their stronghold on the German market for many years to come.

People Need Love – The First ABBA Song

Waterloo was ABBA’s first single, right? Yes – and no. Join us as we explore the story behind People Need Love, the very first single released by the group that later reached worldwide fame under the name ABBA.

A watershed piece of vinyl: the very first ABBA single, People Need Love.Party People Failure
In this day and age, when pop stars with little previous stage experience achieve instant number one hits through participation in television shows such as Pop Idol and American Idol, it is sobering to be reminded how long it actually took before ABBA achieved worldwide success. Although many in the 1970s regarded the four Swedes as a ”manufactured” band, very much along the lines of the groomed, styled and choreographed overnight sensations of the 21st Century, nothing could be further from the truth. Not only had the individual members spent a decade performing, touring and recording in earlier groups or as solo artists before they grabbed the world’s attention with ’Waterloo’ in April 1974, by that time ABBA themselves had already been making pop music together for two years – and four years had passed since they first attempted a collaboration. Confused? Read on.

The Ring Ring album featured many of ABBA's earliest recordings.The early 1970s was a somewhat insecure period for Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Frida. Benny had left his previous group, The Hep Stars, and although Björn was still making records with his group, the Hootenanny Singers, he knew he couldn’t count on them for any future career advancement. Furthermore, Björn and Benny wanted to focus their attention on their partnership in songwriting and record producing, and perhaps not be performers so much anymore. Still, they had bills to pay, so they could not afford to turn down the work opportunities that came their way, whether on or off stage. For their part, Agnetha and Frida were devoting themselves to their own careers, with varied success.

In France, the People Need Love single was billed to 'Björn & Benny with Frieda & Anna'.In late 1969 and early 1970 Björn and Benny had been doing a cabaret show together with singers Svenne and Lotta, former members of The Hep Stars. This venture was fairly successful. With Björn being engaged to Agnetha, and Benny to Frida, the next step seemed fairly obvious: why not attempt a cabaret show as two couples? In November 1970, the show Festfolk (a pun on the double meaning of ”party people” and ”engaged couples”) opened in Gothenburg. But the show was not a hit. ”There were just a few scattered couples at the tables in an otherwise empty venue,” recalled Agnetha of the première. And Björn has called Festfolk ”the absolute low point of the careers of everyone involved”. The idea of working together as a group was put on ice for the moment being.

In America the single was ludicrously credited to 'Björn & Benny (with Svenska Flicka)'.Blue Mink Inspiration
An alternate sleeve for the Swedish release of People Need Love.
It wasn’t until the spring of 1972 that the magic combination of the foursome’s talents was finally applied to a concept that was both stimulating and rewarding for them all. By this time, Björn and Benny were working as producers at Stig Anderson’s record company, Polar Music. They were also releasing records as the duo Björn and Benny. One of their songs, ‘She’s My Kind Of Girl’, had flopped in Sweden upon release in 1970, but now it suddenly and unexpectedly became a smash hit in Japan. Encouraged by this success they started working towards straightforward pop music again. Although this was the kind of music they preferred, it was an area which they had largely abandoned for the past two years or so, simply because the Swedish audience seemed to prefer their easy listening material.

The colourful West German sleeve for the single.The starting point for the group we know as ABBA was a recording session that took place in Stockholm’s Metronome Studio on March 29, 1972. Björn and Benny had written a tune entitled ‘People Need Love’, their first English-language pop song in two years. It was a creation very much in the vein of the lighter side of the pop music of the times. The concept for the recording was largely inspired by UK-based group Blue Mink. On most of their records, lead singers Roger Cook and Madeline Bell traded vocal lines in songs that were optimistic pleas for harmony between people. Björn and Benny now applied the very same idea to their new composition. The title of the song, ‘People Need Love’, pretty much summed up the message of the lyrics, and the songwriters invited their fiancées to contribute their vocal talents to this call-and-answer style song. The result was a bright and sunny tune, a transitionary record between the so-called “schlager” music they were all doing as separate acts, and the pop music that was to be their future. Björn and Benny felt that it was the best thing they had ever done.

 

An alternate sleeve for the Swedish release of People Need Love.When ‘People Need Love’ was released as a single it was credited to “Björn and Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid”, for the name ABBA had yet to be invented. Indeed, as yet there was no talk of starting a permanent group. Agnetha and Frida were still involved in solo careers and had contracts with other record companies, plus they were all unsure about their future direction. But they got some help in their indecision when ‘People Need Love’ became a significant hit in Sweden. In August, the song reached number 17 on the combined singles and albums chart used in Sweden at the time, having already hit number three on the popular and influential radio chart Tio i topp (“The Top Ten”) the previous month. “We were surprised and insanely happy when it entered Tio i topp,” recalled Frida. At the very least, the four friends decided, they should go on making records together. Whether that would lead to something permanent, however, remained to be seen. In the autumn of 1972 work was started on what was to become their first album, Ring Ring, and they also released a second group single, ‘He Is Your Brother’.

Agnetha and Frida as “Svenska Flicka”
Although ‘People Need Love’ was released in a few other countries, it never became a hit outside Scandinavia. In America the song was issued by Playboy Records, who, quite possibly in an effort to play on the myth of Swedish sin and “available blonde girls”, credited the record to “Björn and Benny (with Svenska Flicka “Swedish Girl”)”. The song got no further than number 114 on the Cash Box chart – but although this wasn’t very impressive, it was still more success than most Swedish acts had in the US at the time.

Björn and Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid promoted ‘People Need Love’ a couple of times on Swedish television, and when the single was released in West Germany, they were invited to appear on the television show Disco in January 1973. However, at the time Agnetha was in the advanced stages of pregnancy with her and Björn’s daughter, Linda, and chose to stay home. Instead, a friend of Frida’s, Inger Brundin, was called in to pose as “Agnetha”. In those day, few people in West Germany had any idea how the group members were supposed to look anyway, but latter-day repeats of their performance have baffled many viewers.

In the recording studio there was no talk of calling in any replacements, however, and later in 1973 – after the group had scored a big hit with ‘Ring Ring’ – they decided to make their collaboration permanent after all. Meanwhile, their manager, Stig Anderson, simplified their group name by taking the initials of their individual first names and coming up with the self-evident ABBA. Next up was ‘Waterloo’ and worldwide fame – but ‘People Need Love’ was where it all started.

The Making of The Visitors

On November 30, 1981, ABBA’s final studio LP, The Visitors, was released in Sweden. The album was the sound of a group coming to terms with their marital splits and the prospect of life after ABBA. In this feature we take a look at the making of the group’s most controversial piece of work.

Michael B. Tretow, Benny and Björn at work during the sessions for The Visitors.Exploring Their Private Lives
On March 16, 1981, Björn, Benny and their four trusted backing musicians – Lasse Wellander, guitar, Rutger Gunnarsson, bass, Ola Brunkert, drums and Åke Sundqvist, percussion -– entered Polar Music Studios together with engineer Michael B. Tretow to start work on the first batch of backing tracks for ABBA’s eighth studio album. Only five months had elapsed since they completed work on their previous LP, Super Trouper, but ABBA was no longer the same group. Just four weeks before these initial recording sessions, Benny and Frida had announced their decision to go their separate ways, just like Agnetha and Björn had done in 1979. Thus, the group that had once consisted of two couples was now made up of four colleagues, sharing a sense of respect for the professional capacities of each member, but not socialising very much outside the recording studio.

Frida in the video for When All Is Said And Done.Although ABBA often wanted to avoid making their private feelings public in their music, at least in an overtly literal way, the past few years had seen a change in attitude in that respect. Two of the songs recorded during the initial sessions for the new album were certainly coloured by recent events within the group. ’When All Is Said And Done’ dealt expressly with the split between Benny and Frida, exploring the inevitability of their separation. Frida handled the lead vocals, and Björn, who wrote the lyrics, made sure that she felt okay with the subject matter. Frida assured him that she was only eager to get this chance to express her true feelings. ”All my sadness was captured in that song,” she later recalled.

But Björn didn’t stop at exploring the feelings of his fellow band members at this time, he also did some private soul-searching. The lyrics for ’Slipping Through My Fingers’, also recorded during the first sessions for the new album, pondered the conflicting feelings of parenthood. The direct inspiration was seeing his seven-year-old daughter Linda walk off to school one day. ”I thought, ’Now she has taken that step, she’s going away – what have I missed out on through all these years?’” No doubt, his feelings acquired another level of depth, considering the fact that Linda and her younger brother Christian no longer were living under one roof with both their parents. The lead vocalist on the song was, of course, Linda’s mother, Agnetha.

Frida and Agnetha in the Head Over Heels video.Shades Of Darkness
Kicking off the sessions with feelings of sorrow and regret certainly put its mark on much of the album. There were exceptions: the bizarre story of a man answering an ad in the personal column, placed by a girl and her mother, as depicted in ’Two For The Price Of One’, performed by Björn himself, was one. The other was ’Head Over Heels’, the story of a high-society lady dragging her exhausted husband to parties and in and out of boutiques, sung by Agnetha. Although it was eventually issued as a single, it was one of ABBA’s least successful seven-inch releases since their breakthrough, perhaps proving that the group were now only truly convincing when they explored darker territories.

One Of Us was the major hit single from The Visitors; here is Agnetha in the video.The album sleeve was photographed at the studio of artist Julius Kronberg. The first single off the album was the Agnetha-led ’One Of Us’ – ABBA’s final major worldwide hit – which dealt with a woman wishing that she could patch up a dead relationship, a divorce story that paralleled ’When All Is Said And Done’. Elsewhere on the album, darker subjects such as cold-war era threats of world destruction were explored in Agnetha’s ’Soldiers’, while the Frida-sung title track, ’The Visitors’, dealt with the fate of dissidents in the Soviet Union of the time. The closing selection, ’Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’, was a woman’s solitary musings, featuring only Frida’s voice accompanied by a very bare synthesizer arrangement. Bleak, indeed.

ABBA on the set for the One Of Us video.Believing In Angels
Sessions concluded with a mixing session for ’Soldiers’ on November 14, but by then the concept for the album had already been created. As usual, ABBA’s trusted sleeve designer, Rune Söderqvist, was the man behind the artwork. After giving the matter some thought, Rune came up with an ”angel” concept. The ”visitors” of the album title might very well be angels, he thought, and besides, the album included a track entitled ’Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’. The next step was to develop that concept into an idea for the album cover. ”I knew that the painter Julius Kronberg had painted a lot of angels in his time,” Rune recalled, ”so I located his studio – at the Skansen park [in Stockholm] – which contained several of his paintings.”

The album sleeve was photographed at the studio of artist Julius Kronberg.Together with photographer Lasse Larsson – who also shot the Super Trouper album cover –Rune Söderqvist assembled the group in the cold, unheated studio, and arranged a picture of them with a giant painting of an angel as backdrop. For the first time on an album cover, the members were depicted as separate individuals rather than a close-knit group. The physically chilly environment and the general sense of fatigue at being ABBA no doubt contributed to the mood at the photo session. ”We might not go on working with this forever,” Björn remarked at the time. ”We’ve emptied ourselves of everything we’ve got to give.” Indeed, the following year the group released only two further singles of newly recorded music before going their separate ways.

For Björn and Benny it was no longer creatively challenging to go on working within the ABBA concept. One track on The Visitors underlined their ambitions for the future: ’I Let The Music Speak’, with vocals by Frida, was structured very much like a theatrical number. Björn and Benny had long been thinking about writing a full-length musical, and during 1981 those thoughts were closer to being realised than ever before. The Visitors was released on November 30, 1981 and just two weeks later, Andersson and Ulvaeus had a meeting in Stockholm with lyricist Tim Rice – famous for his work with Andrew Lloyd Webber – discussing a potential collaboration. These initial talks eventually resulted in the musical Chess. ”If ABBA hadn’t recorded ’I Let The Music Speak’, I guess we would have used it in Chess,” Björn reflected later.

Today, many people seem to remember ABBA mostly for happy, uptempo songs like ’Waterloo’, ’Dancing Queen’ or ’Take A Chance On Me’, connecting it all with colorful 1970s fashion and hairstyles. But anyone who takes a listen to The Visitors – or, indeed, previous hits like ’SOS’, ’Knowing Me, Knowing You’ and ’The Winner Takes It All’ – will find that beyond the superficial image, there are darker shades to much of ABBA’s output. Frida probably summed it up best when she reflected on The Visitors: ”When you’ve gone through a separation, like all of us had done at the time, it puts a certain mood on the work. Something disappeared that was so fundamental for the joy in our songs, that had always been there before. … Perhaps there was a bit of sadness or bitterness that coloured the making of that album.”

Arrival – The Making Of A Classic Pop Album

October 2006 marks the 30th Anniversary of one of ABBA’s best-loved and most classic albums. Arrival, first issued in Sweden on October 11, 1976, features some of the group’s most famous songs, such as ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’. Upon the release of a Deluxe Edition of Arrival, with bonus tracks and a DVD of previously unreleased TV material, we take a look at an album that caught ABBA at a truly magical time in their career.

A promising kick-off
In the summer of 1975, when recording sessions began for what was to become ABBA’s Arrival album, the group already had three albums and a slew of singles to their credit. Aided by their dedicated manager, sometime lyricist and owner of the Polar Music record label, Stig Anderson, they had left a mark on the international music scene that was completely unique for a Swedish act. But although large parts of mainland Europe had fallen under their spell, in important pop markets such as Great Britain – where the group were really anxious to succeed – all the singles after the number one hit ‘Waterloo’ had failed to set the charts alight, and their albums were equally ignored. ABBA knew that all they could do was to keep on working, cross their fingers and hope that eventually they would be given another break. As work on their fourth LP kicked off on August 4 and 5, 1975, they hoped the album would be ready for release the following spring.

Hindsight will tell us that the group had an exceptionally good start, for these initial sessions produced two of ABBA’s biggest-ever hits, ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Fernando’. Indeed, just the unadorned backing track of ‘Dancing Queen’ evoked a strong reaction in certain ABBA members. Listening to a tape brought home by Benny after a late night mixing session, the melodic beauty and infectious rhythms at the core of the recording brought Frida to tears. Björn was equally excited by what they had created, but because of the late hour Agnetha was asleep and he ended up at his sister’s house. “I played it to her over and over again. We couldn’t believe how good it sounded.”

Dancing Queen single, SwedenEventually released as the first single from the album, in August 1976, ‘Dancing Queen’ swiftly became a worldwide number one smash and today is widely acknowledged as an all-time pop classic. ‘Fernando’, meanwhile, was not intended for ABBA at this early stage, but for Frida’s Swedish-language solo album Frida ensam (“Frida Alone”). (Read more about ‘Dancing Queen’ in the feature dedicated to that song, and about ‘Fernando’ and the Frida album in the In Focus piece entitled The Frida Solo Albums).

Marching back to the studio
Apart from intermittent sessions for ‘Dancing Queen’ until December 1975, ABBA worked on no other songs for the new album. The reason for this was certainly not laziness, but simply a packed schedule of recording dates – for solo projects as well as production work for other Polar recording artists – combined with a sudden upsurge in promotional activities. The group spent two weeks in the United States, and also journeyed to other ABBA-hungry countries across Europe. This included Great Britain, where ‘SOS’ had finally brought the group back into the Top Ten; from then on, the UK would remain as one of ABBA’s most consistently loyal markets. Well before the end of the year, all these demands on their attention made ABBA realise that the autumn of 1976 was a more realistic release date for the new album.

Fernando single, SwedenHowever, the first few months of the new year provided further distractions from song writing and recording. Certainly, the most spectacular event during this period was the March 1976 visit to Australia. ABBA had become immensely popular “down under” and were subject to a hysterical reception on a level that they had never experienced anywhere before. The international success was made even bigger through the release of ABBA’s English-language version of ‘Fernando’, their biggest hit up to that point.

It wasn’t until March 23 that ABBA could finally close the doors on the world and concentrate on creating music, rather than respond to the attention their earlier creations had caused. If the ‘Dancing Queen’/’Fernando’ sessions had been encouraging, this second recording period had an equally promising start, as the very first song recorded has come to be recognised as one of ABBA’s ultimate masterworks: ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’. This song, often held up as one of the group’s classic “divorce songs”, was actually written and recorded long before either of the couples had split up. Topped with a typically empathic lead vocal from Frida, and resting on one of those superlative Andersson/Ulvaeus productions, few would disagree with Benny’s retrospective assessment of ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ as “one of our five best recordings”.

That’s Me single, JapanBefore the end of April, a further two songs had been completed: ‘That’s Me’ and ‘Happy Hawaii’. However, the latter title, featuring joint lead vocals by Agnetha and Frida, would ultimately be bumped off the album, and then re-written and recorded to become the Fats Domino-flavoured ‘Why Did It Have To Be Me’, a dialogue between Björn and ABBA’s female half. May saw the completion of yet another album highlight, the cabaret number ‘Money, Money, Money’. At one point entitled ‘Gypsy Girl’, the song was adorned by yet another dramatic lead by Frida.

Tearjerkers and folk music adventures
As the warm summer of 1976 enveloped Stockholm, ABBA kept themselves busy with further writing and recording. June saw the recording of the album’s opening track and perhaps also the album’s most obvious nod to the innocent American girl group teen pop of the early Sixties: ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’. In July, the group nailed the big-city-paranoia rocker ‘Tiger’, complete with heavy drumming as well as frenzied vocals from Agnetha and Frida, but also its complete antithesis on the album, the very light-poppy ‘Dum Dum Diddle’. The song’s lyricist, Björn, has expressed strong dissatisfaction with the final outcome, remembering how the words were written in a fit of desperation at five in the morning, because he simply had to come up with something for the impending vocal overdub session. For fans who appreciate the group at their most poppy, however, ‘Dum Dum Diddle’ is just as catchy, well-produced and vocally superior as anything else on the album.

With the summer drawing to a close, ABBA had amassed quite a strong collection of tracks for their album. However, a further two or three tracks were needed before they would be able to sign off on their work. Thus, on August 20 they were back in the recording studio for an intense, almost month-long period of wrapping up the album. So far, while Frida had shone on leads for two songs, Agnetha had only been afforded a solo spot for a few lines on ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’, so it was high time that she was given a track of her own. The ballad ‘My Love, My Life’ was originally recorded as ‘Monsieur, Monsieur’, a slightly more uptempo number. The final version of the song was turned into one of Agnetha’s classic “woman abandoned” tearjerkers, with a backing vocal arrangement inspired by the whispery sounds on 10cc’s recent mega-hit ‘I’m Not In Love’.

The recording of the Björn-led version of ‘Why Did It Have To Be Me’ was then followed by the final track for the album. The strings-keyboards-and-wordless-vocals number, originally entitled ‘Ode To Dalecarlia’, was largely a result of Benny’s life-long love affair with Swedish folk music played on fiddles, which is especially prevalent in the Swedish county of Dalecarlia. However, when cover art designer Rune Söderqvist’s then common-law-wife suggested that ‘Arrival’ could be a good title for an album, the name of the tune was promptly changed to make it the title track. With this album-closer completed, Arrival was finally finished and ready for release.

In-depth at prime time
The Deluxe Edition release of Arrival, upon its 30th Anniversary in 2006, comes with a spectacular DVD of television performances, interviews and clips from the Arrival era. The main feature on the DVD is the one-hour television special ABBA-dabba-dooo!!, made by producer Leonard Eek and reporter Per Falkman for Swedish television. The special was filmed and produced parallel with the making of the album, and so it was natural that it featured performances of no less than eight of the ten Arrival songs.

In the essay included in the Deluxe Edition of Arrival, Leonard Eek recalls the resistance he encountered when he suggested that an entire programme should be devoted exclusively to ABBA, for the first time in the group’s home country. At the time, ABBA were labelled as “aloof” and “unreal” in the sternly left-wing cultural climate that prevailed in Sweden at the time. Fortunately for posterity, Eek eventually got his way and was able to produce what still stands up as one of the best programmes ever made about ABBA. “We wanted to show the best Sweden had to offer in popular music as a prime-time Friday night entertainment,” remembers Eek in the essay, “but we also wanted to show that the members were in fact ordinary people; ‘they have no ulterior motives, but are hard-working professionals’. We wanted to give a broadened picture of the human beings behind the fame and ‘the stardom’.”

When production started, Leonard Eek particularly hoped that he would be able to persuade ABBA to perform a couple of songs live in the television studio. Notwithstanding a handful of occasions, such as the Swedish heats for the Eurovision Song Contest, ABBA had never truly performed live on television, certainly not on their own terms. “They wanted to be certain that the outcome would be on the level where they wanted to be, and where they felt they had a right to demand to be. And rightly so; we all wanted the same thing.” To Eek’s great delight, ABBA said yes, and their live performances of ‘Dum Dum Diddle’ and ‘Why Did It Have To Be Me’ are now released on DVD for the first time.

In addition to all the songs, the ABBA-dabba-dooo!! special also shows, for example, Benny and Björn at work in the small song writing cottage on the Stockholm archipelago island of Viggsö – apparently the only such film in existence. There are also a number of interviews with the group, individually and collectively. Because of the long production period, an excellent rapport developed between Per Falkman and the group, to the extent that certain ABBA members feared they had been too openhearted. Said Agnetha at the press conference for the programme, “He [Falkman] has an ability to draw more things out of you than you’d want to tell. So we hope that some of it is edited out.”

The Arrival Deluxe Edition celebrates the Arrival album itself, but also, through the DVD, this most exciting of times in ABBA history, when the world was still in the process of falling in love with the four Swedes. Arrival seems to mark the culmination of ABBA’s early, innocent days, wherein they perfected their own particular Seventies take on the most melodic and hummable Sixties pop music, conveying their unique view of what modern popular music may sound like and be about. But above all, over the three decades since its original release, and through the ups and downs of ABBA’s popularity with audience and critics, Arrival has weathered the storms and stoically defended its status as one of the finest pop albums ever made.

NOTE: Read a more comprehensive essay about the making of Arrival and the ABBA-dabba-dooo!! television special in the Arrival Deluxe Edition. To read more about the CD and DVD contents on the Deluxe Edition, go to the News section here at ABBA – The Official Site.

Sleeves courtesy of Wouter Timmers, Ian Cole and Polar Music International

The Visitors Deluxe Edition – More Details About The Track Listing!

As previously reported at ABBA – The Official Site, April 23, 2012 will see the release of The Visitors Deluxe Edition: the original album with bonus tracks plus a DVD of rare and previously unreleased television material. The announcement that this Deluxe Edition would include the previously unreleased recording ‘From A Twinkling Star To A Passing Angel (demos)’ – the first release of unheard ABBA music since 1994 – caused quite a sensation in the media, with this exciting piece of news being reported in all corners of the world.

We are now happy to reveal a few more details about this Extra Bonus Track. ‘From A Twinkling Star To A Passing Angel’ traces the evolution of ‘Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’, the closing track on The Visitors. Back in 1981, this particular song was one of the more challenging tunes during original recording sessions for the album. With the first demos and backing tracks being laid down in May 1981, it wasn’t until several different versions later, in November 1981 – only three weeks before the album reached record shops! – that ABBA finally landed on the version heard on the album.

As the Deluxe Edition of The Visitors was put together, ABBA’s Benny Andersson had the idea that it would be interesting to revisit the various recordings of the song and put together a medley. And this he did in October and November of 2011. The nine-minute medley takes us from the very first demo, with vocals by Björn, to a run-through with Benny on electric piano and Frida on lead vocals, similar to the final version. In between are a demo recording by Frida and Benny (on grand piano) with alternate lyrics entitled ‘Another Morning Without You’; a completely different “disco” attempt, played by a full band and with the final lyrics in place; and a ballad interpretation, also with a full band backing, featuring Frida on lead vocals. “It was fun to put this thing together, just to show what the process can be like,” says Benny Andersson. “It’s an interesting observation on how you labour over things before you reach the final result.”

Elsewhere on The Visitors Deluxe Edition, the original album has been expanded with bonus tracks to include ‘Should I Laugh Or Cry’, recorded during sessions for The Visitors but only used as the B-side of the ‘One Of Us’ single. The Deluxe Edition features a version with a brief count-in, which was originally released on the ‘One Of Us’ single in Great Britain and South Africa. The remaining bonus tracks cover ABBA’s final singles and recording sessions in 1982.

The DVD of this Deluxe Edition opens with two performances from the television special Dick Cavett Meets ABBA, where ABBA previewed two tracks from their forthcoming album: ‘Two For The Price Of One’ and ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’. Another selection from the original broadcast of the TV special is the video for ‘When All Is Said And Done’, which featured an edit that differs slightly from the version heard on the album – this video is included here with its rare original soundtrack in stereo.

Also featured are two lengthy television appearances, which ABBA made as they were promoting their 1982 singles ‘The Day Before You Came’ and ‘Under Attack’, along with the compilation album The Singles – The First Ten Years. The first comes from Great Britain and the second from Sweden, wherein the group also performed ‘Under Attack’. Rounding off the DVD are four vintage commercials for The Visitors and The Singles – The First Ten Years, and a gallery of selected sleeves from the 1981–1982 era.

 

ABBA to release a limited edition 12-inch single for Record Store Day

ABBA will release a limited edition 12-inch vinyl single for Record Store Day on Saturday, April 21. Side A features Voulez-Vous (Extended Dance Remix), originally released as a promo-only single in the United States and France. This marks the first commercial vinyl release of this remix. On side B is the equally danceable If It Wasn’t For The Nights, originally released on the Voulez-Vous album.

This special Record Store Day release is pressed on blue glitter vinyl and packaged in a cardboard sleeve. The 12-inch single, which is limited to 5,000 numbered copies (catalogue number 00602527957302), is for sale exclusively in participating stores. For more information, please visit recordstoreday.com .

The Visitors Deluxe Edition Released In April!

April 23 sees the release of The Visitors Deluxe Edition. As with previous releases in the Deluxe Edition series, this version of ABBA’s final album offers a DVD of archive material along with CD bonus tracks – including the demo medley ‘From A Twinkling Star To A Passing Angel’, the first previously unreleased ABBA recordings since 1994!

The Deluxe Edition of The Visitors, ABBA’s eighth and final studio album, will be released on April 23, 2012. Originally released in 1981, the album features single hits such as ‘One Of Us’, ‘Head Over Heels’ and ‘When All Is Said And Done’, along with ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’, which is highlighted in one of the more poignant moments in the Mamma Mia! musical.

Like the previous Deluxe Editions of ABBA’s albums, The Visitors will feature several bonus selections along with a DVD of rare and previously unreleased material from the archives.

For ABBA fans, the most sensational inclusion in the package will be the previously unreleased track, ‘From A Twinkling Star To A Passing Angel (demos)’. This is the first time since the Thank You For The Music box set in 1994 that ABBA have opened the doors to the tape vaults to release previously unheard music from the group’s heyday.

Watch this space for more information about the track list and the previously unreleased recording.

THE VISITORS – DELUXE EDITION

DISC 01: CD
1.  The Visitors
2.  Head Over Heels
3.  When All Is Said And Done
4.  Soldiers
5.  I Let The Music Speak
6.  One Of Us
7.  Two For The Price Of One
8.  Slipping Through My Fingers
9.  Like An Angel Passing Through My Room

Bonus Tracks:
10. Should I Laugh Or Cry
11. I Am The City
12. You Owe Me One
13. Cassandra
14. Under Attack
15. The Day Before You Came

Extra Bonus Track:
16. From A Twinkling Star To A Passing Angel (demos)

DISC 02: DVD:
1.    Two For The Price Of One (Dick Cavett Meets ABBA)
2.    Slipping Through My Fingers (Dick Cavett Meets ABBA)
3.    When All Is Said And Done (Original Promo Clip)
4.    ABBA In London, November 1982 (The Late Late Breakfast Show, BBC)
5.    ABBA In Stockholm, November 1982 (Nöjesmaskinen, SVT)
6.    The Visitors TV commercial I (UK)
7.    The Visitors TV commercial II (Australia)
8.    The Singles – The First Ten Years TV commercial I (UK)
9.    The Singles – The First Ten Years TV commercial II (Australia)
10.    International Sleeve Gallery

ABBA releases new music game: ”ABBA Lyrics Challenge”

On Wednesday 21 December, Singbox will release a new ABBA game “ ABBA Lyrics Challenge” that will allow players to enjoy their favourite songs and videos while (trying to) fill in the blank space for the missing words in the lyrics on the smartphone display.

ABBA Lyrics Challenge will be bundled into the ABBA Singbox app. Those who already have ABBA Singbox get the new Lyrics Challenge for free, simply by updating the application. For those who haven’t got ABBA Singbox yet the application can be bought for USD 0,99 in App Store including both games and 4 songs.

About ABBA Singbox and ABBA Lyrics Challenge
ABBA Singbox is a music driven gaming concept around ABBA, giving the user a closer connection to the group and a new way of experiencing their vast catalogue.

Sing 
At the core the Singbox focuses on gaming around singing performance. The user’s singing is measured on pitch and timing ten times per second and compared to the original vocals of ABBA, all while watching the original videos. All pitch and timing data is accumulated into a score, which the user can share with friends and challenge them, post to Facebook, and enter competitions.

The app comes bundled with four songs [Dancing Queen, Eagle, Knowing Me, Knowing You and Take a Chance On Me] and a number of additional songs are available for purchase.
Lyrics Challenge
The ABBA Singbox Lyrics Challenge is a new game included in the ABBA Singbox application. The game tests your lyrics skills as well as your reflexes and eye to hand coordination. This game is played without singing, expanding the game to be used in places where you maybe don’t want to sing – the subway, the bank, in cafes or in the street.

The game is as simple as addictive – fill in the blanks – we have extracted random words from the text and as they are sung you shall press a button corresponding to the missing word. You score is based on timing. As with the singing game the score can be used for challenges, high scores and competitions with friends globally or over Facebook.
How to play 
On the start screen of ABBA Singbox choose game mode “Sing” or “Lyrics Challenge”. Then you select your song or browse the available purchases.
Then select long or short version of the song as well as the level of difficulty, where HARD has a tighter timing window where scoring is possible and more blanked words.
Playing the game the lyrics are shown in a incoming stream and blanked words are replaced by graphical blocks. When the blank word block comes up you press the button with the word you know/believe is about to be sung given you a maximum score of 500 points.
At the end of the song you are presented to your final result and grade. From this view you can share your score on Facebook, with friends and post it to the global scoreboard.

Download the app here: http://singbox.com/apps/?app=abbasingbox

Ludvig and Benny Andersson on Swedish TV

Ludvig and Benny visited the TV-show ”Skavlan” Friday September 16th . The Swedish Norwegian show was broadcasted on SVT1 at 21.00 and on NRK1 at 21.25. Ludvig Andersson also performed with his band Atlas.

Atlas is a duo consisting of fellow musicians and long time friends  Ludvig Andersson and Mats Lundgren.
Their debut album was released September 14th by Mono Music’s new label RMV Grammofon and distributed by Universal Music.

See the performance here »

Listen and Download the single Cam Me on iTunes »

Follow Atlas on Facebook »

Ludvig and Benny Andersson to visit Swedish TV-show

Ludvig and Benny will visit the TV-show ”Skavlan” Friday September 16th . The Swedish Norwegian show is broadcasted on SVT1 at 21.00 and on NRK1 at 21.25. Ludvig Andersson will also perform with his band Atlas.

Atlas is a duo consisting of fellow musicians and long time friends  Ludvig Andersson and Mats Lundgren.
Their debut album will be released September 14th by Mono Music’s new label RMV Grammofon and will be distributed by Universal Music.

Listen and Download the single Cam Me on iTunes »

Follow Atlas on Facebook »

ABBA You Can Dance Video Game

September 1, 2011– Today, Ubisoft® announced the development of a new video game based on the music and performances of Swedish supergroup ABBA. The name of the game? ABBA You Can Dance. Developed exclusively for the WiiTM system from Nintendo by Ubisoft Paris, the studio that created and defined the genre with the Just Dance® series, as well as Ubisoft Montpellier and Ubisoft Bucharest, ABBA You Can Dance will be released worldwide in November.

ABBA created music that spanned generations and has inspired millions to sing and dance. ABBA You Can Dance features 25 ABBA songs, including all of the group’s biggest hits, such as “Dancing Queen,” “Mamma Mia,” “Take a Chance on Me” and “Waterloo.” The game’s professionally choreographed routines and unique environments were inspired by the group’s music videos and live performances.

“In the video game market, Ubisoft is the dancing king,” said Tony Key, U.S. senior vice president of sales and marketing at Ubisoft / Geoffroy Sardin, EMEA chief marketing and sales officer at Ubisoft. “With ABBA You Can Dance, players can dance, they can jive, and they can have the time of their lives, all thanks to ABBA’s music and Ubisoft’s latest entertaining dance video game.”

With ABBA You Can Dance, Ubisoft is making it possible for more people to join in on the fun of a dancing game. Two players can sing along to lyrics that appear on-screen, while up to four players can simultaneously perform the dance moves. A mini-musical mode lets players act out the key roles in a love story based on some of the group’s classic songs. ABBA You Can Dance also includes original video clips and displays anecdotes about the group that even die-hard fans will find entertaining and informative.

See the trailer here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfvQS7NzlE4

Springtime For ABBAWORLD In Prauge!

The glamour and glitz tour of ABBAWORLD, the spectacular multimedia exhibition show, continues. After London, Melbourne, Sydney and Györ in Hungary, the next stop on the calendar is Prague. The members of ABBA are happy to see ABBAWORLD arrive in the blooming capital of the Czech Republic in springtime.

 

“ABBAWORLD is going places where we never had a chance to play when we were still active as a group and that’s great!” says Bjorn. “We wish all visitors a happy experience.”

The exhibition, which will premiere on 6 May 2011 at Slovansky Dum in the centre of the Czech capital, is presented by Sony Music Prague, in cooperation with Viva Art Music.

“We are looking forward to this exhibition with great excitement,” says Zbynek Knobloch, managing director of Sony Music Entertainment Czech Republic. “This is an exhibition that allows the visitors to engage and interact in ways that we never thought possible a few years ago.”

Magnus Danielsson, President of Touring Exhibitions, the production company of ABBAWORLD, has followed the tour over the world.

“It has been a very succesful tour and our visit in Hungary showed us that there is a pent-up demand for ABBA in a lot of the countries that never saw them tour there. Now you don’t have to regret that you never got to see ABBA live – the exhibition even adds another dimension to the experience, you can take part on stage too.”

Tickets will be available 24th of March 2011, by TicketPro.

ABOUT ABBAWORLD
ABBAWORLD is a multi-media exhibition and an emotional journey spanning the successful career of the Swedish supergroup ABBA. The exhibition in Prague spans a total of 1,000 square meters bursting with music, exclusive footage, images and never-before-displayed memorabilia from the personal collections of the world’s most cherished pop icons; Anni-Frid, Benny, Björn and Agnetha. Following the successful runs of ABBAWORLD in London, Melbourne, Hungary and in parallell to an extended run in Sydney, Australia, ABBAWORLD will open on the 6th of May 2011 at Slovansky Dum in Prague, Czech Republic.

For more information, please visit: www.abbaworld.com

Winners Of ABBA The Vinyl Collection

And the winners are…

Roxanne Dickson and Rick Vasen!

Your pictures will be added in THE BOOK included in the new ABBA THE VINYL COLLECTION boxset, release date December 6th. You will both get a box signed by all the members of ABBA!

Congratulations and a big thank you to everyone that uploaded your pictures!

To see the images, please visit the gallery here »

 

ABBA THE VINYL COLLECTION is still available for pre-order.

Order it now »

Limited Edition ABBA Necklace

In conjunction with the release of Voulez-Vous Deluxe Edition, ABBA – The Official Site will offer a limited edition silver necklace. Featuring the ABBA logo, it’s similar to a necklace worn by Agnetha and Frida during the ABBA years.

The necklace has been manufactured in a strictly limited edition of only 350. The silver necklace measures 45 + 5 cm and will only be available for purchase through ABBA – The Official Site on a first come, first served basis.

This Necklace is now sold out!

ABBA – Voulez-Vous Trailer Sneak Preview

Watch a sneak preview of the DVD included with Voulez-Vous Deluxe Edition, released May 31, 2010

ABBA’s classic Voulez-Vous album will soon be issued in a Deluxe Edition, featuring the original album extended with several bonus tracks. The package also includes a DVD of Voulez-Vous-era television performances and interviews. We are delighted to share a sneak preview of some of the items included on the DVD. Enjoy!

The International ABBA Day

Every year, The International ABBA Day attracts many hundreds of fans from all over the world, and in recent years it has grown into a whole weekend.

The International ABBA Day takes place in Roosendaal, the Netherlands, and is hosted by The Official International ABBA Fan Club. It starts on Friday, April 9, with a pub gathering, a chance to meet up with old friends and to make new ones, all to the music of ABBA.

Saturday is the main day with all the usual offerings – a big ABBA record and memorabila fair, a quiz with great prizes (including rare and autographed items), videos on the big screen and, of course, the Fan Club Shop is present. This year, we are proud to be the first to offer a new ABBA book – a Stockholm guide following in the footsteps of ABBA – and the author, Sara Russel, will be there to sign copies. Premium Publishing will show pictures from their huge and unique ABBA photo collection, both in an exhibition and a photo presentation on the stage. The ABBA Day starts at 11 am, and the party goes on all day, ending with the traditional disco that is open until 11 pm.

On Sunday, we are offering a trip to see the Dutch version of the musical Mamma Mia! in a nearby city. Tickets, including a meeting with the cast, can be booked at a greatly reduced price through the Fan Club.

All ABBA fans, whether they are a Fan Club member or not, are welcome to enjoy a day – or rather a weekend – filled with ABBA-fun.

For more info, please go to www.abbafanclub.nl/abbaday.

Voulez-Vous Deluxe Edition Track listing and Release Date Revealed!

As previously announced here on ABBA – The Official Site, a Deluxe Edition of ABBA’s 1979 Voulez-Vous album will be released in 2010. And now we are happy to announce the track listing and release date.

 

The Voulez-Vous album was first released in April 1979. And now, a Deluxe Edition featuring the original album remastered and expanded with bonus tracks, plus a companion DVD with television performances from 1978 and 1979, is released.

The international release date for Voulez-Vous Deluxe Edition is May 31, 2010. The exact release date may vary from territory to territory.

Here is the track listing:

CD

01 As Good As New
02 Voulez-Vous
03 I Have A Dream
04 Angeleyes
05 The King Has Lost His Crown
06 Does Your Mother Know
07 If It Wasn’t For The Nights
08 Chiquitita
09 Lovers (Live A Little Longer)
10 Kisses Of Fire

Bonus Tracks
11 Summer Night City (Full Length Version)
12 Lovelight
13 Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)
14 Dream World
15 Voulez-Vous (Extended Remix, 1979 US promo)

DVD

01 ABBA In Switzerland (television special, BBC)
02 Chiquitita (Music for UNICEF)
03 I Have A Dream (extended promo)
04 If It Wasn’t For The Nights (Mike Yarwood Christmas Show, BBC)
05 Chiquitita (ABBA Snowtime, BBC)
06 Björn & Benny Interview (Multi-Coloured Swap Shop, BBC)
07 Greatest Hits Vol. 2 Television Commercial I
08 Greatest Hits Vol. 2 Television Commercial II
09 International Sleeve Gallery

ABBAWORLD Goes Down Under!

AUSTRALIAS CHANCE TO RELIVE THE MEMORIES AND MAGIC OF ABBA WITH A THRILLING AND INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE… ABBAWORLD OPENS AT MELBOURNES FEDERATION SQUARE JUNE 2010!

Dainty Consolidated Entertainment in conjunction with Touring Exhibitions is delighted to announce that they will be bringing ABBAWORLD to Melbourne in June 2010.

Melbournes Federation Square will be transformed into a world of sequins, platforms, singing and dancing!

ABBAWORLD is an extraordinary multimedia exhibition that will enable visitors to experience the music and magic of ABBA in a completely new and distinctive way.

Tickets will go on sale in March, for information on tickets go to www.abbaworld.com

Fully approved and supported by ABBA, ABBAWORLD made its stunning, star-studded, world debut in London on 26 January 2010 to rave reviews from fans and media alike.

Infused with state-of-the-art technology, the highly interactive experience will take visitors on a mind-blowing journey through ABBAWORLDS 25 rooms, bursting with exclusive footage, stage costumes, images and never-before-displayed memorabilia from the personal collections of the worlds most cherished pop icons; Agnetha, Benny, Björn and Frida.

An engaging introductory movie produced by critically acclaimed film director, Jonas Åkerlund, will start the experience and an audio guide will move visitors through the magical space at their own pace.

From Waterloo to Mamma Mia!, the ABBA phenomenon will be brought to life at ABBAWORLD with interactive highlights including Perform with ABBA – which allows fans to perform on stage with their idols, as part of a stunning 3D holographic illusion. Tretow MIX Challenge- a chance to mix things up and re-create the ABBA sound, as well as the ABBA Quiz – which tests fans knowledge of all things ABBA. There is also the opportunity to Sing-A-Long and dance with ABBA, plus a chance for fans to see themselves as part of an ABBA video!

Better still, all of these interactive experiences will be recorded on visitors “smart tickets” and available to be viewed and downloaded later from www.abbaworld.com, allowing their experiences to live on and on and on, just like ABBAs music! On entry to ABBAWORLD, guests will also have their photograph taken – this will become an animated image that will follow them through their interactive experiences. It is a stunning new multimedia experience for new and old ABBA fans – great family entertainment.

The Swedish super group, comprising of Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Faltskog created a legendary sound in the 1970s which made the whole world take to the dance floor. For over 35 years, ABBA has maintained international success with songs that remain a fixture on radio playlists today. This has ensured they remain one of the top three selling artists in the world having sold 375 million records worldwide. They still currently sell over 3 million records a year!

Australia has had a long love affair with ABBA.  In 1977 their fame in Australia reached fever pitch when hundreds of thousands of fans lined the streets to catch a glimpse of their idols as they embarked on a sold out concert tour.  During the tour, the band attended a civic reception at Melbourne Town Hall where they were given the keys to the city and the then Prime Minister Malcom Fraser and his family, flew from Canberra to Melbourne to meet ABBA.

Agnetha Faltskog spoke of the tumultuous February/March 1977 concert tour as “the most incredible of all the things that I experienced with Abba,” she expressed the sentiment of her bandmates. “We have probably never received such a rapturous reception anywhere.  It seemed the ovation would never end.”

ABBA is once again creating history through this interactive, audiovisual experience. To recreate the magic of ABBA, ABBAWORLD is using state of the art multimedia technology and the excitement and presence in time and space of ABBA is recreated in a way no one thought possible. ABBAWORLD will take you on a mind-blowing journey through the music, memories, and magic of ABBA!

ABBAWORLD COMING TO MELBOURNE JUNE 2010!

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
www.abbaworld.com

Voulez-Vous Deluxe Edition On The Way!

ABBA’s 1979 album, Voulez-Vous, featuring smash hits such as ‘Chiquitita’, ‘Does Your Mother Know’ and ‘I Have A Dream’, will be released as a Deluxe Edition this spring.

In line with previous Deluxe Edition releases such as Arrival and ABBA – The Album, the Voulez-Vous Deluxe Edition expands the original album with Voulez-Vous era bonus tracks, as well as a DVD featuring television performances and interviews related to Voulez-Vous.

More details about this exciting new release, including the release date, will follow. Watch this space!

ABBA Receives A Special Award To Mark The Group’s 375 Million Worldwide Record Sales

Abba’s Anni-Frid (Frida) Lyngstad and Björn Ulvaeus receive a special award from Universal Music Group International chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge, to mark the group’s 375 million worldwide record sales to date.

He made the presentation on Jan. 27 at London’s Earl’s Court venue during the world premiere of AbbaWorld, the interactive exhibition featuring 25 rooms of music, footage, images and never-before-displayed memorabilia from the personal collection of Abba.  The event, produced by Touring Exhibitions and promoted by Live Nation, has the support and approval of the band.  It is expected to travel to other cities internationally in 2010.  (Photo:  Hayley Madden.)

And The Winner Of The Signed ABBA DVD Is..

Thank you all ABBAsite members who attended the ABBA IN JAPAN competition!

We received many, many fun and great Christmas rhymes and it was very hard to choose, but in the end Audrey Hulme from Scotland wrote the winning one. Congratulations!

Her Christmas rhyme was dedicated to her husband:

“To my dear husband…

Christmas time is here again
I’m wondering what to buy
I’ve shopped around for a DVD
But nothing caught my eye

Then I spotted something special
To treasure and to play
Signed all the way from Sweden
For you this Christmas day”

ABBA In Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame

Today, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation announced that ABBA was included in the 2010 artist inductees.

 

The 2010 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame performer inductees were chosen by over 500 voters of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation. Artists are eligible for inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twenty-five years after their first recording is released.

All inductees are ultimately represented in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. Through approaches as creative and diverse as the music itself, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
tells the story of rock music with its exhibits, education programs and Library and Archives, which will open to the public in downtown Cleveland in late 2010.

For more information please visit rockhall.com

ABBAWORLD

The Music… The Memories… The Magic… ABBAWORLD IS COMING TO LONDON.

ABBAWORLD IS COMING TO LONDON. Standby for news of this mult-media experience on monday. For more information about ABBAWORLD and the exhibition please logon to www.abbaworld.com

ABBA Nominated For Hall Of Fame

Abba together with 12 rock legends were named as nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

 

Acts become eligible 25 years after the release of their first record and among the other nominees are LL Cool J, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kiss, Jimmy Cliff, Darlene Love, Donna Summer, Laura Nyro, Chantels, Stooges, Genesis and Hollies.

Five of the nominees will be chosen by a panel of over 500 music experts and the winners will be announced during a ceremony on 15 March in New York.

ABBA In Japan – A Legendary TV Special Comes To DVD

The upcoming ABBA In Japan DVD celebrates ABBA’s adventures in Japan in 1978 and 1980. The centrepiece of the release is “ABBA Special”, a television extravaganza filmed when the group visited Japan in November 1978.

This legendary television special is now released on DVD for the first time. Moreover, it has been reassembled from the unedited material, which means that you will get more ABBA for your money! ‘Fernando’, which featured a couple of verses and a chorus in the original broadcast, is now seen in complete form for the first time. And the performance of ‘Summer Night City’, originally presented in a split-screen format with ABBA only taking up a quarter of the screen, is now focused entirely on ABBA. Finally, ‘The Name Of The Game’, which was edited out of the original broadcast, has been reinserted in its rightful place.
Every song in the television special has been synchronised with the latest stereo remasters, except for the three live numbers: ‘Money, Money, Money’, ‘SOS’ and ‘Thank You For The Music’.
The DVD comes with two bonus selections. The first is the fascinating fly-on-the-wall documentary ABBA In Japan Nov. 1978, which covers the group’s visit at the time of the television special. The disc also features the performance of ‘If It Wasn’t For The Nights’ from the special, but with the original, slightly different sound mix as featured in the broadcast – at the time, the song hadn’t been released on record yet and it was subject to further mixes by ABBA before finally being issued on the Voulez-Vous album.
ABBA In Japan is also released in a 2-disc Limited Special Edition. The contents of the first disc are identical to the single-disc version. The second disc in the Limited Special Edition features a very rare behind-the-scenes documentary from ABBA’s concert tour of Japan in March 1980. The disc also features two galleries: one containing photos from the visit in 1978, and one offering a generous selection of Japanese single and album sleeves. Further goodies come in the shape of three ABBA photo cards and the original tour sticker from ABBA’s concert tour of Japan.
Both versions of ABBA In Japan feature a fully illustrated booklet with an essay by Carl Magnus Palm detailing ABBA’s adventures in Japan and the making of the television special.
The international release date for ABBA In Japan is October 26, 2009, although the date may of course vary a little from territory to territory.

ABBA The Museum Becomes ABBAWORLD

The exhibition that will take the legendary Swedish pop group ABBA’s story on a world tour is changing its name from ABBA the Museum to ABBAWORLD.

 

Magnus Danielsson, president of Touring Exhibitions, the company behind the project, is confident that the new name and the new imagery will be welcomed.  “ABBA is a global phenomenon and that is now reflected in both the content of the exhibition and the new name, ABBAWORLD,” he said. “ABBAWORLD will make it possible for fans of all generations and from all over the world to experience the music, memories and magic of ABBA through the innovative use of technology in sound, visuals and communications.”

The website, www.abbaworld.com, will be launched this summer and it will provide visitors with an appetiser for the exhibition.

“The site will make it possible for the audience to plan their visit, to record and play back selected interactive features such as dancing, singing and performing with ABBA, and to share their visit at ABBAWORLD with friends and family in a truly unique way,” said Danielsson. “We are working with some of the most talented people in the business to create a new platform for international, touring exhibitions which integrates seamlessly with the Internet.”

Görel Hanser, spokesperson and business manager of ABBA, commented:“The exhibition ABBAWORLD will ensure that the legacy of ABBA will live on, for old and new generations to experience far into the future.”

The ABBAWORLD exhibition will have its world premiere in Europe later this year.

 www.abbaworld.com

May 31, Kristina Concert Event At Carnegie Hall

Helen Sjöholm and Russel Watson to star in Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus Kristina in a concert event at Carnegie hall, featuring a symphony orchestra conducted by Paul Gemignani.

 

Helen Sjöholm, who originated the title role in the Swedish production of KRISTINA, and internationally renowned tenor Russell Watson, will headline the concert version of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ musical at Carnegie Hall featuring a 50 piece symphony orchestra conducted by Paul Gemignani. Directed by Lars Rudolfsson, the complete 32 member company will be announced shortly.

Tickets for KRISTINA go on sale this Sunday, May 31 at 12:00p at the Carnegie Hall Box Office (57th Street & Seventh Avenue), via phone at             212-247-7800       or online at www.carnegiehall.org.

One of Sweden’s national treasures, musical theater star Helen Sjöholm made her breakthrough performance in the original Swedish production of KRISTINA. She is currently starring in My Fair Lady at the Oscars Theatre in Stockholm, and is a lead vocalist in The Benny Andersson Band, whose hit song “You Are My Man” has stayed at the top of the Swedish charts for the past five years.

Platinum selling recording artist Russell Watson, known as “The People’s Tenor” in his native Britain, is one of the biggest classical crossover stars in the world. Watson was the first ever British male to simultaneously occupy a No.1 spot in the UK and American classical charts, as well as the first artist to have a classical album at the No.1 spot in the UK classical charts for an entire year.

KRISTINA, with music by Benny Andersson and lyrics by Björn Ulvaeus, will be performed in a concert presentation for two performances only at Carnegie Hall on September 23 and 24, 2009.  This will be the first presentation in English with lyrics by Björn Ulvaeus and Herbert Kretzmer.

Originally titled Kristina från Duvemåla, the musical premiered at the Malmo Music Theatre in Sweden in 1995 to great acclaim from critics and audiences alike.  The musical ran for almost four years, winning four Guldmasken Theatre Awards (Sweden’s Tony!) and was seen by more people than any other musical in Swedish history.

In 1996, a concert version of KRISTINA was performed (in Swedish) at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, Minnesota; a part of the country where many of the events in the Moberg novels took place.  The Minneapolis Star Tribune called the concert “engaging, emotionally charged and haunting.”

Based on The Emigrants series of novels by Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg (The Emigrants, Unto a Good Land, The Settlers, and The Last Letter Home), KRISTINA tells the epic story of an extended family’s migration from Sweden to America in the mid-19th Century.

Universal Music is proud to promote the concert alongside Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. A cast recording will follow, released through Universal Music’s Decca Records.

Best known as the song-writing partners of ABBA, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus are also the composers of the stage musicals Chess and Mamma Mia!

BIOGRAPHIES

HELEN SJÖHOLM, one of Sweden’s most beloved performers, began singing at a young age in a chorus in her hometown of Sundsvall and made her professional debut in 1988 touring with the entertainment troupe “Just for Fun.” For many Swedes, she will always be known for her major breakthrough performance as “Kristina” in Kristina från Duvemåla. The hit musical by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus was seen by over one million Swedes. Helen also played “Hodel” in Fiddler on the Roof and “Fantine” in Les Miserables. She starred in the Swedish production of Chess, as “Polly Peachum” in The Threepenny Opera and is currently playing “Eliza” in My Fair Lady at the Oscars Theatre in Stockholm. Helen has performed solo concerts on radio, television and on stages around the country. She is a lead vocalist in the Benny Andersson Band, whose song “You Are My Man” has topped the Swedish charts for five years.

RUSSELL WATSON. Adored by the UK public and widely known as “The Peoples Tenor,” Russell Watson offers a rare glimpse at a remarkable Tenor who has a unique ability of delivering both Classical and Pop Music. 2001: Watson was the first ever British male to simultaneously occupy a No.1 spot in the UK and American classical charts, as well as being the first artist to have a classical album at the No.1 spot in the UK classical charts for an entire year. Having released 9 albums to date and sold over 6 million records worldwide, he has won four classical BRIT Awards and is recognized as the UK’s biggest selling classical artist of the 21st century. 2001: Sang the opening theme of star trek, enterprise, “where My Heart Will Take Me”, 2006: Watson played Parson Nathaniel in the stage adaptation of Jeff Wayne’s musical Version of The War of the Worlds. He has performed for the President of the United States, the UK Prime minister, the Emperor of Japan and the Pope. He has collaborated with varying artists such as Cliff Richards, Lulu, Lionel Ritchie, Mel C (of Spice Girls fame) and Meatloaf.

www.KristinaTheMusical.com

May 2009 – New Album From The Benny Andersson Band

Polydor Records is proud to present ‘Story of A Heart’, an album which returns to the musical roots of ABBA legend Benny Andersson. ’Story Of A Heart’ will be released on July 6th.

 

The history of the world’s greatest pop band has hardly takena pause in the past 35 years, from the 380 million albums sold to the record-breaking musical and blockbuster film which is Mamma Mia!

But behind the scenes there’s another musical side to Benny Andersson. For the past 20 years he has been leading The Benny Andersson Band, a group of 16 exceptional musicians and singers who share his passion for the Swedish folk tradition, not to mention Big Band, Bach, polka, waltzes, Celtic folk, Fifties standards – and straight-ahead pop music.
The latter is showcased on the title track, the first new pop composition written by Benny with his ABBA song writing partner Björn Ulvaeus in 15 years.  Vocal duties on this, and three of the four other tracks translated into English for the first time, are taken by the Swedish star Helen Sjöholm. Two of the tracks feature another Swedish vocal star, Tommy Körberg, who played the role of Anatoly in Chess in London for nearly three years. All the lyrics on the album are written by Björn.

The 14-track album captures highlights from the three albums released in Sweden by The Benny Andersson Band – or Benny Anderssons Orkester as they are known there – along with some brand new tracks. “I wanted to make music based on the Swedish folk tradition, but with new songs written by me,” says Benny Andersson, who also plays accordion on the record – something he has done since he was a six-year-old boy playing with his father and grandfather in Stockholm.

The Benny Andersson Band are a huge live draw in Sweden, touring the country each Summer with their own stage and dance floor. The band provide the music, the crowds supply the vigorous dancing and the bonhomie of a Scottish ceilidh. On July 4th The Benny Andersson Band play their first English gig on Hampstead Heath as part of Sweden On Stage festival celebrating the start of Sweden’s EU Presidency.

April 2009 – International ABBA Day

Every year, The International ABBA Day attracts many hundreds of fans from all over the world. This year, it is in fact not a day but a whole weekend.

The International ABBA Day is hosted in Roosendaal, Netherlands by The Official International ABBA Fan Club and starts on Friday, April 17, with a pub night that includes Swedish fingerfood, a quiz with great prizes and, of course, a chance to meet up with old friends and/or to make new ones, all to the music of ABBA.

Saturday is still the main day; the doors to the big record and memorabilia fair open at 11 am, and during the day Ing-Marie Halling will tell us all about her job as ABBA’s make-up artist, hair dresser and stylist. She has promised to share her memories of the ABBA tours as well as talk about her work with the upcoming ABBA Museum. There will be competitions with fantastic prizes such as a unique ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the ABBA Museum preparations (including a night in a Stockholm hotel), autographed items and more. If you do not get lucky already in the quizzes, there will also be an auction for a book autographed by all four ABBA members as well as a rare signed copy of Agnetha’s autobiography. Those who feel brave may want to try ABBA Singstar, or you can just enjoy the rare videos on big screens, look at the exhibitions, including some dressing room memorabilia brought over by Ing-Marie Halling, get books and CDs signed by Jean-Marie Potiez and Philippe Elan and much more. The traditional disco in the evening goes on till 11 pm.

At 11 am Sunday, the local cinema is Showing Mamma Mia! The Movie to an enthusiastic crowd, and you are expected to sing-along and dance in the isles. This marks the end of the official part of the ABBA Day/Weekend, but many will stay in town to spend some quality time with their newly found friends or old ABBA-buddies. All ABBA fans, fan club members as well as non-members, are most welcome.

For more info, please go to www.abbafanclub.nl/abbaday

March 2009 ABBA The Official Site

Welcome to the new version of ABBA – The Official Site!

 

The official ABBA site was first launched in 1999. After a couple of revamps since then, on its 10th Anniversary we are proud to present a brand new look for the site.

Over the years, an astonishing amount of information about the four Swedes has been added to ABBA – The Official Site. This is every ABBA fan’s starting-point for finding out about the group’s discography – studio albums, major compilation releases, as well as the original singles – and also the biographies of the group, its individual members and many of their invaluable collaborators.

The News section on ABBA – The Official Site is where the details about all ABBA releases on CD and DVD are first revealed to the group’s fans. Moreover, there are more than three dozen in-depth articles about various aspects of ABBA’s rich history: a certain song, one of the group’s albums, or something else worth a closer look – and the archive of articles is growing continually.

There are also plenty of pictures of ABBA to take you on a journey back to the group’s glory days, along with classic ABBA songs and video clips to enjoy. Site visitors no longer have to sign up to take part of these features. However, you may still sign up to receive a newsletter featuring special offers, exclusive information – and more.

We hope you will enjoy your time at this brand new version of ABBA – The Official Site!

March 2008 – New Merchandise!

A new collection with ABBA merchandise is soon coming to a store near you…

 

Here is the new merchandise collection. The design is based on the classical ABBA logo as well as their pictures. Two of them are made in a skinny model for ladies and the other two are t-shirts.

The merchandise will be released in stores in the end of March 2009.

You can preorder them here in the official ABBA store.

   
Skinny Logo

Black skinny in ladies size. The skinny is available in sizes S, M and L. It has frontprint in foil and no backprint.

T/S Logo

Black T/S in mens size. The T/S is available in sizes S, M, L and XL. It has frontprint in foil.

   
T/S Faces

Brown T/S in mens sizes. The T/S is available in sizes S, M, L and XL.

Skinny Faces

Blue skinny in ladies sizes. The skinny is available in sizes S, M and L.

December 2008 – ABBA The Museum Set For World Tour

The global love affair with ABBA seems to grow more ardent with every passing day. Now the world has an opportunity to experience ABBA more intimately than ever before.

ABBA THE MUSEUM SET FOR WORLD TOUR STOCKHOLM; DECEMBER 15, 2008

As the Mamma Mia! movie, DVD and soundtrack album are enjoyed by millions worldwide, there are preparations to take ABBA the Museum – the living story of Swedens most celebrated, iconic musicians – on the road in 2009.

A unique touring exhibition filled with music, original costumes, history, images, instruments and never-before-displayed memorabilia from the groups recording and performing heyday, ABBA the Museum is an interactive experience featuring the latest technology in sound, visuals, multimedia and communications.

It is the only exhibition of its kind, approved by ABBA, with more than 750 pieces of memorabilia. Most of these have been supplied exclusively by the quartet: Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, and Agnetha Faltskog.

ABBA the Museum is produced by Touring Exhibitions (TX) of Stockholm, backed by Parks & Resorts Scandinavia, the largest amusement park company in Sweden; Polar Music, the company behind ABBAs original success, part of Universal Music Group, the worlds leading music company; Live Nation, the world’s largest live music company; Synergera Rättighetsförvaltning and Eventum Exhibitions.

Magnus Danielsson, President of Touring Exhibitions, said: “ABBA the Museum puts the visitor right into the middle of the ABBA experience, from past to present! It’s perfect for the whole family, with so much to see, hear, feel, touch and experience, thanks to state-of-the-art technology. The museum will even enable you virtually to sing and perform ABBA’s hits in front of a ‘live’ sell-out crowd at stadiums where ABBA performed back in the day.”

Before joining Touring Exhibitions as President, Magnus Danielsson was responsible for the European division of Feld Motor Sports, formerly Live Nation Motor Sports. ABBA the Museum was originally to have opened in Stockholm in 2009, but this has been deferred as a result of project complications and a delay in the renovation of the location, Stockholm’s 100-year-old building, Stora Tullhuset.

In the meantime, ABBA the Museum will embark on its world tour starting next year. The producers are currently drawing up plans with prospective business partners, and choosing countries and cities to visit.

The itinerary will take into account the renewed worldwide ardour for ABBA, stimulated by the smash Universal Pictures film of the stage musical based on their songs. Mamma Mia! is now the most successful movie musical of all time, and its November release on video has also broken records around the world: in the UK, for example, it became the fastest-selling DVD ever .

Moreover, the Universal Music soundtrack of Mamma Mia! is one of the blockbuster albums of 2008: global sales exceed 4 million copies so far. In total, ABBA’s recordings are estimated to have sold more than 370 million units worldwide. Their 1992 album, “Gold,” is one of the most popular albums of all time, with sales of 26 million copies.

October 2008 – ABBA The Albums

The fabulous box set of ABBA’s eight studio albums is on its way out to record shops.

 

As previously announced here on ABBA – The Site, Polar Music International is releasing a box set entitled ABBA – The Albums. The box set, which comprises ABBA’s eight studio albums plus a bonus disc of single sides and Swedish-language album tracks, was released in Sweden yesterday, October 22. Beginning the week starting October 27, it will start appearing in other territories as well.

ABBA The Vinyl Collection

ABBA: The Vinyl Collection is a limited edition box set containing ABBA’s eight studio albums, originally released 1973–1981: Ring Ring, Waterloo, ABBA, Arrival, ABBA: The Album, Voulez Vous, Super Trouper and The Visitors. The box set also contains a bonus album, entitled ABBA Tracks, the A-side of which contains the five single A-sides not included on the original studio albums. The B-side of ABBA Tracks features a further five non-album songs, personally selected by ABBA’s Benny Andersson.

Going back to the analogue master tapes for each individual album, as originally prepared by ABBA and their associates, the albums in the ABBA: The Vinyl Collection box set have been remastered for vinyl especially for this release. The track listings of the albums mirror the original Swedish releases, as originally planned and conceived by ABBA. Similarly, the eight studio albums are presented in replica covers featuring the original art work and inner sleeves – exactly as they looked when they first hit record shops back in the ’70s and early ’80s.

Get ABBA – The Vinyl Collection here »

A Brand New Version Of ABBA Gold

ABBA’s greatest hits album ABBA Gold, which to date has sold more than 28 million copies worldwide, will be re-released in a brand new ABBA Gold CD/DVD Special Edition on December 6, 2010. The CD features the latest remastered version of the album, while the DVD features newly remastered versions of all the video clips featured on the original DVD.

The DVD will also include bonus selections in the shape of “before-and-after” split-screen comparisons of five original film clips and the remastered versions of those clips. The new ABBA Gold DVD also features a recently discovered archive find: a cartoon version of ‘Money, Money, Money’, made circa 1977. This very rare clip of ‘Money, Money, Money’ was made by the Australian production company Reg Grundy’s , but was only ever screened briefly during ABBA’s heyday and has never been seen in complete form since.

The remastering of the ABBA Gold video clips has been made by Cutting Room in Stockholm, Sweden, taking full advantage of the progress in digital technology since the clips were last remastered in 2002. You have never seen them like this before!

ABBA Gold Special Edition also features a brand new essay on the album by Elisabeth Vincentelli, author of the books ABBA Gold and ABBA Treasures.

The ABBA Gold CD/DVD Special Edition will be released in a so-called flip-tray with a slip case. The worldwide release date is December 6, 2010, although dates may vary from territory to territory.

Cat. No: 060252752259
Track listing:

CD
1. Dancing Queen
2. Knowing Me, Knowing You
3. Take A Chance On Me
4. Mamma Mia
5. Lay All Your Love On Me
6. Super Trouper
7. I Have A Dream
8. The Winner Takes It All
9. Money, Money, Money
10. SOS
11. Chiquitita
12. Fernando
13. Voulez-Vous
14. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)
15. Does Your Mother Know
16. One Of Us
17. The Name Of The Game
18. Thank You For The Music
19. Waterloo

DVD
1. Dancing Queen
2. Knowing Me, Knowing You
3. Take A Chance On Me
4. Mamma Mia
5. Lay All Your Love On Me
6. Super Trouper
7. I Have A Dream
8. The Winner Takes It All
9. Money, Money, Money
10. SOS
11. Chiquitita
12. Fernando
13. Voulez-Vous
14. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)
15. Does Your Mother Know
16. One Of Us
17. The Name Of The Game
18. Thank You For The Music
19. Waterloo

BONUS TRACKS
20. Money, Money, Money (cartoon version)
21. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) (split screen)
22. Mamma Mia (split screen)
23. Dancing Queen (split screen)
24. The Winner Takes It All (split screen)
25. Money, Money, Money (split screen)

September 2008 – Singstar ABBA

Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, ABBA and Universal Music Announce Collaboration on SingStar™ SingStar™ ABBA Available For This Christmas, Exclusively on PlayStation®

ABBA Singstar
Sony Computer Entertainment Europe today announced a collaboration with ABBA to bring the band’s best loved tracks to SingStar for both PlayStation®2 and PLAYSTATION®3. Owners of either system will now be able to sing along with some of the most iconic pop tracks of all time including ‘Mamma Mia’, ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’, ‘Waterloo’ and ‘Dancing Queen’.

SingStar ABBA is being developed in full collaboration with ABBA and Universal Music Group in Sweden, which manages the rights to the ABBA brand. The terms of the agreement include a window of exclusivity for disc-based PlayStation titles until December 2009.

ABBA’s recordings have sold an estimated 370 million units worldwide. Their 1992 album, “Gold,” is one of the most popular albums of all time, with sales of 26 million copies.

The SingStar agreement comes as the music of ABBA enjoys a renewed surge of popularity worldwide, sparked by the huge success of the film, “Mamma Mia!” Global sales of the soundtrack album, released by Universal Music Group, the world’s leading music company, are now approaching 3 million.

“We are thrilled to be collaborating with ABBA to bring their tracks to SingStar this Christmas,” said David Reeves, President, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. “The popularity of this iconic band continues year after year, and we know SingStar fans will be delighted to add this selection of classics tracks to their SingStar collection.”

Lucian Grainge, Chairman/CEO of Universal Music Group International, commented: “ABBA have joined that elite club of musicians and artists whose popularity only grows with time, as new generations enjoy some of the most memorable music ever made. SingStar ABBA will have the world singing along again.”

SingStar ABBA is the perfect soundtrack to any party, guaranteed to get pop lovers of all ages on their feet when it is released this winter.

About SingStar
Since its launch in 2004, SingStar™ has become one of the world’s most popular games titles and a phenomenal success for Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE), proving that everyone wants a chance to sing along to their favourite tune. In four years and across both PLAYSTATION®3 and PlayStation®2 platforms, SingStar has sold more than 13 million discs in SCEE territories and has seen more than two million tracks downloaded from online service, SingStore™. And things are about to get even bigger…

o The original SingStar® was launched in May/June 2004 exclusively on PlayStation®2 to public and critical acclaim, entering the charts at number one in most of Europe’s biggest countries.

o SingStar® Party, the follow-up, was launched pre-Christmas 2004, and included not only another great line-up of international artists, but also further ‘party’ and multi-player features, such as duets.

o SingStar® Pop followed in the Spring of 2005 introducing yet more original features and options including rap scoring and medleys, plus 30 of the biggest and best hits of the last three years.

o SingStar® ‘80s launched at Christmas 2005 and featured a tracklist 100% dedicated to the best music of the ‘80s, with licensed tracks and videos from artists such as Duran Duran, Culture Club, Wham, Blondie, The Cure, offering a real treat for all SingStar fans, and serving as an essential Christmas party accessory!

o SingStar® Rocks! launched in April/May 2006 and is packed with attitude, capturing the ultimate balance of exciting new rock acts e.g; The Killers, Razorlight, and Kasabian plus a few alternative rock gems and a good sprinkling of ‘dad rock’.

o SingStar® Legends released in November 2006 and features an impressive line-up of past and present music icons, including John Lennon, Aretha Franklin, David Bowie, U2, Madonna and the Jackson 5.

o SingStar® Pop Hits launched in April 2007 with a tracklist dedicated to the biggest names in pop. With thirty huge pop tracks from award winning artists including Jennifer Lopez, Scissor Sisters, Nelly Furtado and Fall Out Boy, Pop Hits is an essential buy for any pop music lover.

o SingStar® R&B launched in October 2007 with a sassy line-up of the best of R&B music introducing a mixture of modern day superstars and much revered Soul and Motown icons from the past. Featuring Rihanna, Pussycat Dolls, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas and Salt-N-Pepa.

o SingStar® Volume One (PS3) saw SingStar make its long awaited debut in the Next-Gen world in December 2007 and was an instant Christmas hit. Featuring 30 brand new tracks by artists such as The Killers, Pussycat Dolls, Gwen Stefani and Gorillaz, SingStar Volume One also heralded the arrival of SingStore and MySingStar. SingStore allowed players to download additional tracks from an ever increasing library of both classic and modern songs. Online music community My SingStar Online allowed players to upload their videos and audio performances for comments from other players and allowed listening and commenting on other’s performances.

o SingStar® Summer Party launched in May 2007 with a tracklist celebrating the best of summer smash hits. SingStar Summer Party feel good tracklist had classic hits from pop icons such as Elton John, Blur, and Blondie. Mixed in with current pop acts such as Rihanna, Amy Winehouse and Mika. Finished off with a good helping of cheesy pop from Lou Bega, Chesney Hawkes and Yazz.

o SingStar® Volume Two arrived on PS3 in the Summer of 2008. As well as another 30 exclusive tracks, the second Blu-ray SingStar disc offers an all new Harmony mode, allowing players to sing different parts of the same song at the same time. It also offers all-new customization options for MySingStar and improves the look of the famous SingStar carousel.

o The SingStar® franchise has been a huge hit internationally selling over 13 million units across the PAL region – SingStar is now a house-hold name in over 67 different countries. With the top rock, pop and party tracks from the world’s biggest artists, SingStar offers fans a diverse and eclectic mix of dance floor classics for any occasion with over 30 great titles to chose from.

o Critical to this commercial success has been the strong commitment to localisation ensuring that our consumers can enjoy SingStar® in their own language and sing the songs that are heard on radio stations across the world. To date, SingStar® has been localised in the following languages: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Polish, Croatian and Russian.

About Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE), based in London, is responsible for the distribution, marketing and sales of PLAYSTATION®3, PlayStation®2, PSP™ (PlayStation®Portable) and PLAYSTATION®Network software and hardware in 99 territories across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Oceania. SCEE also develops, publishes, markets and distributes entertainment software for these formats, and manages the third party licensing programs for the formats in these territories. Since the launch of PLAYSTATION 3 in November 2006, over 14.4 million units have been sold globally and continue to be sold at a record level. Maintaining its position as one of the most successful consumer electronic products in history, PlayStation 2 has sold over 131.3 million systems worldwide. Since its launch at the end of 2004, over 41.3 million PSPs have been sold globally, highlighting the importance of the portable entertainment market. With the huge increase in interest and accessibility of network applications and network gaming, over 10 million people have registered to the PLAYSTATION Network, the free-to-access interactive environment, and 200 million items have been downloaded.

More information about PlayStation products can be found at www.playstation.com or visit the Virtual Press Office at www.scee.presscentre.com.

PlayStation, PLAYSTATION, PSP and the PlayStation logo are registered trademarks of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc..

About Universal Music Group
Universal Music Group is the world’s leading music company with wholly owned record operations or licensees in 77 countries. Its businesses also include Universal Music Publishing Group, the industry’s leading global music publishing operation.

Universal Music Group’s record labels include Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Disa, Emarcy, Fonovisa, Interscope Geffen A&M Records, Island Def Jam Music Group, Lost Highway Records, Machete Music, MCA Nashville, Mercury Nashville, Mercury Records, Philips, Polydor Records, Universal Motown Republic Group, Universal Music Latino, Universal Records South, and Verve Music Group as well as a multitude of record labels owned or distributed by its record company subsidiaries around the world. The Universal Music Group owns the most extensive catalog of music in the industry, which includes the last 100 years of the world’s most popular artists and their recordings. UMG’s catalog is marketed through two distinct divisions, Universal Music Enterprises (in the U.S.) and Universal Strategic Marketing (outside the U.S.). Universal Music Group also includes eLabs, its new media and technologies division; Bravado, its merchandising company; Twenty-First Artists, its full service management division; and Helter Skelter, its live music agency.

Universal Music Group is a unit of Vivendi, a global media and communications company.