This is the cover of the book, officially launched in Brisbane on Tuesday 16 December 2008.
From July 2011, the following reduced rates apply for buyers who purchase directly from my website http://www.abbaletthemusicspeak.com.
For Australia and New Zealand, the book is now available for AU$45.00. This includes express postage within Australia and airmail to New Zealand. For The Rest Of The World, the price is AU$60.00, which includes postage by international airmail.
It’s been some months since I posted a blog … I was one of many hundreds of south-east Queenslanders that were affected by the January floods, and simple things like collecting mail from my local PO Box were among many everyday chores that got postponed!
Anyway, I recently enjoyed taking part in an online fan forum where the question was posed: what is your favourite ABBA song from each of the eight studio albums, and why? It’s been a long time since I’ve revisited my thoughts on this! After saturating myself with the inner workings of ABBA songs for my book, I found it necessary to distance myself from ABBA for a while. I decided to be totally spontaneous regarding my answers, and here they are!
RING RING: Another Town, Another Train. This is the closest Benny & Bjorn got to emulating a Seekers male-vocal-lead ballad. BTW I’ve always thought the Seekers’ Colours Of My Life (1967, remixed by engineer unknown in the early 70s) has an ABBA feel to it – I can imagine Agnetha singing this one.
WATERLOO: Dance (While The Music Still Goes On). Agnetha’s second verse … that leadvocal … so emotional! Images of poignant movie farewells with misty eyes and yearning gestures. I could play those eight bars in a loop a thousand times over. It’s over all too soon. I sometimes fantasise about this song being held over for the ABBA album, with the girls leading the chorus instead of the boys … I would have loved this song even more.
ABBA: SOS. The minor key is my soul mate; bring it on!
ARRIVAL: Knowing Me, Knowing You.A statuesque classic, and a song with a sting in its tail. The girls’ striking a capella delivery of the title hook, the twin guitars in the refrain … poignant magic.
THE ALBUM: The Name Of The Game. I was bowled over when I first heard this. It’s my gold standard for what an ABBA song can be. Sultry, sophisticated, complex, funky riffs, and the girls have equal leadvocal billing. Their individual bridge passages ensure mood swings a-plenty, and I love the piccolo trumpet synth in the chorus.
VOULEZ-VOUS: The King Has Lost His Crown. This is an understated treasure. After Frida’s gentle verse lead, the girls erupt spectacularly into an unforgiving chorus in which the fiery retribution (minor) and pathetic humiliation (major) they direct to the philanderer in the lyric are masterfully differentiated.
SUPER TROUPER: Super Trouper. The Winner Takes It All is so often “the one”, so I felt it worth pointing out a few home truths about the title track. How many artists can write and record a song of this quality in three days? Listen to it from this perspective. All those intricate vocal layers! Love the structure, the melody, the harmonies, the coda, the fact that it’s acoustically driven in contrast to the rest of the album (The Winner Takes It All excepted). B & B recycled (to great effect) the four-chord progression from the Winner Takes It All intro for Super Trouper’s refrain, and Frida’s verse leadvocal is one timbre we haven’t heard before (on an ABBA album at least). Not so silky smooth as Andante, Andante or as edgy and urgent as Our Last Summer. As Kate Bush recently sang, somewhere in between. 😉
THE VISITORS: When All Is Said And Done. I’m sad though that the original video mix wasn’t used for the album. Frida’s leadvocal is more fluid and free in the closing statement on that, and I was disappointed that B & B felt they had to make the last two vocal statements identical.
Special mention: Should I Laugh Or Cry. I don’t understand Benny’s belief that the chorus doesn’t match the verse in the latter. It’s one of the most profound and personal ABBA songs of all, right up there with The Winner Takes It All. Wish it had been included on The Visitors album proper.
1982: The Day Before You Came. I agree with Michael Tretow – to me it is the saddest ABBA song of all. Even if they didn’t think 1982 was ‘the end’, it remains the most elegant farewell gesture, superb in its understatement.
Special mention: Just Like That (final sax mix). Unlike Benny, I think the verse and chorus dovetail beautifully and suit the pop treatment. I actually prefer the ABBA version to its more theatrical successor on the Swedish CHESS album. Apart from an interesting bit of improvisation from Raphael Ravenscroft in the opening refrain, it’s a song I can play over and over. I live for the day we’ll see it as a bonus track.
Until next time!
Hi dear friends
It’s the festive season, and a perfect opportunity for me to say hello and pass on my greetings to you all.
2010 has been an extraordinary year in the life of my book. I’m happy to say that it has now not only been recognised by the members of ABBA, but it is also the only publication about the group currently authorised to be sold in the international touring exhibition, ABBAWORLD!
This makes me immensely proud, and vindicates my steadfast belief – shared by my editor, Matthew Tesch, and my media advisor, Stephen Cook – that this was a book worth writing.
The book sold out at Federation Square in Melbourne earlier this year, and is now occupying centre stage at the Powerhouse Museum Shop as part of the Sydney ABBAWORLD exhibition, which opened to the public last Friday. I flew to Sydney for the opening night celebrations on Thursday 16 December, which featured Australian singing stars Katie Noonan (of George and Elixir fame), Andy Bull and Iota performing their own musical tributes to the group. Celebrity host Julia Zimero from SBS-TV’s Rock Wiz and Eurovision did a great job, and the Powerhouse Museum laid on a magnificent evening resplendent with mirror balls, floor-to-ceiling gold streamers and authentic Swedish meatballs, served with a miniature Swedish flag!
This amazing ABBA experience has now visited London, Melbourne, Sydney and Hungary, with many more destinations ahead before it takes up permanent residence in the capital of ABBA’s native Sweden. I caught up with curator Ingmarie Halling (wardrobe mistress for the group’s international tours) at the opening night party. She is the loveliest person you could hope to meet, and she is so genuinely supportive of my book. It was Ingmarie who first wrote to me to say how much Frida had enjoyed the book, and everything started to happen from there. While we were chatting, she sent an SMS to Benny to wish him a happy birthday!
Benny’s birthday also holds a special place in my heart … coincidentally, 16 December was the date of my book’s official launch in Brisbane two years ago … happy memories.
The Sydney exhibition is a little different from the one in Melbourne; as fellow ABBA aficionado Ian Cole writes on the internet forum ABBA Village, it is more a thematic experience than a chronological voyage through the eight studio albums. On display are the costumes, backstage dressing room, displays of local videos (including one behind-the-scenes reel that has never been seen before) and memorabilia exclusive to Australia, the ABBA members’ stories and interviews, the ABBA studio, island songwriting cottage, sound production, gold records and sing-a-long and interactive booths. The thriving and vibrant ABBA legacy is well represented too (the group members’ careers since, the ABBA revival, Mamma Mia! and the tribute bands).
Here are some details of the exhibition in case any of you are passing through Sydney before 6 March 2011 and might like to have a peek! Also, some ABBA coming up on Pay TV and the big screen:
ABBAWORLD The Official Interactive Museum is now open at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. Venue is at Harris St, Ultimo until 6 March 2011. See http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/abbaworld/ for details and tickets.
ABBA Biography, a documentary made by the US A&E network in 2006, is being rescreened on pay TV channel Bio on 24 December at 8.30 pm, also 27 December at 8.30 am. http://www.biographychannel.com.au/
ABBA – The Movie is screening at acmi – Australian Centre for Moving Image at Federation Square, Melbourne on 1 and 8 January at 4 pm. See http://www.acmi.net.au/oz_abba_movie.aspx for details and tickets.
I’ll be spending a quiet Christmas with my family on Tamborine Mountain (south of Brisbane in the Gold Coast hinterland), enjoying some R & R before rehearsals begin for the annual Queensland Pops Orchestra’s New Year’s Eve concert. This year’s concert is entitled European Holiday, and we’ll be playing some fabulous classical standards by Rossini, Mozart, Strauss, Verdi, Puccini, Bizet and Grieg. For details, see http://www.popsorchestra.com.au.
Wishing you all a safe and joyous Christmas with family and friends, and my very warmest wishes for a happy new year.
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) is quite a mouthful as song titles go, but one that slides into this provocative pop anthem as smooth as silk. Benny and Björn were still quite bewitched by the disco beat, and wove around it a colourful veil of electronic and orchestral threads that shed a glittering light over the nocturnal laments of lead vocalist Agnetha and her trusty harmonic accessory, Frida.
The solo guitar riff that launches Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) follows in the novel footsteps of the arrival album’s When I Kissed The Teacher. Each features an opening guitar riff that reappears, tempo unchanged, in each chorus, playing in a loop against a totally independent theme.
The synth-led refrain of Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! is as striking as they come, and the signature sound of the track. (Pop diva Madonna certainly thought so; twenty-six years later, on a mission to salvage her star power after a series of chart disappointments, the volatile singer sought permission from Benny and Björn to sample the entire refrain of Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! for her comeback single Hung Up in 2005. Sure enough, the song became a smash hit all over the world.)
This is a telling example of just how melodically astute ABBA songs are, the less-gives-more approach working its uncanny charms. The refrain synth riff in Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! states its intentions in a most musically-succinct way, and revels in its minor tonality. The song’s harmonic economy has a hypnotic effect, particularly in the chorus melody, where the multi-tracked vocals of protagonists Agnetha and Frida sound for all the world like a Zulu tribal war chant.
Agnetha’s interpretative talent for finding the right inflection and enunciation is certainly on show in Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!; in the verses, she reveals yet another intriguing timbre to her voice. The clipped delivery of her lead vocal has the urgency of a lit fuse, and it sizzles all the way to chorus detonation. Seething with suppressed excitement, Agnetha massages and provokes Björn’s suggestive lyrics into submission, aided and abetted by late-night party-girl Frida, who gleefully joins in on the exotic, almost Oriental harmony grabs (“half-past twelve” / “autumn winds” / “movie stars” /“tired of TV”) that launch each verse statement.
The piano makes a stylish appearance in this electronic melting pot, giving Agnetha’s atmospheric plea – “there’s not a soul out there” – a dramatic melodic boost as she leads the charge to her fraught chorus destiny.
Adding its mellow voice to Benny’s synth and piano riffs in Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! is the penultimate Rutger Gunnarsson string arrangement. This is arguably one of the most multi-dimensional ABBA string outings. Doubling Benny’s signature refrain and providing a dramatic three-note descending riff into each chorus, the violins have even more personality traits to reveal before the song is over: a series of fleeting but virtuosic flourishes at the end of each chorus statement, which are easy to aurally overlook, but worth singling out.
These could accurately be described as manic, mini string ‘temper-tantrums’, and they hit the girls’ vocal pauses with the velocity of a tornado. The girls are not the only natives getting restless in this disco jungle! The violin section then takes centre stage for a scene-stealing instrumental section that runs for a mammoth twenty-four bars. Before the ‘extended dance mix’ became a common fixture of pop music marketing, Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! set the pace once again.
To set the mood for this atmospheric interlude, the girls slip into something a little more comfortable, filling the speakers with a sonorous falsetto rendition of the title hook. Then, unprovoked and unexpected, thanks to the hypnotic lumbering of the bass synth and detached guitar licks, the strings slowly carry out their mission of seduction. Whisper-quiet at first, they build, layer upon layer, as if summoning up some more powerful but subliminal force.
Gimme, gimme, gimme a man after midnight … will Agnetha’s prayer be answered? The tension-laden violins, which could programmatically be reflecting Agnetha’s clandestine desires, soon submit to a smouldering layer of gently clashing choral harmonics; whether these in turn portray fantasy longings or reality pleasures, let the listener’s imagination be the judge!
This is a sublime piece of musical imagery, and an intricate musical distraction from the tribal chant of the chorus, which returns for one last fiery fling before the spirited clout of Benny’s signature synth steals back the limelight for the fade.
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) was the ABBA song that closed not only the 1970s, but also the group’s dalliance with disco. Further experimentation lay ahead, when Benny and his synthesisers took the group sound – spearheading a trend towards synth pop across Europe – on an exhilarating new electronic ride.
Knowing that both Just A Notion and Dream World were initial hopefuls for Voulez-Vous, one can appreciate Benny and Björn’s decision to ultimately shelve these two in favour of tracks more stylistically akin to the album’s sensual theme. Upholding this sensuality is the second of Frida’s three lead vocal tracks on voulez-vous, the suave and sophisticated The King Has Lost His Crown.
This understated treasure is a beguiling piece of songwriting, which Frida herself singled out in 2004 as one of her favourite ABBA tracks. A renaissance of the celebrated major-to-minor tonality shift – which evoked such dramatic tension in the choruses of SOS and Eagle – re-emerges in the chorus of The King Has Lost His Crown, but here the tonality switch is reversed.
Another aspect The King Has Lost His Crown has in common with Eagle is the minor-key hook of the refrain. With a tweak to the strategic repetition, the first three bars of The King Has Lost His Crown’s rhythm track bear largely the same notes as Eagle’s majestic guitar riff.
This is quite understandable; The King Has Lost His Crown was one of the first tracks of the Voulez-Vous sessions to be completed, and the previous album’s work would likely still have been resonating in the minds of Benny and Björn, providing worthy points of reference as they began the creative process all over again.
Frida’s major key lead in The King Has Lost His Crown is smooth and relaxed, with no hint whatsoever of the Pandora’s Box lying in waiting. Then, suddenly, high drama as Agnetha joins the charge in a cataclysmic vocal sideswipe, the sheer magnitude as startling as it is exhilarating. This rich harmonic layering touches on the exotic as the tension reaches boiling point, with an effective sustained (but unresolved) suspension at verse end.
The girls take no prisoners, erupting spectacularly into an unforgiving chorus in which fiery retribution (minor) and pathetic humiliation (major) are masterfully differentiated. Supporting this relentless sequence of tonality shifts is a gravel-edged electric guitar-led backing track, which boasts a strategically placed string arrangement that complements the dramatic tension superbly.
The King should have known better. His new girl turned him down. As the woman scorned, Frida proves a formidable force. Add Agnetha in full voice and the outcome is positive annihilation.
© Christopher Patrick 2004 – 2010
I thought I’d share with you some new thoughts on the song that became Benny and Bjorn’s 1982 thorn amongst the roses. In its final sax mix form, I’d regard Just Like That as my all-time favourite ABBA track … but it’s impossible to fully appreciate its merits without hearing the final mix, complete, and to Benny and Bjorn’s painstaking stereo standard.
Like many, I was deeply disappointed when it finally appeared on the TYFTM box set minus the verses. Ripping out the verses also ripped out the heart. That verse melody is one of the most exquisite the boys ever wrote, making the loss of Agnetha’s lead vocal all the more lamentable. It always puzzled me why there was one rule for JLT and another for the rest. The argument that ABBA’s JLT could never be released in its entirety, because fragments (in this case, the verse melody) were subsequently re-used elsewhere, certainly didn’t apply to songs like Dreamworld. I acknowledge this hijacking crossed genre boundaries – recycled for CHESS rather than ABBA – but I’ll never understand why the JLT verse melody alone was treated like a rare creature that needed to be cryogenically frozen until its true value could be fully appreciated. Anyway, here are my latest musings on JLT.
Most would agree that “Just Like That” was Benny and Björn’s ultimate problem child. Perhaps it didn’t seem so at the time of its creation in May 1982, as it was normal for potential ABBA hits to be reworked and remixed several times over, as this track was. But JLT was different. Written at a time when Benny and Björn’s musical exploration was slowly shifting genres from pop to musical theatre, it’s no real surprise that JLT found itself wedged (uncomfortably as far as the boys were concerned) between the two.
The obvious dilemma facing the ABBA composers – as fans of JLT’s three bootleg incarnations know only too well – was to come up with a strong melody to adorn the neat chord sequence of the refrain. At their third and final attempt to salvage the track they recruited the services of “Baker Street” sax player Raphael Ravenscroft who, despite an excellent performance overall, didn’t quite cut it (dubious improvisation prior to Agnetha’s first verse entry did him no favours). This, together with Benny and Björn’s increasing concerns that the verse melody’s inherently classical feel was perhaps at odds with the more clear-cut pop drive of the chorus, sealed the song’s fate … as far as ABBA was concerned anyway.
Regardless, the ABBA version of JLT works spectacularly well on practically all other levels: a poignant and heartfelt lead vocal from Agnetha, three-part close-knit chorus harmonies a la Swing era songsters The Andrews Sisters, and an intoxicating melancholy throughout thanks to Benny and Bjorn’s masterful use of the minor key.
With the passing of the years, the ‘this-verse-with-that-chorus’ experiments eventually resulted in wedded bliss for the two allegedly incompatible musical set pieces. The mix’n’matching trialled by Elaine Paige and Tommy Körberg during the 1983-4 CHESS recording sessions revealed the ABBA verse/chorus combination was no longer a viable option. The poignant yet exhilarating ABBA verse melody was replaced with a rather sombre minor key alternative (used for the Gemini remake in 1985), which fell short of instilling that irresistible anticipation one feels when an ABBA chorus is about to let fly. The melancholy mood of the Gemini version – while quite appropriate – remains static through both verse and chorus, with little variation in melodic colour.
Despite the cold comfort of the lyric, the ABBA chorus still retained a sense of veiled euphoria, the melodic line peaking with the dramatic “knowing that someday soon he’ll be gone”. This was replaced by a meandering and extended alternative for Gemini (“in a way I was the one to deceive/always expecting the fact he would leave”). There is an unwavering sense of self-pity in Karin Glenmark’s performance, who does her job only too well; it lacks the ever-changing light and shade of the ABBA original (which may go some way to understanding why the Gemini remake failed as a chart single).
The ABBA version – Agnetha’s lead in particular – manages to convey to the listener the ecstatic thrill of the doomed romantic encounter more convincingly than the Gemini makeover. It tugs at your heartstrings … but then the ABBA girls always did.
Fast-track to 2002. The ballad “Glöm mig om du kan” (from CHESS PÅ SVENSKA) coupled the original ABBA verse with a pleasantly pedestrian new chorus melody, first revealed in the demo “When The Waves Roll Out To Sea” back in the 83/84 CHESS sessions. Once again, the right balance of light and shade proved crucial, even more so in this rather more theatrical chorus melody. I applaud Swede Per Myrberg’s interpretation here. Injecting a little too much enthusiasm into this chorus could have transformed it into one of those ‘hand-on-heart, we’ll fight to the death’ songs found in comic operetta, which this ballad – and CHESS as a whole – most certainly is not.
I completely understand and respect Benny and Björn’s decision to slice up ABBA’s JLT and reinvent it elsewhere. The two songs that now incorporate the original verse and chorus are recorded for posterity and provide further evidence – not that any was needed – that as songwriters and producers, Benny and Björn are up there with the best. Despite the bum note in the sax and the immortal lyric “predestinated course”, I champion “Just Like That”, as recorded by ABBA in May 1982, as a refreshingly different, stylistically innovative and consummately performed ABBA classic. It sounds like no other in the catalogue and would have been a worthy addition to the set of highly individual tracks released in ABBA’s final recording year.
Until next time … regards to all.
Starting this month, I’ll be featuring a series of excerpts from my book … kicking off with a look at my favourite ABBA singles.
2010 marks the 30th anniversary of the SUPER TROUPER album’s release, so here’s an overview of ABBA’s ninth and final UK number one single, Super Trouper c/w The Piper.
SUPER TROUPER is a more vocally selective album than VOULEZ-VOUS, the self-confident and assertive approach of its predecessor toned down, the lead vocals instead displaying a pronounced contrast in emotional intensity between verse and chorus. The change of personality is most evident on the non-unison tracks, which by now dominated the ABBA musical landscape. The unison lead vocal output had been reduced to only two (On And On And On and The Piper), a subtle hint of the increasingly introspective direction in which Benny and Björn were taking the group sound.
Frida’s lead vocals in the verses of Super Trouper and Andante Andante are soft and reflective, with a distinct increase in power and edge in each chorus. The reverse applies to Me And I, in which the pert flippancy of the verses is replaced by a tender deference in the chorus. Super Trouper was the last-minute emergency number written for the album – written and recorded all within a time frame of three days – yet the intricacy of its production glows like the spotlight to which it pays tribute.
The title track is a song rich in textural contrasts. While As Good As New kicked off the previous album with a surprise string chamber orchestra, Super Trouper marked another ABBA first with its unique a capella vocal introduction. However, these angelic layers did not give way to the disco-inspired undertones that permeated VOULEZ-VOUS. Instead, they segue into a mid-tempo and rather wistful piano and glockenspiel-led refrain, which incidentally comprises the same chords – albeit in different keys – as both the refrain and the second of The Winner Takes It All’s two phrases. (These two songs and their links are discussed in detail in Chapter 27, “The roads to number one”.)
Super Trouper is another illuminating example of ABBA’s ability to paint over an inherently melancholy melodic undercoat with vibrant colours. Benny and Björn were careful not to abuse the immense power of minor chords when it came to melodic construction. The minor moments in the verses of Super Trouper gently complement the harmonic massage of Frida’s milk-and-honey lead vocal, the poignancy of which reaches its height in the bridge linking the second and final choruses. Agnetha follows the melancholy path with a wistfully understated descant harmony vocal in falsetto, which features a subtle variation in harmony in her repeat statement of each chorus.
Super Trouper was the last song to be written before the group’s inner harmony was put to the test a second time. Not only would the masterful balance it struck between joviality and reflection be sorely questioned in the aftermath of John Lennon’s assassination in December, a bombshell from ABBA’s remaining married couple in February was a blow upon a bruise that would have a profound impact on the group’s future musical direction.
The sombre refrain to The Piper marks a return to the atmospheric minor verse/major chorus of THE ALBUM’s Eagle. With the benefit of hindsight, The Piper could be seen to be one of a trilogy of songs that share this common structural – and lyrical – thread, which culminates in the foreboding Soldiers from THE VISITORS. All are musically intriguing, atypically abstract and reflect Björn’s growing desire to share his literary interpretations through ABBA’s music.
These are boldly exposed in The Piper, the lyric of which was inspired by the chilling Stephen King novel, The Stand. In a macabre reworking of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, it tells the story of a man with no face who invades and corrupts people in their dreams, recruiting them for his own sinister purposes. A dark premise for an ABBA song, but the synergy between such text and the music’s fateful shifts in tonality is flawless.
Benny’s GX-1 sets the mood in The Piper’s verses, riding Rutger Gunnarsson’s driving bass with yet another intoxicating sound variation that falls somewhere between a plucked electric guitar and a felt stick tapping a snare drum. The usual potpourri of synth decorations prevails in this, the last ABBA track to feature a unison vocal from Agnetha and Frida. A hint of Swedish folk song can be detected in the chorus’ rousing call to arms, not to mention the ancestral cries of the Irish and the Celts.
The defining element of The Piper is its middle section, which firmly embodies the production’s medieval tone. Enter the roaming end-blown flute (also known as the recorder, the descant – the highest in range – of which is played here), under whose hypnotic spell the voices of Agnetha and Frida fall. With all the reverence of a church offertory chant, the girls deliver the haunting Latin text “sub luna saltamus” (dance beneath the moon), enlivening the protagonists of age-old superstition: witchcraft, ancient stone circles and sacrificial ceremonies, to name but three. At the touch of a keyboard, Benny rolls his own medieval ensemble of sackbut, viol and lute all into one beneath them, and the seduction is complete.
The liberation brought by the song’s major-key chorus is of a far more sinister nature than it pretends. Having transfixed all in his midst, The Piper now sings through the souls of his chosen ones, and their fate is sealed. His doomed followers rejoice in one last exultation of loyalty at the song’s climax, as the forces of evil play their final hand.
Copyright Christopher Patrick 2004-2010
Next month: Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) c/w The King Has Lost His Crown