Tag Archives: Abba

Rocks In The Attic #685: ABBA – ‘ABBA’ (1975)

RITA#685Some things you just never expect to happen. You never expect to find out the identity of the second gunman on the grassy knoll, the whereabouts of Lord Lucan, or whether pavlova was really invented by Australians or Kiwis.

The news out of the blue on Friday morning is that ABBA are back in the studio writing new material. This came as such a shock, I turned around and repeated the news to a total stranger at work.

ABBA have been famously reserved around any idea of a reunion. All four members – Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad – are alive and well, and so it’s been nice that up to this point, they haven’t reformed and tainted the memory and music of their younger selves. Their musical output in the ten years between 1972 and 1982 stands as a time-capsule of great songwriting, production and performance.

So what will these two new songs deliver? One song, entitled I Still Have Faith In You, will be performed by digital avatars of themselves on a TV special to be broadcast by the BBC and NBC in December 2018. Presumably the other song will also be released with fanfare – either as a standalone single, or to soundtrack some other key event. Sweden might have a cracker of a Eurovision entry in 2019.

I hope that the two resulting songs sound like ABBA. I don’t want them to sound like they could have come from the same producers of today’s awful stripper pop. Hopefully bandleaders Benny and Björn will remain as authentic as possible in the recording and production of the song. There’s a real danger that the output will echo the otherness of Free As A Bird and Real Love, the singles recorded and released by the reunited Beatles for the Anthology project.

ABBA is the band’s third studio record, and the second to be released internationally. The album came exactly a year after the band’s success at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo. Any thoughts about the band being a one-hit wonder would have been discounted as soon as the singles Mamma Mia and S.O.S. hit the charts. I’ll probably never watch it, but isn’t the title of the soon-to-be-released sequel to the Mamma Mia musical – Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again – just a lovely bit of serendipitous naming?

By the way, pavlova is probably as Kiwi as kiwifruit. Or Chinese Gooseberries, as they were originally known.

Hit: Mamma Mia

Hidden Gem: Hey, Hey Helen

Rocks In The Attic #637: Boney M. – ‘Nightflight To Venus’ (1978)

RITA#637When I think about all the great disco groups of the 1970s, I’m not usually thinking about Boney M. To me, great disco was solely an American proposition – K.C. & The Sunshine Band, Chic, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Trammps. Even the Manx-born / Australian-bred Bee Gees sounded American during their genre-defining Saturday Night Fever period.

So a foreign-born – and most importantly, a foreign-sounding – disco band like Boney M. never really fit in anywhere. The band hail from the West Germany of the 1970s, with members originally from Jamaica, Aruba and Montserrat. If they had travelled north from the Caribbean, and landed in the USA they might have indeed been a vital part of the American disco scene.

Instead, their music is blighted by an economical, soulless Europop production by Frank Farian – the German producer behind the Milli Vanilli lip-syncing scandal of the 1980s. They’re more Eurovision than Saturday Night Fever; more James Last than Nile Rodgers.

While the more artistically and commercially successful Abba have remained timelessly relevant on the strength of both their songwriting and the production of their material, Boney M. just feel synthetic, a product of the capitalist West Germany. They’re hugely successful however – having sold over 150 million records worldwide, so somebody must have liked them.

Once you look past the big singles – Rasputin, Rivers Of Babylon and Brown Girl In The Ring – this record isn’t too bad. The production-heavy opening track, Nightflight To Venus, gives drummer Keith Forsey a moment to shine on an otherwise dull record in terms of percussion (the rest of the album is very much driven by a straight 4/4 beat, with very little variation).

But it is the record’s final track, a cover of Neil Young’s Heart Of Gold, that is the most surprising thing of all – surprising because it’s actually quite interesting in its vocal harmony arrangement. But of course, hearing one of Shakey’s better-known songs covered by a West German / Caribbean disco band has to be heard to be believed.

Hit: Rivers Of Babylon

Hidden Gem: Heart Of Gold

Rocks In The Attic #590: Abba – ‘Super Trouper’ (1980)

RITA#590.jpgWhen I inherited my parent’s record collection, I picked up a few gems from my Dad – mainly classic rock and a little bit of soul and R&B – but from my Mum I got Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom Of The Opera soundtrack plus her Abba collection.

My Mum had studio albums four, five and six (Arrival, ABBA: The Album and Voulez Vous) from when they were at the peak of their powers, plus a couple of compilations. She must have stopped buying them after Voulez Vous, as this record – Super Trouper, album number seven – and their eighth and final record, The Visitors, never entered our house.

I’ve since found albums number one (Ring Ring) and three (Abba), so just a few more and then the collection will be complete.

The one thing I really like about the Super Trouper album is the locked run-out groove at the end of the record. At the close of the final song, a live rendition of The Way Old Friends Do from a performance at London’s Wembley Arena, the audience applauds and cheers, and then the groove locks out so that applause never ends. It’s a nice little trick; just a shame that they didn’t use this on their very final studio record due to the subtext this would bring.

Hit: The Winner Takes It All

Hidden Gem: On And On And On

Rocks In The Attic #366: Abba – ‘The Singles – The First Ten Years’ (1982)

RITA#366It always amuses me when bands – or more likely, record companies – bet on what they regard as a sure thing. Here we have Abba’s The Singles – The First Ten Years. The band split in its tenth year, so there was never a ‘Second Ten Years’ follow-up to this. Similarly, I remember buying Van Halen’s Best Of – Volume 1 when it was released in 1996. I’m still waiting for Volume 2. I might be waiting for a long time.

Abba did have a follow-up, of sorts, ten years later. Gold: Greatest Hits (or Abba Gold as it’s more commonly known) was released in 1992, just as the world was beginning to forget about them. That compilation just goes to show what a new music format can do for a band’s career. Bring out the flashy, futuristic compact disc, stick a load of music on it that was released between ten and twenty years earlier, sit back and watch it rocket up the charts (with a little help from Erasure, Muriel’s Wedding and The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert). Benny & Björn must be rolling in it.

Hit: Dancing Queen

Hidden Gem: Does Your Mother Know

Rocks In The Attic #238: ABBA – ‘Ring Ring’ (1973)

RITA#238Even from the very first song on their debut album, ABBA sounds like ABBA. This is a fair few years before the band’s classic period of the mid- to late-‘70s, and as such it doesn’t have any of the songs that would be immortalised on ABBA Gold, but the vocal harmonies of Agnetha and Anna-Frid are just as recognisable, and the songs are still pretty catchy. I think I’m drawn to ABBA – as most people are – because of the melancholy that seems to be present in every song. They’re really adept at switching between major and minor keys, and I think there’s much more going on than their image, all blonde hair and smiles, implies.

This album has a staggering nine singles culled from it – six worldwide releases and three singles released only in specific countries. As none of these songs wound up on their hits compilations that would serve to sum up their career, it’s probably more of a measure of how desperately their record company was to market them at the time.

The front cover of this album – the blue cover, rather than the originally released cover – is pretty terrible – the band looks as though they’re modelling denim whilst standing at the docks somewhere. A closer inspection at the label on the girls’ t-shirts – Lois Jeans & Jackets – suggests that yes, the band are indeed hawking clothes, and we’ve caught them mid-shoot in that awkward ‘Swedish pop band modelling next to water’ pose. I guess even ABBA had to start somewhere.

Hit: Ring Ring

Hidden Gem: She’s My Kind Of Girl

Rocks In The Attic #196: Abba – ‘Arrival’ (1976)

RITA#196This is album number four for Abba, and probably their most successful in terms of the singles pulled from it – Dancing Queen, Money, Money, Money and Knowing Me, Knowing You. This was the best-selling album of 1977, which I’m sure the punks would have just hated.

It used to amuse me endlessly to play air-violin and air-piano whenever I heard Dancing Queen in nightclubs. Thankfully I don’t go to clubs anymore. I’m sure this song is still a staple of ‘70s / party nights though, and always will be.

It makes me very happy that Abba never reformed. They could have made millions in the wake of their countless revivals in popular culture – the Abba-esque EP by Erasure, the films The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Muriel’s Wedding, and more recently the Mamma Mia! musical and film. Unlike most other money-hungry artists of the ‘60s and ‘70s, they’ve remained respectfully out of the public eye, and I like that.

Hit: Dancing Queen

Hidden Gem: When I Kissed The Teacher