When I talked to Kiran Misra ji, my gracious host on AIR Delhi FM Gold about the 28th of our fortnightly Program being on ABBA (Broadcast on 13th June 2022), while thinking about the selection, so many melodies from the band I literally grew up on crowded my mind. I told her I would definitely do it over two parts. Fortunately she agreed. It would be well nigh impossible for anyone my generation to just do in a small number of songs. I decided to sequence it chronologically, the first part covered the period upto 1977, the second part would start in 77 and run through till the end of their team took a leave of absence.
Just what was the secret that made the string of ABBA albums, from “Arrival” through to “The Visitors” and then with the comeback album ” The Voyage” released in 2021 so uniquely satisfying? Even the earlier albums, particularly 1975’s ABBA, bore signs of brilliance. It was three factors combined.
First, there was the subtle alchemy of two rather different singers. Agnetha Fältskog had a fresh, dewy voice and Frida Lyngstad sounded more sultry, and knowing. When their voices merged, the effect was akin to a new singer with a twinkling, metallic gleam.
Second was the commitment to excellence of the principal songwriter-musicians Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson. They navigated their way beyond schlager music and parochial influences with each album, charting a successful course towards pop perfection.
Third, the exceptional musicians, engineers, and studios. Of course, there are matters like branding and promotion (the mirror-effect logo they used from 1976 onwards – ᗅᗺᗷᗅ – was a stroke of marketing genius as inspired as the Rolling Stones’ suggestive lips graphic.
In pop, many bands and individuals have ruled the roost for varying periods of time in the decades of my hearing them, they come like a whirlwind, make a big splash and are forgotten with the same degree of promptness. ABBA was- and is-different. Yes, one listen was all it took to be captured and addicted. The songs and the music didn’t induce the sense of ennui the more you heard them. ABBA’s genial, unthreatening, attractiveness was – and is- unique.
The music was a different story. ABBA were at an exquisite apex. Their lyrics bore witty and heartrending turns of phrase that might have sounded guileful and over-baked coming from native English-speakers. Every track contains an abundance of sublime, harmonies and soaring solo vocals. Underneath was a warm, rich, intricately woven blend of synthesizers and traditional instruments.
ABBA understood that even the delicate art of the divorce songs (and ABBA had a peculiar flair for it), no matter the angle from which they approached this knotty subject, they looked at it from the viewpoint of an outsider first in 1975 and then with “Knowing Me, Knowing You”, one year later, they were tackling it in the first person.
But it was, of course, on Super Trouper’s “The Winner Takes It All” that the group perfected this curious sub-genre. It comprises just two melodic phrases and thanks to the arrangement and production, the song seem elaborate and operatic. Perhaps it was the group’s most convincing song because it came with the added poignancy of being rooted in their own experience. The Fältskog-Ulvaeus union had splintered during the creation of Voulez-Vous, the Andersson-Lyngstad marriage unraveling a year later. “The Winner Takes It All” is a dignified heartbreak set to music.
Then there’s the iridescent title track, the final song assembled for the LP with backing vocals and great storytelling. In the verse, Frida sounds matter-of-fact and listless as she relays the apparent tedium of super-stardom. But this is all a set-up for a joyful chorus in which she imagines the thrill of stepping away from mass adulation. Then comes that glorious, lilting, operatic bridge foreshadowing the exceptional melody writing that would be unveiled on the following year’s “I Let The Music Speak”. But it gets glossed over by the sunshine chorus. Perhaps there was wit in writing a chorus with such a cheery melodic sheen, which obliterates the intrigue and the pain.
ABBA understood that the creative process is dynamic – everything influences everything. Their sound was formed from European influences including European Classical music and ignores how the group wore American inspiration quite conspicuously from the start.
ABBA’s many classic hits were the result of intuitive creativity. The studio work was their strength and the best part of it all: to shape the songs and to interpret them in their own way for the decade-long series of pop classics that the group gave to the world. While some groups may have thrived on the live concert experience, for ABBA it came from using the recording studio as an experimental field developing and fine-tuning their musical creations. Some even thought that ABBA must be following some kind of formula, calculating how to best get the public into buying their records. But nothing could be further from the truth. ABBA were feeling their way intuitively through the writing and recording of each and every song. Everything would start with Björn and Benny getting together with an acoustic guitar and a piano, trying to write songs. In this process they would be throwing fragments of tunes at each other, seeing which of them would fit together, discarding hundreds of melody lines that weren’t good enough, as also changing, chopping and reshaping the lines (and the titles of the songs, too) of the lyrics..
When the two songwriters had a song they were happy with, it would be brought to the studio. At this stage, the tune didn’t have any proper lyrics, just some words with random English phrases. Often, these phrases would make up the so-called working title for the song: a preliminary name used while work continued on putting the song into a shape. For instance, the working title syllables usually were a perfect match for the final titles.
The first step in recording the song was to put together an instrumental backing track. This was recorded with the help of session musicians: usually a guitarist, a bass player and a drummer, with Benny himself playing the piano; sometimes there would also be a percussionist present. Benny knew that there was the possibility to improve on a song in the studio, with a certain kind of tempo or a guitar riff or whatever, and he would only tell the musicians where the song would start from, and decide later on which parts to return to, and where the song would end. That was the whole point of having good musicians in the studio, to give them room and let them contribute to the arrangement. As a part of this process, one and the same song could be attempted in many different kinds of arrangements: it could be a waltz, a disco number, a ballad, a rocker – there really was no limit to the styles they would try out. Ultimately, the songwriters would know instinctively when the song had found its final form: the shape it was meant to be in. During this stage, Björn would usually not be playing with the musicians, rather taking on the role of a producer: someone who could have an outsider’s’ point of view to make sure that good arrangement ideas were kept.
Once a backing track was in place, a rough mix of the song would be made and copied onto a tape. This tape was then taken by Björn, for now it was time for him to write the lyrics. This was crucial: instead of bringing a song to the studio with finished music and lyrics, the final lyrics were only written when the instrumental backing track was completed. This was because the musical arrangement was such an important part of the song’s identity, so it was through listening to the backing track that Björn extracted the message of the song and ambience of the recording.
With the lyrics written, Agnetha and Frida would add the magic of their vocals to the recording. As Benny once pointed out, the ladies’ voices were the most important ingredient of the group’s sound, the factor that made it sound like ABBA.
So, in much the same way that Björn and Benny welcomed input from the backing musicians, they were only happy to have this creative dialogue with Agnetha and Frida. They would start their day in the studio by acquainting themselves with the song, after which they began the actual recording with the backing vocals and all the intricate harmonies. The lead vocals were saved for last, for by that time they had found their way into the song and were better able to deliver an emotional interpretation of the tune.
The recording of the vocals would only take one day, including multiple overdubs of choir parts. This sounds incredible, but, as ABBA’s engineer Michael B. Tretow once pointed out, “Agnetha and Frida somehow seemed to be cut out for this job. We almost never got stuck on the vocals”.
The final part of the recording process was further overdubs and mixing. This was usually a parallel process, because it was only when the control room trio of Björn, Benny and Michael Tretow sat down at the mixing desk that the ideas for the overdubs emerged.
The overdubs usually took the shape of ideas for keyboard riffs, emanating from Benny’s brain and played on synthesizers, pianos or any other keyboard-like instrument.
After at least a week of hard work, a brand new ABBA song was finally completed, ready to be released to storm up the charts across the world. That is, if the group were happy with what they’d accomplished. For sometimes their feelings would tell them that a particular song has a lot of potential, but they’d recorded it the wrong way and so, the entire process would start all over again.
The fifth reissue of a 30-year old album needed something remarkable to make fans bite, and EMI promised just that for “The Visitors”- ABBA’s final album would now host their first piece of unreleased material since 1994. The Swedish pop goliaths had been quietly protective of their legacy over the last three decades– no reunions and tight archival control, so the new songs made headlines.
The title in ABBA’s, and possibly pop’s history, hides a fascinating, carefully arranged montage showing the group’s craftsmanlike side.
Even as the band members’ relationships quietly unravelled, they were perfectionists when it came to music. The Visitors album is deliciously crisp, layered, and rewarding where a lot of contemporary synth-pop now sounds rather thin.
By the time of The Visitors, ABBA had learned to use their unyielding rhythms creatively, turning their dance-pop into something intriguingly angular and staccato.
ABBA’s final record, with their first piece of unreleased material since 1994, along with a set of uniformly terrific bonus tracks would end up being a gem. It never gives up on catchiness as “The Visitors’ set of bonus material is uniformly terrific, turning a fine album into a great one.
That fondness exists because of the real power of the Greatest hits album which threw open doors for curious new listeners, solidifying the artists’ place in the canon, crystallizing and cementing their enduring public personas.
ABBA Gold—is a 1992 compilation that rounds up all of the band’s international smashes into a refined package with surprising emotional range. It capitalized on a simmering, subcultural interest in ABBA’s work and sparked a full-blown revival, one that culminated in a unique experience: Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan belting and grunting their way through “S.O.S.” in the movie version of Mamma Mia! And it became one of the best-selling albums of all time, with copies continuing to trickle out of stores in shocking numbers to this day. Because of Gold, ABBA has become an integral part of the world around us, their music floating through common spaces around the world like a music fan’s lingua franca; without it, the band might have remained a curio, the kind of half-forgotten treasure you have to seek out rather than stumble upon.
After a dizzying rise to global superstardom in the second half of the ’70s, ABBA with its two constituent couples—Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Faltskog, and Benny Andersson and Annie-Frid Lyngstad were either separated or divorced by the time of the release of their final album, The Visitors, in 1981 while all four members continued working with an impressive level of professionalism. And after conquering the pop charts in dozens of countries around the world, everyone was ready for a new challenge: Andersson and Ulvaeus were dreaming of a detour into musical theater, while Faltskog and Lyngstad were curious about reviving their solo careers.
Many in the music business raised their eyebrows when their manager Stig Anderson signed with different record companies all over the world, instead of letting one major label handle the group globally. Stig’s theory was that no company could be strong in every territory around the world and ABBA’s interests would be better served by working with the label that had the most impressive sales presence in each market. Anderson’s decision to establish a network
of international distributors meant that ABBA’s catalog could be handled differently according to each country’s needs; the compilation put onto shelves in Madrid wouldn’t necessarily be the same as the one stocked in Melbourne.
In 2016 Andersson announced that the group was reuniting to prepare for a “virtual” tour that would feature holographic avatars (“ABBAtars”) of the band appearing alongside live musicians. The quartet recorded new songs and spent weeks performing in motion-capture suits to create the 1979 versions of themselves that would appear as ABBAtars, but the reunion project soon grew in scope as it was overtaken by world events. The tour, originally scheduled to begin in 2019, was postponed because of the pandemic, and the group responded by returning to the studio to record its first new album in nearly four decades. Voyage, released in November 2021, sold more than one million copies in its first week and topped the charts in countries around the world. Voyage was warmly received by both fans and critics, and the album’s lead single, “I Still Have Faith in You,” earned the group its first Grammy nomination.
Their musical roots are very much European with French and Italian songs. This is probably why their songs work well in the countries of Latin America. In the United States, pop music is heavily influenced by the blues, soul, and gospel—which isn’t in ABBA’s heritage.
It’s no surprise that as mature composers and lyricists, they came to favour crystalline melodies, dizzying arrangements and counterpoints, and emotional gestures.
This mix of influences also helped create the songs on Gold like, “I Have a Dream.” Their mastery and enthusiasm for their craft was indisputable.
As the division of labour between Andersson and Ulvaeus became clearer later in the band’s discography—the former handled most of the music, the latter wrote the bulk of the lyrics—the divide between subject matter and sound became even more pronounced.
After returning with their first new album in 40 years, the Swedish pop titans attempted the seemingly impossible: balancing the lure of nostalgia with the pull of the present day. Amazingly, they pulled it off and rarely has a reunion seemed as superfluous as ABBA’s. In Europe and Australasia, 40 years after they disbanded ABBA remain omnipotent, an ever-present part of the pop landscape.
ABBA’s traces can be found in every nook and cranny of cultural life, from musicals to movies, Madonna to museums. As long as ABBA 2021 sound in line with the classically inspired, nerdy Swedish pop overlords with the lure of nostalgia with scandi-disco bounce, and epic pop construction, it feels almost rude to ask for anything more.
ABBA understand, perhaps better than any other band, the epic importance of pop music , and it is a relief to find that the band haven’t jettisoned the outlandishness of pop.
A comeback ABBA record with tight titanium quality control is far better than what most pop groups can muster, and the songs are build upon the band’s legacy without abandoning what we loved about their earlier records in the first place. This makes their reunion a surprisingly necessary trip into the present from a band who could have coasted on the warm fumes of adulation ad infinitum.
This program was broadcast on Monday 27th June 2022 and the entire recording can be heard on this link: https://usaupload.com/6FhE/ABBA_Part_2_27th_June_2022.mp3
1. Take a chance on me.
“Take A Chance On Me” is from the 5th studio album released in 1977: “The Album”, which charted: #1 in UK and #3 in US.
The video for the song was directed by Swedish film director Lasse Hallström and was released in 1978. The music video features ABBA singing to the camera with a plain background, with a split screen displaying their faces, switching to a large plain studio following the members as they sing. Since its upload to YouTube in 2009, the video has 103.2 million views and 300 thousand likes, a testimony to their enduring, amazing popularity.
It was also one of the first songs where manager Stig Anderson did not partake in the song writing process. The Europop/disco song was written and produced by Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus and recorded in 1977 which opens as an intro and was sung by Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, with Fältskog delivering the solo passages.
The lines of the song which conjure images of an unusual, rhythmic vocal harmony developed by Benny, with a crisp and catchy melody, is one of their biggest pop hits.
With this, ABBA scored the seventh of their nine UK #1 singles and their third in a row. They were already in the third of seven weeks atop the UK bestsellers with the set containing the new hit, “The Album”. The success of the single was widespread, as it went to #1 in diverse countries across continents, and was also one of their biggest-ever hits in the US, reaching #3.
In the week that the song hit the top of the British charts, the group attended the London premiere of “ABBA, The Movie”, the film that accompanied the new album.
Bjorn Ulvaeus enjoyed jogging and as he ran he sang a “tck-a-ch”-style rhythm to himself. This evolved into the title of the song around which he wrote the rest of the words.
Although unlike “Dancing Queen” this didn’t top the US chart, it did sell more than the chart topper.
John McCain was a huge ABBA fan and after being elected as the Republican candidate for the 2008 presidential elections, he vowed to have ABBA songs played in elevators all over the White House if elected. McCain apparently charged himself up by listening to this song at full volume before making a big speech and he contacted the Swedish group to get permission to use this number as his official campaign anthem. However it appears they priced him out of the market. It’s possible that ABBA just didn’t want to be associated with the Republican Party.
This song appeared, among others, in the Mamma Mia! soundtrack and musical starring Pierce Brosnan, and Meryl Streep. The song is performed in the movie by Julie Walters and Stellan Skargaard.
When ABBA – The Album was recorded in the summer and autumn of 1977, the stated ambition of songwriters 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 . But one thing that ABBA never forgot was the importance of communicating with their audience.
Björn and Benny felt after the first recording that they hadn’t quite captured the full potential of the song , and so the backing musicians, Lasse Wellander, guitar, Rutger Gunnarsson, bass, Roger Palm, drums were brought back to the studio for a second version. This time they got it right and created a much more metronomic version of the song.
The next step in the creative process was for Björn to come up with the right lyrics for the song. Ideas for the lyrics pop up in different ways. Often it’s a little scenario that comes into one’s mind, but sometimes it starts with a title. This song is a case in point. Björn, who was an avid jogger at the time who even ran the Stockholm Marathon at one point found this particular title while out jogging in the Stockholm suburb of Lidingö, where he 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 of the title and then he just added ‘On Me’ to make it a complete title.
The completed lyrics was 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 later albums.
It certainly was the catchiest track on “ABBA – The Album”: the cappella opening, with Agnetha and Frida’s crystalline high-register singing contrasting against Björn and Benny’s low-register title repeats, draws the listener into the song immediately. The repeats of the title 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 into 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. The effective recording from the analog days shows the creativity and brilliance of their engineers.
For the song, Lasse Hallström also put together a tongue-in-cheek promo clip, featuring the ABBA members in a split screen.
It became their first UK #1 and started an ABBA revival.
ABBA: The Album : Deluxe Edition also contains a DVD which features two rare TV performances of the song alongside a wealth of unique trivia. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-crgQGdpZR0
2. Summer night city.
Written as a homage to Stockholm, “Summer Night City”, was a standalone release that became ABBA’s last #1 single in Sweden.
This is a song dedicated to Stockholm and the very long summer nights that they have there. The video of the song is also shot there.
The relentless demands of the music industry’s 70s release protocol meant the idea of not issuing at least a couple of singles during 1978 would have been unthinkable. After the successful Album that January, it was clear the group’s next studio album was still some way off. To fill the gap, they took “Summer Night City” from sessions begun in May of that year and launched it as a standalone single in 1978.
The Bee Gees’ enormous success that year had an obvious influence on “Summer Night City” . Written in homage to Benny and Björn’s home city of Stockholm, famous for its balmy summer nights the song began life at the band’s usual base of Metronome Studios but was one of the first cuts later completed at Polar Music Studio, the recording facility set up by the group in Stockholm.
Agnetha and Frida sang their solo parts first before overdubs from the whole group were added. “Summer Night City” then lay in the vaults until that August, when the track was mixed for release. Several attempts at perfecting the final version were attempted, and several variations now sit in the band’s archive.
“Summer Night City” became the last #1 single for the Swedes in Sweden . The song ended being included in the band’s second greatest hits collection, issued the following year. 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.
Stig Anderson’s Polar Music Studios when ready, received its most famous clients. “Summer Night City” was the first song ABBA completed in this studio and released as a single.
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 #2 in Norway and #1 in Finland and Sweden, making it ABBA’s very last charttopper in Sweden.
The song was accompanied by a promo clip that made full use of the unique Stockholm’s long, warm summer nights, where 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.
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 lesser success.
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 left out in various stages of completion.
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”. After more than 40 years when the recording was first released, it has to be said that the song remains as one of ABBA’s most lively songs.
So whatever misgivings Björn, Benny and Michael Tretow may have had as they struggled with the track at the mixing desk in 1978, the verdict is clear: You did all right, folks! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_d5dPYHi17k
“Chiquitita”, by ABBA is from the 1979 album, “Voulez-Vous”
Completed at the end of 1978 at ABBA’s Polar Music Studios, “Chiquitita” soon emerged as the first single from their “Voulez-Vous” album. Devout ABBA fans may know the name, but not every pop connoisseur will know the relevance of the song to its working title “Rosalita.” But it’s part of the story behind the song that launched the Voulez-Vous album and was released by the Swedish quartet in January 1979. The song, credited to ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, had several working titles, most notably Rosalita, but while that phrase was a good fit for the metre of the melody, and the group recorded a version with a full, original lyric on that title they reworked the number extensively, since there was no backstory, keeping some of the original lyrical references as the song assumed the title “Chiquitita,” which means “little girl” in Spanish.
Completed at the end of 1978 at their Polar Music Studios, the track was released as the first single from Voulez-Vous, ahead of the much more upbeat songs in the album, which duly became the follow-ups. That decision was justified as “Chiquitita” turned into a massive single, topping the charts in Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Rhodesia, South Africa, Spain and Switzerland.
In the UK, ABBA had by now achieved no fewer than seven #1 singles, but were in a run of releases that fell short of that benchmark. Indeed, it would be the summer of 1980 before they reclaimed the British chart summit, with “The Winner Takes It All.”
The song received a huge global launch when ABBA performed it in January, a week before its release, at the Music For UNICEF charity concert, which also featured the Bee Gees, Rod Stewart, Donna Summer, and other stars. ABBA went on to donate half of all royalties from the single’s sales to UNICEF.
The group also recorded a version phonetically in Spanish, which sold half a million copies in Argentina alone.
Indeed, there was even a specific goal for their next release. So in early January 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, and 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 released their contribution, “Too Much Heaven”, as a single achieving a worldwide smash hit and ABBA planned to release their song in January.
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 “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 encouragement, wherein the singers try to instil some hope of better days to come .With the song completed, finalised and mixed, ABBA themselves and everyone around them realised that they had a new strong contender for a single release.
Thus it was decided to make “Chiquitita” the new single and, most crucially, the song the group donated to UNICEF. “Chiquitita” was first unveiled to the world at the UNICEF concert in January 1979. The show was then televised in the United States with broadcasts following all over the world. Then in January, 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 #1 in at least 10 countries and the Top Ten in a 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.
To facilitate a breakthrough in South America, ABBA recorded a Spanish-language version of this song, despite the fact the band had never learned the language. The Swedes sang the song phonetically perfectly and their efforts enhanced their popularity in a number of Latin America countries.
They used phonetical singing which is singing by learning and performing the lyrics of a song by the words’ phonetic sounds, without necessarily understanding the content of the lyrics, so performing in Spanish even though they had not been proficient in the language.
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.
Cher covered this in 2020 as a charity single to benefit UNICEF. She released both the English and Spanish versions, marking her first single in the Spanish language. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4QqMKe3rwY
4. Voulez vous
“Voulez-Vous” is from the album of the same name “Voulez-Vous”.
“Voulez-Vous” has withstood the changing times to earn a solid-gold reputation . “Voulez-Vous” started life during a songwriting session in the Bahamas, where Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson had settled for a few days to soak up US radio ahead of studio time booked in Miami. “It wasn’t about stealing other people’s work, but about getting a kick from hearing good stuff,” Björn said later, explaining that access to pop stations was then limited in their native Sweden. A rare ABBA song recorded outside of Sweden, “Voulez-Vous” emerged as a classic disco track. The sessions, at Criteria Recording Studios famous for being the place where Bee Gees created some of their biggest hits started off in February 1979 and saw the backing track for what would become “Voulez-Vous” which had the working title: “Amerika.” The Florida disco act Foxy, were drafted in to support the sessions.
The local players helped shape the Miami-disco base of a track that was completed in March in the band’s more familiar place, Polar Music Studio. The most challenging bit of the process for Björn was finding lyrics to fit the short riffs. “I tried a thousand things…. then suddenly it just emerged in my head in French: “Voulez-Vous:. Bullseye!” he later recalled.
Despite the wider world’s shift away from disco, the world’s biggest group weren’t ready to pack up their dancing shoes, though ABBA would shift to a more familiar Europop sound going forward. That it took nearly a year to record “Voulez-Vous” is an indicator of the creative constraints in which the four members of ABBA found themselves at the end of the ’70s as their album coincided with the massively shifting currents in popular music, with disco, which had been on the wane, suddenly undergoing a renaissance thanks to the 1977 movie “Saturday Night Fever”. Thus, about half of “Voulez-Vous” shows the heavy influence of the Bee Gees from their megahit disco era.
ABBA’s triumphs with their albums and their entry into movies with ABBA- The Movie, however, didn’t mean that ABBA had hit upon a magic formula for hit-making. It was as always, a matter of hard work and coming up with new songs that weren’t carbon copies of what they’d done before and every new album presented a fresh challenge as they were determined to take new steps, trying things they hadn’t attempted before. That sixth album, entitled “Voulez-Vous” upon its release, would turn out to be particularly challenging. It would take more than a year before it was finished – a longer recording period than any other ABBA album and, during the 12 months of sessions, in their quest for the very best tunes, they would record and dismiss more songs than for any other LP.
By the end of October 1978, it was clear that ABBA wouldn’t be able to have the album out before Christmas and so its release was put back until the spring of 1979. Somehow magically, however, from the moment they decided to postpone the release, the gems began arriving at a steady pace, one after the other. The October recording, “Angeleyes” was followed by a two-week promotional trip to Japan, and then in November, “Chiquitita” was recorded. Half the album was now completed.
Before new songwriting and recording sessions could take place, ABBA had an important event in the United States to attend. UNESCO, an agency of the United Nations, had declared the year of 1979 The International Year Of The Child, and so the idea had been born that a number of famous artists would donate the royalties of one of their songs to the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund, better known as UNICEF. The initiators were The Bee Gees after their success with the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and British TV personality David Frost. Not only were the acts to donate the royalties, but they were also to perform the song in question at a televised UNICEF benefit concert on January 1979, broadcast from the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations in New York. “Chiquitita” had been written and recorded less than a month before the United Nations event which was more in the spirit of the nature of the UNICEF event. They also decided that this was to be their next single. It turned out good both for ABBA and for UNICEF, as “Chiquitita” turned into a major global hit for the group. With a Spanish version released later in the year becoming the biggest hit in 25 years in Latin America, and then the song itself continuing to be one of ABBA’s most recognisable songs, it benefits the worthy causes of UNICEF to this day.
‘Chiquitita’ was released as a single on January 16, 1979, but this event coincided with an announcement that Agnetha and Björn had decided to divorce. While many concluded that this would be the end of ABBA as a group, they made it clear that their decision had nothing to do with their collaboration as part of one of the biggest musical phenomena of the 1970s, but was a personal matter, a question of having grown apart as individuals. The truth of this statement was borne out over the next couple of months, when the five further songs needed to complete the new album were written and recorded in rapid succession. When “Voulez-Vous” was released, Agnetha, while not making light of what had happened, suggested that the album may have “turned out better because of it”.
When it was time to put together the album cover, the sleeve photo was taken by Stockholm’s trusted sleeve designer Rune Söderqvist who felt that much of the album had a disco flavour with magical hooks. The album is a warm and compelling collection of intricately crafted hit singles but there were flaws in the lyrics “Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec Moi Ce Soir?” as it was a grammatically, but not a socially, correct French expression. Besides the song’s title (which is French for “Do you want”), this song also contains the line “La question c’est voulez-vous,” which means “The question is do you want” in French.
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir, is a cliché of an English speaker’s misunderstanding of French, thanks to the stereotypical image of the French people.
The phrase is odd for its extreme formality but inversion is also very formal as a savvy person would use an informal structure. E. E. Cummings was the first to use those words correctly in his 1922 poem “La Guerre, IV”.
The expression is also referenced in many other songs as well as movies and TV shows from the past and so the expression entered the general consciousness of the Americans. This is not how the French use it (their approach is more nuanced), It is best to leave this phrase to its place in literature, music, and history.
This song reached #1 in Belgium and the Top 10 in the UK, France, Ireland, Netherlands, South Africa, Spain and Switzerland. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=za05HBtGsgU
5. I have a dream
“I Have A Dream”, is from the 1979 Album: “Thank You For The Music”.
Now synonymous with Christmas, “I Have A Dream”, found ABBA creating a timeless ballad that pointed towards Benny and Björn’s musical-theatre work. Although ABBA’s “I Have A Dream” isn’t strictly a festive song, its 1979 issue as a single (and the end-of-the-millennium chart-topping glory it would gift Westlife, 20 years later) now finds it as familiar as that time of the year.
The choir from Stockholm International School was invited to take part in the recording of the song, which took place in late March 1979 at Polar Music Studio. The excitement the request created has stayed with the 28 participants to this day. “We all screamed and almost cried with joy, and it took some time before the teacher managed to calm us down,” Gaia Girardelli told Carl Magnus Palm, the author of “ABBA: The Complete Recording Sessions”.
Björn led the studio work with Benny, with Agnetha and Frida joining for the obligatory photo session (they had already laid down their vocals). The choir also supported the group on the song at a clutch of concerts in Sweden.
“I Have a Dream” is the only ABBA track that utilizes vocals outside of the four band members that being the children’s choir .
The track is centered on having a strong belief system and imagination or “a dream” to counteract the disappointments in life as well as to assist in living victoriously. In other words, the singers accept “fairy tale(s)”, “angels” not only as reality but also encouragement which empower them to reach for their future.
Benny Andersson wrote and produced “I Have a Dream” along with his bandmate Björn Ulvaeus.
In addition to Voulez-Vous, “I Have a Dream” also appeared on multiple other ABBA albums. Some of these notable albums include: “Thank You for the Music” (in 1994), “ABBA Gold: Greatest Hits” (in 1992), and “The Definitive Collection” (in 2001).
The strategy paid dividends when this melodic throwback to the Swedish folk and ballad blend that had got them started soared all the way to #2 that Christmas, stuck behind Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” (also, featuring a children’s choir). Though the song might not, on first listen, match the more experimental pop the group was creating around the same time, “I Have A Dream” actually signals a clear progression: its hefty emotional punch points towards the musical-theater focus that would largely dominate Benny and Björn’s output in the 80s.
ABBA often performed this on stage with choirs from local schools.
The choir backing ABBA at the Bingley Hall (Stafford, England) Concerts in 1979 were from St. Winifreds School in Stockport, England.
Bjorn Ulvaeus said: “I Have A Dream” was an attempt to modern folklore along with that choir. We have doubted long whether we would use that choir or not, and we were aware that critics would pick on us for that with the trends of the time. We didn’t care and we did it”.
The choir goes well with the Italian-like melody and the lyrics sound positive and uplifting as this song holds deeper meaning than any other ABBA song ever recorded.
Now that’s the sort of legacy that dreams are surely made of! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxBbX9IdA2Y
6. Super Trouper
“Super Trouper”, is from the album with the same name, “Super Trouper”.
Super trouper is a type of spotlight, hence the lyric: “Tonight the Super trouper lights are gonna find me.”
The Super Trouper is the trademark for a special type of spotlight (followspot) for lighting venues such as concert venues and stadiums. This spotlight is designed to cast a bright ray of light onto the stage. It is also designed to follow the performer wherever he/she goes on the stage.
In the song’s first verse it is made clear that constantly performing shows to audiences depresses the narrator greatly. However, when she hears that that special person in her life would be attending her show, she looks forward to the show.
The song’s chorus finds her singing happily about her upcoming show. The Super Trouper lights are going to find her happy, “shinning like the sun” simply because that special person is going to be among the crowd.
This song was the last to be written for the Super Trouper album. In fact, the name “Super Trouper” had already been chosen as an album title, and named after the stage lights of the same name. It was a lucky coincidence that the song Benny and Bjorn were writing to be an up tempo single, ended up befitting the title.
Super Trouper was perhaps, the least complicated and most straightforward album the group ever made. There was a sense of neatness that surrounded its idea. In January, Björn and Benny went on a highly productive songwriting trip to Barbados, returning with no less than five songs. The Super Trouper sessions were a marked contrast to the 12-month development period for their previous album, Voulez-Vous, where Björn and Benny discarded plenty of songs in various stages of their completion, where ABBA’s own recording studio, Polar Music Studios, was opened a few months into the sessions, and where the release date for the album was continually postponed.
With the inclusion of a live recording from Wembley Arena, 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, were 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 eight months, Super Trouper must have been the group’s smoothest album experience.
“Blinka Lilla Stjärna” was the original title of this song which is Swedish for the English phrase, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”.
ABBA member Anni-Frid Lyngstad handled the lead vocals while the rest of her colleagues; Agnetha Fältskog, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus sang the backing vocals. The song was a great chart success.
The music was a different story altogether. ABBA were at an exquisite apex. Their lyrics bore witty and heart-rending turns of phrase that might have sounded guileful and over-baked coming from native English-speakers. Every track contained an abundance of celestial harmonies and solo vocals and underneath was a warm, rich, intricately textured blend of synthesizers and traditional instruments.
ABBA understood that the creative process is dynamic and the received wisdom that their sound was formed from other European influences ignored how the group wore American inspiration quite conspicuously from the start. Their early hits, like “Ring Ring”, were in the great tradition of the American conveyor-belt pop of the 1960s New York. On Super Trouper, with its chugging band sensibility and lyric, it is probably the most American moment. It’s not surprising it was chosen as a US hit single, despite remaining an album track in most other territories. Andersson and Ulvaeus, grappling with a second language, their native being Swedish, tended to cleave to perfect rhyme at all costs presumably because they cared about the craft and were learning as they went along and it’s partly down to the gently-accented English and gauche apparel of their early years but 90 percent of their work had a far higher purpose. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BshxCIjNEjY
7. The winner takes it all
“The Winner Takes It All”, is from the Album: “Super Trouper”. It charted: #1 in UK and #i8 in US
It is one of the finest pop ballads of all time and like most ABBA songs, it was written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus.
It originally had the title “The Story of My Life”.
Agnetha Fältskog sang the lead vocals on the ballad, which was recorded the same year that she and Ulvaeus divorced.
However, Bjorn Ulvaeus didn’t intend it to happen this way.
He said: “I sang a demo of it myself which a lot of people liked and said, you have to sing that. But I saw the sensible thing of course, it had to go to Agnetha”.
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 with piano, guitar and hummed words, with only two melody lines repeated throughout, that deceptive simplicity was also a 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”.
Björn had to write the final lyrics. “The Story Of My Life” had only been a preliminary title. 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.
The finished lyrics were entitled “The Winner Takes It All” that had an especially personal 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 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 vocals to the recording. Agnetha herself has often singled out “The Winner Takes It All” as her favourite from the ABBA years. “The lyrics are personal, and the music is unsurpassed. It was quite a while afterwards before I realised that we’d made a small masterpiece.”
The song quickly became a major hit, charting #1 in at least five countries and entering the Top Ten in a plenty more. Since its first release, the song has become the major show stopper in the Mamma Mia! musical produced by Judy Craymer and without the combination of uplifting pop balladry with descending piano lines and swelling crescendos and sudden lulls opening the song, running beneath the chorus and modulation, responding to the verse’s vocal melody, it would not have been a song which is the definitive ABBA single. The lyrics have been much imitated by others but never bettered and the original version, performed by ABBA will always remain unsurpassed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92cwKCU8Z5c
8 Lay all your love on me
“Lay All Your Love On Me” is from the Album: “Super Trouper”
They released this song with a Eurostomp electro- disco sound so despite its forlorn lyrics about heartbreak, the song became a popular dance hit.
Ripping or riffing off Tchaikovsky has been done since the Tin Pan Alley days.
Variations on Tchaikovsky’s theme are the 2nd movement of Arensky’s String Quartet No. 2. What you hear there is just an echo of the beginning of the 1st movement, Moderato. Listen to the beginning of the 1st movement, and basically the whole chorus from Lay All Your Love on Me is there, ABBA seems to have just switched the order of the two parts. European classical music was something they had a lot of exposure to in Sweden.
It was written and produced by ABBA members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and was performed by the whole group, as it is one of the greatest pop songs ever written.
It achieves what any great song about matters of the heart does, with lead vocals sung by Agnetha Fältskog. According to Andersson and Ulvaeus, they felt that the chorus of the song sounded similar to a hymn, therefore they added the vocoder to the chorus of the song, creating a sound that imitates that of a church congregation singing. Unfortunately, it was ABBA’s lowest charting song.
“Lay All Your Love On Me” is certified Silver in the UK and in 2006, Slant Magazine placed the track at #60 on their list of the greatest dance songs of all time, eventually changing it to #66 earlier in 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mHzaIehRTE
9. When all is said and done
“When All Is Said And Done” is from the 1981 album: “The Visitors”.
“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 marital splits. When Björn and Agnetha saw their marriage come to an end, feelings of regret coloured the lyrics and her lead vocals . 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.
When 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 relationship had run its course and was running on empty and it was impossible to save the marriage.
Over 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 this particular mood.
“When All Is Said And Done” was certainly the catchiest of 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, her impassioned delivery seemed to be fuelled by a lingering bitterness.
For 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. 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, shorter than any of the other tracks on The Visitors.
At 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 1981, a promo clip was filmed by director Lasse Hallström. Desolate scenes of Frida walking around on a rocky outcrop in the Stockholm archipelago were put together with studio-filmed sequences of the entire group, filmed in and around a studio in the Stockholm suburb of Solna. In the clip all four were shown in a melancholic mood that was characteristic of their Eighties visual image . After all this hard work, however, and even though the clip was screened on Swedish television in the television special in September 1981, no single release of “When All Is Said Done” was forthcoming.
Towards 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 preferred. 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 # 27 on the US singles chart considering the fact that ABBA’s physical presence in the United States was virtually nil around this time. In most other countries, however, “When All Is Said And Done” was never a single, so one will never know whether it would have been a success in territories where ABBA had a larger following. But with 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 emotional power. The memories of recording this and other songs dealing with the end of a marriage are still vivid as she revealed in the documentary The Winner Takes It All.
The band member Bjorn Ulvaeus wrote the lyrics for the number. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUh4u-lYEhM
10. One of us
“One Of Us”, is also from the album “The Visitors”.
ABBA’s “One of Us” is sung from a female perspective and is centered on a character who is suffering from a breakup and acknowledges that her ex is doing better than she is. In other words, the titular “One of Us” refers to herself, and she is basically lamenting over the fact that the relationship has dissolved largely due to her own actions.
Thus throughout the chorus she points out ways she is suffering which apparently her ex is not. For instance, she is sad and feels “stupid” and “small” and regrets terminating the relationship.
“One of Us” was written by the male members of ABBA Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus who wrote this song shortly after their divorces from Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Fältskog, respectively.
The production of this song was also handled by the aforementioned pair.
This song came out in December 1981 and was released as the second single from the band’s 1981 album titled The Visitors which was the band’s eighth and final studio album ABBA released before disbanding.
It did very well on the charts and topped in several countries, including Ireland, Belgium, West Germany and the Netherlands. The track was equally successful in Norway, Spain, France, Switzerland, and South Africa reaching the top 10 in these countries.
It gave the group their final top 20 chart placing in the UK.
Its theme along with a gorgeous melody has made the song a perennial critic’s favourite. It’s the record on which the wintry melancholy of ABBA whose sadness had bubbled under their music almost from the start, could finally dominate. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIKAe8Wi0S0
11. The Visitors.
“The Visitors”, is from the album called by the same name: “The Visitors”.
On November 30, 1981, ABBA’s final studio LP, “The Visitors”, was released in Sweden which was the group’s most controversial piece of work.
This song dealt with the fate of dissidents of the Soviet Union at the time of Cold War.
“The Visitors” roars into full-on ABBA mode with a shimmering synth pop hook that’s as catchy as it is disconcerting.
Typically described as moving towards more political lyrics and a richer, more nuanced sound, this style culminates with 1981’s “The Visitors”. The group’s final studio album is steeped in the political paranoia and terror of the Cold War as the title track goes, “I hear the doorbell ring and suddenly the panic takes me / The sound so ominously tearing through the silence…”
Banned in the Soviet Union, “The Visitors” is explicitly political. Soldiers trudge along like a marching band, with its chilling drum arrangement. Bjorn and Benny leap into the musical territory with with spectacular vocal performances from the group. Accompanied by a bare synthesizer, 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 next step was to develop that concept into an idea for the album cover. The painter Julius Kronberg’s studio at the Skansen park in Stockholm contained several of his paintings and many of them of angels and together with the 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 a backdrop. For the first time on an album cover, the members were depicted as separate individuals rather than as a group.
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.
Today, many people seem to remember ABBA mostly for happy, uptempo songs like ‘Waterloo’, or ‘Dancing Queen’ connecting it all with colourful 1970s fashion and hairstyles. But anyone who takes a listen to The Visitors beyond the superficial image, there are different nuances to be found in much of ABBA’s output and listeners may notice that such content is definitely not the usual ABBA fanfare.
ABBA member, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, sings the lead vocals on this song.
Lyrically, thematically, and sonically, their music has always captured the finite nature of time. Their earlier style, from the start of the 70s, is encapsulated by “Waterloo”, with its metaphors and disco synths, while their later style is typically described as moving towards more political lyrics and a richer, more nuanced sound. In other words, this track is meant to officially serve as a statement of protest against how officials of the Soviet Union treated the dissidents and in a broader sense a criticism of all such oppressive regimes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_xFpjlrF38
12. I still have faith in you ( from Voyage 2021)
“I Still Have Faith In You”, is from the 2021 Album: “Voyage”.
Who would have thought that one of the most advanced entertainment spectacles on the planet would have originated with four Swedes? Baillie Walsh, was the director responsible for bringing ABBA’s new spectacular Voyage show to the stage or screen.
Walsh has been immersed in the music industry for most of his career, directing videos for Kylie, Oasis, among others, in addition to campaigning for brands like Cartier, YSL, Thierry Mugler, Sony, and Versace. Two years prior to the launch of the video, he got a call from ABBA’s producers, Svana Gisla and Ludvig Andersson, eager to progress the idea of a new kind of music experience based on the band’s evergreen music. Despite the quartet disbanding in 1982, their music has never really left the public consciousness, eventually bubbling triumphantly to the surface once more with the globally successful Mamma Mia! stage show and films.
The initial call was swiftly followed by a Zoom meeting with Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus themselves; Walsh got the job on the spot but at that point, the idea wasn’t fully formed.
The idea of a digital experience had already been in the works for a couple of years, timed to coincide with the first new ABBA music since 1981 album ,”The Visitors”.
It was an immersive concert experience that was believable and the result is ABBA Voyage, a 95-minute spectacular that takes the audience through ABBA’s career (albeit not in chronological order), using strikingly animated CGI ‘ABBAtars’ of the four members, seamlessly blended with a live band and light show.
Early on in the process, the producers engaged Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), the world’s foremost CGI specialists. They knew they needed great tech people even though there still wasn’t a fully finished idea. What they wanted to create was ABBA as they were, back in the day bit simply showing videos or lights and animations wasn’t going to be enough, certainly not to sustain a long run. As the idea gradually came together, it became clear that it would have to be a seamless blend of both the times as well as live and pre-recorded, analogue and digital.
The four members of ABBA drew up a setlist, effectively creating the screenplay. It moved around a bit and they added and dropped a few songs but finally had a structure to work with. There then followed two motion capture shoots, including five weeks with Benny, Björn, Ana-Frid and Agnetha in Sweden, running through the performances again and again, rehearsing moves and interactions, not just during the songs themselves, but in the moments in between. It was then time for four doubles to do the routines once more and inject a bit more of the spirit and verve of the original quartet.
The award-winning British choreographer Wayne McGregor guided this process every literal step of the way. Wayne took their performances and then extended them.
ILM took this huge tranche data and modelled the four ABBAtars, drawing on the rich costumes of the era and the very latest simulation engines for hair, skin, and fabric. Every thread was modelled with the signature sequins and rhinestones shining brighter than ever before (it was once alleged that ABBA’s stage wear owed its outlandish styling to Swedish tax laws, which stipulated that entertainer’s costumes were only deductible expenses if they couldn’t be used as everyday clothing).
This is where the first layer of blending came in. The core of the show is a digital performance by ABBA, rendered at life size on a colossal LED screen. Made by display specialist ROE Visual, a global company it has a resolution of 19,536 x 3,344 pixels, or 65.3 million 2mm square pixels in total; when running at a smooth 50fps it means that 3.2 billion pixels are being processed every single second! For reference, an Apple Pro Display XDR has a resolution of 6,016 x 3,384 pixels, a total of 20.3 million pixels.
ROE’s original innovation was to create a modular display system, Magic Cube, that was designed to be demounted for easy touring, and it has also moved into the new generation of ‘virtual production’ studios that are gaining traction in Hollywood and beyond. Today’s ultra-high resolutions mean that digital backdrops can be used for live action, creating lighting and reflections that are consistent and believable.
ABBA Voyage presented a different challenge; the lighting also had to be manifested in the real world, experienced by 3,000 people, not just on the screen. To achieve this, the virtual stage behind the CGI characters is modelled to be an extension of the real arena, with CGI lights and adjustments stretching off into the distance, aligning perfectly with the real lighting rig out front. If one is seated centre stage the illusion is seamless; there is no hint as to where the screen ends, and the arena begins. The moving laser lights have been modelled by ILM to reflect on the digital costumes and co-ordinating this immensely complex blend required a billion hours of computing time.
Behind the scenes were a tech team of 17, ensuring that the screens and lighting systems dovetailed perfectly. It was about the blending of the digital and real.
Not every song is given this naturalistic treatment; some are done using the big screens alone, with vast 10m-high projections of the band, or specially commissioned animated films. For the ballads, in particular, the intercutting and layering of shots is very reminiscent of ABBA’s pioneering video style of the 1970s.
The overall effect is pretty remarkable. The ABBAtars themselves are seamless when viewed at distant human scale, but there’s still the light veil of CGI waxiness to the faces. For the first couple of minutes, one is required to hike down the steep slopes of the uncanny valley, but it’s by no means an arduous trek. By the second track, you stop wondering how it’s done.
ABBA Voyage opened in May 2022 to almost universally approving reviews and near-hysterical audience feedback. It’s a fantastic show, well worth a visit, if only to experience the true state of the art.
ABBA Voyage works because the band can be with time, and what were once considered archaic costumes and hairstyles are now already well into their second or third time around the fashion block. ABBA embody nostalgia and Pop music has always been about combining emotion with the state of the art, be it in sound, vision, or fashion, Voyage is a fusion of them all.
Along with the digital concert reveal, ABBA announced their first “comeback” album also called “Voyage”.
Following the much frenzied speculation, ABBA announced they were indeed returning with brand new music, a full album, and a “revolutionary” concert tour involving some lifelike digital projections.
“I Still Have Faith in You”, released from Voyage over beautifully tender piano notes. The drums strike up in the distance, a power guitar line plays and cue the chorus. It is simply joyous: triumphant parps of brass, and more of what the epic guitar, and tambourine could be.
The power ballad is reminiscent of ABBA and their distinct catchy lyrics and sound. The music video for “I Still Have Faith In You” was released alongside the single via ABBA‘s official YouTube channel.
Directed by Syhnola, the video features archived footage of the band on tour, music videos, meet and greets as well as an appearance from the “ABBAtars”, the digital avatars of ABBA that appear during concerts and in some music videos. In its first 24 hours of being uploaded, the video had gained over 4.4 million views and even five days after its release, it was still #1 on YouTube’s trending page. Thankfully, songwriting band members Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson have made no attempt to follow contemporary pop trends. What we get is music that sounds instantly and comfortingly like vintage ABBA.
In the song, ABBA talks directly to their fans from decades ago. The group still has faith in their fans to welcome them back. This is ABBA’s first album in 40 years, following their 1981 hit “The Visitors”. In 1982, they disbanded and although the members shortly reunited in 2016, 2021 marks their definitive comeback to music.
ABBA remains one of the best-selling groups in history with sales of over 150 million units worldwide. It is truly fascinating that ABBA can return from a hiatus and still manage captivate the audience, with none of the old charm lost over the decades.
Anni-Frid Lyngstad performs the lead vocals on this song. ABBA recorded the song in 2018 at Andersson’s Riksmixningsverket studio in Stockholm which features the Stockholm Concert Orchestra. Andrej Power, who serves as the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra’s principal concertmaster, helped with the arrangement.
Amazingly, despite all the legendary success that ABBA enjoyed in their first innings, they scored their first Grammy nomination when this song received a nomination for Record of the Year at the 64th Grammy Awards. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAzEY1MfXrQ
A big thank you to Kiran Misra ji for giving me complete creative freedom for doing two programs on easily one of my most favourite bands (if not THE MOST FAVOURITE ONE), ABBA.
I enjoyed doing both the parts, Hope you enjoyed listening in, too. For the 30th Program, we will meet in July. Another day, another artiste…
6 replies on “And what a time it was…”
Wonderful!! Wishing you many more such beautiful programmes on Music to you…..
Many best wishes from all of us😊😊
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My mother’s favourite… The dancing queen..
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Sending you the link to that part on whatsapp
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Glad you liked it, Dr Pradhan