Journey to ‘Arrival’: ABBA’s breakthrough album 40 years on

❉ ABBA’s pure pop album ‘Arrival’ was released in the UK forty years ago today. We chronicle its evolution…

November 5 2016 is the fortieth anniversary of the UK release of ABBA’s fourth studio album, ‘Arrival’.  It is an album that marks the end of the beginning for ABBA and very much a start of worldwide chart domination, which lasted well into the 1980s.

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❉ AUTUMN 1975

Recording took place over a period of thirteen months beginning in summer 1975.

Sessions began with what are two of ABBA’s most famous songs, of which only one was to make this new album: Dancing Queen and Fernando.  Backing tracks were laid down on the fourth and fifth of August.  Initially titled Boogaloo and Tango respectively, the recording for Tango/Fernando was to be abandoned, with a new later recording made.  However, the track for Dancing Queen forms the basis for the recording we know today.

Moving on into August, work continued with the recording of backing vocals for Frida’s solo album ‘Ensam’, which was released in November 1975, and also Agnetha’s album ‘Elva Kivinnor I Ett Hus’ (Eleven Women in One House), which hit record shop shelves a month later in the December.

Up until this point in the careers of Anderson and Ulveaus, ABBA was simply one of many projects upon which they worked.  While Benny’s band, The Hep Stars, had split in 1969, Bjorn’s band The Hootnanny Singers were still recording and releasing into 1974.   Both men were still writing, playing, arranging and producing for other acts that fell under the Polar Music umbrella guided by the watchful eye of their manager and company owner, Stig Andersson. During the preceding year or so the decision was taken that they had to prioritise ABBA, and extracurricular duties were handed to other producers such as Rutger Gunnarson and Michael B Tretow.   Benny later said, “By this time we only did acts like Ted (Gardestad), which we felt we had an obligation to follow up”.

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Between 8 – 11 September, the vocals were recorded for Dancing Queen.  If you were lucky enough to have heard the original multi-track tape you’d be intrigued to find that both the verses are reversed and there is a extra part to one of the verses. The original first verse runs as follows:

Baby, baby you’re out of sight / Hey you looking alright tonight / When you come the party / Listen the guys  / They’ve got the look in their eyes / You’re a teaser, you turn ’em on / Leave them burning and then you’re gone / Looking out for another, anyone will do / You’re in the mood for a dance / And when you get the chance…

The second verse is intact, as we know it as the first verse from the released version.

❉ THE ‘ARRIVAL’ SESSIONS BEGIN

As 1976 began, ABBA were busy promoting their ‘Greatest Hits’ album and a television documentary on the group, but after recording of the video for Fernando on 2 – 3 February, sessions could begin properly.  23 March 1976 saw backing tracks for Ring It In – a working title of Number One, Number One, which became Knowing Me, Knowing You.  This was to join ABBA’s collection of ‘divorce’ or ‘separation songs’.  Certainly one of ABBA’s best recordings, it was re-released with Spanish language vocals in Spring 1980 on the album ‘Gracias Por La Musica’.

Not long after the song’s release, the band received a letter pointing out that a small part of the melody to Knowing Me, Knowing You was in fact identical to another composition from the early 1970s.  Anderson and Ulvaeus have declined to comment with any further details.

The following song to be recorded was That’s Me, under the working titles of Coachman’s Farm. This song is track two on side B of the album, complete with lyrics by ABBA’s manager, Stig Andersson. It was released as a single in Japan in 1977.

Work progressed into April and May, with the tracks Why Did it Have to Be Me and Money, Money, Money committed to tapeBoth went through title changes.  Money, Money, Money started life with that name, became Gypsy, and then reverted back to its former name.  As with many artists this is not unusual.   Bjorn felt that the original title and theme was simply better and fitted in more closely with the feel the arrangement had.

At one point in May, whilst the four were beavering away in the studio, writing and recording songs, an awful rumour spread around the world of music fans, seemingly originating in Germany; namely that Agnetha, Benny and Bjorn had been killed in an accident and that Frida survived but was so badly injured that she’d never sing again.  Thankfully, this story was quickly quashed, but the fact that it appeared to spread so quickly before being stamped out is a reminder as to how big the band had grown since 1974.

Why Did it Have to Be Me had a slightly more troublesome birth.  After laying down a backing track with a style reminiscent of Fats Domino, Benny suggested a track with a more Hawaiian feel may make best use of this melody.  This was duly recorded, complete with sound FX of a sea shore washing up on the beach and steel drums.  Stig Andersson added the lyrics, which in turn were performed by Agentha and Frida, and the song became Happy Hawaii.  The track was complete.  Or was it?

As the summer broke, June saw the album’s opening track come into being.  Originally titled Rio de Janeiro, When I Kissed The Teacher is one of Benny’s all-time favourites.

Almost a month later, recordings for Funky Feet, I Am A Tiger (later to be Tiger) and Dum Dum Diddle were made.

Two of the above may be familiar but the third less so.  Funky Feet was a disco-styled song, which, when attempted by ABBA, was felt by the group to sound too much like Dancing Queen. None of the group has ever felt that there is any value to doing the same thing twice, especially if it’s part of the same project (See the long road to the recording of Like An Angel Passing Through My Room in 1981).  But despite the fact that ABBA abandoned this song, it can be found by hunting out the recording made by Svenne & Lotta not long after.

With a great proportion of the album now on the shelf ready and waiting, work progressed with what was to become My Love, My Life.   During the gestation of this number, the concept of the end of a romance played out in Paris cropped up.  This was a theme that, although abandoned in 1976, was to find its final home as the lyrical basis to ‘Super Trouper’s’ Our Last Summer (1980).  This version, entitled Monsieur, Monsieur, was not felt to be right at the time, and the track was given a new backing recording and a new theme, featuring a much slower tempo, and sharing a similar sound to 10cc’s I’m Not In Love, which is cited as an inspiration.

 By the end of the summer, ABBA had developed cold feet over Happy Hawaii.  Initially a country style backing was attempted entitled Memory Lane, but this did not feel right either.

Until this point, there was no song for Bjorn as lead vocalist on this album.  At least one song with Bjorn (or indeed Benny and Bjorn together) on lead vocals was a feature on eight of ABBA’s nine studio albums.  With this in mind, the Fats Domino-inspired arrangement was revisited and, with Bjorn’s vocals giving it a completely different feel, Why Did It Have to Be Me was reborn and made it as track 3, side B on the final album.

Happy Hawaii was to still set to hit the record shelves, however.  The track was complete and fully mixed, and an animated video had been made, so the decision was taken to add it to the B side of the Knowing Me, Knowing You single released in early 1977.

Fittingly, the final track to be recorded was what was to become the closing track of the ‘Arrival’ album.  Documented as initially being called Ode to Dalecarlia, this mostly instrumental track was renamed after designer Rune Soderqvist’s partner suggested that ‘Arrival’ would be a good name for the album.  The track owes a great deal to Benny’s love of traditional Swedish folk music: lots of fiddles and accordions.   With a few overdubs on Why Did it Have To Be Me made in September 1976, the album was complete.

❉ THE ALBUM COVER

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The iconic cover photo was captured at the Barkarby airfield, not far outside of Stockholm to the northwest. The helicopter which features is a Bell 47G, with its distinctive ‘soap bubble’ canopy over the cockpit.  The now-famous ABBA logo with its reversed B received its first album outing on ‘Arrival’.  The typeface for the new logo is News Gothic. Both the album cover and the new logo were designed by Rune Soderqvist.

The final product hit Swedish record store shelves on 11 October, with CBS’ British outlet Epic (ABBA’s UK label) releasing 300,000 copies in British record shops on 5 November 1976.

❉ ‘ARRIVAL’ ARRIVES

Coming ten months after the UK release of their first ‘Greatest Hits’ collection, the new album, hotly awaited by both fans of the group and the UK music press, saw advance orders totalling 300,000.  This fervour was not just restricted to British shores, with the value of pre-orders worldwide totalling more than £5M.

The album is pop in its purest form. Put simply, it is far better than it actually needs to be, which over the next four albums was to become ABBAs trademark.  ‘Arrival’ certainly showcases the influences that in later years Anderson and Ulvaeus have cited as being their biggest inspirations: Lennon and McCartney, Phil Spector, The Beach Boys and The Mamas and Papas.  When this is pointed out, it’s quite clear to see that it’s all been taken in and made into the ‘ABBA Sound’.

One striking point about ‘Arrival’ is the way that unlike ABBA’s previous LP releases the album feels just that; an album.  It actually sounds like a body of work rather than a collection of songs by one group or artist.  The ABBA sound is truly bubbling through every track on this release.  Perhaps some of this can be put down to the fact that ABBA’s engineer, Michael B. Tretow, had by early 1976 left the employ of Glen Studios and gone freelance.  ABBA was now able to employ Tretow and use their favourite recording studio, Metronome. If you listen to ‘The Album’ or another of the next three studio album after that, you’ll notice that certain something that marks ABBA and their recordings as being worth more than the sum of their parts. To write and record songs as famous and lauded as Fernando, Money, Money, Money, Knowing Me and Dancing Queen in under ten months is a massive achievement.  It is superior pop.

In an interview with Frida, sometime after the release, she was to comment:

“Dancing Queen is one of my favourite songs … I remember that Benny came home with a tape of the backing track and played it for me.  I thought it was so enormously beautiful that I started to cry”

It is impossible to deny that Dancing Queen is one of a small handful of songs which could be called pure ABBA. From the first bars, you know the song and who it is instantly.  To this day, the track is still a regular floor-filler from weddings to birthday parties across the world. It us not just the public who have great admiration for the song.  The song was certainly a progression from the recordings ABBA had made before, and it was a certain thumbs up from the girls to the boys’ work.

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In some ways, ‘Arrival’ draws to a close the early days of ABBA.  The group were now at full force, they had found their voice and their sound, and had perfected their look.  Their lyrics were beginning to become more mature and reflective. Subjects such as separation or leaving a home where children had been raised run deep across My Love, My Life and Knowing Me, Knowing You, and indeed a short fling turning into something deeper that’s best forgotten haunts Why Did It Have to Be Me.   However, the innocence and exuberance of Ring Ring and Waterloo is still there with upbeat, bright and jolly songs, such as When I Kissed the Teacher and Money, Money, Money.  ‘Arrival’ acts as a segue into the world of a band who were mostly now in their thirties, had children and domestic concerns.

❉ THE ANNIVERSARY RE-RELEASE

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To mark the fortieth anniversary of the original Swedish release, ‘Arrival’ has been re-released by Universal Music.  Remastered from the original tapes at Abbey Road, but this time using the half-speed cutting process, with two vinyl LPs playing out at 45rpm.

To accompany this, a limited edition box set of seven inch singles covers the singles from the album: Dancing Queen, along with Money, Money, Money, Knowing Me, Knowing You, and a bonus of Fernando which was released in 1976 during sessions for the album (Fernando was also include in the original track listing for the Australian and New Zealand version of ‘Arrival’). All feature their original B sides, and are printed on coloured vinyl.   This box is only available from the ABBA The Museum Shop and D2C shops.


❉ The 2006 CD+DVD Deluxe Edition of ‘Arrival’ has been recently reissued by UMG and can be purchased from Amazon and other retailers.

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