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Ask Cool DABBA
Dear Cool Daddy: As a monster ABBA fan, imagine my glee to see this on the net: ABBA to Release First New Song in 18 Years…I didn’t even know they were back together! What’s the skinny, Minnie? … from Yohan in Hootersburg
Dear Yohan: Hate to have to burst your bubble, my man, but they didn’t get back together, so technically there is no “new” song, despite the screaming yellow hype. Agnetha Fältskog, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, and Anni-Frid “Frida” Lyngstad have resolutely declined to perform together, on stage or in the studio, since they last did so in 1982…even for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. (Yeah, I know, but it’s misnamed…think of it as the Baby Boomer Hall of Music and you’ll be OK, altho we’re not sure when…)
What you read about is the release of a remastered CD of their 8th and final album from 1981, The Visitors. It will include the requisite bonus tracks, and one will be “From a Twinkling Star to a Passing Angel.” Nobody knows exactly what this will amount to, altho the resemblance of the title to “Like an Angle Passing Through my Room,” a lackluster ballad on said LP, suggests it’s some sort of demo…or perhaps a medley of early stages of the song…was it originally about a “twinkling star”? We’ll just have to wait until April 23rd to find out.
But here’s how it all played out 30 years ago. After the release of The Visitors in November of 1981, the four assembled in the studio in May and June of 1982 to work on their next LP. They completed 3 tracks… “You Owe Me One”…“I Am the City”…and…”Just Like That”…but producers Benny & Björn weren’t happy with them, and they took a month’s break. In August, they recorded “The Day Before You Came”…“Cassandra”…and…“Under Attack”…but in their minds, the groove was gone, and they settled for a Christmas release of a double-LP The Singles: The First Ten Years. The group called it quits soon after, last performing on British TV in December of 1982.
Of these 6 final songs, 4 were put out as singles that fall…”The Day…” backed with “Cassandra”…and “Under Attack” paired with “You Owe Me One.” Neither charted in the US, and that was pretty much the writing on the wall. ABBA’s last top 10 US hit had been “The Winner Takes It All” in 1980 at #8…their last Top 40 record was “When All Is Said and Done” in 1981 at #27. “The Visitors” then tanked at #63, their last US chart entry. But all 4 of these new songs were included in the double Singles album.
“I Am the City” would not see the light of day until 1993, on another compilation album, More ABBA Gold. That’s the “18 years”…well, 19 but who can count anymore?…that the news stories are referring to. The irony in my mind is that even at this late stage, and despite B&B’s misgivings, “I Am the City” and “Under Attack” are 2 of ABBA’s finest recordings ever… and “You Owe Me One” is also quite spiffy…and this isn’t just me saying it, but the consensus of the world-wide ABBAficionado community. Click on the titles and hear for yourself. But what happened to that 6th song, “Just Like That”?
It’s also a top fan favorite, available in several versions on bootlegs for decades…the story goes a cassette was stolen from somebody’s car…or something. Why have B&B refused to release it? Because in 1985, they produced an LP for a Swedish brother and sister team known as Gemini…and “Just Like That” was one of the songs they included. Most agree ABBA’s versions are infinitely better, but the boys insist the Gemini version is the definitive one, and it would be “confusing” to release ABBA’s. Huh? After all these years? And despite all the love? Well, that’s their story and they’re sticking to it.
And actually, a chorus of “Just Like That” has been officially released…in the 1994 box set Thank you For the Music…it’s part of a 22-minute medley titled “Undeleted”…in the fashion of the Beatles’ Anthology, this was composed of a whole bunch of demos, early versions, unreleased songs, out-takes, and other loose ends…but nothing in its entirety, only brief snippets.
Thus, when the news of this “new” song first hit, it was assumed the Holy Grail of ABBAdom was about to surface…but no such luck. On the bright side, the other 5 “last songs” are included on this new The Visitors CD…all in once place, for the convenience of latecomers. Anyway, you can check out 2 ABBA versions of “Just Like That”…the “na na na ” version…and the “sax” version…and if it sounds vaguely familiar, the melody of verse, altho not the chorus, was re-used in the musical Chess…which of course was a major post-ABBA project of Benny and Björn’s.
And what the heck, here’s this edition of DFHC‘s own “bonus track”…one of my favorite ABBA songs is “Does Your Mother Know?”…and here’s where the the break comes from…the unreleased “Dream World.”
For the record, “Agnetha” is not pronounced AG-netha, like Agnes……but instead anh-YET-ah. And I’m sure you have no trouble remember which is which, but I always did…so several years ago I formalized this mnemonic device: Everybody knows blondes come from Sweden. So the one who isn’t blonde can’t be Swedish…she must be Finnish!…and that’s F for Frida…done and done…
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