Not like that

Why the MAMMA MIA! movie won’t include a new ABBA song

Since the announcement of the movie version of the stage musical MAMMA MIA! (“based on the songs of ABBA”, in case you didn’t know), there’s been conjecture across ABBA fandom that this will be the perfect opportunity for an unreleased ABBA song to be included in the movie, which of course would then have to be released on the soundtrack or as a single; or for Benny and Björn to write a brand new “ABBA” song. Either so they would be eligible for Best Song awards in the 2009 season, especially the Oscars. There have also been suggestions of them writing new score music for the film.

But there are several reasons why any of these are unlikely to happen.

An unreleased song

The inclusion of one of the legendary unreleased ABBA songs still in “the vaults” is not surprisingly the most discussed and most popular topic in the various ABBA forums – especially the 1982 recording ‘Just Like That’.

Unfortunately, that’s an unlikely scenario for the film. Award rules generally state that for a song to be eligible a song must be written for the specific project – it cannot be an old song, no matter that it’s never been released. It was for the same reason that no songs from MAMMA MIA! were eligible for the Tony Awards (the American Theatre Wing’s Awards for Excellence on Broadway) in 2002, though the musical itself was nominated for several other awards, ultimately winning none.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) Rule 16 states that to be eligible for the Original Song category, “An original song consists of words and music, both of which are original and written specifically for the film.” and “The work must be the result of a creative interaction between the filmmaker(s) and the composer(s) or songwriter(s) who have been engaged to work directly on the film.”

Björn and Benny (and also Agnetha and Frida) are notoriously against releasing songs that weren’t released at the time. They begrudgingly allowed several to be included on the 1994 four CD box set Thank You For The Music, though not as many as originally planned. Since then they’ve been adamant against the release of any more, despite constant queries, petitions from fans or proposals from ABBA’s record company.

Regarding ‘Just Like That’ in particular, another strike against the release of the full ABBA recording is that most of the melody has subsequently been used in other songs – the guitar riff from one of the early versions in ABBA’s ‘Under Attack’ (1982), most of the chorus in Gemini’s version of ‘Just Like That’ (1985), and the verse in ‘Glöm mig om du kan’ in Chess på svenska (Chess in Swedish – 2002). Björn and Benny regard the Gemini recording – which had an all-new verse and partially rewritten chorus – as the final version, and do not think that there can be two similar songs with the same title out in the world.

Ironically, ‘Just Like That’ was actually in the musical during rehearsals, only dropped just before the first previews. In fact, it was still listed in the programme during the two weeks of previews, right up to the night of the world premiere, where it was described as a duet between the two young lovers, Sophie and Sky. It came early in Act One, after ‘Summer Night City’ (itself dropped during previews) and before ‘Money, Money, Money’. (see here for that original running order)

A new song/an ABBA reunion

Another extremely popular point of discussion is for Benny and Björn to write a “new ABBA song” for the movie.

There has been precedent, with the original composers of musicals such as Evita, Chicago and Dreamgirls writing new songs for the film versions, in some cases successfully winning “best song in a motion picture” awards, including the Oscar.

The premise of MAMMA MIA! is that it is “based on the songs of ABBA”. For Benny and Björn to write a new song in 2007, though they were half of ABBA, would not be an ABBA song. Benny and Björn continue to compose together over 40 years since they first met, so it is not impossible for them to write a new song together. However, a new song by Benny and Björn would not be an “ABBA” song, just as the musicals Chess and Kristina från Duvemåla, or the songs recorded by Gemini, Josefin Nilsson, BAO and others are not ABBA songs.

It’s also been suggested that Frida and Agnetha join Benny and Björn in recording the new songs, thus making a “brand new ABBA song”, not to mention the longed for ABBA reunion. This also seems highly unlikely. Though various former ABBA members have responded to interviewers that they would be partial to a reunion at different times over that last 25 years, it’s obvious from their actions that none of them really have any interest. Famously, when refusing the alleged one billion dollar reunion offer, they announced that it would take “something special” for a reunion, that something special they had in mind being made obvious by several get-togethers to sing together for milestone birthdays for close personal friends, most recently for Görel Hanser’s 50th birthday in June 1999. Excluding possible future private performances like this, it’s extremely doubtful that we will ever see an ABBA reunion, for this film or any other occasion.

Film score

A third suggestion that has been put forward is that Benny and Björn might write score music for scenes between songs. Again, given the premise of the musical, it seems more likely that any background score might be based in existing ABBA music, just as the ‘Overture’ and ‘Entr’acte’ in the stage musical are based on a mix of ABBA tunes.

Of course, this is all just conjecture. They may yet surprise us by including new music in the film.

Recording of the songs for the film began in the last week of February 2007, featuring Benny on keyboards and several of the musicians who played on ABBA’s recordings, including guitarist Lasse Wellander, bassist Rutger Gunnarsson and drummer Per Lindvall. Presumably, the music will be produced by Benny and Björn. The world premiere of the film has been announced as 18 July 2008.

DVD overload

ABBA - The Golden YearsYou’ve probably seen them in webstores, in your local record shops or on ABBA sites (including the New releases page here at ABBA World) – some unusual DVDs with titles like ABBA In Performance, The Gold Singles, The Ultimate Review or ABBA’s The Visitors.

These “unauthorised” DVDs – that is, not authorised by ABBA or released by their record company, Universal Music – have flooded the marketplace over the past 18 months or so.

The first was Music In Review: ABBA 1973-1982, released in the UK in October 2005. It set the format for most of the DVDs that have followed. Footage of ABBA on various television performances from shows such as Musikladen, Star Parade and Show Express, or specials such as ABBA In Studio 2, ABBA in Japan, and Dick Cavett Meets ABBA. Usually the footage is limited short snippets of songs, often reduced in size, with descriptive text on screen and not the best picture quality. Interspersed with comments from musicians and critics who, while no doubt experts in their own fields, appear to know little about ABBA. Very few songs appear in full, and when they do, it’s usually a compilation of different clips edited together, not one complete performance.

ABBA – The Gold Singles, ABBA In Performance, and ABBA’s The Visitors all follow this pattern, even sharing some of the same footage and interviews. In fact, they’re all produced by the same company and its various subsidiaries. Music In Review and In Performance have already been repackaged together as The Ultimate Review, and some of these titles have appeared with Swedish, French or Spanish packaging, though the contents remain the same. The packaging for these has been remarkably similar, with one particular photo session from 1974 appearing on covers (including The Visitors!) and inside booklets. Presumably, the forthcoming Rock Case Studies – ABBA and ABBA/Arrival (like The Gold Singles, part of the World’s Greatest Albums series) will be more of the same.

In the middle of all these releases, another company put out the Music Box Biographical Collection, which disappointed many as it doesn’t include any ABBA music at all, just still photographs and interviews with critics.

Two forthcoming unauthorised collections do however sound interesting to ABBA fans. Dancing Queen Interviews, to be released in the USA towards the end of April, promises “interview material and archival footage presented for the first time ever in a DVD format! It includes early USA interviews showcasing the group’s innocence, discussing their accents, musical background, their clothes and Sweden. Also included are mini-documentaries, rehearsals, footage from the Eurovision 1974 Song Contest, lots of old photos from the 60’s, early black and white footage, and a documentary discussing Mamma Mia. Plus more interviews from the UK and USA!” (according to Whether this description is indeed true remains to be seen.

But perhaps most intrigingly coming to the UK in late March (USA mid April) is ABBA – The Golden Years. So far, there’s been no information about the contents of this DVD, but HMV Japan reveals a track list that appears to be the 1982 Dutch TV documentary The Story Of ABBA, released on VHS in the UK in 1986 but long out of print. If so, this will be one unauthorised DVD that will really have fans excited. But this DVD is from the producers of the aforementioned Music Box Biographical Collection, and even their own website has no description, so all we can do for now is wait and see. [update 26 April: release has now been pushed back to the second week of May. UK sites Woolworths and Tesco appear to confirm the contents]

Once upon a time, ABBA fans the world over complained that there weren’t as many ABBA DVDs as there were for other groups. Now we’ve got what they wished for and we’ve been overwhelmed with a DVD overload.

That’s me

I was very excited and hugely surprised a couple of weekends ago when my two ABBA websites (ABBA World and The ABBA Phenomenon) and I were featured in the article ‘How Could We Resist You?’ by Dino Scatena in The Weekend Australian Magazine on 3-4 March.

Dino had emailed me several weeks earlier saying that he’s like to talk to me about ABBA’s Australian tour for an article he was writing to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the tour. We spoke for about 15 minutes, Dino was very enthusiast, telling me that my website had been a great help in researching his article.

A couple of weeks later, I had a call from the photo editor at The Australian, wanting to get a photo of me with some ABBA memorabilia to go with the story. Which surprised me, as I thought I’d just contributed a bit of “colour” to the article. So why a photo?

I had imagined that there might be small head shots of the various people interviewed for the article (including Australian tour promoter Paul Dainty, Swedish tour promoter Thomas Johansson, Björn Ulvaeus, and others who were involved in the tour).

So I was hugely surprised when I saw the article, featuing me in a sidebar, in illustrious company between Frida with tour bodyguard Richard Norton, and ABBA – The Movie director Lasse Hallström.

That weekend I had a flood of text messages and emails from friends and family who had seen the article, offering with all sorts of compliments. The following week I found that someone in my workplace had copied and enlarged the article, and put it up on the wall of the office writing “you never know what your workmates are up to” underneath. Funny stuff!

Here’s that extract from the article.



Hi there, and welcome to the new ABBA World blog.

I’ve been thinking about adding a blog to ABBA World for quite a while, to write about the site, to write about ABBA, and to interact with site visitors. But first I wanted to find a blog host that was easy to use and could be compatible with the site.

Doing some semi-regular surfing around ABBA sites today, I visited one site with a blog that seemed to be easy to use, and the blogger is a freelance IT journalist, so he should know the good from the bad.

So I signed up, looked around to see how things work, and here we are, with a brand new blog and another addition to ABBA World.


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