ABBA’s Greatest Hits (1975) has become an accepted part of the historical ABBA catalogue, along with the eight studio albums, the Spanish recordings on Gracias Por La Música, compilations Greatest Hits Vol. 2, The Single – The First Ten Years, and ABBA Live.
But did you know that Greatest Hits was not a worldwide release? And in many countries where is was released the album did not feature the same tracklist?
The story starts somewhere in the middle of 1975. Polydor in West Germany and Vogue in France put out ABBA compilations The Best Of ABBA and Greatest Hits respectively. Both albums featured the same 12 songs, though in different running orders. Both albums were also released in countries covered by these companies: Polydor in Austria and The Netherlands, Vogue in Belgium.
The two companies may or may not have colluded on the track list. But by accident or design, though each album featured songs that had not been hit singles in their own territories, all songs bar one had been single A sides somewhere in the world; the remaining track had been a B side in a few countries.
Worried that import copies may affect local sales of ABBA records in Scandinavia, Polar Music put together its own Greatest Hits album, released in November 1975. This 14-track album featured the same 12 tracks as the German and French compilations, plus two more. The gatefold cover featured a painting by fantasy artist Hans Arnold – the original painting had been presented to ABBA earlier in the year, and they liked it so much they used it for the album.
Also in November RCA in Australia released The Best Of ABBA, with the same tracklist as the West German album but a new locally-designed cover (this album will be the subject of a future blog post).
In March 1976 Epic Records in the UK released Greatest Hits, with the same tracklist as the Scandinavian album but a new cover, featuring the iconic photograph of ABBA on a park bench; Benny and Frida in passionate embrace, Agnetha staring forlornly into the camera, and Björn reading a newspaper seemingly ignoring his wife (the same photo had been inside the gatefold of the Polar album). Inside the gatefold was another photo from the same parkland session. The photos were taken by Bengt Malmqvist, on a bright autumn day in 1975 during an epic session all over the Stockholm island Djurgården.
Almost immediately after release Epic added the current single ‘Fernando’ to Greatest Hits, as did Polydor and Vogue to their albums. Polar added ‘Fernando’ in Denmark and Norway, but not in Sweden. RCA however did not add ‘Fernando’ to its compilation, instead adding that hit to Arrival later in the year.
During the rest of the year and into 1977 other licensees around the world released variations of Greatest Hits, some using the Polar sleeve design, some using the Epic one. Some included 14 tracks, some 15, all the same selection of tracks as the Polar and Epic albums, but almost all in different running orders. A few other countries copied the 12/13 tracks from the West German and French albums.
In many countries Greatest Hits/The Best Of ABBA became one of the biggest selling albums of 1976; in the UK and Australia their respective albums actually were the biggest sellers of the year, remaining at number one for many weeks.
In the CD age the album has had limited re-release. The US version of Greatest Hits was released on CD by Atlantic Records around 1984. RCA in Australia re-released The Best Of ABBA in 1988. Finally the Scandinavian 15-track album was released as a 30th Anniversary Edition in 2006, in a replica of the original gatefold sleeve.