Posts Tagged ‘The Visitors’

Two new ABBA box sets

17 September, 2022

Two new ABBA CD box sets have recently appeared in Europe, separate from the CD box set released internationally in May through Universal Music. Both collect ABBA’s nine studio albums, plus the Live at Wembley Arena double CD and the DVD The Essential Collection.

Unusually, these are not available in music stores, but through newsagents. Each individual album is released one per week.

Each disc is packaged in a bi-fold cardboard sleeve. The eight original studio albums copy the 2001 remasters, with the same bonus tracks and booklets. However the cover artwork replicates the original albums.

The first set is available in Spain through the newspaper El País. The first disc, Ring Ring, was available on 12 June, along with the box to contain the full set. The studio albums were released chronologically, followed by the live album and the DVD. The final disc was released on 21 August. All discs are available individually online, as is the full box set. However, one must be a residen of Spain to purchase.

The second set is available in Italy through direct marketers Mondadori per te. The first disc, ABBA, is available from 26 August, and comes with the box. Each disc comes with the original 2001 booklet plus a new booklet in Italian. Like the Spanish set, one disc is released per week, but in a different order: ABBA, Arrival, Voulez-Vous, Voyage, Waterloo, Super Trouper, ABBA – The Album, Ring Ring, Live at Wembley Arena, The Visitors, and The Definitive Collection. Each is also available online, a week after release. Also like the Spanish set, this is only available to residents of Italy. Unlike the Spanish set, it appears the full box set isn’t available online, only the individual discs.

So, if you don’t live in Spain or Italy and are wanting to get these sets, you’ll have to contact friends in those countries.

The great ‘Head Over Heels’ mystery

15 May, 2012

Fans have been mystified that an alternate mix of ‘Head Over Heels’ has appeared on The Visitors Deluxe Edition CD, released in late April.

There are slight variations in the vocals in the first chorus, and most obvious is the drum triplet (three beats played in quick succession) missing at 1.09, immediately after the line “she’s a girl with a trace for the world”. This triplet is present in the second and third choruses.

The mystery has been discussed around fan circles for quite some time, even before The Visitors Deluxe was released. Late last year it was found on an East German EP from 1983, though at the time to many ears it just sounded like a dull, flat vinyl pressing. A few months later it was found on a download from a then-unknown vinyl source, later identified as The Visitors LP from The Vinyl Collection box set (2010). Once the differences were pointed out it was obvious to all.

It has since been found on the original VHS releases ABBA Music Show 3 (Polar Bonnier, Sweden 1983) and More Video Hits (Pickwick, UK 1988).

The original 1981 Polar LP of The Visitors (and presumably every other LP pressing around the world) had what is now being called the standard version, as does every previous CD release. Apparently the second chorus was “flown in” to replace the first chorus, for some unknown reason.

But why has this alternate version surfaced now, and why has it appeared on some releases and not others?

(Thanks to Lex Corbach, Carl Magnus Palm and especially Rudolf Ondrich for information)

The Visitors

5 February, 2012

The release of The Visitors in late 1981 took me completely by surprise. Though I’d read news of the progress of recording sessions in the Australian ABBA Fan Club magazines during the year, I had no idea that ABBA had a new album coming out until I heard an ad on a local radio station during the first week of December promoting a competition giving away copies the following week.

That Saturday morning the music show Sounds showed the album cover, which confused me – I could see Agnetha to the left and Frida in a chair, and what looked like Benny standing a little to the right (well, it was a man with a beard), but where was Björn?

The following night Australia’s famous music show Countdown played the promotional clip for ‘When All Is Said And Done’, but otherwise made no mention of a new ABBA album. As the summer holidays were coming up, that weekend saw the last shows for the year for both Sounds and Countdown, so there was no real opportunity for TV promotion for ABBA’s new album. Countdown did play ‘One Of Us’ on its first show for 1982, by which time it was too late for that single, which had already peaked at 48 and was on its way back down the singles chart. Sounds eventually played ‘Head Over Heels’, which was not released as a single in Australia.

Ironically, the radio station giving away copies of  The Visitors did not play any songs from the album, or any ABBA music at all, except for the first line of ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ in the competition ad. Nor did the ad actually mention the album title.

And so came the usual waiting game for the album to appear. As ABBA were no longer the big thing in Australia that they were in 1976, there didn’t seem to be much rush to get new ABBA records in the shops, and it wasn’t until Wednesday December 16th (yes, Benny’s birthday) that I finally got The Visitors.

In Australia The Visitors came in a gatefold sleeve, with the lyrics on the inside, which seemed like a waste to me – why not more photos, as other gatefold sleeve albums had? I later learned that in most other countries the lyrics were on an inner sleeve. I loved the imagery, but was pissed off that the ABBA members, who seemed to be getting smaller on each progressive album cover, were hard to discern. So Björn  now had a beard, and Benny was in the dark corner on the far right, but was Frida’s hair cut short? It was hard to tell.

On first listen I was mightily impressed. ABBA’s music always seemed to exist outside of mainstream music trends, but here was ABBA sounding like those British synthpop groups so popular at the time. Especially the opening title track, which has been described over the years as having a melody that sounded reminiscent of The Beatles Eastern musical excursions, but to my ears sounded like ‘Astradyne’, the opening track to Ultravox’s 1980 album Vienna, with the chorus that sounded like ‘Summer Night City’.

I also loved that ABBA’s lyrics had become more meaningful – the dissident paranoia of ‘The Visitors’, fears of dictators leading the populace into war in ‘Soldiers’, and the bittersweet experience of watching children grow up  and leave in ‘Slipping Through My Finger’  were immediately obvious to me. The heartbreak of ‘When All Is Said And Done’ was more inspirational than the previous year’s melodramatic ‘The Winner Takes It All’, and its personal inspirations were also obvious. ‘I Let The Music Speak’ addressed the poetry of music in clever twists and turns. ‘Two For The Price Of One’ was a little throwback to the quirky songs of ABBA’s first couple of albums, but unlike almost everyone else in the world I liked it from the start.

The only songs that didn’t grab me on the first listen, and still don’t particularly like, were ironically the two selected as international singles: ‘One Of Us’ and ‘Head Over Heels’. Possibly that’s coloured by the fact that they were the singles, chosen over such obvious choices as ‘When All Is Said And Done’ (actually the first single in the USA and second single in Australia) and ‘The Visitors’ – even Phil Collins, producer of Frida’s 1982 solo album Something’s Going On, thought ‘The Visitors’ was an obvious single for the times.

At the end of my first listen to the whole album, as the music box of ‘Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’ faded away and the incessant ticking clock suddenly stopped, I knew that ABBA was over, that this would be their final album.

The Visitors Deluxe Edition

27 January, 2012

This week fans everywhere were excited at the news that a Deluxe Edition of ABBA’s final album, The Visitors, will be released on April 23rd.

The CD/DVD package includes the original 9-track album from 1981, the non-album b-side of the first single released from the album (‘Should I Laugh Or Cry’), five of the six tracks recorded the following year (both sides of the two 1982 singles, plus ‘I Am The City’, not released until it was featured on More ABBA Gold in 1993). The accompanying DVD includes two songs from the 1981 television special Dick Cavett Meets ABBA (one of ABBA’s few group TV appearances during 1981), the original promotional clip for ‘When All Is Said And Done’ (with an alternate version of the song), some of ABBA’s final TV appearances from late-1982, TV commercials and sleeve gallery.

Most exciting to fans is the news that it will also include previously unreleased ABBA music, the first time any “new” material has been allowed out of the so-called vaults since the Thank You For The Music box set in 1994.

The intrigingly-titled ‘From A Twinkling Star To A Passing Angel’, described as “a medley of demos”, hints at unheard versions of the albums closing track “Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’. It is known that there were several different attempts at recording the song (thanks to Carl Magnus Palm’s book ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions) before the final version was recorded just a few weeks before the album’s release. One of those early versions had the working title ‘Twinkle Twinkle’.

The world’s media has picked up on the “unreleased track” news, with the story spreading like wildfire to seemingly every news outlet in the world over the last few days. Perhaps unsurprisingly as the news spread it started to morph into stories of “a new song”, “a new single”, even hints of a group reformation.

Fans of course lament the non-inclusion of the sixth song recorded in 1982, the legendary ‘Just Like That’, the rest of the Dick Cavett TV special, ABBA’s appearance on Show Express in November 1982 (when they performed three of the four songs released that year), and other potential inclusions from the period. There are, no doubt, valid reasons that may become clearer later.

The Visitors is the sixth ABBA studio album to receive the deluxe treatment, after Waterloo 30th Anniversary Edition (2004), Arrival (2006), ABBA – The Album (2007), Voulez-Vous (2010) and Super Trouper (2011).

Read the announcement, including the full track list, at ABBA – The Official Site, and a little more information on Carl Magnus Palm’s site.

Two For The Price Of One – backtrack or flash-forward?

28 June, 2011

Björn sings Two For The Price Of One on Dick Cavett Meets ABBA (pic:‘Two For The Price Of One’ is one of the most contentious songs in the ABBA catalogue. Ever since its release on The Visitors in 1981 it has split ABBA fans between those who hate it and those who don’t mind it – it seems one of the few ABBA songs that no one will list among their favourites.

A common complaint it that ‘Two For The Price Of One’ sounds like a throwback to the Ring Ring era, and it’s easy to see why: the song features a Björn lead vocal, with Agnetha and Frida relegated to an anonymous sounding backing choir. Its start-stop rhythms are reminiscent of the 1973 track ‘Love Isn’t Easy (But It Sure Is Hard Enough)’, itself another essentially unloved song in the ABBA catalogue.

But it can also be seen as an experiment in future forms for the song’s composers. The verses are in a recitative style, common in musicals during transitions, and used effectively by Benny and Björn a couple of years later in their Chess musical, such as in ‘The American And Florence’, which leads into ‘Nobody’s Side’.

Meanwhile the chorus makes use of counter-melodies, which in the case of ‘Two For The Price Of One’ features Agnetha and Frida expanding on Björn’s lyrics, but in the Chess musical had four characters singing complex conflicting themes in ‘Quartet (A Model Of Decorum And Tranquility)’.

The lyric is also one of the most successful of ABBA’s “story” songs, one of the few that is actually resolved in the end – most of the others, from ‘Me And Bobby And Bobby’s Brother’ to ‘On And On And On’ never reach a conclusion. The ambiguity of the punchline shows Björn’s growing skill in lyric writing – is the mother an intrusive chaperone, or is a sexual threesome on offer?

Ironically ‘I Let The Music Speak’, released on the same album, is seen as a nod to Benny and Björn’s future ambitions, when in reality it is a pastiche created to sound like a song from a stage musical.

So next time you’re listening to ‘Two For The Price Of One’ try listening with different ears, you might hear a different song.

Madonna's Like An Angel

16 August, 2008

When Madonna released her ABBA-sampling hit ‘Hung Up’ in 2005, there were reports that this was not her first stab at the ABBA catalogue. It was said that a few years earlier she had recorded but not released a cover of ‘Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’, the final track from ABBA’s eighth and final studio album The Visitors.

Now on the eve of the megastar’s 50th birthday her version of ‘Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’, apparently recorded during sessions for her 2000 album Music and produced by William Orbit, has leaked out on to the internet.

Hear it at:
You Tube
Madonna Radio

For a contrast, here are some other performances of ‘Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’:

German songstress Nina Hagen from a 2004 ABBA TV tribute on ZDF.
Swedish soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, who recorded it for her Elvis Costello produced album For The Stars.
Norwegian singer Sissel.

Finally, here is an early ABBA version, Another Morning Without You, with prominent vocalising from drummer Ola Brunkert. Michael B. Tretow once played this on Swedish Radio.

The compact disc at 25

23 June, 2007

Benny & Björn with PolyGram's Jan Timmer and test pressings of The Visitors CD, 1982

Today the worldwide media have been reporting on the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the compact disc, or CD. Some of the stories (such as this video report from Reuters) have reported that ABBA’s The Visitors was the first commercially released CD.

The origin of today’s media story is this press release from Bayer MaterialScience, which reports that 25 years ago The Visitors was the first CD pressed as a test using a new high tech plastic, Makrolon®, during the development phase of the new audio standard.

The Visitors was indeed the first ABBA CD released, and is thought to be one of the first (if not the first) pop music CD released by PolyGram in Europe. But it wasn’t the first CD ever – that honour apparently goes to Billy Joel’s 52nd Street, released in Japan in October 1982, along with 15 other CDs in that first batch.

Benny & Björn were introduced to the new format in late 1982, when they were surprised to hear the tape hiss on analog-recorded tracks on The Visitors (most audible in the ticking between ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ and ‘Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’ on the original 1983 CD, but not on later remastered versions).

The Visitors was the first CD I ever bought, sometime in 1983, probably 18 months before I bought my first CD player. It cost a whopping $30, which is close to the full price CD in Australia today. My copy was on the Polar label (POLCD 342), manufactured by PolyGram in West Germany, but actually came from the UK where it had been distributed by Epic, and so had a label attached to the spine with the UK catalogue number (EPC CD10032).  But I peeled off that sticker many, many years ago – maybe it could have been a rare collectors item?

It became a tradition for that very same CD to be the first one played everytime I bought a new CD player.

I loved the CD from the outset. The improved sound quality and the ease of playing. But I missed the full 12 inch album sleeve, and even the action of turning over the record to side 2.

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