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‘Summer Night City’: The Story Behind The ABBA Song

Written as a homage to Stockholm, ‘Summer Night City’ was a standalone release that became ABBA’s last No.1 single in their homeland.

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ABBA Summer Night City cover

The relentless demands of the music industry’s 70s release protocol meant the idea of not issuing at least a couple of singles during 1978 would have been unthinkable. ‘Take A Chance On Me’ had been lifted from ABBA: The Album that January but it was clear the group’s next studio album was still some way off. To fill the gap, they took ‘Summer Night City’ from sessions begun in May of that year and launched it as a standalone single on 6 September 1978.

Writing and recording sessions

The Bee Gees’ enormous success that year had an obvious influence on ‘Summer Night City’, which, in its earlier incarnation, had the odd working title of ‘Charlie The Abuser’ (the title is a playful pun on the work of popular comedian Kalle Sändare). Written in homage to Benny and Björn’s home city of Stockholm – famous for its balmy summer nights – the song began life at the band’s usual base of Metronome Studios but was one of the first cuts later completed at Polar Music Studio, the recording facility set up by the group in Stockholm.

Agnetha and Frida sang their solo parts first before overdubs from the whole group were added. ‘Summer Night City’ then lay in the vaults until that August, when the track was mixed for release. Several attempts at perfecting the final version were attempted, and several variations now sit in the band’s archive.

The unlikely choice of B-side was a covers medley of American standards. It had been recorded more than three years earlier for a charity project but, newly dusted down, allowed ‘Summer Night City’ to get to the pressing plant without the group having to rush another new song to completion before it was ready.

Release and reception

‘Summer Night City’ became the last No.1 single for the Swedes in their homeland, but its unexpected No.5 UK peak was seen as something of a failure by the group’s super-league standards.

“Sooner or later, you have to make a decision,” Benny said. “Either you release a song as it is, or you record another song, and then you have to wait another four weeks before you can release the record. Of course, you don’t release something that is completely worthless, but one or two years later, you sometimes end up thinking, We shouldn’t have released that one.”

The song ended up being left off Voulez-Vous but was included on the band’s second greatest hits collection, issued the following year. It says something that a song as strong and successful as ‘Summer Night City’ was marked as a misfire. For many acts, it would have been a game-changer.

The 40th anniversary of Voulez-Vous is being celebrated with a 2LP half-speed mastered reissue, a 7” singles box set and a collection of standalone picture discs. Buy them here.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Colin

    May 21, 2019 at 10:41 am

    In several Countries, ABBA released ‘Eagle’ as their follow-up to ‘Take a Chance On Me’,
    in May 1978. It became a Top 10 Hit in Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland,
    and South Africa. As well as Top 20 in France and Austria. For some stupid reason, Epic
    Records decided not to bother to release it in the UK and Ireland – costing ABBA a Top 5
    Hit in both Countries. So, the UK and Ireland had to wait until September 1978 for their
    follow-up to ‘Take A Chance On Me’ – Summer Night City’. In the USA and Canada, Atlantic
    Records decided not to release ‘Eagle’ there, too. But, those Countries did not even get
    ‘Summer Night City’ either. A lot of foolish decisions were made regarding ABBA Singles,
    as the Years went by. The version of ‘Eagle’, that was released as a Single, was edited
    from the much longer version on ‘The Album’…

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