The whirlwind of their worldwide success simply had to slacken its pace for ABBA in 1977. Four smash albums, countless hit singles, international concerts and endless promotional duties were taking their toll and, with the conclusion of European and Australian tours that spring, the idea was to focus on creating the next studio project, ABBA: The Album, during the latter half of the year in a more leisurely manner.
Of course, best-laid plans don’t always fall neatly into place. Timetables were being redrawn by the upcoming release of ABBA’s first movie (ABBA: The Movie, filmed across the tour) and then there was the inevitable expectation that material should be ready for the Christmas market. In fact, only in Scandinavia would ABBA: The Album be released in time for Santa, on 12 December 1977, with most other territories forced to wait until the new year.
There was a sense that the group’s sound also needed to take a decisive step forward; with an ambitious drive, Benny and Björn wanted to ensure that the new album was even better than what had gone before. That restless energy to push their songwriting into uncharted territory is perhaps most evident in a trio of tracks included here from the 25-minute mini-musical The Girl With The Golden Hair, which had been performed at the band’s recent shows ahead of the nightly encore.
Signposting some of the pair’s future focus, there’s a quirky theatricality at play on all three of the production’s songs paired with ABBA’s trademark pop sensibility. ‘Thank You For The Music’, featured in one scene, became one of the band’s signature classics and shows how effortlessly their best compositions crossed the genres. An early cut of the track (included as a bonus on the deluxe edition of the album, issued in 2007) sees Agnetha channeling Doris Day in a ragtime-flavoured interpretation ultimately shelved in favour of the version we’re all familiar with today. It speaks of the group’s shared passion to really mix things up.
Across the other eight songs on ABBA: The Album, there is the unmistakable influence of the era’s US hits – guitars making their biggest appearance with ABBA on the sweeping ‘Eagle’; the bass-heavy, midtempo ‘The Name Of The Game’, picked as the set’s first single in October 1977; and the urgent ‘Hole In Your Soul’. Even ‘One Man, One Woman’ – while as gently melodious as much of ABBA’s wider catalogue – has elements of the soft-rock sound so dominant stateside at the time. The group’s more familiar Europop wasn’t entirely absent, however; it can be found on the spirited ‘Take A Chance On Me’ – picked as the album’s second international single, and another UK chart-topper – and the gorgeous ‘Move On’.
Recording sessions for ABBA: The Album were disrupted by Agnetha’s pregnancy and a pressure to meet the commercial deadlines, but the eventual release of the album proved predictably successful, reaching a career-best peak in the US (No.14) and topping the charts elsewhere. Such success earned the group some breathing space, ultimately laying the groundwork for the band to begin experimenting further in the studio, spending longer on the sessions that motivated them the most.
Marking the start of their second triumphant chapter, ABBA: The Album bears all the hallmarks of that familiar moment when bands shake up a winning formula. The genesis of ABBA’s broader musical acclaim and credibility can be traced back to the bold steps taken here. Fortune – as it turned out yet again – will always favour the brave…
ABBA: The Album can be bought here.