If Frida was hesitant about what to do next after her run with the world’s biggest group, it doesn’t show on the confident new-wave/pop hybrid, Something’s Going On, which ended up being the most successful post-ABBA project from any of its members (musical theatre aside) after its release in September 1982.
Something’s Going On was only Frida’s third solo record, was her first recorded entirely in English, and sold close to two million copies. She had some help: Phil Collins added a distinctive layer of production, and some of the planet’s most successful hit-writers were drafted in to share their songs after Frida’s label, Polar Music, put out the call for ideas.
From the contemporary disco of Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte’s “To Turn The Stone,” originally recorded with Donna Summer, to Oscar nominee Stephen Bishop’s urgent “Tell Me It’s Over” and the coy, lilting “I See Red,” from Jim Rafferty, Something’s Going On was a rounded 11-track collection, where almost every song could have made it as a single.
The song actually chosen to launch the album, recorded in Stockholm across February and March 1982, was the Russ Ballard pop-stomper “I Know There’s Something Going On.” Undergoing a huge promotional blitz to sell the single, Frida was rewarded with a smash hit across continental Europe, and even a No.13 placing in the US Billboard charts. Only the UK remained lukewarm – the single made it to No.43, though the parent album made the Top 20. “I Know There’s Something Going On” is a powerful pop/rock hybrid entirely of its time, but with a searing vocal and insanely catchy melody that maintains its healthy rotation on radio to this day.
But to categorize the whole of Something’s Going On in that vein is to ignore its surprising diversity. “Strangers” is a tender ballad of the type Olivia Newton-John might have been recording at this time, and comes closest to the ABBA sound of old. “Threnody,” a poem from Dorothy Parker set to the music of Roxette’s Per Gessle, is a soaring epic that could have come from the pen of Stevie Nicks. Bryan Ferry contributed a demo from Roxy Music’s Flesh + Blood sessions which became “The Way You Do,” a light but compulsive ballad that has never been recorded by Ferry or Roxy Music.
Frida sounds very assured on the album, and it’s clear she wanted to distance herself from the type of songs and production style that characterized her former group. The choice of Phil Collins to collaborate on the record was a personal one – Frida reportedly fell in love with the singer’s Face Value album, which had been released the previous year. One of the classic ballads from that multi-platinum smash, “You Know What I Mean,” was re-recorded by Frida and became Something’s Going On’s penultimate song. The closing number actually came from the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest: an unsuccessful song from the UK heats reworked as a rousing power-pop anthem between Frida and (an uncredited) Phil. Close your eyes and it could be Bee Gees, but it’s an effective blend, with Phil’s drumming and the horn section from Earth, Wind & Fire making “Here We’ll Stay” one of the album’s best songs – and a fitting finale.
So there’s a sense that, while nothing was going to be left to chance, this is the sound of an extraordinary singer enjoying pushing some boundaries. Something’s Going On is determined to remain a pop album but, working within those broad parameters, it’s also wildly experimental. Years of relentless work with ABBA, and the divorce that closed that chapter, might have seen Frida satisfied to retread former glories, but Something’s Going On sees her making a play at a time when the world lacked a major international female star. Debbie Harry’s band was imploding, while Sheena Easton and Olivia were seen as too safe, so, at the time of the album’s release, everything was still up for grabs.
Something’s Going On generated good sales and largely positive reviews. That it didn’t transform Frida into a huge international solo star says more about the way female acts were supported back then than anything else. It remains her pop masterpiece.