Note: I’m reviewing the albums as available in the UK on CD. Track listings sometimes vary from original Swedish releases.
Cover: Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus met in 1966 while members of separate Swedish pop bands. Around the same time, each started a relationship with a solo singer: respectively, Anni-Frid ‘Frida’Lyngstad and Agnetha Fältskog. The four friends began working together on new material – the men as songwriters, the women as lead vocalists – and this debut album was released in March 1973. It was only retrospectively credited to ABBA, though. At first, the group called themselves ‘Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Frida’, partly because no one was thinking this was a permanent arrangement. The LP cover shows the two men hugging their other halves. The image is duplicated twice in increasingly smaller scales and added over the top – the blurring of the colours between the iterations (Benny’s burgundy jacket, Björn’s yellow sleeve and cowboy frills, the greenery behind the foursome) works really well.
Best song: The title song, which was written as a potential Swedish entry for the 1973 Eurovision Song Contest, is tremendous. It’s a power-pop track that uses Phil Spector-like production to create an urgent sound of guitar riffs, piano stomps and pounding drums. Neil Sedaka helped with the English-language lyrics. However, as good as it is, it came only third in Sweden’s Eurovision heat, being beaten by Sommaren Son Aldrig Säger Nej (The Summer That Never Says No) by a duo called Malta, who then came fifth in the finals.
* Disillusion is a melancholic ballad with a lovely bass sound. It’s well sung by Agnetha, who co-wrote it with husband Björn. It’s the only ABBA song she wrote.
* The first recognised ‘ABBA’ song to be recorded, People Need Love is a cheery sing-along with a rock foundation and a strange yodelling fade-out.
* I Am Just a Girl is actually a new vocal added to an old Benny/Björn track they’d written for an actor – but that vocal is a deliciously warm, reverb-heavy stage-whisper. It’s as ‘European’ as they come, sounding like the theme tune to a sexy 70s caper film set in Monte Carlo.
Worst song: Another Town, Another Train is a dippy folk-pop song with some badly sung sections.
Best CD extra: Santa Rosa was the B-side to one of the album’s singles, He is Your Brother. It’s not just the name that evokes West Coast culture – the guitar intro and general arrangement feels like mid-era Byrds, while there are some Beach Boys-style ‘ba-ba-ba’ backing vocals.
Best video: No promotional videos were produced at the time, but once ABBA had become huge a film was made of them performing Ring Ring. Like most ABBA videos, it was directed by Swedish filmmaker Lasse Hallström (who went on to make The Cider House Rules, Chocolat and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen). The first image is Benny’s hands hammering out the song’s rhythm on the piano, then we cut to the group – plus a guitarist, bass player and drummer – on a blank white space. Add a shelving unit and a couch and it could be the Blue Peter set. Basic, and clearly made on a budget, it’s nevertheless great fun. They all mime away enthusiastically, while the girls have a few minor dance moves. And the group’s outfits are brilliantly ridiculous. Björn has a camp, silver, space-man costume (with a cape!) and is playing a star-shaped guitar; Frida’s in a plastic catsuit with huge collars; Benny has a blue frilly jacket with feathers on it; and Agnetha is totally selling a look of red hot pants, knee-length boots and an exposed midriff. (The session players, meanwhile, are in jeans and bland shirts.)
Review: An enjoyable enough pop album. The opening track stands out with its energy and attack – and there are some other nice songs. Generally, the glossy, polished production is better than the writing, which often strives for safe cabaret showmanship. But there are better things to come.
Six flowers in a desert out of 10.