In focus: ABBA For The Last Time

When ABBA released their double album The Singles – The First Ten Years in November 1982, the title suggested that there would be further “years” of ABBA music. As it turned out, the group’s temporary break was a permanent one. With the release of the Number Ones CD and DVD collections, the latter of which features ABBA’s very last public appearance as a group, we take a look at that very last period of “abbactivity”.

Synthesized sounds
The last song to be recorded by ABBA was The Day Before You Came.In November 1981, as ABBA completed the recording of their eighth studio album, The Visitors, the members already knew that there would follow a few months where they wouldn’t be working together. Frida had pencilled in sessions for her first English-language solo album, to be recorded in February and March 1982, while Björn and Benny were both becoming parents for the third time in January and wanted to spend some time with their families. Except for making a video for their ‘Head Over Heels’ single on January 21, the group didn’t reconvene until May 1982. At that time, sessions for what was meant to become ABBA’s ninth studio album were begun. However, only three tracks were completed: ‘You Owe Me One’ (released as a B-side later in the year), ‘I Am The City’ (not released until 1993) and ‘Just Like That’ (still unreleased in its entirety).

The Singles – The First Ten Years replaced ABBA’s aborted ninth studio album.Although all three songs were perfectly in tune with the pop music trends of the times, characterised by synthesized, electronic sounds, the group were not particularly satisfied with the recordings. On the contrary, after the often troublesome making of The Visitors, they were now starting to feel how the energy was running out of their work together. Björn and Benny were also closer than ever to realising their long-time dream of writing a musical. Recent discussions with lyricist Tim Rice had been very promising, and all three were growing keen on giving it a go.

Under Attack was the group’s last single, released in December 1982 in most countries.At this point in time, ABBA realised, the motivation to complete an album was simply not there. To give themselves some breathing space, they decided to release a double-album of their most famous single A-sides, adding two new recordings to it, both of which would also be released as singles. For this purpose, three new tracks were recorded in August 1982: ‘The Day Before You Came’ (the first single A-side), ‘Cassandra’ (B-side of ‘The Day Before You Came’) and ‘Under Attack’ (the second single A-side). Like the “album tracks” recorded earlier in the year these new songs were also highly electronic concoctions; perhaps ‘Cassandra’ less so than the others, with ‘The Day Before You Came’, where the instrumental backing was virtually a solo performance by Benny, at the other end of the spectrum. As the group put the final touches to ‘The Day Before You Came’ and stepped out of Stockholm’s Polar Music Studios, they left this centre of their musical creativity for the last time. Although they did not know it at the time, they were never to return as a foursome again.

A sense of humour
By October, the plans for the launch of the new singles and the double album had been drawn up and were ready to be set in motion. On October 18, the single ‘The Day Before You Came’ / ‘Cassandra’ was released – a promo clip for the A-side had been filmed in September – and on November 8, The Singles – The First Ten Years hit record shops. In conjunction with the album release, ABBA began a bout of promotional activities, kicking off with a three-day visit to the UK, where they met the press and appeared on the television programme The Late Late Breakfast show, hosted by Noel Edmonds. From there they went directly to West Germany and further television work, most notably the spectacular performance of ‘The Day Before You Came’, ‘Cassandra’ and ‘Under Attack’ on the Show Express programme.

On November 19, ABBA made their last-ever performance on Swedish television, on the television programme Nöjesmaskinen (“The Entertainment Machine”). Ironically, this “finale” was certainly one of the best interviews they had ever done on Swedish television. The sometimes drab and over-serious Seventies had given way to the more light-hearted and colourful early Eighties, shifting the focus of the questions asked. Where formerly most of the interviewers had been preoccupied with how much money ABBA were making and the “commercial” nature of their music, pushing the members into a defensive corner, this time the subject matters were largely their career and their feelings in general. As a result, the ABBA members appeared more relaxed than usual, also showing that they quite obviously had a sense of humour about themselves.

UK return via satellite
Frida and Agnetha performing I Have A Dream, available on the new Number Ones DVD.During the time-frame of ABBA’s final promotions, they were also visited in Stockholm by a Dutch television crew, who interviewed them about their entire career up to this point. The result was the documentary The Story Of ABBA, which ended up being broadcast in a number of countries. As the month of December arrived, the very last ABBA single, ‘Under Attack’ / ‘You Owe Me One’, was released (curiously, in ABBA’s native Sweden the single was not released until the following February). It was accompanied by a promo clip filmed on November 16.

The very last promotional effort for the year happened on December 11, 1982 – at the time, of course, no-one knew that this was also the group’s very last public performance. If it had been an official farewell, certainly the occasion would have been far more extravagant than a return appearance on the UK’s The Late Late Breakfast Show – and it definitely would have amounted to something more than a short talk and a performance via satellite from a television studio in Stockholm.

Their last collective work
Benny enjoying ABBA’s very last public performance.As it was, the group was interviewed by host Noel Edmonds, all in the ultra-light style that seemed to be part of the general tone of the programme. In truth, nothing much of real importance was said during this chat, which took the shape of a Q & A wherein Agnetha was asked about her worst holiday, Benny about his best Christmas, and so on. Rather, the remaining legacy of this last-ever television appearance is the performance of two songs: the current single, ‘Under Attack’, and ‘I Have A Dream’, which was one of the tracks on the double-album of singles and, given its spiritual connotations, a highly appropriate song to perform with Christmas approaching. A final photo session for their photographer friend Anders Hanser was also accomplished on this day, but then, as the cameras were shut off and the satellite link to London was deactivated, ABBA had made their very last collective work as a group.

For I Have A Dream, ABBA were joined onstage by a large group of children.On the horizon for Benny and Björn were two years exclusively devoted to the Chess musical, while Frida and Agnetha both devoted themselves to their reawakened solo careers. When the dust had settled, the years apart had not resulted in a collective longing for a return to the ABBA set-up. The break from the group would have to be extended indefinitely.

Both songs from that last appearance on The Late Late Breakfast Show are now released for the first time on DVD, on the Number Ones collection. On the DVD, which collects the promo clips corresponding to the track listing on the Number Ones CD, there are further rare bonus selections in the shape of ABBA’s 1975 performance on the Norwegian television show Hei Sveis!, in which they perform ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’, ‘SOS’ and ‘Waterloo’. For a DVD that contains ABBA’s last TV appearance it is somehow fitting that it should also include an additional performance of the song that kick-started the group’s international career. From the April 11, 1974 edition of the BBC’s Top Of The Pops comes ABBA’s performance of ‘Waterloo’, taped just a few days after they won the Eurovision Song Contest, and featuring the group dressed in full regalia, as seen in the contest.

NOTE: To find out more about the Number Ones CD and DVD, please visit the Music and News section here at ABBA – The Official Site.

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