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Ring Ring
March 16, 2012 11:36 AM   Subscribe

The story of the ABBA sound. 8 minute Swedish documentary. Click the "CC" button for subtitles.
posted by rollick (59 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
*reliving childhood where everyone made fun of me for liking ABBA*
posted by Melismata at 11:46 AM on March 16, 2012


SPOILER ALERT: it was overdubs.
posted by dubold at 11:48 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


and chorus. Glorious chorus.
posted by dubold at 11:49 AM on March 16, 2012


SPOILER ALERT: it was overdubs.
Well... sort of. If you or I record something with that many overdubbed tracks, we will end up with a dense, sour, unlistenable soundwad.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:57 AM on March 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


I can tell you the story of ABBA sound in my house and I'll do it less than 8 minutes.

Sister singing along: "Oh, I love this song.... *humming* 'See that girl / Watch that scene / Dig in the dancing queen'
Dad: "Turn that shit off!"
posted by Fizz at 11:58 AM on March 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


That was great, I wish there was a much, much longer version.
posted by bongo_x at 12:07 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


SPOILER ALERT: it was overdubs... with gobs of cocaine and marital infidelity thrown in for effect!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:11 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


and chorus. Glorious chorus.

More like flanging, glorious flanging, first used by Eddie Kramer on this Hendrix track.
posted by swift at 12:14 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


first used by Eddie Kramer on this Hendrix track.

You know, I grew up listening to Hendrix on a crappy record player. I learned to worship him on a crappy tape deck. Now that I'm old and listening to him on digital quality machines and can actually hear the intimate details of the incredible effects and instrumentation that he, his bands, and his engineers were putting together (using analog tapes and vacuum tubes), and I've learned that he was even more badass than I'd ever fucking imagined.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:27 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not so much just "overdubs" as double-tracking absolutely everything.
I'm always a sucker for those Classic Albums-type shows where they sit down with the people who made them and isolate tracks and describe how they achieved things. I'd say ABBA was right up there with great production on catchy songs, and while this was interesting, I don't think double-tracking and wowing the tape or whatever was anything new or any kind of secret technique.
And I take exception to that one guy's claim that they "spawned" Elvis Costello. I think they spawned the piano riff in "Oliver's Army," but that's about it with Elvis, as far as I can tell.
Cool video though! I'd like to see the whole show.
posted by chococat at 12:34 PM on March 16, 2012


God! Me about 7 with my white, satin and fringe on the arm jacket, a sundress, white roller skates with a pink pom pom on it, roller skating in my basement. Disco light on==check. ABBA record blarring==check. Feather hair==check.

I was BAD ASS!!

Thanks ABBA for giving this girl some joy on a rainy, Sunday afternoon while my parents fought like the dickens upstairs.
posted by stormpooper at 12:38 PM on March 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


SPOILER ALERT: it was overdubs.

Yep. They pretty much just copped it from the Carpenters, who copped it from Les Paul and Mary Ford.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:39 PM on March 16, 2012


The wall of sound and the constant, unrelenting sameness of the harmonies were, for me, what made every ABBA song sound like every other ABBA song.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:44 PM on March 16, 2012


Say what you want about an over-produced studio sound, they could also put on a hell of a live show and a whole lot of those songs in the stage musical and movie, Mamma Mia, are still among some of the happiest musical production numbers you'll probably ever see.
posted by Mike D at 12:49 PM on March 16, 2012


And I take exception to that one guy's claim that they "spawned" Elvis Costello. I think they spawned the piano riff in "Oliver's Army," but that's about it with Elvis, as far as I can tell.

You mean the one they copped from the Ronnettes (as featured in this video), that was basically just a derivation of old boogie woogie piano rhythms pulled into early rock and roll by Jerry Lee Lewis and his ilk?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:55 PM on March 16, 2012


Anyone on the lookout for some contemporary Abba-derived pop would do well to seek out Music Go Music.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:57 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


The classic Crap/Not Crap thread on ABBA from Electrical Audio.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:03 PM on March 16, 2012


SPOILER ALERT: it was overdubs... with gobs of cocaine and marital infidelity thrown in for effect!

Woah. For a second there I thought I had stumbled into a Fleetwood Mac discussion.
posted by The World Famous at 1:06 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Gimme, gimme, gimme" is my fav. Something about that synth hook, it says Europe to me - there was an excellent progressive future on the way, far too cool for us rubes in Canada to fully understand, but we could gaze on longingly...
posted by Meatbomb at 1:07 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Woah. For a second there I thought I had stumbled into a Fleetwood Mac discussion.

Think peppier and blonde.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:12 PM on March 16, 2012


Also, think about S.O.S. What brilliance! If Pop is about being as accessible as possible to the largest number of people, that song takes the gold medal.

First, the chorus is S.O.S. the international distress signal. You don't have to understand a lick of English to get the gist of the song.

Second, the lead up to the chorus is incredible. A raising piano line, giving everyone an eternity to prepare for the chorus. Everyone knows what's going on. You could be from anywhere and feel comfortable knowing the song. And you'll remember it on the next hear, and the 10,000 as well.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:15 PM on March 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Gimme, gimme, gimme"

Link for gringos (note soundboard in action!)
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:23 PM on March 16, 2012


Think peppier and blonde.

Dude.
posted by The World Famous at 1:35 PM on March 16, 2012


Oh, we're talking about our favorite ABBA songs now? For some reason, "Dancing Queen" has always been one of my least favorites. Totally dig "SOS" and "Gimme".
posted by Melismata at 1:50 PM on March 16, 2012


Going through ABBA's career is basically watching Europop (Ring Ring, Waterloo) evolve into Eurodisco (Voulez Vous, Gimme Gimme Gimme) and finally into proto-Eurodance (Lay All Your Love on Me).

I swear you could tell someone's taste in current music by their favourite ABBA song.
posted by Talez at 2:28 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, we're talking about our favorite ABBA songs now?

When I Kissed the Teacher, Super Trouper, Thank You for the Music, and Winner Takes it All (the last only because it was my first.)

Anyone who says all their songs sound the same are nuts.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:32 PM on March 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't listen music at all, but ABBA is my second choice after greatest the greatest band ever.
posted by zeikka at 2:45 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


+1 Thank You for the Music. Pretty little melody where the high note keeps inching higher and higher. In this particular cabaret-like performance you can really hear Frida's subtle harmonizing, often lost in the density of the studio recordings.
posted by marco_nj at 3:11 PM on March 16, 2012


You don't have to like the music to appreciate that they were masters of the craft. And they were.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:12 PM on March 16, 2012


The civilization shattering curse of earworm perfection was avoided only because Abba never covered It's a Small World After All.

I keed, I keed, I love Abba and right now I have Dancing Queen on the mix mp3 disc in my car's CD player.
posted by localroger at 4:20 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


What does really liking Elaine say about me?
posted by The Whelk at 4:51 PM on March 16, 2012


Fucking GEMA!
posted by chillmost at 5:09 PM on March 16, 2012


*reliving childhood where everyone made fun of me for liking ABBA*

When they were releasing their hits they were immensely popular, but not really critically regarded. They have been viewed by our culture as serious artists in only the last few years..

SPOILER ALERT: it was overdubs.
Yep. They pretty much just copped it from the Carpenters, who copped it from Les Paul and Mary Ford.


(but The Carpenters had that cool DBX filter trick for vocal harmonies).

My fave ABBA track is 'The Name of The Game'.
posted by ovvl at 5:35 PM on March 16, 2012


Love love love me some ABBA. Have all their albums, bought many of them as they each came out. Yes, I was an early adopter.

A big part of their sound isn't just double-tracking, but it's that they sped up one of the doubled tracks ever so slightly, not enough to be really noticeable or out of tune, but just enough to provide a slight dissonance into the vocals that really made them POP out of the speakers.

That plus the really full band they had backing them on most of their tracks. I seem to remember on some DVD about ABBA that I have that the full instrumentation for Dancing Queen is something like 18 instruments and that the full score runs to over 70 pages for the 4 minute pop song. (I'm watching that DVD right now but haven't found that particular citation yet. Yes, I own DVDs about ABBA. That's how much I love them.)

Couple all that with the fact that the songs themselves are really complex, not sticking to the typical 3-4 chords found in many pop songs but doing a lot of shifting and modulations which aren't typically used.

Those hungry for more music in the ABBA vein, there's always Benny Anderssons Orkester, a big band folk/jazz/pop group which Benny (the bearded keyboard player and music writer) has as his current main project. Plenty can be found by searching. He's got quite the ear for choosing female vocalists, and Helen Sjöholm who currently sings for the group has a very ABBA voice.

I'd name a favorite song, but it's so hard to choose. I've had every lyric and every song from their vinyl releases "back in the day" memorized for so long that they're nearly part of my DNA. However, I was recently listening to The Album, and have to say that Hole In Your Soul is a particular favorite from that album for me. (And yes, The Name Of The Game... damn that's an amazing song.)
posted by hippybear at 6:24 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hard to pick just one favorite, but I've always been fond of "Another Town, Another Train"
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 6:33 PM on March 16, 2012


The Name of the Game was definitely my favorite when I had "The Album" way back when. I don't what what the heck it says about me musically, but it was just so natural having also loved "Knowing Me, Knowing You" and late "The Winner Takes It All."
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:49 PM on March 16, 2012


And oh yes, "The Day Before You Came."
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:49 PM on March 16, 2012


Think peppier and blonde.

Dude.


OK, how about: more disco ball, less crystal ball.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:19 PM on March 16, 2012


Outstanding.
posted by The World Famous at 7:31 PM on March 16, 2012


A big part of their sound isn't just double-tracking, but it's that they sped up one of the doubled tracks ever so slightly, not enough to be really noticeable or out of tune, but just enough to provide a slight dissonance into the vocals that really made them POP out of the speakers.

He talks about this in the clip. That's what I meant by "wowing." It's not speeding up the tape, it's putting actual tape, like celophane tape, on the reel so the tape sort of catches in the machine and the audio wows and flutters irregularly on playback. Gives it a kind of wobbly sound. The Beatles did this all the time.

And I take exception to that one guy's claim that they "spawned" Elvis Costello. I think they spawned the piano riff in "Oliver's Army," but that's about it with Elvis, as far as I can tell.
You mean the one they copped from the Ronnettes (as featured in this video), that was basically just a derivation of old boogie woogie piano rhythms pulled into early rock and roll by Jerry Lee Lewis and his ilk ?


No, I mean the piano riff from Oliver’s Army.
As Mr. Costello says himself, in the liner notes of Girls, Girls, Girls:
"Written on the plane back from Belfast, but looking at the song’s itinerary that might just have been a coincidence. However history lessons die hard, hence the title. This was going to be exiled to a b-side until illuminated by Mr. Nieve’s “Dancing Queen” piano part. Thanks Steve."
posted by chococat at 7:31 PM on March 16, 2012


I think of ABBA as a "litmus test" band. When someone who claims to be a musician/music lover says they hate ABBA, then I know they don't like music; they're just a hipster who likes the posing and posturing of rooting for the "right" musicians/bands.

Because if you like music, you like ABBA. It's good stuff, and it pings all the harmonic pleasures our music-loving brains are wired to enjoy.
posted by hincandenza at 8:15 PM on March 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


He talks about this in the clip. That's what I meant by "wowing." It's not speeding up the tape, it's putting actual tape, like celophane tape, on the reel so the tape sort of catches in the machine and the audio wows and flutters irregularly on playback. Gives it a kind of wobbly sound. The Beatles did this all the time.

The origin of "flanging", touching the flange on the reel of tape to slightly alter the speed. If you do it to one of two tape machines with the same thing recorded on them you get the classic flange sound. This is a variation of that.
posted by bongo_x at 8:54 PM on March 16, 2012


My classical organist husband loves him some ABBA " listen to the syncopation!" he says.
posted by The Whelk at 10:06 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


The origin of "flanging", touching the flange on the reel of tape to slightly alter the speed.

...is one version of the origin. The other is that John Lennon got sick of double-tracking his vocals and after Ken Townsend basically invented ADT, Lennon coined the term when George Martin fed him some bogus techno-speak to explain how it worked.

From the wikipedia:
According to historian Mark Lewisohn, it was Lennon who actually gave the process the name "flanging". Lennon asked Beatles producer George Martin to explain how ADT worked, and Martin answered with the nonsense explanation "now listen, it's very simple: we take the original image and we split it through a double-bifurcated sploshing flange with double negative feedback". From that point on, whenever Lennon wanted a Beatles song double-tracked, he would ask for "Ken's flanger". According to Lewisohn, "The Beatles' influence was so vast that the term "flanging" is still in use today, more than 20 years on." The first Beatles track to feature flanging was "Tomorrow Never Knows" from Revolver, which was recorded on April 6, 1966. When Revolver was completed and released on August 5, 1966, almost every song on the album had been subjected to flanging.

Besides, as you stated, it wasn't really flanging in this case, since it wasn't merely the same track, duplicated. The whole (and coolest) point in ABBA's case was that they RE-RECORDED the already perfect piano track, then fucked around with the tape speed on the re-recorded track.

And, small pet-peeve: the mis-use of the term "overdubbing." I hate that people sometimes mention it like it's a secret, sneaky studio trick; some kind of Autotune or smoke and mirrors to make someone who sounds shitty sound great. Overdubbing is just recording different parts at different times. It's non-simultaneous multi-track recording. Unless it's Neil Young, pretty much every record you've heard since the 1960's has overdubs on it. It just means that instead of recording everything and every musician live off the floor and then boom it's a record, you record this part first then this part, then this part. Pretty much the standard recording process for modern music.
And overdubbing does not mean double-tracking. Double-tracking is when you record a take of a vocal or instrument, then record a new take of the same thing on a different track; the end result being a thicker, fuller sound when they play back together.
posted by chococat at 10:10 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Flanging, like most other things, was invented by Les Paul in the '40s.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:44 PM on March 16, 2012


-chococat-

I’ve never heard the John Lennon Wikipedia story, and frankly I don’t understand it. How would that sound like flanging, even if the word came from that, which seems unlikely. That really sounds like a crazy story someone made up.

I’m going to have to agree with that whole last paragraph. I just don’t understand how in 2012, when everyone is way too concerned and knowledgable about the behind the scenes of everything, and people can make records at home, that so many people still have such a weird view of how records are made.
posted by bongo_x at 10:50 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid, I thought Super Trouper was Super Trooper, a caped hero who was at once awesomely mighty and inexplicably sad about something - a bit like Kal-El, I guess. The chorus still makes me choke up for no reason.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:24 AM on March 17, 2012


nd, small pet-peeve: the mis-use of the term "overdubbing." I hate that people sometimes mention it like it's a secret, sneaky studio trick; some kind of Autotune or smoke and mirrors to make someone who sounds shitty sound great.

alright, I guess I'd better explain myself. I know how overdubs work, and I understood that the re-recording a duplicate track and then altering the speed isn't as simple as "chorus". I just think it's funny that these documentaries present the methods of really accomplished musicians, engineers, and producers in a way that's like "The secret technique is ______!" when really there's a whole lot more going on. It reminds me of the clapton stompbox. Now you too can sound just like Slowhand, in the comfort of your own home!

I think hincandenza was on the right track when they said Because if you like music, you like ABBA. It's good stuff, and it pings all the harmonic pleasures our music-loving brains are wired to enjoy. although I would modify it to "if you like late-20th century western pop music" which is more accurate but not nearly as pithy, and probably won't fit on a bumper sticker.

As the clip from the link shows, there was a lot of technique and ability behind what gets dismissed as simple pop stuff. Well-crafted pop songs are incredibly difficult, and a lot of effort goes into making them seem effortless.
posted by dubold at 4:58 AM on March 17, 2012


Isn't that the definition of a chorus effect? Its not one signal slowed, its that BOTH signals are mixed together, the original speed source one and the every so slightly modulated one, giving that shimmering effect (like 12 string guitars have).

I think there's a couple of things going on with ABBA. On the production side, the Swede interpretation of the wall of sound. Which is the analogy of when British white kids tried to play American RnB and blues, what came back to us was not quite right but compelling in the way it got twisted around a bit. Also Benny got two female voices covering a really wide range low to high, plus the male voices, so there is just so much there.

Plus there's a thing when there's a musical trend and someone produces something really counter trend. Like in the early 90s when everything was sludgy and wet, Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend album comes out and its totally bone dry of reverb and has loads of stereo separation, it sounds so awesome. Or the late 70s, when the Pretenders and Television albums came out similarly different sounding. The Abba stuff came out influenced by things not on the radio for 12 years or more.

Then the songwriting hooks and major/minor modulations.

I too love these shows. When you hear Queen or Bowie or Abba or the Beatles as a kid, it feels like literal magic, and when you watch these films you realize how fly by the seat of the pants making sonic innovation was. In a film, maybe the Queen one, they were talking about bouncing the vocal tracks to the point of the tape disintegrating, and not being able to go back after one more take or it would have broken.

Now we all carry 24 track recording studios on our laptops with no generation loss. Somehow I don't think it leads to more creativity than the golden age of recording studio as instrument age, 1964 to 1981 or so.

Just for kicks, stripped down...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0hgvJTICec
posted by C.A.S. at 5:32 AM on March 17, 2012


Is this where i go today ABBA were/are the fucking best?
posted by chunking express at 8:47 AM on March 17, 2012


To say not today. Stupid fucking iPad 3.

Also, "I do, I do, I do," is really enjoyable.
posted by chunking express at 8:51 AM on March 17, 2012


One thing I haven't really seen mentioned about ABBA often is how grim many of their songs were, filled with people disappointed in love, or left behind, or stuck in dull jobs waiting for somebody to come along and free them from their ordinary lives.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:53 AM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, yeah. ABBA's lyrics are often really at odds with the cheeriness of the music. I was struck by this (yet again) watching the BAO concert I did an FPP about a few weeks ago which had "Why Did It Have To Be Me" as one of the songs. It's a lyric about someone who was looking for a simple hookup or maybe a brief fling who is ending a relationship with someone who is getting far too attached.
I only wanted a little love affair
Now I can see you are beginning to care
So baby, believe me,
It's better to forget me
Followed by a cheery saxophone section, etc.

They really had a lot of dark lyrics that stood directly against the bubbly pop of the song itself. That's probably part of the magic. Even Dancing Queen contains the couplet "You're a teaser, you turn them on / Leave them burning and then you're gone".
posted by hippybear at 9:13 AM on March 17, 2012


A big part of their sound isn't just double-tracking, but it's that they sped up one of the doubled tracks ever so slightly, not enough to be really noticeable or out of tune, but just enough to provide a slight dissonance into the vocals that really made them POP out of the speakers.

As mentioned above, they created a flange effect by slowing down one of the double-tracked vocals by wrapping it in Scotch tape, which put a slight drag on that double-track
posted by Ironmouth at 9:34 AM on March 17, 2012


MartinWisse: One thing I haven't really seen mentioned about ABBA often is how grim many of their songs were, filled with people disappointed in love, or left behind, or stuck in dull jobs waiting for somebody to come along and free them from their ordinary lives.

Yeah, that was my hook into ABBA. I had a kind of passive respect for them, but then this one time, while going through a three-month bad day, I heard The Winner Takes It All on the radio and the lyrics just plugged straight into my downward state of mind. The Winner Takes It All has been the ABBA song closest to my heart ever since.

Before that my favorite ABBA song was Voulez-Vouz, which Icelandic goth rock legends HAM covered to great effect.
posted by Kattullus at 9:41 AM on March 17, 2012


Every time I get "Waterloo" stuck in my head (which happens often, as there is a city not too far from here by that name), the buildup to the chorus invariably leads straight into the chorus from "Build Me Up Buttercup."

I'm okay with that.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:00 AM on March 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Cheers for that Sys Rq, now I got that mashup stuck in my head. Still better than "save all your kisses for me, save all your kisses for me" though.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:27 AM on March 17, 2012


Hendrix... even more badass than I'd ever fucking imagined

That is correct.
posted by flabdablet at 11:02 AM on March 17, 2012


I have Voulez Vous in my head!!!
Ah ha ah ha....
posted by stormpooper at 11:27 AM on March 19, 2012


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