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Album Review: ABBA – Ring Ring (Deluxe Edition)

3 min read

In 1973, ABBA was just the name of a Swedish canned fish company and Ring Ring was released as the first album of a group project called ‘Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Frida’: the names of four minor celebrities in Sweden.

ABBARingRingBjörn and Benny had been in separate bands, and decided to try writing, producing and performing songs (in English!) together under the very original name, ‘Björn & Benny’. Their respective partners, Agnetha and Frida (or Anni-Frid), had respectable solo careers and occasionally sang backup for ‘Björn & Benny’ on songs like 1970’s Hej gamle man! and 1972’s Merry-Go-Round and Santa Rosa (all of which are bonus tracks on this deluxe edition of Ring Ring).

1972’s People Need Love was the breakthrough for this group project. The strategy of featuring the girls on lead vocals worked, as the single became a minor Swedish hit and inspired the four individuals to continue working together. Although they submitted some since-long-forgotten track called Ring Ring for the 1973 Eurovision Song Contest but only came third in the Swedish heats, they managed to record a whole album too.

This was before they rebranded themselves as ABBA, won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo, dominated the pop world and became pop music legends.

Ring Ring therefore has held a very strange place in ABBA’s history. It features two of the most derided tracks ever in the entire ABBA catalogue: the turgid I Saw It In The Mirror and the saccharine I Am Just a Girl. They even have cover versions (a slightly superior version of the former by Billy G-son is a bad attempt at Joe Cocker, and Jarl Kulle’s Swedish version of the latter adds nothing to the original), and these are bonus tracks on this deluxe edition.

The album was also recorded before ABBA found its famous sound that is reminiscent of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound: thick, glorious vocal harmonies and complex instrumental arrangements. Thus, the arrangements of the tracks on Ring Ring are quite bare and innocent compared to later ABBA recordings.

However, the basic production doesn’t disguise Benny and Björn’s songwriting abilities. There are some quality, three-minute pop tunes in Another Town, Another Train, Nina Pretty Ballerina (whose chorus eerily sounds like Super Trouper seven years later), Love Isn’t Easy (But It Sure Is Hard Enough) and He Is Your Brother (a live favourite on ABBA’s tours). Agnetha even played piano and wrote the music for the ballad Disillusion, a hidden gem in the ABBA catalogue as it foreshadowed the more downbeat ABBA songs on which Agnetha would sing lead vocals such as The Winner Takes It All.

The title track has of course been far from forgotten. Its ‘full’ production is an anomaly on the album, with its echoing drums, tambourines, multiple guitar parts and even effects on the girls’ vocals (which sound almost chipmunk-like). It also marked ABBA’s first foray into foreign-language recordings in Swedish (as it was originally written and recorded), German (the German version of Another Town, Another Train is yet another bonus track) and Spanish (fact: ABBA recorded a further 14 songs in Spanish by 1981).

The additional bonus tracks on this deluxe edition of Ring Ring are quite odd overall. En hälsning till våra parkarrangörer is a radio promo of a concert tour entirely in Swedish. Billy G-son’s cabaret-inflected There’s A Little Man has Agnetha on backing vocals but sounds hilariously crude and lo-fi by later ABBA standards. Frida’s solo single Man vill ju leva lite dessemellan and Lill-Babs’ Välkommen till världen however sound more polished as they feature some of the distinctive harmonies that ABBA would later become known for. The latter track, with its heavy piano and acoustic guitar, even has very early hints of Chiquitita. The 1974 US and UK remixes of Ring Ring (where the girls don’t sound like chipmunks) would have been better bonus tracks, but maybe they’re being saved for the deluxe edition of Waterloo.

The deluxe edition of Ring Ring canvasses the very early story of ABBA. It demonstrates that the four individuals held great potential as a group even before winning Eurovision. 40 years on, it is a testament to a group that was trying to find its feet in the unpredictable pop music world. History has shown that Ring Ring simply sowed the seeds for one of the greatest pop acts. Ever.

[CBC country=”us” show=”y”][/CBC]