The Second Disc

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Back Tracks: ABBA

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Continuing the Rock and Rall Hall of Fame coverage leading up to Monday night’s induction, here is another catalogue retrospective for one of the artist inductees.

In his latest book, 2009’s Eating the Dinosaur, Chuck Klosterman includes an essay praising ABBA for their intriguing critical status (contending that, like AC/DC, ABBA’s work never operated near relevance or irrelevance, thereby guaranteeing that it will have a more lasting impact) as well as their somewhat unusual commercial reception. “It’s not unusual to see artists who are (a) initially appreciated before (b) falling out of favor, and then (c) returning to prominence after the fact,” he writes. “But it’s more pronounced here. The highs were crazier and the lows were grosser.”

He’s right on both counts. ABBA was, in their heyday, a band that everyone knew but nobody particularly liked, at least not to the extent they do now. The ABBA cottage industry that exists now, bolstered by things like the Mamma Mia! musical, didn’t seem possible during the group’s eight-year recording career. Now, though, ABBA comes with pure pandemonium, perhaps best bolstered by the undying rumor that the band has turned down as much as a billion dollars to reunite for a tour.

None of this particularly explains how the band earned a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – it’s doubtful that any explanation or justification will satisfy anyone – but they’re going to be inducted on Monday, thanks to a relatively catchy discography that attracted a large portion of the world’s population to the nearest dance floor. And those who find ABBA a worthy target for rediscovery after the induction have plenty of catalogue offerings to choose from, as seen after the jump.

ABBA Gold: Greatest Hits / More ABBA Gold / ABBA Oro: Grandes Exitos / ABBA Mas Oro (PolyGram, 1992/1993/1994)

ABBA Gold became the first major compilation for the group in the early days of the CD reissue craze – at that point, only the studio albums and a live disc released in 1986 were still in print – and its runaway sales figures were the first indication that – for reasons that nobody can or will ever explain – ABBA’s reputation has only improved with time. Gold would go seven times platinum in the U.S., sit atop ten international charts and become a mainstay of the Universal Music Group catalogue. More ABBA Gold was less successful but did include some rare B-sides an an unreleased track, “I Am the City.” And for hardcore collectors, there was no missing ABBA Oro and ABBA Mas Oro, which compiled the group’s many hits as re-recorded in Spanish.

Thank You for the Music (PolyGram, 1994)

So successful was the ABBA Gold series that PolyGram soon commissioned a box set devoted to the group. This four-disc, 65-track set included a vast chronology of ABBA hits and album favorites, plus some highly sought-after rarities (including early tracks under the band’s original, wildly cumbersome name – Bjorn, Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid – and a few excerpts of some ABBA demos).

The Polydor remasters (1997) and the Universal/Polar remasters (2001)

After riding the wave of ABBA compilations, PolyGram got ready to remaster the whole ABBA catalogue. All eight of their studio LPs – Ring Ring (1973), Waterloo (1974), ABBA (1975), Arrival (1976), The Album (1977), Voulez-Vous (1979), Super Trouper (1980) and The Visitors (1981) – were digitally remastered. Most of the discs (Ring Ring and Waterloo being the exception) also featured a handful of extra cuts, mostly previously released single mixes or B-sides. Then things got a bit confusing. After PolyGram was absorbed into Universal Music Group in 1999, plans were made before long to reissue the catalogue again. This time, all the discs had bonus tracks, but not always the same tracks as featured on previous reissues. Fortunately, the next catalogue title would totally rectify the problem, and provided what may be the most definitive ABBA set thus far.

ABBA: The Complete Studio Recordings (Universal/Polar, 2005)

This is the holy grail for the ABBA devotee in your life: nine CDs and two DVDs including every one of the band’s studio LPs, non-LP tracks, B-sides, alternate mixes (several making their CD debut) – think of it as Thank You Very Very Much for the Music – plus a DVD of music videos and one including a documentary along with portions of the Dick Cavett Meets ABBA special broadcast at the very end of the band’s career. Unless something else magically appears in the ABBA/Polar vaults (at least audio-wise), this is damn close to the definitive article on the band.

The Universal/Polar Deluxe Editions (2006-2010)

All the audio ABBA may be available for public consumption, but there’s still a lot of video content being pressed to DVD. Those discs have been coming out as part of those unmistakable Universal Deluxe Editions. Arrival and The Album got the CD/DVD treatment, packed with rare TV clips, recording session footage, TV commercials and the rare TV special ABBA-Dabba-Doooo! (there were a handful of extra tracks, similar to the respective line-ups on The Complete Studio Recordings), and Voulez-Vous will get a similar set in May.

ABBA: The Albums (Universal/Polar, 2008)

Seeing another ABBA box so soon after The Complete Studio Recordings seems like a bit of a cheat, and it kind of is. This nine-disc set includes only the studio LPs in their original LP lineups (no bonus tracks) and an extra disc of non-LP A and B-sides. It’s still quite a gift for an ABBA fan, but if you know a hardcore fan, they’re not going to want to settle for this.

Written by Mike Duquette

March 14, 2010 at 00:30

One Response

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  1. […] who just can’t get enough and has to have it all – and judging by the amount of quality reissues for a band that’s been defunct for decades, there are a lot of such fans out there – […]

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