The year is 1962. Agnetha Fältskog lies on the bed in her room in Jönköping. She is 12 years old. A yellow portable record player with built-in speakers plays “Mr Lonely” by Bobby Vinton. When it ends she changes the record to “Bye Bye Birdie” or “Save All The Kisses” by Ann-Margret. When she’s not lying on the bed listening to music, she sits in front of the mirror miming and humming along with Connie Francis or one of her other idols.
“For me my teens were very much about music, in me and around me. If I wasn’t writing my own, I listened to music or was singing with a dance orchestra. When I look back I see what a deep impression all of this left on me. The gratitude toward the artists, the songs and all that they’ve given me. The impressions I’ve got without really thinking about it, being aware of it. Now I understand when I listen to these artists, all the work that’s behind these seemingly simple songs. It was because of this that I learned to sing in English. That’s where I laid the foundation.” The continuation was a solo career in the late 60’s with a number of self-penned hits. When ABBA was formed in the beginning of the 70’s, Agnetha Fältskog was a well established artist. Among other things she had had big success as Mary of Magdalene in the Swedish stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar. On April 6, 1974 ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton with “Waterloo”. The rest is what we usually call history. After the dissolution of ABBA, Agnetha Fältskog released three solo albums, Wrap Your Arms Around Me in 1983, Eyes Of A Woman in 1985 and I Stand Alone in 1987. It’s by incident that looks thought out that My Colouring Book, Agnetha Fältskog’s first album in 17 years, will be released almost exactly 30 years after the big international breakthrough.
My Colouring Book is travel in time and space. It is animated nostalgia through which Agnetha Fältskog exhibits unrestrained revelry among her personal favorites. This is the soundtrack of a time gone by, an earlier life to which she returns with the help of the powerful forces of music.
Agnetha Fältskog has listened to thousands of songs from the 60’s. With the eagerness and ambition of a historical researcher she has been digging in the archives of popular music and searched for songs that opened the world to a teenage girl growing up in the Swedish Bible belt. “At first I searched in my own record collection, but I also went to a record store in Hässelby that specializes in music from the 60’s. There I nearly got a fever. It started to vibrate in me when I was browsing through records by Petula Clark, Rita Pavone, Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield and, of course, Connie Francis. Plus some guys like Paul Anka and Neil Sedaka among others. I bought so much there.” The My Colouring Book project started almost four years ago. Agnetha was listening to loads of songs, read books, studied old hit lists and says she had “fantastic fun” during the year the research took place. “I didn’t only want very famous songs. It would have been a little too easy to pick a bunch of chart toppers. I’ve chosen the songs I felt for the most and it became quite a few. I had about fifty or sixty songs that I could see myself doing. Then we tried a little more than twenty songs and now there are thirteen left.”
Initially the so-called fifth member of ABBA – sound engineer and producer Michael B. Tretow – worked on the project. Unfortunately, he was stricken by a serious illness meanwhile and it was difficult. The recordings stood still for a year or so, but Micke, who is strong and stubborn, is coming back strong. After Tretow, Dan Strömkvist came into the production and Agnetha says it has worked out incredibly well. Proof of that is that Agnetha, Anders Neglin and Dan Strömkvist all stand as producers of My Colouring Book.
“We wanted to work without stress, without pressure. Hopefully it can be heard on the record that it is a calm, secure and warm atmosphere surrounding the recordings. We have recorded it through my production company, so we have not worked with a record company until the end.” The recordings were made in the legendary Atlantis Studio in Stockholm where ABBA started their career. Benny Andersson’s piano, on which he hammered out the chords that today are part of the history of pop, is still sitting in the studio. A perfect environment for My Colouring Book.
“That we could do the album in the Atlantis studio was great fun of course. But I felt nervous starting over again. I had been built up some kind of fear of the microphone and it took three to four weeks before it subsided. I was very stressed when I got in front of the microphone. There was some struggle with my voice before we got going. It’s like a rusty pipe but then it suddenly cleared. And once it did it was fun and I felt that it would work out.” Agnetha is cautious in pointing out that the arrangements and production are done with respect and reverence for the originals. All the instruments on My Colouring Book are being played by real musicians. “Anders [Neglin] and Danne [Strömkvist] have done remarkable work, making all the arrangements and working with the sound. I had the idea for the production, the artistic vision in general, how to weave it all together and how I wanted it to sound, but I’m not a technical person. To be part of producing has been great fun. It’s the studio work that’s my strong side. There I have patience that I definitely don’t have in other things in life,” Agnetha says and laughs.
“I wanted to record this album partly because I have received many letters over the years where people write that they miss my voice. My own prime motivation has been the love for songs from the 50’s and 60’s, where there are very, very strong melodies and poignant lyrics. Many recordings from the time are fantastic. I feel very happy that I was so young when everything exploded in popular music. With this album I want to act as an intermediary of my experiences with these songs and artists. It’s a tribute to them and what they’ve given me.”
Agnetha Fältskog about the songs on My Colouring Book:
A Fool Am I
“There are two Cilla Black songs, this and the single. There are very special arrangements on her songs, a little like the Beatles since George Martin produced her. I got stuck on this one because it’s so explosive and dramatic.”
The End Of The World
“Recorded by Skeeter Davis, and I had sung it with the dance orchestra I was in during the 60’s. A song with which you experienced tragic love stories in the teens,” she says and laughs.
“I’ve been wanting to record the songs with complete respect for the originals, that is the version by the artist I first heard the song by. Fly Me To The Moon I heard by Doris Day and this very song is important to the whole album. Here is a sound that I like, lots of strings and so. I played it early for Anders and said that I want this character on what we do.”
I Can’t Reach Your Heart
“For me it’s hard to choose one Connie Francis song, her ballads are as good as they get. It turned out to be this one.”
If I Thought You’d Ever Change Your Mind
“We chose this one as a single because it’s representative of the complete collection. We decided on it early on even if there are many single choices on this album. It stood out a little the entire time and I think it’s a very beautiful song. It is ballads like this that I like and that stick with me, and maybe it’s the kind of songs that I can interpret the very best.”
Love Me With All Your Heart
“This is an example of how we worked with the songs. Petula Clark has a verse in Spanish in the song and I wanted to keep that. I don’t speak Spanish, even if I have sung some in Spanish with ABBA. Then we had Ana Martinez with us in the studio. Now I had a Spanish interpreter so that the part really should be correct. There are many ears out there listening and it’s important that I don’t sing wrong.”
My Colouring Book
“Dusty Springfield is a big favorite, I really like her. Perry Como has done this as well, but then with slightly different lyrics.”
Past, Present And Future
“This is a fun thing. One I had forgotten when I started my search for songs. It surfaced on a collection album with girl groups and as soon as I heard it I got a special feeling in my body. It’s very original and I remembered how much I liked it when I heard it by the Shangri-Las in the 60’s. It took a while before could do it the right way, so that it became credible. It’s one thing to sing but a totally different thing to talk through a song.”
“Sandie Shaw, the barefoot singer, may be best known for ‘Puppet On A String’. She has such a special way of singing, and she’s one of my many role models.”
Sealed With A Kiss
“It’s the kind of song that sits really deep inside me. It feels like I’ve been living with it all my life. Brian Hyland.”
Sometimes When I’m Dreaming
“At first I thought Art Garfunkel had composed this himself. But it’s written by an English composer, Mike Bett. Good lyrics, beautiful. It feels incredibly strong to me.”
What Now My Love
“This will be the last song on the album. It’s desperate and tragic. A song that exists in many different versions, I heard it first by Petula Clark.”
“Jackie De Shannon. It’s fun with an uptempo song. I’ve been wondering if the album is too tragic, if it’s too much heart and pain, but I have a disposition for that. Always had. Today I can give meaning to the lyrics for such songs in a different way.”