Something’s Going On – Frida

The lost Phil Collins album? No, Frida’s English language debut.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve done a “normal” post, so here we go, back to basics.

Say what you want about ABBA –  their worthiness of inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, their lack of street cred and all of that, but to be fair, they were the real deal. Listen to their music – for 1970s Europop fare, it’s pretty sophisticated stuff, which made their contemporaries like The Carpenters sound like a low-end lounge act.

But what most people around here don’t realize, that they were FAR huger internationally than they were in America. In the States, they had about about as many charting hits as a mid-level rock band with a similar-length career, say, Survivor (20 Billboard singles each), but everywhere but here, their albums were practically in Michael Jackson Thriller territory.

ABBA consisted of two males and two females (two couples at one point, but neither relationship outlasted the life of the group), and had a winning formula down pat; the guys would write the songs, the women would sing them. Among male watchers of the band, there was a Ginger vs. Mary Ann thing between the two vocalists; blonde Agnetha Fältskog and redheaded Anni-Frid Lyngstad (a.k.a. Frida).

Thank you for the music. NOT for the outfits!

The year; 1982. As the powerhouse Swedish pop group is winding down its winning streak career, members are busy checking their parachutes. After a couple of new tracks are cut for a career retrospective, no further work is produced by the group. The two guys have no plans to quit working together; their next move was to create the music for the successful musical “Chess.”

The women of ABBA weren’t so sure of their futures; they were on their own, professionally (not to mention domestically), for the first time since the group was founded. And although they were both seasoned professionals, they hadn’t worked without the guidance of the ABBA machine for many, many years.

First to strike was Frida. She glommed on one of the hot “new” stars of the decade, Phil Collins (of Genesis and recent solo artist fame) to produce her debut English language solo album. (Her two previous solo releases were both in Swedish.) Phil, originally the drummer of Genesis, had graduated to singer upon the (amicable) departure of original Genesis vocalist Peter Gabriel in 1975. Six years later, after Collins’ Face Value becomes an unexpected hit (sales eclipsed Genesis), he was a star in his own right. Phil’s downer album certainly caught Frida’s ear; she was going through her own domestic hell and wanted a kindred soul to work on her album with her. Find out his side of the story in his autobiography, Not Dead Yet.

So, for eight weeks in early 1982, Phil (and his solo band) worked with Frida at ABBA’s Polar Studios in Stockholm. (Besides ABBA, other classic rock albums recorded at Polar include Led Zeppelin’s In Through The Out Door and Genesis’ Duke.) Phil produced and played drums, not to mention dueting on the album’s closer, “Here We’ll Stay.” The sound: Bigger and definitely more rocking than any of ABBA’s output. Partially due to Phil’s pedigree and partially due to the huge drum sound he was able to squeeze out of the studio, which insiders say was state-of-the-art.

A bearded Phil and Frida, hard at work.

The songs that ended up on the album came from here, there and everywhere; they included a Phil Collins cover (“You Know What I Mean” from Face Value), Bryan Ferry;  Steven Bishop (another degree of Phil Collins separation), a pre-Roxette Per Gessle (which featured a Dorothy Parker poem as a lyric) and a Rod Argent song later covered by Colin Blunstone.

But the centerpiece of the album (and the worldwide hit single) was the title track, “I Know There’s Something Going On.” That song, written by Russ Ballard (formerly of Argent and author of classics including Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove,” Santana’s “Winning,” Rainbow’s “Since You’ve Been Gone” and KISS’ “God Gave Rock and Roll To You.” Among others.

“Something” featured the Phil Collins “gated reverb” drum sound that was now becoming famous (due to Collins, Peter Gabriel and Genesis songs that were now becoming hits) and Daryl Stuermer’s treated guitar solo. The same guitar effect was also employed on contemporary radio hits by Genesis (“ABACAB”), Saga (“Wind Him Up”), and Rush (“Subdivisions”). The song, which was an international hit, peaked at #13 on the charts over here.

While the album was only a moderate success in America (#41), it was a huge success internationally. Reviews weren’t always kind: In early 1983, People Magazine mocked the title (something to the effect of “If Frida thinks ‘something’s going on’ with her solo career, she’s sadly mistaken!”). But lousy reviews aside, whatever success or goodwill the album gave to Frida’s career, none of it translated to her next project; the follow-up, 1984s Phil Collins-free, new-wavey Shine wasn’t even released in America. And so it goes.

All of that was transpiring while Phil Collins was advancing his solo career – “Against All Odds” was his first #1 hit in America – and a duet (“Easy Lover”) with Earth Wind & Fire vocalist Phillip Bailey peaked at #2 later that year. (Not to mention his juggernaut No Jacket Required album and associated singles that dominated the airwaves and MTV for all of 1985 and well into 1986.) And after Shine, Frida never recorded an English language album again. All she can do today is hope for the long-awaited ABBA reunion that will most definitely pad her retirement account.

Vital Stats: 

  • Artist: Frida
  • Album: Something’s Going On
  • Label: Atlantic
  • Producer: Phil Collins
  • Released: September 1982
  • Billboard Peak Chart Position: #41

The Most Epic Album Closers In Rock

Some people like the end the best.

I remember the days when twelve-inch vinyl records were commonly referred to as an album. That association became so ingrained with records that some people laughed when CDs were referred to as “albums.” These people missed the big picture: According to the dictionary (the one found on Macintosh computers anyway), an album is defined as “a collection of recordings issued as a single item on CD, record, or another medium.”

Good enough answer, I suppose. The 33 1/3 LP record was invented in 1948; for the first 18 years (or so), that’s all records were; a collection of recordings. As far as pop (and rock) music was concerned, the 45 was king. The album was an afterthought; the songs on an album that weren’t the hits were treated in the same regard as the flip sides to singles.

Then somewhere around 1966 (or so), rock music began to get serious; artists like The Beatles, The Kinks, The Beach Boys and The Who (among others) realized that an entire artistic statement wasn’t limited to the confines of a 7″ 45 RPM record, but to an entire 33 1/3 RPM album. These artists began making records that contained a couple of hits and a bunch of other songs that weren’t hits, but were a unified collection of songs, each of which was important to the entire statement.

“A Day In The Life”
The Beatles
From Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

Released on June 1, 1967, Sgt. Pepper (and especially its epic closer, “A Day In The Life”) sounded like nothing else that came before it. The song was John Lennon’s trippy take of stories in a newspaper, including a fatal car crash (the consensus is that the victim was Tara Browne, heir to the Guinness fortune), black holes and a film. (Lennon had recently finished filming Richard Lester’s “How I Won The War”.)

The band’s decision to stop touring and put all of their creative efforts to work in the studio paid immediate dividends. The first post-Candlestick Park gig single, “Strawberry Fields Forever” b/w “Penny Lane” provided the world with one of the greatest singles ever. The band hunkered down in Abbey Road studios and immersed themselves in sonic experimentation. George Martin’s use of echo, the manic drums of Ringo Starr and the wildly innovate use of a symphony orchestra building to climax before Paul McCartney’s “Woke Up” middle eight. Then the songs goes back into the original format, and ends with the obligatory drug reference (“I’d love to turn you on”). And the song concludes with the world’s most famous crashing piano chord – one that seems to go on forever.

Trivia: The final chord in “A Day In The Life” is E major.

“We’re Not Gonna Take It/See Me, Feel Me”
The Who
From Tommy (1969)

With the possible exception of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Tommy is most celebrated double LP concept album. Tommy, the two-LP album was the brain child of Pete Townsend, The Who’s manic lead guitarist. It told the story of the deaf, dumb and blind kid who played pinball. There were other famous characters; The Acid Queen, Uncle Ernie and Cousin Kevin, among others. Even with a libretto, the story is so dense and complex that the average listener is unable to follow it, much less explain it to others.

No matter. Despite the walls-of-Fort Knox-density of the storyline, the masses have eaten up the album, movie, movie soundtrack, Broadway play, Who tour…It’s no wonder that The Who have milked the hell out of the concept. The greatest moment of the album lies in the second half of the final song; the “See Me Feel Me” section.

While rock fans were crowing over the goosebumps from listening to Crosby, Still and Nash (whose debut was released the same year), they certainly overlooked the equally stunning vocal gymnastics of The Who. And listen to Keith Moon’s chaotic yet restrained drumming!

Trivia: The Who played “See Me Feel Me” at sunrise while appearing at Woodstock on August 17, 1969.

“Brain Damage/Eclipse”
Pink Floyd
From Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)

Britain’s Pink Floyd started life in the mid-1960s as a standard blues band; within a couple of years, led by acid casualty Syd Barrett, it became one of the front runners of the late 1960s psychedelic rock scene. While early Floyd material misses more times than it hits, the band took a great leap forward when it gave its catatonic and marginally-functional leader Barrett the Spanish archer; his replacement David Gilmour was a far better (if not entirely dependable) replacement. Although the money was on keyboardist Richard Wright to assume leadership of the unit, it was bassist Roger Waters that took over, eventually assuming the title of control freak.

Still, it took a few more years (and a few more painful albums) before Floyd made its great statement with Dark Side Of The Moon. The album, whose songs were all based on the passage and time and mental instability, not a common topic in popular music. (There would be plenty more of songs based on those things later on down the line.) Technically, “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse” are two separate songs; but in the grand rock radio tradition, they’re almost always played together.

The band only could manage to release three more albums (including the double LP The Wall) in the following decade; the ensuing split was one of the most bitter divorces in rock. Gilmour, Wright and drummer Nick Mason eventually regrouped as Pink Floyd, while Waters forged ahead with his solo career, releasing music as prickly as himself. None of the subsequent Floyd albums (Wish You Were Here, Animals, The Wall and The Final Cut) had anything close to an epic ending. (In fact, The Wall contains perhaps the lamest ending of any rock album ever. And that includes albums by Warrant and Poison.)

Trivia: The supposed connection between “The Wizard of Oz” and Dark Side of the Moon is false. Stay in school, kids, and keep away from drugs!

“Rocket Queen”
Guns n’ Roses
From Appetite For Destruction (1987)

Unlike Sgt. Pepper, Tommy and Dark Side, Appetite For Destruction isn’t a concept album; it’s a collection of songs with no intertwining storyline. And unlike The Beatles, The Who and Pink Floyd, who all took several albums to get to this point, Guns n’ Roses did it with their debut album. Unfortunately for the Guns, they blew their load early and none of their subsequent releases could come anywhere near the level of Appetite.

Appetite contained songs about arriving to seedy underbelly of Hollywood (“Welcome To The Jungle”), smack addiction (“Mr. Brownstone”), no holes barred sex (“Anything Goes”) and the breakfast of champions (“Nighttrain”). While the world remembers the album for its hit singles: “Jungle,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Paradise City,” the real centerpiece of the album is the closer, “Rocket Queen.”

Featuring the (reportedly real) moans and groans of Axl Rose and a “friend” having sex, “Rocket Queen” is as dark as sackcloth, yet after Saul Hudson’s (a.k.a. Slash) manic guitar solo, the song goes into perhaps the poppiest portion of the album (excluding “Child”) and ends with an unexpected (if not entirely uncharacteristic) statement of love and concern. A real change from the dark music and lyrics that came before it. It is extremely powerful stuff. If the book of Revelation had a soundtrack, “Rocket Queen” would be it.

Trivia: Appetite For Destruction took thirteen months after its release to top the Billboard charts. (The first of three stays at the top in 1988 – 1989.)