The most amazing book about ABBA’s music is the one called “ABBA: Let The Music Speak” by Christopher Patrick. This book which is subtitled, “An Armchair Guide To The Musical Soundscape Of The Swedish Supergroup” is exactly that in that Christopher Patrick is a musician and he is able to musically guide us through every song in the ABBA catalog from the perspective of a musician. Everything you could possibly want to know about the construction of an ABBA song musically is there.
For a while in the late 1970’s ABBA had shot ahead of the Beatles in terms of record sales, but John Lennon’s death quickly reversed that temporary unseating of the Beatles as best selling act of all time. Despite this achievement, ABBA’s purely Swedish Pop is often not given the same credibility as the Beatles achievement. Their music is often considered lightweight and bubblegum compared to the works of the Beatles. It hardly seems like a fair comparison. In fact at the time the Beatles overtook Elvis Presley as the largest selling act of all time, John Lennon was asked who he thought might overtake the Beatles and he stated, ABBA.
Mountains of books have been written about the musical genius of John Lennon and Paul McCartney all lavishing praise. And yet until now, few books have been written about the works of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, who arguably have written comparable songs to those of Lennon and McCartney. Unfortunately praising ABBA had a heavy stigma for years in both the media and in the public at large that it really seemed that ABBA wasn’t going to get the respect it deserves.
Until Christopher Patrick’s book was written most of the well written books on ABBA were written by Carl Magnus Palm (who also writes the forward in Christopher Patrick’s book.) Although the books by Carl Magnus Palm are more of a historical nature, he constantly fielded requests from readers seeking a book providing a musical analysis of the works of ABBA. A challenge he didn’t quite feel up to fulfilling. Fortunately, Christopher Patrick has come to the rescue with the level of musical expertise to properly analyze ABBA’s work and help explain why ABBA songs are so catchy.
Christopher’s book is broken down into three main parts taking the analysis from three different levels. The first main level looks at each album as a collective unit to showcase the growth in skill and overall feel of each album. The next level encompasses the sound of ABBA on a song level taking into account how it was recorded to all the stages of production. And lastly the third section takes you into the melodies that make up each song that you’ll be grabbing for your copies of the ABBA albums to listen to each intricate detail Christopher details.
The Albums section is a great overview of each album highlighting the songs on the album, the type of progression in style each album has had over the previous one, and a little bit of the history surrounding the album. The chapters that fill this section of the book feel like a tourist guide book to a city, where each album represents a section of town and the songs are points of interest within each section.
The Sound section of the book provided the most interesting analysis of the music for me. It starts with a break down of the instrumentation used for various ABBA songs, a discussion of the studio techniques used my Michael B. Tretow, ABBA’s studio engineer, who is responsible for creating the studio techniques that give ABBA, their definitive “ABBA Sound.” A wonderful chapter covers Benny Andersson’s musical prowess with keyboards. An interesting chapter on the arranging of ABBA’s music follows focusing in with an interview of one of three men responsible for most of the arrangements of ABBA’s music, Anders Elias. A few chapters follow highlighting the prowess of Agnetha Fältskog, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad as vocalists, the various roles the ladies played in the music, how vocal layering was key to the ABBA sound, and the quest for balance between the vocal and instrumental harmonies. And lastly there are a couple of chapters to highlight the variations to be found in the foreign variations of songs released over the years and the hidden gems that can be found buried in the mixes of the songs that can be heard if you know how to look for them.
The Melodies section allows you to “go under the hood” so to speak and here the book becomes a music textbook breaking down the ABBA songs into their key components. For anyone with musical training, you’ll rapidly be able to digest this section of the book and discover the magic hidden inside ABBA’s catalog of songs. I’m not musically trained myself and I’ll admit a lot of it was over my head, but armed with my iPod loaded with ABBA’s entire catalog, I was able to listen to the melodies Christopher highlights and get a taste for what he describes. Obviously this section of the book takes considerably longer to read when you’re hunting down specific sections of songs on an iPod, but the interactivity is worth the effort.
Prior to reading this book, the best I could ever really offer about why I like ABBA music is because I love how it sounds, but thanks to Christopher Patrick’s book, I can do more than that. I feel like I’ve had a course in music instruction just with this one book alone. And I didn’t even need to pay for a college course! I wouldn’t be surprised if some colleges start to teach classes off this book. Of course, the trick here is that they need to see the book first to know what a wonderful resource it is.
Christopher Patrick’s book, “ABBA: Let The Music Speak” is a self published book, so presently the only way to get a copy of it is directly through Christopher. Christopher is located in Australia, but don’t worry, he ships worldwide. You can purchase the book at abbaletthemusicspeak.com or ChristopherPatrick.com.au and you can visit his blog site for the book at abbaletthemusicspeak.wordpress.com. Do yourself a favor if you love ABBA music and pick up a copy of this book. And if you’re getting a copy of this book and don’t already have all of ABBA’s music, you may want to pick up copies of ABBA’s albums from my Ryan’s Incredible Store (powered by Amazon.com) because you will be wanting to reach of them so you can fully appreciate the book.