Words & selections by Balearic Mike.
Hey music lovers, back from my holiday… It’s been an exciting couple of weeks if you’re an Abba fan, and coincidentally I’ve just gotten back from Skiathos – where Mamma Mia! was filmed – so I’ve dug out this incredible 12”.
Abba – The Day Before You Came – Polydor 1982
I liked Abba, then I didn’t like them, then I liked them again. That’s the story of my relationship with Sweden’s finest pop combo. Growing up, my mum – and most of the known universe – was a fan, and I really liked Abba: The Album, the one with Eagle at the start – still a great tune, a bit Cosmic / Balearic sounding. Then when I was about 10 years old and into other things like Adam & The Ants, Madness, The Jam, The Human League, etc., Abba suddenly seemed incredibly naff, and I pretended to never have liked them. Then I grew up and decided “who am I kidding? These are great records”, so that’s where we are now.
There’s a lot to choose from but this single from the end of their career is my favourite track of their`s. It’s a beautiful, minimal, electronic masterpiece. The music sounds like the kind of incredible electronic dance music that Morgan Geist and Darshan Jesrani released under their Metro Area moniker in the late `90s / early `00s. Over this Agnetha sort of speaks rather than sings, an incredibly detailed, completely ordinary, and yet at the same time heartbreakingly sad account of her daily routine. When you listen to the lyrics, it shouldn’t really be so sad. This is a fairly normal, if somewhat boring commuter existence, and it’s about her life BEFORE someone enters into it, so it should be hopeful, no? And yet, the combination of her speaking / singing the lyrics, which means her Swedish accent is much more pronounced than when she sings on other songs, coupled with the sparse soundscape that propels the story along and the complete lack of any vocal harmonizing with Anni-Frid, make this such a sad song. It drips with loneliness and isolation.
In summary, Abba invented the Scandi noir genre years ago!
I was sad to hear that Robert Elms BBC Radio London show is being moved…as it’s where I first heard this …
Nina Simone – Baltimore – CTI Records 1979
In the mid-90s, while working at Vinyl Exchange, I started to accompany my boss, Jo, on his regular buying trips to that London. He would hire a van from a place behind Manchester Piccadilly Train Station, and spend 3 or 4 days down there, buying mostly promotional records and CDs that people had been sent, but also occasionally the odd collection. He’d been doing this since the start of the business I think, certainly since I had worked there, but as his list of contacts grew, the trips became longer, and then increased to two a month, and at some point, it was decided he needed an extra pair of hands, so I started to join him on the bigger trips once a month. A combination of my brute strength, charming way with people, and the fact that increasingly there were more and more dance records to buy, meant I was the ideal – and only willing – candidate.
It was backbreaking work. Jo would drive down at the weekend and I’d get a train down on Monday at some god-awful hour, in the early morning – the sort of time I’d feel more accustomed coming home at. We would spend incredibly long days, starting at about 7AM and finishing around midnight, driving all over London, humping mail sacks and crates of CDs and records up and down huge office blocks and into and out of the van, visiting people in their homes, office, studios, even nightclubs. I did earn shitloads of overtime.
Jo had become a somewhat legendary figure amongst the journalists, producers, and general music biz people of London by this point – earning himself the nom de plume, ‘Manchester Jo’ – although he’s actually from Chelsea. He told me once about a time he made one of his regular visits to see Danny Kelly – while Kelly was editor of Q magazine. Danny was hosting a meeting of music industry bigwigs in his office, and when he opened the door to Jo, he introduced him by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most important man in the British music industry”, to the total bewilderment of most of the room. Anyway, we spent a lot of the day together, hurtling around London, eating bacon sandwiches in the van – ‘cos we’re bloody blokes, yeah! – and listening to the very wonderful Robert Elms show every day.
I was quite a fan of Robert Elms already due to his connection to the New Romantic scene – which I was obsessed with – and I enjoyed his writing in The Face and the NME. But the show was great. The music he played was always varied and interesting, with Jo commenting that he thought they must have almost identical record collections. Plus, Robert was really passionate about London, which was Jo’s hometown, and a city I’ve always had a secret love for. My Dad moved there in the early `80s and I fell in love with it while visiting him, always assuming that one day I would live there too. Strangely that never happened. Then one day Mr. Elms played this. I was mesmerised by it. Of course, Jo knew it, and said that he’d put a copy of the LP out in the shop a week or two ago. I called the shop to get someone to put it aside for me. It was about £4 or £5.
It’s a totally wonderful cover version of a Randy Newman song – that name will never not be funny! – done in a gentle reggae style – dare I say ‘cod’ – and it’s just beautiful. If you don’t own a copy remedy that immediately. Jazz legend covers pop song in a cod-reggae style – how Balearic do you want it! I didn’t even know there was 12” until I accidentally stumbled across it one night in the early `00s while trawling eBay. It was an essential upgrade! So, thanks Robert for entertaining us for all those years, and for bringing this into my life. You’re wrong about The Beatles though you plonker!