While ABBA fans are riding high after the release of Voyage, the band's unexpected first studio album in 40 years, it's worth remembering how sad fans where when it seemed the Swedish group was gone forever - and how one of ABBA's singers coped with the group's impending breakup by recording one of the best albums of the early '80s.
The quartet never formally dissolved as a musical unit, but the writing was on the wall in 1981, when singers Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agneta Fältskog divorced Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaes, their partners on and off-stage. (They issued a dark studio album called The Visitors later that year.) Lyngstad coped with the break-up through music: she found a kindred spirit in Phil Collins, whose solo debut Face Value, also released in 1981, addressed the dissolution of his own marriage. (Lyngstad once estimated she listened to the album non-stop for about eight months.) As fate would have it, Collins had recorded an album with Genesis (1980's Duke) at ABBA's Polar Studios in Stockholm. The pair connected, and Frida's idea to record a female answer to Face Value appealed to the singer/drummer.
With Collins' solo backing band, including guitarist Daryl Stuermer and members of Earth, Wind & Fire's horn section, they began recording in Polar - armed with a brace of songs ABBA's manager, Stig Anderson, solicited from around the world. Collins' friend Stephen Bishop wrote the dramatic opening track "Tell Me It's Over." Writers like Rod Argent ("Baby Don't You Cry No More") and Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music ("The Way You Do") contributed songs, as did producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte (who gave a song recorded but not released by Donna Summer, "To Turn the Stone"). Fellow Swede Per Gessle, who'd later achieve international stardom as half of Roxette in the late '80s, set a Dorothy Parker poem to music on the hypnotic "Threnody." Frida also covered a deep cut from Face Value ("You Know What I Mean") and Collins dueted with her on the closer "Here We'll Stay."
The album's secret weapon was a biting break-up song by Russ Ballard, "I Know There's Something Going On." Featuring a chilly stop-start rhythm by Collins, Pat Benatar-like guitars and blankets of vocal harmonies addressing the end of a love affair, the song was the perfect introduction to Frida outside the ABBA canon. Something's Going On ended up outselling anything any member of ABBA had released individually, either before or since - and "I Know" reached the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100.
Frida and Collins intended to record together again, but his commitments to Genesis prevented a further team-up; Frida only recorded one more album in English, and it was never released in America. But nearly 40 years (and one improbable ABBA reunion) later, Something's Going On is a deeply rewarding and emotional moment in pop music.