01 May 2016

Archie Does ABBA (Part Two)


The Pop Culture Cantina presents
Yet Another Cartoons + Castanets Production!
Archie in Berlin
Vamping the 1920s and Getting Back to
by DC Hampton Jacobs


Pop Art Images of Archie Comics characters
drawn by Stuffed Animal
Cartoon Cameo Appearances by
Björn and Frida of ABBA
with Garth Brooks, Sheila E, Sutton Foster, Mick Jagger, John Legend, Yo Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Audra McDonald, Paul Sabu, Trisha Yearwood
and Nero the Dog
featuring the music of
Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus
Additional Lyrics by Stig Anderson


In 1967, Archie Comics put the characters Archie, Jughead and Reggie together in a band called The Archies.  They were originally a parody of The Monkees (who were conceived as a parody of The Beatles)!  One year later, a New York studio group borrowed their name for recording purposes.  By the time these real-life Archies stopped recording in 1972, they'd amassed several best-sellers.  First among them was "Sugar, Sugar", a massive international best-seller; the song has since become a Pop/Rock standard.  The Pop Culture Cantina credits its imaginary version of the band with the same string of Top Forty hits.


Our version of The Archies has evolved into a superstar group in the mold of Fleetwood Mac! Archie and Veronica are married, as are Jughead and Betty.  Reggie left the group in 2013 to form a Tejano act with his Mexican girlfriend; his replacement, Trevor Smith, is the brother of Val Smith, lead singer of Josie + The Pussy Cats.  Between the years 2002 and 2013, The Archies scored one Platinum album after another; but their latest LP, a tribute to Jazz singer Ella Mae Morse, was a resounding flop!  Veronica, their producer, and Big Nipsy Freund, their manager, are on the hunt for a musical project that will put them back on top.


In the late summer of 2014, that project comes knocking at their door.  Famed Swedish composer, producer and ABBA founding member Björn Ulvaeus has a project in mind: Dude wants to record Heavy Metal versions of his iconic Pop hits!  Björn has his eye on HM's newest icon, Kevin Keller; but Roni convinces him to let Kevin and The Archies do the project together.  Naturally, she produces both acts. Archie, Veronica, Betty, Jughead, Trevor and Kevin fly to Germany in August; at Berlin's famous Hansa Tonstudio, they begin cutting their ABBA tribute album. Mick Jagger, Wynton Marsalis, John Legend and numerous other celebrities drop in on the recording sessions, with some contributing their musical talents. With arranger Justin Strickland, the band sets about re-inventing the ABBA sound and revealing an edgier side of itself. Playbacks leave them elated: Who knew The Archies could rock harder than Metallica? But not so fast! Maybe Björn Ulvaeus doesn't like what he hears.


Betty and Jughead's duet vocals on "Knowing Me, Knowing You" are nothing less than superb. Definitely a highlight of the album! On "Voulez-Vous", Jughead and Trevor Smith duet over an exciting dance track dominated by Sheila E's percolating percussion.

By 2014, it was widely acknowledged that Betty and Juggy Jones were The Archies' most gifted singers.  They seldom sang together, though.  Arranger Justin Strickland wanted to change that: At Stricks' request, the couple performed his arrangement of "Knowing Me, Knowing You" as a duet. Much to everyone's surprise, the tracking sessions were difficult!  Husband and wife were visibly uncomfortable with each other.  Things got so tense, at one point Betty snapped: "Don't stand so f*cking close to me!"  No one but The Joneses understood what the problem was: That the lyrics of Benny and Bjorn's famous break-up ballad described exactly how their marriage was crumbling! Knowing me, knowing you/There is nothing we can do/We just have to face it/This time, we're through.*  The words were excruciatingly painful for them to sing.  Even so, Betty and Juggy's duet was magnificent; after the final take was captured, the control room crew burst into applause!


Almost from the minute their plane touched down at Tegel Airport, there was speculation about The Archies playing a concert in Berlin. Popular demand for a show started building, and it grew stronger every day. "Tough t*tty," sniffed Veronica. "What, do they think we're on tour?  We're not doing any charity shows right now, either." However, the requests for a live appearance became so numerous, Archie finally said: "We've got to do something for these German fans!" What he had in mind was a surprise free concert:  He and The Archies' manager, Big Nipsy, put their heads together and set one up.


The first week of October, word spread like wildfire across Berlin: The band would make an unannounced weekend appearance at a biergarten! The venue turned out to be Golgotha, located in Viktoria Park. When The Archies arrived, an enormous crowd was waiting for them.  "Holy scheisse!" Kevin Keller exclaimed. "Did we fall up at a German Woodstock or something?" A deafening roar of approval went up as the band took the stage. With Roni and Kelly singing most of the leads, they tried out their new Abba repertoire: "Waterloo," "Mamma Mia", "S-O-S" and "Dancing Queen". From the very first verse (My, my!/At Waterloo/Napoleon did surrender*), the crowd was on its feet, jumping and screaming!  The Archies also performed "Jet Airliner", "Let's Get It On Today", "Glitter And Gold" and "People Got To Be Free" (a showcase for Blue-Eyed Soul, AKA Jughead and Kevin Keller singing as a duo). Then they did a German translation of The Beatles' "Drive My Car" which drove the audience wild! Their grand finale was, of course, "Sugar, Sugar."  Berliners would be raving about this show for years to come; and there'd be a second surprise concert before the group left town.

There's no truth to the rumor that The Archies recorded ABBA's "King Kong Song", "Happy Hawaii" or "Bang-A-Boomerang"! Those titles were not even under consideration.  However, the band did attempt to record "So Long", one of ABBA's early European hits.

While recording in Berlin, The Archies also took part in a TV special: A German version of the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie. This was the video project mentioned earlier.  On Christmas Eve, the Star-Deutsch cable network televised the lavish production live. Sutton Foster, star of the original Broadway show, reprised her career-making role of Millie. Multiple Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald appeared as Muzzy, her future mother-in-law. Veronica, Betty and Kevin had small speaking parts, and they appreciated Audra's help with German pronunciation; a native of Berlin, she was fluent in the language.  Also in the cast was a certain Princess Reuss von Plauen: Frida from ABBA! Fabulous Frida had a cameo role as a glamorous wedding guest. The Archies were thrilled to meet her and honored to learn that she was a fan. "We all loved 'Sugar, Sugar'," she revealed. "It was so close to our music style, Agnetha and I actually mistook it for one of Benny and Björn's songs!" Frida gave her blessing to their ABBA tribute, but had a warning to share: "Working with Björn can be very demanding!"  Archie laughed:  "Ain't it the truth?  We already know what you mean."


In "Thoroughly Modern Millie", The Archies portrayed a Dixieland band. One of their performances in the show was the "Millie" theme song, written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen for the 1967 film version.  During their ABBA album sessions, the group cut a Spanish version which will stay unreleased for many years; eventually, the Trevor Smith-led novelty surfaces on a 2096 Vox Benelux compilation. More about that later!  The "remixed" costumes The Archies wore on camera (vintage 1920s fashions rendered in 1970s Day-Glo colors) did double duty: They also appeared in photos taken for their album sleeve. Those prints, processed in an approximation of two-strip Technicolor, will cause a sensation a century from now: Millions of teenagers will cop the band's faux-twenties look, sporting "bobbed" hair, cloche hats, pleated miniskirts, saddle shoes and calf-hugging plus-fours.

Toni Topaz flies into Berlin to cut a special guest lead vocal on The Archies' remake of "Waterloo." Babe is sensational! Veronica and Betty each take a verse of "Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)". Roni's soprano and Betty's alto voice don't blend terribly well, so Kevin Keller sings with them on the choruses; his golden tenor is the magic ingredient that makes the track soar!

Playbacks generated a lot of excitement: "We sound like a gang of kick-ass bikers!" Betty giggled. "But there's a sweetness in there, too.  Somehow, the combination works." Arch winced at the mention of sweetness, but Roni couldn't have been more pleased.  "The world is going to hear ABBA's music in a whole new way," she predicted, "and they're going eat it up!  Our voices are just what Benny and Björn's songs needed to bring them up to date."  Actually, the opposite was true! Coming off a massive commercial failure (the aforementioned Jazz album Jump Back, Honey!), the group needed a surefire hit record to bounce back with. Archie's musical tastes notwithstanding, the ABBA project seemed like a godsend. Unfortunately, the sessions were fraught with conflict from day one.  When Björn Ulvaeus and Veronica Lodge-Andrews clashed, it was nothing less than a case of irresistible force meeting immovable object!


Although Kevin Keller's voice was heard on every song, he only sang lead on one: "Fernando". Björn wasn't pleased!  "Wasn't Kevin supposed to be the featured vocalist?" he fumed.  Veronica countered: "I've got a studio full of strong singers, including myself. Do you think I'm going to waste all that talent?" Dude had second thoughts about his Heavy Metal concept, too. He began pressuring Roni to make the tracks sound more like ABBA. She refused, and that's where the trouble really started: The two strong-willed musicians squared off and spat at each other like alley cats! Swedish profanity filled the air (with Roni's Scandinavian curses delivered in her familiar Kentucky twang).  Vexed almost to the point of violence, Björn stormed out of the session for "Ring Ring"! A worried Archie thought: "Uh-oh . . . now the sh*t's really going to hit the fan." And he wasn't wrong!

"Does Your Mother Know?" features Jughead and Trevor's unison singing over sizzling guitar tracks played by Archie and special guest Paul Sabu. Veronica steps up to the mike again for "Ring Ring". With Björn Ulvaeus attempting to direct her from the control room, she finds the record date nerve-wracking!


By the final tracking session, Polar Music had withdrawn its support (and funding) from the project. The Archies began cutting a single, a cover of the early ABBA rocker "So Long!"  Given the deteriorating situation, though, they no longer felt comfortable working at Hansa Tonstudio. The band returned to its home base in Mamaroneck, New York, where it planned to reconvene at Archie Sound Studios; but upon arrival, Arch and Roni found an injunction waiting for them.  Björn Ulvaeus had taken legal action to block the album's release! Predictably, Veronica was furious. Babe was itching to sue, but Archie talked her down: "Let it go, honeypot.  I understand how you feel; but right now, we don't want the kind of publicity a lawsuit would bring."


The Lodge-Andrews had good reason to avoid adverse publicity: The impending sale of their indie record label. While cutting the new album, they were quietly negotiating with billionaire Jason Blossom. The notorious merger king had been after Archie Records for years, but he found that Veronica drove a hella hard-ass bargain! Several times, Jason barged out of meetings with her vowing never to return; but they finally struck a deal in late November 2014. Perhaps unwisely, Roni, Arch and co-owner Alan Mayberry decided not to break the news in Berlin; instead, they waited until The Archies were back in the USA. All of the label's artists were summoned to a company meeting: In attendance were Josie + The Pussy Cats, Toni Topaz, The Archies and Kevin Keller.  Reggie Mantle and his new partner Olga San Quentín were absent, but they heard about the dust-up later that same day.

"The Name Of The Game" is Betty's big ballad showcase; Justin Strickland outdoes himself writing the Heavy Metal arrangement. The live recording of "Mamma Mia" features the group singing hearty unison vocals. The  Archies' rooftop concert was unauthorized, and Berlin's Landespolizei arrested them for disturbing the peace; even so, the arresting officers couldn't help praising the quality of their performance!


Not to put too fine a point on it, but the meeting was a hot mess! Most of the assembled knew Jason Blossom from high school, more than long enough to develop a deep dislike for him! Kelly snarled: "F*ck me if I ever go to work for that skinhead perv.  Dude used to squeeze my nuts in the shower!" Juggy summed up the general attitude: "JB is a stoned assh*le, and he was an assh*le long before he started gobbling up companies and firing people en masse. You think we'd agree to record for him? WTF are you smoking?" Archie and Veronica sat uncomfortably at the big conference table, watching while their artist roster and possibly several friendships went up in smoke!  Over the next year, all the artists signed with other labels.  The friendships survived, but not without repercussions: The Archies went on extended hiatus, a period that ended up lasting fifteen long years!


Archie had nothing but bitter memories about ABBA-Normality; somewhat unfairly, he considered it an album that nearly destroyed The Archies. Betty and Jughead didn't have fond memories of it, either, since they separated while it was being recorded. As for Kevin Keller and Trevor Smith, they never talked about it afterwards.  Veronica was the only one who ever mentioned it. She spoke wistfully of the aborted project, and in fact, she likened it to losing a child: "That was one of our musical miscarriages!  The first was Stoned Love, a neo-Soul album we cut for Don Kirshner in 1992.  Abba-Normality was the second."  Having paid for the recording sessions, Polar Music felt justified in taking possession of the tapes; Arch and Roni never made any attempt to reclaim them.  That album master is going to lay in the ABBA archives for nearly 100 years!


In the 2070s, a phenomenon called Archiemania will sweep the globe.  It will make The Archies every bit as legendary a group as ABBA!  The commercial potential of linking two legends isn't lost on executives at Vox Sound + Image.  In the year 2096, Vox (inheritors of the Archie Records catalog) will persuade the ABBA Organization to license three tracks from the unreleased album.  Spanish-language versions of "Waterloo", "Fernando" and "Knowing Me, Knowing You" appear on Archie Around The World, a Vox Benelux compilation of multi-lingual rarities.  When it cracks the Pan-European Top Ten, the popularity of those three tracks in particular will heighten interest in Abba-Normality.  Fans become obsessed with the album:  False rumors about an impending release will circulate for 18 years!  Finally, lawyers for the Vox and ABBA companies agree to terms, and a firm release date is set for Summer 2114.


Naturally, the ABBA Organization feels obliged to explain why it took a century to approve the album's release.  "Björn Ulvaeus did change his mind about Heavy Metal being a proper vehicle for ABBA's music," archivist Inga Fassbinder will confirm in a press release. "But even so, he let it be known that he loved how The Archies sang his hits. Björn thought Jughead and Betty were superb interpreters, as good or better than Kevin Keller.  He even liked Veronica's singing; he said it reminded him of Agnetha." Upon its belated marketing, ABBA-Normality will top charts in sixteen countries!  The album meets with near-universal acclaim and monster sales.

Accordingly, The Archies will rule the 2115 Grammy Awards: Record Of The Year ("Waterloo", Toni Topaz's vocal tour-de-force)! Album of The Year! Song of The Year ("The Name Of The Game") and Best Pop Vocal Performance By A Duo/Group ("Knowing Me, Knowing You").  Aside from a 2009 Grammy nomination for "Jet Airliner", these posthumous trophies will be the group's only recognition from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.  NARAS' negligence during their stellar career bordered on criminal; but sales figures are the best revenge! By the year 2120, Abba-Normality will have gone quadruple-Platinum.  Its success lands Archie and his bandmates in rarefied company: With The Beatles, Madonna, Michael Jackson and Elvis!  Needless to say, the Archies album that got away ends up being their biggest ever.

Per Björn Ulvaeus' wishes, Kevin Keller sings prominent harmony on every selection from ABBA-Normality. When he and Veronica sing together, they sound more like ABBA than ABBA! Kelly works his lead vocal magic on "Fernando", and Wynton Marsalis' incandescent trumpet solo complements his voice beautifully.


Ironically, the ABBA-Normality recording sessions have more surviving photo documentation than any other Archies studio date. The rare candids seen here will be found among the effects of the late Nickolas Freund. Big Nipsy was born in Berlin; elated to be back home, he celebrated by purchasing an expensive German Smartphone. The Archies' manager snapped photo after photo at the Hansa sessions as well as on the set of "Thoroughly Modern Millie". Either dude was an exceptional photographer, or that Smartphone was worth every Euro he paid for it!


Big Nipsy's snapshots will appear in a deluxe photo booklet bound into the sleeve of ABBA-Normality's vinyl version. Consider yourself lucky to see this one-time-only preview: The rest of the world won't see these pictures until the year 2114! By then, Archie Andrews and his musical mates will have been dead for over forty years.  Their phenomenal musical legacy will first be carried on by The New Archies and then by . . . ah, but that's a tale yet to be told.


*Excerpts from "Waterloo" and "Knowing Me, Knowing You", 
words and music by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, additional lyrics by Stig Anderson.  © Copyright Universal Music Publishing Group/EMI Grove Park Music (ASCAP/BMI).  For the complete track listing of ABBA-Normality and other Archies albums both real and imaginary, visit Archie's Album Cover Gallery, Pages One, Two and Three.

This short story is dedicated to all of my fellow homeless artists.  We struggle to practice our craft against near-insurmountable odds. ABBA-Normality is a small example of what our unquenchable spirits are capable of. We are the only ones who really know what it means to "suffer for your art" . . . ist es nicht die warheit?  Jawohl.


Archie Does ABBA (Part One)


The Pop Culture Cantina presents
Yet Another Cartoons + Castanets Production!
Archie in Berlin
Vamping the 1920s and Getting Back to
by DC Hampton Jacobs


Pop Art Images of Archie Comics characters
drawn by Stuffed Animal
Cartoon Cameo Appearances by
Björn and Frida of ABBA
with Garth Brooks, Sheila E, Sutton Foster, Mick Jagger, John Legend, Yo Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Audra McDonald, Paul Sabu, Trisha Yearwood
and Nero the Dog
featuring the music of
Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus
Additional Lyrics by Stig Anderson

There's a tenuous but definite link between three distinct music genres: 20th century Disco/Funk, Bubblegum Pop and Glam Rock. One of the main linking groups is ABBA. The legendary Swedish quartet is revered by Disco fanatics, Bubblegum devotees and Punk rockers alike! No other 1970s band can boast such a diverse following.


Despite the dance floor thump of hits like "Dancing Queen", "S-O-S", "Mamma Mia", "Voulez-Vous" and "Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)", composer/producers Benny and Björn maintained a hard Rock edge in ABBA's music; and the stage act, fronted by fabulous Frida and awesome Agnetha, pushed Glam Rock style to the outer limits of good taste! ABBA's influence over the sound and image of Pop groups remains strong: You can see and hear it coming from Pet Shop Boys, Madonna, B-52's, Foo Fighters and Lady Gaga, just to name a few of their beneficiaries.


Over the years, there've been many ABBA tributes: Many different cover versions with no small number of stinkers among them!  It takes a band the calibre of The Archies to do justice to Sweden's finest, and happily, they did. WTF? This is the first you've ever heard of such a thing? No need to wonder why.  It happened in the year 2014, but an entire century will pass before this masterful fifteen-song salute sees light of day! Here's the never-before-told story of Archie and his bandmates' greatest artistic achievement: An album they called . . . 


Veronica Lodge-Andrews had an uncanny knack for recognizing commercial Pop sounds; really, she did!  Time after time, her musical instincts led The Archies to the top of the charts: Archie Country! Return To Archie Country. Hits of The '60s, Volumes I and II. Like A Rolling Stone: The Archies Get Stoned.  She championed recording every one of those albums, and every one went Platinum!  By the same token, Jump Back, Honey! and other albums she wasn't crazy about sold far fewer copies.  Babe was an avid fan of what she liked to call "pure Pop music" from the 1950s, '60s and '70s; and her all-time favorite group was ABBA!


In 2007, Roni was coping with the recent loss of her father, Hiram Lodge. Like many people do when dealing with grief, she immersed herself in work. Babe started recording a tribute album to her Swedish idols.  "I'm part Swede myself," she reasoned, "so ABBA's music comes naturally to me!"  However, then as now, the ABBA Organization (then known as Polar Music) kept a tight rein on these kinds of recordings. Learning of her solo project, they sent a strongly-worded injunction! Naturally, Roni protested, but they cited as justification the failure of Deeper Than The Night, her last solo album.  That tribute to Olivia Newton-John had garnered scathing reviews! Babe was heartbroken, but she refused to let go of her dream. When the rich and powerful Ms. Lodge-Andrews wanted to do something as bad as she wanted to cut ABBA songs, forget about it!  It was just a matter of time.  Sooner or later, she knew, Polar Music executives would change their tune.  "And when they do," she snarled, "they'd best come crawling back to me on their hands and knees!"

"Take A Chance On Me" features the full group on choral voice, with solo parts performed by Veronica and Betty.  "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do!" features rollicking lead vocals by Reggie Mantle's replacement, Trevor Smith.

Seven years later, it wasn't ABBA's publisher Roni was talking to: It was a member of ABBA! With great interest, Björn Ulvaeus had watched the rise of Heavy Metal sensation Kevin Keller.  Björn was a closet Metalhead; more and more, he longed to hear bone-crunching remakes of his classic ABBA songs!  Dude was pushing 70 at the time and didn't feel up to the task of cutting the new versions himself; but he felt Kevin would be an ideal substitute. "Kevin Keller reminds me of myself at that age," Björn was quoted as saying. "I certainly wasn't Bisexual, but there are similarities between us. He moves like I used to move on stage. He even looks a bit like me!"


Björn contacted Kevin's manager, Nickolas Freund.  Big Nipsy was also The Archies' manager, and since Roni produced both acts (as well as being VP of the label Kevin recorded for), she soon got involved with negotiations.  "No matter what he and Nipsy agree to do, Björn Ulvaeus must come to terms with me," she promised her husband Archie, "or he'll get nowhere near Kevin Keller!"  At first, the conversation was all about Kelly. Then it evolved into a discussion about Blue-Eyed Soul, the on-again, off-again duet act Kelly did with Jughead: Maybe the two of them could . . . ? Before long, The Archies were on the table, too, just as Veronica had planned! Babe was a master manipulator.


Roni argued that The Archies were ideally suited to the job of cutting an ABBA tribute. They'd record it Heavy Metal-style, and Kevin Keller would appear on the album as a featured guest artist.  Big Nipsy bore down on the sales pitch: "If you think your royalty checks are big now," he told Björn, "watch what happens when three Platinum-selling acts, The Archies, Blue-Eyed Soul and Kevin, join forces to cover your hit songs."  For emphasis, Veronica interjected: "Ka-CHING, honey child!"  Björn wasn't interested in royalties, though.  He resisted their big money pitch, but all in vain: Roni's powers of persuasion were every bit as formidable as those of her business tycoon father! Inevitably, dude swallowed the bait she dangled. Within weeks, Polar Music had signed off on a deal to jointly distribute the new Archies album.


In late August of 2014, Archie and Veronica Lodge-Andrews, Betty and Juggy Jones, Kevin Keller and Trevor Smith (Reggie Mantle's replacement) flew to Germany.  They settled into a Berlin recording studio for an extended stay. At the time, Björn Ulvaeus was tied up with business concerns and couldn't travel to America; instead, he brought the group over to Europe. Polar Music agreed to pay for sessions at Hansa Tonstudio, whose past clients included David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Dépêche Mode and REM.  Per his agreement with Roni and Big Nipsy, Björn acted as music supervisor and attended as many of the dates as he could. It would take the band four months to complete their tribute album.

Veronica fulfills a longtime dream by singing lead on the remake of ABBA's classic "Dancing Machine"! Special guest John Legend's piano blends surprisingly well with Heavy Metal guitars. Betty steps out front for the remake of "S-O-S". Babe is thrilled to have Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood backing her up in the studio!

Now's a good time to stop and address a rumor that's been dogging The Archies for years: That they didn't play instruments on their records! It's a vicious damn lie! Even in their teens, The Archies were competent musicians. In the early days, executive producer Don Kirshner would augment them with session players, but it was never a case of desperately needing their help: Both Jughead and Reggie were exceptional musicians, and Archie always had an instinctive feel for the guitar. As for Veronica, she had the best music instruction Lodge money could buy! Betty had no musical expertise at first, but babe was a quick study; with her bandmates' help, she soon became proficient on several instruments.


The Archies broke up in 1992, but when they reunited as adults in 2001, the band played almost every note on their recordings. The logical exception was brass: Ralfi Chingas, their producer at that time, would assemble horn sections; but more often than not they included Betty and Jughead.  The group prided itself on being self-contained; Archie in particular was sensitive to attacks on their musicianship.  "These lying bastards," he declared, "can kiss my Dutch-Irish-Italian ass!"  Cutting the LP Jump Back, Honey! in 2013 was a watershed event: After laboring over those complex Jazz arrangements and mastering them, The Archies finally knew they could handle anything. With nothing left to prove, they welcomed guest players to what would be their last album session for the Archie label.


Those sessions ended up being an all-star affair! Early on, Mick Jagger showed up to bestow his blessing on the project. The Archies hadn't seen him since 2003, when they cut a Platinum-selling album of Rolling Stones hits!  Broadway actresses Audra McDonald and Sutton Foster were frequently on hand as well; concurrently, they were working with The Archies on a video project. R & B stars John Legend and Sheila E added their musical expertise to the proceedings, as did master cellist Yo Ya Ma and revered Heavy Metal guitarist Paul Sabu. All four artists were either touring in Germany or had business there at the time; but Garth Brooks and wife Trisha Yearwood flew in from Nashville just to sing background vocals for Betty!  Likewise, trumpet legend Wynton Marsalis fulfilled a promise to his friend Jughead to play on an Archies album. In addition to Kevin Keller, Archie Records' newest star Toni Topaz contributed a lead vocal. Almost as big an ABBA fan as Roni, Toni was eager to participate! "I used to sing along to their records as a teenager," she revealed.  "Agnetha, Frida, Benny and Björn had a tremendous influence on me!  Just tell me which one of their songs you want me to sing, and I promise you: I will kill it." Toni kept her promise, but only on the English-language track; the Spanish version featured Veronica's lead vocals.  Since the runaway success of their 2008 Éxitos en Español album, The Archies had made bilingual tracking routine.


  In order to approximate the ABBA vocal sound, there was naturally a lot of unison singing. However, every group member but one had lead parts to sing. Archie begged off!  Why he did so wasn't known at the time, but now it can be told: Dude never liked ABBA's music! In fact, he only went along with the tribute album deal to please his wife. "Sunshine Pop!" he scoffed. "Been there, done that. Don't wanna do it again!" Arch wasn't a session no-show, though; far from it! Dude shared lead guitar duties with Roni and also acted as music director. "Punk, Disco, Heavy Metal: No matter how you play it, it's still ABBA," he shrugged. "But I'll make sure we don't come off sounding sugary."  "But we're The Archies!" Betty laughed. "'Sugar, Sugar', you know?" Working from Björn's musical concepts, the group wrote new arrangements for ABBA classics. Dude didn't mince words: "That sounds like sh*t!" He rejected take after take. In desperation, The Archies called Justin Strickland for help; Stricks was the Jazz arranger who'd worked with them on Jump Back, Honey! While his charts weren't what Björn had in mind, either, he liked the intriguing sonic texture they brought to Heavy Metal tracks.  The band dug them, too.

Veronica plays the blistering lead guitar on "Honey Honey" as well as singing lead. Fans will be shocked to hear Jughead's lead vocal on "Money Money Money", which is essentially a woman's song. On advice from Kevin Keller, dude sings from the viewpoint of a gold-digging male prostitute! Yo Yo Ma's cello anchors the track.

The sound engineer at Hansa was a young up-and-comer, a self-taught audio wunderkind named Max Manischevitz. Known for unpredictable behavior, friends tagged him with a predictable nickname: Mad Max! The Archies' ABBA project was his first big engineering job. Max later became one of Europe's most successful record producers, by which time he'd acquired a well-earned reputation for seducing his artists! Even at this early stage, dude was a raging horndog in the studio.  The Pansexual playboy put the moves on every single member of The Archies, and not always in the most subtle of ways:  "Grüss dich, baby!  What a sweet ass you've got.  How'd you like it if I f*cked the living daylights out of you?"


He so offended Veronica with his randy overtures, babe threw a glass of water in his face! Archie was even more enraged: He tried to bash Max over the head with his guitar! Kevin Keller threw much shade at him: An icy cold shoulder like only a Gay man can give. Trevor Smith barely seemed to notice. He just shot Max a quick glance, arched an eyebrow and remarked: "Seriously?" Then dude went back to playing his bass. Betty and Jughead humiliated Max big-time: When he proposed a three-way scene with himself as the "sandwich meat", they burst into hysterics! Juggy laughed so hard, he collapsed onto the studio floor and rolled around. Only Toni Topaz fell for Max's questionable charms: babe had a brief but quite steamy affair with him. However, it ended because he didn't live up to her, ahem, anatomical expectations!


concludes with Part Two!