01 May 2016

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!