Wednesday, August 5, 2015

O'er The Land Of The Frida And The Home Of Gated Drumming AKA "There's Something Going On" With Phil And A Bag Of Snails

Although millions of sensitive souls the world over were surely and profoundly moved by Phil Collins' Face Value, one highly unlikely and very sensitive soul was moved far more profoundly than any other: Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Otherwise known as ABBA's Frida.

By 1982, it was just about the bottom of the 9th for our beloved Swedish foursome, with two outs and nobody on. And it turns out Phil wasn't the only mega-platinum rock star feeling the searing pangs of divorce. While recovering from the dissolution of her marriage to band mate Benny Andersson, she heard a certain mega-hit on the radio:
"Me and my daughter drove to my summer place, and she had a little cassette with different songs on it, and she played one and it was "In The Air Tonight," and I ... I mean ... I immediately felt that this was really a strong song, and I asked her, 'Who is it?" ... I listened to him for almost eight months, every day."
Phil Collins, meet your target audience.

When it came time to make her first post-ABBA solo album, Frida must have had the pick of the production litter, but deep inside, she knew of only one man who could reach into that special place and give her the '80s make-over she so desperately craved. From Wikipedia:
She wanted to break away from being associated with the group and make a fresh start both as an artist and as an individual. The new songs, new musicians, and new producer gave Frida a new identity. Collins' production and especially his unique gated drum sound heard throughout the album as well as the rough and raw guitar riffs of the lead single "I Know There's Something Going On" made it perfectly clear this was no "lightweight" ABBA record.
Yeah man! This ain't no "lightweight" ABBA record; she's teamed up with Phil Collins! Sure, go ahead and snicker. Maybe the album wasn't about to send Motorhead into retirement, but "I Know There's Something Going On" (written, not by Phil, but by Russ Ballard, famed author of everything from Three Dog Night's "Liar" and Kiss' "God Gave Rock And Roll To You" to Santana's "Winning" and America's "You Can Do Magic") was definitely more "In The Air Tonight" than "Fernando."

Listen to that mammoth wall of thunder. "Frida" may have been printed on the record sleeve, but after catching about 1.59 seconds of that drum intro, everyone and their mother knew who the real artist was here. To paraphrase Pulp Fiction, "And I will strike down upon these drums with great vengeance, and furious anger ... and you will know my name is Phil Collins." By the time those eerily mechanized backing vocals jumped in on the chorus with their patented ethereal crispness, the five people who hadn't figured it out already couldn't dare ignore the obvious. Who needs Benny & Bjorn ... when you've got Phil?

Of the two ABBA leads, Agnetha was always the Big Cheese, and yet she never managed a solo hit as large as "I Know There's Something Going On," which hit the Top 5 in just about any country you'd care to name (and, interestingly, did better in the US than the UK, hitting #13 in America but only #43 in Britain, despite ABBA historically having been more popular in the UK). Then again, did Agnetha ever snag Phil Collins? Didn't think so.

The man also knew his way around a duet, as closing track "Here We'll Stay" proves, despite the chorus sounding like the exit music to a game show. Check out Phil doing his best Barry Gibb high harmony at 0:39! Oddly, per Wikipedia, "When it was decided to release the song as a single in 1983, Collins declined to be associated with the track, and Frida re-recorded the song as a solo version." Why the cold feet, Phil? Afraid of ... overexposure? Like that'd ever stopped you before.

At this point you're thinking, "Man! I would've paid money to be a fly on the wall during those sessions." Well guess what? Thanks to this riveting making-of documentary produced by ABBA's record label that I found on YouTube (in three parts), you can witness Frida and Phil in action ... for free. Highlights:
  • Watching Phil as the master of his domain, pounding the mixing console with his fist, conducting the singing with pencils in his hands, his every command dutifully obeyed
  • The Phil "Phashion" show on phull display: Blue flannel shirt, t-shirt & suspenders, greenish-grey button-up shirt (with sleeves rolled up), brown wool vest (over striped button-up shirt), etc.
  • The Earth, Wind & Fire horn section making what appears to be its first-ever trip to Scandinavia
  • "I said to Frida, at the beginning of it, you know, when I first met her, I said 'What kind of thing are you doing?' And she said, 'I don't really know, but I like Pat Benatar, I'd like it to be a bit like that, a bit heavier and raunchier' ... so all I had to go on was Pat Benatar. I've never heard her music, Pat Benatar. Frida bought me a record while I was over here." Two thoughts: 1) Never heard of Pat Benatar? What were you spending all your time listening to, Wayne Newton? 2) "Heavier and raunchier" ... like Pat Benatar? That's pretty heavy and raunchy Frida. You better be careful or the video might have to be aired after 10pm.
  • Frida asking Phil to write a song for her, but he's too lazy, so he says, "Hey I've got a better idea: how about you do a song I've already written, but you'll do it ... differently?" So he has her cover "You Know What I Mean" from Face Value, but gives it the "She's Leaving Home" treatment, turns it into some kind of Elizabethan madrigal.
  • Paul McCartney stopping by to watch everyone eat dinner during the string overdub session in London, arguably coming off ... less egotistical than Phil Collins?
  • Benny and Bjorn talking about how much they really, really want to write a song for Frida's album ... but they never do.

All right, so I can see what was in this for Frida, but what about Phil? Why, out of all the billions of dynamic singers to be found in the English speaking world (and beyond), did he decide hone his production chops with ABBA's second-most famous vocalist? This shocking passage from In The Air Tonight finally explains the previously inexplicable:
The truth is, I could've given a flying fuck about ABBA and the frozen fjord they crawled out of. Didn't know an ABBA song from an Eskimo queef. The reason I produced that album for Frida is because she'd caught me at an ... inopportune moment.

I was backstage at Top of the Pops. We'd just done "Paperlate." All those doe-eyed admirers, basking in the supposedly "cute" and "harmless" glow of Phil Collins. It's always those exact moments, presenting that pathetic happy-go-lucky image to the public, where I feel the need to smother myself in filth, careen into the kink, lock the door and tear that wholesome Collins image to shreds.

The night before, I'd been watching some black market Sri Lankan porn with one of our roadies, Mick. He'd just got back from a trip there. He said they had some interesting habits down there, ways of getting off that we'd never even considered in stuffy old England. For instance, he said, in their culture, one of their ancients symbols of desire was the snail. Sri Lankans had secret erotic traditions involving snails that had gone back centuries. Centuries! So I asked him what kind of traditions, and he said that when Sri Lankan men reached a certain age, they would place snails on their genitals and turn it into a whole little ceremony, like their version of Tantric sex. He said I really had to try it, that it was like nothing he'd ever experienced. He said that down in Sri Lanka, he was known by the name Mick Yurturuli Tuli, which translated as, "Slick Mick, With Snails On His Dick." I knew I had to give it a shot.

I ran to my dressing room and pulled out a bag. I'd spent the morning in my garden, trying to collect the strongest, healthiest ones. I'd put them all in a plastic bag and hid it in my bureau. The moment had finally come. I slipped out of my undies and began placing them on my business. I thought I'd locked the door, but I was so intoxicated with the thrill of this Sri Lankan ritual that, I suppose in my haste and nervousness, I may have overlooked a crucial piece of the plan. The slippery goo was really starting to do it for me. Mick called it an "Escarg-orgasm." I was feeling the rush like I'd never felt before in my whole perverted existence, when the door opened.

"Phil, hi, I've always wanted to meet you and -"

Suddenly a woman with a spiky brown mullet and an excess of eyeliner barged into my dressing room.

"Oh my God Phil, I didn't know -"

"Wait, wait!" I said in mortification. "It's - it's not what it looks like!"

"I'm sorry, I'm terribly sorry, I'll come back later -"

"I thought it was locked! I thought it was locked!" No man has ever ripped mollusks off his dick faster than I did just then. "Hold on, stay there!"

An awkward silence permeated the room. "Listen, Phil, I'm Frida. You know, from ABBA."

"I'll be right with you, just let me - " In my haste to cover up, I accidentally crushed a few of my playthings under my feet.

"I ... just wanted to say I ... loved your album, I mean, it really spoke to me."

"Thanks, thanks a lot. You didn't see anything, you got that?"

"Did you just put a bunch of ... you know ... on your ..."

"Look, Frida, it was just a gag. It was a prank, all right?"

"A prank? For whom?" She paused in thought, and then her eyes opened wide from a sudden revelation. "Phil, I'll tell you what. I will never tell a soul about any of this ... on one condition."

"Yeah? What's that?"

"If you produce my solo album."

"Oh come on Frida, your music is like Spam, I can't go anywhere near that shit."

"But Phil, listen, I need to change my image, I need to go in a whole new direction. I need to leave ABBA behind."

"Nice try, Swedish meatball, but forget it."

"So, Phil ... you wouldn't want anybody to hear about your little ... adventures, now would you?"

"Aaaaah, what do you mean?"

"You wouldn't want to be known as a ..."

"As a what?"

"A snail fucker."

I had no choice. And it was just as well, because the album turned out pretty good! Originally we had a song about the whole incident, "I Know There's Something Going On," the "something" being me having snails on my dick, but we took that out and it just became another kinda paranoid adultery thing. Yep. Frida was a class act all the way.


Herr Zrbo said...

Well great minds must think alike, because I heard this song on the radio quite recently and it got stuck in my head. A did a little research and noticed Phil had worked on the song and I thought, "When's Little Earl going to write about this little gem? Surely Phil's autobiography must have something to say on this!" And then lo and behold, not 48 hours later you post this! I never would have guessed snails by the way.

Little Earl said...

I know, I was surprised too. But yes, I feel like "I Know There's Something Going On" is almost an honorary Phil Collins song, and as such, it could not be ignored. I tend to start writing my posts long before posting them, of course, but the timing of your recent encounter with the song along with the publication of my post means that there really must be something going on. Also, I know it's about 40 minutes long, and I know you're a busy man, but that "making of" video is a gem among gems.