Everyone has an album that has stayed with them for years, even decades, a constant musical companion that grows with you as your life and perspective changes. With that in mind, Deadshirt presents Perfect Records, an ongoing series of personal essays about the albums that stuck with us and how they’ve shaped our lives.
I have a fundamental problem with that image dopes love to share on Facebook comparing Beyonce’s “Run The World (Girls),” a song with six listed writers and four listed producers, to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a tune with just one of each. Neither are my favorite by either artist–“XO” and “One Vision,” thank you–but memes like this betray a fundamental facet of modern popular music. It’s not about how many people or overdubs it took to make a song. It’s about how that one artist made that one statement, and how you react to it. Just because Bey didn’t hand-craft that light-up “FEMINIST” sign doesn’t make it any less hers, just like it doesn’t entirely matter that Michael Jackson didn’t write the title track to the biggest-selling album of all time (thanks, Rod Temperton!). Messages are messages, no matter how many people it took to build the transport delivering that message.
That’s one of the things I think about a lot when I listen to Something’s Going On, the 1982 English-language debut album by Frida. The name “Frida” likely means nothing to you, though you might know her as Anni-Frid Lyngstad, who with Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, and Agnetha Falksog made up the immortal Norwegian disco quartet ABBA. By this point, the group had dissolved professionally and personally; both Lyngstad and Anderson and Ulvaeus and Falksog had divorced, and their final single would be released that fall.
Frida, like many smart, artistic folks, used music to soothe her wounds. Her salve was 1981’s Face Value, the solo debut album by Genesis frontman Phil Collins, who provided a killer combination of broken-bastard songs inspired by his own divorce and revolutionary production tactics courtesy of co-producer/engineer Hugh Padgham. Padgham helped perfect the eerie gated reverb on Phil’s drum kit that inspired millions of air-drummers on “In The Air Tonight.”
Inspired to create the feminine version of that record, and bolstered by an amazing stroke of luck that Genesis had recently recorded Duke (1980) in ABBA’s Polar Studio complex, Frida and Phil would create Something’s Going On with an amazing cast of characters, including engineer Padgham, and Earth, Wind & Fire’s Phenix Horns (the extra steroid in Collins’ “Sussudio”). ABBA manager Stig Anderssen issued a worldwide call for the best songs from across the globe, and got tracks by “On and On” writer Stephen Bishop (opener “Tell Me It’s Over”), Rod Argent of The Zombies (the swinging “Baby Don’t You Cry No More”), Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry (the heartbreaking “The Way You Do”), a Donna Summer outtake written by Giorgio Moroder (“To Turn The Stone”), Russ Ballard’s title track (a Top 20 hit), and a moving cover of Collins’ own “You Know What I Mean.”
In terms of actual, musical contribution, Frida contributes nothing aside from her powerhouse voice, but make no mistake: Something’s Going On is her album. Those clean, rad, powerful tones you remember from “Dancing Queen” and “Mamma Mia” are gritted up a bit by Collins and his band, with taut percussion and buzzing guitars throughout that recall a European Pat Benatar. It’s an amazing musical statement from a strong woman in the early 1980s, a time when ladies in rock were just starting to get their due (Benatar, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, The Pretenders).
Decades before the debate between “rockism” and “poptimism” would bore the shit out of non-music nerds in the 2000s, here was Frida, proving that if you had a worthy message to convey through your music, then it doesn’t matter how many of your ingredients are in the soup. Before my own critical brain was attuned to this notion—make no mistake, I never bothered to lay claim to what was “real music,” but I never had a name to give it—Something’s Going On was a record I embraced eagerly, to the point where I did something I never do and downloaded the album (legally, you freaks) instead of buying it on CD.
But Something’s Going On did more than teach me how to appreciate the intentions of Norse pop stars. For a solid four years in the early 2000s, I was left blindsided after a seven-year relationship cratered. There were plenty of sad-bastard discs that eased my pain and shaped my ever-evolving tastes, but Frida’s was the closest to capturing the cycle of heartache I endured at the time, from anger to despair to resigned acceptance and finally moving on and finding someone new. “Tell Me It’s Over” wasn’t just an excuse to air-drum to some of Collins’ best fills, it was also a mission statement against an ex-girlfriend who, in my worldview, didn’t understand why I was frustrated with my post-graduate life and decided to pack up rather than mend fences. “To Turn The Stone” and “The Way You Do” were the songs I sang to myself with tears in my eyes when no one was looking, hoping my romantic prospects would turn around as I started to gain traction as an adult with a promising career and a burgeoning assortment of responsibilities.
Today, I’d say life is better, for so many reasons. But those days are not too far into the rearview mirror. There’s a revealing documentary about the making of this record that, strangely, doesn’t seem to focus much on Frida. When you do see her in the studio with Collins and company, she seems shaken, unsure of her next step but doing her best to keep it together. She brilliantly channels this energy into Something’s Going On, and listening back to it, I remember a young man who felt largely the same way not too long ago, kept somewhat afloat only by buoyant pop records like this one.