by Jeff Fiedler
Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.
Anni-Frid “Frida” Lyngstad and Agnetha Faltskog could both have just as easily fallen through the cracks entirely in America following the split of their former band, Abba. Despite scoring 14 Top 40 hits in the U.S. (including the Top Ten hits “Waterloo,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “Dancing Queen,” and “The Winner Takes It All”), Abba – superstars of the highest magnitude throughout Europe during the ‘70s and early ‘80s – considered their inability to fare better on the American albums and singles charts to be their biggest failure, and, now that Abba was no longer, Lyngstad and Faltskog were also without their longtime songwriters/producers (and respective former husbands) Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, the true creative geniuses behind Abba and its winning brand of Euro-pop, who were now hard at work co-writing the future stage musical Chess and its Murray Head-sung worldwide hit “One Night in Bangkok.” So who do you turn to now that the men who wrote all your prior hits have moved on to another project?
Enter Russ Ballard. Formerly the lead singer and guitarist for the early-‘70s rock group Argent, the brainchild of former Zombies keyboardist/songwriter Rod Argent, who would score a massive Top Ten hit in 1972 with the prog-rock stylings of “Hold Your Head Up,” Ballard would leave the band for a solo career in 1974. Despite releasing ten albums as a solo artist, he strangely never would have an American Top 40 hit to call his own as a performer, but he became a very frequently-covered and in-demand songwriter, penning a sizable handful of hits for other artists, including Three Dog Night’s “Liar,” Hot Chocolate’s “So You Win Again,” Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove,” America’s “You Can Do Magic” and “The Border,” Santana’s “Winning,” and Rainbow’s “Since You Been Gone.”
Coincidentally enough, Ballard would be tapped to write the lead-off singles (“I Know There’s Something Going On” and “Can’t Shake Loose,” respectively) from both Frida’s and Agnetha’s first solo albums to be released in America, Lyngstad’s 1982 Phil Collins-produced Something’s Going On and Faltskog’s 1983 outing Wrap Your Arms Around Me.
Frida’s disc – released via Abba’s old label, Atlantic – is the slightly bolder solo album of the two, largely veering away from the Euro-pop of the Abba albums in favor of a more rock-oriented sound (and even a reggae sound on “I See Red”), making Collins (who Frida had selected to produce the disc after obsessively listening to his solo debut Face Value during her divorce from Andersson) a suitable choice of collaborator.
Collins' distinctive cavernous drum-playing helps to provide a great deal of dramatic heft to the justified paranoia of the winning Ballard-penned title cut. (Why classic-rock stations don’t play this single when it sounds so remarkably like frequently-spun Collins and Genesis classics like “In the Air Tonight” or “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight,” I have no idea.) The single wouldn’t miss the American Top Ten by very much, peaking at #13, yet it would ultimately end up being Lyngstad’s sole Top 40 entry as a solo artist on these shores.
But it’s not just the title cut that makes such a seismic impression. The set of material Frida has to work with here is fantastic, and it’s written by an all-star cast of talent. Frida covers Collins’ own Face Value cut “You Know What I Mean” in intimate fashion, while future Roxette vocalist/songwriter Per Gessle offers up “Threnody.” Stephen Bishop (“On and On,” “It Might Be You”) contributes the fun guitar-rock of the album-opening gem “Tell Me It’s Over” (strangely only released as a single in Japan, even though it’s arguably the second-best song here), while Rod Argent pens the piano shuffle of “Baby Don’t You Cry No More.”
Donna Summer producers/songwriters Giorgio Moroder and Pete Belotte donate “To Turn the Stone” (originally recorded by Summer itself for the ultimately-rejected album I’m a Rainbow, which wouldn’t get released until fifteen years later.) Perhaps coolest of all, former Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry contributes the appealing mellow pop of “The Way You Do.” The album closes with Frida and Collins himself joining forces for the up-tempo duet “Here We’ll Stay.”