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CD Editions:
PolyGram 1984 (821 217-2)*; Polydor 1997 (533 980-2)**; Polar 2001 (549 954-2/962-2); Polar 2005 (part of CSR boxset)

* Polar 1984 (POLCD 282) is a clone of this disc
** US Polydor 1999 is a clone of this disc

To put it bluntly, there has never been an acceptable version of Abba: The Album on CD, which is a telling indictment of the lack of effort put into the sonic aspects of the various rehashes of Abba's back catalogue since the 1980s.

Of the four CD editions released since 1984, two are sourced from badly distorted tapes while the other two are sourced from good tapes but are smothered in excessive noise reduction. In this case, all fans can do is chose the least worst option.

The very first CD edition of the album, PolyGram's 1984 version, is a victim of the former problem. Like several other Abba albums, it was sourced from two album LP cutting tapes sent to PolyGram in the 1970s, one for each LP side. Unfortunately, the tape for Side A suffered from a severe and quite unusual form of distortion.

Basically, when the music reaches its peaks, the audio signal seems to break up, as though it was accidentally passed through a limiter (a device that limits audio peaks by abruptly cutting them off).

It can't, however, actually be a limiter as the severity of the distortion varies, apparently depending on how far the audio is from the ends of the tape reel. So, the first and final tracks of the side, Eagle and The Name of The Game feature the worst distortion while the middle two tracks only have a little. Of all four tracks, The Name of The Game is worst effected.

The most mysterious aspect of all this is that appears that the Side A tape Polar copied during the production of the master for Greatest Hits Vol 2 in 1979 also suffered from this distortion to a somewhat lesser extent, as can be heard on all CD releases of that album.

Some members of the Abbamail mailing list have also, in the past, reported hearing this distortion when The Name of the Game was played (presumably from vinyl) on some radio stations in the early 1980s.

However, it's clearly not a fault with the original recordings involved as can be witnessed by The Singles: The First Ten Years, which appears to have used original mixdown tapes, where Take A Chance on Me and The Name of The Game appear without any distortion.

In the absence of any inside information from Polar, it's impossible to say quite what happened. My own pet theory is that in the frantic rush to release The Album in Scandinavia in 1977, a faulty copy of Side A was made and somehow became labelled as one of the album's master tapes at some point.

This would explain the resurfacing of the faulty tape in 2005's Complete Studio Recordings boxset, which served to show that even modern mastering techniques couldn't tackle the distortion effectively.

As with all the CSR remasters, which were carried by Henrik Jonsson, the end result was a louder, more compressed and slightly less clear version of the original 1984 CD. However, unlike the other remasters, Jonsson seems to have employed a little noise reduction on the Side B tracks due to the slightly noisy nature of the source tape.

The one curious aspect of this is that the previous 1997 and 2001 remasters, which were produced by Jon Astley and Michael B Tretow, didn't use the faulty Side A tape.

As in the case of Super Trouper, it seems that the pair decided to use a variety of tapes to master the album, including what appeared to be original mixdown tapes for all of Side A.

Indeed it seems that they decided that the Side A master was irreparably damaged, judging by their decision to reluctantly release the album without the full version of The Name of The Game, which didn't seem to exist elsewhere.

The mixdown tape apparently only seemed to contain a later US promo version, which omitted a minute of the song. However, the full The Name of The Game was later restored, Tretow recounted in an interview in 1999, after Astley found the missing minute spliced onto the very end of the mixdown tape.

Unfortunately, given the excellent source material used by Astley and Tretow, they decided to employ heavy noise reduction on all the tracks and also extensively re-equalised them. Needless to say, as with all the other albums, huge amounts of compression was also applied.

This is most apparent on Eagle, which sounds completely different to all other masterings, and Hole In Your Soul, where a little bit of the instrumentation on the intro was removed by the processing.

For the 2001 release of the album, Astley adjusted the 1997 remaster slightly, restoring some of bass frequencies removed in 1997 while unfortunately adding a little more noise reduction.

Tracks from The Album are well-represented on practically every Abba CD compilation ever put together. Only Greatest Hits Vol 2 (PolyGram 1983) features improved versions of any of The Album's Side B tracks. However, the sound quality of the Side A tracks varies considerably depending on the source tapes used.

Greatest Hits Vol 2, while generally excellent, should be for the Side A tracks as they were sourced from an Eq-ed album master which features a lesser form of the same distortion as the 1984 CD.

However, The Singles: The First Ten Years (PolyGram 1983) was compiled from mixdown tapes and features the best clear versions of Take A Chance On Me and the US promo edit of The Name of The Game.

Another early, but rarer, compilation well worth hunting down is International (PolyGram 1984), which, thanks to an insane tracklisting, features unremastered versions of many Abba rarities including a pleasant warm-sounding version of the single edit of Eagle.

An inferior-sounding version of the single edit also appears on the original 1993 version of More Abba Gold, which was remastered by Tretow. Beware, however, all post-1999 copies of the 'single edit' are actually badly hacked together from the album version. You can tell the difference because the impostor version's edit point is very noticeably in the wrong place.

Thank You For The Music (Polydor 1994) is a good bet for those on a budget who are seeking clear versions of the Side A tracks. It features excellent if bright versions of Eagle, Take A Chance On Me and the US promo edit of The Name of The Game.

The verdict
The best sounding full versions on CD are:
1. Polar 2001
2. PolyGram 1984
3. CSR 2005

Please note, however, that none of these are actually entirely acceptable options.

Track by Track
Sadly, even the compilations can't salvage all of Side A for us…

Eagle: Thank You For The Music (Polydor 1994)
Take A Chance On Me: The Singles: The First Ten Years (PolyGram 1983)
One Man, One Woman: PolyGram 1984
The Name of The Game: Polar 2001
Move On: PolyGram 1984
Hole In Your Soul: PolyGram 1984
Thank You For The Music: Greatest Hits Vol 2 (PolyGram 1983)
I Wonder (Departure): Greatest Hits Vol 2 (PolyGram 1983)
I Am A Marionette: PolyGram 1984

Related edits:
Eagle (Single edit): International (PolyGram 1984)
The Name of The Game (US promo edit): The Singles: The First Ten Years (PolyGram 1983)

This text was written by Ken Griffin from Dublin, Ireland as part of a series of audiophile posts to mailing list ABBAMAIL and is reprinted here with kind permission by Ken.


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