MEMORIES

Every song has it's own story

FLASH IN THE NIGHT – SECRET SERVICE

In Park Studio, there was a 280 cm long Steinway grand piano. I loved to play some Grieg and Mozart and run through Rachmaninov’s piano concert no.2. At the time, I felt a bit extra pressured to write something big. Uffe had never written anything to the band before, but now he had presented a strange song for Ola, “Fire into Ice”.

Ola told me that maybe it should be the next Secret Service single! Now long afterwards,

I understand Ola’s smartness, he wanted to make me compete with Uffe and he really succeeded!

I was going to write the band’s new hit at all costs!

In 1981, Synth bands like Visage with “Fade to Grey” and Ultravox with “Vienna” had great success. They had synthesizer sounds and dark chords never heard before. Even their texts were strange, dark and poetic.

I was a little tired of trying to write normal pop songs, so I let my fingers slide into a new darker melody band at the studio grand. A piano solo with a sense of Rachmaninov followed automatically. Everything just came to me!

Ola was delighted and we recorded the song, which was not yet called anything, with the legendary Leif Allansson as engineer in Europa Studios 3. We had the first Linn drum-machine that had just arrived in Sweden and two synths: a monophonic Prophet 1 that could be synchronized with the drum machine and a Prophet 10 that was a monster synth and looked like two Prophet 5 with two keyboards. I had thought of bass notes like in “Gimme Some Loving”. 4 times eight notes followed by 2 quarter notes: F-F-F-F F-C and so on.

We recorded a drum pattern and the Prophet 1 bass, but when we listened, the bass had an eight-note error in sync. We recorded it again and now it became right. Finally, it was time for Prophet 10. When we struck down the first chord, it sang as if the sky opened.

Leif Allansson had brilliantly saved the misguided synth bass, and when he played the background with both bass tracks, panning it left and right and with a lot of delay, we had a sound that was never heard before!

When we got to the studio the following day, there was a rumour that Ola had been injured in an accident! Someone had heard that he collided with his motorcycle and someone else had even heard that he was dead!

We were all shocked and just walked around, waiting to hear more about what happened. Then the studio phone rang. It was Ola who wheezed faintly:

– Tim, it’s me. I’ve crashed with the bike but still alive! Continue recording! Tim, listen up, keep on recording!

Click! He hung up… Only the day after, we were told that Ola had had a lunch meeting with an artist Annica Boller and would give her a ride back to her work on his motorcycle.

It had begun to rain and the street was slippery. As bad luck had it, a bus was crossing the road, even though it should have stopped! Ola couldn’t break and drove straight into the bus! He broke several bones while Annica Boller, who was behind him, managed to be unharmed.

Ola recovered, and Björn was asked to write a dark, somewhat incomprehensible poetic lyric. He brought his text to the studio when it was time for Ola to sing and we read all through Björn’s text lines.

“As the break of dawn came closer

All my hopes seemed so forlorn…”

Beautiful poetically and incomprehensible… But the line in the chorus that would be the title of the song did not work at all! (I’ve forgotten how it was) Björn, Ola, me and Ulf walked around and around the studio kitchen and brooded.

“Something with flash” someone said. Like “Flash and The Pan”, but that’s a pop group, said another one. I like the word “night” said a third person, “night” is moody and a good sound to sing.

“Flash in The Night” Ola said! That’s the title, after which he went out and sang.

But something was not right yet. The melody was good, the arrangement was good and now the text was good too …What was wrong?

We sent a tape to Jaques Atali at Vogue, our record company in France, for his opinion. But time passed and the song fell almost in oblivion. Finally, Ola said that now we have to finish “The Flash”.  We would meet up in the Park studio, Ola had ideas.

Unfortunately, I was sick and could not come to the studio, but Ola, Uffe and Acke, our sound engineer went there anyway. They started raising the speed of the 24-channel tape recorder, so the song went much faster before mixing. After mixing, they cut the quarter-inch tape with scissors and tied it back totally differently with scotch (well, that was the way to do it at that time). After they were finished, they called me:

– Listen Tim, Ola shouted by phone! Listen to a super hit!

They played the up speeded and cut tape and I heard on the phone that this was something new and at the same time, so incredibly beautiful. It also became a great hit everywhere, not at least in France where it sold a million copies and also became a signature melody in the French TV News or something similar.  The only record company that did not like “Flash in The Night” was our German record label Teldec.

“This is not Secret Service” warned their A&R man Ola on phone, and it certainly did not sound like Ye-Si-Ca. Teldec released it only a long time after it sold millions in the rest of the world, but then it was too late…

The band made a lot of television appearances with “Flash in The Night”, but the most important show would be broadcasted from Cannes and reached out across Europe. Jaques Atali from Vogue was there and we had sent him the tape with the right mix in advance for our playback appearance. The rehearsal began. But then something different than the expected “Flash in The Night” came out in the monitors! It went slowly with another intro and Ola’s vocals did not come in the right places! Ola was confused and looked at the others in the band who were just as shocked. What was this?

Ola called furiously at Jaques Atali. –This is the old test tape we sent you six months ago! Why did you give them this and not the real version that we sent you for the TV broadcast?

Jaques took the cigarette from his mouth, shrugged his shoulders and said calmly that for the live broadcast it would be the right version, which he could guarantee. Everyone felt calm and in the evening, they were on stage again – live streaming across Europe!

“Flash in The Night” started in the band’s monitors… but again, the wrong version with slow tempo and cut so that Ola could never start singing… It was rumoured that Ola spent the night chasing Jaques around the whole of Cannes with an axe…

Uffe’s “Fire into Ice” later became flipside of our single “Cry Softly” and of course it was on the album “Cutting Corners”. It was a good song, and without it I’d never written “Flash in The Night”! So, thank you Uffe!

Many years later I met Jean Michel Jarre at an event in Provence. An elegant and sympathetic giant in synth music. I stretched out my hand to thank him for all the inspiration he had given me. But before I managed to say a word, he asked me instead:  – Are you the one who wrote “Flash in The Night”? If so, I’m your admirer!

Well, even if I’m an ant in comparison, that was one compliment I truly enjoyed.

L.A. GOODBYE – SECRET SERVICE

As a follow-up to “Ye-Si-Ca” I wrote “L.A. Goodbye”. The band found it little bit silly, but at the same time catchy.

Peter Goldmann, who had become world famous after making videos for The Beatles songs “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane”, made the videos for both “Ye-Si-Ca” and “L.A. Goodbye”. But I suspect to a completely different budget…

If not the best, “L.A. Goodbye” is definitely not the worst. When another well-known Swedish songwriter and artist borrowed parts from the song some years later, I took it as a compliment.

Sometimes when I stand on a stage in Russia singing “L.A. Goodbye” I feel a fantastic response from the audience. They still love the song.  And when I sing my unimaginable high vocal harmony:

“We tried to stay together, as if it were forever” …

…I always get a tear in my eyes and feel great respect for Björn Håkanson who wrote the story of a couple leaving each other at an airport. But romantics like me, they probably only exist in Russia today…

SECRET SERVICE’S FIRST ALBUM – OH SUSIE

Finally, our first Secret Service album was ready. Of course, the title was “Oh Susie”. Now everyone knew who the members of the group were and both Björn Håkanson and I were down as songwriters. The pseudonyms were gone. The album cover was a still from the video “Oh Susie” –  the roller-skating girl and an older lady looking at her with angry eyes.

In addition to the two hit singles “Oh Susie” and “Ten O’clock Postman”, there were a couple of dreadful songs but also some pretty, though not “hot” items. “She Wants Me” was a popsong where Ola sang as if he was still a 60’s teen idol, while “Give Me Your Love” with my strange grand piano playing was a kind of mix of reggae and Tamla Motown. It was reminiscent of Four Tops, said Ola. Whoever that was – I knew more about Shostakovich and Chopin…

Uffe called me at home late in the evening after we mixed “Give Me Your Love”. He had had some glasses of wine and been listening to the song with his girlfriend. “Tim,”– he said a little drunk and with the song in the background: “I love you! I would like to kiss your feet!”

And that was actually a good grade for “Give Me Your Love”!

OH SUSIE – SECRET SERVICE

Oh Susie was made when I desperately needed a last song for the album with Ola + 3, an album that would be released as soon as possible after the Swedish Eurovision Contest 1979 where my song had been in third place. I sat at the office’s Wurlitzer electric piano, trying to find out something but I knew that they were waiting for me in the studio. But I had to bring a new song when I arrived!

The chorus of what should be “Oh Susie” came after a few minutes, I remember being so excited about the melody I was writing that I almost hammered the poor electric piano keys. Then the verses and solo came almost by themselves. With some tears in my eyes, as always when I write music. I was a little shocked at what had come out so quickly.

So, simple melody, just four notes in both verse and chorus: C – D – E – F and yet so beautiful! But I didn’t have any more time to think, so I sat in my car and went in full speed at the OAL studio in Sollentuna. Everyone was waiting for me and it was unusually fast to record the background of this last song.

I had some Mozart-like melody loop in my head, which I wanted to tie the verses with and Uffe screwed a string-like sound on the studio’s Polymoog synth. When he played the loop, and played the chords with the same sound in the chorus, the background was quite finished.

Tony played the solo melody with his glowing 60’s sound. I hummed the song melody and brought me a cassette to play for Björn. After listening, he wrote the text “Oh Susie, bara vi två vet” (only the two of us knows) that Ola then sang.

Two DJs from Cafe Opera, Christoff and Ricki, advised us to do “Oh Susie” in English. So, I went back to Björn Håkanson in his small apartment on Katarina Bangata in Stockholm. As always, I laid back in his sofa while Björn walked around in circles, humming and grounding. Sometimes he went to his bookshelf and looked in an English word- or rhyme-dictionary.

“Buddy, what do you think about this,” Bjorn exclaimed sometimes. (He always called me “Buddy”.)

“Some kind of guys can touch a lady”

“Terrible”, I muttered half sleeping…

“Okay”, said Björn, just wanted to check…

Later in the night, Björn woke me up. “I think I have it! Listen buddy!”

“Oh Susie, we’ve run out of time

Oh Susie, say what’s on your mind

We’ve got nowhere to run…”

“Wonderful”, I said as I beloved visions of couples who love each other but fight against an unprecedented world. “But the last line is missing, it must be strong”, I added. Björn walked back in circles, humming. After a while he woke me up again. “What do you think about this final row, he asked with a victorious smile:

“We were much too young”

I almost shook when I sang the lines together. Although I was a beginner as a pop composer, I knew – this matter, this is a hit!

Ola sang the English text, and I added an octave in falsetto. The band overdubbed my falsetto “beard song” because I had difficulty singing so high without pulling my beard. A mix quickly came on with a lot of discotheque-pressure and now it really sounded magic!

Ola was a much more experienced hit picker than me, but he was also recently employed at Sonet as the publisher and did not want to immediately spoil his career by favouring his own strange efforts, I could understand.

“Tim” he said harshly! “Are you absolutely sure it’s a hit?”

“Certainly,” I said, and I felt I had never been safer in anything in my life!

– Then I press the button! said Ola and called his friend Tom Talomaa, who had the club BZ (Berzelii-Terrassen) in Stockholm, to borrow the club’s logo with a pickup needle. The pickup needle was the single-cover, no photos, we would be secret. It was Ola’s strategy. “Then you might as well call you Secret Service,” said Sonet CEO Gunnar Bergström, laughing!

He was not as happy when Ola ordered 10,000 single-covers with Secret Service and pickup needle. “They will never sell out of stock!” he shouted at Ola. I’ll let them be used as wallpaper in your office instead!

Ola also ordered a few thousand small stickers with nothing more than “Oh Susie” on, and I stuck them all over Stockholm, but he probably did not dare to tell Gunnar about them.  Me and Björn stood as the pseudonyms Hob/Gaga and absolutely nothing revealed that it was Swedish except that Sonet was a Swedish record company, but they were representatives in Sweden for many foreign artists.

Ola sent out the single, especially the 12-inch version that could be played higher, via travel agencies to discotheques across Europe this summer and finally it also became “hit pick”

on the radio Luxemburg. I remember how the whole band crowded shoulder to shoulder inside Ola’s small car outside the OAL studio to listen to the AM band in his car radio when Radio Luxemburg played “Oh Susie” …

A movie director loved the song and was prepared to take a chance. He made a video with a high-definition camera and camera-radar and filmed when Ola walked while singing on Djurgården (a beautiful peninsula in Stockholm) with his jacket a little casually over his shoulder. He also cut in a cute blond girl who was wearing roller skates, which was the highest fashion at that time. A picture of her from the video later became the cover art for our first album “Oh Susie”.  If “Oh Susie” did not become a hit, he would be responsible for all costs, but if it were, he would get paid. And he got it…

In the fall when the single was released to the public, 100,000 singles were sold only in Sweden, and around the rest of the world, several million. So, CEO Gunnar Bergström never had to hire any painter to decorate Olas’s office with single-covers.

SECRET SERVICE IN SPANISH

Inspired by ABBA, we decided to make Spanish versions of “Oh Susie” and “Ye-Si-Ca”.

We thought they would fit the Spanish and South American market.

A young Columbian musician, Jimmy Jiminez, helped Ola with the pronunciation and the results was so good, the songs became great successes in Spain and in South America. In Colombia, we were number one and three at the same time! “Oh Susie” in Spanish and English!

Ola went to South America alone to promote the group. In Colombia, he participated in some kind of gigantic “Saturday TV entertainment” where he was pushed into a sofa.  There he sat with a very beautiful young woman and some others and wondered what would actually happen.

Then the program leader shouted “Ola!” Plus, something inaudible and then “Colombia!” Ola was convinced that he said “Ola! Welcome to Colombia! “And got up and bowed deeply! All of a sudden everybody was laughing. The audience laughed, the programmer laughed and the cameramen laughed so the pictures jumped!

The program leader had introduced the beautiful young woman on the sofa “Hola Miss Colombia” and Hola, which means hello, pronounced without h, sounds like Ola’s name. So, when Ola got up and bowed instead, everyone thought it was incredibly fun.

I shot the photo on the cover art, when Peter Goldmann directed the Ye-Si-Ca video.

TEN O’CLOCK POSTMAN – SECRET SERVICE

After the unexpected international success of “Oh Susie”, an intense period of hard work followed. Neither the band nor myself would like to be remembered as a “One Hit Wonder”.  The problem was that I had a baby daughter at home and also no money. How would I make this work? The pressure was on from all sides. We needed a follow-up!

I simply had to come up with something with something that was at least as good as “Oh Susie”, which was not easy.  I tried to write something similar, but it didn’t work out at all.  “Hey Johnny” was an ok song, but it was definitely not the song that could match “Oh Susie”. No, none of the new songs were good enough as follow-ups. Some were terrible, some were good, but none stuck out. Night after night after night I sat there alone in the office and played. Sometimes so tired that I literally fell asleep over the piano.

Finally, in order to get a little more feeling, I had a tape from the studio where I recorded the drums from the “Oh Susie” session. Playing the cassette over and over to get some more “guts” while I hammered on the Wurlitzer keys. And wait… Now, it’s coming… a little more “old-time” harmonics with tonica, minor parallel, subdominant and dominant as in the old 50s. Could it really work? Oh, Susie was much more “modern” musically…

Soon enough I was back at Björn’s and as usual found myself on his sofa. I did not even fall asleep until Björn exclaimed: “Hey buddy, what do you think about this?

“Ten O’clock Postman, bring me this letter…”

Of course, This was the perfect lyrics! Ola and Uffe agreed when they later read the text and we recorded it quickly in the studio. Tony Lindberg’s wonderful 60s guitar sound fitted perfectly. When we later that night came to the studio’s coffee room for a break, the radio was on. Then we heard “Dancing Queen” with ABBA for the first time. What a masterpiece! We felt like a quarter band in comparison.

But I’ve learned that you should never compare music. “Ten O’clock Postman” became a huge hit throughout Europe. Together with “Oh Susie”, it lasted 55 weeks on the German top list, and Wolfgang Petri made a German version “Ganz Oder Gar Nicht”, which for a long time peaked the German list.

In the Soviet Union, “Ten O’clock Postman” was the most loved of all our songs, though everyone thought we sang “Tri Pionjera”, that is, three pioneers, the name of “Lenin’s scout children”! That’s the way it is today. Many still love “Ten O’clock Postman”, not at least in the former Soviet countries.

YE-SI-CA – SECRET SERVICE

Making a hit can sometimes be easy. I wrote “Oh Susie” on the office’s Wurlitzer piano in less than ten minutes.

The follow-up “Ten O’clock Postman” was more difficult. It’s never easy to tackle a success…

But when the time came for getting started with the second album, it was like walking into a brick wall. Nothing good came out of me.

But as luck had it I happened to hear the new Blondie single. I loved Blondie and their producer Mike Chapman. I was also inspired by “Heart of Glass” when I wrote “Oh Susie”.

What I heard came as a shock to me. Blondie had changed style and their new single

“The Tide Is High” was in reggae style pace and a huge hit!

I went home and figured, if Blondie can, why can’t we? The guys in the band had previously played some kind of pop reggae they called “fruit reggae”, so why not? (When the marketing director later heard the result he ironically thought we should rename the group “The Chameleons”. Did he also think that about Blondie?)

I wrote a melody and we recorded it in the OAL studio one evening, after which I went to Björn with a cassette where I had recorded the song melody to the background.

As always, I lay down on Björn’s sofa while he was listening and humming to the song. Then he said: – Buddy, what do you say about a girl name as a title? Jessika would fit in…

– Well, I said. Nice name but isn’t it a little lack of fantasy to have a girl name as title soon after “Oh Susie”? “Wait,” said Björn, scribbled something on a piece of paper that he then showed me. You can do like this: “Ye-Si-Ca” – What do you think about it, buddy?

In the studio Ola stood by the microphone and both sang and barked like a dog. We kept the barking when we mixed and then the single was pressed. As a B-side, we chose “Crossing A River”, a dark reggae song with a clever text by Björn: “I’ll find a detective who works for a dollar a day”

Some thought it was better than “Ye-Si-Ca”, including my former wife Pernilla, but

“Ye-Si-Ca” was still the potential hit. Premiere play was at a big disco in Stockholm where Uffe and Tony were going to hand out free singles and I, who had also become a bit of the band’s photographer, were there to immortalize the event with my camera.  The disc jockey called out: “Now, as the first in the world, you will hear Secret Service new hit-single “Ye-Si-Ca”! Afterwards there are two guys from the band here to give away singles to you in the audience!”

The song went out over the dance floor at the highest volume, but nobody, absolutely nobody went up for dancing! It simply wasn’t danceable. Nobody came and asked Uffe or Tony for any free single afterwards. All three of us sneaked out of there, somewhat ashamed and very embarrassed.

Back to the studio! New mix! After a proper remix “Ye-Si-Ca” was a great hit in Germany as well as throughout South America, both in English and Spanish! Shame on giving up!