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Chiquitita (1979 – - ABBA-All about the Song

Had the circumstances been a little different, this hit track could have been called "Rosalita"... And here's why...

The history of ABBA's melodic hit "Chiquitita"

"Chiquitita" (meaning "baby" in Spanish) is the first single from the Swedish pop band ABBA from their album Voulez-Vous. Initially, the breakthrough single of the record was supposed to be "If It Wasn't for the Nights", but the sudden success of "Chiquitita" changed the band's plans... Mexico and Ireland! The most interesting, and at the same time sad for the group, is that the song did not gain success in the United States (a modest 29th place was a record ...)

The group recorded the final version of their hit track at the end of 1978: the record was released only at the beginning of the new year, and later the Spanish-language version was released, which became a hit both in Spain itself and in other hot sunny countries ... Despite the success, the music video the band was in no hurry to shoot… Later, instead of the video, they started broadcasting a popular recording of a live performance filmed by the BBC on a mountainside with a snowman in the background… Today, this video has gained more than 150 million views, and, in fact, made “Chiquitita” a kind of Christmas hit… How it all began ? Let's remember together!

The recording process...

Voulez-Vous (ABBA album)
Voulez-Vous (ABBA album)

Since its release in 1979, "Chiquitita" has been acclaimed as one of ABBA's greatest hits! However, if the circumstances were a little different, this hit track could have been called "Rosalita" ... And here's why! It was early December 1978: the sessions for the new ABBA album were, if not entirely disastrous, then at least not as smooth as one would have liked... Sessions for the album that would eventually become Voulez-Vous began in March , gained momentum in April before moving to the new Polar Music Studios in June. As a result of hard work in September 1978, only one single was released: "Summer Night City". But the band was not completely satisfied with the result of this single, and although it was definitely not a flop, it was a little less successful internationally than ABBA expected from their releases...

They knew that they would release a new single pretty soon, but they didn't know yet which one... And then they got a great opportunity to present a song about a "little girl" to the public as part of a charity concert in New York. The purpose of the show was to raise money for UNICEF's global hunger relief programs and also to celebrate the start of the International Year of the Child. The idea was also put forward that each of the participating artists should perform a special song by donating the royalties for that song to UNICEF. The whole project came up with The Bee Gees, their manager Robert Stigwood and TV presenter David Frost. In addition to ABBA, such artists as The Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, Olivia Newton-John, Donna Summer, Rod Stewart and others were involved ... Actually, the touching "Chiquitita" was performed for the first time at this concert...

ABBA Group. Photo: Benny Anderson
ABBA Group. Photo: Benny Anderson

Work on the new album had to continue, and on December 4, Bjorn, Benny and their trusted musicians gathered in the studio to record a brand new song. At the time, the track was adorned with the somewhat ridiculous working title "Kålsupare" (translated as "bird of a feather"), which had absolutely nothing to do with the melody itself. Having worked out the backing track, Bjorn came up with the concept of a lyric in which the main character refers to a former lover who now prefers another woman ... The title of this new song became "In The Arms Of Rosalita": Agnetha and Anni-Frid recorded their vocals, performing verses in turn. Although the record sounded convincing enough, the band felt that something was wrong with it: the record simply did not realize the potential inherent in the melody itself ... Further work on the track was temporarily suspended, and while ABBA thought about it, on December 6 they went to London for filming on television. Most notably, they appeared on The Mike Yarwood Christmas Show, where they performed what they thought was a hit single: "If It Wasn't For The Nights".

Back in Sweden, Bjorn and Benny again asked the session musicians to come to the studio to remake the "In The Arms Of Rosalita" backing track. It was December 13, 1978: the second attempt was adorned with the working title "Kålsupare II", later changed to "Three Wise Guys". When developing a new layout, many features of the first version were retained. That being said, everyone felt they had an obligation to emphasize the Latin American nature of the melody… The lyrics have now evolved into a message of comfort and encouragement, with the singers trying to instill some hope for better days… A few lines from “In The Arms Of Rosalita” were actually saved for the new song, albeit in a slightly revised form, for example, "chained by your own sorrow" (You're enchained by your own sorrow) and "There is no hope for tomorrow" (In your eyes there is no hope for tomorrow).

Success…

Chiquitita: The Story of the Abba Song
Chiquitita: The Story of the Abba Song

When the song was completed, finalized and mixed, ABBA themselves and everyone around realized that they had a new strong contender for the release of a single ... Therefore, it was decided to leave "If It Wasn't For The Nights" an album track and make "Chiquitita" a new single and, most importantly, the song that the band donated to UNICEF. Perhaps everyone decided that a ballad with its hopeful atmosphere was more suitable for charity than a fast disco track like "If It Wasn't For The Night". In any case, "Chiquitita" was first introduced to the world at a UNICEF concert on January 9, 1979. The show was then televised in the United States on January 10th and around the world... Then, on January 16th, the single "Chiquitita" was released.

ABBA in the 70s
ABBA in the 70s

As noted above, a promotional video for the song was not filmed. Instead, the band arranged a simple performance for the BBC in February when they were on set in Switzerland for a television special. A beautiful musical performance filmed outdoors in front of a giant snowman… Why not?

As a code for the success of "Chiquitita", this song was also chosen as the tune that would help ABBA achieve a convincing breakthrough in South America, where they had not enjoyed much success up to this point. Buddy McCluskey, of RCA Records in Argentina, collaborated with his wife Mary on the Spanish lyrics for 'Chiquitita', which was certainly the perfect song for such an undertaking given that it was Spanish-flavored in both arrangement and title.

The Spanish version was released as a single in Argentina in April 1979, reaching number one on the charts. Within a few months, the Spanish "Chiquitita" sold a million copies (and that's only in Argentina), becoming the biggest hit in South America in 25 years! Undoubtedly, such success helped "Chiquitita" become one of the most popular songs of ABBA ...

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