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Bargain Bin Babylon: Svensktoppen

Bargain Bin Babylon: Svensktoppen

These albums serve as both a snapshot of ‘70s pop and an illustration of a smaller nation engaging with and reclaiming contemporary popular entertainment.

Arguments about music quality versus radio performance persist, but the music charts have and always will be there. The Top 40 and beyond are noteworthy, if nothing else, for their marketability and the cash they bring in for major labels. And every country has its own top charts. Even Sweden. And to capitalize on this, at least 30 Svensktoppar and Svensktoppen series records were released in the ’70s (with most editions numbered). Both titles translate roughly to the “Swedish Top,” and the albums are literally collections of various chart-topping songs. The catch is that English-language songs were translated into Swedish and re-recorded. It’s like Kidz Bop, except Swedes are so much cuter than children!

Given that so many editions of these hits records were made, they may be fairly easy to come by (in the right bargain bins), but so far I have been able to find only two. Svensktoppen was released by the Star record label, and it’s stingy with any more details about its production or manufacturing. Svensktoppar was released in 1974 by Music for Pleasure, a label which produced budget albums of popular music via EMI starting in 1965. Neither of these albums is numbered, yet Discogs lists a Svensktoppar 4 as being released in 1969. Who knows?

What really matters is which choice ’70s hits were selected for inclusion on these two collections. There are Swedish songs, like “Hålligång i skogen,” a song that is attributed to Lars Berghagen on the gatefold but, elsewhere, seems to have been written and performed by Lasse Berghagen, a sort of Swedish Tony Bennett with Neil Diamond hair, if you will. Mr. Berghagen’s song “Ding Dong” is also included on Svensktoppen, and, in true ’70s Swedish fashion, it’s just a relentless polka sing-along. But actual Swedish songs aside, hearing Swedish versions of English hits is simultaneously confusing and hilarious. You want to sing the lyrics you know by heart, but they’re a little off (Swedish, honestly, isn’t that far from English). “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” is awful enough in its original state. As sung in Swedish, it becomes this incessantly chipper round. Meanwhile, “Is Anybody Going to San Antone” sounds even more jaunty than the upbeat country original.

But, for some inexplicably, likely childish reason, the Swedish version of “Killing Me Softly with His Song” is the kicker. Why would anyone feel the need to do this? It’s not as though these recordings otherwise alter the songs; they are the same radio hits, just sung by pop-enthusiast Swedes. To top it all off, though, is the Svensktoppen rendition of “Waterloo.” That’s right, ABBA’s “Waterloo” was translated from its original English into the band members’ native Swedish, almost defeating the purpose of the band singing in English and catapulting into the international music charts. Yet the singers get really into it. You can feel the national pride. There’s the fact that ABBA was the shit in the ’70s, and that, by singing the hit in Swedish, they are reclaiming pop royalty as the Swedish product that it is.

These albums serve as both a snapshot of ‘70s pop and an illustration of a smaller nation engaging with and reclaiming contemporary popular entertainment. Even today, only about nine million people speak Swedish. Sure, they have their own Swedish-speaking media and musicians, but pop music is so heavily indebted to the American music industry. Svensktoppen was a way for Sweden to insert themselves into the cycle of top charts and filter those hits through their own lens.

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