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Sunday, April 21, 2013

They've Got "The Look" - The Roxette Story

Sometimes when it comes to picking topics for the blog, I get a mild case of writer's block.

No, actually, I don't think that's quite the word I want to use. I think I'm going to coin a new phrase.

Topic block.

I suppose in some cases, it makes a lot of sense. I have been keeping up this blog for almost two years now. Sometimes it gets harder and harder to come up with fresh ideas when there comes a time in which you believe you have used them all up.

So, for today's edition of the Sunday Jukebox, I thought I would use a rather unconventional method in choosing a song to spotlight. I would put my iPod on shuffle, skip ahead to song #421 (the number chosen because this entry will be posted on April 21), and go from there.

As it turned out, that method was a rather ingenious one, as the 421st song on my iPod had an interesting story behind how it became a huge hit in North America.

And that story begins roughly around the holiday season of 1988.

At the time, a musical duo was on tour promoting their second album all around Scandinavian Europe, particularly in their native country of Sweden. Although the duo had had several hit singles in their home country, and even released their 1986 debut album in Canada, they struggled to find an audience outside of their native country.

That is, until an American exchange student by the name of Dean Cushman inadvertedly helped the duo achieve their biggest worldwide hit ever.

At the time that Cushman was visiting Sweden, the duo had just released the third single from their album, “Look Sharp!”. Their previous two singles, “Dressed for Success” and “Listen To Your Heart” had already been released to some success in Sweden. Upon hearing the single on the radio, Cushman bought a copy of the album, and upon flying back home to America, sent the album to a radio station in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and asked them to play the single on the air. KDWB began to play the single, and within a few days, it made a huge impact on the radio station, as listeners kept calling the station requesting the song be played again, demanding to know who performed it.

By the beginning of 1989, the copy of the single had spread to other radio stations throughout the nation, and it eventually hit the top of the charts, despite the fact that the album had not even been released in the United States! By the time “Look Sharp!” was released in the United States later on in the year, it debuted at #50 on the Billboard 200 – a fantastic claim to fame for a new artist!

So, would you like to know what the song was that helped make “Roxette” a household name? It happens to be the one below.

ARTIST: Roxette
SONG: The Look
ALBUM: Look Sharp!
DATE RELEASED: January 12, 1989

I remember “The Look” being played almost constantly during my elementary school years. I think that during the period between 1989 and 1994, I must have heard that song playing approximately five hundred times. Not that I minded though. It was a great song back in the day, and it's still a good song today!

In fact, I'll actually admit to owning the “Look Sharp!” album back in the day. What can I say? There's just something about Sweden. Of course, they also brought us ABBA and ABBA lookalike band Ace of Base.

Anyway, less about them. More about Roxette.

Roxette is made up of the duo of Per Gessle and Marie Fredriksson. Both musicians can be heard singing vocals, though Marie tends to sing a lot more than Per did.

(Part of the reason I'm glad that “The Look” was chosen for my as the topic was because it's the perfect song that showcases both singers.)

The duo first met in the year 1979 in Halmstad, Sweden. At the time, both were committed to other projects. Marie was in the band Strul and MaMas Barn, while Per was enjoying success as a member of the band Gyllene Tider (at the time, one of Sweden's most successful bands).

TRIVIA: Per also worked on former ABBA singer Frida's album “Something's Going On”.

When Marie Fredriksson left her band in the early 1980s, she began singing background vocals for Gyllene Tider in 1981, and by 1984, she joined the band on background vocals again for their only English album, “The Heartland Cafe”.

That album was released in Sweden in February 1984, and sold a modest 45,000 copies in Sweden. Doesn't sound like a lot, does it? Though the English-language album did attract attention from Capitol/EMI, and they made plans to release six of the eleven songs on an EP record under the name “Heartland”. The only catch was that the band needed a new name, as Gyllene Tider didn't quite roll off the tongue.

(In fact, I'll be honest. I have no idea how to pronounce Gyllene Tider, and if I tried, I'd likely sound like the Swedish Chef.)

Bork! Bork! Bork!

Ahem...anyway, the band settled on their new American name after the title of a 1975 single from Dr. Feelgood.


Now, Roxette did attempt to break out into the United States market four years before their big break came. In 1985, the group released a single, “Teasing Japanese”, and the music video actually found its way to the MTV headquarters in New York City. But while the singles did well in their native Sweden, they fizzled everywhere else, and by the end of the year, the band had broken up, and Per and Marie split off to record solo albums recorded entirely in Swedish.

But Rolf Nygren, then the Managing Director of EMI, refused to give up on Per Gessle and Marie Fredrikssen. He came up with the idea that Per and Marie should begin singing together as a duo using the Roxette name that they used for the American release that never came to be. The two agreed to try it out, and their first single was a song that Per had initially written in Swedish, but had translated in English to become “Neverending Love”. It sold 50,000 copies in Sweden, and peaked within the Top 10 in 1986.

Riding on the wave of success, the duo went to the studios to record their first full-length album, “Pearls of Passion” in October 1986. And, once again, their songs did very well in Sweden, but not so much anywhere else in the world.

It wasn't until Dean Cushman brought over a copy of the band's second album back home with him that their big break in America came.

The Look” was only the first of many hits for Roxette stateside. Just have a look at the songs that they also released in North America as well as their peak position on the charts. In fact, if you click the links, you can hear these songs in full.

So, as you can see, their popularity in the United States lasted about five years. Their last Top 50 hit was nineteen years ago, and they have not had one since. However, they are still, wildly popular in their native Sweden, as well as all throughout Europe and Latin America. They have had hits in Europe as recently as 2010, when their single “She's Got Nothing On (But The Radio)” hit the top 10 in Austria and Germany.

But their career and their partnership together was threatened in September 2002 when Marie became ill. She suffered a concussion after falling in her home and striking her head. It was discovered shortly after that the reason behind the fainting spell was due to a brain tumour. Surgery was performed immediately, and Marie spent the next few years recovering. At that time, Per Gessle embarked on a solo career. By 2005, Marie's condition had improved enough for her to begin recording music again, and four years later, Gessle and Fredrikssen reunited as Roxette for the first time in nearly eight years.

And, that's our “look” back on Roxette.

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