All That She Wants – ACE OF BASE
#1 NOVEMBER 6-26, 1993
THE SIGN – ACE OF BASE
#1 APRIL 30 – MAY 27, 1994
The accidental poetry that is ‘English-as-a-Second-Language lyrics’ has to be one of the best aspects of contemporary art, and nowhere is it more wonderfully displayed than in Swedish pop music. Take, for example, the following lines:
Walking like a man/ hitting like a hammer/ she’s a juvenile scam/ never was a quitter/ tasty like a raindrop, she’s got the look.
Nonsense, right? But beautiful nonsense that sounds like it means something definitive. You could imagine a character in ’40s Hollywood referring to some young broad as ‘a juvenile scam’. For full effect, imagine he has a cigar in his mouth.
Those lyrics open Roxette’s 1989 #1 ‘The Look’ and aren’t even the band’s finest example – the opening lines to their biggest international hit*, ‘It Must Have Been Love’: “Lay a whisper on my pillow/ Leave the winter on the ground.”
Beautiful. Literally meaningless, but I guarantee nobody ever misinterpreted the meaning behind these lines.**
Ace of Base were another band of accidental poets, three Swedish siblings and an ex neo-Nazi (we’ll get to that) teaming up and creating one of the highest selling debut albums of all time – which shifted 23 million copies worldwide, spawned three US #1 singles, and two Australian ones: ‘The Sign’ and ‘All That She Wants’. As a nation we agreed that while third single ‘Don’t Turn Around‘ was a fine song, it didn’t have the accidentally poetry of the previous two as it was a cover, and therefore shouldn’t rise any higher than #19.
Their first hit, ‘All That She Wants’ hit #1 in Australia on November 6, 1993 and stayed there for three weeks. It knocked Culture Beat’s ‘Mr. Vain’ off the top, which hit the top for a week, partially due to our brief infatuation with Belgian/Dutch dance purveyors 2 Unlimited.***
Like ‘Mr Vain’ – and most songs that hit the top in 1993 – ‘All That She Wants’ was an odd hit. Darkly-tinged reggae meets breezy Eurovision pop, the song’s meaning remains obscured by most of the Western world’s literal take on the word ‘baby’ in chorus lyrics, “all that she wants is another baby.” There’s an undefined, ominous feeling that creeps throughout the deceptively breezy track – the opening line “she leads a lonely life”, and the clip starring a woman pottering around a big house doesn’t help – leading to the sadder of the possible readings, in which a grieving woman wishes to fill her lonely life with the unconditional love of a child. The father’s identity seems secondary.
The lyrics, however, do detail a predatory woman who adopts the ‘hit ’em and quit ’em’ style of dating. The second verse spells this out, most explicitly in, ‘It’s a night for passion / But the morning means goodbye”, “she’s the hunter, you’re the fox”, and the “she’s gone tomorrow” tag on the chorus.
So does the “another baby” in the chorus refers to just a notch on her BedPost app, or an infant to replace another lost tragically?**** A hilarious US-centric reading that keeps popping up online suggests she is welfare-scamming, which is the line of blinkered thought that leads to subtitling American interviews with Liam Gallagher, remaking The Office because it’s too gloomy, giving Mr. Bean a monologue in his Hollywood film, and removing Hey Hey references from The Castle before distributing it there.
Follow-up single ‘The Sign’ did even better the following year, hitting #1 on April 30 (knocking Celine Dion’s ‘The Power Of Love’ off the top) and staying there for a month. A more joyous song than its predecessor, with a huge keychange (as required by Australian import laws at the time), it was the highest selling single in America in 1994, and the fifth highest-selling here.
In 1994, it seemed Australians only bought singles to be used for wedding ceremonies – the highest selling singles in order were: 1) ‘Love Is All Around’ – Wet Wet Wet. 2) ‘I Swear’ by All 4 One. 3) ‘Always’ – Bon Jovi.
And, as if to prove love was – indeed – all around Australia in 1994, take a look at some of the year’s highest-selling songs: 6) Power Of Love. 7) I’ll Make Love To You. 10) All For Love. 11) 100% Pure Love. 18) Fall In Love With Music. 19) Baby, I Love Your Way. 27) Endless Love. 28) Can You Feel The Love Tonight? 31) Said I Loved You… But I Lied.
Now that we’ve proven love is an unstoppable, evergreen force, let’s discuss Ace of Base’s neo-Nazi links.
They did an admirable job of covering up this little speed-bump in their back mirror during their heyday, and have continued to keep it relatively under wraps (Example: ‘command F’ their Wikipedia page and search for ‘Nazi’. Results: 0/0). However, the indisputable fact is that Ulf Ekberg (aka: the one who isn’t a sibling) was a neo-Nazi skinhead during the late ’80s, being heavily involved in the Swedish Democrats (founded by Nazis) while singing in neo-Nazi skinhead band Commit Suiside.
As a Noisey expose points out, in 1998 a Swedish indie label released a 1,000 CD run of the inflammatory Uffe Was A Nazi, his recordings with the band. The cover art features a young Ekberg giving the Nazi salute. Translated song titles include ‘Don’t Touch Our Country’ and ‘White Power, Black Skull Slaughter.’ Christ!
In a 1997 documentary, he touches upon his past, stating: “I told everyone I really regret what I did. I’ve closed that book. I don’t want to even talk about it, that time does not exist in me any more. I closed it and I threw the book away in 1987. I took the experience from it, I learned from it. But that life is not me. It’s somebody else.”
Phew. They certainly didn’t do themselves any favours, however, by releasing a single called ‘The Sign’ which features the lyrics: “I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes” or an album named ‘Happy Nation’.***** Then again, this was back when people had good reason to genuinely believe the past could remain so.
An example of how heavily happenstance played into the band’s success: Ace of Base had released an independent single in 1992, ‘Wheel Of Fortune’, which had bombed – possibly due to Baby John Burgess’ low profile in the Nordics. One day, they heard a song on the radio, and liked the production enough to cold-call the producer, Denniz PoP (on one of those wall-phones you see on 90210), and send him a demo of their song ‘Mr Ace’. The cassette got caught in his car tape player, and because the alternative was to cruise around with his own crushing thoughts filling the void, he just played it over and over for the next month until the song was so completely lodged into his brain he assumed he freely came up with the idea to produce Ace of Base’s next record. He applied his breezy, culturally-confused production technique to their music, and 30 million album sales later, the entire world has well and truly seen the sign.
Or have they?****** In 2000, a Greatest Hits collection put together by US label Arista Records sold less than 5,000 copies in its first week. While this may seem like an obvious sign the band’s hits were no longer marketable or relevant at the turn of the century, the more likely reason for the poor sales would have been the nine million copies of their debut album (which already contained all their hits) still lying around in American homes.
* The song’s writer Per Gessle awesomely dismissed the song and its success in the liner notes to their greatest hits collection by simply writing “it must have been lunch.” What a king.
**A more indie example. There is an excellent power pop song named ‘Uncalled For’, the video for which stars a heartbroken protagonist clearly having been wronged by some girl in a manner that was uncalled for – hence the title. However, the recurring shots of him clutching a telephone soon make it clear that he was literally uncalled for – i.e. nobody rang his telephone. Amazing!
*** Remember 2 Unlimited? Their Top 60 (how Rage worked back then) Australian hits between 1991-’94 include ‘Get Ready For This’, ‘Twilight Zone’, ‘Workaholic’, ‘The Magic Friend’, ‘No Limits’, ‘Tribal Dance’, ‘Faces’, ‘Maximum Overdrive’, ‘Let the Beat Control Your Body’ and ‘The Real Thing’. Culture Beat managed to followed up ‘Mr Vain’ with ‘Got To Get It’ and ‘Anything’ which both charted well in Australia, although their biggest feat was ‘Mr Vain’ toppling Meat Loaf’s motorcycle epic ‘I’d Do Anything For Love’, which enjoyed an eight-week run at #1.
**** Prediction: this app will exist soon. Users sign up and list the sexual encounters they’ve had. To prevent lying, the other partner(s) in the tryst have to verify it, forcing them to also sign up. Imagine the possibilities! It would steer users just out to up their notch tally (NT) towards other app users. Don’t worry though, exactly which users have previously been involved is never made public – until it inevitably is, of course.
***** Both New Order and Joy Division are Nazi-related band names, too, which we seem to have just shrugged into popular culture.
****** Last-minute twist!