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Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Saw The Sign

Hey, everybody!  I hope you don't mind me going a little bit international for this edition of the Sunday Jukebox, but this edition is going to be featuring a band from a country that is famous for its meatballs, Ingrid Bergman, and IKEA furniture.

Yes, the song that we're featuring is by a band that hails from the Scandinavian country of Sweden.

No, the group is not ABBA.

However, this song was a huge hit twenty years ago this week.  In fact, if you took a look at the Billboard Music Charts for the year of 1994, you'll find that this particular single was the number one single of the entire year!  And the song itself spent quite a lot of time on the pole position of the Billboard charts that year.  The length of time it spent at #1 lasted from March 12, 1994 until April 2, 1994.  And a month later, it spent an additional two weeks at the top of the charts the week beginning May 7! 

As far as personal memories of this song go, I have to admit that I heard this single played a LOT on the radio during my seventh grade year.  The song hit number one just before I turned thirteen, and admittedly, that year was not exactly the happiest time of my life.  I hated seventh grade with a passion, and don't even get me started on my classmates that year.  With a couple of exceptions, all of the kids who I could not stand just happened to be in that very class.  Oh, what fun.

Yet for whatever reason, this song was the one constant of that tumultuous time.  Every time I heard the song playing, it provided me some comfort.  Although the song quickly became way overplayed that year, I still liked it enough to listen to it on the radio while I was doing my homework.

(Because that year I actually did better learning outside of school than in class.)

Okay, so what is this song in question?  Your clues are that the band is from Sweden, and it was the #1 song of 1994.  Is that enough to go on?  Or, would you like me to show you a "sign"?

Ah, hell, let's just go ahead with the video.

ARTIST:  Ace of Base
SONG:  The Sign
ALBUM:  The Sign
DATE RELEASED:  December 21, 1993

Okay, so how many of you have heard of the Swedish pop/dance group "Ace of Base"?  Well, if you were like me and happened to be in your middle school years during the 1993/94 school year, you probably heard this group a lot.  The group dominated the charts for nearly a five-year-period in North America with singles such as "All That She Wants", "Beautiful Life", "Lucky Love", and a cover of Bananarama's 1984 hit, "Cruel Summer".  But when the new millennium came around, Ace of Base simply disappeared in North America.  Sure, the band is still recording music as of 2014, but a couple of band members have departed the group since, and of the Ace of Base line-up of 1994, only half remain.

The members, by the way were Ulf Ekberg and the sibling trio of Linn, Jenny, and Jonas Berggren.

(Just in case you were wondering, Jenny's the brunette, Linn's the blonde.  And, it really makes no difference now as both Jenny and Linn have gone their separate ways.)

The band was actually founded seven years prior to "The Sign" becoming a #1 hit.  In 1987, Jonas Berggren and a couple of his friends (Johnny Linden and Niklas Trank) formed a band as part of a school project.  Jonas' sisters, Linn and Jenny would join the group as well as the band's main vocalists.  The band went through several names (including Tech-Noir and Kalinin Prospect) before settling on the name "Ace of Base", as the band felt that they were the masters of their studio.

(That studio at the time being a basement of an auto repair shop.)

The original line-up took a hit when Johnny parted ways with the group in 1989.  As for Niklas Trank, I am just speculating that he was fired from the group for skipping out on a booked gig to see a Rolling Stones concert.  Ulf was brought in shortly after Niklas left the band, and the quartet remained for years to come.

The group released their first album, "Happy Nation" in December 1992 in Europe and Australia, and their first single, "Wheel of Fortune", showed some promise but wasn't the breakout hit that they envisioned it to be.  

It wasn't until "All That She Wants" was released as the second single within the last month of 1992 that the world began to take notice.

As 1993 was welcomed in, "Ace of Base" began a whirlwind rise to the top.  By April, the song "All That She Wants" was beginning to make headway on the North American charts, and American record labels began to take notice.  One record label in particular was Clive Davis' Arista Records, and Davis took a chance on the band when all other record companies turned them down, stating that the band's music would NEVER work in the United States.

(Keep in mind that 1993 was the height of the Grunge movement in which Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Smashing Pumpkins reigned supreme.)

Of course, there were some changes that had to be made to the band's album if it was to get any attention in America.  Some songs were kept on the album ("All That She Wants", "Wheel of Fortune", "Waiting for Magic", etc.), but some of the songs that were recorded entirely in Swedish were pitched.  In addition, the band composed some new tracks that would be added onto the disc - three of which would make an impression on the Billboard charts.  Two of them were "Don't Turn Around" and "Living In Danger".

And, the third was "The Sign".  And in America, "Happy Nation" was renamed as "The Sign" to bring more attention to the album.

Whatever the case, whatever Clive Davis did to the album worked.  The album went nine times platinum, selling over nine million copies in the United States alone.  An additional million copies were sold in Canada.  And throughout 1994 and 1995, "Ace of Base" were easily considered one of the top acts in the world, and the third most successful Swedish band in the world directly behind ABBA and Roxette.

So, let's talk about "The Sign", shall we?

As far as what the song is about, the song deals with the subject of breaking up with somebody and one of the people in the relationship (presumably the girl as Jenny and Linn provide the lead vocals in this single) talks about how the signs were there that the relationship just couldn't survive. 

As if the lyrics weren't telling the story enough, the music video seems to do a good job of it as well, with a few clips of a man and a woman sitting side by side until the man takes off and leaves her there.  Of course, the man comes back to the woman holding a rose and he almost expects her to go with him.  And she almost agrees...

...until she happens to see a bright light shining down towards her.  A sign.  A sign that maybe rose-boy should go back on "The Bachelor" to give the other twenty-four desperate women a chance to form a connection with him so that he can break her heart the same way Juan Pablo did on this recent season.

Ahem...where was I?  Oh, yes, "The Sign", that's quite right.

Anyway, "The Sign" was a very unique video because there are not one, not two, but FIVE different edits of the video!  And, depending on what country you were from, you would see one of these five edits.  The one I described is the United States version.  But some versions are solely black and white.  Others mix a little bit of colour in.  Some versions show more close-ups of Linn (the video in the United States focus more on Jenny), and others show the group singing with their backs in a circle.

It's very confusing, but I think it was a good idea to release different edits of videos for different nations.  After all, what might work in the USA may not work in the UK, and what clips might be seen as innovative in South America might be considered cheesy in Australia.

What is interesting though is the impact that this song has had on other aspects of pop culture.  At the peak of this song's popularity, it was featured in a final season episode of "Full House" in which Stephanie Tanner forms a girl group with best friend Gia, arch-nemesis Kimmy Gibbler, and some random extra and performs this song.  Rather badly.  But since the lesson learned is that practice makes perfect, that explains why it was.  Though, given that Jodie Sweetin was thirteen years old at the time, it also explains why the performance wasn't really up to par anyway.

It was also featured in the "South Park" episode where a prehistoric man from "1996" is unearthed, and to make him feel at home again, he is locked in a chamber which plays "Ace of Base" music constantly.  It was a very contrived episode, and yet it's one of my favourites.  Go figure.

And, that's our look back on "The Sign".  Did it open up your eyes?

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