Ten Plus One: TDR Honors Marie Fredriksson
How on earth do you pay tribute to someone who narrated the soundtrack of your life?
The Daily Roxette have published thousands of articles in its 22-year history and after much resistance, agonizing and sadness – I finally found the strength to scribble down some thoughts to try and illustrate to fans and potential new readers, the power of the gift that is Marie Fredriksson.
Despite the delay in writing this, once I came to peace with the fact that no single article could ever do Marie justice, I then just let go and let the words come to me. The more I listened to Roxette songs, the more I realized, this article shouldn’t be a damn eulogy. I didn’t listen to Roxette to feel sad; I listen to Roxette to feel happy. Roxette is a proud band. “Don’t Bore Us, Get to the Chorus” is exactly what Roxette’s legacy is – they make no apologies for who they are! Roxette have carved out some of the most finely crafted three-minute pop songs in music history – and they make no apologies for it. Roxette’s music actually says so much more than the critics will ever realize – and that’s OK, let those hipsters pontificate over some underground darling – they will never realize that it actually takes courage and pride to be so open about your unashamed love of melody and a glistening bright chorus. Per Gessle’s lyrics such as “How do you do, do you do, the things that you do?” are enough to make any critic revel in their smugness to take aim at Roxette – but their ignorance and arrogance blinds them from hearing the genius in what Roxette does best – melody, chorus and pop. It takes raw talent to belt out a “Joyride” or a “Real Sugar” – more than anyone could ever imagine.
Back to Marie – we didn’t come here for a pity party, that would be an insult to our beloved warrior. No. Instead, how best to celebrate and honor the incredible talent that is Marie Fredriksson then to showcase some of her finest ever vocal performances?
Mind you, this is not necessarily about your favorite Roxette song – it’s a chance to look at ten of some of the most diverse, mind-blowing and unique offerings that Marie has given us. Of course, asking a die-hard to select ten songs that show off Marie at her best is like asking a parent to choose their favorite child. It’s impossible – so let’s bear that in mind as we enter the wildfire vocal storm that is our “half a woman, half a warrior”; Marie Fredriksson.
OK, so I couldn’t pick just ten… so think of it as ten plus one!
The Look – 1988
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine you’re a professional singer. You step into a vocal booth. It’s time to lay down your vocals. You look up to the control room and you see your producer and your musical partner (who also wrote the song you’re about to sing) – not to mention the presence of the engineer and programmer and other assorted studio folk. You are alone in this small vocal booth, it’s time to perform and deliver the goods. You look down at your easel and in front of you are the typed-up lyrics… “na na na na na, na na na na na, na na na na na – she’s got the look!”
Seriously? Any mere mortal would collapse into the fetal position wishing the world would swallow them whole from the pressure of making something out of nothing – or worse yet, they would begrudgingly fumble their way through the recording until it was time to record another song. But not Marie. In fact, she did the opposite.
Some might be perplexed at the inclusion of this sing over more traditional Marie tracks like, “Listen to Your Heart”, “Crash! Boom! Bang!” or “Anyone?” – after all, this song is predominantly sung by Per. But one needs to listen to the depth of the lyrics that Marie is actually singing here… and then compare that with the intensity in which she sings. It’s her intensity that pierces through – and Marie has a lot of challenges in this song. Notwithstanding the aforementioned, borderline nonsensical lyrics, Marie is competing with a synth-filled, grand ‘80s production and not to mention, Jonas’ classic guitar – but, somehow Marie’s vocals manages to not only find its place in this song among all the glitzy arrangements, but it indeed pierces through. It’s almost as if Marie is taking all her energy that she would expend on a big ballad like a “Fading Like a Flower” and is releasing that monstrous power all over these short bursts of vocals. Quite simply, a triumphant vocal performance – this song is the very epitome of the expression “can sing a telephone book”
Sleeping in My Car – 1994
By 1994, Marie Fredriksson was married and was a mother of a baby girl. Therefore, logic dictates that during this time, in between Roxette duties, Marie was spending what little time she had with her family. Yet, despite knowing these facts, I still believe, for 3 minutes and 50 seconds at least, that Marie was riding around in a car one night with a lover, trying to get close to him and undressing him in the backseat of her car. Crazy, right? But that’s because Marie embodies a special talent that many singers don’t have… in fact this is what makes Marie an artist as opposed to just a “vocalist”; Marie is a storyteller. She makes you believe. This talent that she has is something that is criminally overlooked and yet is what I believe to be Marie’s greatest strength – I totally believe her. Marie takes on the role of the character in this song, Marie is the storyteller and she is telling you about a night… that is so pretty and so young – and it’s a wonderous joy to hear her do so. Storytelling singers. Marie was influenced by a long line of power female story tellers – artists like Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell who took to the stage, not to flounce around in a pretty dress, but to command your attention with their story telling. And sure, internationally, Marie didn’t write the lyrics she was famous for… but then again, neither did the likes of Tina Turner – it’s not a literal interpretation of the term “storyteller” but indeed just that, an interpretation. This song is pure rock and roll and Marie shines bright on this as she carries the whole song from the opening verse to the coda… this is not about counting her octaves, this is about a singer respecting the song and respecting the job she has to do, which is to tell a little story… this is exactly what pop music should be about… but of course… if you’re someone who prefers listening to a bunch of critically acclaimed octaves on a loop throughout an old Dolly Parton cover that sounds like a kettle has just boiled – then by all means, pour yourself that cuppa and enjoy your tea as you sit through those Vocal Acrobatics Championships of 1992 – but if it’s all the same with you, I’ll take my vocalists with a bit of rock, a bit of soul and a helluva lot of story.
I’m Glad You Called – 2011
You’ve probably never heard of this song. In fact, those outside of the inner-faithful probably didn’t even realize that in 2011, Roxette released an album called Charm School… and that’s fine, you don’t need to know that – but what you do need to know and listen to is this simple little acoustic song recorded in a hotel room in Europe on tour.
Let’s get some perspective, by this point Marie was in her early 50s and her battle with cancer had well and truly taken her toll on her body – let’s be honest, Marie wasn’t really hitting those raw stratospheric big notes that we had heard during their heyday but that’s what makes this little ditty so poignant. Listen, just listen, you can hear the weathered grains in her vocals, a woman who had battled so much in her life, you can hear the frailty and vulnerability from a woman who is so renowned for delivering power. But yet, there is power in this performance, just a different kind. I always liken the vocals in this song to a woman who steps out for the first time with no make-up on her face – it’s raw, it’s real, it’s imperfect, it’s brave. You can hear the battle scars, you feel the honesty in Marie’s warm delivery of this gentle song. Of course there are other examples of songs where Marie has sung in a low key manner, songs such as “Never is a Long Time”, “Watercolours in the Rain” and “Go to Sleep”. But this is one of the first following her comeback, the first since the battle and it’s just very tender and special. Fast forward to 02:03 and listen to the delivery of “it’s been a while and lots of miles…” and tell me it doesn’t gently strum your soul… Marie’s vocals are like a warm ray of sunshine appearing through a crack of an old abandoned piece of wood that has withstood the elements of time… despite the density of such a barrier, Marie’s glowing vocals seep through, just enough to make you smile.
Sleeping Single – 1988
So, what’s the biggest compliment a pop producer can give his singer? Strip back all the whizzbang production in an up-tempo eighties pop song and throw the bare minimum to it to let the arrangement serve the vocals. That’s a big risk, especially in the late ’80s – but here we are. Clarence Öfwerman could have easily gone all “The Look” on this song, it’s melody and chorus line practically begs for it… but instead, he held back and went minimal – Marie’s vocals is the star of this show. And yes, while we can hear the sequencers in this song and yes while Jonas pops up again with his legendary riffs – when it’s time for Marie to sing, it’s pretty bare minimum – Clarence pulls the plug on all those elements and allows Marie do what she does best, carry the song. It’s like the song’s production ebbs and flows just enough to quieten down when it’s Marie’s turn to sing her heart out. Impressive stuff, a beautiful and timeless example of a musical maestro restraining his urges and letting the singer carry a pop song – and Marie does just that.
Spending My Time – 1991
Oh boy. Where to begin? In case you haven’t guessed, I’m not a musician – so the terminology fails me, I can’t write about key changes or notes or modulation… I can only write what I feel in my heart and Marie is simply second to none here. Per Gessle would often use the expression “custom made for Marie” and this song is the purest example of that. Listen to the woman’s range, from the melancholy whisper of a “what’s the time, seems it’s already morning” to the epic, firestorm delivery of “the bed’s too big without you, honey” – Marie’s vocals cover it all. Per’s recent extraordinary words in honor of his friend were “you painted my black and white songs with the most beautiful colors” and this song proudly shows off this artist’s palette. Just listen to her delicate and controlled power coupled with Per’s vocals during the second verse “I try to call but I don’t know what to tell you” – even with Per’s trademark, gravelly tones, Marie’s enigmatic talent gently intertwines with Per’s vocals to deliver pure Roxette magic… before quickly switching gears and launching an almighty missile in the next chorus “watching the sun go down” – if you want to know what “classic Marie” is all about in the Roxette game, give this hit a few spins and be humbled as to all the places she takes you – what a breathtaking soul.
Cry (MTV Unplugged) – 1993
I never really liked “Cry” – just never got into it on the Look Sharp! album. But skip that 1988 version and track down this 1993 live version recorded for the band’s MTV Unplugged concert. Marie can do pop, she can do rock and here we have Marie tapping into her inner blues. As a child, Marie would try to emulate the true Queen of Soul, Miss Aretha Franklin and during this performance, you can hear Marie’s roots come through. A blues composition with a soul singer in Marie. Fast forward to 01:28 where Marie throws around the line “I keep on thinkin’ ‘bout you” like a rag doll before her next one-two, sass punch delivery “oh, I built my world around you” – oh my, if I didn’t need a cigarette before that, I do now… and I’m not even a smoker… light me up!
Soul Deep – 1986
History will judge soul singers such as Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin as the very best of all time – and it’s hard to argue against that. There’s just something about these incredible African-American women that you really can’t compete with… so if you’re going to call a song “Soul Deep” and dip into a slight Motown sound, you better bloody deliver. And not only does Marie Fredriksson deliver, but she definitely holds her own against those aforementioned legends. Probably Marie’s wildest vocal performance ever – she’s so loose and so on the edge of the melody. Listen to the way she delivers the opening line “Save a prayer”, the way she wrangles “prayer”, she’s so soulful, so full of attitude, again, she makes you believe – this could very well be Marie at her strongest, most edgiest of all time. Please go to 02:45 on the link and just be blown away by her “yeeeeeeeah, yeah yeah yeah” – this woman sets your soul on fire – there’s no holding back here, this is unapologetic Marie Fredriksson in her most purest, most dynamic, most spirited form – this is the tone that caught the world’s attention in the late eighties when she lit a match and set the world alight.
Dressed For Success – 1988
I’m sorry but this could very well be my favorite vocal performance of all time. I curse my limited vocabulary to try and do justice to this astounding, epic vocal performance. What I love about Marie’s singing in this track is her intensity. For most singers, this level of intensity is usually reserved for power ballads – but Marie sings this like the world is ending and she’s got just 4 minutes to get every emotion out there – and you want to know the catch? The catch is that this is simply a three chord, punchy-pop, piece of bubble-gum – and that’s precisely what we love about Marie.
Remember what I wrote in “The Look” entry? Marie will turn any kind of song into something that blows your ear drums into smithereens. How’s about that opener? “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”… says it all really. Legend has it that Marie was somewhat “miffed” during the recording of these vocals, rumor has it she was fed up with both Clarence and Per in the studio who were to-ing and fro-ing as to how the song should be sung before a frustrated Marie leapt to her feet, stormed into the vocal booth and in just ONE TAKE, belted out this mammoth performance, at 4 in the morning…. Needless to say, Marie put an end to any more debate in the studio as to how to sing this song. One take, folks – just ONE take. The Queen has spoken “uh-oh oh!”.
(Do You Get) Excited? – 1991
To write a song like this, Per needs confidence. Yes, we know Clarence can work his magic and make most songs work and indeed his team of Swedish musicians will deliver world class playing… but without a singer with enough balls to pull this off, you ain’t got diddly squat.
The pressure is on, once again, check out the title… this song is about sex and you really are making a bold statement writing such a sultry song – there is no room for error here, you’re putting your balls on the line with the title, the theme and the temperature – don’t you dare declare that “when your body’s hot, the window’s open wide” and not deliver, your premise better match the promise, hit this song out of the park or go home – ladies and gentleman, “my oh my”, Miss Marie Fredriksson. Game over.
If Clarence’s minimalist production on “Sleeping Single” was his compliment to Marie’s talents, then this is Per’s ultimate gift to his friend and co-artist. This is a bloody ambitious song to write and this is Per’s inspiring trust he has in this pint-sized little warrior, that she can deliver such insane vocal ranges in just one song. Think about the pressure, the title is asking the listener “do you get excited?”, the stakes have never been as high as this in a Roxette song – plus, Marie is competing with Clarence’s clever production, Jonas’ Zeppelin guitar riff… but despite all those dynamic elements that make this song come to life, it’s Marie who breathes fire into this song! It’s Marie who rises above all that and comes out owning these 4 minutes and 17 seconds of earth-shattering singing and will never ever let you, not for a single second, doubt that she ever could!
Hotblooded – 1991
Much like “Soul Deep,” if you’re going out on a limb and presenting a song with a title like “Hotblooded” – then once again, you better bloody deliver! And true to form, Marie pulverizes the speakers.
For me, I see “Hotblooded” as much more of Marie’s trademark song, more so than the often associated “Watercolours in the Rain”. This song is about a rock and roll loving, fiery, short tempered, loud, ferociously strong woman who commands that her “sisters o’ soul” “burn this old house down” as she makes “those guitars bleed” – sound like someone we know?
This song is Marie. To me, this song encapsulates the on-stage persona of Marie Fredriksson. I can’t think of any other song, musically, lyrically and vocally that sums up who Marie Fredriksson is more than this. Think about her on stage – leather clad, this short, peroxide blonde woman led an army of men to battle every night, her instructions could be heard near and far “OK, Jonas, give me some guitar”. Marie, in this song is “girl power”, in fact, Marie was always “girl power” long before a bunch of rich businessmen coined and exploited the phrase in 1996 and made millions of the back of five mediocre British girls. And if her vocals during “Cry” made me want a cigarette, then this song makes me want to grab the hose! How about that final crescendo? Clarence just abruptly cuts out the pounding drums, the shredding electric guitars and allows Marie one final gasp. Without doubt, to me, this is Marie’s legacy, this is a pulsating, soulful, rocking, masterclass in singing.
It Must Have Been Love – 1987/1990
If this didn’t top the list, I’d have been lynched. The ballad that set the world on fire and defined the Roxette sound. This all-time classic gets as much airplay today as it did back in 1990. While Per and Clarence deliver a masterclass in “song composition”, once again, it’s Marie that takes this song to stratospheric new levels.
Marie takes the theme of “heartbreak”, such a simple, tried and tested pop base that has been the backbone of love ballads for decades and somehow takes it to new heights. Oh, speaking of heights, how’s about after that 3-minute mark where Marie hits those high notes – she shares with us her strongest vocal performance in Roxette history. Years later, Marie was quoted in interviews where she reflected on that original recording, somewhat bemused as to how the hell she ever hit those high notes – she even surprised herself.
Marie. Your legacy is so much more than a list of songs listed on a website. Marie, I can’t believe you’re not here and I am sorry I cannot write the words that will do you justice, but I hope you know how much your talent has meant to millions around the world.
You will forever be my leather pant-wearing, bad ass – you are pure class and your talent will forever be etched in history. Whilst your vocals are famous all over the globe, it’s actually your spirit that we all felt and heard – your spirit drove those vocals – your spirit transcended languages, religions, cultures and ages. Hopefully future generations will stumble upon this article one day and listen to just one of these songs on the list and marvel at what we were gifted between 1958 and 2019 – and now, your legacy, your magic and your spirit will live on forever.
Can you call her home?
Can you call her home?
You may simply call her miss!
Miss Marie Fredriksson x