On June 7th 1993, the Swedish group Ace of Base released their debut album in the UK. The ‘Happy Nation’ album was released in three formats over the course of a year. In November 1992, it was rush-released in Scandinavia to cope with the massive reception that the band were getting with their singles (particularly in Denmark). Germany followed in February, with the UK getting the album on June 7th – the release date which also saw Ace of Base at number 1 in the UK singles chart with ‘All That She Wants’.
In September that same year, ‘Happy Nation (US version)’ was released, including some new tracks – most notably ‘The Sign’. Though contrary to the title, the US version was never actually released in the US. Instead, the album was repackaged as ‘The Sign’ in November that year – 12 months after the album had been released in the Scandi-lands.
Today, a full 25 years after its UK release, we pay tribute to an album that made a big impact on us, and 23 million (and counting!) others.
Singles Of The 90s
Ask anyone (old enough!) to name a song that defines the memory of living in the early 90s in the UK, and there’s a large chance they’ll respond with either ‘The Sign’ or ‘All That She Wants’. In the US however, the chances are even higher. ‘The Sign’ ended up on top of Billboard’s year-end chart of 1994. The biggest song of the year in America.
Blah, Blah, Blah On The Radio
The number 1 singles and albums that the band achieved in both the US and the UK with ‘Happy Nation’, don’t really do the popularity of this record justice. For that, you’d need to have been around at the time – and specifically tuned in to a radio. Where for a good two years, Ace of Base were never off it. Glorious days. South Park even revolved a whole episode around it.
If you were a kid at this time, then your summer holidays in both 1993 and 1994 were going to have been heavily soundtracked by Ace of Base. For two years, they were the band of the summer, provided the songs of the summer, and gave us the sound of the summer.
The Golden Ratio
In 1995, the Guinness Book of Records gave ‘Happy Nation’ the accolade of being the biggest selling debut album of all time. They kept this record until the Spice Girls came along a few years later. But as of 2007, the ‘Happy Nation’ album had sold 23 million units. Sales figures which are never, ever going to be matched again, as music consumption stands as it does today.
The Swedes don’t always get it right. And Ace of Base’s native Sweden never really took to them in the same way that other countries across the world did. There was obviously a lot of pride in what Ace of Base had achieved internationally, but by and large – the Swedes didn’t really get what all the fuss was about.
Wheel Of Fortune
Ace of Base are largely remembered as a reggae-influenced pop band, thanks to the hits that ‘Happy Nation’ spawned. But actually the record was split in two, sonically. And if you bought the album on the strength of the likes of ‘Don’t Turn Around’, you’ll have been surprised (pleasantly, in our case) to hear that half of it was made up of banging 90s dance tunes. Gems like ‘Young & Proud’, ‘Waiting For Magic’, and ‘Hear Me Calling’ sadly never got to see the light of day as singles, but they represent first album-era Ace of Base just as much as the hits do.
Two guys and two girls form a band in Sweden and go on to massive international success. The comparisons to ABBA weren’t lost on the international press, who jumped on the angle to write about Sweden’s next big pop export. With ‘Happy Nation’ too, the boys wrote the songs and the girls performed them. Though unlike with ABBA, the vocals you hear change a lot through the band’s albums. Linn (the blonde) took on most of the vocals on the first album and fronted the band. Then on the second album, they were shared more equally with Jenny, before Linn took a complete backseat from album number three onwards, having become a bit freaked out by the whole fame thing (waking up in your home with a fan standing over you and holding a knife, will do that to you). So ‘Happy Nation’ is pretty unique amongst Ace of Base albums in terms of its sound. A trademark vocal that they were unfortunately (sorry Jenny, we love you too) never able to maintain on later albums.
Young & Proud
Like most albums, ‘Happy Nation’ isn’t without its absolute stinkers (we really don’t care if we never have to hear ”My Mind’ again, and we categorically demand that we never hear ‘Fashion Party’ again), but all in all, it’s one of our favourite records of all time. And ‘Happy Nation’ probably goes a long way towards this website even being in existence. ‘Happy Nation’ and Ace of Base – we salute you. A quarter of a century old, and still one hell of an enjoyable listen.