Roxette - Hit Songs History

Marie: Yes, it was this song that opened that festival. I was singing as loudly as I could and it was really good.

Per: When I look back at all those one thousand songs that I have written in my life, there is something in “The Look” that sounds magically, it still sounds like a hit.

Brian Philips (program chef KDWB Minneapolis): To listen once is enough. You don’t have to hear it 3 times and think: I like that. It’s just Bang!

Rep: The story of Roxette looks like it is written by themselves. The fact is that there are all coincidences and some random behind all their successes. Besides a magic feeling for pop music, there is also a risk to break your legs in the big crowds, as well as the good opinion of a student who wanted to spread their music all over the world. But we take it from the beginning.

 Rep: In the middle of the ‘80s, Per Gessle is placed on the bottom of his career. The years when he had been a star with Gyllene Tider became history. And as a solo artist, there was nobody who really wanted his disks.

On the other side, Marie Fredriksson’s career was growing more and more to the top. With disks like “Het Vind” and “Sjunde Vågen” she is Sweden’s hottest female singer. It was there somewhere when Roxette was born.

 Rep: So when you are Marie Fredriksson and Per Gessle, you are really Swedes, but when you are Roxette, you are really non-Swedes, I think.

Per: Yes, the idea with Roxette was to try to come out of Sweden, it was a dream that me and Marie started our music with.

Rep: On the paper it is not written that Marie and Per are a couple, but the dream of an international career puts them together. Even if many of Marie’s friends thought that she would keep herself away from Gessle’s unsecure pop projects, Roxette released their debut album in 1986. 

But outside Sweden, the interest for Roxette was more than inexistent. But after the good selling of the disk in their country, they could get one more chance. Gessle started to write new songs and, among other recordings, he also did this one: (The Look)

Per: I could have written as many songs as possible on this rhythm. The whole idea with “The Look” came to me while I was learning to program a new workstation called Sonic ESQ-1 and I was trying to write a song that sounded a kind of ZZ TOP song, with a lot of bas from the ‘80s, very simple, so that was the idea.

Clarence: And you succeeded.

Per: Yeah! (laughs)  

Clarence: After 16 parts!

Per: (laughs) For me, Roxette was like this: I write the songs, Marie sings them. So I wrote “The Look” so that Marie can sing it. It was called “He’s Got the Look” at the beginning. You feel a bit old, in fact. (laughs) This is the same mixing machine that we had before.

Clarence: We have just added some buttons there, on the side.

Per: And here I think you have done something.

Clarence: To look good.

 Rep: It is March 1988, when Gorbachev’s Soviet Union has promised to withdraw the Russian army from Afghanistan. At the same time, the producer Clarence Öfwerman and Roxette had just signed an agreement with EMI Stockholm. And besides songs like “The Look” and “Dangerous”, they have taken their classical band in the studio. But there is something that seems to be a catastrophic mistake.

Per: The rhythm has always played an important role. We needed a new technician and he was Anders Herrlin, who had played bas in Gyllene Tider. He had worked in the music industry and was used to the new technique. (looking at Clarence) You and him!

Clarence: Yes, there were a lot of sound variations.

Per: So thank to Anders and Clarence and their co-operation, they went into the studio and started to work with the new technique.

Clarence: Yes, we tested the new machines, the sound, everything.

Anders: It was an evolution of computers, of sound. It was something new. Before that, it was difficult to discover that sound that we wanted to get. But when the computers appeared, we understood that we have to do things in such a way that we could get a modern sound. Then it was clear that all wanted to go that way, all wanted to sound cool and hot! It was something incredible. The second day, all in the band said YES, we brought all the machines that we needed to get a perfect sound.

Rep: Are there such secret things today, that you haven’t thought about?

Clarence: Let’s prove this synchronizer...

Per: That effect...

Clarence: Here is something that shows what was wrong. When you adjust it, it plays a huge role.

Per: So you need it.

Clarence: Yes, you need it.  

Per: But that guitar sound didn’t exist first, we had to move it from inside the song to the beginning. It was something that Jonas invented when he was playing guitar. Then we were thinking like this: Shit, what a good intro it can be!! Listen, he is playing great! The idea was that everything should be cool. Some things in the song were accentuated according to my taste, like “wild dog!” It was me who liked these effects. They are present in almost all my songs.

 Per: Wow, you scared me, here it came again. Play it one more time, it is fantastic. Where are we? At 16?

Clarence: At 12.

Per: 12. Here it is: “Swaying to the band / Moving like a hammer / She's a miracle man / Loving is the ocean / Kissing is the wet sand / She's got the look

Marie: There you have to adjust, to make it sound like this.

Per: Are you satisfied with this?

Marie: Yes.

Per: Oh, God! Where is this part?

Clarence: On 17 to 19.

Per: And this shouldn’t be so high up.

Marie: But “The Look” felt something like: wow! This is something, our own creation.

Clarence: Of course.

Per: (to Marie) But didn’t you know that you were supposed to sing it?

Marie: Yes, I knew.

Per: And it felt strange...

Marie: Yes, but “na na na na” that was really great. (laughs) But this tone is really high up! Shit! I can’t sing like that, it’s not working. (to Clarence) And it was you who has fixed that!

Clarence: It sounded ok.

 Rep: The summer had come and Roxette were ready with their album. Proud like turkeys, they played “The Look” for some friends, among them the future Mrs. Gessle.

Rep: Because it is Per who sings it, “The Look” became the opening single on the album. In the autumn of 1988 “Look Sharp” album was released and its success was just a fact. It started Roxette craziness, but only in Sweden.

 Per: Well, we thought that we had made a fantastic album, and we really had! We were very happy with “Look Sharp” album. But it was a huge success only here in Sweden. It didn’t happen anything outside the country.

 Marie Dimberg: 350,000 copies of this album were sold here in Sweden during 2 months. And he was very frustrated because nothing had happened anywhere. Per said: “Now we go home, nothing happens”. I said: “But you sold 350,000 copies in Sweden”. Per: “But it is not that what I count!”

Per: Well, in Scandinavia we don’t say that USA doesn’t exist on the map.

 Rep: Beside that, this album was sent to the American record company with the hope to be published, but the interest was very low, minimum we can say. And it was thought that they didn’t want to work with Roxette.

Marie Dimberg: They saw that they come from Sweden and they thought they would never play Roxette on an American radio station.

Per: So, like the other Swedish bands, we were like not existing.

Rep: No, the Americans didn’t seem to be ready for Roxette. Or perhaps there was a little chance which appeared here.

Dean Cushman: We have put a sign here for a party with Sweden and US. Here is the Swedish flag and here is the American flag. We thought it was clever.

Rep: So here in the picture it was you back in Borås.

Dean Cushman: Yes, just before a party.

Rep: When the autumn term was ready, the American student, Dean Cushman, goes back to Minneapolis to finish his studies as computer specialist. In his luggage he took a CD with his new favourite band.

Dean: When I came home, it was Christmas time and I had some time off. It is the time when I took the CD and had this idea: I should bring this CD to a radio station.

Brian Philips (program chef KDWB Minneapolis): Dean Cushman was one of the names that were on my list to call at the end of the day. And if I remember correctly, I think I called him back. And he said: “I’ve come back from Sweden, I like KDWB and I have a song, I want to send it to you. And I thought: “Please do! Very cool, here is our address.”  Then I didn’t think about that anymore.

Dean: So I went there with no expectations and handled him the CD, then I said: “This is American music, but I heard it in Sweden, so it would be really interesting for you to hear it.” And the receptionist got Brian Phillips, the program director.

Brian Phillips: It was marked as Swedish import and I was thinking: is that an English record? I had a bit curiosity, but not as much to put it in a CD player. So I left that on the corner of my desk.

Dean: I started to worry that he may not have listened to it. And that he would keep the CD. And I didn’t know if I would go back to Sweden or keep contact with some friends, but I wanted the CD.

Brian Phillips: Then I heard that Dean Cushman is in the lobby at the reception and he’d like his CD back if we are not doing anything with it. And I got a guilty twinge of...you know, I told that guy that I would listen to this. “Just give me 15 minutes and I will come out and bring the CD back”.

Dean: It is true. I went there because I wanted my CD back. But I don’t remember that I was waiting in the lobby.

Brian Phillips: I have started to listen to Roxette CD and “The Look” came up. And the first thing that you think about as a producer is: Good intro. “Jesus, this is really good! Did a college guy come with that? This is terrific pop!” I remember getting the false ending, and then the song started again. Then I got that feeling: “oh, boy, this is...” I went back into the studio and I asked the Disk Jockey: “Any calls of that?” “People love it”, he said. I said: “on a scale of 1 to 10?” – “10”, he said. “Really? From one play, that’s unusual!”

Dean:  (reading the letter from the radio station) “Thanks very much for dropping off your Roxette-CD. As you may know, we are testing The Look. Response so far has been strong, and several other program directors (in Milwaukee, Phoenix and Kansas City) have requested copies of the song. You may have started something!” Nice.

Brian Phillips: When I sent the tape out, the 5 guys who had the equivalent of my job, so the others in Miami and New York, Los Angeles, they were struck exactly as I was. One listen and putting it on. Bill Richards from KIIS-FM, putting it on! And it goes. It was not a difficult decision.

Radio DJ: There is sunshine today, so enjoy the beautiful weather. Right now we are listening to a brand new band Roxette and their new single, “The Look”.

Rep: With the help of Brian Phillips’ copies, “The Look” started to be broadcasted at radio stations from the whole USA. Record companies understood that it was a mistake and a single was release out of panic.

Per: All those who succeed in America have somebody behind them, who helps them, as we had this student, Dean Cushman. Something that makes a very important person listen exactly to this song. So it doesn’t help just with a good song and a good artist, it is really difficult.

Rep: In the spring of 1989 Per and Marie watch over the top lists to see if there is any difference. “The Look” climbed on the top of the most important charts in the world: Billboard Charts.

Rep: The weather forecast comes soon, but first a piece of news from USA, where 2 young Swedish artists became well known in the whole world with their new single “The Look” that reached the top of the list. Marie Fredriksson and Per Gessle call themselves Roxette and it was only ABBA and Björn Skifs had the same success so far. Champagne, kisses, and camera blitz, as well as a word from an older artist.  

Björn Skifs: To be number one in the US is like you win the Olympic Games, it is something special.

Marie: It’s incredible. For me, to be number 1 in the USA is something special. I am very proud of that.

Rep: And it’s a lot of money!

Marie: Right now, I can say yes.

Rep: You are No.1 in the USA. How has it happened?

Per: It’s an interesting question, I don’t know. It is great to be number one on the Billboard List!

Rep: Tell us about the places on the lists. Do you have plans for the summer?

Per: Well, we have been number one in 10 countries and this week we are in top 10 in 19 countries.

Brian Phillips: He took the CD in a suitcase and he went to his hometown and gave it to a radio station.

Marie Dimberg: They thought that it was a very successful PR (public relation) method and many still believe it. But the reality was over the expectations.

Dean: It wouldn’t have worked to arrange that.

Brian Phillips: He did what great promotion meant, what the music business do. He was persistent, he kept calling and finally he shows up at the radio station and sits in a lobby and says: “What are you gonna do about my CD?”  And without that persistence, there had been a very different world for Roxette.

Anders: Without him it wouldn’t have been possible to manage that. Or perhaps it would have been that, but not on the right way.

Rep: It seems that they have taken over America. They became very successful, but that makes you feel…did you feel that you have been part of the success?

Dean: I was just very excited about it. I just thought that it was funny. Every time I hear them on the radio, I get a good feeling. Of course I was proud of it, but it has nothing to do with their music. I was on the right place at the right time. I can’t say that the whole contribution was mine.

Per: You can think that EMI should have rewarded him with something for his big effort to help us with launching us in the US. As they said, they had sent a kind of golden record, they gave that to him anyway, but I don’t have any idea if he has got anything else, as well.

Dean: It is not that I got nothing. I’ve got a golden record from them, I did some interviews, you know…we were out and had nice dinners and the record company gave me few CDs, I have been at concerts with them. We had a lot of fun and had a great time, we did a lot of things and that’s not for free. These things I could never have done on my own, especially on my own in this life.

Per: I remember that this story was a subject for many newspapers, I don’t remember how many wrote about it.

Rep: It sounds that you have got bored of this history.

Per: No, it is a fascinating history, but it was long time ago. If it had also happened to other artists, I think that it would have been fantastic, too. So it is really great.

Rep: Yes, it was a fantastic history. Suddenly the whole world shouts for more and more and more. Next year Roxette release a lot of hits and three of them become number one on Billboard. Well, like this it can be if you try to make a ZZ Top sound with a text that talks about…about what?

Anders Herrlin: Walking like a man / Hitting like a hammer – she’s …

Brian Phillips: …a juvenile scam, never was a quitter

Dean: Tasty like a raindrop

Anders: She’s got the look

Dean: Yeah, interesting! Heavenly bound, cuz heaven’s got a number when she’s spinnin’ me around

Brian Phillips: Her loving is a wild dog / She’s got the look

 Per: I wrote that text just to fit the rhythm: bang! Bang! Bang! So that was the first thing that came into my mind. I don’t think that there is logic in that text. (laughs) It was easy to find the right words for the rhythm.

 Dean: Fire in the ice / Naked to the T-bone / Is a lover’s disguise… Do you get something of this text? (laughs)

Brian Phillips: Swaying to the band / Moving like a hammer – she’s a miracle man / Loving is the ocean / Kissing is the wet sand – she’s got the look

Anders: It is a really funny text.

Brian Phillips: Imagine that you are here in Minneapolis – St. Paul. How is it to hear those words running on the radio? It sounds catchy. I don’t know what they are singing about, but it doesn’t matter.

Per: Some people think that the text doesn’t talk about anything..and they are right! But others think that it is a good text for that big sound.

Brian Phillips: This is a sequence of words which is not very common to the American composers.

Per: It was that I wanted to write an effective pop song, and it was really great.

Anders: That is why “The Look” is a hit. All the parts are put next to each other until it becomes a whole.

Brian Phillips: Consider that text: it takes just 3 minutes and something to figure out what Roxette is.

Marie: It was something special. We had really fun when we made it. It was not so easy, but we just left it how it came.

Per: You like it, simply.

Rep: Do you still like it?

Per: Yes, I still think that it’s my best song. It has something timeless over it. I don’t know how I did that song.