he voice of MARIE FREDRIKSSON is a hard thing to describe in the age of TV shows like THE VOICE. It was strong with a slight rasp and was capable of issuing slick pop, driving rockers and some of the most daring and sweeping power ballads to ever hit the pop stratosphere. If you listened very closely (especially on the forementioned power ballads) you could hear a sadness welling up in the woman's throat. As the female vocalist and co-founder of the Swedish pop duo ROXETTE, FREDRIKSSON covered all of the bases that I just laid out for you but it was FREDRIKSSON tearing into the duo's power ballads that set her apart from many of her late-eighties/early nineties pop contemporaries. That voice of her's soared on such material as the number one songs LISTEN TO YOUR HEART and IT MUST'VE BEEN LOVE, but there was something understated in her delivery - an intimacy that had nothing to do with being a pop diva. I'm confident that none of the judges on THE VOICE could put their finger on it either. I feel that it was most definitely love, but it's over now with the passing of MARIE FREDRIKSSON on December 9, 2019 after a 17 year battle with cancer.
Not even a brain cancer diagnosis in 2002 with a 25% chance of survival could assail FREDRIKSSON who returned to performing with ROXETTE in 2009 on live stages and tours throughout Europe, Russia and South America up until she stepped down under doctor's orders in 2016 when ROXETTE released their final album GOOD KARMA. This kind of ending shouldn't have been in the cards for a talent such as this given the pop fairtytale beginning of ROXETTE's success in America and eventually the world.
With one album behind them (PEARLS OF PASSION, 1986), MARIE and PER GESSLE of ROXETTE issued their second album LOOK SHARP in 1988 and established themselves as hitmakers in their homeland. Fortunately a US exchange student was living in Stockholm just as ROXETTE became celebrities and bought a copy of the album LOOK SHARP. Upon his return to the US, the exchange student handed to album over to his local radio station and a DJ there heard a hit in the strutting opening track THE LOOK - a song punctuated by a rather slinky guitar riff, singer and guitarist PER GESSLE's elfin purr and a call and response that was punctuated by the very vocal chops of FREDRIKSSON.
Before long, THE LOOK was added to numerous radio markets throughout the US and eventually became an accidental number one BILLBOARD hit. In a time where playing the fame game is such a manufactured thing, it's definitely a shock to the system to learn there was a time when breaking through could happen by wild chance. Not to say that GESSLE and FREDRIKSSON didn't have the goods. Otherwise there wouldn't have been a top twenty follow up with the single DRESSED FOR SUCCESS, where FREDRIKSSON finally got to show what she was made of as a front woman with the punchy pop rock tune, but it was LISTEN TO YOUR HEART that gave ROXETTE their second number one single and FREDRIKSSON's incendiary performance made the power ballad an 80's radio classic.
It wasn't long before Hollywood came a calling. Specifically producer GARY MARSHALL needed a love ballad for his 1990 rom-com PRETTY WOMAN starring RICHARD GERE and relative newcomer JULIA ROBERTS. Who better than that Swedish duo who could crank out a power ballad like nobody's business? IT MUST HAVE BEEN LOVE was originally a Holiday-themed ballad issued by ROXETTE released in 1987 called CHRISTMAS FOR THE BROKENHEARTED, but with some retooled lyrics, it became GESSLE and FREDRIKSSON's third number one in the US. Making things better was the fact that the song was attached to the top-grossing film of that year.
Soon it was time for another album and ROXETTE didn't disappoint with the 1991 release of JOYRIDE, an immaculately produced album loaded with wry power pop moments and the epic slow burns that would best showcase FREDRIKSSON's precious pipes. The driving SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND-styled title track showcased GESSLE on lead vocals and became ROXETTE's fourth and final Number one single while the FREDRIKSSON fronted ballad FADING LIKE A FLOWER made it to number two. Rankings aside, JOYRIDE was to be the last of the great guitar oriented pop albums before the grunge movement came along in the early nineties. One could argue that rock n roll's new found relevance and the rise of hip hop in what was left of the nineties could've lead to the absence of all of the sun and fun that ROXETTE shamelessly provided, but I always blamed the duo's loss of momentum on that fact that EMI felt it appropriate to sell the bands' 1994 album CRASH BOOM BANG exclusively at MCDONALDS in the US. From there, the band's fortunes in the US declined and new material from the dynamic duo would never make it to the airwaves. Despite the lack of distribution Stateside, ROXETTE released two enormously successful albums HAVE A NICE DAY (1999) and ROOM SERVICES (2001) but the momentum stopped the morning of September 11, 2002 when MARIE collapsed from a malignant brain tumor. Following a long, painstaking recovery, the dynamic duo got back together for CHARM SCHOOL in 2011. The cheeky first single SHE'S GOT NOTHING ON (BUT THE RADIO) and the rock anthem WAY OUT were like a clarion call letting the whole world that ROXETTE was back in business but it was the plaintive FREDRIKSSON-led ballad NO ONE MAKES IT ON HER OWN that should've reminded people why ROXETTE was able to breakthrough in the first place.
With the passing of FREDRIKSSON, it is difficult to see what is in store for the legacy of ROXETTE. Other press have made mention of the fact that IT MUST'VE BEEN LOVE is the duo's most memorable song, but there was so much more to this pop anomaly that went on to sell a reported 80 million records worldwide. Theirs was a music with a big old heart on its sleeve that could make you dance, make you bang your head and sometimes make you cry. If a pop band can make you do that, then that is a pop band worth holding onto for all time.
In honoring FREDRIKSSON, ROCKWIRED has decided to have a look at some of the woman's finest vocal moments.
DRESSED FOR SUCCESS (1989)
On ROXETTE's breakthrough single THE LOOK it was PER GESSLE who took charge of the song vocally. Despite FREDRIKSSON's vocals being limited to the call and response chorus, we could tell that this girl was someone we wanted to meet. On the follow up single DRESSED FOR SUCCESS, we got to do just that. The peroclating pop rock stomper introduced FREDRIKSSON as a high octane belter with a desire to break free from the restrictions put upon her by life and hit the big time. It's hard to understand why the song didn't chart any higher, but fate had other plans for these Swedish exports.
LISTEN TO YOUR HEART (1989)
In the late eighties, a power ballad delivered with a strong female voice was territory that the band HEART had mined the most successfully thanks to ANN WILSON's precious larynx, but in the late Summer of 1989, ROXETTE gave that band a run for its money with LISTEN TO YOUR HEART. For such a dramatic number it's suprising that the lyrics tell the story of a friend telling another friend not to give up on the guy she's with. This is where the public first learned that FREDRIKSSON could sing anything and her pyrotechnic performance helped earn ROXETTE their second number one single from an album (LOOK SHARP) that no one saw coming.
IT MUST'VE BEEN LOVE (1990)
A year earlier, ROXETTE's album LOOK SHARP was over a year old. It took a foreign exchange student sending the album to a DJ in the US to start spinning THE LOOK for things to launch the duo into the stratosphere. Now they were in pictures. Well, their music was anyway. The film PRETTY WOMAN needed a love theme and it got one with IT MUST'VE BEEN LOVE. Once again, FREDRIKSSON takes lyrics that tell the story of one who didn't know a good thing until it was gone and blasts it off into the night sky. Sure it had Hollywood written all over it, but when you are making a number one single, a little Hollywood never hurt anybody.
SPENDING MY TIME (1991)
ROXETTE's 1991 album JOYRIDE gave us another hit power ballad FADING LIKE A FLOWER but I always felt like SPENDING MY TIME was the overlooked moment. It proved that PER GESSLE was an exceptional popsmith with a keen sense of when to keep a song in check and when to kick it into high orbit. As an interpreter, FREDRIKSSON had that gift as well and her vocal range knew no limits with this big sweeping number.
WATERCOLOURS IN THE RAIN (1991)
Remember what we've been saying about what FREDRIKSSON was able to do with a big, sweeping ballad? Well she was just as proficient with more intimate numbers as WATERCOLOURS IN THE RAIN, an acoustic hymm from the JOYRIDE album that may not have had the word "hit" written all over it, but it was an understated and unassuming moment on an album full of larger than life moments and MARIE's breathy delivery was pure heaven.
SO FAR AWAY (1992)
The quirkiness of ROXETTE may have been lost on many Stateside, but for a fan such as I, it was easy to see in some of the deeper cuts on their albums. In 1992 they released TOURISM: SONGS FROM STUDIOS, STAGES, HOTELROOMS & OTHER STRANGE PLACES. Yes, there were live cuts of their past hits but interestingly there were new songs recorded in all of the places that are indicated in the title during the world tour for JOYRIDE. SO FAR AWAY is a simple piano-led ballad where FREDRIKSSON lets the distance between her and her lover get to her. This one is more torch song than power ballad and it is all the better for us to hear this actress in song do what she does best.
ALMOST UNREAL (1993)
Originally written for the BETTE MIDLER film HOCUS POCUS, ROXETTE figured they'd give Hollywood another shot. Unfortunately, ALMOST UNREAL ended up being used for the SUPER MARIO BROS. film starring BOB HOSKINS and DENNIS HOPPER. It's a miracle that a chorus with the lines "I love when you do that hocus pocus to me!" could be sung with a straight face but once again that is a testament to FREDRIKSSON's gift for interpretation. It even made me want to check out the movie.
CRASH BOOM BANG (1994)
Sometime in the late-nineties the music of BURT BACHURACH became chic again, but ROXETTE was first to pay tribute to the man with their 1994 single CRASH BOOM BANG, which was also the namesake of their latest album. Built on a throbbing keyboard riff and a twangy guitar, the song gives MARIE a chance to tell it like it is when it comes to how love can lift you up only to let you down. But when we get that PHIL SPECTOR drum clap, all bets are off and FREDRIKSSON informs the listener in no uncertain terms that she can back up all she has got to say on the matter of heartache. CELINE DION could only dream of taking a song this high.
SLEEPiNG iN MY CAR (1994)
By 1994, FREDRIKSSON had become a reliable balladeer but don't think that she wasn't capable of issuing a rock tune. Especially one as irreverently titled as SLEEPING IN MY CAR. The straight forward rocker is a breath of fresh air in the ROXETTE catalog and gives fans another dimension to the band to consider. SLEEPING IN MY CAR is a joyful raucous and FREDRIKSSON just plain kills it.
WISH I COULD FLY (1999)
1999 was a year for comebacks. BLONDIE made it back into the fray and SANTANA had their biggest hit in years. ROXETTE also reemerged that year with an album high in both melodrama and camp and some of the craziest loops and beats this side of FATBOY SLIM (remember him?). I've complained about EMI record execs only releasing 1994's CRASH BOOM BANG through McDONALD'S outlets so imagine my complaints about the duo's excellent 1999 album HAVE A NICE DAY not getting a US release? The single WISH I COULD FLY was a massive hit in Europe and given the slinky slow burner's embrace of electronica undertones, there was no reason it couldn't have been a huge success Stateside.
CHER's BELIEVE was the song in 1999 showcasing a digitally enhanced pop icon doing her thing. ROXETTE was doing the same thing with their single STARS from the HAVE A NICE DAY album but no one Stateside noticed. The icy electronica anthem tells the story of snow queen waiting to be melted by love. The urgency of the track is brought to a gentle break when FREDRIKSSON is joined by a choir of children for the chorus. Infectious and instantly memorable, STARS was proof that ROXETTE still had the hooks and that FREDRIKSSON was still one of pop's most engaging figures whether the US knew it or not.
BAD MOON (2003)
ROXETTE followed up their album HAVE A NICE DAY with 2001's ROOM SERVICE. While critical response was less than stellar, the album managed to keep ROXETTE afloat until FREDRIKSSON's brain cancer diagnosis in 2002 just one year after 9/11. Who knew how to process this kind of information? Clearly FREDRIKSSON did. A year later she released her solo album THE CHANGE with original tunes inspired by her illness. The most chilling is the single BAD MOON. Atypical of a ROXETTE ballad, the opening guitar effects mimic an alarm as FREDRIKSSON acknowledges the nightmare she is living but also makes known her love of family. Chilling and heartwrenching, BAD MOON showcases a pop legend unguarded.
NO ONE MAKES IT ON HER OWN (2011)
MARIE FREDRIKSSON returned to the ROXETTE fold in 2009 and the duo issued their first album in eight years CHARM SCHOOL featuring the US Adult Contemporary hit SHE"S GOT NOTHING ON BUT THE RADIO. However the true jewel on the album's crown was the plaintive, twangy ballad NO ONE MAKES IT ON HER OWN. Although the song is penned by PER GESSLE, it could've easily found its way onto FREDRIKSSON's solo album years earlier. The song is a bit of a tearjerker thanks to FREDRIKSSON's delivery but shows how far the woman has come from her diagnosis to touring the world with ROXETTE again.
APRIL CLOUDS (2016)
The day ROXETTE's final album GOOD KARMA was released, it was announced that their plans for a world tour were to be cancelled due to doctors ordering FREDRIKSSON to lay low for health reasons. Given the woman's strength and buoyant spirit, I had every reason to believe that we hadn't heard the last of ROXETTE. Sadly I was wrong. GOOD KARMA was FREDRIKSSON's final appearance with ROXETTE. While APRIL CLOUDS was not a single, it was the last song on the album. The haunting piano ballad sounds like a send off and its bridge "I pray for peace in your heart/May your wishes come true" stings with a sense of finality three years before FREDRIKSSON's death. Parting is such sweet sorrow.
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