One of Sweden's most significant hitmakers
– and one of the most secret.
Most people have heard his songs i.e. Oh Susie, Ten O’clock Postman and Flash In The Night. Well-known hits around the world.
His songs became the starting point for the extremely successful pop group “Secret Service”.
His compositions became the foundation for the successful songwriter-team Norell/Oson/Bard – in short – one of the most important Swedish pop-composers of his day.
Yet few people know who he is.
Summer of 1979 the name “Oh Susie” was on everyone’s lips. The single cover was seen in every shop window in Stockholm and all the discotheques played the song over and over again. But who was behind it? Nobody knew. Paul McCartney guessed some, others believed it had to be Sting.
Early August the single turned up in record stores – and the response was huge. “Oh Susie” went straight up as the most played song on radio stations and then went to number one in 29 countries.
So how did everything start?
It started with a chance meeting between Tim Norell and Ulf Wahlberg – a budding young record producer – and with the everlasting optimism of the young, the duo went into business to become tomorrow’s business greats.
Ola Håkansson, who had outgrown his former life as a girl idol in the band Ola & The Janglers, took the two youngsters under his wing. Ola, now top dog at Sonet, quickly realized Tim’s remarkable musical talents, as well as Ulf’s talents as a record producer.
Tim’s music needed lyrics, so Ola sent Tim to Björn Håkanson (no relation), who became Tim’s main writing partner. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Tim’s breakthrough occurred when one of his early songs ”Det Känns Som Jag Vandrar Fram” was sent to the Swedish Eurovision Song Contest. It was performed by Ola + 3, Ola on song, Ulf on keyboard, Tony Lindberg on guitar and Ola & the Jangler’s drummer Leif Johansson.
It was a star-studded starting field this year in which Ted Gärdestad came number one and Ola + 3 was on a split third place with Eva Dahlgren. Not the greatest of successes, but, as it turned out, only once removed. Plans were made for an Ola + 3 album and some new songs were needed. One of these songs was the Swedish version of what would become “Oh Susie”. When a couple of DJs from Café Opera heard it, they gave Tim and Ola a piece of advice. Do this song in English, and you’ll have a hit!
“It was not so credible with Swedish artists who sang in English at that time,” remembers Tim Norell, “so we decided to be a bit secret. Someone came up with the name Secret Service – and it stuck “. A bass player was also added to the group – Leif Paulsén.
In order to in no way reveal the Swedish origins, Tim was on the record cover under the pseudonym “Hob” – because the others in the band thought he looked like a hobbit from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Björn already had a pseudonym – Gaga.
As promotion, Ola printed ten thousand small sticky notes with the song title on, which Tim ran around and covered the walls with. He also persuaded the Stockholm shops to exhibit the single cover in their shop windows. The sparkling pickup needle image that was both sticker and cover to the single, Ola borrowed from his friend Tom Talomaa who had it as a symbol for his club BZ, Berzelii-Terrassen.
Secret Service released several albums and gained great international success, especially in Germany, France, Italy, the rest of Europe, the Soviet Union, Japan and South America.
Those who lay behind the band were revealed right after the album came, but Tim Norell himself continued to have an undisclosed and somewhat secret role. “I was very shy and happy to avoid getting around in Europe to participate in different TV shows. In addition, I had a family with three young children, “he says. “Instead, I sat at the piano in my little studio and wrote new songs.”
After the success of Secret Service, he continued to write music. First of all there was a request for a song that would promote Sweden as an organizer of the Winter Olympics. Agneta Fältskog from ABBA sang the song together with Ola Håkansson. Sweden didn´t get the winter Olympics but the song – ”The Way You Are” – became a big hit in Sweden. Together with Ola Håkansson and later with Alexander Bard, he created pophits for several of Sweden’s greatest artists – Army of Lovers, Tone Norum, Tommy Nilsson, Lili & Susie, The Boppers, Jerry Williams, Ankie Bagger and many others.
The team was called Norell/Oson/ Bard. Tim Norell wrote all music, while Ola Håkansson and Alexander Bard wrote the lyrics. Tim, Ola and Anders Hansson produced all artists and Anders was also the soundtengineer and arranger.
Despite the many artists he wrote for, his music has a unique language – simple, strong melodies with a melancholy touch of classical music.
“I once read that Jonas Berggren (Ace of Base) has said that the best way to write hit songs is with as many tones as possible. To me it is the other way around, I try to write my music with a few tones that are as well kept as possible. ”Oh, Susie”, I put it together in a few minutes, I was in a hurry on my way to the studio and there was no song. It’s very simple and has only four notes,” said Tim Norell. However, a bit unexpected when refrains go on 9-bar cycles instead of 8. There must always be something that you do not expect.
Behind the great hitmaker there is also a great romantic. A classically-educated pianist and opera lover with a great love for the dark and melancholy. He loves Russian composers like Rachmaninov and Sjostakovitj … and so Puccini of course …
“When I get on with a new song, I often start to get touched by something. Of a movie, something in my own life or other music – and the tears are often close. I think people are more romantic than they want to admit, maybe that’s why my music has become so popular. ”
In the midst of his career, life suddenly turned. Tim Norell suffered a stroke and lost the feeling in one hand. But the adversity did not put an end to his creativity – the musical projects still succeed each other.
Today, Tim Norell and Secret Service tour around in Russia and the former eastern countries, where the band is still very popular.
He also works with several musicals, including a musical based on the music he wrote during the Secret Service era and a musical with most of his Swedish hit songs.