How I wrote ‘It Must Have Been Love’ by Roxette’s Per Gessle
The Swedish soft-rock duo’s lead singer reveals the ballad that graced the ‘Pretty Woman’ soundtrack was originally a Christmas song
The music of Per Gessle and Marie Fredriksson was the very epitome of late 80s/early 90s pop. With a run of singles including The Look, Dressed For Success, Dangerous and Joyride, their bombastic, emotional style made them Sweden’s second most successful band of all time, behind only Abba.
It Must Have Been Love remains the best example of their sound. Originally a Christmas single called It Must Have Been Love (Christmas For The Broken Hearted), the song was successful in Sweden but didn’t make much progress elsewhere. That all changed when a rewritten version was used in the soundtrack of the Julia Roberts/Richard Gere rom-com Pretty Woman. With the Yule references removed and Hollywood’s weight behind it, the track went on to dominate charts all around the world.
Gessle, the songwriter of the duo, tells us more…
“It Must Have Been Love was written here in Halmstad in the spring of 1987. I wrote it on the piano – I write most of my ballads on the piano. I just sit down and write them and make a very simple demo out of it. Of course, it was always written for Marie to sing – she’s just the best when it comes to singing songs like that.
“I always try to get the same temperature in the lyric and in the music. This music was really beautiful and it needed something reflective in the lyrics, so it was just something that felt good at the time. It’s not about a specific event or a person, it’s a mood that I wanted to reflect. It was the music first and then the lyrics. With the best songs, you start writing the music and then you start writing the lyrics, then you continue with the music and you continue with the lyrics! They go hand in hand. I think that’s because I want to have them say the same thing.
“When I make demos, I keep them very simple. I’ll just play piano and sing over it. Then, of course, the big thing was to get Marie into the song. When she starts to sing it, you change the keys and you go from there. It’s also got a great opening line, one of my best: ‘Lay a whisper on my pillow’. That line just opens up a lot of things in your mind when you hear it. I think it’s really important that you get the right vibe immediately. With pop music, you have to grab people’s attention with either a lyric or a hook that makes it interesting. I can hear a lot of things in that particular lyric that I wouldn’t have written today. I think if you’re not English or English- speaking you tend to see the English language in a different way.
“It was one of the first songs we did digitally – everything else we’d done at the EMI studios in Stockholm, on analogue. This was a studio called Audio Sweden, which was partly owned by the tennis player Björn Borg. It sounded really different to what we’d done before.
“When we re-recorded the song for Pretty Woman, Marie changed some of the lyrics, we added a new intro and some guitars and then we sent it away to Los Angeles. There was a guy called Humberto Gatica who was a very successful engineer and mixer at the time, and he used what he called his ‘lucky snare’ on It Must Have Been Love. It must have been lucky, because that became the version that most people are familiar with.
“What’s funny is that when we first released it, it was a hit here in Sweden but it didn’t go anywhere. Even Germany, who asked us to do a Christmas song, didn’t even release it. That goes to show how the music business works. It’s not enough if you have the right song, it has to be the right timing. We were lucky to be involved with the movie and also without the previous success of all those songs from Look Sharp! we wouldn’t have been invited to be part of it, so it’s the domino effect.
“But of course we already knew that it was a strong song, because before we had an international breakthrough it was a big hit here in Sweden, so we knew it was something special. Even to this day, it’s one of my best ballads. It’s pretty simple but it’s also pretty smart: the chorus sequence is always changing and it’s beautiful.”
EXPERT OPINION by James Linderman
“We’ve all heard expressions like ‘Put your best foot forward’ or ‘Always leave a good first impression’. The songwriting version of that is to have a great opening line, like ‘Lay a whisper on my pillow’.”