Sunday, 10 August 2008

Hitkrant, November 1980: 10 years of ABBA - the complete story

Dutch magazine Hitkrant published this extensive booklet in 1980, celebrating 10 years of ABBA.

In November 1970, Björn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Fältskog, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad decide to follow a musical path as a foursome. On November 1 they make their debut as the Festfolk Quartet in a theatre in Gothenburg: the start of one of the most successful careers in pop music. That’s right, ten years of ABBA!




A meeting with big consequences - ABBA the beginning

What defines a super-group? How many records should have been sold, how many fans should have attended your concerts, how many letters should have been received and how much money should have been made? Of course, there are no rules, but it has become clear that ABBA belongs in the category of super-groups, just like the Beatles, the BeeGees, the Rolling Stones and a few other legendary groups in pop-music.

When you attract more viewers with a television broadcast than the historical broadcast of the first moon landing (in Australia), when you manage to get your records sold in Eastern Europe as the only Western pop-group, when in your home country, Sweden, you are the most important export product. Yes, then you are a super-group.

We are celebrating ABBA’s tenth anniversary right now, but the story starts at an earlier stage: in 1966, when two, not completely unknown, Swedish pop-musicians meet at a party. Björn Ulvaeus is singing with the Hootenanny Singers, a popular folk/pop-group, while Benny Andersson is playing keyboards with and writing songs for one of Sweden’s most popular groups at that time, the Hep Stars.
Björn and Benny had met each other before, but at this party in Västervik they have more time to talk to each other about music. They shared a drink, and one more, and it’s not known who was the first to say it, but it would have big consequences: “Let’s try to write a song together.”

That’s what they did. That same night, Björn and Benny join together with a guitar and an organ and early in the morning the first Ulvaeus/Andersson offering is ready: ‘Isn’t It Easy To Say’. The Hep Stars would record the song later, but it doesn’t become a hit. No worries: Björn and Benny would create lots of million-sellers together in the years to come.
When Björn is getting tired of the Hootenanny Singers, and there’s room for one more member in the Hep Stars, it all happens very quickly: the collaboration between Benny and Björn is finding its shape and one song after the other derives from that collaboration. The Hep Stars have an enormous hit with ‘A Flower In My Garden’ and songs like ‘Sunny Girl’ and ‘Music Box’ become international hits, in Holland as well.
The Hep Stars split due to internal problems and Benny and Björn are trying to find new ways to explore their musical ideas. At the end of the sixties, Björn had already met a blonde singer, Agnetha Fältskog. That acquaintance led to an engagement in April 1970, during a holiday on Cyprus. Around the same time, Benny had met a red-haired, Norwegian singer named Anni-Frid Lyngstad, which was love at first sight as well. The foursome spent quite some time together and it was obvious that both girls would do the backing vocals on the first joint Björn and Benny record. That was ‘She’s My Kind Of Girl’, but the sleeve only mentioned Benny and Björn’s names. That would change later on...

Swedish foursome finds its Waterloo - ABBA the sequel

‘To find his Waterloo’ means something like ‘to be beaten once and for all’, it originates from the village Waterloo where Napoleon suffered his last defeat. But for ABBA, that saying means something completely different: ‘Waterloo’ was the title of the song that gave the four Swedes the victory in the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton on April the 6th 1974. Their Waterloo meant the definitive breakthrough.

Three years before that, ABBA was hesitatingly beginning to take shape, primarily due to Björn and Benny’s talent in songwriting, who were now famous all over Sweden. They wrote one song after the other, film-music as well as pop-songs, made records and became known together with Agnetha and Anni-Frid after their first joint single ‘She’s My Kind Of Girl’ from 1971. The name ABBA was starting to become known.

On the morning of Björn and Agnetha’s wedding, on the first of July 1971, Björn was offered a job by one Stig Anderson, a former teacher, former singer, now owner of a record company and a music publishing company. Björn and Benny knew Stig already: together with him they had already written a song for a singer. Stig needed a producer and asked Björn for the job. He was fine with that, as long as Stig hired Benny as well. Since there wasn’t enough money for that, Björn offered to split the salary between Benny and him. Stig, being the businessman that he was, agreed and started to work on ABBA seriously.

It was time for action and when the Swedish broadcasting company invited ABBA late 1972 to enter the Swedish heats for the Eurovision Song Contest, they didn’t have to think twice. Björn, Benny and Stig retreated to the now famous island in Stockholm and wrote ‘Ring Ring’; that song should be able to conquer Sweden and subsequently the rest of the world.
That didn’t happen. Although the audience was almost unanimous that ‘Ring Ring’ was the best entry and that ABBA offered the best performance – despite the fact that Agnetha was heavily pregnant – the jury apparently thought otherwise and put ABBA in third place. Ultimately, that jury was proven wrong when ‘Ring Ring’ quickly became an international hit.

The song made sure that ABBA became a household name in Sweden, so they had to go on tour: in the summer of 1973, Björn, Agnetha, Benny and Frida went on the road across Sweden and were very successful! Packed houses and enthusiastic audiences proved that ABBA could do no wrong in their own country. But the rest of Europe was waiting in line as well, with the next Eurovision Song Contest. ABBA had entered the Swedish heats twice now (the first time, with singer Lena Andersson singing Benny and Björn’s ‘Better To Have Loved’ was good for a third place as well) and the foursome was determined to really win this time. They wanted to go to Brighton.

Well, we know what happened: they succeeded. ABBA won the Swedish heats with 302 out of 495 points, and so the whole machinery was started immediately. They didn’t waste any time to release ‘Waterloo’ as a single, the promotional campaign started and in a few days time, Stig visited seven European capitals to overflow the music-executives with ABBA already. Then that momentous 6th of April arrived. Dressed in eye-catching costumes and wearing platform boots, ABBA didn’t have the slightest problem catching the attention of both audience and jury. Neither did ‘Waterloo’: ABBA won with a six-point lead to the runner-up. Within weeks, ‘Waterloo’ reached number one in twelve European charts and ABBA had turned from a fairly unknown Swedish group into a top-attraction.
Conquer the world with music - ABBA the empire

Yes, ‘Waterloo’ got ABBA over the threshold of international success. But you are wrong to think that a pop-group can sit back and relax, take a drink, look at each other and say: “So, that was it.” The real work is only beginning. And although Frida and Agnetha, but especially Björn and Benny, are worn out after the turbulent days in England: ‘The show must go on’. ABBA can’t afford to sit still.

Nevertheless, ABBA were allowed to take a holiday after the tiring Eurovision Song Contest and of course it was spent on the island in the Stockholm archipelago. Additionally, the announced tour across Sweden was postponed and not everyone was particularly happy with that, especially the owners of the venues were furious.

But ABBA didn’t give in: Björn and Benny not only were artists, but producers as well, hired by Polar Music, and there was work to be done, so the time was really necessary. Besides that, a lot of offers for television-performances and other publicity came in, it was only natural that in these early stages of worldwide success, the group couldn’t let any opportunity to show themselves go by. But a tour was necessary as well: Europe wanted to see those four young Swedes, that had won Eurovision, in the flesh. The tour was planned for the Winter of 1974; the premiere would take place in Hamburg, with a try-out in Kopenhagen, and it would take the foursome to Austria and Switzerland. Although the audiences were enthusiastic and the critics were favourable, ABBA wasn’t satisfied: the venues were rarely sold out, the audiences were older than expected and financially the tour wasn’t a success either. Fortunately, the postponed Scandinavian tour, that was about to start, would be a lot more successful!
And now, it was about time to release a new single; although ‘Waterloo’ was still in several charts, a follow-up was eventually needed. In August 1974, ‘Honey, Honey’ was released. The single was a success, except for England where the group Sweet Dreams had already released a cover-version of the song, so it made no sense to release the ABBA-version of ‘Honey, Honey’ as well.
Either way, England was a difficult country for ABBA: it wouldn’t be until the end of 1975 before the mediocre successes of the previous singles were improved upon by a number-one record. That happened with ‘Mamma Mia’.
Alas, the rest is history: after ‘Honey, Honey’ came ‘I do, I do, I do’ and then ‘SOS’, ‘Mamma Mia’, ‘Fernando’, ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Money, Money, Money’, ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ and – but wait – in the meantime we’re in 1977 and something else did happen along the way.

You can have all the success in the world in Europe, as a pop-group you have truly arrived when you are accepted in America. In September 1974, ABBA visited the large continent and after that, again in November 1975. The first time, the visit was restricted to interviews, press-conferences and activities like that. The second time, things got serious: seven television-performances in a time-span of two weeks, the highlight being a performance on the Saturday Night Show, a very popular TV-show. America had gotten acquainted with ABBA and that acquaintance had been good mutually.
Another continent was easier to conquer: Australia fell for ABBA without hesitation. Half a million albums and 600.000 singles being sold within half a year was enough proof of that. Of course, that meant ABBA had to come to Australia and that happened in 1976. The reception was overwhelming and the TV-show that ABBA taped, achieved TV-ratings of almost 60 percent, more than the broadcast of the historical moon landing. In Australia, the young and the old agreed: ABBA was on top!
In a few years time, the group had become an international attraction. Countries behind the Iron Curtain, such as Poland, East-Germany, and even Russia don’t get a lot of music from the West, but ABBA managed to achieve an unprecedented popularity in those territories. Especially in Poland, sometimes an amount of 250 Dutch guilders is being paid for an ABBA-album.
The third album, after ‘Ring Ring’ and ‘Waterloo’, was simply named ‘ABBA’ and was released in the middle of 1975. The pressing-factories couldn’t keep up with the demand and the reviews were positive. In Sweden, an unprecedented 400.000 copies were being sold, and it wouldn’t be long before ‘ABBA’ reached top-positions in all European album-charts.

The next album was a compilation already: ‘The Best Of ABBA’ contained all of ABBA’s single-hits and – it’s getting tedious – it again reached number one in the charts. An album of single-hits proved to be very appealing because in 1976 ‘The Very Best Of ABBA’ followed. That same year, ‘Arrival’ was released, containing massive hits like ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ and ‘Money, Money, Money’.
In 1977, an album was released that is regarded as the best from their career by ABBA-connoisseurs: ‘ABBA – The Album’. ‘Take A Chance On Me’, ‘The Name Of The Game’, ‘Eagle’ and ‘Thank You For The Music’ marked this album. But of the same importance was ‘ABBA – The Movie’, ABBA’s first feature-film, that was screened that same year. It wasn’t really a movie, but more a documentary about ABBA’s turbulent tour of Australia in 1977, with a storyline about an Australian journalist who doesn’t succeed to get an interview with ABBA, who is having several encounters with ABBA in his dreams and finally, accidentally... yes.
The fifth ABBA Stig Anderson: musician and businessman

He is often referred to as ‘the fifth ABBA’ and that’s not just because he’s the president of Polar Records and Sweden Music: Stig Anderson is a businessman as well as a musician and that makes him the ideal candidate for a successful record-executive. Whatever he is; when Stig left school at the age of 13 and started to work as a help at the grocery-store in the village Hova, he made two Dutch guilders a week. That was in 1944: in 1978, Polar made a turnover of 825.000 each week!
Stig was born on January the 25th 1931 and when he was five years old, he got a gramophone and some records. Later on, when he bought his first guitar from his own money, his career as a travelling musician started. At the age of 16, he wrote ‘Tiveds Hambo’, a musical dance that is still being played. When Stig noticed that his music was worthwile, he started to study music in 1948.
Three years later, he started his study to become a teacher, but he wouldn’t be in a classroom very much. Writing and performing music is where his heart was; his first song was released in 1950 and in 1953, a record of his was released, titled ‘Tivedens Ros’. A music-critic made the following remark about that: “I’m sure that the composer/lyric-writer Stig Anderson has a more prosperous future than the singer Stig Anderson.” The man couldn’t have been more right.
In 1960, Stig wrote the number-one hit ‘Klas-Göran’ for singer Lill Babs and that success gave him the idea to start a music publishing company. That became Sweden Music. Still, Stig kept on writing and in the sixties he was Sweden’s most well-known composer/lyric-writer. In a time-span of 11 years he wrote no less than 2000 lyrics!

The rest is history: Stig was one of the reasons for ABBA’s worldwide fame and the empire that he runs no longer incorporates just a music publishing company and a record company; the interests of the Swedish multinational are diverse: from warehouses to bicycle factories, from oil companies to import- and export companies. And the most important export article is of course ABBA.
Frida has once stated about ‘Stikkan’: “He’s one of the best people I know. Not easy to work with, but he’s incredibly intelligent and he always knows exactly how to handle things.” Benny: “Actually, Stikkan doesn’t exist. We made him up for the journalists.” And Björn: “Stikkan didn’t discover us, we discovered him!”
Divorce, marriage, having children - ABBA the private life
Agnetha, Björn, Frida and Benny are not four musical machines. Just like everybody else, the four Swedish stars have a private life and that’s not always easy. After all, the fan not only wants to know how ABBA makes music, but also how their living room looks like, how the children are doing, whether Benny likes pea soup, and what Agnetha is doing in her spare time. It’s one of the disadvantages of being famous and it’s not always easy on the ABBA-members.

Indeed, both Anni-Frid and Benny have children from previous relationships, but they are not living with them. It’s different for Björn and Agnetha: daughter Linda and son Christian are still small and, just like any other child, they need their parent’s attention. That’s not always easy.
A tour can make a separation like that very difficult and Agnetha isn’t very fond of those treks around the world for months on end. Most of the time, the children travel along on short trips, but that’s not always possible, so the children will have to resort to a nanny.
Especially now Linda is growing up, it’s often the cause of problems and Agnetha has stated on several occasions that she finds this part of her profession very difficult.Then there was the divorce: when Agnetha and Björn decided to separate at the end of 1978, the international media threw themselves on that event like vultures. ABBA would be dissolved, Agnetha and Björn would both have new partners, the stories were going around. Fortunately, a quiet press-conference in Switzerland put an end to all the rumours. The decision to get divorced was an amicable one and ABBA would certainly not break up because of that.

The fact that Frida and Benny decided to get married, after having lived together for years, gave rise to new speculations: the reason for it would be tax-related, the terms of the contract with Polar Music would have something to do with it, the media had a lot to write about. And Benny and Frida just got married...
Of course that’s the only thing to do to keep your sanity amid all the fuss of the media, radio, television and fans: remain calm. ABBA has always been able to do that, also where their private life is concerned. They allow the audience a view behind the scenes, but they never go too far. Everything they don’t want to share is politely, but resolutely denied. And that attitude has only made the group’s unity stronger.
The end is not in sight - ABBA the future
It’s 1979: the album ‘Voulez-Vous’ and the accompanying single ‘Does Your Mother Know’ make many people exclaim in awe: “ABBA goes disco!” No worries: although ‘Does Your Mother Know’ indeed has some disco-influences, ABBA remains ABBA. Or, as Björn puts it: “We make European music with a bit of American and a bit of English.”

Other tracks from the ‘Voulez-Vous’ album indicate that European music: the monsterhit ‘Chiquitita’, the title-track ‘Voulez-Vous’, they all become number-one hits again. And during the sensational world-tour in that year – that fortunately comes to Holland as well – it becomes clear that it isn’t over for ABBA just yet.

We know it: 1980 brings us the latest ABBA-album ‘Super Trouper’, of which the single ‘The Winner Takes It All’ is the forerunner (yes, number one again) and the title-track ‘Super Trouper’ the follow-up. Meanwhile, it has been announced that ‘On And On And On’ will be the next single, while England will get a Christmas-single: ‘Happy New Year’.
ABBA remains on top of the world and has founded a pop-empire that’s unprecedented in history, or it should be the Beatles-empire. But an empire has to be directed, otherwise it will collapse; Stig Anderson is taking care of that, together with his staff, among which the faithful vice-president of Polar Music, Görel Johnsen (who is named Mrs. Hanser after her marriage to a Stockholm photographer) and daughter Marie.

How to continue when you are on top and are planning to stay there? Agnetha, Frida, Björn and Benny have always acknowledged that they don’t remain in the music business because of the money, or because they need a job and they don’t know anything else to do. No, all four of them are passionate about music and they have chosen the profession that appeals to them the most. Benny: “If we would continue because of the money or to have something to do, we would fall flat musically. The audience isn’t stupid!”
The plans: “ABBA goes on” sounds so corny, but it is true. There are still territories that could have more interest in ABBA. America is not fully conquered yet and slowly Eastern Europe is starting to warm up to ABBA. That’s a task for the organization behind the group. ABBA themselves have to go on making good music. That they are able to do that, has undoubtedly been proven in those ten years.

2 comments:

Ronaldo said...

Good stuff with even some alternate pics. Thanks again for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Thankyou for shareing Michel,This is a great article with some fantastic pics it is enjoyable reading these archive material!
JS