Sunday, 27 July 2008
An armoured car, that’s what might get you into the ABBA headquarters. Or a battalion of soldiers, fully armed and fearless. There simply aren’t any other ways to get through to the heart of the Stockholm Polar Studios, where ABBA is recording secretly. Unless your name is Aunt Anni.
Sluggishly, she gets up the stairs of the studio. The traffic is raging through the streets of Stockholm behind her. Without hesitating, she walks up to the heavily garded doors of the ABBA headquarter. The sturdy guard smiles and taps his cap. A moment ago, he decidedly refused admittance to a few German journalists. But to Aunt Anni he grins friendly. With a broad swing he opens the doors to the most secret part of Stockholm; the ABBA headquarter! And Aunt Anni shuffles inside with a bag full of groceries. Who is this mysterious old lady? And what does Aunt Anni have to do with ABBA?
Inside, in the nerve centre of the ABBA happening, it’s all very hectic. And that’s no surprise when you come to think of it that in the Polar Studios lots of treats are being prepared for the millions of ABBA fans. Firstly, hard work is being done on the new single, that will be released in the month of August. Apart from that, Benny and Björn are busy with the preparations for the follow-up of the ABBA-album ‘Arrival’, which is going to consist of songs from their movie. That’s right: a real ABBA-movie (and then we don’t mean the movie about ‘The Girl With The Golden Hair’ that we reported about earlier, but a genuine feature film, with recordings of the Australian concerts) that will probably be ready in December. But what, so the perceptive reader is wondering, has all this to do with the mysterious Aunt Anni, all dressed in black? Well, a lot. Aunt Anni is actually a real aunt of ABBA’s blonde Agnetha, who lost contact with Agnetha’s mother years ago. It wasn’t until last winter, just before ABBA’s world-tour started, that Agnetha and her long lost aunt ran into each other by coincidence. Now Aunt Anni is a part of ABBA, and what kind of part. With her dangerous walking-stick she terrorizes the studios, she just walks into the recording studios when the red lights are on and doesn’t mind the rules at all, that go for the rest of the ABBA-staff. Not because Agnetha desperately wanted it this way, but because Aunt Anni thinks her Agnetha (that’s pronounced ‘Anjetta’ in Swedish) should be looked after properly. “Child,” is what the old lady seems to have exclaimed once, “now you’re not living with your mother in Jönköping anymore, you’re much too skinny and you’re working way too hard. You should be at home, with your child. Those men around here are all slave-drivers!” ABBA-boss Stig Anderson should have taken notice, especially of that last remark, because after having witnessed Stig and Agnetha during a dispute in the studio, Aunt Anni thinks he is Sweden’s biggest brute. Now, Stig watches her timidly, whenever Aunt Anni shuffles along with her grocery-bag and her walking-stick! Besides, photographers are getting acquainted with the reputation of Aunt Anni’s stick as well; because Aunt Anni doesn’t like men who take pictures of her and she chases after them with that very stick.
Apart from that, the other three ABBA-members all think Aunt Anni is adorable. She really is an enormous fan of ABBA’s music and, apart from Stig and the photographers, she doesn’t bother anyone. However, for Agnetha it sometimes gets a bit too much with Aunt Anni. In her resoluteness to be a good second mother to Agnetha, Aunt Anni always brings complete meals, that Agnetha has to eat in front of her. After which the poor thing can’t even eat a cookie for the rest of the day, because she has to mind her figure. And Aunt Anni keeps wondering why Agnetha isn’t getting more flesh around her bones!
Saturday, 26 July 2008
It’s clear: ABBA’s tenth album (counting ‘Greatest Hits Vol. 1 and 2’) dropped like a bomb and once and for all put an end to the rumours that the group wouldn’t last for much longer. Nonetheless, it seems obvious that the separate careers of the ABBA-members will go in different directions eventually.
For instance, Björn and Benny still haven’t given up on their idea to write a musical and they’re hoping to make a start with that this year. The Christmas album that Agnetha recorded with her daughter Linda is doing really well in Sweden – the record is sung in Swedish – and is achieving high chart positions.
Frida is a different story: the past year she has had lots of worries and she also stayed more in the background than the other group members. Not only her looks have changed now, there are solo-plans as well: this year in March the red-haired singer will go into the studio to record an English-language solo-album; this time the producer will not be an ABBA-member, but no other than Genesis-singer/drummer Phil Collins.
Even if the ABBA-members wouldn’t be as rich as they are, none of the four would have any problem earning a living. After almost ten years of ABBA, it’s the question if that combination should be sustained or if the foursome will call it a day and do what gives each of them the most pleasure, separately.
For now, we are being assured that ABBA will stay together and “continue their successful work”. In the near future, we hope to be able to ask Björn, Benny, Anni-Frid and Agnetha in an exclusive Hitkrant-interview what ABBA’s future looks like.
Friday, 25 July 2008
It’s an obvious question: now that Frida’s solo-album and its attendant singles have become such a success, it seems possible that that solo-career is getting more serious. We really were very curious about that, and so we asked Frida herself, when she visited Holland a few weeks ago.
“As long as ABBA stays together, the group will always come first,” says Frida decidedly. “That doesn’t mean that this will be my last solo-venture, because you see: singing means everything to me. I wouldn’t know what else to do – I can’t do anything else! – and recording an album, on which I can pursue my own ideas completely, is of course a very satisfying thing for me.”
Do you think there are many new sounds in pop-music today?
“I think so, but the past few months I’ve had very little time to follow it closely, because of my album and the promotional tour I’m doing right now. Something that really caught my attention, was that single by the German group Trio. Isn’t it called ‘Da Da Da’? I think that’s a really good song, but it’s also the only thing I’ve heard from that group so it’s impossible for me to say that Trio is a notable newcomer.”
Do you see any new Beatles?
“You never know. But it has to happen, because otherwise the music business will slowly die, mark my words.”
Wednesday, 23 July 2008
“The crisis is over,” is what manager Stig Anderson announced some time ago. And with that, he meant to say that the internal difficulties that occurred after Björn and Agnetha’s divorce had been solved. At the moment, the group is giving the impression of being tighter than ever. ABBA is up for it again. And they should, because especially in the financial area there have been some setbacks. As you probably know, to Sweden ABBA is more than just a pop-group. ABBA is also Sweden’s second export company. The foursome has invested money in several big companies. The group has interests in a bank, a record company and even a bicycle factory.
A few months ago, manager Stig Anderson came up with the (according to him wonderful) idea to invest money in oil; a product that was becoming more expensive by the day (and more valuable). But right at the moment that he spent 30 million on that oil-project on behalf of ABBA, the prices of oil dropped considerably. Oil changed from a magic word into a nightmare... the result of this was that ABBA faced a loss of millions. To make matters worse, at the same time the Swedish taxes became very active, and started to investigate all ABBA activities. Not that the foursome had failed to fill in their forms correctly, but it was examined if there was more to be taken from the golden goose. All of this had the result that in ABBA circles it is now considered to move more investments abroad. But the foursome doesn’t really have to worry, especially since they’re making one hit record after the other. But more important is that the understanding within the group has only gotten better. Time has healed all wounds. “No one can tear us apart,” is what the four are saying, “not even the Swedish taxes!” Stig Anderson is laughing all the problems away as well: “You know what we will do with all this oil, guys? Just store it for ten years, or so. Until there’s a new oil-crisis!”
Tuesday, 22 July 2008
It’s now in the shops for two months, the fantastic new ABBA-album ‘The Visitors’. Millions of copies have been sold already, like any other album by the Swedish foursome. Still, ‘The Visitors’ is clearly different from the other ABBA-albums. “We made our earlier albums for everyone, people from eight years old to eighty,” blonde Agnetha revealed recently in an interview with Polydor’s press-officer, ABBA’s Dutch record company. “That’s why we wanted to do something completely different this time. We recorded ‘The Visitors’ more for ourselves. And about ourselves. But that’s nothing new, because all our albums are autobiographical. Everything Björn and Benny write about, has happened for real. Otherwise, Frida and I would not be able to sing those songs. Now we’re totally behind the lyrics.”
“Of course things didn’t become more fun because of the divorces, but that’s not a reason for us to quit.” With this statement, Agnetha definitely dismissed all the rumours that ABBA wouldn’t last for much longer. “Creating music is and remains a hobby for all four of us, and so is ABBA. But not more than that either. We only see each other in the studio and every now and then when new pictures have to be taken. Because it sure isn’t easy to socialize with each other now. It’s not necessary either to see each other privately. Why should we? None of us have felt the need for that after the divorces. That’s also the reason why we won’t undertake any tours anymore, because then we would be in each other’s company constantly. But we will keep on recording music, approximately one album each year. Furthermore,” Agnetha concludes the conversation, “I’m much too busy raising my daughter Linda. She’s now twelve years old and I think she needs serious and good guidance at this age. And that would be impossible if I were busy making music all day. Although ABBA is my biggest hobby, my family still comes first.”
Wednesday, 16 July 2008
After 16 years, ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’ is in the European charts again. Although the Swedish supergroup split up eight years ago, their musical heritage keeps on capturing everyone’s imagination. Groups like Erasure, Björn Again and The Radios are no longer hiding their admiration for the four Swedes. Time to recapture the ABBA-story in pictures.
1. Björn Ulvaeus was born on April 25th 1945 in Gothenburg. He got his first guitar when he was 12. He started out playing in a skiffle- and dixieland-group. In the early sixties, he started the folk-band Westbay Singers, with a couple of school-friends. During that time, Björn and Co. came in contact with Stig Anderson, president of Polar Records and later on ABBA’s manager. He was able to persuade the boys to change the name of their group into The Hootenanny Singers.
2. Benny Andersson was born on December 16th 1946 in Stockholm. “I’ve learned all about music from my father and grandfather, who both played the accordion,” Benny explains. “I never had any tuition in music.” At the age of six, he got his first accordion, consisting of bellows. At first, Benny was a member of the group Elverkets Spelmanslag and after that The Hep Stars, a band that achieved eight golden records and therefore was the best group in Sweden at that time.3. Frida – officially Anni-Frid – Lyngstad was born on November 15th 1945 in Björnkasen in Norway. Her mother died when Frida was eighteen months old. Her father, a German marine officer, died when his ship sank. At the age of two, Frida lived with her grandmother in Sweden. It wouldn’t take long for her to be caught by the music bug. She was eleven years old when she first performed. At the age of thirteen, she sang with a group that played Eastern music. For a while, she sang jazz as well with Bengt Sandlunds Big Band. Until she met Benny Andersson, whom she married, and got to know pop-music. She won a national talent competition with the song ‘En Ledig Dag’. After that, Frida built a solo-career with the help of Benny as her producer.
4. Agnetha Fältskog was born on April 5th 1950 in Jönköping. She was 15 years old when she started to sing with Bengt Enghardt’s orchestra in Huskvarna. Before that, she worked at a big garage as a telephonist. Soon, music was the only important thing for her as well.
5. Björn and Benny met each other in ’66, when The Hep Stars helped out The Hootenanny Singers, because some members of that last group were called to the military service and had to cancel a performance. At a party, Benny and Björn came to the conclusion they both had the same musical ideas. Together, they wrote the hit ‘Isn’t It Easy To Say’ for The Hep Stars. That song sealed the artistic union between Björn and Benny. When The Hep Stars came to an end in ’69, they both continued as producers. In ’70, Björn met Agnetha, they were married on July 7th ’71 in Verum. Shortly after that, the first joint single was released: ‘She’s My Kind Of Girl’, under the group name Agnetha Björn Benny Anni-Frid. In ’73, the third single ‘Ring Ring’ became the first international success. At the time, Agnetha was pregnant with her daughter Linda.
6. and 7. The breakthrough came one year later, in ’74. Under the name ABBA (the initials of their four names) they won the Eurovision Song Contest with ‘Waterloo’. In a time span of two and a half years, the group sold more records than any other group, except The Beatles. In their home country, the band achieved sales figures of 600.000 units for each album. ‘ABBA – The Album’, released in ’77, reached platinum status in Hong Kong, gold in France and the USA, and double platinum in Canada.
8. ’77: the feature film ‘ABBA – The Movie’ had its premiere.
9. In ’78, the hits kept on coming: ‘Take A Chance On Me’, ‘Eagle’/’Thank You For The Music’ and ‘Summer Night City’.
10. ’79 was a very successful year, with one top 5 hit after the other: ‘Chiquitita’, ‘Does Your Mother Know’, ‘Voulez-Vous’, ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’ and ‘I Have A Dream’. In the picture: Benny and manager Stig Anderson with an award for selling more than 500.000 copies of ‘Chiquitita’ in the UK.
11. In ’80, the highly acclaimed and mature album ‘Super Trouper’ and the hitsingle of the same name were released. Arrangements as well as lyrics became more profound.
12. Despite the fact that the album ‘The Visitors’ and the single ‘One Of Us’ did very well, in ’81 rumours about a possible split were circulating. The reports were fuelled by the divorces between Benny/Frida and Björn/Agnetha. Björn started a new relationship immediately with Lena Kallersjo. “When Agnetha and I separated, I realized I wanted to fall in love again as soon as possible. I’m not cut out to remain single,” according to Björn. Frida’s reaction to her separation from Benny was totally different: “I’m happy for the years that I’ve spent with Benny, but on the other hand the divorce is a relief. I’m able to start a whole new life. For the first time in my life I’m all by myself and I enjoy it.”
13. Still, the ABBA-story hadn’t ended yet. In ’82 the hits ‘Head Over Heels’ and ‘The Day Before You Came’ were released.
14. Frida recorded her solo-album ‘Something’s Going On’, with Phil Collins as her producer, and on drums.
15. In ’83, Agnetha made a solo sidestep as well. She worked with producer Mike Chapman (Sweet, Mud, Suzi Quatro, Smokie) on her solo-record ‘Wrap Your Arms Around Me’. All of this didn’t get in the way of the group’s success. ‘Under Attack’ became another top hit for ABBA.
16. ’84: the hitsingle ‘Thank You For The Music’ turned out to be the swansong of the influential and extremely popular group that ABBA eventually was. Björn and Benny were finally able to give their attention to a prestigious project outside the supergroup: together with musical-composer Tim Rice they staged the musical ‘Chess’.
17. Although the separate group members are still active in the music business every now and then (after all, it’s in their blood), none of them think it’s that necessary any longer. Frida, Agnetha, Björn and Benny have made an enormous amount of money during the years, so they are able to retire without a problem. For instance, the musical engine Benny is living quietly with his current wife Lena in the English countryside, in Oxfordshire.
Saturday, 12 July 2008
The time has finally come for ABBA, the sympathetic Swedish group that conquered the world with their fantastic music: the big American tour, you can call it an adventure, has begun. It was preceded by weeks of tension. Weeks that caused the foursome sleepless nights because of the tension; weeks in which they didn’t think about anything else, and talked about nothing else. But now the weeks of tension have come for the fans, because many of them fear that this tour will be a farewell. Outwardly, it seems that the many internal tensions that troubled the group the past few months didn’t have any effect on the harmony within the foursome. But everyone knows that tensions need to find their way out. But that’s difficult if you are a popular group. ABBA’s manager Stig Anderson has always made sure that nothing could get in the way of the group’s success. Not even private problems. The whole divorce between Agnetha and Björn seemed to be solved without much distress. The dirty laundry wasn’t aired. Behind the scenes, the world may have shook sometimes, but outwardly everything was fine. The company ABBA remained intact. They kept on working undisturbed, so it seemed. Björn and Benny composed, Agnetha and Annifrid studied on their lyrics and choreography.
You have to be a true professional to be able to do this. Because private problems destroyed many stars. This is not the case with ABBA. At least, so it seems. Because many fans ask themselves if Björn and Agnetha will be able to see each other every day, without this causing tensions. Won’t this lead to a falling-out or collapse eventually? Maybe there has been some kind of agreement already: one more world-tour and then we’ll quit. People keep guessing and guessing. Agnetha has been spotted in the company of a tough Swedish skater. When there are press-conferences, she isn’t there. Neither is Annifrid. Benny and Björn do all the interviews. All of this is cause for speculation. Whether the two girls will continue together. Whether the boys only want to be producers from now on. Whether Agnetha wants to call it a day after her divorce. Whether Björn doesn’t feel like being on the same stage as her. And then the news about the American tour strikes like lightning. ABBA is cautious, due to their enormous success. One mistake could mean the end of a group of this calibre. For every artist, America is more or less the ultimate goal: if you are accepted there and have made it to the top, you can’t get any bigger. Certainly for ABBA, America is something special. Normally, America is the starting point to get the whole world at your feet, but ABBA has the world already... except America. ABBA, more or less Sweden’s most important export product, has made it big everywhere. In Australia, they’re just as popular as in Germany. As true Vikings, they conquered one country after the other. In the United States, people are warming up to ABBA as well, but obviously not enough to make the group decide to tour there. And they are working on just that at the moment. A monster hit, that will clear the way to the USA. An all or nothing game. It will probably turn out to be all: indeed, it was the Vikings who discovered America, and now they will see that the Swedes still have a lot to offer. When we have to believe all the stories going around, there would be a chaotic atmosphere in the group, because they don’t get along with each other very well anymore. The truth may turn out to be that ABBA is on the verge of becoming bigger than ever. It’s logical, isn’t it: if Agnetha is having an affair with a sportsman, that doesn’t mean that ABBA will fall flat. For now, everything is clear sailing. ABBA will conquer America and after that they will have even more success in Europe, if that’s possible. It would be senseless to give up this golden formula. But they will have to be able to keep it up.
Friday, 11 July 2008
Note the interesting spelling of Frida's name in this article: Anafried.They were called the new Beatles, and that was hardly exaggerated. Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anafried, in short ABBA, made a convincing musical mark on the seventies, as John, Paul, George and Ringo did on the sixties. Six years ago, ABBA came to an end, but Agnetha Fältskog did not let that get her down. In the meantime, she is up to her third and clearly best solo-album ‘I Stand Alone’. Reason enough for your favourite magazine to go to Stockholm for a nice conversation with a sympathetic and beautiful Swede.
We meet Agnetha in a suite on the eighth floor of the Strand Hotel in the Swedish capital. In her leather pants and trendy sweater, you would think she’s 25 years old. But Agnetha is 38 years old and her first hit in Sweden dates back to 1968, exactly 20 years ago. Does she still remember it?
“Of course,” according to Agnetha, “I was 18 years old and proud as I could be because I had written the song myself and I never could have guessed it would enter the charts. It was fantastic, because making it big in show-business was my biggest dream. I even gave up school for that. Beforehand, I didn’t know that ABBA would become as successful as it did. Anyway, I had a lot of experience already when I met up with Björn, Benny and Anafried.”
ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 with ‘Waterloo’ and from then on it was clear sailing. One hit followed the other and they were famous all over the world. For Agnetha, ABBA was more than just a job. In 1971, just before the big success started, she got married to her colleague Björn. One year after that, daughter Linda was born and in 1977, son Christian was born.
“Not a very ordinary situation, of course,” Agnetha reminisces. “Björn and I were together almost day and night. On top of that, it wasn’t easy to combine ABBA with having two children. But I definitely wanted to have children. They meant and mean more to me than the success or the fame. I made sure that ABBA wouldn’t be away from home for more than a few weeks. I wanted to be a real mother.”
1982 was an important year. Not only ABBA came to an end, Agnetha and Björn’s marriage ended as well. From then on, Agnetha had to make it alone.
“Both the end of ABBA as well as my divorce were things that had to happen,” Agnetha says. “ABBA had given all they had to give and we didn’t have anything to say to each other anymore. Furthermore, we had had so much success, that we got tired of it all. We needed peace and quiet. Apparently, my marriage was tied to ABBA as well, so that had to end too. I toughened up, took care of the children and slowly I built a solo-career. The title of my album says that I survived it all. ‘I Stand Alone’ and I feel strong.”
Agnetha’s album has seen the light of day with the help of a few big names. Producers are Peter Cetera, known of Chicago and his solo-hit ‘Glory Of Love’, and Bruce Gaitsch, co-writer of Madonna’s ‘La Isla Bonita’. Another link to Madonna are the promotional pictures. They were taken by Italian Tolot, a man that has photographed Madonna a couple of times as well.
“I don’t want to be compared to Madonna at all,” according to Agnetha, “I’m much older and totally different. The fact that some of those ‘Madonna-people’ worked on my record, is pure coincidence. However, there is another connection which is much more fun. My daughter Linda is now 15 years old and crazy about Madonna. For her, I have to compete with Madonna. But I’m in luck, Linda thinks my new album isn’t half bad.” (she smiles).
Thursday, 10 July 2008
ABBA continues steadily. The new album ‘The Visitors’ is a clear continuation of the two previous albums (‘Voulez-Vous’ and ‘Super Trouper’), as the identical album designs seem to signal as well. The first part of the title-track, that opens the album, might give you the impression that ABBA raised their goals. The somewhat electronically arranged voice resembles ‘Revolver’ by the Beatles, and you wonder whether Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus thought it was time to let ABBA evolve from chart-group into art-pop-group. But it doesn’t take long before the well-known, friendly disco-rhythm takes over, and we’re on safe territory again with ABBA. Writing about ABBA means writing about a phenomenon that on one side doesn’t offer much depth, and is not ground-breaking at all, but on the other you can’t help but respect, because of its evident craftsmanship. In that respect, ABBA can be compared to, for example, Norman Rockwell, the American illustrator. The drawings by Rockwell are not exactly innovative art, and they make use of all available tricks to reach the desired effect with the observer. Still, Rockwell clearly stands out among most other illustrators, and his work has a certain quality, that you only notice when you realize it remains interesting.
You could say the same of ABBA. Take a song like ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’, for instance. The song is about a daughter that is off to school, and the feeling of the father (or mother) who watches her leave, that he’s starting to lose her a little already, and that something like that goes much faster than you would think or want. It’s a familiar theme, that’s executed in a sweet but cliché kind of way. The music is sweet and romantic in an obvious way as well. But I’m convinced that I will still like this song five years from now (although I won’t play it that often), while all those other songs by chart-groups, that are in the same league, will be unbearable by then. Apart from that, this album doesn’t give the impression that ABBA is ready to quit. Although I do have my doubts when I see the promotional film for ‘One Of Us’: Anna and Frida are starting to look as if they are in desperate need of early retirement.
Wednesday, 9 July 2008
ABBA continues to find new ways. Despite the fact that Frida will release a solo-album in September, there are no worries about the group’s future. “There’s not a single doubt that ABBA will continue” and “Frida’s album is totally different from an ABBA-album; we’re actually pretty excited about it!” according to ABBA’s faithful press-officer Görel Hanser in her press-release. “Benny and Björn are very busy,” she continues. “In May, they recorded two new songs and in August there will be new recording sessions.”
The titles of the new songs are ‘Just Like That’ and ‘I Am The City’. In August, four more songs will be recorded, among which the new single and another track that will be on the ABBA double-album, together with all other ABBA-hits.
In any case, there will be no new ABBA-album this year, “but,” Polar assures us, “next year there will definitely be a new ABBA-album.” The group is not in a hurry: ‘The Visitors’ is still selling very well everywhere and expectations about Frida’s solo-album are high as well. Blonde Agnetha is planning to record a solo-album as well. Most probably, Mike Chapman will be her producer. In the near future, Agnetha has no time. “The group is booked until January and they are busy recording,” we are being told.
Especially Frida has some busy times ahead; when her album ‘Something’s Going On’ will be released in September, she will visit several countries for promotion, among them Holland, and before that she will have to film promotional films for the songs ‘I See Red’ and ‘I Know There’s Something Going On’. When the album was recorded at Polar-Studios in Stockholm, an English film-crew made a documentary about Frida and Phil Collins. This will be broadcast in several countries. And then the latest ABBA-news: the group is now on top in the United States as well, mainly due to a radio- and TV-special that were broadcast recently.
Tuesday, 8 July 2008
The Japanese government doesn’t trust any artist anymore, that’s what ABBA’s Benny, Björn, Agnetha and Annifrid found out recently. Instead of an ecstatic crowd of screaming fans, a bunch of cool and suspicious customs officers were waiting for them. And all of that thanks to a careless Englishman!
Paul McCartney sure has something to answer for! After the so-called ‘drugs-scandal’, that the usually so impeccable Englishman was involved in a few months ago, the Japanese government doesn’t trust the luggage of any living soul anymore. It doesn’t matter if you’re one of the world-famous ABBA-members, or ‘just’ anybody, all incoming suitcases are searched in detail for illegitimate goods. For a moment, our Swedish musicians didn’t know how they had it coming on Narita-Airport, Tokio’s airport. Upon arrival in the land of the rising sun, everything, even Agnetha and Annifrid’s make-up boxes, was dragged out of the suitcases and bags and thoroughly investigated by industrious little men.
“We were startled,” Benny told afterwards. “After the 15 hours and 10 minutes flight from Stockholm to Tokio, a trip that’s not a walk in the park, we certainly expected a different reception. We really got our share....”
Actually, Benny, Björn, Agnetha and Annifrid didn’t want to tour again in the near future. Certainly not after last year’s tiring and unprofitable world-tour. But the Japanese performances were planned already. In that part of Asia, ABBA-records have been selling like hotcakes. But the musical Swedes had never been able to do more for their Japanese admirers than film a couple of quick TV-shows. And they wanted to change that! After the hour-long delay at the airport, the ABBAs weren’t bothered anymore. Outside the customs office several hundreds of Japanese fans were waiting for their idols. And that was the start of ABBA’s glorious victory-march throughout Japan. At the moment, the popular Swedes are back in their own country, where they are working around the clock on a new ABBA-album, that will be available in our country in the autumn (a new single is expected to be released in June already). So there won’t be much time for other tours the coming months. But that wasn’t ABBA’s intention either...
Monday, 7 July 2008
ABBA’s Agnetha was in Bremen, together with her musical partner Tomas Ledin, for the filming of ‘Musikladen’. In the lobby of the fancy Parkhotel we talked to her. Agnetha has a whole new look again. The curls are gone and her blonde hair has been considerably shortened. Red trousers, red sweater. Actually, the superstar is rather anonymous. Openly, she talks about the lawsuit against a Swedish newspaper, her solo-album with Michael Chapman, the musical that her colleagues Björn and Benny are writing and about a possible world-tour with ABBA.
How are the preparations for your solo-album coming along?
“I’ve just come back from London, where I met Michael Chapman, who is going to produce my solo-album, for the first time. We are busy looking for the right material right now. It’s all very exciting. Mike has so many good ideas and he has written a song especially for me as well. We’re still looking for material, but it looks interesting, very interesting.”
Do you think you can agree with the choice of the material?
Agnetha nods. “We do everything in mutual consultation, but for him it’s easier, since he has so many contacts all over the world and he’s a composer himself. My good friend Tomas Ledin, the guy I’m singing ‘Never Again’ with, has promised to write a song for me as well. Frida has recorded one of his songs too. Tomas is very good. I, for one, would love to have a song by a Swedish composer on the record. But again, I’m not the only one who decides. Mike has a say in this too.”
Will Björn and Benny write something for the album?
“No, they are way too busy. I don’t think they will have time for that. Everyone wants them at the moment. They are writing new songs for the ABBA-album, that will be out next year and they are very busy with the musical, that they will be writing in cooperation with Tim Rice. They went to London a couple of times and they also met him in Paris. It is not known yet what the musical will be about, but it’s a very pretentious and long term project. It may take them two years to finish it.”
Will ABBA record that musical?
“I don’t know yet, maybe. It all depends on the music. Chances are that Frida and I will not be involved at all. If it’s suitable for ABBA, then we’ll do it. If not, it will be a solo-project by the boys and they will record it with others. But I don’t know the exact facts. We don’t have much contact. We only see each other when we work and that’s it. I do know that writing songs is getting harder and harder on the boys. It seems they need more and more time to write songs. It’s because they are very demanding on themselves. When you’re on top, people expect more and more from you. Every song has to be better than the previous one. But I think that the two new singles ‘The Day Before You Came’ and ‘Under Attack’ sound really fresh.”
Do you compose yourself?
“Yes, I am a composer, but I don’t write much. I will try to write something for my solo-album. If I succeed. By the way, I still have a song lying around. We played it during the ABBA-tour and it always was a big success. I might record that one.”
Do you write lyrics as well?
“Only ideas. I never write English lyrics, my English isn’t good enough for that. I’d make a fool of myself. I’d rather leave the writing of the lyrics to others. I’m really looking forward to my solo-album. In the middle of January we will enter the Polar-studios and at the end of February it should be finished.”
You have a part in a Swedish movie...
“That’s right, it’s a movie directed by Gunnar Helstrom, who also directed a few episodes of ‘Dallas’. The movie is based on a true story and is about the biggest Casanova ever, the Swede Raskenstam. I play the part of Lisa, the daughter of a fisherman, a very boring girl. Raskenstam was engaged to more than one hundred girls at the same time, but Lisa was the only one he really cared about. All those women took him to court, but in the end, they wouldn’t incriminate him and dropped their charges. They were still charmed by him and said: “We’ve paid the price for his love and we have a lasting memory of him: a child.” The movie will premiere in Sweden around April and will also come to a London cinema where they only play Swedish movies. It might come to Dutch and Belgian cinemas.”
How did acting become you?
“Very well. Actually, it was the first time that I acted, except for what we did in ‘The Movie’ which didn’t mean much, so this was the first time that I really tried it and I really enjoyed it, it was very exciting. It’s wonderful to do something completely different, an enormous challenge. I don’t know if I’m a good actress, if my attempt was a success, but the audience will have to decide on that.”
What’s the deal about the lawsuit against a Swedish newspaper?
“I really don’t like to talk about that. They wrote I was pregnant, but I only was pregnant in the movie. And that it was the reason for my boyfriend to leave me. They are lies, pure lies. People who don’t know me and buy that newspaper will think I’ve gone insane. I see myself every week in the newspapers and they only write nonsense and lies about you. One week you’re pregnant, the next week your boyfriend dumped you. I have to draw the line somewhere, that’s why I reacted instinctively. I have won, but whether I win or lose, is really not that important. It’s a good thing that the dubious activities of this newspaper are exposed because of the lawsuit.”
Frida made a comment that she would like to tour again with ABBA.
“A tour? You never know what the future will bring, but at the moment? I doubt it. It’s so time-consuming. It’s a hard and tiring life. Travelling, hotels, airports, different places. I hate it. But as soon as you’re on stage and have contact with the audience, you forget it all. That moment is fantastic. But everything surrounding it, is not my thing. I’d rather stay home with the children.”
Together with Tomas she lets her photograph being taken, professionally and willingly. Her head on Tomas’ shoulder.
“This is not a new romance,” she says decidedly. “Just making myself clear, because that’s the way the rumours start.”
Sunday, 6 July 2008
A few years ago, ABBA-fans were alarmed by the news that Björn and Agnetha had decided to separate, after eight years of marriage. One year later, it was announced that Annifrid and Benny’s marriage, that had lasted for only two years, had ended as well. Fortunately, the sadness of both divorces didn’t last very long. All four ABBA-members soon found a new life-partner.
After her divorce from Björn, Agnetha was frequently spotted in the presence of Swedish icehockey-player Lars Erik Eriksson. Eventually, this relationship didn’t last, because the blonde singer met the businessman Dick Hakansson, and fell head over heels in love with him. There seemed to be a bright future ahead for the two of them. Still, a few months ago Agnetha introduced another man to the media as her new boyfriend. It’s the 38-year old Torbjorn Brander, a detective at the Stockholm police, who kept an eye on Agnetha’s house. It was love at first sight. The couple has been living together for a few months now, but there are no plans to get married yet.
Björn, on the other hand, got married pretty quickly. This time to blonde Lena Källersjö, a Swedish beauty who has much the same features as Agnetha. A week after the divorce between Björn and Agnetha had been finalized, Björn met Lena at a party. In their case, it was love at first sight as well. Two years later, the couple got married. Lena and Björn are expecting their first child soon.
The two other ABBA-members, Annifrid and Benny, overcame the sadness of their divorce quickly as well, by meeting a new boyfriend and girlfriend. The reason for Benny and Frida’s split-up, was that Benny had fallen in love with another woman. The woman was Mona Nörklit, a production-assistant at Swedish television and one of Frida’s good friends as well. Benny and Mona have been married for a few months now and are also expecting their first baby soon.
For a while now, 36-year old Annifrid has a new man in her life, who makes her very happy. It’s Bertil Hijert, a 37-year old vice-president of a textile-company in Sweden’s Uppsala. Unfortunately, the couple can’t see as much of each other as they want to, because of their tight schedules. Sadly, our photographer was unable to take a picture of them together. But there’s one thing we’re sure of: Annifrid and Bertil are very happy!
It’s still unknown if all these changes will have an effect on the continued existence of the group. At least, it is certain that a new album of the foursome will be released very shortly. And that is something to look forward to.
Saturday, 5 July 2008
Libelle, 1985: My children hardly knew a family-life, but they do have a mother to talk to, even about their most intimate feelings
Anni-Frid Lyngstad (39) was born in the Norwegian village Narvik. At the age of 2 she lost her mother and was brought up by her grandmother. She met her father for the first time 7 years ago. “He came too late to still be a real father to me,” she says in an interview Libelle had with her. She talks about her childhood and about her 2 children, whom she wanted to give all she missed herself as a child, about her 2 marriages and the time she travelled the world with her children and ABBA.
Anni-Frid Lyngstad is in Rotterdam, on the eleventh floor of the Hilton Hotel. Downstairs fans are waiting patiently for an autograph. She is strikingly young with her purple-red punk hairdo. Politely and very self-confident she says: “I would appreciate it if you didn’t smoke here.” She hasn’t quite recovered yet from the time difference, after a visit to her daughter in New York. No coffee, but water. A thick, knitted cardigan around her shoulders. “I might be getting the flu,” she says quietly. For a moment she looks like the image many people have of her. A somewhat sad, lonely woman, who still hasn’t found happiness, despite all the success in the world. An image that may find its origin in her childhood and that’s kept alive by the fact that she is still alone after her divorce from Benny Andersson. Her loneliness is something that’s brought up in interviews a lot as well, so much so that it has almost become her trademark. Unintentionally, so it seems later.
Frida was born 39 years ago in the Norwegian village Narvik at a time that didn’t hold much promise for the future. She’s the daughter of a German officer, who returned to his home country after the war. 7 years ago she met him for the first time. “It was all very strange. I received a letter from someone who claimed to be my half-brother. He had read a biography about me and came across some things he had also heard from his father. As it turned out, that indeed was my father. I looked him up, mainly out of curiosity. He came too late to still be a real father to me. I was a grown woman. As a child, he could have meant something to me, but now not anymore. Still the meeting meant a great deal to me and we kept in touch ever since. It was a very strange emotion, when we met eye to eye. You know: this is my father. But all the emotions going with that, were strange to me. No, I never blamed him for anything. After all, he was a victim of the circumstances as well. As a German officer he hardly could stay in Norway after the war.”
Her mother died when Frida was 2 years old, after that she was brought up by her grandmother. She moved with her to the Swedish town Eskilstuna, because in Narvik her history was stained.
“I don’t like to talk about my childhood,” says Frida. “Not because it’s a period I want to forget – there were plenty of happy times as well – but it doesn’t suit my philosophy of life. I take everyday as it comes. That’s the reason why I don’t want to look too much at the future. It’s crazy, but this summer I was back in Eskilstuna. I hadn’t been there since my grandmother died, sadly before ABBA took off. When I drove off, I couldn’t imagine what it looked like anymore. What I saw was the memory, the city of my childhood.”
Frida has 2 children herself. Daughter Lotta is 18 years old and a student in New York. Son Hans is 21 and lives and works in Stockholm.
“He writes songs, plays in a band, produces and arranges and is, well, very talented. I see in him much of the same urge as I had to get into the music industry. It’s something magical, something that can’t be explained. I never understood where it came from, it just was there. With Hans it may be easier to understand, for he has a mother in the music industry. But on the other hand, Lotta is finding her own way as well.”
Talking about her children, Frida slowly becomes more personal. When we talk about raising children, she says: “Every mother wants to give her children what se didn’t have herself. Something I have always missed, is a mother to talk to. Despite all her efforts, my grandmother never was able to fulfil that role. There was too much age difference. I know that my children do have a mother like that. We are not afraid to talk to each other, even when it comes to the most intimate feelings. That’s a good thing. That they trust me, are not afraid to come to me. I see them often, yes. A few times a year I fly to New York and Stockholm, and Lotta and Hans also visit London regularly, where I’ve been living the past 2 years. Of course it’s a shame that we’re living so far apart, and sometimes I miss them very much, but we all lead our own lives. I tried to raise them like that, as independent people with responsibility, who have both feet on the ground, capable to make their own decisions. I think I’ve succeeded. I have tremendous respect for the way they lead their lives. They are able to manage themselves. That’s a big relief, and makes missing them not painful. Actually, it’s a good feeling being so young and having such grown-up children. I do worry if they are happy as well. You can guide children and make them able to lead their lives. But it’s no guarantee for happiness. Happiness is something that comes from within, it can’t be taught. They have to experience everything in life themselves. All I can do is be there when they need me, to talk to. Even if they are on the other side of the world, I’m still their mother. I keep feeling the responsibility. Something I’ve learned myself is that communication is an important tool to happiness. Communication between people is something difficult. People very seldom manage to really communicate. That’s what I’ve told my children as well. It’s important for them to open up, be friendly to people, and really try to connect. You can save yourself a lot of trouble by doing that. Communicating also means listening very carefully, understanding how people are. With me it wasn’t like I instantly realized I wasn’t communicating, it took me several years. My divorce from Benny has been a turning point in that respect. That’s the time that I really needed to connect to other people, more than ever. To Benny, but also to friends. When we separated, I had to make a decision in life. I looked at everything I experienced up to that point. I wanted to find out how to continue. During that time I started talking. For the first time I opened up completely. That was probably the best experience in my life thus far, and it meant a great deal to me. I now have confidence in myself and life. Because then I realized what was really wrong. I know myself much better now, and that means I’m no longer afraid, I’m much stronger and I can encounter people openly. The fact that Benny and I weren’t really communicating, was an important reason for our divorce, of course apart from some other reasons. It was only during the last 4 weeks we were together, that we really talked. I had the feeling that was the first time. It’s strange, but you see that happening often when relationships come to an end. It’s as if you suddenly realize you’re going to lose something, and want to get the pieces in the right place at the last minute. It’s also important to know why it happens. Otherwise it’s going to drag on. It means that partners have to speak their mind, something that apparently wasn’t possible during the relationship. I sometimes compare it with people who are dying. You often hear they use their last hours to set the record straight. For me, a divorce is partly dying. Maybe that’s why we had such good talks those last few weeks. To be honest, it was the best period of our marriage. I have no regrets. The conclusion remained the same after those 4 weeks. But the result is that Benny and I are still good friends. It was a good divorce, as far as you can call a divorce that. The sadness remains, but you can make it easier on each other. We did just that and I’m glad for it. Benny and I can still talk about intimate things, good moments we had together. Those are emotions you only shared with each other, something you can’t talk about to somebody else. If you couldn’t ever talk about it again, if there would be no friendship left at all, it would seem those things never happened. As if there never was a marriage. After my divorce from Benny I got a lot of support from friends. They filled the void and made sure I didn’t step into a new relationship immediately. I don’t think I would have made it without my friends. I wouldn’t have existed the way I do now. That’s why friendship means very much to me. Of course, when you love someone so much that you are able to share your life with him, that’s the best there is. But relationships like that are more rare than good friends. My friends were sensible enough to not be sad with me, but they pushed me forward. They made sure I didn’t give up. It made me appreciate them more than I already did.”
The interview turns philosophical.
“I divorced twice in my life, and that didn’t happen in vain. It made me think. About the world around me and about myself. In a way I believe in destiny, that there’s a meaning in things that happen. Not that you can sit back in a chair and wait what’s coming to you, no, you have to work at it yourself. Try to create something positive out of the negative. You have to fight for things in life that you really want. My aim is to know as much as possible about myself, get to know myself. Know why I’m here. I will have to work my whole life to get there, and still I will never reach it. I will have died before I reach it. No, it’s not idealistic. Everyone should explore that, to live consciously. Be happy with small things. At the moment I’m successful. I’ve achieved everything I dreamed of as a child. I’m a wealthy woman, have money, two fantastic children and great friends. When it comes to big things I have no complains. That’s exactly what makes me return to details. To value small things in a way I never did in the past. It gives me so much more in life. It’s time for awareness. The main advantage of having money, is that it gives me the time to think about other things. In the past I was busy fighting for my existence. Not anymore. I have the time to learn about myself. At the moment that’s the main value in life for me, it makes me happy. Indeed, I’m not lonely like so many people seem to think. I keep saying that, but people don’t listen well enough. Or maybe they think it’s more interesting if I am lonely. In that case, I have to disappoint them. Believe it or not, I’m really very happy. In the sense that I find my existence very satisfying at the moment. The real feeling of happiness is just a small moment, a fleeting thing. It can happen totally unexpected. You can suddenly get this warm feeling, that makes you feel on top of the world. But it can’t be maintained. That’s not necessary either. A short moment is enough, you can live on that for a long time. I know for many people being happy means having a family. I live alone and that’s the reason people assume I’m lonely and unhappy. For me it’s more important to find harmony within myself, and that there are people around me who love me and understand me. That doesn’t have to be a family. I’m not afraid to live my life alone. It’s a fear many people have. A family gives a sense of belonging, something to fall back on that no-one can take away. Unfortunately it often turns out to be an illusion. I don’t have that urge to commit myself, never had it. If it comes, it can be fantastic, but you mustn’t pursue it. I live my own life and it makes me happy. Maybe it has to do with the fact I never had a family-life myself, and had little of that with my children as well. When I divorced my first husband, the children had to stay with him, because I couldn’t go anywhere. When Benny and I were together, it never came to having a family. Of course my children came to visit me, but it was the start of ABBA. The start of a circus that took us all over the world. Lotta and Hans travelled along occasionally, but you couldn’t call it a normal family-life. A family where mother is having dinner ready in the evening, when father comes home from work. I never knew this kind of life, and I don’t think I could live it. My children couldn’t either. No matter how strange life with ABBA was, they did enjoy it. They lived among people who cared about each other, who were friendly and treated them as grown-ups, not as children. It was one big family. Altogether it lasted for 10 years, and none of us would want to have missed it, including Lotta and Hans. We still feel fortunate for having been able to experience it.”
Thursday, 3 July 2008
“A genuine hit-rocket”, “a real experience”, “the most phenomenal pop-album”... Those are just a few of the raving headlines that accompany the new ABBA-album ‘The Visitors’ and its top-single ‘One Of Us’ on their victory-march around the world.
Already shortly after its release in December, there was hardly an album chart on which the tenth album of the four Swedes didn’t occupy the higher regions. Incidentally, it was exactly this record that caused ABBA quite some trouble for months on end. Due to private problems, things didn’t go as smoothly as had become expected from them. Furthermore, especially for Benny and Björn, the professional future of the quartet relied on the success or failure of this album.
The sensational triumph of ‘The Visitors’ has made the decision easy on the four Swedes. “ABBA will stay together,” is what manager Stig Anderson stated recently.
And what are the separate ABBAs doing at the moment?
Anni-Frid, recently with red punk-hairdo and headband, is preparing a solo-project. In March she will enter the Polar-Studios in Stockholm to record an English-language solo-album. Phil Collins of Genesis will be the producer and drummer.
Björn, who has grown a beard lately, will realize a musical dream. Together with Benny, he will write a Broadway-musical, although the group will not perform it themselves. But when the project is finished, ABBA wants to record an album with the songs.
Benny, who married Mona Nörklit six weeks ago, who’s also expecting a child in February, has bought two English racing-horses. They are being trained by amateur-trainer and vet Berndt Strömberg, Mona’s ex-husband.
Agnetha – she has a curlier hairdo again – has made a successful musical sidestep. Her Christmas-album, that she recorded with daughter Linda a year ago already, was a real Christmas-hit in Sweden.
Tuesday, 1 July 2008
I read somewhere that the regular readers of this magazine were even upset that ABBA was on the cover of this issue, saying they felt embarrassed to be seen walking the streets, carrying a magazine with ABBA on the cover. Proof that there still was some educating to be done...
U2, Nirvana and Erasure are flirting with the indestructible catalog of the Swedish fab four. The Australian foursome Björn Again are experiencing triumphs as a fake-ABBA, while the record company is working overtime to get a four-piece ABBA-box in the shops in time.
The white suits, the platform-boots, the supermarket-version of glitter-rock, the helicopter, the song-titles such as ‘I do I do I do’, ‘Dum Dum Diddle’, ‘Ring Ring’ and those lyrics: ‘Money, money, money / Ain’t it funny / In a rich man’s world’, or: ‘Gimme, gimme, gimme a man after midnight!’. Perfect throwaway-pop. Simple, memorable and Euro-friendly tunes like ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ and ‘The Name Of The Game’. A total of eight number one-singles (in Holland), worldwide sales of two hundred million albums. A phenomenon.
Nostalgic feelings aren’t the only reason for the recent ABBA-revival. The duo Erasure released four ABBA-covers on an EP, titled ABBAesque: ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’, ‘SOS’, ‘Take A Chance On Me’ and ‘Voulez-Vous’. Even a group like U2 doesn’t feel embarrassed by their ABBA-obsession. Record company Polydor is planning their end-of-year campaign with a four-piece CD-box with the A and B-sides of the successful singles, completed with rare and/or unreleased material. What would you play at a private party: the Sex Pistols or ABBA?
“For me, the charts have lost much of their appeal after ABBA,” explains Erasure-singer Andy Bell. “I was too young for the Beach Boys, so for me ABBA was the first group that made those delicious, melodic pop-songs, with all those angelic choirs, that lifted you up. When they went disco with songs like ‘Voulez-Vous’, they seemed to fully understand that medium.”
At the office-slash-studio in Stockholm, that he shares with his partner Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus is willing to talk to us for half an hour, under the condition we won’t dwell on the past too much. That past is carefully protected by the ABBA-boys. Anyone who has the nerve to sample a part of ‘Dancing Queen’, like The KLF did, immediately has a lawsuit on his hands (The KLF had to get rid of every single record that was already pressed and even a trip to Stockholm to defend their cause couldn’t help matters).
So we cautiously start with the question if Björn has heard Erasure’s ABBA-tribute already.
“I’ve heard snippets of it, so I can’t fully judge it, but from what I’ve heard I can tell it’s done in the spirit of Erasure. They might be ABBA-songs, but you can’t compare the two groups. It’s fun that they did it. Most bands that have disbanded ten years ago are forgotten by now, so we see it as a compliment.”
What does he think about the four chosen songs?
“In their choice of songs they primarily had the danceability in mind, except for ‘SOS’. That was an important one for us, because with that song we proved we weren’t a typical Eurovision-act with only one good song. After ‘Waterloo’ (the last decent Eurovision-winner – MA) we were supposed to fade away silently, but with ‘SOS’ we broke that pattern. After that, practically every single reached number one, often in various countries at the same time. I remember we were at the Bahamas, writing ‘Voulez-Vous’. We flew to Miami and went into the studio with the Bee Gees’ session-musicians.”
When we ask what his favourite ABBA-song is, Björn reacts: “That has to be ‘Dancing Queen’, because that seems to be everybody’s favourite. It also was our only number one in the US.”
And what does he think about Björn Again, the fake-ABBA’s from Australia, carrying his first name, who are so successful?
“I’m flattered in a way, but I’m astonished that people are willing to pay money to see that group. What I like less is that they are copying us with an accent that reminds one of the Swedish cook from the Muppet Show. Now, I don’t have an accent like that, do I? Other than that I don’t object, although I only know them from television.”
We tell him that Björn Again’s live-performances are able to seduce the audience to an enthusiastic sing-along and that their choreography is spot on, complete with the outfits worn in the television-videos.
“Amazing,” he smiles. “I wouldn’t know how to explain it, other than that the original is no longer there to be seen...”
The ‘original’, or rather Björn, Benny and the ladies Frida Lyngstad and Agnetha Fältskog, called it a day towards the end of 1983, after having generated a turnover of around one billion Dutch guilders, more than their own King Gustaf. In that respect, ABBA is just behind the Beatles. What the fab four from Liverpool were to the sixties, ABBA was to the seventies. The remarkable, glittery costumes, the videos bordering on kitsch and the universal ‘come together’-ideal of the lyrics only partly explain the mystery of the overwhelming success. The music was rooted in decades of popular music from continental Europe.
“In Sweden we grew up with German, Italian and Swedish pop, apart from the music from England and America. The kitsch-element was of course part of the appeal.”
Philip Lodge, student at Cambridge University wrote an essay titled ‘Compositional Procedures In The Songs Of ABBA’, in which he claims that both composers (Björn and Benny) possess an ingenious talent, comparable to that of Mozart.
“The New Grove Dictionary, the authority on music-history, states that in the seventies no-one has been able to break through the Anglo-American domination of popular music. It’s inconceivable that ABBA is simply ignored, that their music is only seen as cheap, commercial rubbish. I’ve looked at Heinrich Schenker’s analysis. His definition of what makes a piece of music an artistic masterpiece, can be applied to ABBA, without a doubt. I’ve studied 42 ABBA-songs and come to the conclusion they all have an interesting structure. ‘Money, Money, Money’, for example, has a rather complicated arrangement, in which certain elements stay the same and others change constantly, rhythmically, melodically and harmonically. Also they didn’t shy away from more complex matters lyrically. That’s what made those songs so strong ad memorable. The Beatles were good at that as well, but ABBA was more constant.”
Björn is flattered with these kinds of tributes. “Benny and I have always been very critical,” he explains. “We got rid of a lot of material that others certainly would have used. We were able to be tough on ourselves. A lot of people thought we worked in a strict formula, but that’s not true at all. It was an insult to be called ‘the hit-factory’. We never recorded more than 12 or 14 songs a year. Everybody wants hits. Some people say: we could write dozens of hits like ABBA’s if we wanted to, but we are too serious for that. Nonsense, of course.”
“Another secret was the sound of the two girls’ voices, separately as well as together. Pure coincidence! There were people who said we consciously planned it this way, that we even married these girls because of the usefulness of their looks and their voices. Again: nonsense. Benny and I ran into Frida and Agnetha almost at the same time, we fell in love and got married. Coincidentally, they were both singers. We had already known each other for about two years before we started working together. We went on holidays together, we sat together, had fun and someone would grab a guitar and start singing. Then we realized how fantastic it sounded. That’s how we discovered ourselves. Subsequently we entered the Eurovision Song Contest with ‘Waterloo’. From that moment on our professional collaboration started. The fact that we were both couples made no difference to us, although we were selling more records after our divorce.”
Benny/Frida and Björn/Agnetha got divorced in 1980. Their love wars were documented in detail in their song-lyrics. After all the criticism heaped upon their often as banal and trivial regarded lyrics, the album ‘Super Trouper’ (1980) reflected the desire to be taken seriously. With songs like ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ and ‘The Winner Takes It All’, it seemed as if Björn and Benny couldn’t write about anything else but their own love-quarrels.
What happened to the individual ABBA-members after the group fell apart is rather obscure. The blonde Agnetha Fältskog released three solo-albums: ‘Wrap Your Arms Around Me’ (produced by Mike Chapman), ‘Eyes Of A Woman’ (10CC’s Eric Stewart) and ‘I Stand Alone’ (Peter Cetera). None of these records produced any hits. She also played in a Swedish movie, but that was it. Resolutely, she has turned her back on the ABBA-camp, married the Swedish surgeon Thomas Sonnefeld and seems to consider a part in the Swedish version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Aspects Of Love’.
The brunette Lyngstad was slightly more successful with her Phil Collins-produced album ‘There’s Something Going On’, but after the Steve Lillywhite-produced ‘Shine’, she primarily spent her time on the Swedish environmental movement Der Naturaliga Steget (the natural step), of which she is leading the division Artists for the Environment, that is preparing a huge charity-concert in Stockholm at the moment. Her new life-partner is Count Ruzzo Reuss, a German architect.
Because of regularly returning threats, blackmail and extortion, the ABBA-boys lead a secluded life. Benny married TV-producer Mona Norklit and Björn remarried Lena Kallersjo, who works in the advertisement-business. The duo Andersson-Ulvaeus is still active as songwriters. Two musicals, Abacadabra (1982) and Chess (1984), the latter managed four years at London’s West End. The renowned duo also wrote the major part of the songs for two albums of brother/sister duo Gemini. Ulvaeus lived in England for a few years and did some things in the computer-business as well. Apparently, in his spare time Andersson is an avid ornithologist, he released an album on which all Scandinavian birds can be heard. The success-duo is working on an album with the 23-year old Swedish singer Josephin Nilsson.
“It’s very recognizable for us, because it’s all very poppy material,” says Björn. “We also hope to use more contemporary dance-rhythms than with ABBA.”
A new musical is on its way as well, based on The Emigrants, a series of four books by Swedish writer Wilhelm Moberg. “One of the most important literary works in the Swedish language. The very powerful story about Swedish emigrants who moved to America in the previous century.”
“The idea came during a seventies-revival in 1988 in our home-country Australia,” says John Tyrell, drummer and manager of Björn Again. “ABBA had always been one of the most popular bands in Australia, so it seemed like a good idea to do a kind of fun imitation of them. It started out as a joke, but one thing led to the other. We learned the accents better and better, and even a few words in Swedish. We are now on the road for three years, and have 700 shows behind us. It has exceeded our own expectations. The response we get is amazing. Although no-one dared to admit it at the time, everyone seems to have been an ABBA-fan secretly. Everybody sings along, and knows the songs.”
“I have seen Björn Again once,” Andy Bell confesses. “I thought the joke was running thin after a while. I would have liked it better if the two singers had been drag queens. With Erasure, we’re also paying tribute to ABBA and we’ve even tried to use the original ABBA light-show, but all the lights were rusty or broken. We used the same blue satin for our jackets.”
The criticism doesn’t bother Björn Again at all. “That Swedish accent was done deliberately, because ABBA always spoke a kind of broken English,” says Gavin (Björn). “When we performed in Sweden, they were even ‘slamdancing’. We’re not a cabaret-act, but a rock & roll-band.”
Nonetheless, Björn Again are giving interviews as if they were ABBA themselves. “We’re a sort of ‘Spinal Tap’,” says Gavin. “Platform boots give you a certain view on the world.”
“I like to chat about blue eye-shadow and glittery outfits,” says Jeanette (Agnetha). “Our favourite song? At the moment it’s ‘Chiquitita’, because it’s about friendship and everyone sings along as if the whole world is full of friends.”
Don’t they get tired of these songs by now? “You’re not the first to ask that question,” answers fake-Björn. “That’s why Benny and I are working on a musical called ‘Backgammon’, but we can’t agree on the lyrics. Benny’s lyrics are all about Frida.”
Björn Again has met musicians who have played with ABBA and they liked what they are doing. ABBA themselves haven’t reacted at all. Just before a performance for Swedish television, they received a telegram saying: anybody who looks like me, deserves success. Björn: “But the ABBA-office denies its authenticity. They probably think we’re trying to make a profit of them, but that’s not how things are. Phonogram Australia wanted to record an album with us, but we said no. We are a live-act. I think we stimulated the sales of ABBA-albums to a great extent. In Australia, more ABBA-records than ever are being played on the radio today.”
The real Björn makes clear we can ask our last question. We ask if he misses ABBA.
“When it comes to the so-called glamour: the travelling, hotels, limousines, there’s not much to be missed. The same goes for the concerts, although we rarely toured. We did two major tours, of which the first concerts were really exciting, but I wouldn’t go through it again just for that. Still, there have been wonderful moments. Writing a song that you’re satisfied about, reaching number one in the charts, hearing the sales-figures of your records... but I don’t miss that either. That’s ancient history. I was a different person then.”
“They will never be able to completely get away from it,” Andy Bell thinks. “ABBA will always come back to haunt them. They will still see pictures of themselves everywhere. Actually, it was all over for them pretty quickly. They didn’t have the time to take everything into consideration quietly. ABBA was cool, just like Debbie Harry: they weren’t trendy, they didn’t care about the clothes they were wearing. Still they had their classic look. I was in school at the time and it wasn’t trendy at all to like ABBA. Only if you were a bit ‘femme’, like me and my friend, you dared to admit it. For most others it would take ten years before they finally dared to admit the music was pretty good.”
ABBA is okay. Recently, Björn and Benny sang ‘Dancing Queen’ together with Bono at a U2-concert in Stockholm. So it’s not so bad with that haunting after all. But who knows what really goes on ‘in a rich man’s world’?