Sunday, 23 May 2010

Joepie, April 1981: 10 years of ABBA

More than one and a half million copies in England, 800.000 in Germany, 360.000 in Sweden, 450.000 in France and Belgium, 180.000 in Japan, 400.000 in Canada and 550.000 in the United States – the sales figures of ABBA’s most recent album, ‘Super Trouper’. Mind-blowing results of a group that’s being mentioned in the same breath as phenomena like Elvis Presley and the Beatles. And rightfully so, because this isn’t the first time that the Swedish quartet has achieved figures like this. Since they won the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton in ’74 with ‘Waterloo’, the musical empire grew bigger and bigger every day, and ABBA turned into the pop phenomenon of the seventies.
One of these days, a brand new single will be released, undoubtedly the next one in a long string of number ones. In the meantime, Anna, Frida, Björn and Benny don’t rest on their laurels. At the moment they are working on a TV special in a studio in Stockholm, that will be called ’10 years ABBA’. Negotiations with a well-known American superstar are well underway. Allegedly, that superstar is going to host the programme and interview the four members about the past, present and future. In between, old clips of songs are being shown. Indeed, it’s ten years ago that Anna, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid released their first single under the name ABBA, the initials of their names. Björn, who had founded the Hootenanny Singers in ’63 and achieved considerable success in Sweden with that group, got to know Benny, the mastermind behind the Hep Stars, likewise a popular group in Sweden. Both of them were hired as composers and producers by Stig Anderson, who had started the record label Polar Music together with a friend. In ’69, Benny met Frida, and Björn met Anna. While the girls initially stayed at home when Björn and Benny were working in the studio with other artists, later on they were recruited regularly to do backing vocals. Both Anna and Frida had been working as a singer before that, solo or with local groups. In ’70, the four of them performed together for the very first time, as the once only group Festfolk Quartet (Engaged Quartet). It wasn’t until one year after that that they would reach for the top under the name ABBA.
So, ten years ago the musical fairytale started. On our next two pages, a short overview of this extraordinary career...

1971: Björn and Benny are primarily working as producers at Polar Music, the label that was started by ABBA manager Stig Anderson. For their studio work, they are regularly recruiting their respective girlfriends, Anna and Frida. The duo writes the soundtrack for ‘The Language Of Love’ and they receive an international award for that. Björn and Anna get married on July 1. A couple of months later, the first ABBA single is released, ‘She’s My Kind Of Girl’. Only Björn and Benny are featured on the sleeve.
1972: Beyond all expectations, the record becomes a giant hit in Japan: half a million copies are being sold. ‘People Need Love’ is the next single (this time, all four are featured on the sleeve), and this record is quite successful in Japan as well.
ABBA enters the World Popular Song Festival in Tokyo. That same year, another record is released, ‘Better To Have Loved’. In the meantime, Björn and Benny keep on producing and composing for other Swedish artists.
1973: ABBA decide to try their luck in the Swedish heat for the Eurovision Song Contest, with the song ‘Ring Ring’. They are the top favourites, but they only finish in third place. Two weeks after the festival, Linda, Björn and Anna’s daughter is born. Despite the disappointing result, ‘Ring Ring’ becomes a hit in Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria and South Africa. Among other things, ABBA is guest on Slalom with the song. In the summer, their first tour in their home country is being planned.
1974: ABBA takes another chance in the Swedish heat for Eurovision, and this time they win. On March 4, they represent Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton (England), with ‘Waterloo’. They finish... first! It becomes the first, and up till now the only, Swedish win in the Eurovision Song Contest. A first, small-scaled, tour is being planned, with the Beatmakers as their opening act.
1975: Most European countries have surrendered to ABBA’s charms... except England. The group Sweet Dreams covers a song from an ABBA album, ‘Honey, Honey’, and scores a big hit in England. ABBA sees a first opportunity to conquer England go by. Three big European hits set the tone for the ABBA year ’75: ‘I Do, I Do, I Do’, ‘SOS’ and ‘Mamma Mia’. Furthermore, they finish a Scandinavian tour and they do their first television shows in America.
1976: ABBA expands their success: with ‘Mamma Mia’, the quartet manages to reach the top spot in the British charts for the first time, and in Australia a true ABBA mania is on its way. A television show is breaking all records over there and ABBA turns out to be even more popular than the Beatles at the time. ‘Fernando’ is the next single and it becomes another worldwide hit. In ’76, the Swedish king Carl-Gustav is getting married, and especially for this occasion ABBA writes ‘Dancing Queen’. The song, that initially wasn’t intended for single release, gets into the American top ten. The year is finished off with ‘Money, Money, Money’.
1977: ABBA has turned into a world group and a first, serious world tour is being planned. The set list is primarily based on the album that was released in November ’76, ‘Arrival’. During the tour, a film crew is tagging along, to catch the shows on film. For the acted scenes of ABBA’s first feature film, ‘The Movie’, the quartet travels to Australia. Due to the tour and the movie, there’s a lack of time and only two singles are released: ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ and ‘The Name Of The Game’. ‘The Movie’ has its premiere at the end of ’77.
1978: The movie is a huge success all over the world. ABBA can afford to take things a little easier. Björn and Benny need a little more time to prepare the album ‘The Album’. Björn and Anna have a second child, son Christian. This year is finished off with two singles as well: ‘Take A Chance On Me’ and ‘Summer Night City’.
1979: Like a bolt from the blue, Anna and Björn announce that they have decided to separate, in mutual understanding. The first rumours start to circulate: ABBA is about to fall apart, the divorce is the final blow! ABBA doesn’t respond to the rumours. On top of that, confusion is caused by Stig Anderson’s remark at the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel that the contract with ABBA will come to an end in ’80. Everything points to a permanent split up, but ABBA returns with a series of hits (‘Chiquitita’, ‘Does Your Mother Know’, ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme’, ‘Take A Chance On Me’, ‘Voulez-Vous’), with the album ‘Voulez-Vous’ and a major world tour that starts off in Canada in September.
1980: ABBA takes a break for a couple of months, in the meantime they release ‘I Have A Dream’ as a single. Björn and Benny interrupt their preparations for the new album to tour extensively in Japan. For three weeks.
In the summer, they score another big hit with ‘The Winner Takes It All’. Anna has an affair with ice hockey player Dick Håkansson, but for the rest there’s a complete silence. New rumours about a possible split up start circulating. But at the end of the year it’s all about ABBA again, thanks to the new album ‘Super Trouper’. The single of the same name reaches the top of the charts, true to tradition.
1981: The year is still fresh, but the fans have had to digest two big surprises already. Björn marries Lena, a secretary that he met shortly after the divorce. And a couple of weeks later, Frida and Benny announce that they are getting a divorce. At the moment, ABBA’s plans are rather vague. A new single is on its way, meanwhile Benny and Björn are working hard on the new album.

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