Sunday, 19 September 2010

Free, 1992: The phenomenon ABBA

ABBA is once again the centre of attention at the moment. And it seems that only now people realize what the group has contributed to pop music. But that’s not completely true...

U2 is doing it on stage with ‘Dancing Queen’. Erasure is having a huge hit with ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’ and the Australian band Björn Again has reverted to ABBA’s complete repertoire with great success. It might seem that the interest in ABBA is a trendy and new phenomenon.
But the sympathy and admiration from colleagues, that the Swedish group is enjoying these days, is by no means a recent thing. Years ago, Randy Newman already admitted that he was a big ABBA fan. And stars like Pete Townsend from The Who and singer/producer Nick Lowe have spoken very highly of the foursome as well. Even the former king of punk, The Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten, openly confessed that he owned practically every ABBA record.
In itself, that’s a remarkable thing. Because the four from ABBA started their victory tour across the world after they had won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974. And that’s exactly the event that’s usually being spoken about in a derogatory way in music circles...
For that matter, it wasn’t the first time that ABBA had made a stir in the Eurovision context. One year earlier, in 1973, the group had already tried to enter the contest as Sweden’s representative. But their ‘Ring Ring’ – in Holland a top 5 hit! – was deemed not good enough in the preselections in their home country. One year later, they definitely made it: ‘Waterloo’ left their competition far behind and ABBA managed – as one of very few Eurovision winners – to maintain their success.

Before this period, Agnetha Fältskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus had all acquired a certain amount of fame on their own. When she was seventeen, Agnetha was already an idol in Sweden: in 1968 she had her first big hit with ‘Jag Var Så Kär’ and in the following years she turned into a superstar in her home country.
Anni-Frid already had a couple of successful musical projects credited to her name as well. Björn was a guitarist with the Hootenanny Singers who became extremely popular in Sweden with the album ‘Evert Taube’. Benny Andersson was a member of the Hep Stars from 1964 onwards and – until the glorious ABBA period – he was the only one who acquired some fame outside the Swedish borders. For that matter, in 1968 the Hep Stars were very successful with their singles ‘Sunny Girl’ and ‘Music Box’ in several European charts.
The collaboration between Björn and Benny starts when the two of them compose – among others – ‘Isn’t It Easy To Say’ together for Benny’s Hep Stars. And after the break-up of that group in 1969, they join forces and start working as producers. However, less than a year later it turns out that they can’t miss the limelight yet and the first version of ABBA is standing on stage under the name Festfolk Quartet. Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Björn and Benny not only complement each other on a musical level. The four are also forming other mutual relationships: Agnetha and Björn get married in 1971, while the other two are a profound love couple at that time too. At that moment, their group name is still a summary of their first names.
During the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974, the world gets acquainted with the group ABBA for the first time, a name that’s much easier to pronounce than the previous Björn, Benny, Anna & Frida... One day after the contest, the entire European continent is singing or humming their joyous ‘Waterloo’, that initially was titled ‘Honey Pie’ by the way. That same year, ABBA enters the charts again: in the penultimate week of 1974 ‘Honey, Honey’ makes its appearance in the Dutch Top 40, followed by ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’ three months later. None of these singles manage – in Holland that is – to achieve the highly desirable top spot. But this state of affairs changes when ‘Fernando’ is released in 1976. It’s ABBA’s first number one hit. Seven more will follow.
From now on, Europe is at ABBA’s feet. However, America only gives in when the ninth(!) single is released by the Swedish quartet: ‘Dancing Queen’. Subsequently, the group is breaking practically all existing sales records and more than once their enormous success is even compared with the success of the Beatles in the previous decade.
Just like John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Benny and Björn turn out to make up a songwriting duo that’s much stronger together than the two of them added up. The twosome manages to provide the most beautiful melodies with sometimes daring, but always very melodic arrangements. Apart from that, the group enters a completely different territory: in 1977 ‘ABBA – The Movie’ is released in the cinemas. Although the movie attracts a fair amount of visitors, it turns out to be a one-off sidestep to the silver screen.
In 1981, rumours start circulating about problems within the group and some time after that it is announced that Benny and Anni-Frid’s marriage has ended. Despite all these difficulties, the four of them are still trying to pursue their collaboration but in 1983 the fairytale is over once and for all.
Anni-Frid even moves to London to live and work there. She manages to rope Phil Collins in to produce ‘Something’s Going On’, her first solo album. Agnetha is very successful on her own as well. Every time with a two year interval, she records three solo albums.
Björn and Benny start collaborating with the musical specialist Tim Rice: in 1984, ‘Chess’ sees the light of day. The musical produces two hit singles and manages to last for no less than four years in the West End theatres in London. All four former ABBA members have found new life partners, Björn got married to advertising lady Lena Källersjö, Benny got married to TV producer Mona Nörklit, Agnetha found the surgeon Tomas Sonnefeld and Anni-Frid found happiness again with the architect Ruzzo Reuss.

1 comment:

Monica said...

Very nice article with some nice pictures. Thank you for translating the article for us.