Saturday, 12 February 2011

Mix, 1977: How the first performance by Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid turned into an enormous failure

Like a comet, they have left their trace in the sky of pop music. In the meantime, ABBA – the extremely successful Swedish quartet – has sold more than forty million records. In a fascinating series of articles, Mix is going to tell you how they found each other, how they won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 and how their success story unravelled.

ABBA has conquered the world with music and charm. Without a doubt, the ABBA story is the most remarkable success story in the world of pop since the Beatles.
Here we have Anni-Frid Lyngstad, born on November 15, 1945 and daughter of a Norwegian girl and an officer from the German occupying force. Anni-Frid emigrated with her grandmother to the Swedish town Torshälla and proved already at a very young age that she was an excellent singer. She won an amateur competition, lived together for a while with the furniture salesman Ragnar Fredriksson, had two children, travelled to Japan and Venezuela, performed successfully on Swedish television and with that she introduced herself explicitly.
There we have Benny Andersson too, born on December 16, 1946 in a Stockholm suburb. When he didn’t know what to do after highschool, he decided to join the pop group the Hep Stars. Benny, who prefers being lazy to being tired as he honestly admits himself, considered this pop business as a nice pastime and he didn’t understand why he was adored like an idol by Swedish girls. This burdensome adoration however did put an end to his relationship with Christina Grönvall, an attractive red-haired girl who had given birth to his little son and daughter.
The third main character in the ABBA story is Björn Ulvaeus. He was born on April 25, 1945 in Gothenburg and eleven years later he moved to Västervik at the Swedish coast. Together with a couple of school buddies, he founded a group that sang folk songs. Björn and his Västervik singers did pretty well and with their performances they caught the attention of the energetic music publisher and producer Stikkan Anderson (not related to Benny) who asked Björn to send in a demo tape.
Stikkan saw something in talented Björn and decided to guide the enthusiastic singers professionally. He changed the name of the group into The Hootenanny Singers and made sure that they remained successful. The Hootenanny Singers were one of the first that started singing in English, the international pop language and they extended their success by doing exactly what the audiece – that seemed to get younger and younger – wanted to hear.
“If they would rather listen to pop than folk songs, then pop is what they will get,” Björn used to say. Björn played his guitar just as well as he could entertain the audience.
The last character in the now world famous ABBA quartet is Agnetha Fältskog who was born on April 5, 1950 in Jönköping. She was discovered – if we can call it that – by a former pop singer who, after a short career, had taken up the much safer profession of talent scout at a record company.
Almost on a daily basis, Little Gerhard – that was his name – received tapes from hopeful fathers and mothers who thought that their children could sing so well. Gerhard listened to all these tapes patiently and carefully. When one of his nieces sent him a tape once, he obviously felt obliged to listen even more carefully. But he wasn’t very enthusiastic. Gerhard gave his honest opinion but he gilded the pill by remarking that somewhere on the tape he had discovered a fragment of a song that he liked. His sweet niece replied honestly that she actually wasn’t the one singing that song but a new girl, someone named Agnetha Fältskog. Agnetha had made her debut at a very young age as well. “I think I was five years old when I performed on a social evening for elderly people,” she told later. “I will never forget that halfway through the song my pants fell down. These elderly people didn’t know what hit them.”

This unfortunate incident didn’t discourage Agnetha. When she was ten years old, she started to come up with her own melodies on a piano and seven years later she caught Gerhard’s attention with a song on his niece’s tape. Gerhard’s record company – CBS Cupol – recorded the song and within a matter of time ‘I Was So In Love’ was number one in the charts.
For such a young girl, Agnetha showed an unprecedented business-like character. The astonished bosses at CBS Cupol couldn’t do anything else than meet het demands: a steady (and attractive) monthly income for a period of five years! Her next songs were just as successful.
In course of time, a series of coincidences led to the four of them getting in touch with each other. At one day, the Hep Stars and the Hootenanny Singers met each other in a motel in Västervik. Björn and Benny got acquainted, talked about music and composing vigorously and they got along so well that they decided to write songs together.
Not lang after that, on a warm and lazy Sunday afternoon, Björn was listening to the radio in his lazy chair when he was struck by the song ‘I Was So In Love’ that was sung by someone named Agnetha Fältskog.
“I fell in love with that voice,” Björn confessed, “and when I met Agnetha a couple of months later in Gothenburg, I fell in love with her too.”
Benny and Anni-Frid met each other when they coincidentally ended up in the same motel on their separate tours. And with that, the foundation had been laid for what was to become the ABBA fairytale. Björn and Agnetha got married in July 1971. Benny and Anni-Frid were hit by Cupid’s arrow as well and they started living together. In November 1970, Björn and Benny invited Agnetha to perform together with them in Gothenburg. “Actually, why not perform as a foursome?” asked Björn. “Let Anni-Frid join us too.” That first joint performance turned out to be a giant fiasco, because Agnetha repeatedly sang off key. The four artists went their separate ways again and one year later they gave it another shot. They still didn’t click, but by working very hard they eventually achieved the perfection they had been striving for.
Stikkan Anderson immediately saw the enormous possibilities, offered by the combined talents of Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid. He realized that he had gold in his hands. But how should the group be called? A summary of their four names was too silly to even contemplate. At the end of 1972, a note in his schedule caught his eye. It said: ‘rehearsal with A, B, B and A’. Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid! “ABBA!” Stikkan Anderson cried out. “Excellent. That’s how they will be called.” The pop group ABBA had been born.


Monica said...

Agnetha has been charming the crowd since she was 5 years old. hihi

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