Thursday, 2 August 2012

Mix, July 1977: Dysfunctional sound equipment almost cost ABBA the Eurovision Song Contest

ABBA reached the top thanks to the Eurovision Song Contest. But before that happened, a lot of obstacles had to be overcome. First, stubborn 'experts' dismissed the group and after that, sound equipment threatened to be a spoil-sport...

"1973 was going to be our big year," Björn says. "We were going to make it at the Eurovision Song Contest and our success there would give us a push on our way to international fame."
Benny and Björn worked themselves to the bone to compose a winning melody, together with Stikkan Anderson, who would contribute the lyrics. "That was 'Ring Ring'", says Benny. "And we were all convinced that it was a good song. We felt that we had a real winner on our hands, but the experts dropped us like a hot brick. In Sweden, the song for the Eurovision Song Contest is being chosen by a couple of people who call themselves experts in the music industry. The general public is never asked for an opinion."
'Ring Ring' didn't appeal to the experts in any way. An enormous disappointment, especially for Björn and Benny who saw the results of their toiling go to waste completely. Stikkan immediately proved the experts wrong by releasing 'Ring Ring'. The record stormed to the top of the charts right away...
ABBA didn't grieve for long. They knew for themselves that they had sensed the taste of the general public. Four days after the Swedish pre-selection Agnetha gave birth to her daughter Linda and when she was up to working with the other three again for one hundred percent, ABBA started preparations for the year 1974. What hadn't happened in 1973, should come to fruition in 1974 in Brighton.
Stikkan's office changed into the headquarter of a General, who is going to stage the crucial battle. His 'secret service', spread all over the world, supplied worthwile information almost on a daily basis about the kind of music and lyrics that were popular at the moment and with that information as their starting point, they got to work.
Stikkan had already come up with the title of the song. It was going to be called 'Waterloo', a title that was familiar all over the world and that could be pronounced by everybody. Furthermore, it was decided in advance that the song should have a strong rhythm and Björn and Benny spent hundreds of hours searching for a catchy piece of music. ABBA couldn't leave anything to chance. The impression on the five hundred million people that would watch their performance on television had to be overwhelming. Once again, the last obstacle in the shape of the Swedish pre-selection had to be taken. But this time the choice for the winning song wasn't left to the experts but to three hundred randomly picked Swedish men and women. ABBA won!
Stikkan immediately made the most of this success and started to sell the 'Waterloo' record all over Europe. He was glowing with pride when the sales figures indicated that the record would be a surefit hit, regardless of the outcome of the contest in Brighton.
"On our flight to England we were strikingly quiet," Benny remembers. "There were no jokes being made like we usually did and everyone admitted that it was like we all had a heavy heart."
"We were reasonably satisfied with our first rehearsal," says Anni-Frid, "but then it turned out to our dismay that the music we had recorded on tapes in Sweden didn't sound right because the sound equipment was dysfunctional. Honestly, we were sweating with anxiety! If that sound problem couldn't be fixed, the entire effect of 'Waterloo' would be lost. A sound technician started to work on the speakers and he assured us that he would undoubtedly succeed in fixing the problem. We all hoped for the best."
Of the seventeen contestants - France had withdrawn due to president Pompidou passing away - ABBA was by far the least well-known act. No one had ever heard of the Swedish group and the quartet was placed worryingly low with the numerous bookmakers. The most likely candidate for the victory seemed to be the English singer Olivia Newton-John.

"Olivia was followed closely by a Dutch duo with the peculiar name Mouth and McNeal," says Stikkan Anderson. "But that didn't bother me one bit. I was so convinced that ABBA would win that I spontaneously bet twenty pounds on their victory."
On the day of the dress rehearsal the sound technician came over to tell everybody to their relief that the problems with the speakers had been solved. Björn, Benny, Anni-Frid and Agnetha put on their colourful, glittery costumes (Benny's pants were so tight that he didn't dare to sit down until after the end of the contest, six hours later) and ascertained to their satisfaction that the inimitable boom-boom sound was coming out of the speakers again in the familiar way.
Benny and Anni-Frid went out to have dinner together, Björn and Agnetha did the same and only shortly before the Eurovision Song Contest commenced they saw each other again in the room where the contestants were waiting for their turn.
"The tension in that room was beyond words," Anni-Frid says. "You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. The competitors looked at each other with faces tensed with nerves. It was terrifying. Everyone wanted to be the first to perform to get it over with. When you finished your performance, a burden was lifted from your shoulders and you could sit back and watch the others sweat. We were assigned by lot to perform in eighth place. Exactly in the middle. In deadly silence we watched the first seven contestants on the television in our waiting room. Our mouths were dried out."
"Like in a dream, we heard our call," Benny continues. "We walked through a hallway and all of a sudden we were on stage. Five hundred million people are watching us now, was the only thing going through my mind. Then we performed 'Waterloo' and we thought everything went as we had hoped. During the first bars of the song our nerves disappeared. The bond that tied us together was stronger than all the emotions and our performance went very smoothly. And then suddenly it was all over and we could go back to the waiting room."
"While waiting for the votes to come in, our nerves were boiling up again," says Agnetha. "The excitement was so intense that it almost hurt. My head was buzzing and my heart was pounding peculiarly."
"Then," she continues, "the votes of the international jury started to come in. You could hear a pin drop in the waiting room. At one moment one contestant was ahead, at another moment the other. In a fascinated manner we all gazed at the screens on which the results were projected. At one moment I got the impression that we didn't make it after all. I felt like a deflating balloon. Then Finland gave us five points which gave us the lead position again."
"And then it was all over. 'Waterloo' had acquired 24 points, six more than the Italian song 'Si'. Mouth and McNeal finished honourably in third place. A very sympathetic couple, these Dutchmen. Mouth and McNeal were the first who came over to congratulate us with our victory. They said that the best song and the best group had won. A heartwarming gesture of these young people who must have felt a little disappointed with their third place."
The next few days were a continuous frenzy of press conferences, performances on British television, honourings, champagne, official receptions, champagne, interviews, flash lights, gala dinners and even more champagne. Still intoxicated by the success of 'Waterloo', the quartet could finally find some peace and quiet, after a week of non-stop parties. Stikkan Anderson had kept his promise. ABBA, unknown Swedish ABBA, was on top.

2 comments:

Karin said...

Another fancy article of a gossip magazine. ABBA kicked off the songfestival in 1974 and did not perform at the eight place!

Thanks for posting Michel, always nice to read the articles.

Anonymous said...

suI was sat in the audience for the dress rehearsal for the Abba performance, though got taken home to watch the transmission on TV

David