Thursday, 7 August 2008

Popcorn, 1981: Wanna bet... ABBA will never perform again!

This article was published in German magazine Popcorn, shortly after interviews with the ABBA-members had appeared in English newspaper Daily Mirror, hinting to ABBA coming to an end.

The report was maintained for exactly four hours: ABBA – that’s what ‘Today’s Tours’ announced – according to their manager Stig Anderson, will start a world-tour on February the 16th 1982 with 120 dates, among them a dozen in Germany. Immediately, the verdict came from the ABBA headquarter in Stockholm: “This tour is pure speculation. ABBA would like to tour again, but at a much later date.” If there will ever be a live-concert by the super-group again, is more than unlikely. “The motivation to work together is practically zero,” is what a connoisseur of the situation is saying. “Ever since Benny filed for divorce and Björn remarried and became a father again, both girls show absolutely no interest in the group any longer. No-one who knows the atmosphere among the four members, that have fallen out privately, can imagine that ABBA will ever be seen together in public again – let alone go on tour together.” Swedish insiders are placing bets on when the end of ABBA will officially be announced. The moments that are being named vary between the end of 1981 and the spring of 1982.

ABBA themselves have contributed a lot to the fact that they are being given so little time. For example, there have been the unfriendly interviews in the English newspaper Daily Mirror, in which all four members speak their minds about their divorce and talk very grievous about each other. The recent ABBA-recordings also gave cause to the speculations about a split. Already in April, the three new songs ‘When All Is Said And Done’, Slipping Through My Fingers’ and ‘Two For The Price Of One’ were finished. All three of them would be on the next ABBA-album, one of them would be the new single. But then the three tracks failed to impress the international sales executives at the usual test-introduction (the past three years, every ABBA-single was tested this way on its chances for success): no catchy melodies, little hit potential. The four Swedes – who were ready for their holiday – had to go back into the studio.
At the time of writing it’s still unsure if there will be a new ABBA-single at all this summer, or if there will be another track singled out of the ‘Super Trouper’ album. It’s a clear sign of the creative crisis of the group, that has achieved the biggest and most spectacular career in rock-history, after the Beatles.

It all started on a summer day in August 1966. At a party of the Swedish group Hootenanny Singers, Benny Andersson (34) met his future partner Björn Ulvaeus (36). Björn was the leader of the Hootenanny Singers at the time, Benny was a member of the rival group, the Hep Stars. They got on with each other from the word go and became friends, at first only privately. Benny had serious financial problems at the time: the Swedish taxes wanted 259.000 Swedish crowns back-payments from him and Benny didn’t know where to get the money. He wrote songs constantly, hoping he could get rid of his debts by writing one big hit. “I loaned money to produce a record with Annafrid, whom I was together with at the time already,” says Benny, “but that turned into a flop as well.” What was missing in the born musician’s life was a suitable partner, who could turn Benny’s countless compositions into commercial, accessible tunes. In short: Björn was perfect for the job, as a joint jam-session indicated. “We were on the ideal wavelength. Together with Björn I succeeded in picking the essential parts from my many songs and turn them into a whole song.” Stig Anderson, at the time manager of the Hootenanny Singers, was the first to discover the potential of this musical ‘marriage’. The current ABBA-manager persuaded the two to quit their old groups and start a new band. That’s where Annafrid (35) and Agnetha (31), at the time Björn’s girlfriend, came into the picture. Again, this idea came from Stig Anderson: “Two girls and two boys in one group, that was something completely new at that time.”

On November 1 1970, they did their first performance in Göteborg, under the name ‘Festvolk Quartet’. It wasn’t until 1972 that the first single ‘She’s My Kind Of Girl’ was released, after much persuasion at the record company. Still, the breakthrough in Sweden was achieved with the song ‘People Need Love’. On the cover it read ‘Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Frida’, later on that would turn into ABBA. In 1973, the group entered the Swedish heats for the Eurovision Song Contest, but were eliminated. One year later, ABBA made it: with the hit ‘Waterloo’ they were able to go to Brighton, and they won.
ABBA, from this day on it would be a trademark that conquered the world. Cleverly managed by Stig Anderson, one success after the other was achieved. Exactly every four months, a new single was released: in 1974 it was ‘Waterloo’, ‘Honey, Honey’ and ‘So Long’, in 1975 they continued with ‘I do, I do’, ‘SOS’ and ‘Mamma Mia’. Along with the accessible, cleverly arranged songs, that made their mark on both teenagers and grandmothers, came the ideal image: two couples in love make music for millions, it was almost like a fairytale. Over and over again, ABBA stated in interviews: “Our career wouldn’t be possible without our private harmony. We are happy, and that’s what you can hear in our music.”

Today, now the ABBA-couples have separated, we hear a different sound. The latest ABBA press-release literally reads: “Although there are no marriages within the group any longer, the ABBA-members are still very good friends and want to continue working together, like before.” It almost sounds like a vow.
Anyhow, the latest remarks about each other by the ABBA-members, who talked about the collapsed relationships in the English newspaper Daily Mirror, weren’t exactly friendly. Björn about Agnetha: “I couldn’t even talk to her anymore.” Annafrid about Benny: “We are totally different, we were simply incompatible.”
About ABBA’s future, Björn explained: “We are rich. There are no financial reasons to stay together.” And Benny was even more clear: “I think ABBA will go on for two more years, with two new albums.” Fact is that, according to their contract with their German record company, ABBA has to release records for four more years. “But a contract like that – much like the contracts of soccer-players – isn’t worth much more than the paper it’s written on,” is what an insider thinks. “If ABBA wants, they can get out of a contract like that at any time, even though it’s going to cost them a lot of money.” It wouldn’t be too difficult, to buy themselves out. According to their tax-declaration, that has been made public in Sweden, every member has made more than four million German marks in the past year alone.

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