Sunday, 12 October 2008

Weekend, November 1978: ABBA conquered the world through the backdoor

In the early sixties, four English guys with, for those days, extremely long hair, dressed in tight suits with small ties, stepped into the ruthless light of the international spotlights from nowhere. The Beatles conquered the world by storm and paved the way for a completely new approach to pop-music. The Beatles went on to become a pop-phenomenon like history had never seen before. After that, actually nothing happened. When the Beatles separated, all eyes were on England and America, awaiting the arrival of their successors. But they came from a totally unexpected corner. From Sweden. Through the backdoor actually. They were called ABBA. And this unique Weekend-special is deservedly dedicated to them.

Anni-Frid was born on November the 15th 1945, as a result of a relationship between her mother and a German officer. Anni-Frid has had a very unfortunate childhood. She has never known her father and her mother died when she was still very young. The hatred and contempt that mother Lyngstad experienced in her neighbourhood became fatal. Anni-Frid left for Sweden with her grandmother, married a jazz-musician and became a mother of two children. To further her career, she divorced and singing as a jazz-singer provided her with a shabby existence. ABBA gave her peace, happiness and a home. After nine years of living together with Benny, she married him in October ’78.

Björn was born on April the 25th 1945 in Gothenburg. He is ABBA’s goodwill-man and, together with Benny Andersson, responsible for the enormous string of hits. With his Hootenanny Singers, Björn Ulvaeus was one of Sweden’s top groups until he came in contact with Benny, with the help of Stig Anderson. It turned out that he could express his passion for music to the max, together with him.

Benny Andersson saw the light of day in the Swedish capital on December the 16th 1946. He is ABBA’s bearded piano-player and a former Swedish rock-idol, for whom screaming teenagers flocked together in the mid sixties and fell into a fainting-fit of pure adulation. When it comes to musical origin, Benny is the complete opposite of colleague Björn. Benny was the untamed rock-star who left his wife and children to devote himself completely to the music. ABBA has calmed him down and polished his talents.

Agnetha was born on April the 5th 1950 in the Swedish match-city Jönköping. She is ABBA’s blonde beauty, married to guitarist Björn Ulvaeus since 1971 and mother of two children. Agnetha was a fairly successful solo-singer who turned her naive image into her trademark. And she continues to do so in ABBA.

The private problems that the four of them were experiencing before their time with ABBA were enlarged upon after their breakthrough.
ABBA combines cool Swedish solidity with American show-perfection, South European passion and utopian joy and happiness. When, on top of that, two out of the three directors not only provide the hits but interpret them as well, is it any wonder that the ABBA-machine is running so smoothly?
ABBA has always been exposed to criticism and has had to clear up scandals and gossip on numerous occasions. Most of the time, it happens with a smile, like the time when a marriage announcement for Anni-Frid and Benny had to be invalidated or when Anni-Frid was being accused of using ABBA as a tool to enhance the sales of her solo-records. But every now and then, the accusations become too much, even for the ever smiling ABBA-members. With the sincere anger of a mother, the fiery, red-haired Anni-Frid snapped, when rumours were circulating that she had abandoned her children from her broken marriage to rush into a musical adventure. “My ex-husband and I got divorced in mutual agreement. The children are most happy with him and it would have been pretty selfish to take them with me to Stockholm.” This was basically Anni-Frid’s answer to the accusations in the Swedish tabloids.

Luckily, nasty experiences like this are just exceptions; ABBA has more ups than downs. With much fondness, the foursome obviously thinks back to their international breakthrough with ‘Waterloo’ at the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton in 1974. They still laugh their heads off when they think of Björn and Benny being halted at the stage-entrance, not even being able to collect their fairly deserved award. And they’re still grateful to that Dutch TV-producer, who was the only one to contract ABBA for a performance before their breakthrough. After ABBA, and especially Agnetha in her almost indecently tight stage-costume, had won over Brighton and the judges of the Contest with their new sound, the world was at their feet. Apart from Volvo, ABBA rapidly became Sweden’s biggest export article.

ABBA’s sense for public relations continues in their private lives as well. Björn and Agnetha’s wedding in 1971 was planned in the summer because the media would have their off-season then and they would publish a wedding like this as important news. Like so many times before, Stig Anderson was proven right. The wedding turned into the main occasion of the summer of 1971. The moment that Björn and Benny were appointed as co-directors of Polar Music was front page news as well. This happened after Stig Anderson’s co-founder of the company, Bengt Bernhag, had passed away. Anderson’s innate aversion to strangers brought him yet another lucky hit.
Together with Benny and Björn, he turned Polar Music into one of the world´s largest music publishing companies and together with the twosome he produced the string of ABBA-hits that his co-directors interpret themselves to the max. A formula like that can hardly be beaten.

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