Sunday 31 May 2009

Joepie, January 1982: ABBA's new look

Belgian magazine Joepie introducing ABBA’s new look in no less than eight colour pages.

Saturday 30 May 2009

Veronica, July 1976: ABBA is not a hit machine

An article from Dutch magazine Veronica, published in the week that the Musikladen television special was broadcast on Dutch TV (July 14, 1976).
ABBA is not a hit machine, according to Benny Andersson. But it’s raining hits for this group. On Wednesday July 14, they can be seen on the screen with a special, now they are on our pop pages. We travelled to Stockholm to interrogate these superstars where they talked to us, thankfully alive and kicking. It turns out that ABBA is a serious and hardworking group, that remains completely cool in face of their success.

A few weeks ago, the world was startled with a terrifying report: it claimed that the pop group ABBA had been killed in a car accident. Luckily, this alarming news could be contradicted instantly. German television made Anna, Frida, Benny and Björn appear in front of its cameras to prove that everything was fine. The group was a bit startled by this report as well. “It’s only now that you realize that you are indeed in great danger when you’re on the road constantly,” Benny says, “and to think that we are travelling during half of the year.”

We went to see these busy Swedes at their home base. The ABBA headquarter is situated in one of the fanciest neighbourhoods of Stockholm. It’s the place where manager and producer Stig Anderson, his lovely secretary Görel Johnson and Sussie Wageborg, leader of the Swedish ABBA-fanclub, reside. ABBA’s worldwide success is directed from this mansion. It’s a clean office with an efficient organization.
“But please don’t think that we are a hit machine,” Benny says when I make a remark about it. “You must look upon it as some kind of self-discipline. We’ve had very little time for ourselves the last few years and we’re trying to make some changes in that respect. It can only be done when you plan your activities ahead. For instance, when we need new material for our records, we retreat in our country house that we have on one of the islands near Stockholm.”
Doesn’t that leave very little room for spontaneous creativity?
“Not at all, everyone has his own way when it comes to writing songs. Some people can only work when they’re on the road, others really have to sit down and put their mind to it. And that’s how we work as well. By the way, just like Neil Sedaka who wrote the lyrics for our first Scandinavian hit ‘Ring Ring’.

ABBA’s success in Scandinavia started with ‘Ring Ring’. Europe was conquered with ‘Waterloo’ and soon the rest of the world followed with huge hits such as ‘I Do, I Do, I Do’, ‘SOS’ and ‘Mamma Mia’. Hits in virtually every country in the world, but still ABBA has rarely performed outside Sweden.
“We have consciously made the decision not to perform for the time being,” talkative Björn explains, “we mainly want to focus on television and radio performances and obviously our records. That way, you can reach as much people as possible and that’s the most important thing for us.”
Rumour has it that ABBA has tried several times to perform abroad but mostly public interest was minimal. Björn has a good laugh. “We have performed in front of very few people occasionally, but that’s a very long time ago. However, it’s true that we are preparing a world tour for next year. We will be performing in a couple of places in Europe. For the time being, concerts are scheduled in Germany and England. When all decisions have been made, we will inform everyone. Only after long contemplation we’ve made this decision. Some time ago, we decided not to perform anymore due to personal reasons, so that we would have some spare time as well. But it seems that the fans are anxious to see us. And we want to show ourselves as well. We want to prove that we not only can make nice records, but that we can be convincing on stage as well and put on a good show.”

From our conversation, it becomes clear that both men play the leading parts in ABBA. Björn is a friendly and plain-spoken guy. Benny is a bit more introverted and makes a serious impression. He ponders on every question and only then he answers. Both ladies are just decoration. While they are the centre of attention on stage, privately they stay behind the scenes. After exchanging the obligatory courtesies, Anna and Frida leave the office where the interview is conducted. The boys need to do the talking. And perhaps rightfully so: they are the creative team, that brought the group its worldwide fame, together with Stig Anderson.

Do they have any idea why they have achieved this fabulous success?
“We try our best to make our records as good as possible, that’s all I can say. Apparently, there’s a demand for the records that we release.”
Carefully, I try to put forward that their records are indeed expertly produced, but they do come across as somewhat naive every now and then.
“We’ve thought about that a lot, but it’s not easy for us Swedes to be creative in English. We are working on it, but thankfully the things that we put on our records are good enough for the Brits and the Americans! At least, they buy our records.”
The answers are rather unsatisfactory, despite Björn and Benny’s efforts. Probably there’s only one answer to the question why they are so successful: working hard. That’s what they can do, dead serious.

Thursday 28 May 2009

Studio, 1984: Frida solo again (Shine album review)

Anni-Frid Lyngstad, ABBA’s brunette, has recorded her second solo album, ‘Shine’. It’s very different from the first one and that probably has a lot to do with the fact that that one was produced by Phil Collins and this one by Steve Lillywhite. The latter already has an impressive string of productions credited to his name, with artists such as U2, Simple Minds, Ultravox, Peter Gabriel and Siouxsie & The Banshees. Lillywhite’s influence is clearly audible and sees to it that this record doesn’t remind one of the first album at all and much less of ABBA, except for the one song that Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus contributed to this album.
‘Shine’ is a bad album, despite all the efforts that have been made on the production and the hard work in the studio. It turns out that Frida doesn’t have enough vocal personality to take on a project like this. It takes more to do a solo album than participating in a group.
On the other hand, the press release that accompanies the album does offer some interesting information. It says (for those who didn’t know already) that Anni-Frid was born in 1945 from a relationship between a Norwegian woman and an officer from the German occupying force. When the war ended, her father returned to Germany and her mother died in the confinement bed, whereupon her grandmother moved to Sweden with her. You can wonder whether this had anything to do with the fact that her background was rather controversial in Norway, right after the war. This made Anni-Frid one of the many people whose life was scarred by the tragedy of World War II. It didn’t stop her from building a career as a singer at a very young age. A career that apparently has had its peak.

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Hitkrant, 1980: Winner is called ABBA

The new ABBA-single ‘The Winner Takes It All’ is already at number one in most European charts and it looks like this will become the most sold ABBA-single to date. This single, primarily sung by Agnetha, also makes a slight reference to the divorce between the blonde singer and Björn. Lyric writer Björn explains: “I came up with the lyrics all of a sudden in the studio. But it doesn’t necessarily have to relate to Agnetha and me. It can be applicable to many other couples.”
It doesn’t become clear in the lyrics who the winner eventually is, but it does in the charts: ABBA themselves!

Bravo, 1981: A new ‘ABBA’ is on its way!

The wounds of Anni-Frid and Benny’s divorce have hardly been healed, and Benny’s new girlfriend Mona is already pregnant. Still this year the ‘new ABBA’ is expected to be born. Further news from the ABBA-corner: Anni-Frid has made an agreement with the Swedish broadcasting company to produce a, for the time being, four-part television show, that should be broadcast in the autumn. Anni-Frid will host this show on her own, that means without the three other ABBA-members. Is this the first sign of the predicted break-up of this successful group?
The ABBA-camp hasn’t made any statement yet concerning this matter. Björn, Agnetha, Anni-Frid and Benny are enjoying their holiday at the moment somewhere in Sweden.
Separately, of course!

Saturday 23 May 2009

Panorama, September 1977: The supersmart money machine

An article from Dutch magazine Panorama, portraying ABBA as a calculating money factory and also focussing on the important part that Stig Anderson played in achieving ABBA’s breakthrough.
Where can one become a millionaire very fast these days? That’s right, in the world of pop music. However, talent alone doesn’t count for anything, what’s needed is a vision. Just listen in which way ABBA is making millions.

They’ve worked very hard to get there. For years, they’ve worked hours that made a mockery of every agreement that has ever been made on normal working hours. They’ve toiled, moiled, sighed, contemplated and calculated. But they’ve made it. It looks like Stig, Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid will now be snowed under with millions.
At a very high pace, the post-industrial phenomenon ABBA is on its way to become one of the most profitable companies in the world. In the few years of stardom, the profit has increased by leaps that even a captain of industry can’t even dream of. And this is only the beginning.
Even when the four musicians and their manager would decide today to throw in the towel, the large sums of money will keep pouring in the coming years. It’s the result of the extremely refined way in which the ABBA-concern has been built and the opportunity that occurred a few years ago has been utilized.
The mastermind behind ABBA is Stig Anderson, lyric writer, manager and above all marketing strategist. He’s exploiting ABBA to the fullest. Absolutely nothing is left to chance. ABBA is a well thought out, meticulously oiled, solid money machine.

Let’s add everything up. The musical breakthrough came in 1974, when about five hundred million television viewers saw the Swedish team win the Eurovision Song Contest. The winning tune ‘Waterloo’ was selling like hot cakes. The turnover of the ABBA-concern jumps from 3 to 5 million Dutch guilders that year. Given that the expenses as a result of this success aren’t insignificant either, the profit doesn’t exceed a sum of one hundred thousand Dutch guilders. The balance sheet of 1974/75 is already showing totally different figures. Thanks to the first long-player the turnover increases to 11 million Dutch guilders and the profit without tax deduction accumulates to more than 2,5 million Dutch guilders. The Swedish tax collectors office, that receives over 1 million, is already rubbing its hands, but one year later it’s already collecting more than 2,5 million of the 6 million profit.
The flooding has started because, although last year’s profit-and-loss (haha) account hasn’t been compiled yet, we can safely assume that ABBA has made a profit of 15 to 20 million Dutch guilders. In any case, the turnover has increased to more than 30 million. And the expectations for this current year are even far higher.

Up till now, ABBA has continuously succeeded in producing rapidly selling pop music. The latest album ‘Arrival’ has achieved sales of seven hundred thousand copies in Sweden alone, that means every eleventh Swede owns an ABBA-record. In Holland, about one million of the group’s records have been sold and on a world scale that figure is fifty million; thirty million singles and twenty million albums. And even before the winter there’s a new long-player due to be released.
No other enterprise has seen such a spectacular increase in these times of stagnating economic development. Including the five owners – the musicians and the manager – the ABBA-concern is employing only twenty people. Per head, a profit of more than 1 million Dutch guilders is made momentarily. For the near future, Stig Anderson already has a marketing tool prepared that will crank up the income even more. Apart from the new album, a special ABBA-movie will be out in the cinemas before the end of the year, produced under direct management. In preparation is a tour of the United States and Japan, the only market that the Swedes haven’t conquered yet. On top of that, Anderson thinks he can now start exploiting ABBA’s popularity in the Eastern countries. To get the money earned in that territory to Sweden, together with another company he has founded a corporation, that’s going to specialize in the trade market. The forte of Stig Anderson is that he is able to think ahead. That’s why, after the musical breakthrough at the Eurovision Song Contest, ABBA didn’t choose to go for the fast, but mostly short-lived success of rapidly released records, if necessary with borrowed music. By his directions, the group concentrated on the much more lucrative albums market, meanwhile incessantly improving the characteristic, feather light own sound. The sound of money.

A perfect example of Anderson’s way of marketing strategy is the approach of the United States. The group has been there a couple of times. Not to go on tiring tours that don’t make any money, but to perform in television shows that are broadcast coast to coast. The tours will come at a later stage, when the beginning record sales need to be supported. ABBA did such a supporting tour, time consuming and money costing, in Australia. The result being that one in every three Australian households now owns an ABBA-album.
Indeed, the upcoming ABBA-movie is a product that needs to support and enhance the record sales as well. It’s so much to the good when the movie itself will make a profit as well, due to the enormous publicity. For the time being, about 3 million Dutch guilders has been invested.
Meanwhile, it’s a problem for ABBA to find the right investment for all their earnings. Although there are a lot of taxes to be paid, due to few possibilities of deduction, their multi-million bank account is growing by the day. Up till now the ABBA-group, that’s actually comprised of five different companies, has invested some money in an art gallery and a wholesale business in sports articles. There is also an own recording studio under construction, but apart from that they are looking for possibilities to broaden their horizon. After all, no one can predict how long the international popularity will continue.

For the time being, it doesn’t look like ABBA will be removed from the premier league of the international pop scene. One of the reasons why the Swedes have lasted for so long is undoubtedly the fact that they manage to make pop music that’s digestible for both the young and the old. This seldom happens. Just like it doesn’t happen very often that a non-Anglo-Saxon pop group or artist succeeds in conquering the monolingual (English) world of pop music.
Again: that’s Stig Anderson’s biggest merit. Even before the Eurovision Song Contest in London he understood that success could only be within reach with the right marketing. That’s why he had everything prepared for the victory, even before the Contest. Immediately after the victory of ‘Waterloo’, handouts describing ABBA’s biography in many languages could be distributed. Instantly, ready-made English versions of ABBA’s music could be produced. Obviously, the monolingual world market is not the only explanation for their speedy breakthrough. The insane free publicity that exists in the area of pop music gave a considerable push as well. Just think about it: all around the world, even non-commercial radio stations like Hilversum III are playing pop tunes all day long, that are abundantly praised to unprecedented heights by crazy DJ’s. Furthermore there are tons of magazines that can’t stop writing about pop idols.

In short: success is not a matter of talent anymore, but a matter of exploiting talent. ABBA does it like no other. To the smallest detail. Unlike other groups for instance, ABBA doesn’t get any income out of live performances. The group, as a typical exponent of modern pop culture, meets its fans through electro technology. The consumers are getting a ready-made package of preserved studio sound and studio images. That’s how it’s meant to be these days.
“Pop music is not a matter of a guitar and a bottle of wine anymore,” according to Stig Anderson.

Thursday 21 May 2009

Hitkrant, September 1983: ABBA-separation is coming

A 1983 article from Dutch magazine Hitkrant, announcing the impending end of ABBA.
It’s getting more and more final: in a short interview that ABBA’s Agnetha gave during a performance for German television, she said that she would most definitely choose to pursue a solo career. That would mean the break-up of ABBA, but there are some matters that need to be considered: Agnetha will have to be bought out.
That will take a lot of money and since ABBA has had to cope with a considerable financial loss at the moment due to a certain investment that went wrong, it won’t be that easy to buy Agnetha out. Frida has sold her ABBA-shares, just in time before the financial disaster.
But thankfully there’s also some good news to report from the ABBA-camp: last week, Agnetha officially got engaged to police inspector Torbjörn Brander. He is forty years old and the couple was living together for a while already.
Furthermore, it seems that there will be one more ABBA-album, but after that it looks like the world’s most popular group will come to an end.
Benny and Björn’s musical is about to be released; the pair has put the finishing touch to their childhood dream in London.

Popshop, September 1977: With ABBA on the film set

A 1977 article about the upcoming ABBA movie.
In one of our previous magazines we already briefly discussed the movie that ABBA is filming at the moment, ‘The Girl With The Golden Hair’. A movie that’s a sort of a mixture of romance, fantasy and music. At the invitation of the Swedish foursome we were present at one of the sessions.
“We started filming in the beginning of this year,” according to Björn. “To be exact: during our first major tour, live footage was shot of which the best parts will be seen in the movie. Filming took place in London, Sydney and Melbourne. It’s obvious that our most familiar hits will be the main attraction of the musical part. In its entirety the movie will be about ninety minutes long. It’s expected that the premiere will be around Christmas...”
Although it actually isn’t an action-packed movie, there’s still a storyline in there. The main character is someone called Robert Hughes who plays the part of an Australian deejay.
In the movie, Robert is working for an Australian radio station and to no avail he tries to rope the foursome in for an interview. He waits for them after their performance, he tries to find them in their hotel. But nothing works, ABBA is unapproachable. Or rather: ABBA is aware of the nuisance and tries to avoid him...

“And then he starts to dream. He pictures himself sitting on a couch with the two girls,” Benny continues. “Or he imagines that we invite him to come along on a picnic. The two girls almost get caught up in a fight to get his attention. These dream sequences are amazing!”
It’s remarkable that almost all of the scenes were filmed in Australia (except for the live footage that was filmed in London). However, the preference of the four Swedes for that country has been known for quite some time.
“Australia is a beautiful country,” according to Anna, visibly enjoying the gentle late summer sun. “There is lots of nature, the weather situation is agreeable. Really, whenever the day comes that we will have to leave Sweden due to the heavy taxes, chances are that we will come to live here. On top of that, the people here are very kind...”

Sunday 17 May 2009

Hitkrant, May 1983: ABBA only in the studio from now on

A 1983 article from Dutch magazine Hitkrant informing us that ABBA would not be seen outside of the recording studio any longer. In hindsight, they would not be seen together inside of the recording studio either.
The decision has been made. The ABBA-members Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Frida – and not forgetting the ABBA-empire headed by Stig Anderson – will not appear on stage anymore from now on. While there were still tentative plans for a tour last year, now it’s definitely out of the question, just like all other performances. ABBA will only get together in the recording studio from now on.

Frida regarding this decision: “Don’t get us wrong: all four of us think it’s just wonderful to get up on stage and get in contact with our audience through our music. But it just isn’t possible any longer. We all have our families, the boys both have young children at home and we think the long separations from them, while being on tour, are not acceptable anymore.”

But although all ABBA-members are going their own way at the moment, for the time being the group ABBA will stay together. Only: they won’t be seen together officially anymore outside of the recording studio. Also, the separate solo activities of the four ABBA-members have been the cause of the group’s decision to stop performing.
Björn: “It takes at least a year of preparation to go on tour and that means you can’t record an album during that time. Then you have to choose.”
ABBA may have decided not to appear on stage again, the rumours claiming that the group won’t last for much longer are definitely not true. ABBA goes on!

Hitkrant, 1980: Mike falls for ABBA

A small news item about Mike Oldfield recording a cover version of ABBA's ‘Arrival’ in 1980.
The British multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield has fallen for ABBA once and for all: not only did he record ABBA’s ‘Arrival’ for a new single release, he also got it into his head to have the sleeve for that single designed in a practically identical way as the ABBA-album ‘Arrival’. So Mike in the helicopter it is!
To top things off, Mike put the ‘K’ of his first name backwards as well, just like the ‘B’ in ABBA.
Whether he will have the same hit potential as ABBA usually has remains to be seen.

Saturday 16 May 2009

Privé, May 1977: The thundering arguments behind the scenes between Anna and Frida

Some of the info from this Dutch 1977 article was probably taken from the book ABBA-The Phenomenon by Christer Borg, since it is advertised at the end of the article. The book was also published in Holland around this time.
ABBA, the biggest sensation in the pop scene since the Beatles, conquered the world with songs like ‘Fernando’, ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Money, Money, Money’, after they won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 with ‘Waterloo’. But the group consists of four individuals. People who eat and drink, who laugh and argue. This is the image of ABBA that always remains unseen for the fans. Therefore, this exclusive look behind the scenes.

On stage, the captivating show of the Swedish group ABBA comes across as a perfectly oiled machine. But during rehearsals, tensions are often rising to the point where it comes to thundering arguments, especially between the blonde Agnetha (Anna) and the red-haired Anni-Frid (Frida). “I’m jealous, insecure and hot-tempered. I insist that everybody is punctual. But Frida and Benny (her husband) are late risers. My husband Björn and I are true morning people,” according to Agnetha.
Frida may be less punctual, she gets into the melody quicker and she understands the intentions that Björn and Benny are having with their lyrics and music faster. She’s often annoyed with Agnetha’s slow pace. “Then I can get irritated easily. Yes, and then it can come to a scene between us occasionally. But Benny always knows how to calm us down.”
The marriage between Anna and Björn almost didn’t happen. When they wanted to get married in 1971, the hearing impaired vicar understood ‘atheist’ when they named ‘artist’ as their profession for the marriage certificate. Only after a long conversation he understood his mistake. Anna and Björn have a three-year-old daughter.
Frida has been married before to the carpet dealer Ragnar Frederiksson. The custody of the two children from that marriage was assigned to the father. Before Benny got engaged to Frida, he was married and from that relationship two children were born as well. Frida is the only one of the foursome who wasn’t born in Sweden. She was born in Narvik in the north of Norway. When she was two years old, her parents moved to Sweden.
Producer, manager and lyric writer Stig Anderson is, together with Björn and Benny, responsible for the trademark ABBA-sound. But what defines the phenomenal success of this group that meanwhile sold more records than any other group, apart from the Beatles?
Firstly, the specific sound that for the most part is dominated by the combined voices of Frida and Anna; then the combination of the looks of the girls’ (sexy) and the boys (ordinary); after that the easy accessible melodies that are more complicated than they seem on first listening; and last but not least the extremely polished presentation.
Both ABBA-couples and Stig and his family spend the time between tours and studio and television recordings in complete isolation on an island in the Stockholm archipelago. They are living there within a stone’s throw of each other. That’s where Björn, Benny and Stig find the peace and inspiration for their songs. Almost all of their hits were created on that small island. Stig, Björn and Benny have three corporations together that add up to ABBA’s mini-empire. Last year the turnover of this company amounted to a total of about 35 million Dutch guilders. But the income keeps increasing. Half of it comes from Sweden, over which sum they have to pay taxes of 85 percent. The rest comes from countries all around the world, except China and North Korea.

The business side of the whole thing is simple. Stig is the sole owner of the music publishing company Sweden Music and Björn and Benny together own all the shares in the music publishing company Harlekin. Both companies each own half of the shares of Polar Music, the subsidiary. That’s all. Anna and Frida are not a part of all this, but that will change in the near future. The same goes for Gudrun, Stig’s wife.
With his typical immodesty Stig replicates ABBA’s critics with: “We don’t need the money. We are living comfortably, that’s true. We feel very much at ease, but for instance we won’t leave Sweden and go live in a country where we’d have to pay less taxes. We are living here to our satisfaction and it’s not appealing to us to revolve ourselves in luxury.”
This attitude has made ABBA extremely popular in Sweden. “Critics have said that we are ‘plastic’ people, a group that creates music like a computer. That’s nonsense. We work in our own way because we like it. And when it’s not fun anymore, we will quit,” Stig says.
Benny and Björn are writing the music and the lyrics. And when they come up with something, they approach Stig. When he thinks they’re on to something, they develop it further. Most of the time, this happens at the luxuriously utilized ABBA-headquarter on the island. For the amount of one million Dutch guilders, this former mansion has been reconstructed and provided with all technical novelties possible.
“When I think it isn’t any good, Benny and Björn are going to try again. But when it comes to the end result we’re very democratic. We just vote. And when it’s not unanimous, we simply don’t release the record. That’s very Swedish. And as it happens, the people like the same songs as we do.”
In the near future, someone will be hired who has to keep an eye on ABBA’s investments. They already own an art gallery and a cinema that they want to have reconstructed into a recording studio. Gudrun, Stig’s wife, is in charge of the personal finances of the individual members of the ‘company’.
“Of course, we have to pay those extremely high Swedish taxes. But when we buy real estate and sell it again later on, we only have to pay thirty percent over the profit of those deals. That’s dealing with money in a sensible way. Success is something very unstable. It can all be over tomorrow,” Stig says.
The four singing ABBA-members were already familiar names in the Swedish pop scene, before they joined forces. Björn was a guitar-player in the group Hootenanny Singers and Benny played the organ in the Hep Stars. They met each other at a party and decided to write a song together (‘Isn’t It Easy To Say’), and although it didn’t become a success, a long lasting collaboration was born. Benny’s career with the Hep Stars ended in disaster. Due to a tax debt (almost 120.000 Dutch guilders) he was declared bankrupt. This also meant the end of his affair with Christina Gronwell, to whom he had got engaged at the age of fifteen. Christina is the mother of Peter and Helen, Benny’s children.
After that, Benny met Frida in Malmö. Frida worked as a singer with a show orchestra. In 1967, she had won a song contest on television. But her family life suffered from her success and in the end, she and her husband decided to get a divorce. Their two children stayed with him. Benny and Frida have been together since 1970.

Around the same time, Björn met Agnetha. She had been a telephone operator at a car firm and in the evenings she had been working as a singer with an amateur orchestra. As a complete newcomer, she reached the top ten of the Swedish charts at the age of seventeen with her self-written song ‘I Was So In Love’. The work she got from that demanded so much from her that she often fell asleep at the switchboard.
At the instance of her mother she had to decide and she chose to become a singer. Her mother wasn’t happy with that. In 1968, Agnetha got engaged to the West-German composer and producer Dieter Zimmerman who promised her mountains of gold. But he didn’t keep his promise and Agnetha ended the engagement.
One day after his marriage to Anna, Stig approached Björn with a proposal that would eventually lead to the founding of the group ABBA.
Stig asked Björn if he wanted to join him as a producer for the music publishing company Polar Music. Björn said yes, under the condition that Benny could participate as well. Initially, they shared Björn’s salary. It wouldn’t take long before Anna and Frida took care of the backing vocals. Their input became increasingly important. And when the Swedish broadcasting company asked Björn and Benny in 1973 to write the Swedish entry for the Eurovision Song Contest, they decided to join forces: ABBA was born. The result of their efforts was ‘Ring Ring’. It became a hit in Holland but, although it was the absolute favourite, the song only achieved the third place in the competition. Anna was heavily pregnant at the time, but she still decided to go ahead with it. All four of them were deeply disappointed. But the following year they returned. In Brighton, England. The conductor was dressed as Napoleon and although no one thought it stood any chance, ‘Waterloo’ won. ABBA’s success was born.

Tuesday 12 May 2009

Hitkrant, 1981: ABBA pays a visit

A small report about the upcoming release of the ‘The Visitors’ album. Interesting to see that ‘The Visitors’ was still named as the most probable single candidate only days before the release of the album. See 6 June 2008 entry to read the article referred to in this report.
It is out! This time, we had to wait for the new ABBA-album longer than ever before, but now the time has finally come: the official release date is November 30 and if everything went according to plan, it will be in the shops in just four days.
The final title has been decided on as well: ‘The Visitors’ (indeed, when Mick Fleetwood releases a ‘Visitor’, ABBA should use the plural) and there’s a big chance that the title track will be the single as well. So ABBA pays a visit, and it’s about time. Apart from that, a promotional video has been made for the track ‘All Is Said’ so that could become the new single as well.
In Hitkrant 49 we will tell you more about the album, the problems surrounding it and how relieved ABBA is that it has finally seen the light of day!

Hitkrant, 1985 & 1986: Eyes Of A Woman album review / The Angels Cry & The Way You Are single reviews

Agnetha Fältskog/‘Eyes Of A Woman’/Polydor
The ten thousands of ABBA fans can hurry to the record store again to buy Agnetha’s new album. As expected, the blonde singer has surrounded herself with top composers and musicians, so you can imagine that everything is in order in that respect.
One of my favourite songs is ‘Just One Heart’, a delightful reggae-track and a welcome change in the otherwise rather soft sounding repertoire. For me, ‘We Should Be Together’ is the catchiest track and therefore certainly has hit potential as the follow-up to ‘I Won’t Let You Go’. To finish things off, I would like to mention ‘I Keep Turning Off Lights’, an original and rhythmical song in which Agnetha once again proves her versatility. Overall, this album is certainly worthwhile, but I still believe there could have been just a bit more variation.

Agnetha Fältskog/‘The Angels Cry’/Polydor 883640
The solo careers of the ABBA-singers Frida and Agnetha are not running very smoothly and Agnetha will definitely not score a big hit with this single. Unfortunately, it’s a weak song.
It’s high time for ABBA to record another album again.

Agnetha Fältskog & Ola Hakansson/‘The Way You Are’/Indisc
Well, it isn’t easy when you have sold millions of records all around the world with ABBA, recorded two considerably less successful solo albums, and now are giving it another try with a duet. ABBA’s Agnetha recorded this rather lacklustre single together with one Ola Hakansson. Not exactly a bull’s eye, is what we would say.

Monday 11 May 2009

Story, November 1977: The ABBA-industry is working in full force

An article from Dutch gossip magazine Story. Apparently, Frida had two more children without even knowing about it...
Anni-Frid, Björn, Benny and Agnetha, together forming the world-famous ABBA-quartet, look upon themselves as some kind of international business enterprise. They’re not exactly bothered by the difficult times.

There’s hardly any time to catch their breath. They are composing songs, making records, releasing albums, publishing books, touring in every corner of the world and starring in a feature film. Obviously, a film about themselves. Because don’t be mistaken: for the time being that cool, neatly washed and impeccably dressed foursome doesn’t even think about letting that stream of money flowing incessantly into their bank accounts dry up. But in the middle of all these activities – and you can take it from us that it isn’t easy to maintain such a multinational – they’re still able to find some time to take care of their personal business.
Björn and Agnetha haven taken residence on an island on the Swedish coast in a new house that still needs to be completely furnished. Agnetha is very busy with that, although Björn would like to see her taking things a little easier. At the end of this year she’s expecting her second child.
Meanwhile, Benny is carefully studying the videotapes that were made of their tour, because there’s always room for improvement. His girlfriend Anni-Frid, who likes to see her four children every now and then as well, is taking dancing lessons and recently she met her father for the first time. A German pop magazine had discovered that pastry baker Alfred Haase, now living in Karlsruhe, had seduced a Norwegian girl as a soldier during the war, that later became Anni-Frid’s mother.

“You shouldn’t believe all this gossip claiming that we will quit in the near future,” Björn reassures us. “And if you want to know more about us, you should buy the book in which we are revealing our success story ourselves.”
Get the message? The book, the title of which will most probably be ‘The Phenomenon ABBA’, is intended to be published at one blow all over the world. And obviously that will bring in some cash as well.
ABBA’s shrewd manager Stig Anderson has estimated that his foursome’s records are bringing in about twenty-five million Dutch guilders every year. “And that’s excluding the sales in the US,” he adds smartly.
For the time being, the world doesn’t seem to get enough of ABBA. A situation that’s very satisfying for the Swedish tax collectors office as well.

Sunday 10 May 2009

Pop Rocky, 1982: With ABBA, the fat is in the fire!

An article about ABBA's 1982 activities from German magazine Pop Rocky. According to this article, at this stage there were still plans for a new album in 1983 and even a tour.
Since weeks, ABBA’s own Polar Studios seem like a beehive. Every day from eleven a.m. until late in the evening the highly modern recording studios at Hamngatan 11 in Stockholm are occupied by Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Björn and Benny. Already in May, ABBA recorded two tracks, ‘Just Like That’ and ‘I Am The City’, for their new album that will appear early 1983. A while after that, Anni-Frid and Genesis-boss Phil Collins ensconced themselves in the studios for weeks and tinkered arduously on Anni-Frid’s second solo album ‘Something Is Going On’ that will be released worldwide on September 9. One of these days, the single ‘I Know There’s Something Going On’ will be released as an appetizer.
How did the collaboration between Anni-Frid and Phil come about?
“Well, Phil’s solo album ‘Face Value’ had an enormous impact on me,” Anni-Frid states, “and there was no doubt about it for me: Phil is the one for me! Our collaboration has exceeded my expectations. Phil is just wonderful! He’s also playing the drums on all tracks.”
At the moment, ABBA is together in the studio again and they are recording three to four further songs for the new album. And, as a sidestep, in October the double album ‘The Singles 1973-82’ will be released, containing all A-sides of the ABBA singles that were released up till now as well as two brand new tracks.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in ABBA’s ‘storm and stress’ period comes from Agnetha with her movie plans. In a few weeks time she will start filming her first motion picture. Agnetha is playing the daughter of a poor fisherman who falls in love with the notorious Swedish marriage fraud Gustav Raskenstam. The male leading part in this engaging comedy is being played by Gunnar Hellström, producer of the American hit series ‘Dallas’. If everything goes according to plan, actress Agnetha will be seen in our cinemas on the third day of Christmas, on December 26!
It isn’t a wonder that ABBA hardly had the time for a summer vacation with this busy schedule. For example, Agnetha and her police officer Torbjörn Brander went to their summer residence in Taxholm for a few days, about 50 kilometres north from Stockholm. According to Swedish newspaper reports, Agnetha and Torbjörn want to get married before too long, because both of them passionately want to have a baby together.
Anni-Frid and her boyfriend Bertil Hjert spent their summer holiday in the vicinity of Trosa (about 60 kilometres south from Stockholm). In that area is also Benny’s new summerhouse that he had built a few months ago for about 2 million German marks and where he has taken residence with his wife Mona and their seven-month-old son Ludvig. Last but not least, Björn and Lena Ulvaeus spent their first holiday together at Viggsö, ABBA’s own private island on the Stockholm coast.
After so much action in the ABBA camp, obviously there’s no talk at all anymore about a separation or internal conflicts. On the contrary, behind ABBA’s scenes they’re even whispering about a new tour...!

Tuesday 5 May 2009

Veronica, September 1980: ABBA's popularity remains undiminished

An article from Dutch magazine Veronica, published in the week that the Live In Concert special was aired on Dutch television.
‘The Winner Takes It All’, you can hardly think of a better title for an ABBA record. This Swedish family company is now unthreatened on top for six years already. And the end is not in sight, despite the inevitable tensions within the group. Although the members are taking things a little easier at the moment.

“After that energy-draining world tour we had to get into the studio immediately to get an album ready before the end of the year. We can afford to work in a relaxed manner and take the time to work out every detail to perfection. Actually, the activities have only been interrupted by some short vacations. But even then, in our minds Benny and I are very much occupied with our work. We are what the Americans call ‘workaholics’, people who are addicted to their job. We just happen to love it,” according to Björn Ulvaeus, blonde Agnetha’s ex-husband and co-writer of all ABBA hits.

Has the divorce between Agnetha and him been a time bomb under the group or not?
Björn: “When we made our divorce public, we had already dealt with it. Agnetha and I have already talked out the problems at an early stage. Also at the advice of our manager Stig Anderson. I don’t believe the continued existence of the group was ever in danger. Agnetha and I haven’t taken a dislike to each other. The marriage just didn’t work out. We realized that in time. We stand next to each other on stage without feelings of hatred. In the beginning it has been a strange experience. But you get used to it. Now we’re colleagues. I have a new girlfriend and Agnetha is looking for a new life partner. It’s not easy for her. She’s not a butterfly. She wants a solid relationship.”

Don’t you miss the children?
Björn: “We’ve come to a very satisfying agreement. Basically, I can meet the children whenever I want. They also came along to the US. I’m reconciled to the fact that Agnetha was given custody of them. She spends more time at home than me. We try as hard as we can to let the children suffer as little as possible from the divorce.”
Is that the price to pay for success?
Björn: “That’s hard to say. Everyone has their own ideas about marriages in show business. Usually marriages like that come to an end because the partners don’t see enough of each other. Well, with us that certainly wasn’t the case. We saw each other every day. I don’t find it interesting to reflect on that. Things happened the way they did. We’ve both made a new start. Be as it may.”

Your life consists of tours, recordings, television performances and so on. Don’t you get tired of it at some point?
Björn: “I shiver at the thought that I’m not allowed to do that any longer. Agreed, those long tours are particularly exhausting, you shouldn’t do that too often. Apart from that, it doesn’t earn us any money. But for the rest, we’re having a great time. You mustn’t forget that it was a conscious decision for us to become an artist. We started out with ABBA with the intention to get to the top. We knew what was ahead of us. But our manager sees to it that we’re able to relax for a while after a few weeks of work. And after a few weeks of vacation I’m longing to get back to work. The same goes for the others as well. We love this business and gladly take the difficult times into the bargain.”

Are you still able to motivate yourselves after so much success?
Björn: “That won’t be a problem as long as we keep loving what we do. Financially, I think we’re strong enough to quit. But what else is there to do? We make music because it’s our life. I couldn’t live without it. There’s no pressure whatsoever. We can release records whenever we want to. There’s no one knocking at our door with the announcement that a song should be finished the next day. We look at every new album as a challenge. Something like that builds slowly. It starts out with a few loose ideas, a couple of guitar riffs and a piano line. It’s always very exciting to hear what emerges from that. In the studio we work at a quieter pace than during a tour. Then it can be difficult to remain stable. We feel very much at home in the recording studio. And I can unleash possible tensions in my work.”

There are rumours circulating that Agnetha and Anni-Frid want to do other things apart from their work with ABBA.
Björn: “These desires have been around for quite some time. Anni-Frid has played a small part in a movie, Agnetha has started composing herself. With success. Whenever ABBA is not on tour and Benny and I are messing about in the studio, Anni-Frid and Agnetha have a little more spare time. Apart from that, it’s sensible to not concentrate completely on one project. They are extremely creative women.”
Agnetha has gotten some bad publicity recently in connection with that non-smoking campaign. Does that hurt your popularity?
Björn: “Artists are living in a house of glass. She participated in a non-smoking campaign on television. Later on, she was photographed with a cigarette in her mouth and bombastic stories appeared in the media. What’s the use of that? No, I don’t think it will hurt us. Thankfully, the fans are ignoring sensational stories like that.”

It has often been suggested that the world tour was a farewell of sorts.
Björn: “Nonsense. ABBA goes on. We did that world tour because we thought the time was right. We’re now taking things easier. Extensive tours are not on our schedule. At best, some television and a one-off performance here and there. At the moment, the television special that was recorded during the tour is going around the world. This way, the fans that weren’t able to attend the concerts can see us perform.”
Vicious rumours are claiming that you were far more vibrant during the shows that were filmed.
Björn: “It only seems that way. A camera records everything up close. You see us sweating and our facial expressions. You don’t get to see that when you’re in the middle of a huge arena. During the whole tour we gave everything we had. You can’t fool your audience.”