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.


Cooper said...

Never seen this article's picture before and I have to say Agnetha looks stunning


Cooper said...

Sorry, I meant to say in the b&w picture!

I got distracted by her

Michel said...

I already guessed that you were referring to the b&w picture. It was taken in Holland in April 1975 on a promotional visit for 'I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do' and 'SOS'.

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