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.


Anonymous said...

`Both ladies are just decoration´ the article sais.. But without the ladies B&B never scored another international hit again. (with Mamma Mia being based on ABBA I mean) ABBA was more than 70 Agnetha & Frida. Thank God most people got that later on.

fridarox said...

If only they'd done more live shows there would have never been such articles... But well...

Michel said...

I think what's meant here is that the ladies took a back seat in interview situations which was mostly true during the ABBA years.
Around this time, their command of the English language was insufficient to make them feel completely comfortable.
Later on, Björn even commented that they were dead-scared of talking English on screen in The Movie.