Thursday, 11 June 2009

Veronica, August 1981: ABBA - Thank You For The Music

This 1981 article speculates about the impending end of ABBA, meanwhile also mixing up Stig Anderson with another manager, Robert Stigwood.
All good things come to an end. Although nothing has been made public officially, we will have to get used to the idea that the popular Swedish group ABBA is about to fall apart any day now. It’s sad, but that’s how things are. Private problems and saturation on a creative level are the cause of it all. A mere ten years after the Beatles disbanded, the end of ABBA only seems a question of time.

It seems to be very difficult to combine a successful career with a harmonious relationship. What started out ten years ago as a midsummer night’s dream, seems to end in tragedy. The two married couples, that developed ABBA into the biggest family company since Rothschild, have paid their price. Both marriages collapsed. Only the group’s name and investments are still keeping Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid tied together. And it all started out so good ten years ago. Two Swedish idols, Björn and Benny, were offered a contract by one Stig Anderson, a former teacher with a flair for good business. He gave the two ambitious young men the assignment to write hit songs, that they themselves or other Swedish nightingales could record. Elsewhere in the Swedish world of show business, the angelic Agnetha and the more mature Anni-Frid, who had become a national star thanks to a couple of television shows, were operating.
Benny had his eye on Anni-Frid and Björn fell for Agnetha, at the time the most successful singer with the northern people. Björn asked her to marry him and Benny and Anni-Frid were going to live together. Their work continued. The two boys started writing melodic pieces of music, inspired by their idols John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who kept themselves busy with resentful remarks towards each other through their solo albums around this time. Even Stigwood could not imagine that his protégés would surpass the sales of Beatles-records.
From the start, Stigwood didn’t leave things to chance. He wanted to introduce the foursome, that had stayed together after the hit ‘Ring Ring’, to about 600 million television viewers by means of the Eurovision Song Contest. He managed this in 1974. ABBA seized the opportunity with ‘Waterloo’, a title that’s applicable to the way the group is now falling apart. After this first success, Björn and Benny were facing the difficult task to expand their popularity with strong songs. As it turned out, this wasn’t a problem. The twosome created a sound that will go down in history as Europop. Within two years, all continents were conquered, with the exception of America.
America was a different matter. Apart from the Brits, practically not a single European group had been able to crack that country. Stig decided to take things easy. From ‘Dancing Queen’ onwards, the most beautiful pop song of the seventies, ABBA-records were getting into the American top 20 on a regular basis; several albums reached gold and platinum status. But Stig kept postponing a tour. Promotion was limited to visits to radio stations and one or two television specials. Perhaps Stig sensed the group’s fear for the mighty America; perhaps that country wasn’t as interesting anymore financially. Fact is that ABBA waited until 1979 before they paid a visit to a couple of American cities on their world tour.
At the beginning of that tour, the first cracks in the group were starting to appear. The fairytale marriage between Björn and Agnetha had ended. Psychiatric help couldn’t help matters. “We talked for almost two years, but finally we faced the fact that our marriage was over. Then we cut the knot,” Björn stated later on. The personal problems formed a striking contrast to the creative success. ABBA had broken all sales records. To date, only the late King Presley has sold more records.
Soon it turned out that the at first glance unapproachable Agnetha suffered most from the separation. She was spotted with a few men, but she mainly focussed on her duties as a mother. Björn soon found a new partner, that outwardly had a striking resemblance to Agnetha: Lena. In the meantime they got married and Lena is pregnant. During their world tour, Agnetha and Björn tried to disguise their divorce with a couple of jokes. But behind the scenes, the tensions must have reached a boiling point. Agnetha stayed behind somewhat devastated in her loneliness. ‘The Winner Takes It All’ seemed to be tailor-made for her attractive body.
After their journey around the globe, it turned out that the love between Anni-Frid and Benny, in the meantime they had gotten married in all secrecy, had cooled as well. Rather unexpectedly, they announced their divorce. Another woman had entered the scene: Mona Norklit, a Swedish television personality. At first, the creativity didn’t seem to suffer from the tensions. At the end of last year, the exquisite piece of studio work ‘Super Trouper’ was introduced during a big party. Side by side, the members attended the event smilingly. It was just a disguise. Because the show just has to go on.
But now there really seems to be no turning back. Agnetha and Anni-Frid are having solo plans, Björn and Benny are not as motivated anymore. Perhaps this crisis will pass. Whenever this is not the case, there’s nothing else left for us to say, with a lump in our throat, than: Thank You For The Music.


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