Wednesday 30 September 2009

Story, October 1978: ABBA: “Isn’t it wonderful to have more than enough money?”

Dutch gossip magazine Story informing us that ABBA thinks it’s just wonderful to have a lot of money. Well, what else is new...
While other Swedish millionaires are leaving their country to escape from the high taxes in their home country, ABBA isn’t even considering to go and live abroad. “We don’t have to keep all this money to ourselves, do we?”

“We have everything we could wish for; beautiful houses, our own island, an exquisite yacht and more than enough money to buy anything we want. What else could we possibly wish for? We are completely satisfied,” is what the four ABBA-members are saying.
Movie director Ingmar Bergman moved to America a couple of years ago. The young Swedish tennis champion Björn Borg and the racing driver Ronnie Peterson both settled in the same apartment building in Monaco.
“It would be crazy if we had stayed in Sweden,” all three of them give as a reason for their departure. “Eighty-five percent of everything that you make goes to taxes over there. That’s ridiculous, isn’t it!”
“We are always saying: anyone who has to pay a lot of taxes has made even more money!” ABBA’s Agnetha, Frida, Benny and Björn give as a counter-argument. Because, contrary to many other Swedish millionaires, they aren’t even considering to leave their home country because of its taxes. Meanwhile, they are making even a whole lot more money than Ingmar Bergman, Björn Borg and Ronnie Peterson.
“Why would we want to leave this country?” is what they are saying and they agree wholeheartedly. “We are fine with how things are. Sweden is a wonderful country. With people that are down to earth. Of course, we could drive around in a Rolls Royce, but people would probably start throwing rotten tomatoes at us. ‘Just act normal, that’s strange enough’ is what people are saying here. Isn’t that the right state of mind? We can simply be ourselves in Sweden and that’s exactly what we need. We can walk the streets quietly without being bothered by fans. Because the people are so down to earth here. No, we wouldn’t want to live in any other country. And we don’t mind that we have to pay taxes. That’s money well spent.”
Their manager Stig Anderson is just as outspoken about ABBA’s earnings as the ABBA-members themselves. “Everyone is allowed to know how much we are making,” he says. “That’s no secret.”

Then, full of pride, he tells Story that around 53 million ABBA-records have been sold in the past five years. In Australia, even one in every four households bought one of their records. About seven hundred million Dutch guilders came in on royalties. Add to that the earnings on concerts and television performances. In London alone, tickets were sold, amounting to a sum of seven million Dutch guilders. And, except for America, ABBA is on top in virtually every country.
Stig Anderson: “Even behind the Iron Curtain, our hit ‘Money, Money, Money’ made the top ten. But in Russia, you don’t get paid in cash. We had to make different arrangements for this country: instead of money, they sent us food and shares in oil.”
Stig Anderson explains how everything is arranged financially. Actually, everything is split into five shares: for the four ABBA-members and for Stig himself. Each one of them gets some kind of allowance (150.000 Dutch guilders each year, which is only a small part of the income) and the rest is being invested in the company, called AB, that has been founded specifically for that purpose. This company invests in buildings and department stores, finances major projects and donates large sums of money to charity, such as Amnesty International.

Since he is the only ABBA-member who speaks English fluently, Björn acts as a spokesperson for the quartet. He says: “Indeed, we do give a lot of money away. People appreciate us for doing that, but we think it’s actually our duty. Indeed, we make a lot more money than we actually need. As long as we can buy everything we like, we are satisfied. But after that, there’s more than enough left, even when the taxes have been paid. Why wouldn’t we help other people with all this money? We don’t have to keep everything to ourselves, do we? Because, like we said, we can’t drive around in a Rolls Royce here anyway. We are living comfortably, there's always something tucked away for a rainy day and our children’s future is secure. What else could we want?
People tend to say that money doesn’t buy you happiness. Well, it certainly did make us happy. Isn’t it wonderful to have more than enough money? We own everything that we didn’t even dare to dream of in former days and on top of that, we are making other people happy with our money as well!”

Saturday 26 September 2009

Das Freizeit-Magazin, November 1978: ABBA never on tour again

In 1978, rumours were circulating that ABBA would never tour again.
ABBA Live – that’s over with. The reason: Björn and Agnetha want to have more time off to spend with their son Christian. “Therefore, we can’t afford all this travelling around any longer.”

Wasn’t that a big shock for the fans, when ABBA announced: “We will not go on tour again, instead we will focus exclusively on our work in the recording studio.”
The most popular and successful pop group in the world since the Beatles – the quartet from Stockholm now wants to follow the same path as their famous predecessors did years ago.
A Swedish tidbit that was hard to stomach. We wanted to know the exact facts and gave ABBA a call at their home. Björn was on the phone.
Are you really serious about this?
In show business, as we were told, something is actually never really final. But at least it’s true, according to Björn, that they are very serious about it at the moment. Because: “We’ve neglected our children long enough”.
For Anni-Frid and Benny, the aspect of the children probably wasn’t that crucial. They both have a daughter and a son from previous relationships. Those four children are eleven to fifteen years old. At these ages, they are becoming self-dependent and intelligible. But for Björn and Agnetha, it’s a completely different matter.
Besides the care for their five-year-old daughter Linda, the couple now has to care for their son Christian as well, who is just eleven months old.
“It would be irresponsible,” says Björn, “to leave the boy alone so much. But no worries: we will continue recording music.”
So there definitely won’t be any tours anymore?
Björn still doesn’t want to confirm it: “Children do get older. Then we will see what happens...”

Thursday 24 September 2009

Bravo, December 1976: Anni-Frid breaks her silence

In 1976, German magazine Bravo started a series that focused on each member separately. This is part one: Frida. Too bad the writer of this article didn’t get his facts straight. According to this article, Benny and Frida had two children, Frida had hosted the TV-show Hylands Hörna and ABBA already had ten number one hits by 1976...
In six weeks time, ABBA will come on tour in Germany. Bravo singled out the four Swedes for a cross-examination for a collectible portrait-series. Really surprising, the things that Anni-Frid revealed...

Bravo: Anni-Frid, you are 31 years old and the most ‘secretive’ ABBA-member. Your first marriage, your four children, your career before ABBA, not much is known about all these things...
Anni-Frid: “Firstly, I must admit that, according to my passport, my name is Fredriksson and not Lyngstad, my maiden name. Fredriksson is the name of my ex-husband. We got divorced more than seven years ago. After the divorce, I didn’t get to changing all the paperwork. In the meantime, I’ve come to terms with this ‘wrong’ name.”
Bravo: Why did you get married at the age of 16?
Anni-Frid: “It’s not that extraordinary in my country. He was my ‘first man’ and we were both deeply in love, therefore we wanted to get married. Our parents didn’t oppose to that either. When I was only 17, I got my first son Hans and two years later, my daughter Liselotte.”
Bravo: Why did your marriage end?
Anni-Frid: “Because we were both too young when we got married. After our second child, I suddenly got a wake-up call. I thought to myself, ‘now you are twenty years old and already a mother of two’. My husband was very occupied with his job, while I was chained to the housekeeping. Therefore, we involuntarily started to grow apart. I had imagined a marriage to be more romantic. When our marital crisis got even worse, we decided, after long conversations, to get a divorce. That was the best solution for the both of us. Nowadays, my husband, who has remarried, and I have a very amicable and open relationship. Hans and Liselotte are also living with him. I visit them once a month.”
Bravo: And after the divorce, your career started?
Anni-Frid: “I was forced to do something. That’s where my dance training came in handy, something that I’d been doing since I was six years old and that I continued to do after the two childbirths to keep in shape. I got a job as a chorus girl with the Swedish television ballet; and that’s how I was discovered. Some time after that, I got the opportunity to host the popular TV-show Hylands Hörna and that’s how I became known in the entire country.”
Bravo: How did singing get into your life?
Anni-Frid: “Privately, I have played some guitar and sung folksongs my entire life. But it wasn’t until my TV-show that I sang in front of a big audience. My first song was a Christmas song. That’s how the record producers started to take notice of me. Some time after that, I recorded a duet with the Swedish singer Lars Berghagen. However, the single didn’t become a big success, but I had laid the foundation.”
Bravo: How did you meet Benny?
Anni-Frid: “In the recording studio. At the time, Benny was already a big star with his band Hep Stars, that was Sweden’s most popular group. In front of a broken coffee machine, we got into a conversation and made an appointment for our first date. At the time, we both could not have imagined that we would end up singing in the same group...”
Bravo: What aspect of Benny did you like most?
Anni-Frid: “His boyish charm and his dry sense of humour, those were the first things that I noticed. Later on, I found out that Benny can be very serious and sensitive as well. And this combination was exactly what I’d been looking for. We really are an ideal couple.”
Bravo: Nowadays, you and Benny have two children, but you never got married. Why is that?
Anni-Frid: “Because those are two different things, that’s what I’ve learned from my first marriage. Even Helen (8) and Peter (7) know by now that their parents are not married and they think it’s quite common. Compared with other families, I believe that things are far more relaxed in our household. Of course, our profession plays an important part as well, this irregular life. But also the fact that Benny and I are together because we want to and not because we have to, due to a marriage certificate.”
Bravo: You are right in the middle of the seven year itch – are there disagreements as well?
Anni-Frid: “Regularly even, and that’s always shortly before the recording of a new ABBA-single. After a string of ten consecutive number one hits, Benny and Björn are under an enormous pressure to succeed. Then it happens once in a while that things get to a boiling-point in both families. At these times, the fact that I smoke too much or that I’ve forgotten to take out the trash, can be enough to ignite Benny’s anger. But as soon as the record is in its cover, the touchy tiger turns into a tame cat again...”
Bravo: How do you and Benny get along with Anna and Björn?
Anni-Frid: “Long before ABBA, we already worked together as a family company. Therefore, we know each other inside out. We have a sort of brother-sister relationship. To avoid frictions, we lead our private lives separately as much as we can. We only spend our sailing holiday, once every summer, together with Anna and Björn.”
Bravo: Is there something that you’re afraid of?
Anni-Frid: “To be honest, I’m afraid of our world tour in the spring, which will take us to Germany as well. I’m quivering at the thought whether we will be able to fulfil the high expectations of our fans. Even when we have been rehearsing our show almost every day since November. But when you’ve had as much hits as we have had, there will always be plenty of people who are just waiting to see you fall flat.”

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Joepie, 1978: ABBA is finally ready for a holiday!

A Belgian article, revealing ABBA's plans for the year 1978.
The entire ABBA-family has packed their bags and left for their private island for a while, with a bunch of fresh ideas. Now that it has become certain that they won’t do any tours or performances this year, they immediately decided to take some time off. For the first time since they won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974, they are hoping to be able to take a real holiday as well. Benny and Frida have decided to go to Spain, while Björn and Agnetha will probably prefer a quiet stay on their island with their children.
Obviously, the business machine around ABBA remains on stream in the meantime. Stig Anderson and Björn and Benny have decided not to go on tour this year because they primarily want to focus on the American and Japanese recording industry.
“Up till now, there haven’t been any real American or Japanese plans, because we were concentrating too much on our success in the rest of the world,” is what Björn told us on the phone recently. “However, our recent singles have all made the top 30 and our latest album has been received quite well. So it’s high time for us to start paying more attention to these huge markets in show business.”
Although Björn and Benny were planning to spend some time daydreaming during their stay on the island, they can’t stay away from music. They’re already very busy working on a new album, that will be released even this year.
“Our fans have a right to this album, since we won’t be performing this year,” according to an ever-optimistic Björn.
And while we are giving our best regards to the entire family, he asks us if we already knew that ABBA is getting extremely popular in Russia.
“On the black market, an ABBA-album is already worth 150 American dollars,” he smiles contentedly.

Sunday 20 September 2009

Hitkrant, December 1977: ABBA – The Album album review

ABBA - The Album reviewed in Dutch magazine Hitkrant in December 1977.
ABBA ‘ABBA, The Album’ Polar/Polydor
ABBA: the album review! If there is one record that thousands of people are looking forward to with anticipation, then it will undoubtedly be the new ABBA-album. Although the album has not been officially released here yet, we managed to get hold of a few copies.
Well, brace yourselves, because it’s a gem of a record. Every single song is of an enormous class, which once again underlines the versatility of the four ABBAs. Actually, there is not a single weak moment, or it would have to be the somewhat nervous ‘Hole In Your Soul’.
‘Eagle’, ‘Take A Chance On Me’ (the new single), ‘One Man, One Woman’, ‘Move On’ and the mini-musical ‘The Girl With The Golden Hair’, consisting of three parts, all made a big impression on me immediately.
Both productionwise, vocally as well as instrumentally, splendid work has been done, that all ABBA-fans will definitely know how to appreciate. With this album, ABBA have earned themselves a place among the biggest names in the international music scene. At the beginning of next year, it will be available in all the shops.

Saturday 19 September 2009

Studio, December 1976: ABBA

A report from Dutch TV-guide Studio about ABBA’s brief promotional visit to Holland, taking place on November 19, 1976. At a press conference, ABBA were presented with numerous awards for their record sales in Holland. They also appeared on the highly rated TV-show Eén Van De Acht, hosted by Mies Bouwman, where they performed three songs from their newly released album Arrival.
You may think what you like about ABBA’s music, but on November 19 it became clear that it had been many years ago since a pop group could gather so many people together for a press conference, a pop group that is realising its song ‘Money, Money, Money’ literally at the top of the charts at the moment. Nathalie Kester was present at this press conference for Studio. On February 4, ABBA will give a one-off concert in Holland.

It’s half past five and the temperature in the Bel Air Hotel in The Hague is reaching boiling point. The commotion in the fully packed room concerns a group of four people who turn everything they lend their voices to into gold, under the name ABBA. With a beaming smile, they enter the room, get up on the small stage and keep on smiling during the speeches that are fired at them in disastrous English. They accept a load of gold and platinum records, while the smile on their faces doesn’t fade away at any moment. Someone shouts through a megaphone that the reporters in the room can now ask their questions. All hell breaks loose. The assembled reporters and photographers are throwing themselves at the small stage that threatens to collapse under this assault. Blonde Anna almost faints in the stampede and is being guided to a chair in the corner of the room by her husband Björn. Two reporters from women’s magazines throw themselves at Björn and I’m joining in the fight for Anna. At the same time, she desperately tries to sign the records that are shoved in her face, answer numerous questions and on top of that say ‘Happy New Year from ABBA’ in a microphone for someone from a hospital broadcasting.
When I ask Anna, in between the most outrageous and shameless questions (“Do you and your husband fight a lot?” – “Will your daughter be a singer as well?” (Anna’s daughter is three and a half years old) – “Is there a lot of animosity between the couples in the group?”) how they are planning to live up to their ABBA-sound live on stage, when the group goes on tour later on, she looks at me gratefully. Finally someone who asks about their music. “We will start our tour in Oslo on January 25. To reproduce the sound of our records as close as possible, we will take along a thirty-piece orchestra from Sweden. In every country, we will hire a couple of extra violin players.”
Have you been on tour before? “To be honest, we’ve only done a small tour in Scandinavia once. Now we will travel through, among other countries, Scandinavia, Holland and England to America and finish in Australia. We’re preparing ourselves as good as possible. That’s why Frida and I are now taking ballet lessons as well.”
I’m interrupted rudely by people who ask about ABBA’s tax problems and who entice Anna to make the statement that she’s very happy about the new, more right-wing government, because before that, at least 85 percent of ABBA’s income went to the country’s tax authority. For that matter, it remains to be seen whether that will change now.
Desperately trying to get back to the music, I ask Anna whether she plays an instrument herself. “I play the piano. Not that well, but it’s nice that I can read music.” On the other side, Frida is complaining that her make-up is starting to fade. But the girls keep on smiling. And then, after only half an hour, ABBA’s manager appears to remind the group forcefully, that it’s high time for television recordings. Well-behaved, they go along. After all, it’s all about ‘Money, Money, Money’.

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Joepie, 1978: Frida and Anna in revolt… “Sometimes, our men demand too much of us”

A Belgian article from 1978 about the ladies’ discontent with Björn and Benny’s demands.
It happens very often that a work meeting turns into a huge discussion with Anna. Most of the time, Anna and Frida pull together at these times, and try to resist the sometimes dictatorial decisions of their own spouses with might and main!

“You have no idea how tough Björn and Benny can get towards us where ABBA is concerned,” Anna whispered in our ear not too long ago. “At these moments, they completely forget that they are married to us and treat us like an artist that’s just starting out. For instance, in the studio things can get pretty heated. Sometimes we have to record our vocals for a particular song ten times before they are satisfied! That doesn’t even really bother Frida and me, because we know that Björn and Benny are mostly right. But we do get rebellious when they start to demand too much of us. Like recently: we had a week of holiday ahead of us, Frida and I were really over the moon about that. We would withdraw on our island to catch our breath, together with the children. But one day before our departure, our two gentlemen walked into the room, with the announcement that our holiday had been shortened with three days. The two of them had been watching footage of some kind of performance, and they had reached the conclusion that our performance – Frida’s and mine – was not completely perfect yet. That’s why they had hastily made an appointment with our dance instructor, without even consulting us. That was the last straw! Frida and I refused decisively and we called this man ourselves to postpone our appointment. I mean: sure, there are still a lot of things to improve upon. But all in due time! Just like everybody else, we need some time to get some rest and enjoy ourselves with our children. Our husbands are so committed to their job that it’s starting to turn into an obsession. Frida and I have decided to give them a wake-up call every now and then...”

Sunday 13 September 2009

Muziek Parade, May 1977: The ABBA Story

In May 1977, Dutch magazine Muziek Parade (MP) started a series of articles, covering the story of ABBA. This is part one.
ABBA has turned the world upside down. ABBA has the world under its spell. What is that magic? The group has had number one hits in all European countries, but in Australia and America as well. In the United Kingdom, the Swedish quartet has received no less than 32 gold, platinum and silver discs at a celebratory occasion, taking place at the Royal Garden Hotel. In 1976, ABBA achieved yet another magical number: 40.000.000 records found their way through the world, more than any other artist has achieved since the Beatles. What is the secret of ABBA? MP believes that ABBA is so irresistibly popular because of their fresh musicality, their openness, their honesty and inventiveness. ABBA is now. ABBA makes the world happy with a spontaneity that isn’t contrived. A sizzling presence, in every corner of the world. ABBA, four young people, like me and you. Who are they? What are their doubts, their fears, their loves, their hate, their problems and passions?

For instance, did you know that Anni-Frid (Frida) is the expelled daughter of a Norwegian girl and a German soldier. Did you know that Benny’s past is overshadowed by a secret fiancée, who had two of his children, but still didn’t marry him? Did you know that Björn is a somewhat frustrated intellectual, an underrated musician who has to fight the critics that qualify his music as being ‘plastic’ every night? Did you know that Agnetha (Anna) is ‘just’ a girl from the country who is trying to hide her shyness behind a mask of arrogance?
And then there’s the ‘fifth’ ABBA. That’s Stikkan Anderson, a former teacher who turned the Swedish show business upside down with his way of doing business, his controversial way of ‘managing’ and... his unceasing hunger for success.
MP brings you the complete story of ABBA, in separate episodes. The story of ABBA is the story of the new Beatles. A story about their problems, their secrets, their love for each other. Here is for the first time the most genuine story about their life. A look behind the scenes. A spotlight on the true ABBA. In other words: the truth about ABBA.

Agnetha (Anna)
‘Little Gerhard’ was the name of the man at the record company, who had to decide which songs would make it onto the records and who should sing them. This Gerhard was driven mad by his family. There was this group that could sing. These stories sounded familiar to Gerhard. He had heard them a thousand times before. And every time he gave the same answer: “Send me a tape. I will listen to it and give my honest opinion.” The family made the tape and Gerhard listened. He rang them and said: “I don’t think very much of it but there is one particular song with a part that’s being sung extremely well. If you work on that and sing it in the same way as on the tape, then I see possibilities.” Those parts that caught his attention happened to be the only parts that were not being sung by Gerhard’s family. This was a new girl that had joined the group: Agnetha Fältskog, a radiating blonde.
Anna was born in Jönköping, April 5, 1950. She was still very young when she performed for the first time. Her father was the initiator of several local parties and he thought that his daughter should be in the limelight. Anna will never forget that performance: “Not even if I’d live a thousand years. It was awful. In the middle of my song, my pants fell down. The audience burst into a hysterical laughter. I was six years old at the time.” Just like Benny, Anna played the accordion at an early age with her father and grandfather. Anna got her first piano when she was barely ten years old. She couldn’t be happier and it wouldn’t take long before she could play very nicely. Later on, she composed her own songs and wrote the accompanying lyrics. Those were the first contributions to her father’s revue. At the age of fifteen, she already sang with an orchestra and two years later, she made guest appearances with other groups. And this is how she found her voice on a tape with ‘Little Gerhard’. Gerhard worked at CBS-Cupol. He asked her to sing an entire tape of songs and Gerhard fell for ‘I Was So In Love’, an insignificant song about a lost love. But for Anna, it was serious, because her romance with Björn Lilja had deteriorated. The result was this song. Gerhard was impressed and asked her to come to Stockholm for a recording. Anna said goodbye to her mother and father and got on the train, ready for her big adventure. When she arrived at the studio, her heart was pounding, but the strings had barely started playing her ‘I Was So In Love’ when Anna sat down at the piano and sang like never before. “It seemed as if I was floating,” she says now. Gerhard was enthusiastic, but his boss wasn’t very excited about this girl from the country, until he heard the tapes. He summoned Anna immediately and a contract was signed.
The young girl received a monthly salary right away and they made agreements for the next three years. This had never happened before.
‘I Was So In Love’ entered the charts at number one. Anna moved to Stockholm and remembers: “That song was written because of Björn Lilja. I owe my first successes to him. We never got back together again, but we did remain friends!”

Her father had quit his job as well and devoted his time completely to his daughter’s career. For hours and hours, he sat at the piano with his apple of the eye, he helped her through difficult times. And whenever things didn’t work out with composing, they went out. That’s what he called unwinding. “I owe a lot to him,” Anna says. “I will never forget what he did for me.” From the beginning, Anna has had a determined attitude, she gave her honest opinion about the songs she wrote and about the arrangements that had been made. Whenever she was critical, she knew how to get her points across without offending anyone, or rather: she inspired.
Anna is a romantic girl and whenever she’s at the piano, she lights two candles, turns off the lights and just plays... then the good songs come automatically, like ‘Without You’ and ‘If Tears Were Gold’. Actually, it’s astonishing how a girl from the country fitted in so easily in the big city of Stockholm. She says: “I wasn’t that self-confident at all. I’m rather shy. But I don’t want to show it and the way to hide it is putting on a brave face.”
Her father wrote a successful song as well: ‘One Summer With You’. For a while, Anna was in love with a well-known German composer, Dietrich Zimmerman. They composed songs together, but things never worked out between them. At one point, Anna even made the front page of the newspapers, when she had written a song called ‘Gypsy Friend’. People thought that she spoke of gypsies in a derogatory way, but Anna managed to set the record straight. Ever since this incident, she doesn’t engage herself in songs that could give rise to confusion any longer, but restricts herself to love songs.

Björn Ulvaeus had formed a singing group. “Just for fun.” With a couple of schoolmates. But his mother thought she was witnessing the start of a musical miracle. She made up a name for the group and, without telling the boys, she signed the group up for a talent contest, to be broadcast on the radio. They didn’t win, but someone did listen to the programme, someone who saw so much potential in this group that he would launch them in a big way.
World War II was coming to an end, when Björn was born on April 25, 1945. When he was barely eleven years old, the family moved to an idyllic little town at the east coast, Västervik, which means ‘West Bay’.
Björn learned how to play the guitar and was crazy about the skiffle music that was very popular at the time. At the age of seventeen, he gathered a couple of guys together and said that he wanted to start a Dixieland band. He wanted to play here and there and save some money for his education. But Björn had no idea how to play Dixieland and automatically, the group turned into an enlarged version of the Kingston Trio. Gradually, they became more popular and got a couple of opportunities... until Mrs. Ulvaeus signed them up for this talent contest, under the name West Bay Singers. And now we get to this man who listened to the radio. He listens to the name Bengt Bernhag, the most important scout of Swedish talent. He produced records with artists that no one else wanted to work with. He made hits with them. He discovered an old trumpet player. Everyone laughed at him. But Bengt had the last laugh, because he made records that sold like hotcakes. Ah well, Bengt thought the name West Bay Singers was interesting. He involved a music publisher in the plot: Stikkan Anderson. Bengt and Stikkan asked Björn to make a demo. The group travelled to Stockholm with sweaty hands. There they were, in a real recording studio. The first thing that Stikkan did was change their name. At that time, the ‘hootenanny’ music was getting more popular and he called the group The Hootenanny Singers. The first record: ‘I’m Waiting At The Charcoal Kiln’, an old Swedish folk song. It became an instant success.

Stikkan had just founded his own record company (Polar Records) and this record of Björn with his friends was the first release on the label. They couldn’t have wished for a better start. Stikkan says: “The group looked good. Their music was excellent and I believed I could make something out of it, provided that they were guided properly.”
Student Björn had quit school and went on tour through the country. What seemed like a bit of fun, became serious. Björn thought it was wonderful, but the other members of the group didn’t think of a career in music. “They took jobs at a farm or selling cars,” Björn remembers. “I believe that the boys were actually afraid to take the plunge into the uncertain world of show business,” Björn thinks now.
He decided to take residence in Stockholm, signed up as a student in economics and law. On the one hand, Björn was anxious to get his degree, but on the other hand, he was quite taken with music. Now he had to make a choice. Although studying came very easy to Björn and he completed one preliminary examination after the other with success, he still decided to quit college and follow Stikkan and Bengt’s advice. Bengt considered Björn his son and taught him all the tricks that were needed in recording music. And Stikkan taught him the business side of making music. You could hardly imagine a better trinity. A friend says: “He learned Stikkan’s lessons very well. Björn is not only a good musician, but on a business level, he might even be better. That’s because of his education. He is able to calculate in a cool manner. You can hear his brains working.”
For the time being, Björn stayed with The Hootenanny Singers, but he understood that the group wouldn’t be his future. That’s why he already worked on a solo career, together with Bengt. At the time, he said: “I want to be world famous.” Björn didn’t have any role models that he could look up to, but he didn’t mind. “I’m going to do what no other Swede has accomplished yet,” he said. The Hootenanny Singers scored hit after hit. Not because the group was that well-balanced musically, definitely not, but because they played the right songs. “We played exactly what the audience wanted to hear,” Björn says, “but my ambitions reached much further than that.”

Anni-Frid (Frida)
Those who completely ignored the young Norwegian girl when she passed by were still the most polite people. Others called her names or spit at her. Did she do something wrong? Not exactly, all she did was fall in love with a German officer. Indeed, a soldier who was one of the occupiers during World War II and... the girl was expecting his child.
Synni Lyngstad was the name of this 19-year-old girl, in love with the much hated occupier. At least one of them. His name: Alfred Haase. He seemed so different from the others. To Synni, he was a nice guy, who was forced to do things that he hated to do. She listened to him, to his stories, to his sadness. The entire Norwegian village Narvik knew about her secret meetings and people warned her: “He may be nice, but he is a German. The war will soon be over and then he’ll forget about you.” Sadly, they were proven right. Towards the end of the occupation, young Alfred was transported back to Germany. He even promised to come back to marry Synni but he never returned. Their child was born on November 15, 1945. Her name: Anni-Frid, after Synni’s grandmother. That winter was probably the coldest that Europe has ever had to endure but the ice was warmer than the feelings of the inhabitants of Narvik towards the unmarried mother. Anni-Frid got a very nasty nickname: ‘tysk-barn’, or ‘German child’. Synni still waited two more years for Alfred. He didn’t come and during that period, Synni withered away completely. Anni-Frid was barely two and a half years old when her mother died of sorrow. Twenty-one years old.
Her grandmother fully realised that Anni-Frid was facing a very difficult childhood as a ‘German child’ and decided to gather her shabby belongings and move to Sweden. They took residence in the little village Torshälla. This is where Anni-Frid grew up.
Anni-Frid still remembers that time and in an affected tone of voice she says: “I can still sympathize with my mother. A young girl that had to endure so much difficulties. She found strength in the love for her German boyfriend. But that strength dissolved when my father didn’t return. I believe they are both victims of the war. Something must have happened, otherwise he definitely would have returned to Norway to marry my mother. I even tried to find my father but without any luck. I even believe that his ship went down on his way home. We can’t imagine now that people have been so hateful towards my mother. An awful time.”

Anni-Frid feels more like a Swede than a Norwegian. She called her grandmother ‘mama’ and felt very happy. “Mama encouraged me in everything I did. She taught me how to sing during those long, cold winters. Then we sat around the fireplace and she taught me all those Swedish and Norwegian songs.”
Anni-Frid was exactly ten years old when she performed for the first time. This took place at the local Nuts building in front of children and a couple of parents. She loved these performances so much that she took dancing lessons and later on, singing lessons as well. At a very early age, she knew that she wanted to build a career in show business and therefore, ‘mama’ and Anni-Frid moved to Eskilstuna, where Anni-Frid got the opportunity to sing with an orchestra. She was thirteen years old, actually too young. A couple of years later, she had her own orchestra – The Anni-Frid Four – that accompanied her three or four times a week. “That was a great time,” Frida remembers, “we did get paid but actually we were doing it for fun.” Around this time, Frida fell in love with the bass player of her group. His name: Ragnar Fredriksson. A very nice guy, who got along with everybody. She was sixteen years old, when her son Hans was born, followed by daughter Lise-Lotte a couple of years later. Everything seemed to work out fine with Ragnar. They went on tour and were able to leave the children with ‘mama’. Quite a relief.
Anni-Frid is eighteen years old when she enters a talent contest. She is a beauty, who makes the judges’ heads turn when she sings ‘Besame Mucho’. Obviously, she wins and it’s Ragnar who is the happiest of them all, not realising that this first big success would turn into the beginning of the end of their marriage. After this victory in Vasteras, Anni-Frid entered a competition called New Faces in Stockholm. Once again, she won the contest, with a song titled: ‘A Day Off’. And now things started to move very quickly. She got one contract after the other and she had to tour the entire country. At this time, the separation from Ragnar became reality, to whom she said: “It’s very difficult, but I feel that I have to pursue my career. You stay with the children.” And Ragnar understood. Anni-Frid said goodbye to him and to Hans and Lise-Lotte... facing a golden future on her own.
Frida moved to Stockholm, into a tiny apartment and now she remembers: “No one can imagine how lonely I was. On the outside, I was smiling but on the inside, I was shrivelling up with sadness.” But Anni-Frid made the only right decision. Her heart was in music and she knew that Ragnar could give the children the attention they deserved.
Anni-Frid rushed into her profession wholeheartedly. She made records regularly, that all sold very well. She performed with famous artists and went on tour in Japan and Venezuela. She performed on the most well-known Swedish TV show Hyland’s Corner and fought her way to the top. She has reached that top.

When someone asks Benny what kind of diplomas he has, he invariably answers: “My driving licence and swimming diplomas A, B and C. I didn’t get further than that.” He admits it openly, this jovial Swede. In school, he was no good. He couldn’t keep his mind on the lessons and only jumped up when English was being taught. He learned that language very easily. “I want to work hard and study as much as I can,” Benny says, “but only in one subject: music.” That is spoken plainly by a man, who would command the direction of a group later on and would give the Swedish pop scene new energy. His father and grandfather understood this headstrong guy, who only cared for musical instruments instead of books. They gave him a piano-accordion.
Benny was born in the vicinity of Stockholm on December 16, 1946. The above mentioned is what is known about his childhood. So it’s very understandable that he – barely fifteen - left school as quick as lightning because it didn’t interest him at all. He only wanted to play his accordion, which instrument he would soon know through and through. “It’s nice to originate from a musical family,” Benny says, “music gives life its spunk and I was fortunate that my parents understood me. I got even more instruments, a flute, a fiddle. I inherited my love for folk music from my father.”
After school, Benny did absolutely nothing for two years. He just couldn’t decide what to do. He joined a nameless group to play the piano, not because they thought he was that good, but he was good at driving and he was the only one who could transport the instruments. And he automatically added the job of being a pianist to that of being a driver. And no one had the nerve to speak up to him. Svenne Hedlund, singer with the famous group Hep Stars saw Benny playing one night and thought he was very good. “His hair was a bit short,” he says, “but he had a good feeling for show and he just played very well. And when the Hep Stars needed someone to play the organ, they asked Benny to join them. Within a couple of months, Benny’s short-haired head disappeared and he threw his ties in the waste basket. Now, he was a Hep Star. Benny enjoyed himself extremely well. This was the life he he had been craving for. No one bothering him with school books. No one ordering or criticising him. Benny enjoyed this life of travelling and he kept on smiling, even when the other Hep Stars were exhausted. And that’s how he kept up the good spirit, with his jokes. The Hep Stars were really very popular and were considered the Swedish answer to the Beatles. Money didn’t play an important part for Benny either. He only wanted to play. Sometimes he would suddenly disappear at parties. After some searching, he would eventually be found, at a piano.
“I think I’ve come up with a nice melody.” It was called: ‘No Response’ and it became a huge hit for the Hep Stars. He also wrote two other important successes for the Hep Stars: ‘Wedding’ and ‘Sunny Girl’.

Benny’s biggest problem: he can’t write music. So, he just plays around on the piano, searching for the harmonies and that’s how he comes up with the melody. When everything is finished, it’s only in his head. At that point, Benny needs someone who writes down the product of his mind.
Like we said: Benny enjoyed himself with the Hep Stars and his fondness of his colleague Svenne Hedlund turned into a friendship that you only experience once in a lifetime. They were idols in Sweden. But this fame had a dark side as well. Benny couldn’t go out anywhere without being hounded by fans. That’s why he could never devote himself to another big hobby: having a nice dinner at a restaurant. That’s why he treated himself to big American cars.
Benny found a good friend with whom he could compose songs: Lars Berhagen. And together, they composed hit after hit for the Hep Stars. This string of successes ended abruptly when Lars wanted to write ‘better songs’ and Benny thought that their repertory was good enough. Reason enough for Lars to slam his piano, put away his guitar and end the partnership.
Actually, it started to go downhill for the Hep Stars at the same time. The group founded their own company, built a house from which all activities would be initiated: Hep House, took a gamble with a couple of costly projects and the company was gone. “We were professional as musicians, but amateurs as businessmen. That destroyed us,” Benny explains. For instance, the group made a movie in Africa. Or rather, they wanted to make one. Everyone was there, but nothing was filmed. Due to the ‘British Sound’, everything had to be recorded in London. The movie was never released.
A totally different problem occurred in the summer of 1966. Benny broke off the engagement with Christina Grönvall, a beautiful woman who gave him two children: Peter and Helena. Their relationship had to remain a secret, because at the time the fans wouldn’t accept that their idol was married.
Christina was extremely mad at Benny and shared her entire marital life with a Swedish gossip magazine. “The only contact that the children had with their father was through the gramophone record,” she snapped. “He ended our relationship with a phone call.” And that’s how a lot of gossip about Benny’s life with the Hep Stars became known in the media. This period of his life has left its mark on the jovial Benny.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

Joepie, February 1978: ABBA at the British premiere of ‘The Movie’

An article from Belgian magazine Joepie about ABBA’s attendance at the London premiere of ABBA – The Movie.
Exclusively for the British premiere of the film ‘The Movie’, the four members of the Swedish group ABBA have travelled to London. Strict security measures were needed to escort Anna, Frida, Björn and Benny from their hotel to the cinema in a safe manner, because the enormous turnout exceeded even the highest expectations.
The first row of the balcony was occupied by ABBA and their guests (among them Pete Townsend from The Who with his little daughter), and right behind them a battalion of bodyguards was seated to keep the intrusive fans at a distance. After the screening of the movie, ABBA was welcomed with a deafening applause. But the obligations of the popular group didn’t end there. Afterwards, at a reception, Princess Margaret presented them with the highly acclaimed Carl Alan Award, an honour that’s being awarded on a yearly basis to artists who have made a valuable contribution to English music. Among others, the Beatles have been awarded this honour as well.
‘The Movie’, the semi-documentary movie about ABBA, has become a worldwide success. Only in Canada, the interest turned out to be average, but that’s not an even match in any way to the enormous rush it has caused in other countries.
ABBA can sleep on their eight ears: the business keep running smoothly...

Monday 7 September 2009

Weekend, August 1982: ABBA’s continued existence is not in danger, but... Anni-Frid is thinking about her future

An article from Dutch magazine Weekend about the imminent release of Frida’s solo album Something’s Going On. The poster comes from German magazine Pop Rocky and features a photograph of Frida's performance on Show Expres in Germany in September 1982. On that show, she performed I Know There's Something Going On and Baby Don't You Cry No More from her new album.
Without any doubt, ABBA is one of the most successful pop groups in the world. All four members of the Swedish group are multi-millionaires. Despite these vast amounts of money, Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Björn and Benny are not resting on their laurels, they are always busy creating new hits for the group. Now that it has been announced that both Agnetha and Anni-Frid are planning to record solo material, ABBA-fans all over the world are worried that the twosome will be leaving the group.

Especially the red-haired Anni-Frid seemed to be the cause of concern among ABBA-fans. For months on end, she worked passionately on a solo album. Most people were surprised that she didn’t get any help at all from the other ABBA-members. Could it be that they disagreed with Anni-Frid’s solo ambitions? Anni-Frid herself doesn’t see any problem at all, she thinks it’s great fun to record an album without ABBA being involved in any way. “I want to prove that I’m able to survive without them, I would love it if people would say ‘Look, that Anni-Frid is perfectly able to cope on her own’.” All songs on Anni-Frid’s album are composed by famous people from the music business. Among others: Rod Argent, Bryan Ferry and Russ Ballard.
Anni-Frid’s first solo record is called: ‘Something’s Going On’ and the title track will be released as a single in August. One month later, September that is, the album will follow. It’s all going to be very exciting for the red-haired singer. After all, you never know how something like this will be received.
Anni-Frid thinks it’s ridiculous that some people feel that her solo activities will be at the expense of ABBA. “That’s absolute nonsense. At the moment, Benny and Björn are very busy producing a live album, that’s a huge task, only the best parts of our concerts will be included. It’s the intention that this album will be released in November.”

The ABBA-members haven’t reacted yet to the activities of their Anni-Frid. Only the important man behind ABBA, Stig Anderson, was very pleased with Anni-Frid’s album and he congratulated her wholeheartedly. Obviously, Frida isn’t done with this project by just recording the songs. She’s facing a very busy time of promoting her album. For instance, she will travel to America, England, Canada, Denmark, Germany, France and Spain to record television specials and do some interviews. On October 2 and 3, she will be in Holland. In the meantime, Anni-Frid has already made several promotion films, that are most probably going to be very successful.
It is rumoured that the other ABBA-lady, blonde Agnetha, is also busy expanding her line of action. She has serious plans for a solo album as well, but due to ABBA’s busy schedule it can’t be recorded until next year. Apart from that, it’s very likely that she will star in a Swedish movie. Unfortunately, the title of the movie has to remain a secret for a while. However, these solo plans of the ABBA-ladies do mean that they won’t have to depend on their success in the group format any longer.

Agnetha (smilingly): “People mustn’t make too much of this. Look, I’ve been working together with Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid since 1970. Initially, Frida and I were some kind of backing choir for the boys. When ABBA became successful, all four of us didn't do much else than work extremely hard. It’s very refreshing to be able to do something without the group and Anni-Frid feels the same way. There’s no reason for anyone to be afraid that ABBA will stop existing in the near future.”
A true relief for all the anxious fans. But only time can tell whether ABBA will suffer from the girls’ solo careers. For the time being, we are looking forward to Anni-Frid Lyngstad’s solo album ‘Something’s Going On’ with anticipation.

Sunday 6 September 2009

Bravo, December 1981: ABBA, highlights from their super career

A recap of ABBA’s career from German magazine Bravo, published shortly before the Dick Cavett Meets ABBA TV special was broadcast on German television.
When on the evening of December 4 the most famous ABBA-songs from ‘Waterloo’ to ‘Super Trouper’ are glimmering on the German television screens for 45 minutes, Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid will be looking back on ten successful years with 100 million records sold.
In the television special, featuring music and conversation, that was taped earlier this year in April in a studio in Stockholm and presented by US talk-show host Dick Cavett, the shady side of their fairytale-like career will be discussed as well.
When they established the group ABBA in 1971, Anni-Frid and Benny and Agnetha and Björn were two happy couples, that got along privately as well.
Today, after their spectacular divorces and with new partners, they are four individuals, who are all going their own way. Although Björn and Benny are still writing ABBA’s songs together and both girls are giving the group its voice, apart from their profession they’re not connected to each other in any way.
No one could predict this state of affairs, when they met each other 15 years ago.

In 1966, Björn Ulvaeus, leader and guitarist of the Hootenanny Singers and Benny Andersson, keyboard player and songwriter of the Hep Stars, become friends after performing together in Västervik.
In 1968, the 18-year-old Agnetha Fältskog from the small town Jönköping in Stockholm scores a hit with a self-written tear-jerker. She meets Björn at a performance.
In 1969, Benny falls in love with Anni-Frid Lyngstad, a singer with a jazz band. People are accusing her of leaving her husband and two small children because of him. However, still that same year she moves in with Benny, who has experienced a failed marriage himself as well.
In 1970, the foursome appears on stage together for the first time at a restaurant in Göteborg, under the name Engaged Couples. Albeit with little success.
In 1971, Björn and Agnetha get married in an idyllic village church in Verum in the south of Sweden. 3000 fans are crowding the streets, while Benny is playing the wedding march on the church organ. A couple of months later, the four Swedes sign a contract as ABBA with Stig Anderson’s record company Polar. They experiment with their style, until they finally find it with ‘People Need Love’.
In 1973, although Agnetha is heavily pregnant, ABBA is taking part in the Swedish heats for the Eurovision Song Contest with ‘Ring Ring’. They only finish in third place.
In 1974, they have a second attempt. For months on end, Björn and Benny are tinkering at their song in a concealed house on a peninsula. Stig and Björn are going through history books to get an idea for the lyrics. The result is called ‘Waterloo’. With this song, ABBA wins the Eurovision Song Contest in the English port town Brighton. Within a matter of time, the song is in all the charts, the first album with the same title and the first tour through Europe are gathering enormous acclaim. ABBA has made it.
In 1975, 25.000 fans are coming to each one of their concerts in Australia and New Zealand. In the meantime, ABBA is delivering several hit singles and at least one top album every year.
In 1976, their technically most accomplished album ‘Arrival’ is released. Nevertheless, the critics are complaining that the feeling and the content of the songs have suffered from this.
In 1977, after six months of rehearsals, ABBA starts their first world tour with a forty-piece crew. At the end of the year, their documentary movie ‘ABBA’ has its premiere in Melbourne.
In 1978, after having lived together for nine years, Benny and Anni-Frid get married in the small church of Lidingö.
In 1979, ABBA makes a profit of 65 million German Marks. They’ve developed into Sweden’s most famous export article and own the most lucrative company of the country. They own shares in banks and factories, department stores, a music publishing company and a record company. Nevertheless, privately it’s starting to go downhill. With the divorce between Agnetha and Björn, the first dark clouds start to appear at the ABBA-sky...