Sunday 31 January 2010

Muziek Parade, July 1977: The ABBA Story, part 3

Part three of the ABBA-story from Dutch magazine Muziek Parade, 1977.
Once again, Benny and Björn were sitting together, talking about their collaboration. The piano had been closed and Björn had put his guitar aside for a while. B&B had made a couple of records together, that didn’t become hits. On stage, everything was going well. They managed to win over every audience, but still B&B felt that something was missing in their act. They talked for hours and hours, since the twosome could never talk enough about music. But this time, everything was more serious: should they continue or quit?
While B&B were sitting together like this, they actually didn’t realise that the solution was close at hand. Actually, just a couple of steps away from them. To be exact: in the other room of the apartment. Because that’s where Agnetha and Anni-Frid were.
Björn now says about that: “It was a strange situation. The girls were around us constantly. The four of us went out together, we did a lot of things together and it didn’t occur to Benny and me to ask them to join our line-up. On the other hand, it’s quite understandable, since Agnetha and Anni-Frid both had their own careers and were very successful at that. They actually didn’t need us.”
It all happened in November 1970. B&B had signed a contract to perform at the restaurant ‘Valand’ in Gothenburg. And once again it was Björn who cut the knot. He remembered the not so successful performance by Agnetha, Benny and himself. “Why,” is what Björn thought, “why wouldn’t I ask Anni-Frid to complete our line-up.” Anni-Frid – a little reserved, as always – wasn’t ecstatic about the idea, but said in a cool manner: “Let’s give it a try.”
And shortly after that, the billboards outside the restaurant read: “Tonight – performance by ‘The Engaged Couples’”. The quartet’s first name: ‘The Engaged Couples’. The performance wasn’t very successful. At the time, it was customary that groups performed while people were having dinner. Therefore, these groups had to be very persuasive to get all the attention focused on them, instead of the tasty dishes. It didn’t work out and the next day the newspapers read: “The group didn’t work and Agnetha sings off-key.”
Now, Benny says to MP: “And those critics were right. We had a bad act and... Agnetha did sing off-key.” Even today, it’s still difficult for Agnetha to sing in tune, but the problem has practically been solved. Björn noticed a couple of other problems: “We didn’t sing and play our own music. And that was completely wrong. We let ourselves get talked into doing some kind of cabaret stuff. Our act didn’t come off. When I compare that to what we are doing nowadays, I’m ashamed of that November performance.”

That first – bad – performance didn’t break up the quartet. On the contrary. The group got together to find out exactly what should be improved. Since Björn thought that ‘everything’ could be improved, every suggestion was taken seriously. It was decided to not perform together again for the time being, but instead work on their repertory and their voices separately. Agnetha started composing again and she came up with ‘If Tears Were Gold’, recorded it and it became a giant hit. Agnetha also did some guest appearances as Mary Magdalene in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. Later on, she recorded another single: ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ and went on tour through the country. Anni-Frid joined a theatre company and performed constantly at a theatre in Stockholm. Björn re-joined the Hootenanny Singers. Benny started playing with the Hep Stars again.
In November 1971, the foursome tried out another act. Again, in Gothenburg and this time the reception was clearly more positive. One newspaper wrote: “There’s a lot of tempo in the show. Musically, it’s all solid and the lyrics are excellent at times. Keep on going.”
But critical Björn said: “I’m far from being satisfied. Okay, it’s better than last year, but I’m not planning to go on the road like this, let alone into the studio.”
Björn and Agnetha did record a song together, titled: ‘This Is The Way Love Starts’. Agnetha was under contract with CBS-Cupol and Björn actually joined her as a guest. But Stig Anderson objected to the record’s release. He was allowed to. Björn had a contract with him.
Agnetha had a record deal with CBS for a long period of time and this has also slowed down the collaboration between the four of them. Up till January 1, 1976, Stig had to hand over royalties to CBS, simply due to the fact that Agnetha was still under contract there. So the three other ABBA-members were slaving away for a record company that they didn’t have anything to do with. But Stig had decided to go ahead with it, to keep the quartet together. He saw a big future for the foursome and he was prepared to pay a lot of money for that. On May 19, Stig Anderson said to MP (while being in Holland for a big international business meeting): “I’ve made a vow to the boys. I said to them that I could make an international breakthrough happen for them, as artists, but as composers as well. I said, sing and write in English and I will turn you into stars. Stars that will be known all over the world.” That’s not a small promise and as we know now: he kept his word. In the music business, it’s usually out of the question that a threesome can actually achieve something worthwhile. There are always quarrels, there are always discussions, that lead to nothing. Stig Anderson says to MP: “Generally, it’s true that a threesome can’t achieve something positive that lasts. But in our case, it’s a different matter: Benny is a pop guy, with a lot of experience. Björn writes and sings good songs, that are easily accessible. A good example is the Hootenanny Singers’ album ‘Sweden’s Most Beautiful Songs’, and I can write a decent lyric myself. Furthermore, I’m some kind of father figure. They can rely on me.”
Bengt Bernhag’s tragic death actually paved the way to a more intense collaboration with Stig. He gave B&B all kinds of opportunities to produce other artists, within Polar Records. On top of that, Björn became some kind of talent scout.
Due to Björn’s dissatisfaction with their second performance as a quartet, and due to them producing other Polar artists, the thought of forming a group with the four of them had faded into the background. But then the historical mile-stone occurs. B&B meet a very gifted technician at the Metronome Studio in Stockholm. His name: Michael Tretow. A very young guy, who would later invent the ABBA-sound. He always listened to the tapes that were sent in by young talents. He encouraged young people. In short, the kind of man who is crazy about music, just like B&B. Therefore, it’s not strange that Michael met B&B regularly at the studio. B&B practically slept in the studio, they spent that many hours there. B&B experimented a lot with the tapes in the studio and had a lot of discussions with Michael. Tretow was also the technician that worked on the album ‘Lycka’ (‘Happiness’) that B&B recorded together.

At one night, Michael asked B&B to let the girls come in to do some backing vocals on B&B’s recordings. Stig Anderson remembers very well: “The girls only came over to help their boyfriends out. There was no ulterior motive.” Anni-Frid and Agnetha sang their parts and left the mixing to the boys. Michael played the tape to Stig. He almost fainted with astonishment. B&B were called in. “I can’t credit this record to B&B,” Stig said, “it’s the girls who make the record work. They should be credited on the label as well.”
B&B were stupefied and didn’t share Stig’s opinion. Björn now says to MP: “Benny had left the Hep Stars and I would say goodbye to the Hootenanny Singers as well, because we wanted to introduce ourselves as Benny & Björn. When the tapes were played and Stig said that all four names should be on the label, I shouted that that was impossible.” And furthermore: “You can’t call a group Björn – Benny – Agnetha & Anni-Frid, that’s far too long. People don’t have time for that.” Then Stig explained that the foursome hadn’t been successful on stage and that it would probably take months before they would get any recognition from the public. “Release this record, let the audience get acquainted with you, not as a stage act, but as recording artists. Let the audience have their say whether there’s a future for you as a quartet.”
That first record was indeed released. Its title was ‘People Need Love’/‘Merry Go Round’ by Björn – Benny – Agnetha – Anni-Frid. The record made the number two spot on the Swedish charts and was at least equally successful in the other Scandinavian countries. Benny and Björn recorded another song together, called ‘She’s My Kind Of Girl’. It became a hit, but only in Japan.
They would stay together as recording artists. They didn’t think about performing yet. B&B went into the studio again. Agnetha and Anni-Frid toured through the country. All four of them now knew: we are going to make it. The formula is there. Now the execution.

International breakthrough
ABBA received the passport to international acclaim when they entered the Eurovision Song Contest. 1974 would be the year of the truth. Slowly but surely, their fear of failure had drained away and it was replaced by a big confidence. Confidence in their singing qualities. Confidence in their composing talents. With Stig Anderson as some kind of ‘umbrella’. Topped off with Michael Tretow as the ingenious technician. It just couldn’t fail. But we are not in Brighton yet.
The new single ‘Ring Ring’ was launched in 1973. A simple title, simple straightforward music. And all of this at the occasion of the Swedish heat for the Eurovision Song Contest... but... it all had to take place in Stockholm in February and Agnetha was pregnant. Agnetha was rather confident when she said: “My baby will wait until the party is over and... we have won.” Well, ‘Ring Ring’ received an ovation. The audience was ecstatic, but... it didn’t win. The judging panel had something against ABBA and Stig Anderson and gave them low marks, that put ABBA in third place. To great discontent of the audience, and ABBA as well. Behind the scenes, there was a lot of complaining and grumbling going on and words like ‘fraud’ and ‘it is a put-up job’ were flying round. But again, it was Stig Anderson who calmed everyone down like some kind of father. “Let them talk,” he said, “we were the best and the sales figures will prove that.” It’s getting annoying, but Stig was proven right. ‘Ring Ring’ reached number one in Sweden and the album of the same name achieved wonderful sales figures... all over Europe. There you go, the breakthrough was achieved.
These sales figures swiftly took away the disappointment. ABBA toured through Europe and Stig made all the arrangements for the Eurovision Song Contest 1974. He overwhelmed the international media, made sure that ABBA-records were released all over the world and urged B&B to come up with a cracker of a song for 1974, to make sure that they wouldn’t fail again.
Four days after the national final in Sweden, Agnetha and Björn’s daughter was born in a Stockholm hospital. Her name: Linda.
Linda already had her first encounter with the press after four days. She was happily snoozing in the arms of Agnetha while Björn was sitting there as proud as Lucifer. The photographers were wearing masks and white aprons, to prevent the baby from catching an infection.
Agnetha: “The birth of Linda is a highlight in my life. All of the success that we were going to achieve with ABBA would pale into insignificance to my experiences with Linda. I was extremely proud that I did it. I will never become a great mum when it comes to cleaning and things like that, but I want to live for Linda, I would do anything for her.”

After ‘Ring Ring’ came a new single, titled ‘Love Ain’t Easy’ and again there was no ABBA on the label, but Björn – Benny – Agnetha & Anni-Frid. Stig Anderson says to MP: “I believe that I had proven to be on the right path with the four of them. And I had kept my promise. But those four names were starting to become a problem. It was far too long and this had to be fixed.” When Stig talked or wrote about the four of them at Polar Records, he always said and wrote A-B-B-A. The initials of the four of them.
Later on, they decided to name the group ABBA, because it had a nice ring to it, because those letters referred directly to the persons involved and... because it still read the same when it was put backwards. A simple solution. The newspaper Idningen in Gothenburg had wanted to help them to come up with a name and this brought about suggestions like Flower Power, Black Devils, Golden Diamonds and BABA. But they didn’t need them anymore. Generally, the name ABBA was immediately adapted and used by the DJ’s. Still, there was some fuss about that name. Sweden happens to have a herring factory. An enormous company that has the same name. This could cause some problems. That’s why Stig hurried to the herring boys, who luckily didn’t have any objections. From that day on, every new ABBA-record was automatically sent to the 1500 employees of the company. As some kind of appreciation. On the other hand, those herring people must be very happy as well, because every time the name ABBA is mentioned in the media, they get free advertising for their products too.
Anders Elstrom is the manager of the herring factory. He says: “In the beginning, people thought that we had financial interests in this musical group. That’s obviously not true. We are happy to be associated by name with these fresh, young people, who are so full of ideas.” The company’s employees manager Per Brolund adds: “It’s never hard for us to find new employees. In the beginning, people think that they are dealing with ABBA. By the time that they notice that that is not the case, they have become accustomed to the pleasant atmosphere in our company and they want to stay.”
Manager Elstrom still remains cautious: “There is one danger attached to that name. If ABBA ever decides to involve themselves in crazy things that will discredit the name ABBA, we will bear the negative consequences as well.” But it will never come to that. Benny – Björn – Agnetha – Anni-Frid and... Stig will make sure of that.

Sunday 24 January 2010

De Telegraaf, December 1977: A son for ABBA-couple

Announcement of the birth of Agnetha and Björn’s second child from a Dutch newspaper. That last remark about ‘The Name Of The Game’ reaching number one all over Europe, except in Holland, is rather odd. As far as I know, it only reached the top spot in the UK.
Agnetha Fältskog, the 27-year-old singer from the Swedish pop group ABBA, has given birth to a son yesterday. Mother and son are doing really well. It’s the second child of Agnetha and her husband Björn, co-founder of the group.
The movie about ABBA will have its world premiere in our country next Saturday. As of December 22, the movie will be shown in 17 theatres.
The Swedish pop group’s latest single – ‘The Name Of The Game’ – has not been able to reach the number one spot in Holland. With that, our country was an exception: in the rest of Europe, ABBA did it again.

Hitkrant, May 1981: ABBA doesn’t have time for the sun

Did you plan your holiday yet? You probably did, because summer is approaching with rapid strides. You start to wonder about the holiday plans of several artists. Take ABBA, for example: like we reported earlier, the Swedish quartet has rejected the three songs that had already been recorded, out of which the single would be chosen. This meant for Björn and Benny: back to the writing table and piano to compose new songs, and for the whole quartet: back into the studio. Is there any time left to relax and enjoy the sun?

We gave Stockholm a call to inquire about ABBA’s plans and Björn reported that there will indeed be little time for any holiday. There’s work to be done, because the single is now long overdue.

“Up till June, we will definitely be busy in our studio here at St. Eriksgatan, to seek out a new single. If everything goes according to plan, it will be released at the end of July.”
What about the three rejected songs, what will happen to those? “Well, they have not been rejected in the sense that we won’t use them at all. All three of them will be included on the album that’s due to be released towards the end of the year. According to our and Stig’s opinion however, there just wasn’t a suitable single among these songs.”
And the holiday? There’s laughter on the other side of the line: “We aren’t even thinking about that! For the time being, we are far too busy with recording.”

Alright, in case there will be time for a couple of days off, where will Benny, Björn, Frida and Agnetha go? “It’s almost certain that we will stay in Sweden, on our island or on our boats. We love the Swedish summers so much, that we don’t think it’s necessary to go abroad. We go there enough on our promotional trips and tours.”
But didn’t we hear that Björn spent his holiday on Hawaii last year? Laughter again. “Holiday? Working very hard, you mean! I literally ran my legs off, because I entered an international cross-country run, with hundreds of competitors from all kinds of countries.”
We ask him about the result of that competition, but Björn is a little hesitant about that. “Let’s just say that I definitely didn’t finish last. But I certainly didn’t finish first either!” We understand: you can’t be the best at everything.

Saturday 23 January 2010

De Telegraaf, November 1997: After ABBA, still no Waterloo – Agnetha Fältskog on the eve of a new era

This article appeared in one of Holland’s biggest newspapers, around the time that Agnetha’s book ‘As I Am’ was published.
In Sweden, she is compared, to her annoyance, to the legendary movie star Greta Garbo. It is one of the many misconceptions that ABBA-singer Agnetha Fältskog wants to rectify in her memoirs ‘As I Am: ABBA Before & Beyond’.

At ABBA’s peak (the end of the seventies, the beginning of the eighties), people tended to chuckle about the pop group. But in the meantime, the four band members have developed into a genuine cult. Especially the blonde singer Agnetha is the centre of the ABBA-revival. Not only their middle of the road music, of which no less than 250 million records have been sold, is completely back in the picture. Also their satin disco costumes, decorated with shiny sequins, their platform boots, the fake animal prints, the gypsy skirts, the wide slacks, the tight slipovers and catsuits and the fake furs are totally hip again. At least, Agnetha has a good sense of timing.

The rumour that she would have been sown into the tight blue satin costume, that she wore during the performance of ‘Waterloo’ with ABBA, which gave Sweden the victory at the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton in 1974, is strongly denied in her book. It’s one of the deceptions that she wants to rectify, together with her friend and journalist Brita Åhman in ‘As I Am’, that has just been published by Virgin Publishing. But in that respect, the memoirs of the singer are disappointing. Ultimately, Agnetha doesn’t want to share a whole lot and Brita is overly cautious in this 160 page picture book.
The blonde has had many doubts whether she even wanted to participate. “How far do I want to go? How honest shall I be?” she’s asking herself. “I’m well aware of the fact that your words can be misinterpreted. But I’m tired of the image that has been attached to me through the years. The title ‘As I Am’, which comes from one of my early solo albums, can be explained in two ways. You might think that I’m going to reveal everything, but I’m a rather reserved type of person. On the other hand, I’m showing a glimpse of my reality, of my thoughts.”

And that’s how we find out that Agnetha (47) is definitely not as difficult as she is often described. “She has both feet planted firmly on the ground, and she is absolutely not a tragic person. She is a perfectionist and on top of that, very professional. But in the end, she couldn’t cope with the long working days, the world tours, the long separations from her children,” Brita thinks. “That was the source of the conflict. It made people uneasy and they tagged her with the label ‘difficult’. There was just a lot of jealousy.” And Agnetha herself: “If we had slowed down a bit, we could have lasted for years to come.”
Because one thing is certain, Agnetha loves to sing. She grows up in a loving family with her younger sister Mona. At the age of five, little Agnetha crawls behind a piano, finds her own melody and sings the legendary words ‘Two Small Trolls’. The next two years, she has to turn to the neighbour upstairs to make music, but at the age of seven she gets her own piano and piano lessons. Around the time when she turns fourteen, her piano teacher thinks she has nothing left to teach Agnetha. Meanwhile, she has formed the girl group The Cambers together with two girlfriends, with whom she performs. Her biggest idol is Connie Francis. At the age of fifteen, she is taking her final exam and starts working as a telephonist at a car dealer.
“I have endured the combination of working and performing for a couple of years. I was busy because I was composing my own songs as well. Until one day, I heard that a band was looking for a singer,” Agnetha says about that time.
Against her parents’ wishes, she quits her job and commits herself to music fulltime. Eventually, a lost love is the basis of her breakthrough. While being sad, she writes ‘Jag Var Så Kär’ or ‘I Was So In Love’, which gives her national fame. Soon, she becomes one of the most popular singers in Sweden. Agnetha has the fondest memories of this period.
“He had a charming voice and was an artist, just like me,” the singer says about her encounter with Björn Ulvaeus. She doesn’t want to share very much else about him, although she rapidly marries Björn, and divorces him eight years later. But between the lines, you can read that the divorce has been everything but friendly. Björn introduces Benny and Anni-Frid into her life. At first, they perform together under the name Festfolket, which means something like the Partyhoppers, but the acronym of their joint initials first appears on the album ‘Waterloo’: ABBA is born and thereby the biggest export article that Sweden has ever known, after Volvo. The ABBA-fever strikes from Russia to Japan, from Australia to America.
It’s the start of an insanely busy period that Agnetha, meanwhile the mother of daughter Linda (now 24) and son Christian (now 20), not always agrees with. “Either way, I prefer working in the studio to performing on stage. I can work in silence there,” Agnetha says. “My strength is not showing myself, but my talent.”

Agnetha contradicts the rumour that the dark-haired and blonde singers can’t stand each other. “Pure nonsense. We really wouldn’t have been able to perform together for ten years, if that had been true. We always supported each other on stage. If one of us wasn’t in the mood, the other took over. But I have to admit that there was some kind of competition between us. That was something positive. We both wanted the attention of the audience and that gave an extra kick to the concerts,” according to Agnetha, whose behind was proclaimed ‘the sexiest bottom in pop music’ in Australia, again to her annoyance. It doesn’t stop her from regularly turning her back to the delighted audience.
The two singers have totally different personalities. Frida, still childless, loves to go out, while Agnetha rushes to her hotel room to call home. She thinks parties are a waste of time. “Afterwards, I always ask myself what use it has been. All those heartfelt compliments only make me feel empty.”
Her mother’s heart is put to the test constantly, but she doesn’t take the blame for ABBA’s break-up. “We had a silent agreement that we would quit when it wasn’t fun anymore. In 1983, that time had come. For that matter, it was a very emotional year. I got my first movie part, recorded a solo album again, did a promotional tour abroad and I started my own production company.”
It was also the year of her bus accident. After that accident – the singer is scared of flying after a near plane crash and travels by bus since then – the media write, among other things, that she has had a miscarriage. All of it is pure nonsense. Either way, she already thinks that the media aren’t very friendly to her and are asking silly questions, such as ‘What did you have for breakfast’ and ‘Do you have pets?’. They very rarely ask her about her music. Together with her children, she decides to retreat into loneliness on her own island in the vicinity of Stockholm where she takes long, solitary walks. This gives Agnetha the nickname of the new Greta Garbo.
For ten long years, the singer isn’t able to listen to music at all, let alone her own music. She prefers the silence. In a short period of time, both her parents die, she gets married and gets divorced a second time. But now, Agnetha is on the verge of a different era. She is ready to take on new challenges. She has started composing again. Where the blonde, blue-eyed singer is concerned, there’s not a personal ‘Waterloo’ in store for her.

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Joepie, 1979: Despite the nerve-racking pace of the tour… ABBA rehearses for every show!

Rehearsal pictures of the 1979 tour, as published in Belgian magazine Joepie.
You may think that a group like ABBA only works in the evenings during a world tour, and that they are sitting around, doing nothing, at the hotel during the day. But then you are reckoning without your host. Being the perfectionists that they are, the four of them persist in having a soundcheck in the afternoon at the venue where they have to perform in the evening. Our photographer sneaked in the Vorst venue a couple of hours before showtime and made several exclusive pictures of the rehearsing ABBA-members.
“A soundcheck like this is really necessary,” Frida told us in between the proceedings. “Every venue is different, you have to adapt to that. Rushing into some unknown adventure, no, that’s not for us. No matter how tired we are, the soundcheck takes precedence. The things that we do? We sing several songs from our set list, then we discuss the results with the technicians and if needed, we change certain things. Making up a set list for the show, that’s part of the job as well. Because in one country, this record has been a huge hit, in another country, it’s that record. We always try to keep the soundcheck as short as possible, so that we can have some rest at the hotel, but most of the time, things get out of hand and we hastily eat a couple of sandwiches in the hall. A sacrifice? Actually, no, as weird as that may sound, we have a lot of fun during the soundcheck. Just like it’s the case with many other things, the preparation is almost equally pleasant as the job itself...”
Frida doesn’t have more time to talk, because duty calls. And while she is dancing and singing together with her friends in front of the empty chairs, we think to ourselves that it’s not a coincidence that ABBA has become such a major group...

Tuesday 19 January 2010

Hitkrant, May 1979: Will ABBA be cut in half? – Success is contradicting the rumours

In 1979, it was rumoured in several magazines that Björn and Benny would withdraw from the limelight and Agnetha and Frida would continue as a duo.
Alarming stories in the Swedish media: allegedly, ABBA will be cut in half! At the end of this year, when the upcoming tour is completed, Björn and Benny would retire from the limelight permanently, after which Anni-Frid and Agnetha would continue as a duo. Manager Stig Anderson is silent as the grave when it comes to these rumours and although that’s mostly a bad sign, we can hardly imagine that it’s true, especially when we take a look at the overwhelming success of the new album ‘Voulez-Vous’ and the single ‘Does Your Mother Know’!

The icing on the cake of this success was achieved in England; over there, ‘Voulez-Vous’ entered the album charts at number one, the result of 400.000 albums sold in only one week! In Holland, it’s the same story and America has definitely fallen for ABBA as well: ‘Does Your Mother Know’ is rocketing up the charts over there.

And that’s only a small part of ABBA’s international success: the feature film ‘ABBA – The Movie’ is being released in both the US and South America and last week, ABBA travelled to Madrid, where two television shows will be recorded.
The first show, ‘Three Thousand Millions’, will be broadcast all over Mid and South America on June 3. The other show, ‘Applause’, will only be aired in Spain. In both specials, ABBA will obviously perform their Unicef-success ‘Chiquitita’, but... in Spanish!

And then of course, there’s the world tour. It has now been announced that ABBA will start this monster music tour on September 15 in Vancouver, Canada. After that, 17 concerts will be performed in Canada and the States, after which they will travel to Europe where they will perform 20 more concerts in Sweden, Denmark, France, Holland (October 24 in Rotterdam, remember!), Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, the UK, Scotland and Ireland. There are negotiations with the Swedish broadcasting company to record a special during that world tour; the special would be called ‘ABBA International’ and it’s supposed to be broadcast in the beginning of 1980.

Alright. With all these plans to look forward to and keeping the album and single successes in mind, it seems a bold statement to us that ABBA will fall apart. But we are keeping something else in mind as well: the old saying ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’. We will keep you posted.

Monday 18 January 2010

ABBA Info, March 1985: Agnetha interview – Eyes Of A Woman

A 1985 interview with Agnetha about her then recent ‘Eyes Of A Woman’ album, taken from a Dutch fan magazine.
Is there something special that marks the difference between ‘Eyes Of A Woman’ and your previous album ‘Wrap Your Arms Around Me’?
Agnetha: “Actually, I never compare an album with my previous albums or albums by other artists. I think every album is a product that stands on its own.”
What made you decide to choose Eric Stewart as your producer?
Agnetha: “In my days with ABBA, I’ve met Eric Stewart and 10CC a couple of times. Thomas Johansson of EMA-Telstar gave me the idea to work with Eric. I thought it was a good idea and started listening to all 10CC albums. Choosing a producer is a difficult decision. You never know if you will get along and if you will understand each other when you finally meet. Thankfully, everything turned out for the best with us. Eric is a calm and pleasant person to work with.”
Not many people are aware of the fact that you used to write a lot of songs yourself. Why didn’t you write more this time?
Agnetha: “I don’t compose very much these days. I try to write one or two songs for every album. Composing is very difficult, it takes a lot of energy and patience and I’m getting ever more critical. And I don’t have much time.”
How did you and Eric choose the songs for the album?
Agnetha: “We’ve listened to about 400 songs by different composers. Eric did the same thing and the songs that we both liked best eventually made it onto the album.”
Except for that and the singing, did you work on the album in other areas?
Agnetha: “I’ve been involved in every aspect of the album, from start to finish. That way, I get a better overview of the project, I like that better.”
Did you have other musical advisors, apart from Eric?
Agnetha: “There were four people who made the decisions. Namely Paris Edvinson, the engineer, who is behind a lot of ideas and Rutger Gunnarson who has made all the arrangements. A lot of work was done in the studio with the English musicians that Eric had picked for this album.”
Most songs on ‘Eyes Of A Woman’ have lyrics about love.
Agnetha: “Yes, that’s just a coincidence. Most composers write about love. Perhaps it’s because we all have so many emotions bottled up inside and when you get the opportunity to write a lyric, these feelings may come out and you get sentimental and emotional.”

Which song do you like best?
Agnetha: “Eric’s ballad ‘I Won’t Be Leaving You’ is one of my favourites.”
Why did you choose ‘I Won’t Let You Go’ as a single?
Agnetha: “We played different songs to several people. The majority thought that my song was most suitable. Initially, we were thinking about releasing ‘One Way Love’ but the majority of votes went to my song, so ‘I Won’t Let You Go’ it was.”
Without a doubt, the album will be compared to Frida’s album. Do you think there are similarities?
Agnetha: “No, not all songs on Frida’s album are songs that I would have picked myself.”
Are you going to do promotional tours?
Agnetha: “Only short ones. We start off in Norway and Germany, and after that Belgium. In May, I will be in Montreux and before that I will be doing a show that will be broadcast from Oslo, among others in the USA.”
Would you like to perform live again?
Agnetha: “It’s not out of the question. Perhaps something like a show in Stockholm for a short period of time. It’s rather difficult because I’m more of a recording artist than a live artist. But I do like to be on stage.”
What do you think about ABBA’s future?
Agnetha: “Together, we’ve been through a lot of good times, but bad times as well. I don’t want to put a definitive end to that period, but I don’t want to start all over again either. Those years were exhausting with a lot of travelling and a bad conscience about the children. It was marvellous to be able to experience that kind of success. It’s probably impossible for all four of us to have that kind of success on our own. At least, I don’t count on it. ABBA was a phenomenon. I can imagine that we will record an album together at some point in the future, but I don’t want all the fuss surrounding it, those days are gone.”
What are your good and bad qualities?
Agnetha: “I have both feet planted firmly on the ground, I’m very persistent. I like to go my own way. I’m not very impatient when it’s important to stay calm and I don’t like to tinker at futilities.”
What will you be doing in 1985?
Agnetha: “In the summer, I’m having some time off and in the autumn, Christian will be starting school. Then I’ll be home.”

Hitkrant, 1984: Chess album review / Nobody’s Side single review

Various artists/‘Chess’/RCA 70500(2)
Together with lyric writer Tim Rice (among others Evita), ABBA’s Björn and Benny spent two and a half years working on their musical dream: the musical ‘Chess’. It’s plain to hear, because on the album (better than the live performance that I saw), everything comes across perfectly. However, the music on this album needs to grow. It’s a record that you really have to absorb a couple of times before you learn to appreciate it. After a few listens, you really get convinced that the gentlemen have done it again: melodies that will last, beautiful orchestrations and excellent performances, especially by singer Elaine Paige.
However, I have one side note: it’s a pity that Björn and Benny have sacrificed their own style to some extent to make this musical. Lyric writer Tim Rice definitely deserves a compliment. ‘Chess’ is the story of a political and romantic game of chess. An excellent subject for a musical. For the many ABBA-fans, this gigantic piece of work will definitely be hard to swallow, but you’d better grin and bear it, because ‘Chess’ contains exquisite pieces of music.

Elaine Paige/‘Nobody’s Side’/RCA PB-68241
Full of inspiration, the tiny Elaine Paige (provided with a big voice) sings this song from the musical Chess, backed by a ‘pop’ choir. This song, composed by ABBA’s Björn and Benny, is still fairly accessible and therefore it could very well become a hit.

Sunday 17 January 2010

Pop Foto, 1975: Without Agnetha, no success for ABBA?

The ABBA-fans have been worried for a while when it was reported that the group was on the verge of breaking up. What was this all about? Pop Foto made some inquiries into the matter and found out the truth...

Indeed, it didn’t take much more or all of pop-lovin’ Europe would have had to face the future without the trend-leading offerings of the usually so joyous Swedish group ABBA. That’s something we don’t even want to think about. The reason for the impending break-up between the two singing couples Anni-Frid and Benny Andersson and Agnetha and Björn Ulvaeus was... Agnetha’s looks. Here and there, people had started whispering lately that ABBA would only be successful thanks to the attractive blonde singer of the group. No one knew where these talks came from and that’s how it happened that Anni-Frid and Benny thought that Agnetha had got it into her pretty little head that she was the main attraction of ABBA.

During a normal little argument, the bubble burst and the result was that Agnetha decided to leave the group immediately, despite the fact that Björn tried to change her mind. It didn’t help. “Alright,” her husband then said, “if you quit, then I’m not doing it anymore either.” And that’s how the break-up became a reality. Thankfully, the foursome thought things over after the emotions had calmed down. “Actually, this can’t be,” the Ulvaeus household mused, “there has to be a mistake.”

The other half puzzled their heads off. “This is completely unlike Agnetha, she isn’t arrogant at all.” As expected with good friends, an appointment was made to talk about the matter and that’s how ABBA found themselves in a cosy bar on a sunny afternoon in July, grumpily staring at each other, because no one actually knew how to start the conversation. All of a sudden, Anni-Frid started laughing uncontrollably and gave Agnetha a spontaneous kiss. “I’m sorry,” she said honestly, “maybe I’ve been a little stressed which caused such a stupid thought to enter my mind.” Obviously, the ice was now broken and ABBA was saved. The boys sighed with relief and cheerfully started talking about new compositions.

That’s how the fairytale of a group, wherein everyone is equally important, can go on without interruption, a fairytale that started with a modest international success for their single ‘Ring Ring’. That’s what the ABBA-members have agreed upon, after their conversation. Even if a lot of men will turn their heads whenever Agnetha walks by...

Hitkrant, January 1981: ABBA is thinking things over

A little over six years ago, the up till then completely unknown Swedish group ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest with the song ‘Waterloo’. And a couple of weeks later, that song was at the top of all European charts. By 1978, ABBA had already sold fifty million records, whereby the Beatles were defeated. By now, more than hundred million records have been sold, which makes ABBA the wealthiest pop group in the world.
ABBA is also Sweden’s most important export article and the ABBA enterprises are the richest of the country. Under the inspiring leadership of manager Stig Anderson, ABBA has founded, or even taken over, a couple of companies. That’s how Polar Music is taking care of the group’s recording and publishing rights. In the meantime, Polar has become Sweden’s biggest record company. Pol Oil has been founded for the investments in oil. Invest-Finans is an ABBA company that’s manufacturing big agricultural machines.
Furthermore, the group owns the biggest art gallery in Europe and a big bicycle factory. In London, New York and Los Angeles, ABBA has set up record producing units. For an outsider, it’s hard to grasp ABBA’s turnover.
Obviously the pressure is on for Benny and Björn, who have to produce new songs. But Agnetha and Anni-Frid are under high pressure as well, always having to succeed. In Stockholm, the singers are talking openly about the tensions, the successes and the future of ABBA.

Just like you would expect from the Scandinavian countries, Stockholm is indeed covered by a heavy snowfall. The traffic is sluggishly finding its way, but everything is fine in the ultra modern interior of the Polar Music office. About 30 people are working in this building. The walls are covered with gold and platinum records. At 60, I give up counting.

Agnetha and Anni-Frid are in a great mood, perhaps thanks to the conversation with Stig Anderson that preceded our conversation. Because the ABBA-singers are keeping a close watch on the proceedings. “Even before ABBA became really big, we already had plans to do something useful with the money,” Stig explains, who sticks around for a while. “The plan was very simple: for the first time in the history of pop music, we wanted to get all activities under one umbrella. We are writing our own songs, we publish them ourselves, we press them ourselves, we do our own promotion, we have our own record company and we are the artists. For the first time, we have one hundred percent of what we can get!” The entire record industry is being controlled from Stockholm.
“At an early stage, we have decided to stay in Sweden,” Anni-Frid says. “As soon as we had made that decision, we had to make a plan to keep as much money as possible. If we take money from ABBA ourselves, we pay 85 percent taxes. That’s why all the money is invested and we just get a salary. Now we are the biggest company in Sweden, and that’s a nice result as well.”

But that big business is not plain sailing all the time. ABBA has also encountered a lot of problems; becoming a supergroup is hard, but remaining one is practically impossible! “The tensions are often very high,” Agnetha says, who saw her marriage to Björn come to an end two years ago. “There had already been huge difficulties between us for some time,” the blonde singer continues. “In the end, the children started to suffer from it and the group as well. We even went to a psychiatrist to talk about our problems. Eventually, we thought it was best to go our separate ways.”
“Of course, this caused huge problems, because Björn had to keep on writing hits and we had to keep working together. I can say now that I’ve had a deep crisis. I didn’t see any future for the group and would liked to have quit. Now, I’m very motivated because working actually helps me overcome my problems.”
Indeed, it’s clear that Agnetha is having big plans, because in the meantime she has recorded a Swedish solo album. Also, she has been asked to compose Sweden’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest. Will she start a solo career after all? Agnetha, smiling: “Not at all, but I’ve recorded a Christmas album with my daughter Linda. Due to a mistake, the record couldn’t be in the shops in time. That’s why the whole project has been postponed to this year.”

Something that annoys both singers a great deal are the persistent stories, claiming that they don’t get along. Frida says, while slightly raising her voice: “People just don’t want to believe that Anna and I are really good friends. I have tried to help her as much as possible during the past years.”
“Anna was there for me as well four years ago. I was suffering from a depression. I was tired all the time and had a bad temper. I had just turned thirty, had problems with the children and couldn’t cope with the ABBA-activities. Things like that happen. It’s clear that all four of us are very good friends, since we are still together.”
The ladies do admit that the tours are getting a bit too much for them. After all, they both have their families. “It’s getting ever more difficult to go on long tours,” Anna says. “The boys don’t think it’s that bad, because they love to perform. It gives them new inspiration. But as far as we are concerned, we’ve had our fun. After all, it’s not a piece of cake to jump around on stage when you are having your period.”

Agnetha Fältskog, as she is now called again, does admit that her life isn’t very easy at the moment. The threat that her children would be kidnapped, has added to the tensions considerably. “At the moment, there is no other man in my life,” Anna says, “but I only have to go out to dinner with someone and the entire world media are on top of it! This doesn’t make things very easy for me at the moment. My whole life has changed completely now that I’m on my own. I’ve had to deal with that shock before I could continue with new fervour.”
There seems to be no doubt about the fact that ABBA is thinking things over. The company is the most successful in pop history. But a new tour seems to be out of the question and the ladies would like to take things easier. And for the rest, everything depends on Björn and Benny, because they have to come up with a new ABBA album.
“The boys don’t have time for anything, this caused a lot of problems at home as well,” Frida says while we are almost back in the snow. That’s why the two BB’s leave the talking to the two AA’s. After all, you cannot say A without saying B.

Monday 11 January 2010

Bravo, July 1975: ABBA is too saucy for television – Both ABBA-girls cause a commotion

On May 24, 1975, ABBA appeared on German television show Disco 75 to promote their then current I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do single. Apparently, Agnetha and Frida weren’t allowed to wear the short cat dresses, as they were considered too sexy by the show’s directors. Today, it’s hard to imagine what the fuss was about since several female artists hardly have any clothes on these days.
Dressed in leather boots up to their knees, in ultra short mini skirts with side slits – that’s how you are able to see Anna and Anni-Frid from ABBA only in Bravo. This photograph was taken shortly before ABBA’s latest performance on Ilja Richter’s Disco 75. On that show, both Swedish girls wanted to show themselves dressed in these saucy outfits as well – but they weren’t allowed. The directors of the show decided at the dress rehearsal: “They are showing too much leg, and when they dance you can even see their knickers. We can’t show that...”
With clever foresight, Anna and Anni-Frid had brought along long versions of their cute dresses with embroidered wild cats, that they put on for their television performance. Benny said: “This has never happened to us in Sweden. After all, part of our show is that the girls look sexy. But in the future, we will have to come to Germany with slightly more buttoned-up clothes.”

The evening after the Disco recording, it was demonstrated how popular ABBA is in our country. For the second time this year, Anna, Anni-Frid, Björn and Benny received four gold records. In January, they were awarded gold for the sales of two million copies of the ‘Waterloo’ single and now for two million copies of the ‘Honey, Honey’ single.
“We have our most loyal fans in Germany,” is what Anni-Frid thought, who is now wearing her former curly hair straight. “That’s why we are keen to learn how to speak German. Who knows, maybe we will record a single in German in the near future...”
‘Eine Gulaschsuppe bitte’ and ‘Nehmen Sie die Finger von der Dame’ are what Björn has already learned perfectly. Anna already knows how to say ‘alles klar’ and Benny says to everyone he runs into ‘du hast ‘ne Meise’.
In the autumn, they will have learned more than that. Because that’s when ABBA want to go on a big tour through Germany again. Before that, we can expect a new single again, after ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’. Its title will be ‘SOS’.
Both girls are especially excited to perform live on stage again in our country: “At least then we can wear what we want to again...”

Sunday 10 January 2010

Oor, February 1977: ABBA: “We’re a simple four letter word”

Review of ABBA’s Dutch concert on their 1977 tour, taking place at the Jaap Eden Hall in Amsterdam on February 4, 1977.
When I asked my twelve-year-old niece after the ABBA-concert if she had enjoyed herself, I got a beaming face with two thumbs up and full of enthusiasm she spoke the word ‘sublime’. During the ABBA-happening, I had already noticed that her acquaintance with the phenomenon pop concert suited her more than perfect.
Just like a big part of the rest of the audience, she sang along to all the lyrics at the top of her voice during practically the entire concert, remarkably familiar with the repertoire and lyrics. Meanwhile, she held on tight to the tour programme and badge that I had bought her for the outrageous price of ten Dutch guilders from a ‘Money, Money, Money’ singing Swede.

But let’s get down to business. During the ABBA-concert, there was an exuberant atmosphere in the, filled to capacity, Jaap Eden hall that I associated almost automatically with the atmosphere at a European Cup sports game. Lukewarm croquettes, wherein the meat is hard to find, one Dutch guilder a piece. First Aid and Safety people. ‘Comedians’ who are blowing up condoms or crushing plastic cups under their aggressive feet. Chocolate ice cream with nuts, one Dutch guilder and fifty cents a piece. ‘Money, Money, Money, always funny...’

Remarkable as well was the extremely mixed range of the audience, which varied in age between six and sixty. Boys from around fifteen years old and disabled people were best represented.
To this audience, a show of more than hundred minutes, interconnected by a solid professionalism, was dished up at a surprisingly high pace, that probably fulfilled all expectations of the average ABBA-fan. After the lights had been dimmed, accompanied by loud cheers and chanted hysterical exclamations (AB...BAH... AB...BAH...AB...BAH), the sounds of a descending helicopter filled the hall, referring to the image on the sleeve of the album ‘Arrival’. After ABBA’s rather overwhelming landing, it didn’t take long to become clear that the group can hardly be criticised for musical default on their live performance, although they don’t succeed at matching the ‘wall of sound’ from the studio. From an instrumental point of view, the live sound of the Swedish company, expanded with two drummers, a couple of guitarists, a keyboard player and a backing choir of seven boys and girls, dressed in snow-white judo outfits, is solid. The only ones who dropped a stitch here and there on a musical (or rather: vocal) level were the two singers Agnetha and Anni-Frid, who illustrated, especially in the intro of ‘I Do, I Do, I Do’ and ‘Money, Money, Money’, that they were lacking some freedom of movement and persuasiveness in their voices, especially in the lower regions, outside the recording studio with its technical trickeries.

From a visual point of view, ABBA’s show, spiced up with crafty light effects and slides, revolves around these housewives, dressed in skin-tight outfits (Omo-white!). Sex plays an important part, although they stay on the safe side in the visually very appealing presentation. As soon as the members of ABBA turned to the somewhat tame audience with the spoken word, corniness had no limits. At these rather rare occasions, I was happy when they continued churning out their hit medley in which all commercial highlights were represented. With reasonable intermissions, the unpretentious hit medley was alternated with less familiar but more pretentious pop songs that could immediately be ranked below the usual jukebox and TopPop favourites, primarily due to infantile-flavoured chunks of lyrics. That’s how Benny Andersson’s showpiece on the keyboards, in the style of Rick Wakeman, could hardly keep me interested, let alone convince me. After hearing ABBA’s reggae-escapade, I immediately booked a trip to Jamaica to be able to hear how it should be done, and when it comes to lyrical stupidity, absolutely everything was topped by the acoustic song ‘ABBA’, sung by the four of them, with chunks of lyrics like ‘I am Benny AT LAST’ and ‘We are a simple four lettered word’ (referring to the name of the company).
Other things that weren’t much to smile about were a technical joke, executed with the help of a tape recorder, whereby the voices of the ABBA-members were speeded up and slowed down and the annoying way wherein the blonde Agnetha was dry humping her husband on stage. Do it in your own time!

Without any doubt, the artistic highlight of the show was the 25-minute-long mini rock opera ‘The Girl With The Golden Hair’ (thanks to the commercial for Sunsilk Shampoo!) wherein both the composing and the performing members of ABBA illustrated convincingly that they have more up their sleeve than solid and commercial instant pop. During the, visually exquisitely staged, epic story, we get to know a girl who is paving her way to the absolute top of show business in an ambitious way. With all the side effects, smelling of deterioration, that go with it. Since the attractive songs in this mini epic were structured more broadly from a compositional point of view than the usual ABBA-work and therefore allowed the ladies Agnetha and Anni-Frid to shine more resonantly than usual with their voices in a dramatic way, ABBA’s mini rock opera did appeal to me and we can only hope for the critically-minded pop admirer that ABBA will commit this ambitious epic to tape at some point in the future.

My conclusion about the ABBA-concert is simple: the Swedish group offered instant music and entertainment for the entire family. There will be very little groups in pop music that will be able to rival ABBA in that area.

Saturday 9 January 2010

Pop Biz, 1978: Something strange has happened to ABBA – Have Agnetha, Benny, Frida and Björn really changed?

An article from Dutch magazine Pop Biz about ABBA adapting their musical style to disco with the Summer Night City single. Björn is quoted as saying that they adjusted their style to better suit the taste of the American audience. Ironically, the Summer Night City single wasn’t even released in the US.
The real fans noticed it right away: this summer, things have been just a bit too quiet on the ABBA-front. Judging from the few reports that did reach us, it was clear that something was brewing in Stockholm. But who could have guessed that the outcome would be so surprising...?

It’s no use denying it any longer: ABBA has changed to disco as well. And once again, a decision made by manager Stig Anderson turned out to be a masterstroke. ‘Summer Night City’ has become a gigantic hit and ABBA acquired a new batch of fans.
Why did ABBA decide to change their style to typical disco-flavoured music? We went to Stockholm to find out, where we had a conversation with Benny and Björn at the Polar Music office, ABBA’s own record company.

Benny doesn’t beat around the bush at all when we ask him point-blank if ABBA has been influenced by the big disco wave. “Our music has always been a reflection of the time that we are living in,” he says and Björn nods approvingly. “That’s the reason why we’ve had so much success. If we would ignore the disco craze, that would be very foolish. Ultimately, we’ve scored most of our hits thanks to the same audience that’s now buying disco records. After all, wasn’t ‘Dancing Queen’ a first-rate dance record as well? Our style has progressed with time, that’s all. ‘Summer Night City’ may have a solid disco rhythm, it clearly remains a true ABBA-record. You can’t say that we’ve literally pinched something.”
Still, the new ABBA-sound has slight similarities to the sound that has been introduced so successfully this year by the Bee Gees. Björn doesn’t deny it: “We have a tremendous admiration for the achievements of the Bee Gees. They are now doing in America what we have done in Europe. The American taste in music differs a great deal from ours. That’s why we made the decision to slightly adjust our sound to the taste of the American audience. After all, we are still trying very hard to achieve a breakthrough over there. And we’re convinced that’s it’s going to happen one day!”

Is it true that ABBA has held back new record releases the past few months until the big Bee Gees mania had died down a bit? Benny smiles: “We are musicians and composers. But we are also running this record company, together with Stig Anderson. Every record company in the world has had to hold back on playing their most important cards. What’s the use of releasing a good record in a time when the audience only has ears for one particular style? Just take a look at your own charts lately. Didn’t ‘You’re The One That I Want’ put a stop to all other records as well?” Indeed, the Surfers were fixed on the number two spot in the charts for weeks, while they probably would have been number one otherwise.
“When we release a record, it has to be possible to reach the number one spot. That’s just a business decision that everyone would make. Obviously, you can’t wait for too long, but it’s true that ‘Summer Night City’ actually should have been released at an earlier date. We would have loved to have a summer hit with it, as the title expresses as well. But you can’t have it all...”

By the way, ABBA has a lot in common with a group like the Bee Gees. Both groups are glued together by family relations. Both groups have years of experience in the pop industry, with both ups and downs. Both groups have their manager to thank for much of their success, who both run their own record company. Both ABBA and the Bee Gees are primarily studio groups, who depend a great deal on backing musicians on stage. Both groups write their own songs and their popularity is strongly influenced by radio, film and TV. Benny explains it like this: “Everything revolves around the old saying ‘bend the twig and bend the tree’. Just like the Bee Gees, we already have a career behind us, especially here in Sweden. Mistakes that we made then, don’t happen anymore these days. At the beginning of your career, everything goes much too fast for you to be able to supervise the situation. But when you get a second chance, you don’t make these old mistakes anymore. That’s the secret of our success, but the same goes for groups like the Bee Gees and Fleetwood Mac.”

Monday 4 January 2010

De Telegraaf, September 1982: ABBA’s Frida in our country today – “I’m enjoying my new life”

An article that was published in Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf on the eve of Frida’s arrival in Holland to promote her album Something’s Going On.
When the marriage between ABBA’s Frida Lyngstad and Benny Andersson was strained and had actually ended already, they had to keep this a secret for the sake of the group’s image.

“It was a very difficult and frustrating time,” Frida says when she talks about the two years before the divorce became final. “Both of us wanted a different life, but as members of the group we had to keep on presenting ourselves to the audience as a happy couple. It even came to the point where we forced ourselves to go out in the evening, because we couldn’t bear to be in each other’s company at home any longer. Life had become too strained.”

“The day after Benny had left me, it was all over the front pages of the Swedish newspapers. I didn’t leave my house for a whole week. I just couldn’t stand it. But when all the fuss had died down, it was actually a relief that we didn’t have to wear a mask any longer and put on a charade.”
The dark-haired Frida explains why the two divorces in the group – first Björn and Agnetha and now she and Benny – were actually beneficiary to ABBA. It was assumed that the private problems could very well mean the end of the group. But Frida says that their professional relationship is now better than ever, exactly because they are now living separate private lives.
“When you don’t have any emotional ties any longer, it’s much more comfortable to work with each other and easier as well. You are able to concentrate more on your job and nothing else. Everything is much more efficient now. Especially because there’s no small talk anymore. You do your job and go home. And you don’t get on each other’s nerves. You don’t see each other all the time. We’ve always remained very friendly to each other. The divorces didn’t cause any bitterness and the new relationships weren’t as embarrassing anymore. I still think that Benny is a nice guy. He has a friendly personality. But our marriage didn’t work and the best thing for the two of us was to get divorced. But we don’t have any hateful feelings towards each other.”
Obviously, there are speculations circulating that ABBA will fall apart in the near future. Frida has recorded a solo album, Agnetha has played her first film part and Björn and Benny are working on a musical together with Tim Rice.

“I know that there are a lot of rumours, but at the moment we are working together very pleasantly,” Frida says while remarking that the group has now existed for ten years. On that occasion, a special album will be released in November, after which they will start working on a new album again.
“We all know that we can’t last forever, but we want to continue as long as we can. As long as we are working together and we are successful, I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t last for another ten years.”
Frida doesn’t even rule out the possibility that ABBA will go on another world tour and this news will definitely delight the ABBA-fans, who haven’t been able to see their favourite group in concert for a long time. Since they started in 1975 with the Eurovision song ‘Waterloo’, ABBA have only toured twice. “It is tiresome as well,” 36-year-old Frida explains while pulling a glum face. “It’s wonderful to be on stage, but the travelling, the airports and changing hotel rooms all the time is very exhausting.”

At the moment, she’s very busy promoting her solo album. This Friday, she will be in our country for that. And on Saturday night, she will appear on the television show MIES. Probably she won’t be able to equal ABBA’s success with her solo album. “But I don’t care about that,” she says, “I wanted to sing a different kind of music for a change. And of course I couldn’t do the same thing as I’m doing with the group. When you’ve worked with a group for such a long time, it’s nerve-racking to work on your own all of a sudden. But I’m one hundred percent behind what I’m doing now. I love the album, I love every song on it and I don’t care what people say or write about it.”
The album is produced by Genesis’ Phil Collins. Frida took this initiative after she had listened to his album ‘Face Value’. “I thought that album was amazing! I must have listened to it almost every day for eight months,” she says, “especially his arrangements and his drum sound impressed me a great deal. When the plan emerged to record a solo album, I immediately thought about him as my producer. Without him, I wouldn’t even have started this project, I wanted him that much.”

She’s very determined in her opinions. She knows exactly what her priorities are in life. Singing is the most important thing for her and it’s always been like that ever since she entered a talent competition at the age of ten. She says the joy of singing means more to her than the fame and fortune that she has acquired. Like Björn said last year, the group doesn’t have any financial reason to keep working together. With a worldwide income, including numerous shares in huge enterprises like the Volvo automobile factories, the ABBA-stars could easily rest on their laurels for the rest of their lives. They are wealthier than the king of Sweden.
This attitude doesn’t appeal to Frida: “I don’t think that I could live without singing,” she says. “It’s the most important thing in my life. It gives me so much joy. It’s really my passion.”
Although she does keep an eye on how the group’s millions are being invested, she never had a true notion about the magnitude of all that money. “I have a feeling as if we’re not part of it. It’s like I’m reading about someone else when I see a story about how big our fortune is.”
She also says that she doesn’t lead an extravagant life. She lives in a penthouse in Stockholm, she drives a Maserati, she dresses very well and she loves to travel.
“But,” she adds, “I don’t need more luxury than that. You can’t do much else than eat, drink and have a good life.”
She admits that she gets a lot of satisfaction from her job, but at the same time she leads a rather secluded, quiet private life. She thinks it’s pleasant that the people don’t really bother her in Sweden. “They leave us alone. I can easily go shopping in Stockholm.”

Frida spends a lot of time with her children from her first marriage, a fifteen-year-old daughter and a nineteen-year-old son. A giant of a guy who is taller than she is. “They are both interested in music and my son also works in this business as a sound engineer, but neither of them is interested in ABBA,” she says with a smile.
“My daughter has great taste and loves all kinds of music and my son is a fan of rock music.”
Since she divorced Benny, no special man is playing a part in her life. And she thinks that’s fine.
“It was my choice to be alone,” she says. “I feel the need to live my own life. Being on my own gives me strength, I discover new interests and new friends. That’s wonderful. Now I’m able to travel a lot as well. That’s a freedom that I’ve never had. I was fifteen years old when I met my first husband and shortly after this marriage I met Benny. So I’ve been involved with someone for a very long time. I haven’t thought about the possibility of another marriage yet. I’m happy with my life as it is. I’m really enjoying my new life,” according to the ABBA-star who will arrive in our country tomorrow.

Sunday 3 January 2010

Hitkrant, March 1981: Björn and Benny: ABBA’s B-side – Benny and Björn sacrifice themselves

There’s a vacuum cleaner that’s being made in Sweden. According to the Norseman that shoves the device in the face of a startled housewife in a commercial, its motor can’t be broken. Another export article from the same country takes it one step further. ABBA is being actuated by Björn and Benny and these pacemakers come with an eternal guarantee. Because although something gets broken, like a marriage, the hits keep on coming.

Seldom has there been a group that knows how to separate professional and private matters as well as ABBA. Rumour has it that even manager Stig Anderson has been unaware of the happy occasion of the marriage between Björn Ulvaeus and Lena Källersjö, a dead ringer of sorts for Björn’s ex Agnetha, until the wedding date itself. Now that Benny, after the divorce between him and Frida, is having a girlfriend as well, a tasty desert in the shape of television presenter Mona Nörklit, the speculations are all over the place: allegedly, ABBA would only exist due to their success. There wouldn’t be any mutual contact any longer.
However, as long as the motor keeps running, it’s all serene. Benny and Björn keep on writing the songs and producing the records. While Agnetha and Frida are the group’s eye-catchers on stage and get all the acclaim, the gentlemen of ABBA sacrifice themselves.
Because, when the moment comes that performances or television shows have to be done, like later on, at the group’s tenth anniversary, all eyes are set on the ladies; Benny and Björn consciously take the backseat. Obviously, things have changed. A change that already set in when Björn and Agnetha decided to separate in 1979: there isn’t much small talk after a performance any longer. After the job is done, they go their separate ways.
It’s striking that on a personal level Benny and Björn are more in the limelight than Agnetha and Frida. Björn immediately hooked a new girlfriend after he divorced Agnetha, a matter that was extensively discussed in the newspapers. Meanwhile, Agnetha ignored the gossip pages. The same went for Benny. Rumour has it that he met his Waterloo in Stockholm when he met the attractive presenter Mona. The couple fell so deeply in love with each other that Frida was put on a side track. This happened in a totally different way than Benny and Frida had predicted a couple of years ago. Then they contemplated a divorce on tax-related grounds. The ‘happiest couple in show business’ would stay together as a divorced couple. Apparently, Benny’s love for Mona has been a spoil-sport. Once again, the mind has had to surrender to love. All in all, it’s a ‘Scenes From A Marriage’ of sorts. An excellent subject for a tear-jerking television series, because really: ‘Peyton Place’ pales into insignificance. The fans should actually be raving mad about rumours like this, if it wasn’t for the fact that the group keeps on releasing such beautiful hits. But once again it shows that it’s lonely at the top, although Agnetha sang in ‘The Winner Takes It All’: ‘Though it’s hurting me, now it’s history’.

Saturday 2 January 2010

Pop Foto, July 1977: ABBA’s most beautiful

An ABBA-special that was included in Dutch pop magazine Pop Foto in 1977.
There you go! For you: a fantastic ABBA-special. Full of spectacular photographs of the number one pop group. A gift from Pop Foto. Because there’s a reason for the fact that Pop Foto is the biggest pop magazine in the Benelux.

Feasting with ABBA

Yes, it had been a long time coming. A delicious collection of the most beautiful, most honest and most exclusive ABBA photographs, that Pop Foto has put together, especially for this occasion, in an ABBA photo book. And a photo present like this obviously calls for a festive chat with the superstars who are the subject of all this. Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, how about a little diner with ABBA?

During this diner, Benny, Björn, Anni-Frid and Agnetha told ‘Peupfeuteu’, like your favourite magazine is persistently called by the four Swedes, a little bit more about their life in the music business that’s getting busier every day.
“Unhappy? Stressed?” Benny reacts a little surprised, when we inquire about the health of the band members, who have just completed a huge and very exhausting European and Australian tour. “Us? Man, we are still over the moon. And who wouldn’t be when you suddenly become world famous after winning the Eurovision Song Contest (already 3 years ago).”
“But that’s not the most important thing,” Björn objects, while quickly swallowing a delicacy. “The most important thing is that the audience likes the same songs as we do. Actually we are only writing to please ourselves, and what we come up with turns out to be successful as well. Apart from that, Benny and I have no limitations when we are composing, because the girls can sing anything. High, low, in between, you name it; with Agnetha and Anni-Frid, it always comes out crystal clear!”
“Except when I have a cold,” his blonde wife smiles. Anni-Frid chuckles. “Yes, then the tears come out of your nose!”
“No, let’s be serious,” Björn continues, while his delicious meal is getting cold. “There’s a big difference in composing when you have to take into account the taste of the audience, the possibilities of the singers, and so on, or when everything flows naturally.” Finally, Björn starts eating again, but after only a few bites, the conversation turns to Stig Anderson, ABBA’s manager and lyric writer. “Stig is wonderful,” Benny says, “and we were very fortunate yet again. For starters, Stig writes very good lyrics. It’s rather difficult to explain, but he knows exactly how to keep up with the ‘tone colour’ of the music. Take ‘Dancing Queen’, for example, doesn’t that sound way better than ‘Dancing Girl’ or something like that? Apart from that, Stig is the ideal manager. He has a great sense of what is going to be a hit and that’s exactly what you need when you want to stay on top.”

Every year, ABBA withdraws for a couple of months on one of the countless islands on the coast of Stockholm. “We have a little studio over there, where we can work on our music without being interrupted. You can only get there by boat, so we are completely shut off from the rest of the world. This way, we kill two birds with one stone. We are having a holiday and we are composing,” Björn explains. That island is also the scene of the most important part of ABBA’s private life; a private life that the members don’t want to talk about and we can understand that. “At least, you guys from Peupfeuteu don’t keep nagging about that,” Agnetha says seriously. “But it seems that everyone always wants to know exactly what we are doing in our spare time. I think that’s ridiculous. As a pop star, you are already the property of the audience for the most part of the year, and that obviously comes with the territory. But it’s impossible to endure when you literally aren’t allowed to keep anything to yourself.”
She sticks her turned-up nose up in the air and then declares: “All four of us know that we are taking a chance by not telling anything, because very often reporters start to make things up. To my own astonishment, I read in an English magazine that Björn and I have six children...” We all burst into laughter when we look at the face that Agnetha pulls, while she continues: “I will make one exception and tell you something about our private life. Björn and I do not have six children!”
“We are now almost literally a world group,” Anni-Frid muses while having desert. “We only haven’t had a breakthrough in Japan. But in America, everything is going really well: ‘Dancing Queen’ has been in the top twenty over there for ages!”
“Yes,” Benny continues, “but we are still not in the charts in Greenland either, but I’m not losing any sleep over that. It would be wonderful if it would happen for us in Japan and Greenland as well, but if it doesn’t, it’s okay with me too. We have already achieved much more than we ever dared to dream about and I’m as happy as a child about that.”
“Certainly, you don’t mean one of our six children, now do you?” Björn asks semi-offended.
“Peupfeuteu,” Benny says, “just ignore that silly man and finish your drink. Then we can have another one of those delicious Dutch beers!”
Right page, from top to bottom:
ABBA’s live show is an event. Nothing is left to chance. Just take a look at the costumes, for instance: at the start of the show, the girls enter the stage in wonderful shiny capes...

...but they keep on changing into different outfits. This is a scene from the ‘musical’ that the two singers perform during the show. Together, they are playing the part of the girl with the golden hair who desperately wants to become a star...

Benny and Björn are a little less prominent during a performance. They restrict themselves to the musical part, and they do it perfectly! Here, Benny demonstrates that he can play the accordion as well.

Björn in action. Björn’s voice is better than Benny’s. That’s why he is responsible for most of the solo parts.
Left page, from top to bottom:
Cheers! ABBA toasts to the success of ‘Dancing Queen’, their biggest hit so far. And if it’s up to the four of them, they are going to have a lot more of these champagne parties in the future.

A walk in the park on a Sunday afternoon? Forget about it. In their early days, the girls had to seek out clothes for photo sessions in all hastiness. Watch the hair...

Eye-catcher Agnetha!

This picture was taken last winter, when the group was preparing themselves in all peace and quiet for their monster tour of Europe and Australia.
Left page, from top to bottom:
They have been in all the big cities in the world: Paris, London, New York, you name it. “Still, Stockholm remains the cosiest city of them all. But perhaps we would have said the same thing about Amsterdam, had we been Dutch...”

Björn’s personal hobby: filming. At the Ulvaeus household, the closets are bulging out with filmed material. And obviously, in most of these films, little Linda is the centre of attention.

“There are often little spats,” Björn and Agnetha admit. “It is caused by all the tensions during tours. But we just couldn’t live without each other.”

Benny couldn’t do without his Anni-Frid either. Even though he runs into thousands of beautiful women all over the world.

Right page, from top to bottom:
Cycling used to be one of ABBA’s favourite hobbies. But as much as they would love to, they just don’t have the time for that any longer. “And apart from that,” according to Benny, “we wouldn’t be able to move an inch without being bothered.”

Agnetha and Björn very rarely let themselves be photographed in private. “Being pop stars, we are already public property for the most part. Aren’t we allowed to have just a little privacy?” is what they are saying.

“All this travelling is extremely boring and tiresome,” Benny and Anni-Frid sigh. “But the fact that we are received by friendly people with a big bunch of flowers everywhere makes up for it all.”

The house in which Björn, Agnetha and their little daughter Linda have lived for a long time.
It was a haven of peace and quiet in their hectic life.
Left page, from top to bottom:
And this is ABBA history! Agnetha and Björn’s wedding day, taking place in 1971 in Malmö. Agnetha, who was already a well-known singer in Sweden by then, and her brand-new husband were already overwhelmed by photographers.

The happy family. Agnetha, Björn and Linda would love to be together all the time. But it just isn’t possible. Who do you think Linda resembles the most? At least she has her father’s nose!

As proud as Lucifer, Agnetha and Björn are posing with their newly born little daughter Linda. As you can see, Agnetha is still a little confused by all the fuss surrounding her. And Björn just keeps bragging to his friends!

The proud father two years later. Especially for Linda, he bought himself a film camera in ABBA’s early days, and that was a huge expense. This way, Linda gets used to a life in front of the cameras at an early age...

Right page, from top to bottom:
Benny and Anni-Frid are getting engaged! When it’s up to the two love birds, this doesn’t have to be followed by a marriage. They are perfectly happy with how things are.

Fritz, Anni-Frid’s little, shaggy Schnautzer, misses his boss so bad that he often refuses to eat when Anni-Frid and Benny are on tour. But when she’s at home, he doesn’t leave her side for one second.

1970. This picture was taken on a legendary evening. On this evening, at this table, Anni-Frid and Benny fell so deeply in love with each other that they decided to start a relationship together. In the background Lars Berghagen, a Swedish singer.
Left page, from left to right:
Most of ABBA’s clothes are exlusively designed for the group. It does cost a fair amount of money, but the four Swedes are willing to spend it. “After all, you are an artist, or you are not,” is what Anni-Frid says.

This is how ABBA was dressed during their live performance on Dutch television, and this is how the entire country has been able to admire them.

But this is ABBA as well. Cool and, like the English people say, ‘sophisticated’. When ABBA started their victorious tour of England like this, the Brits surrendered to the Swedish hit assault at one blow.

Right page, from top to bottom:
Another different side of ABBA. With all those various costumes that the group is having at the moment, they could easily organise an hours-long fashion show!

But they won’t do this ever again. Right after the Eurovision Song Contest, when their big success was yet to come, the ABBAs were enticed to let themselves be photographed like this. But that’s over and done with.Agnetha
Agnetha Fältskog (Ulvaeus), the typical ‘Swedish beauty’ of ABBA, was practically born to become an artist, because her cradle was standing in the house of a well-known Swedish theatre manager and dance instructor in Jönköping. Daddy Fältskog could hardly wait until his, on 5 April 1950 born, little daughter was old enough to learn how to play music. Agnetha was already sitting at the piano at a very young age. Agnetha was barely eight years old when she started composing children’s songs about trolls and other Scandinavian fairy-tale figures.
Regularly, she came along with her dad to the television studios in Stockholm and it was only a matter of time until Agnetha was discovered. Agnetha’s first hit ‘Jag Var Så Kär’ came about very quickly. And ever since that time, Agnetha was very popular in her home country. Even today, she still releases solo albums in Sweden with self-written songs, that can be found in the album top ten for weeks. The rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar came to Sweden in 1971 and who was better suited for the part of Maria Magdalene than Agnetha? At the same time, the Swedish Hootenanny Singers, in which group a certain Björn Ulvaeus was heavily trying his best, came to the attention. A huge Swedish television show was being organised in which both Agnetha and Björn (who had briefly met each other already back in 1969) were performing. At one blow, Agnetha forgot all about her German boyfriend in Berlin and had her mind completely set on that one guy from the Hootenanny Singers. Agnetha and Björn got married that same year. And in 1973, Linda was born.

To Björn, Agnetha was the woman of his dreams. Before he met her, he was, according to manager Stig Anderson, who had known Björn for years already, a “shy, quiet but very patient guy with only one passion: music!”
Björn Kristian Ulvaeus was born on 25 April 1945 in a tiny town on the Baltic coast and he already started a band when he was still in school, where he was discovered by Stig, who subsequently brought him to Stockholm. That was the foundation of the Hootenanny Singers.
Since both Benny and Björn performed regularly in their own country, they already knew each other more or less from their meetings in television and recording studios. But they only started making music together when Björn was thinking about leaving the Hootenanny Singers and Benny had already left the Hep Stars.
They performed a lot together in bars. That’s where the idea took shape to start their own group, together with two singers. Björn already knew his Agnetha, and Benny immediately thought about his Frida... That’s how ABBA came to be. And ‘thinker’ Björn, together with Stig, was able to give all his attention to his third (let’s not overlook his family) big love: ABBA!

Anni-Frid Lyngstad was born on 15 November 1945 in the Norwegian town Narvik. When Frida was only two years old, the Lyngstad family moved to Eskilstuna, a town in the southwest of the Swedish capital Stockholm. She was ten years old when she learned how to play the guitar. Little Anni-Frid sang and danced at numerous talent competitions. At the age of fourteen, she started her own group. After she had left school, she already made a good living with that sing and dance company. Anni-Frid was only sixteen years old when she got married. A year later, her son Hans was born, and one year after that her little daughter Liselotte. But the marriage didn’t last and Anni-Frid was a divorced woman at the age of twenty. Frida didn’t sit down in despair. She moved to Stockholm to establish a career as a singer and dancer. She made her first record together with the Swedish singer Lars Berghagen. Thanks to a television performance, Anni-Frid finally had her breakthrough in 1970. All of sudden, she was extremely popular in Sweden and could regularly be seen on television as a singer, dancer and presenter.
Then she met Benny, who was still a member of the famous Hep Stars at the time. At one night, they went out to have a drink together and the sparks really started flying: Benny and Anni-Frid found themselves deeply in love. In the beginning, they saw very little of each other because Benny was always on tour. Luckily, ABBA changed all that.

Göran Bror Benny Andersson, born on 16 December 1946, comes from a very musical family as well. His father and grandfather were very well-known accordionists. When he was only six years old, Benny’s little fingers were already sliding across the keyboard of his first accordion. And the little lad was barely seven years old when his dad and granddad already dragged him along on their countless tours through Sweden.
In those days, Benny Andersson was a big promise for the future of Sweden’s folk music, until he listened to the Beatles and he changed to, what was then called, beat music. The results were overwhelming... for Sweden and for Benny. At the end of the sixties, his group Hep Stars scored one hit after the other. Especially ‘Sunny Girl’ was an enormous hit in Holland and other European countries.
The song was written by Benny. But he never tried his hands on lyric writing ever since. He’d rather leave that to Björn and Stig. After a failed marriage, the break up of the Hep Stars and the clearance of an enormous tax debt, he decided to start something new, together with his friend Björn. With the well-known result: ABBA.
“ABBA is the result of a huge amount of joint effort,” Benny says when he’s asked about his part in the success of ABBA. “And of course we owe a lot to our fans. Without them, we would have been long gone.”