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.”

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