Wednesday 30 June 2010

Rocky Das Freizeit-Magazin, April 1980: Agnetha and Anni-Frid: (Not) a fairytale life

Actually, ABBA doesn’t give interviews anymore since a long time ago. But John McFarlane has managed to achieve the impossible. For Rocky Das Freizeit-Magazin, he talked to Agnetha and Anni-Frid in Stockholm – and he got astoundingly honest and shocking answers from both female stars.

Thousands of ABBA fans all over the world would have been ecstatic, if they had been able on this afternoon in Stockholm to sit in the same restaurant and at the same table as Agnetha and Anni-Frid, the location of the interview for Rocky magazine. In a public restaurant? Don’t stars like ABBA get surrounded by autograph hunters immediately in a place like that? No, not in Sweden!
“This is probably the only country in the world where we can act like ‘normal’ people,” says Anni-Frid. “Here, it only happens occasionally that we are asked to sign autographs. Of course we are very popular in our home country Sweden as well, one look in our charts is enough proof of that, but they respect our private life here. In general, the same can’t be said about journalists.”
Anni-Frid: “We’ve had enough of the lies that are being spread about us. Things that are always described in the wrong way – especially concerning Agnetha’s failed marriage.”
However, that’s not the reason why Benny and Björn were the only ones present at the press conferences during the US tour last year. What made Agnetha and Anni-Frid decide to give practically no interviews anymore? “We’ve been asked questions about our make-up and hairstyles more than enough,” according to Anni-Frid. “But we are tired of talking about things like that.”
About what kinds of subjects do they talk at home? How do their family members and children deal with the fact that they are surrounded by world famous stars?
“Of course, our friends and family know that we are stars,” says Agnetha. “But at the same time they see us as perfectly normal people. In our families, we talk about all kinds of things – just not about ABBA. Anyway, my children are far too young to understand what it’s all about. And Anni-Frid’s twelve-year-old daughter thinks it’s ‘okay’ that she has a famous mother.”

Although the four from ABBA have been multi-millionaires for a long time and their immense income is being securely invested – under supervision of their manager – in oil, their own bicycle factory, an art gallery and real estate, they remain economical with their personal expenses. While other pop stars acquire a fleet of luxury cars and are surrounded by bodyguards and servants, in comparison ABBA has a modest lifestyle.
Agnetha: “Because I travel a lot, I have a nanny. But servants? No thanks! When I’m at home, I do everything myself. I hate to sit around and do nothing, and I prefer to cook and do the laundry myself. Of course, we don’t have any worries financially, but that didn’t go to our head. We are living an utterly plain life, we are living in simple houses and are driving ordinary cars. You can see them parked in front of our studio: Anni-Frid’s old BMW 3-litre and my BMW 523.”
After Agnetha and Anni-Frid re-recorded the biggest ABBA hits for a Spanish album, recording sessions for new songs was on their schedule in March. Doesn’t it get more difficult to come up with new and even better ideas every time?
“Do you want an honest answer?” Anni-Frid asks. “It’s difficult to be a part of ABBA. These days it’s far more stressful than it used to be. We are not teenagers anymore. We have to see to it that we don’t repeat ourselves on an artistic level.”
Agnetha: “People don’t have any idea how stressful it can get: the tours, the travelling, radio and television, recording sessions and numerous other commitments. That’s not easy, especially for a woman.”
“As ABBA, we have to live up to our image,” Anni-Frid explains, “and that means perfection. A perfection that demands the utmost from us, physically and mentally. And every time when we have finished another exhausting tour, the big question comes up: will we quit or not? But we can’t quit! Especially now!”
“There have been concerts at which I didn’t deliver the usual ABBA appeal,” Agnetha reveals. “The others have tried to convince me otherwise, but they haven’t been able to persuade me. Then I broke down in tears and said to myself: ‘Just quit, as long as everything is still looking up!’. Everyone has moments like this, when you’ve just had enough – and ABBA is no exception. We are working hard, harder than a random man on the street, and our reward can’t be compared to an average salary either. But for the rest, everything is exactly the same for us. That’s something that is often overlooked by fans and critics. They only see us as four glittery characters on stage, who disappear in a fairytale world after the show. But we are neither fairytale figures nor controllable robots. We are people of flesh and blood. Travelling, recording sessions and rehearsals. Getting to bed at three o’clock in the morning and getting up again at seven o’clock, packing and unpacking suitcases, getting in and out of hotels, and all of this far from home – that’s our life. It’s the career that we have chosen for ourselves, but still we are happy...”

Monday 28 June 2010

Veronica, May 1974: ABBA

An article from Dutch magazine Veronica, published one month after ABBA’s Eurovision win, stating that ABBA could very well turn out to be a keeper...
ABBA, or rather Swedish pop is conquering Europe. A well-deserved first place at the last Eurovision Song Contest with the song ‘Waterloo’ was the last push that this group needed to dive into the European charts. There’s an album about to be released and therefore we are very curious about the follow-up to ‘Waterloo’.

The musical reputation of the Eurovision Song Contest is slowly changing. Up till now, the contributions were unimaginative compositions, most of the time far below average, that were known by the characterization of ‘true Eurovision songs’! Due to this lack of creative input, the interest in the contest was fading the past few years. Denmark even decided to end their participation and the purpose of this European music happening was put up for discussion everywhere. Luckily, this year’s contest was the incentive for a new development. The first two places were taken by songs, that one wouldn’t have dared to send to the contest in former times. Two countries, Yugoslavia and Israel, even had the courage to send a pop group. Only England missed the mark by sending an excellent singer, Olivia Newton-John, with a song of which she said herself that she would never have taken it in her repertoire voluntarily! Therefore, Olivia didn’t deliver the cracker of the evening, although an artist of her calibre was worth it. Instead, the honour went to the most original contribution that produced a breath of fresh air in the contest, the Swedish ABBA on a well-deserved first place.

ABBA’s success is an important occurrence in the Swedish music industry, that is slowly awakening. Although Sweden has a lot of excellent musicians, they don’t have much self-confidence. The public service broadcasting doesn’t give much opportunities to Swedish artists and especially artists at the beginning of their career have to go to great lengths for a bit of success. A breakthrough on an international level was completely out of the question. Last summer brought some change when ABBA, at the time known under the name Anna, Frida, Björn and Benny, scored an international hit with the song ‘Ring Ring’, for which Neil Sedaka had written English lyrics. It could have remained a stroke of luck if the Swedish public hadn’t decided to send ABBA to the Eurovision Song Contest with ‘Waterloo’. And the success didn’t fail to come. Right after the results had been announced, the offers were pouring in. Apart from a Swedish and an English version of ‘Waterloo’, German and French versions were rapidly recorded.
Almost simultaneously with ABBA’s success, another Swedish group delivered a chartbuster as well. Blue Swede reached the number one spot on the American charts with their version of the B.J. Thomas hit ‘Hooked On A Feeling’. Meanwhile, Blue Swede has started their conquest of Europe with a Veronica Alarmschijf and a placing in the Dutch Top 40. It’s still a little early to talk about a Swedish breakthrough, but the signs are there. One of the reasons for the success of both Blue Swede and ABBA is probably the fact that they record all their songs in English. Contrary to most Swedish artists that keep singing in their native tongue. Before ‘Ring Ring’, ABBA already had two local successes in English, with ‘People Need Love’ and ‘He Is Your Brother’.
The two ABBA men are the musical backbone of the group. Benny Andersson, with his thirteen years as a professional musician practically a veteran, started his career with the Hep Stars, the only Swedish pop group of any significance. Benny writes the most part of the ABBA repertoire together with Björn Ulvaeus, who originates from the Hootenanny Singers, a group that kept itself occupied with singing folk songs. Coincidentally, Benny and Björn ran into each other during a concert where they both performed. Björn was composing a song in his dressing room, Benny walked by and decided to lend a hand. They clicked straight away and an extremely fruitful collaboration was born. The idea to form the group ABBA didn’t come until years later. Björn got married to one of Sweden’s most popular singers, Agnetha Fältskog, while Benny managed to hook up with a singing girlfriend as well, the blonde Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Four vocalists together, it was only natural that they would work together. That happened in 1972. One year later, they scored an international hit with their third single and again one year later, they won the Eurovision Song Contest.
ABBA has every chance to become a keeper, provided that the group chooses the right repertoire. In any case, they have proven that music really can be made in the Swedish cold.

Hitkrant,1981: Agnetha’s Dallas

The life of the members of ABBA is gradually starting to resemble an episode of Dallas. Divorces, new love affairs, it doesn’t end.
To make this comparison to the American series even more clear, lately Agnetha has frequently been spotted with the director of the series, Gunnar Hellström.
The 52-year-old Hellström is denying a love affair, but he has stated to be extremely impressed with Agnetha. That’s why he wants to offer her a part in a movie in the near future.

Sunday 27 June 2010

Joepie, March 1979: ABBA feels at home on snowy mountain tops

Getting up early is a virtue that not many people possess but it looks as if the four from ABBA are not having the slightest problem with that. Not even when they – as was the case in Leysin – had partied until the small hours in the discotheque of the hotel. A gathering at 8.30am in the lobby of the hotel was on the BBC’s schedule, and our Swedish friends were right on time.

It would be a busy day, everyone had seen it coming: in Les Diablerets, a ski resort about 20 kilometres from Leysin, all kinds of recordings would be made of ABBA. On their skis, during a little presentation at a table and a couple of shots of the new single, in the snow. In other words, enough to keep the entire crew busy all day long. Leysin was still asleep when the procession of cars – ABBA alone already needed three cars – made its way through the snowy mountain roads, with Les Diablerets as its destination. In the village, they stopped for half an hour at a local store, because ABBA was not prepared for the snow.
“We thought we only had to perform in the tent,” according to Anna. “No one had told us that we were to be filmed in the snow as well. But that’s not a problem now, there are more than enough requirements here...” ABBA barely needed fifteen minutes to buy half of the store’s stock: snow boots, skis, headgear, you name it. The store manager, who didn’t get customers like this every day, was rubbing his hands together: he had never sold this amount of stuff in one morning!

ABBA had brought two special guests in their company: Linda, the six-year-old daughter of Björn and Anna, and Ted Gärdestad, a Swedish singer that is being launched internationally by Björn and Benny. It was a piece of cake for them to help their new protégée get an international television debut: in their contract with the BBC it was specifically noted that they would only come if Ted was on the show as well!
The young bloke saw a lifelong dream come true: not only did he find himself on an international television show for the first time, as the new protégée of the ABBA duo he enjoyed an enormous amount of attention from the European media as well.
“I’ve been in this business for ten years,” Ted told us in between proceedings. “In Sweden, my career has taken off already, but internationally I’m still a nobody. Recently, I’ve signed a contract with Polar Music, ABBA’s company, and only a couple of weeks later I’m on an international television show. And to think that the four ABBA members sung backing vocals on my records eight years ago...”
Less pleased with all the attention surrounding her persona was Linda, Björn and Anna’s little daughter. And her beautiful nanny, that had the special assignment to protect little Linda from too pushy photographers. “Björn has asked me to make sure that Linda gets photographed as little as possible,” according to the girl. “He fears – and rightfully so – for kidnapping when her little face becomes too familiar through the magazines. But it’s definitely not easy when twenty photographers are surrounding you constantly. Sometimes, it can drive you crazy...”

Meanwhile, it’s waiting time for the ABBA crew, because the BBC has had some problems with putting up the equipment. Not a problem for our friends, because they have been in situations like this before. “That’s the worst thing about this business,” says Frida. “All this waiting. You have to make sure that you don’t get bored at moments like this, otherwise you won’t see it through. Act as if nothing is wrong and amuse yourself with your own means, that’s the message...”
Her words had barely been spoken and off they were, headed for the snowy mountains. Benny wants to drink a hot cup of coffee first before he hurries after her. “Skiing is a national sport in our home country Sweden,” he says, in between two sips. “In the area were I used to live, it was so mountainous that we went to school on skis. You could almost say that we were born with skis on our feet...”

Thursday 17 June 2010

Muziek Expres, January 1977: Spontaneity is taboo with ABBA

ABBA, the only pop sensation that Sweden has ever produced, has succeeded in conquering virtually every country in the world with their specific hit sound. A commercial and clever presentation, wherein the two beautiful girls Anni-Frid and Agnetha make the heart of a large number of men beat faster, is not an insignificant factor in the unlimited success of ABBA. It’s just a shame that the spontaneity that ABBA exudes isn’t real...

That’s why you will be deceived when you think you will be able to organise a nice and smooth interview with ABBA. The conversation is not on their schedule and therefore they won’t go through with it. Subject closed. Nothing is left to chance with the Swedish top group and the (tiny, for that matter) possibility that one of the members could say something in a spontaneous impulse that might damage the image of ABBA, is ruled out in advance.

Guarded by a substantial number of tough-looking blokes, ABBA goes backstage to wait for the moment that they are due on stage. Passing by, Agnetha recognizes me, she produces a quick smile and walks on. Her eyes remained expressionless – it was a rehearsed smile that should only be used while bumping into a vague acquaintance.
Then a man walks on stage and shouts that ABBA is going to perform, as if the venue, packed to capacity, didn’t already know that. What happens next is astounding: while the cheering of the audience increases to hurricane level, the Swedish quartet rushes on stage and starts a show that, as it were, bursts with spontaneity. It seems as if everything that ABBA is doing in the spotlights is thought of and executed on the spot. You immediately forget that this happening is the result of countless rehearsals, moving and dancing lessons – again and again every day, until there is one hundred percent certainty that it will come out during the performance like this and not in any other way. It’s fake, and at the same time it’s not...

In fact, it’s one big, swinging stage play that is being executed by ABBA, faultlessly directed by choreographers and vocal coaches. But that doesn’t make it less fascinating, because the four performers are all professionals. Agnetha and Anni-Frid are not only flaunting their extremely attractive exterior – they are mesmerizing an entire audience with it, which makes a part of the amazed audience show slightly hysterical tendencies. On top of that, musically the show is well-crafted as well, because Björn and Benny are exquisite composers, who have the hit sound literally in their fingers.

When the show, including the preconceived encore, is over, the letdown comes: ABBA walks off stage and changes again. It seems as if somewhere in their brains a switch is turned that turns off all emotions. With stern looking faces resembling slightly spoiled children, they walk to their dressing rooms. Immediately, some kind of small gorilla is stationed in front of the doors. A nervous little man is running to and fro with drinks, that are sometimes refused by one of the ABBA members when he or she doesn’t feel like it, so that there’s nothing left for him to do than get some other drinks. ABBA is a world-famous group and meanwhile they have acquired the accompanying arrogance and conceitedness. Which, by the way, doesn’t mean that Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Björn and Benny are unfriendly people. It’s just that being friendly and spontaneous in public isn’t programmed and therefore it’s not executed.
But that’s the only little inaccuracy in the, for the rest, untainted ABBA pattern.

Monday 14 June 2010

Das Freizeit-Magazin, 1978: How roll mop herring turned into ABBA

A lot has been written about ABBA the past few years. Truths and untruths. Now, there is finally the first real and authentic life story about the Swedish superstars. Told by ABBA themselves. As a book. In English. We have translated it for you. Exclusively in Freizeit-Magazin, you learn everything about ABBA. And you will be astounded: the real story about Anni-Frid, Agnetha, Björn and Benny is far more exciting than every novel. Because their career is like a fairytale come true!

If there was one favourite in the Swedish heat for the Eurovision Song Contest, then it was ‘Ring Ring’ by ABBA. Only Agnetha’s impending childbirth seemed to be an obstacle. Of course, things turned out differently: the winner of the contest was the duo Clabbe af Geijerstam and Goran Fristorp with their song ‘Summer That Never Says No’. Things just didn’t go ABBA’s way again; ‘Ring Ring’ finished only in a disappointing third place. It was hard to swallow for ABBA and Stig Anderson. Each one of them had assumed that ‘their’ song would make it. An English version of the song had already been pressed, Neil Sedaka had written the lyrics, promotional records and press material were ready. The musical conquest of Europe was ready to start. And now this. But there was still some joy: Agnetha gave birth to little daughter Linda almost one week after their performance...
Björn: “There was no Swedish song that stood a better chance than ours. But on the other hand, it was an advantage that we had to wait for one more year. We learned an awful lot during this time. How things work in other countries. We went to Holland, Belgium, Germany and Austria and we got to know the people that worked with our records. Later on, when we won the contest with ‘Waterloo’, the whole organisation was working perfectly. We were far better prepared.”
But even without the help of the Eurovision Song Contest, ‘Ring Ring’ became an international success. In Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Austria and South Africa, it reached the number one spot in the charts. Only in the two biggest pop territories, England and the USA, ‘Ring Ring’ was a flop. Initially, it wasn’t even released in the USA. In England, the record companies tossed the single aside like an old sandwich. In the end, CBS released the song without much enthusiasm.
On the other hand, ‘Ring Ring’ hit like a musical earthquake in Sweden. The song occupied the first three positions in the charts: the Swedish version was at number one, the English version at number two and the album at number three. Even the Beatles had never enjoyed a success like this. All of a sudden, ABBA became a new trademark in Sweden.
Stig Anderson explains how they came up with their group name: “I was getting tired of having to mention their full names to the reporters. As a joke, I called them ABBA. After their initials. And it wouldn’t take long before the newspapers would only use that name. At first, Björn and Benny didn’t quite agree with all this. Because ABBA is a well-known company name as well, that sells salted and roll mop herring. But soon we all agreed that it was the best name. It’s easy to pronounce in every language. Before we went through with the whole thing, we contacted this company. They thanked us for the extra advertisement and sent us a package of tuna fish.”
In the summer of 1973, Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid went on tour in Sweden. It was no picnic. The quartet performed in the folk parks in the weekends. 80 concerts had been scheduled. This meant that there were days with up to three performances. Especially the girls had difficulties coping with this hectic and stressful life. Anni-Frid lost almost seven kilos and Agnetha was craving for her little daughter.
But their enormous success outshined all the strains. When ABBA performed in their colourful and outrageous costumes, wearing their platform shoes with five centimetres high heels, the fans were ecstatic. And this time, the newspapers wrote more about them than a few nice sentences.
Then it was autumn. A hectic period began. The Swedish heat for the Eurovision Song Contest was around the corner again. This time, ABBA was in it to win it. They were in search of a cracker of a song. The question was: would they finally succeed. And a hectic period started in the ABBA team. Hundreds of songs were tested and then they found their cracker...

Sunday 13 June 2010

Popshop, May 1977: Intimate portrait, Anni-Frid (from ABBA)

Anni-Frid is the fourth, auburn-haired, female part of ABBA. She was born on November 15, 1945 in the Norwegian town Narvik. Two years later she moved to Sweden, where she first lived in Torshälla and later on in Eskilstuna (near Stockholm). When she was only thirteen, she already was a singer with an orchestra in a restaurant club. She tried to appear a little older than her actual age and told the manager that she was sixteen. A while later, she had her own dance orchestra, the Anni-Frid Four. She fell in love with the bass player of the orchestra, Ragnar Fredriksson, to whom she got married even before she turned sixteen, because her first child, Hans, was on its way. Later on, she had a little daughter, Lise. When she was eighteen, she won a talent competition in Vasteras with the song ‘Besame Mucho’ (she had picked up the little Spanish that she knew on her honeymoon). This led to a television show and quite a few performances in the Swedish folk parks and to international song contests in Japan and Venezuela. Later on she met Benny, at the time a member of the Hep Stars, and ABBA was already in the making.

Anni-Frid, by some people you are described as ABBA’s mysterious woman. How did that image come about?
“I don’t know actually. Maybe it’s because I’m rather silent. I was also the last member to join ABBA. Most of the time, I’m also in the shadow of the others. Anna with her long blonde hair attracts more attention as well. Maybe it’s because of my childhood, my past?”
Is it true that you have had a rather mysterious and unusual childhood?
“You might call it that. My mother was Norwegian, her name was Synni Lyngstad. She was nineteen years old and completely inexperienced when she met the German officer Alfred Haase towards the end of the war. The Norwegian people didn’t like the German occupants and everyone disapproved of the relationship. The end of the war drew near and Alfred Haase disappeared. My mother was left behind and I was born. When she was twenty-one, she died. No one has ever known what happened to my father. According to my grandmother, who raised me, my father had promised that he would return. But having a child from a German was a disgrace in Norway. That’s why my grandmother moved to Sweden. We could start a new life there. I’m very grateful to my grandmother. She was like a real mother to me. Her entire life, she slaved away to make sure that I was doing well. She also taught me how to sing. As a child, Norwegian and Swedish folk songs. When I was only ten years old, I already sang at birthday parties. No, my childhood wasn’t really unhappy...”
And your first marriage?
“I was very young. I also looked older than I actually was. But the marriage was a mistake, despite the two children. Did you know that our parents planned the wedding? And we didn’t know any better. I suffered most because of the children. When my singing career started to take off, I had to move to Stockholm, away from the children. No one understands how something like that can make you suffer. In the eyes of other people, I was a smiling, happy star. But inside I was a mess. What hurt me most was the gossip talk. People who said that I had deserted my children. One big lie. I wanted them with me, in Sweden. But Ragnar, who was always very understanding, didn’t mind at all and luckily he took care of the children. The children were better off with him than with me. My apartment was far too small for them. But believe me: I shed quite a few tears because of this!”
How did you meet Benny?
“Simply the way it usually goes. Benny, Björn and Agnetha were together already. I was on tour, they were as well. We met each other in the bar of a hotel. Nothing special. Of course I knew him already. The Hep Stars were the most famous group in Sweden at the time. But that first meeting didn’t mean much. We had a couple of beers together. We said hello and goodbye. I didn’t expect that we would meet again in the near future. But a while later, we were in the same television show again. Benny invited me to have diner together and we talked for hours and suddenly we realised that we clicked in one way or another. The divorce between Ragnar and me had just been finalized. We separated as friends. I felt very lonely at the time. I believe that Benny came into my life just in time. I never told this to anyone, but I was sitting alone in my apartment all the time and missed the children terribly. I started to wonder if it was all worth it. I really considered to give up my career and return to my family and children. I think that I missed the safety net of a marriage.”
What’s your opinion about sex?
“Normal. Like most Swedes’ opinion about sex is, but that doesn’t seem to be interpreted the same way in other countries. But I have the impression that we, as Swedes, look at things in a more honest, open and tolerant way. I also lived together with my first husband for a couple of months before we got married, likewise with Benny. Here, it’s being called a ‘Stockholm marriage’. On April 1, 1970 Benny and I started living together. I still remember as if it was yesterday. It was in a tiny apartment. It was so tiny that there was only room for the double bed or Benny’s piano. Benny, a musician in every sense of the word, couldn’t miss his piano. But still we preferred to have the double bed. For the time being that is. Although we are not legally married, we still celebrate the first of April as our wedding day. We even exchange cards and presents, why would it be different from couples who are actually married?”
Who has hurt you the most in your life?
“The people from the gossip press. They showed pictures of me and my first husband, together with the children, and wrote: ‘Anni-Frid abandoned this happy family life for Benny Andersson from the Hep Stars...’. I think this has to be settled once and for all. The divorce had been finalized already long before I met Benny for the first time. It wasn’t a sudden decision. In fact, it’s much easier for me to talk to Ragnar now than when we were still married.”
How do your children respond to Benny, their ‘second’ daddy?
“As often as possible, we try to see them, visit them or have them with us. I don’t want to be separated from my children at all. They get along great with Benny. Why wouldn’t they?”
Don’t you ever argue with Benny?
“Of course I do. Our squabbles have become legendary, maybe not as hot-tempered as the bickering between Björn and Agnetha. At a party at Björn’s home, I once threw coffee cups at Benny. He just stood there smiling, he didn’t get mad at all and that got my temper to boiling point even more. It’s very difficult to get Benny angry. Our personalities are completely different. I like to make plans, I want everything to go according to plan. And Benny, he likes to let things take their course. He doesn’t bother with anything.”
Anni-Frid, it is known that Benny is very fond of classical music. What kind of music do you like best?
“Nothing classical for me. I like quite a few female vocalists and... jazz, from New Orleans to contemporary.”
What irritates you the most?
“In the past especially when I realised that I wasn’t a bad singer myself but noticed that less talented singers were more successful than me! It bothered me enormously but I think that it made me even more ambitious to get ahead in this business. Now that’s all over. Now there aren’t many things that still irritate me.”
What do you think is one of your lesser qualities?
“That I’m too introverted. Due to the fact that I didn’t have the essential warmth and personality, things didn’t go as I wanted initially. I come across as being rather cold with the people.”
Who do you admire the most now?
“Benny! I knew that I had a good voice, technically very good, I could sing in a loud and soft way, but according to Benny too much like an instrument. He helped me cross that bridge. Thanks to him I am what I am today. Now I’m able to move across the stage. I come across in a nicer way.”
Are you superstitious?
“You bet! After we had won the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton with ‘Waterloo’, I wore my broad-brimmed sombrero everywhere, as some kind of lucky charm. Rumour had it that I never took off that sombrero because I didn’t have time to wash my hair.”
Is it true that you left the group for a while after ‘Waterloo’?
“Not exactly. About one year after our Eurovision victory, I recorded the album ‘Frida’ (that’s how my friends are calling me) on my own. It became an enormous success: more than 100.000 copies were sold. People wanted to see me on television as a solo artist again, but our manager objected. It would have damaged the image of the group.”
How do you react to criticism?
“I accept criticism on us and myself, when it’s well-founded. But the past few years it’s been envy that made critics grab their pen. Especially in Sweden, there has been a lot of moaning because we were so successful all over the world. And because we made so much money. Why is making a lot of money a bad thing? Everybody wants it, right? Everybody wants to be successful. You have to work hard to reach the top, we’ve had to do that as well. These people seem to forget that we’ve been slaving away for years for a pittance. Now it’s caviar and champagne in Hilton hotels, but a few years ago it was a glass of milk and a sandwich in some obscure motel.”
How do you see your future?
“Undefinable. The money is starting to pour in, but what do you do with it in a country where you have to pay 85 percent to taxes? We have to invest, business wise, in buildings, shares, we have to think about our future. No, we are not cheap. We have finally been able to buy ‘our island’ and we live in new houses, in one of Stockholm’s better neighbourhoods. And I have my own Maserati now. But that’s all. For the rest, we are still the same as we used to be. Working hard with too little time off...”

Sunday 6 June 2010

Studio, 1978: ABBA (The Album album review)

ABBA was better than I thought. I admit that this is actually an inadmissible statement. You don’t have any idea what I thought, and therefore you don’t have any idea either how much value you should attribute to the fact that I thought that ABBA was rather okay. Well, what I thought was initially based on seeing this group at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974, and you might remember them singing their ‘Waterloo’ there, dressed in their Napoleon outfits. It seemed obvious: yet another teenybopper group with some dreary act. The group’s enormous successes made sure that I kept hearing their hits very often, and slowly but surely I started to realise that I actually liked hearing these hits. I decided to purchase ‘Arrival’, with the excuse that my little son adores it.
Now that I have listened to their latest – ‘ABBA, The Album’ – quite a few times, I think that I know more or less how it works with ABBA. These two B’s from the middle, Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson (not forgetting their manager Stig Anderson), are pop producers and pop composers of the good commercial type (like for instance Hans van Hemert, Eddie Ouwens and Peter Koelewijn in Holland). When they listen to other people’s records, then they hear what it’s all about, and they can copy it. As far as there are any artistic pretensions, they barely shine through in their work – that is primarily aimed at the success. For that matter, Andersson and Ulvaeus have listened quite well to Spector and the Beatles (and a lot of other artists from the sixties), they probably have a little more talent than the aforementioned Dutchmen at their disposal, and in any case better and better looking singers.
The result is easily digestible pop, without any profundity. This is not meant as a criticism, but as a statement. ABBA will probably not enrich someone’s life. But when you are feeling good, it’s alright to hum along to such a song.
For the rest, I think that ‘Arrival’ was somewhat stronger than ‘ABBA, The Album’. I also have the impression that the hits from ‘The Album’ won’t be as successful as the hits from ‘Arrival’. The songs aren’t that bad, but most of them don’t stand out either. And we have come to expect something else than that.

Pop Foto, May 1979: 10 ABBA hits at one blow

An amusing (and absurd) story from German magazine Pop Foto, claiming that ABBA would have to record ten (yet to be composed) new singles, immediately after the release of the ‘Voulez-Vous’ album, due to their fully booked schedule until the end of the year.
The red light is on above the door of the Polar Studios in Stockholm: trespassers will be prosecuted! What’s happening behind the door in the recording studio is top secret – at least at the moment: ABBA is putting the finishing touch to their new album. The entire week already, Björn and Benny have been sitting at the mixing console for more than ten hours every day, to make the last improvements on the record.
“On top of that, we are working under a considerable time pressure,” Benny says later on, when he comes to the studio canteen for a few minutes to grab a quick bite to eat. “In the beginning of May, the album – that will be entitled ‘Voulez-Vous’ – should be available in the shops. The sleeve photographs and the accompanying advertisements are ready. Now, we really have to stay on schedule, otherwise our entire planning will be turned upside down.” He takes a bite of his salmon sandwich. “And subsequently we will continue working in the studio right away. Because then we will have to record at least ten new hits in six weeks time!”
This ten hits thing should be ABBA’s biggest achievement up till now. Because the group’s schedule is fully booked until the end of the year, ABBA now has to record all the singles that will be released in the next twelve months. Benny: “The biggest problem is that we still have to compose all the songs. This means a double strain for us. After all, the songs shouldn’t be meaningless mass products, but they will have to live up to the quality of our other records. We owe that to the fans and to ourselves.”
But ABBA has taken care of the compensating relaxation already. Björn, who has come to our table with a hot cup of coffee in his hand, clarifies: “By June, everything should be in the can. And then we will be off on a holiday – two months long. What will be our holiday destination – separate of course – remains our secret.”

In August, ABBA will have to get back to work. Benny: “Then we will start the rehearsals for our big autumn tour, that will kick off in the USA in October, after that it will bring us to Canada and in November it will take us back to Europe. In Europe, Germany is obviously on our tour schedule as well. We will perform in your country for about one week. The exact venues and dates are not definite yet. For us, the American leg of the tour will be particularly interesting. This will show if we will be able to become equally big in the States as we are in Europe. Up till now, our records have been successful over there but we have never performed live in front of an American audience yet.”
Björn and Benny are most secretive about the details of the tour. “But it is certain that we will wear some of the stage outfits that we already introduced in the Snowtime Special,” Björn reveals. ABBA is not secretive about one subject: “At least, we will stay together – despite the divorce and despite all the rumours. Because,” Björn grins, “would we have such major plans otherwise?”

Saturday 5 June 2010

Das Freizeit-Magazin, 1979: Sleepless nights before the world tour!

It didn’t matter where they were – they came, sang and conquered. Only in America, the breakthrough didn’t happen immediately. Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid about the dismissal in the country that now is rewarding them with one of their greatest triumphs.

The Swedes revealed why they definitely wanted to be successful in the USA. How they feel about their success. What’s happening in their private lives. Why they are only doing five concerts in Germany.

Bad omens for ABBA’s super tour in America: Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid had never been truly on top of the charts – and every child knows that it’s a big risk to tour in the USA when one hasn’t reached the number one spot yet. Before the tour started over there, ABBA hadn’t nearly achieved the same level of popularity as the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton. Rocky Das Freizeit-Magazin talked to ABBA.
Why did you take the risk to go to America, under these unfavourable circumstances?
Björn: “When you want to be really big in the pop music industry, you have to be successful in America. Our records weren’t as successful in the States as everywhere else. Our only chance at becoming successful was taking a leap into the dark. We did everything we could to make our show as good as possible. We worked extremely hard on that. At times, we didn’t even sleep a wink due to stage fright. The excruciating nerves were the worst thing.”
How do you explain the current sensational breakthrough?
Benny: “I haven’t really thought about that yet. Probably, it’s the perfection that’s so spellbinding for the fans. Indeed, we even managed to get a reception in the White House. Anni-Frid gave Amy Carter, the president’s daughter, a golden necklace as a present. We had to cancel our concert in Washington, because Agnetha had to stay in bed with a heavy flu.”
Is the audience in America different, compared to Europe?
Björn: “Absolutely, when for instance you compare them with the people in Sweden. In Sweden, nobody says that a concert was great or that the stage outfits suited the show. The Americans aren’t afraid to show their feelings when they like something. That’s very impressing!”
Doesn’t your private life suffer on a lengthy world tour like this?
Agnetha: “It’s the first time that Björn and I are separated from our little son Christian (he is 18 months old) for such a long time. A separation like that isn’t easy. Apart from that, there are hardly any problems: I don’t have a new boyfriend that’s waiting for me. And I get along with Björn better than ever since we got divorced.”
Why are you only doing five concerts in Germany?
Anni-Frid: “If we would have to do the amount of shows to give all of our fans the opportunity to experience us live, then we would be touring for the next five years. That’s impossible.”
What will happen after the tour?
Benny: “Then it’s high time to make preparations for the next album. We will withdraw to compose new songs. Nobody knows how long that will take. Because we want to get better with every album and sometimes that can take more time. Apart from that, on October 29 the album ‘ABBA – Greatest Hits 2’ will be released in Germany. Our new single ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme’ will be included as well.”

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Hitkrant, 1978: ABBA album not before Christmas – Television takes preference

A small report from Dutch Hitkrant magazine about ABBA’s busy schedule and the delay of the release of the new album ‘Voulez-Vous’.
What’s that? And they promised! Yes, but ABBA is now far too busy to complete the recordings for the new album: on November 11, the group will be off to Los Angeles and from there they will travel to Tokyo, all for television performances and promotional purposes. After that, the four Swedes will go to England to record a Christmas television special.

Then they will get back to Sweden: recording sessions in their own studio, luckily they have a few days off over the holiday season and then, on January 8, 9 and 10, they are off again to New York, for the big Unicef gala, where the BeeGees will be the hosts of, among others, Olivia Newton-John, Andy Gibb, Elton John, Rod Stewart and Barry Manilow.

Then it’s back to Sweden, continue working on the new album. But not for long, because then ABBA has to get back to England again, for a one-hour-long television special called ‘Snowtime Special’.
This show will most probably be aired all over Europe around Easter, so that we will be able to see our four friends on our screens as well. In that show, they will perform five songs from their new album.

So it’s clear: there won’t be a new album before Christmas. Instead, a new single from the forthcoming album will be released around the middle of November. You will hear more about that very soon.
Still, every now and then you wonder how Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Björn and Benny are able to cope with such a hectic life!