Sunday, 22 August 2010

Muziek Parade, October 1977: The ABBA Story, part 6

Up till now, Muziek Parade has published five complete parts of the ABBA Story, wherein the individual members of the group were addressed extensively. We talked about their ups and downs. Their success and their troubles. The difficult early years, the opposition of the Swedish media. But MP has reported extensively about the victory in Brighton and its consequences as well. The end of this story is drawing near. It’s not the end of ABBA, because we dare to predict that ABBA will be present at the top of the international show business for years and years to come, since the success of ABBA is based on the tight mutual bond between Stig, Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Benny and Björn. This intense collaboration is even more powerful due to the enormous musical inventiveness of the fivesome and their nose for knowing what the general public wants. And ABBA meets the taste of the audience completely, without making any concessions by the way.
Slowly but surely, ABBA managed to get the Swedish media behind them after all. For instance, Expressen wrote about ‘Mr. Biz’ Stig Anderson: “There are not many people who know the real Stig, who have looked him in the heart. He turned Sweden into the centre of international attention. He gave Sweden the devices that it needed and still needs. Stig is some sort of world champion. He has an enormous amount of ambition and pushing power. He owns record companies and music publishing companies. He is proud of his successes, and isn’t he allowed to? Stig believes in himself. There’s no false modesty. He is a clever musical bullet. He brought the deathly Swedish music industry back to life and we realised that far too late and we ought to be ashamed of that.”
That’s a clear statement. However, ABBA barely got any support from the Swedish television broadcasting company. They thought that their music was too commercial and that they were only beefing up the bank accounts of the group and Stig, instead of meeting the wishes of the Swedish population. That’s why the group decided to do a concert in their home country in january 1975, at the Concert Hall in Stockholm. ABBA was just as nervous as they had been in Brighton. The group had been away too long and they felt that they had alienated themselves from their own fans. That nervousness wasn’t necessary. It turned into a real triumph for ABBA. ABBA ended their performance with ‘Waterloo’ and it seemed as if the venue was turned upside down. Girls were fainting and several of them were fighting to keep themselves from bursting into tears. The Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, that hadn’t been very kind to ABBA in the past, reported the next day: “These are idols at work, supported by at least 2.000 enthusiastic fans. ABBA is back in Sweden, let’s try to keep them here because ABBA is better than ever.”
The well-known American manager Sid Bernstein – who had once organised a huge Beatles concert – was in the concert hall as well and he told the press: “ABBA now belongs to the biggest acts in the carousel that’s called show business.” He – who had seen so many artists perform already – was very impressed with ABBA’s performance. “What a show,” he exclaimed.
For a full ninety minutes – it seemed like a soccer game – ABBA went through their repertoire and they kept growing and growing. Bernstein was very enthusiastic about the group’s clothes. Anni-Frid’s white overall with the green cap. Agnetha in a tight outfit as well. And later on Anni-Frid’s mini skirt with the white boots.

After this performance, Anni-Frid recorded a solo album that was titled ‘Frida’. It became a big success, selling more than 100.000 copies. Panic broke loose due to this success. Is Frida going to leave ABBA now? Will she continue on her own? Requests for solo performances came in but Stikkan Anderson put a stop to everything and said: “Frida wanted to make an old dream come true. She succeeded. Good for her and everyone who bought the album but Frida will not perform on her own in television shows or at concerts. She is too important for the group.”
Frida: “In the beginning I was disappointed by Stig’s veto but later on I understood. He wants to prevent us from growing apart. He wants to prevent the audience from getting confused about what’s going on with ABBA.”
One of the aspects of the group’s contract with Stig is that he can put a stop to certain changes in their career whenever he feels that it’s going to hurt ABBA. In Frida’s case, he just had to interfere.

After this occurance, there was another important moment in ABBA’s career: Agnetha’s tonsils. She almost had to skip Brighton, because her swollen tonsils kept bothering her. Because of this, Agnetha was also struggling with a cold and she wasn’t able to reach certain notes any longer. The tonsils are equally important to a singer as a meniscus is to a soccer player.
Agnetha tells about it now: “In consultation with Stig and the others it was decided that my tonsils had to be removed. I was very anxious about it and in a state like that it always works out badly. I had a local narcosis and was able to witness the entire treatment. Afterwards, I regretted that I went ahead with the operation. I felt awful and I could hardly talk, let alone sing. It would take a couple of weeks before I could utter a few words. I was really scared that I had lost my voice. Carefully, I started to speak again and after some weeks it was time for the final exam: singing.”
Agnetha was driven to the studio, everything was set out and... Agnetha sang like a bird. What a relief. There were no problems and her voice was better than ever.

From that moment on, their success was unstoppable. It seems as if a buckload of gold and platinum records were floating to Stockholm. There seems to be no end and it looks as if ABBA is going to surpass the big successes of the Beatles. ABBA was being called a one-hit wonder by insiders. Pessimists were claiming: “After two singles we won’t hear from this group ever again.” They were all proven wrong. After ‘Waterloo’ came ‘Ring Ring’ and ‘I Do, I Do’ and ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘Fernando’ and ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘SOS’ and ‘Honey, Honey’ and ‘Money, Money’.
Stig Anderson told MP’s reporter Cees van Leyde during a meeting in Stockholm: “In Holland it was Eddy Becker who acknowledged ABBA’s qualities immediately. While other producers were still hesitant, he made me an offer right away. That’s why Becker has a special place in our hearts.” A huge compliment for Eddy Becker, who can be seen on our television screens far too little. Some more statistics, always fun: ABBA has had 5 number one singles in England, 5 in Germany, 3 in France. There’s an ABBA album in almost every Australian household. In Australia, no less than 1.000.000 copies were sold of the album ‘The Best Of ABBA’ and this record was broken later on with ‘Arrival’. In Australia – 13 million people are living there – ABBA is bigger than the Beatles have ever been. In the first week after its release, 700.000 copies of the ‘Arrival’ album were sold. When you realise that you get a gold record for sales of 25.000 copies, you can imagine how much gold was struck by ABBA.
Stig Anderson: “I believe that we are bigger in the Benelux than any other group has ever been in history.” That’s typical Anderson: not being embarrassed by a statement like that. He knows exactly what he is and where.
Take America for instance. ‘Waterloo’ was a top ten hit and the contracts and telexes were pouring in. But ABBA simply said: “We don’t have any time at the moment.” An incomprehensible reply for an American, accustomed to strike the iron while it is hot. When ‘SOS’ had sold more than 1.000.000 copies, the group flew over. Not to play concerts, but to do a couple of coast-to-coast interviews. They performed on three television shows that were being watched by more than 100.000.000 people. The Merv Griffin Show, The Dinah Shore Show and The Jack Paar Show (someone like Willem Duys). Sid Bernstein had made the right preparations and that’s how these performances had the same result as a heavy tour of about 30 days would have had.
The Merv Griffin Show was broadcast from Las Vegas. Finally Vegas, is what the group thought, but it turned out differently. There was hardly any time to do some sightseeing in this peculiar city in the desert and whenever ABBA went out of Caesar’s Palace for a while, the group was stormed by excited fans that regarded them as new idols. Björn did have the time to buy a new guitar but Agnetha just had to stay inside the hotel, because of Linda. The little girl was shaken up by the huge time difference. At the times that she had to sleep, she walked around cooing and at the times when she had to play, she was vast asleep. A very complicated matter, that caused Agnetha sleepless nights.
In The Dinah Shore Show, Benny and Frida had to face another problem. Miss Shore asked if they loved each other. “Yes,” they nodded. If they wanted to get married. “Yes,” they nodded. Haven’t had the time yet? “That’s right,” they nodded. “Well,” miss Shore said, “you can get married here within two minutes. Now you can’t say that you don’t have the time.” And Benny and Frida were put on the spot. What would they say. How would they get out of this situation. But Benny took care of the solution with a relaxed smile: “Frida and I are engaged, we want to get to know each other a little better and then we will get married. And we want to pick the place where that will happen ourselves.” And everyone was happy.

What is the most wonderful thing according to Stig Anderson, now that practically every success has been achieved? “I’ve travelled a lot around the world,” Stig says to MP, “I still think the most wonderful thing is whenever an ABBA record is being played on the radio. I was in Kenya some time ago. In my hotel room I turned on the radio and... an ABBA song was being played. I think that’s wonderful. People have told me that so many ABBA records have been sold all over the world. Every minute, there’s an ABBA record being played in at least three places in the world. I think that’s simply amazing. And not only because I make some money of it.”

Which country is closest to ABBA’s heart? Stig: “You want me to be honest, don’t you? That’s Australia. I have respect for the people that are working over there. They have all left their own country to build a new future. I respect that, you don’t turn your back on your native country easily. Apart from that, the group’s popularity is tremendous over there and it’s being expressed so wonderfully. I can hardly describe it. An example: whenever ABBA arrives in the country, it seems as if a foreign head of state is coming. A week before, there’s already a nervous buzz. People are putting out the flag. Special measures are being taken so that nothing can happen to the group but people will still be able to see something. You haven’t experienced something like that before. Wonderful. In Australia, we are also number one in the charts of the highest rated television shows. A record, by the way, that we share with Frank Sinatra. That’s not bad company, I would say.”
Stig forgets to mention that he has done something very special in Australia. ABBA would perform in Sydney at the Showground Stadium. A venue that can hold about 40.000 people. The tickets could have been sold with ease. Then Stig decided to sell only 20.000 tickets and perform two concerts. He made the stadium a little smaller, to make it more pleasant and... to give the people their money’s worth. After some hesitation, Stig says: “Commercially speaking, it’s of course better to play twice for 40.000 people, than twice for 20.000, but still I chose the latter. I don’t want to make the impression that I’m out to make buckets of money. ABBA asks a good price and the people will get an excellent concert for that.”
This decision has made headlines in the newspapers and it has made Stig Anderson at least as popular as the members of the group. The downside of their amazing Australian success are the ‘white records’. The ABBA albums have been copied by thousands, reproduced in illegal record pressing factories and released on the market for a cheaper price. This has caused a riot. The police has been able to seize thousands of records and prevent worse things from happening. Later on, these illegal records were also made in Singapore, Italy and Hong Kong. In Taiwan, they have discovered a pressing factory in time.

Good memories? “Thousands of them,” says Stig Anderson. “I’m going to write a book about that in the future. I have wonderful memories of the launch of the ‘Arrival’ album in London. We landed there in helicopters during a reception. The people loved it. Oh well, actually it’s fun everywhere we go to launch an album or to receive gold records. It’s like having a birthday every day and who isn’t happy on his birthday. Happy faces everywhere.”

A less pleasant moment was their performance on Top Of The Pops. According to the British law of labour, a British orchestra had to be used. It’s not easy – not even for the best musicians in the world – to learn how to play the complex ABBA arrangements with its special effects within a couple of hours. That performance on Top Of The Pops turned into a fiasco and the unions refused to let them use their own backing tracks. And that’s how they are trifling with the interests of millions of viewers.
Earlier this year, in January, ABBA toured through the United Kingdom and they wanted to get paid in German Marks or Swiss Francs, two strong currencies. Organiser Danny Betesh passed this on to the media who took the opportunity to write nasty reports.
A nice occurance: the invitation of the German president Walter Scheel to perform during the visit of the American president Gerald Ford. It is known that Ford is a huge ABBA fan. But ABBA had to cancel due to commitments elsewhere.

ABBA won’t let themselves be photographed like this anymore!
It is known that ABBA follows a clever strategy when it comes to photo sessions. Only the best photographers are allowed to take pictures of ABBA. Like the photo sessions in Muziek Parade, by Wolfgang Heilemann or the upcoming photo sessions, by Barry Levine. Only the very best of them are considered. Even these photographers – who are widely known – have to hand over a plan of action that states clearly what will be photographed and how. And in which clothes.
Photographers go to great lenghts to find nice subjects, beautiful colours and special settings.
Usually, photo sessions take up about seven days, because everything is talked through with the group. There are always some adjustments or observations to be made. But when the photo session is eventually finished, a unique series of pictures will see the light of day. A lot of them are not allowed to be published by the critical group. Then Stig puts in his veto. Despite all these precautions, despite all the conversations and despite all the decisions, some pictures have been put into circulation that ABBA themselves would rather have seen unreleased. Hereby, MP publishes one of these pictures. Naked ABBA, wrapped in tinfoil. ABBA themselves regret the fact that the pictures from this session have slipped through. Pictures like this are damaging ABBA’s image, is what they think. That’s why saucy pictures like this will never be taken and/or published ever again. Stig will make sure of that.


Monica said...

Interesting article, do you have parts 1-5 available? Thanks for the translations. :o)

Michel said...

Hi Monica, if you scroll through the 1977 section, you should be able to track them down.

Monica said...

Hi Michel,
Thank you for the info, I was able to find them. Thanks again for your hard work. :o)

Anonymous said...

As always great articles with equaly brilliant pics.......Thankyou again Michel for all your hard work !


Michel said...

Thanks for the appreciation, JS!