Tuesday 28 September 2010

Muziek Expres, March 1977: The iron fist behind ABBA

ABBA, the Swedish pop giant that – when it comes to popularity – can compete with the Beatles in their heyday, owes its unlimited success for the most part to the relentless policies of the ruthless businessman Stig Anderson. Whoever wants something from or with ABBA, is being professionally squeezed dry by Stig...

The collaboration between Stig Anderson and ABBA dates back to the very early days, when the currently so successful Swedish group took their first hesitant steps on the path that should lead to practically absolute power in the pop business. However, there’s hardly any talk of a ‘collaboration’, it’s more like a one way street, wherein Stig gives the orders and ABBA obeys like slaves.

“I can imagine that something like this can come across as rather unengaging,” Stig admits wholeheartedly, “but on the other hand you mustn’t forget that without my help ABBA wouldn’t have achieved much more than some flimsy national – and therefore Swedish – fame. And that doesn’t account for much in the world. That’s why we agreed beforehand that I would control the commercial aspects on my own, a demand that was a logical consequence of my investments in the group.”

The chores have been distributed by Stig by contract: the boys have to provide great music, in which concept he writes most of the lyrics himself, and the girls have to complete the picture with their physical and vocal talents. “I have hit the jackpot with Anni-Frid and Agnetha,” says Stig as if he is willingly giving his opinion about two herd-book cows. “Not only do they look fantastic, but both of them are bursting with talent as well. It’s easy to find a hot chick but it won’t get you anywhere because you won’t make it with just a nice butt. The most important thing is that they know how to move, that they are able to get the audience going and that they have a voice that would even get the worst misogynist on his knees. When all of this is offered in a sexy package, it’s inevitable that the success will come and with ABBA it has turned out that this formula works effortlessly. There have been problems in the beginning. For instance, Anni-Frid and Agnetha thought that their movements on stage were just fine. Then I told them that they should take some ballet lessons first and – as it turned out – their presentation could be improved upon, to put it mildly. Now they are practising the flesh off their bones every day, but I had to put my foot down to reach this result.”

“It’s not any different with ABBA than it is with any other artist: they are living for their music and they don’t look beyond that. When you leave these people to their fate, others will take advantage of them on a large scale. Look, a bloke that wants to book a photo session with ABBA is making money from that and isn’t it logical then that the group gets a share in this profit? Every pop group is a company that has to make a profit and preferably as much as possible, because mostly their time at the top is very limited. That’s why it’s important that a manager takes care of their business and someone like that should be ruthless without being prominent because otherwise the group’s image will suffer. I am a manager like that.”

Sunday 26 September 2010

Das Freizeit-Magazin, 1975: Star portrait

Biography in short.
ABBA – since the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 this name stands for custom-made hits from Sweden. Because since their winning song ‘Waterloo’ things are steadily going upwards for the four good spirited characters. All four of them had already been working in the music business when they decided to continue as a quartet in 1972. Agnetha sang and composed, Björn and Benny had already gathered experience in other groups and Anni-Frid already was a popular singer and equally popular television star in her home country Sweden as well. So it’s no surprise that a supergroup has evolved from this combination of professionals. And privately they get along great as well. All four of them are living in a suburb of Stockholm and they mostly spend their scarce spare time on sailing.

A for Agnetha Fältskog. Born on April 5, 1950 in Jönköping. Equipped with long blonde hair and blue eyes. Agnetha is the wife at Björn’s side and she has a daughter, Linda (1 ½). She started a solo career when she was seventeen years old (‘I Was So In Love’).
B for Björn Ulvaeus. Born on April 25, 1945 in Göteborg. He founded a skiffle group at the age of eleven. After that he sang folk songs with the group Hootenanny (these days Björn is still involved in this studio group on the side).
B for Benny Andersson. Born on December 16, 1946. He started out in 1963 with the pop group Hep Stars. Together with Björn he composed numerous hits for other groups. In 1972, Benny and Björn founded ABBA.
A for Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Born in November 1945 in Norway. Hazelnut brown eyes and equally brown hair. She has already been a singer and television star from 1967 onwards.

Friday 24 September 2010

Pop Rocky, 1983: Agnetha’s musical ‘youth sins’!

There’s a turmoil surrounding ABBA sweetheart Agnetha! Everywhere, her album ‘Wrap Your Arms Around Me’ (including the hit single ‘The Heat Is On’) is celebrated as her first solo album. But Pop Rocky found out that this isn’t true at all! Since many years, Agnetha Fältskog has been running a flourishing business in her home country Sweden with Swedish language solo albums.
Already back in 1968, Agnetha’s first solo single was released: ‘Jag Var Så Kär’ (‘I Was So In Love’). The record reached number one in the Swedish charts. At the time, ABBA had only just been founded and they only performed under the name Agnetha, Björn, Benny, Anni-Frid. When ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton in 1974 with ‘Waterloo’ and launched an international career, that hasn’t met its equal yet, Agnetha had already released five solo albums on the Swedish market. All of them were very successful in her home country.
But later on, Agnetha still didn’t give up on her Swedish career. For instance, in 1980 ‘Nu Tändas Tusen Juleljus’ was released, an album with Swedish Christmas songs, sung by Agnetha and her daughter Linda.
However, anyone who hasn’t got any of the eight Swedish Agnetha albums in his record collection doesn’t miss out on much. Most of these recordings contain very little of the brilliancy and fire of the ABBA recordings.
In any case, none of the old Agnetha albums is able to compete with her current super album ‘Wrap Your Arms Around Me’! Is that the reason why ABBA’s German fans weren’t allowed to get acquainted with Agnetha’s eight ‘youth sins’?

These are Agnetha’s musical ‘youth sins’.
‘Agnetha Fältskog’ (released 1968). A lot of schlager and very little sound – her first hit single ‘Jag Var Så Kär’ is included as well. And the record cover speaks of a “natural talent, especially evident due to her self written compositions.”
‘Agnetha Fältskog Vol. 2’ (released 1969). A slightly better effort, but still very schlagerish. However, ABBA technician Michael Tretow is already managing the mixing console here. Good voice, all is well.
‘Som Jag Är’ (‘As I Am’, released 1971). Sweetheart Agnetha is competing with an orchestra. Her future husband Björn is involved as an arranger and ABBA manager Stig Anderson is trying his hands on some lyrics. Hideous.
‘Agnetha’ (released 1971). Now it’s gradually getting ABBA-like – fun arrangements and a couple of backing choirs. Björn is already collaborating on the lyrics industriously.
‘Agnetha Fältskog’s Bästa’ (‘The Best Of...’, released 1973). See the previous four albums.
‘Elva Kvinnor I Ett Hus’ (‘Eleven Women In One House’, released 1975). A Swedish language version of the ABBA hit ‘SOS’ – sung by Agnetha – is included. And all other ABBA members are collaborating as musicians. It can almost be considered as a Swedish language ABBA album.
‘Tio År Med Agnetha’ (‘Ten Years With Agnetha’, released 1979). A compilation album of Agnetha’s best ‘youth sins’! But Agnetha is simply better with ABBA.
‘Nu Tändas Tusen Juleljus’ (‘Now A Thousand Candles Are Being Lit’, released 1980). Christmas with Agnetha and her daughter Linda! Most of these Christmas songs are unknown in our country. Sounds like an ABBA album with Mickey Mouse voices.

Sunday 19 September 2010

Free, 1992: The phenomenon ABBA

ABBA is once again the centre of attention at the moment. And it seems that only now people realize what the group has contributed to pop music. But that’s not completely true...

U2 is doing it on stage with ‘Dancing Queen’. Erasure is having a huge hit with ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’ and the Australian band Björn Again has reverted to ABBA’s complete repertoire with great success. It might seem that the interest in ABBA is a trendy and new phenomenon.
But the sympathy and admiration from colleagues, that the Swedish group is enjoying these days, is by no means a recent thing. Years ago, Randy Newman already admitted that he was a big ABBA fan. And stars like Pete Townsend from The Who and singer/producer Nick Lowe have spoken very highly of the foursome as well. Even the former king of punk, The Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten, openly confessed that he owned practically every ABBA record.
In itself, that’s a remarkable thing. Because the four from ABBA started their victory tour across the world after they had won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974. And that’s exactly the event that’s usually being spoken about in a derogatory way in music circles...
For that matter, it wasn’t the first time that ABBA had made a stir in the Eurovision context. One year earlier, in 1973, the group had already tried to enter the contest as Sweden’s representative. But their ‘Ring Ring’ – in Holland a top 5 hit! – was deemed not good enough in the preselections in their home country. One year later, they definitely made it: ‘Waterloo’ left their competition far behind and ABBA managed – as one of very few Eurovision winners – to maintain their success.

Before this period, Agnetha Fältskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus had all acquired a certain amount of fame on their own. When she was seventeen, Agnetha was already an idol in Sweden: in 1968 she had her first big hit with ‘Jag Var Så Kär’ and in the following years she turned into a superstar in her home country.
Anni-Frid already had a couple of successful musical projects credited to her name as well. Björn was a guitarist with the Hootenanny Singers who became extremely popular in Sweden with the album ‘Evert Taube’. Benny Andersson was a member of the Hep Stars from 1964 onwards and – until the glorious ABBA period – he was the only one who acquired some fame outside the Swedish borders. For that matter, in 1968 the Hep Stars were very successful with their singles ‘Sunny Girl’ and ‘Music Box’ in several European charts.
The collaboration between Björn and Benny starts when the two of them compose – among others – ‘Isn’t It Easy To Say’ together for Benny’s Hep Stars. And after the break-up of that group in 1969, they join forces and start working as producers. However, less than a year later it turns out that they can’t miss the limelight yet and the first version of ABBA is standing on stage under the name Festfolk Quartet. Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Björn and Benny not only complement each other on a musical level. The four are also forming other mutual relationships: Agnetha and Björn get married in 1971, while the other two are a profound love couple at that time too. At that moment, their group name is still a summary of their first names.
During the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974, the world gets acquainted with the group ABBA for the first time, a name that’s much easier to pronounce than the previous Björn, Benny, Anna & Frida... One day after the contest, the entire European continent is singing or humming their joyous ‘Waterloo’, that initially was titled ‘Honey Pie’ by the way. That same year, ABBA enters the charts again: in the penultimate week of 1974 ‘Honey, Honey’ makes its appearance in the Dutch Top 40, followed by ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’ three months later. None of these singles manage – in Holland that is – to achieve the highly desirable top spot. But this state of affairs changes when ‘Fernando’ is released in 1976. It’s ABBA’s first number one hit. Seven more will follow.
From now on, Europe is at ABBA’s feet. However, America only gives in when the ninth(!) single is released by the Swedish quartet: ‘Dancing Queen’. Subsequently, the group is breaking practically all existing sales records and more than once their enormous success is even compared with the success of the Beatles in the previous decade.
Just like John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Benny and Björn turn out to make up a songwriting duo that’s much stronger together than the two of them added up. The twosome manages to provide the most beautiful melodies with sometimes daring, but always very melodic arrangements. Apart from that, the group enters a completely different territory: in 1977 ‘ABBA – The Movie’ is released in the cinemas. Although the movie attracts a fair amount of visitors, it turns out to be a one-off sidestep to the silver screen.
In 1981, rumours start circulating about problems within the group and some time after that it is announced that Benny and Anni-Frid’s marriage has ended. Despite all these difficulties, the four of them are still trying to pursue their collaboration but in 1983 the fairytale is over once and for all.
Anni-Frid even moves to London to live and work there. She manages to rope Phil Collins in to produce ‘Something’s Going On’, her first solo album. Agnetha is very successful on her own as well. Every time with a two year interval, she records three solo albums.
Björn and Benny start collaborating with the musical specialist Tim Rice: in 1984, ‘Chess’ sees the light of day. The musical produces two hit singles and manages to last for no less than four years in the West End theatres in London. All four former ABBA members have found new life partners, Björn got married to advertising lady Lena Källersjö, Benny got married to TV producer Mona Nörklit, Agnetha found the surgeon Tomas Sonnefeld and Anni-Frid found happiness again with the architect Ruzzo Reuss.

Saturday 18 September 2010

Das Freizeit-Magazin, 1978: The most secretive wedding of the year: Benny and Anni-Frid

During the ‘seven year itch’ they cut the knot: Anni-Frid and Benny, ABBA’s eternal love couple became a married couple. In all secrecy they got married on October 6 in the small church of Lidingö. Only Agnetha and Björn took part in the low-key ceremony. “If we had announced the date beforehand, pandemonium would have broken loose,” the usually so temperamental Anni-Frid explains, who – contrary to Agnetha – likes to have a whirl of excitement around her. “But thousands of fans taking the church by storm, that’s even too much for me.”
The couple has been engaged for exactly seven years. A period after which – for most couples – the critical phase begins. But for Anni-Frid and Benny – who are living in a beautiful mansion, together with the four children from their previous marriages – there hasn’t been one dull moment in those seven years.
“True, every now and then there have been fireworks. That’s unavoidable when you are together practically 24 hours a day,” Benny says pensively, “but we belong together. Since we have lived together happily for such a long time, nothing can tear us apart anymore. That’s why we decided to get married now. It’s better for the children as well.”
To make sure that Anni-Frid and Benny’s momentous day didn’t go by completely unnoticed, they threw a party the next day for their friends from the Swedish show business. Among the guests were rock singer Björn Skifs (Blue Swede) and manager Stig Anderson who wasn’t informed about this wedding until this moment. Good-natured he said: “You have nicely led me up the garden-path.”
Anni-Frid’s German father Alfred Haase reacted bitterly: “I had to read in the newspapers that my daughter had got married!”

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Look-In, 1977: Superstar Swedes

To read the article, click on the picture to enlarge.

Monday 13 September 2010

Popcorn, 1979: ABBA: the time bomb is ticking

The shock of the divorce has faded away – now, the question remains: will Björn (33) or Agnetha (28) leave the group? Despite all reassurances, there’s no doubt that the former married couple will separate on a professional level as well. You can read here why a crisis will arise within the group ABBA in the coming six months...

Four weeks after the divorce between Agnetha and Björn was announced, ABBA stated in an exclusive interview with Popcorn: “The atmosphere in the group couldn’t be better; we are even happy about the fact that we don’t have to play hide and seek any longer.”
And Björn, who was most optimistic of them all, even said: “Everything is going according to plan. In the beginning of April, our new album will be released and in August we will start an extensive tour through Asia, Japan and Eastern Europe. If we will manage to do any concerts in America, Canada and Europe after that isn’t clear yet. But I want to emphasize once more that our private affairs won’t have any effect on ABBA as a group.”
And Agnetha added with her most beaming smile: “The divorce hasn’t been as bad as many magazines have claimed. Our old house, where Björn is living, and my new mansion are in the same Stockholm district Lidingö. Whenever we want to pay each other a visit, it’s only a seven minute walk.”
ABBA’s Swedish friends think that statements like this by Agnetha and Björn are simply an attempt to hide the true relations.
A prominent employee at Polar Music: “The time bomb is ticking. At the latest when ABBA goes on tour, it will come to a major fall-out. However, there’s a danger that the group will fall apart before that.”
In former times, Anni-Frid was considered to be the most difficult member of the group but now Agnetha is the biggest risk factor. The reason: the 28-year-old, who has always had her mood swings, has become unpredictable since the divorce.
Two years ago, Björn has already stated jokingly: “Behind that pretty face and those blue eyes there’s a hardheaded woman, that would make anyone – who isn’t as easygoing as I a am – go through the roof.”
Björn, who is still in close contact with Agnetha despite their separation and who even carried her make up case during a recent trip, would definitely do anything to keep his ex-wife in the group. But there are three risk factors that could become a danger for the group.
Their children: Linda (6) and Christian (1) will have to live with Björn and Agnetha by turns. Anyone who knows how fond both of them are of their children, should realize that arguments will be unavoidable.
Their job: during the months-long recording sessions, trouble has always been brewing with ABBA – but after the divorce, the tensions will probably become even higher.
Their private life: up till now, Agnetha and Björn haven’t revealed yet if they already have new life partners. In case new lovers will appear in public, the gap between the both of them will become even wider.
Only ABBA manager Stig Anderson is still hoping under these circumstances: “Agnetha and Björn need to keep each other at a distance – perhaps they will get back together in about six months!”

Sunday 5 September 2010

Hitkrant, June 1979: ABBA is working on a spectacular world tour

ABBA is packing their suitcases! September 15 is the date: then the big world tour of the Swedish stars will kick off. A world tour that will take Agnetha, Frida, Björn and Benny to thirteen countries, where they will perform at least 38 concerts, in 35 cities. Indeed, a monster tour, that proves that ABBA’s popularity hasn’t diminished one bit!

On the contrary: the success of the album ‘Voulez-Vous’ and the singes ‘Chiquitita’ and ‘Does Your Mother Know’ has proven to the world that ABBA has kept up to date. The ‘ideal couple’ Benny and Anni-Frid, the ‘eyecatchers of ABBA’ (both ladies) and their adaption to the disco craze with ‘Does Your Mother Know’ are keeping the group in the centre of attention; its successor ‘Voulez-Vous’ will probably keep them there!
This time, ABBA is concentrating on America. ‘Does Your Mother Know’ is currently charting high in the American Top 100 and manager Stig Anderson has decided to conquer the United States and Canada as well. That’s why the emphasis of this tour is on these countries: concerts in 15 big American and 3 Canadian cities are on their schedule.
And then there’s the rest: Sweden, Denmark, France, The Netherlands, West Germany, Switzerland, Austria, back to West Germany, then Belgium, England, Scotland and ABBA will end this tour on November 14 with a performance in the Irish capital Dublin.
England (where the album ‘Voulez-Vous has entered the charts at number one!) seems to be the most ABBA-crazy: 5 concerts are scheduled there, 3 of them in London, on November 5, 6 and 7. Tickets for these concerts already went on sale in May and a couple of days later the result became clear: everything completely sold out!
But we have been able to witness ourselves during ABBA’s previous tour (in February 1977) at the Jaap Eden hall in Amsterdam: the group is live just as good as on record. Without proclaiming this as ‘the event of the year’, this concert is still something not to be missed. That’s why we hereby give you the addresses where you can buy tickets for ABBA’s concert at the Ahoy hall in Rotterdam on October 24. Mind you: the tickets haven’t gone on sale yet, so it’s no use to start calling now. We will keep you posted when that will happen. Will we see each other on October 24 in Rotterdam?

Saturday 4 September 2010

Bravo, 1981: Anni-Frid: With the help of Bravo, she found her father

Anni-Frid Synni Lyngstad, the fourth of the SuperSwedes ABBA, has a very special connection to Bravo. Because thanks to Bravo, she found her father, a German officer who was considered to be missing when the war had ended and whom she had never seen yet up till then.
In 1977, Bravo reported about the ancestry of the ABBA star and in that context also mentioned the name of her father, Haase, who was believed to be dead. A couple of days later, family members of one Alfred Haase from Karlsruhe contacted Bravo and they said that he might very well be the father of the famous ABBA star.
A furhter investigation of the life of the then 58-year-old pastry baker Haase ruled out the last doubts: Anni-Frid had found her father again. In 1977, Frida met him for the first time in Stockholm. The meeting – set up by Bravo – was very cordial and both of them made contact with each other right away, although they had some language problems.
Anni-Frid was born on November 15, 1945 in a small village, not far from the Norwegian town Narvik. Her mother, Synni Lyngstad, had met the German officer Haase – who was stationed in Norway – in the last year of the war and they spent a summer in love with each other. The bitter end came when Alfred Haase had to withdraw to his home country with his battalion towards the end of the war. Although he promised that he would return, things remained silent. Intense research – started by Frida’s mother – led to the wrong conclusion that Alfred Haase was dead.
Anni-Frid’s mother was never able to cope with the loss of the man she loved. Two years later she died – lonely and abandoned – at the age of 21. Anni-Frid was taken into care by her grandmother.
The old lady knew very well that a child of a German soldier wasn’t very welcome in her home country at the time. That’s why she moved to Sweden with Anni-Frid where she made a living as a seamstress in the little town of Torshälla.

At the age of 13, Frida had her first musical experiences as a singer with a dance band. At the time, she had to disguise her true age, because otherwise she wouldn’t have been allowed to work.
Her second assignment led her to the – then very well-known – jazz band Bengt Sandlunds Big Band, where she met her first love, the bass player Ragnar Fredriksson. Shortly after that, Ragnar and Frida even started their own band which was called Anni-Frid Four. Privately, the couple was inseparable as well, they got married. Anni-Frid had two children, Hans (1963) and Liselotte (1967).
In the same year that Frida’s second child was born, she enjoyed her first musical success as well. With the song ‘A Day Off’ she won the talent competition New Faces that was organised every year in Sweden on the Day of the Child. After that, everything went quickly: recording sessions, promotional tours and tours with well-known Swedish singers.
In 1969, Frida’s turn in the direction of ABBA was finally established. At a concert in Malmö, she met Benny Andersson, who was on the road with the Hep Stars at that time. For Anni-Frid and Benny it was – as it is beautifully put – love at first sight. Only a few months after they had first met they started living together in Stockholm. In 1978, they got married in all secrecy.
But their happiness wouldn’t last for long. In the winter of 1980, Benny fell in love with another woman. Her name is Mona Nörklit and she is a production assistant at the Swedish broadcasting company. A long talk between Benny and Frida resulted in a decision that was a big schock to all fans and friends of ABBA: a divorce.
Six weeks later, Frida stated in an interview that she had found a new man. Allegedly, it’s Bertil Hijert (37), vice-president of a textile company in Uppsala, according to a British newspaper. Frida: “He has become a part of my life. Marriage is not important to me any longer, but I do need love.”