Sunday 30 January 2011

Das Freizeit-Magazin, 1978: Agnetha – she sang her first song when she was five years old

She had her debut as a singer at a Christmas party in Jönköping. She sang the song ‘Billy Boy’ and the audience was delighted with this cute little girl with her sweet voice. Although she was only five years old at the time, she could sing already.
Agnetha Ase Fältskog – that’s her full name – was born on April 5, 1950 and the love for music was to the manner born. Her father Ingvar wrote sketches and songs for the New Year’s revue in Jönköping, her mother Birgit was a talented singer, although she never performed in public.
Things should be different for little daughter Agnetha. When she was only six years old, she took piano lessons and one year later she had her own piano. “Until I was 13 years old, I took piano lessons and I even practised on the church organ,” Agnetha remembers.
That she could do more with her voice than produce a nice ‘tralala’ was noticed by the members of Bernt Enghardt’s orchestra too. They were desperately looking for a singer, they heard Agnetha and they hired her right away.
At the time, the fifteen-year-old had just finished high school and she worked as a telephone operator at a car firm. But combining the two jobs soon became too much for Agnetha. “We were getting more and more requests for performances. Sometimes I came home at five o’clock in the morning and three hours later I had to work as a telephone operator. In the end I just couldn’t cope with it any longer. I simply didn’t get enough sleep. My mother told me that I had to choose: working at the office or singing. I chose singing. My parents weren’t too happy about that.”
The joy came a while after that, when Agnetha was offered her first record deal and a proud father drove his daughter to Stockholm for the recording sessions. On this day, Agnetha sang four songs. Among them was ‘Jag Var Så Kär’ (I Was So In Love). This meant a breakthrough for Agnetha. When the ten best Swedish songs were played on the radio on January 28, 1968, her song was at number three. The more than two million listeners to the programme were impressed and so were the newspapers the next day. All of a sudden, this seventeen-year-old girl was a somebody.
Now, the tough preparation for show business started for Agnetha. At the advice of her record company, she took singing lessons, on the side she composed and wrote lyrics. Although these days she doesn’t like to be reminded about those lyrics. “I think the melodies are okay, but the lyrics are horrible.”
In 1968, Agnetha got engaged to Dieter Zimmermann, a German composer and producer. He wanted to launch her career in Germany. But the engagement ended and so did her career. Agnetha: “I wanted to sing my own songs, but they chose songs for me. They were bad.”
Agnetha returned to her home country, became successful again and met her true love, in the shape of a musician named Björn Ulvaeus, whom she met on a tour through the Swedish folk parks. Sparks were flying between the two in the summer of 1969 when they performed together on a television show. From then on it was blow upon blow. During their holiday in Cyprus in April 1970, Björn and Agnetha got engaged. On July 7, 1971 they were standing at the wedding altar in the Verum church in Skane.
But the wedding almost fell through. A hearing problem of the vicar Uno Wardener was to blame. When Björn called him to set the date for the wedding, the vicar asked: “And what is your profession?” Björn: “Artists.” The vicar was startled: “Oh, atheists! Then I don’t think the wedding will be possible.” The wedding took place after all. With Anni-Frid and Benny as witnesses to the marriage.
In 1975, Agnetha released her last and sixth album ‘Elva Kvinnor I Ett Hus’ (Eleven Women In One House) with her old record company CBS. From January 1, 1976 onwards, Agnetha is under contract at Polar record company, just like all ABBA members. “From then on, I haven’t composed a single song. I simply don’t have the time and the inspiration.”
Agnetha, Björn and Linda are currently living in a beautiful house in Lidingö. Privately, they rarely get together with Anni-Frid and Benny. “In the summer, when we are on our island, we see each other every day. But at home in Stockholm not that much. And since I got Linda, Björn and I have become true couch potatoes.”
A handwriting expert once said, after studying Agnetha’s handwriting: “She is practical, thick-skinned and she likes to get together with other people.”
Agnetha doesn’t agree with this characterisation. She sees herself like this: “I am insecure and hot-tempered, I explode very easily.” But she also knows that her clear voice is an important part of ABBA. Without Agnetha, ABBA would not have been this successful.

Monday 24 January 2011

Bravo, 1983: A secret competition is going on between the ambitious ABBA girls Frida and Agnetha: who will settle the race?

Björn and Benny are smirking: Frida’s solo successes didn’t leave Agnetha resting on her laurels. She is eager to prove that she can do without her ABBA boys as well...

“Well, what do you think? Which of our both girls will settle the race for the goodwill of the public?” Those are the bets that are going on between Benny and Björn at the moment.
Following Frida’s example, Agnetha has ventured out as a solo artist as well. No matter who will win the bet, both ABBA men don’t need the worry about the continued existence of the group.
Both Agnetha as well as Frida have always confirmed their loyalty to ABBA. That’s why Benny and Björn can watch the neck and neck competition between their both girls with unclouded suspense, in between pushing a pram and writing a musical...
There’s no doubt about it: like before, the music is created by the boys, but the action is coming from the ABBA girls only. It can’t be the money that ignites their ambition. What’s going on with the wild ABBA women?
Frida was the first one to free herself from the group’s safety net (which was a burden at the same time). After almost ten years, she got fed up with wearing the same costume as Agnetha on stage, which became a must for ABBA since the ‘Waterloo’ era. She didn’t want to just sing the songs anymore that Benny and Björn had put on paper. On top of that, the divorce from Benny made her look for a new purpose and challenge. And last year, the time had come. Frida was so ready for a break from ABBA that she mobilized Genesis drummer and solo specialist Phil Collins to produce an album for her. Thanks to Phil’s musical intuition, the record ‘Something’s Going On’ was tailor made for Frida. But Frida didn’t want to set herself apart from her ABBA persona on a musical level only. In place of her long hair, she adopted a – according to herself – red coloured punk hairdo. With ‘Something’s Going On’ she indeed did a lot.
The album turned out to be so successful that Frida wants to start a second solo project even this year – however only with Phil Collins in the producer’s chair.
In the meantime, Frida has distanced herself geographically from ABBA’s head office Stockholm as well. In the beginning of this year, she rented a house in the center of London and she has taken up residence there. However, she will keep her house in Stockholm too. “Because whenever there’s work to be done with ABBA, I will return immediately,” she stated. “I didn’t move to England for tax reasons, like many people think. My reasons are strictly personal. I can live more freely there, in Sweden I was always in the public eye.” And bear in mind: Phil Collins is domiciled in London too!

In the meantime, Agnetha is close on her heels. Since her divorce from Björn, she has learned to stand on her own two feet, after several setbacks. Now she wants to prove it on a professional level too.
As a try-out, she released the single ‘Never Again’ with Tomas Ledin last year. The whole matter was simplified by the fact that the young Swede was not a stranger to her. He already sang in the backing choir on ABBA’s major tour a couple of years ago. Still, for the time being it’s ‘never again’ for Tomas. Because for her solo album, Agnetha has brought a surefire hit producer into the ABBA studio in Stockholm. The American Mike Chapman, who already served people like Suzi Quatro, Smokie and Sweet splendidly. Barely ten days ago, they got to work.
Anyhow, Agnetha can face the end of her musical side leap calmly. If she should fail as a solo singer – something that the name ABBA in the back pocket will easily prevent – she can always concentrate on her second solo opportunity: acting.
She doesn’t want her first movie about the Swedish marriage impostor Raskenstam to be her last. She is looking for new projects.
If you look at it this way, Benny and Björn have reason to be excited about the result of the competition between their girls. Because even when Agnetha doesn’t manage to outcompete Frida in her singing career, there is always the possibility that Hollywood will call on her!

Saturday 22 January 2011

Bravo, 1981: Benny: this is how we founded the group ABBA

I still remember vividly the day that I met Björn, early 1966. It was at a party that the Hootenanny Singers had organized. At the time, Björn was the leader of his group, and so was I with the Hep Stars. We were competing with each other in the charts, but we got along very well privately – at least after this party. But it wasn’t until a couple of months later, in the summer of 1966, that we first worked together.
We got the idea in my home town Västervik. My father had a job there in a paper mill. One night, we carried an organ, a guitar and an amplifier into his office and played together all night long. In the morning, our first joint song was ready, ‘Isn’t It Easy To Say’. I recorded the track with the Hep Stars.
In the following years, we wrote some more songs together, but it wasn’t a tight collaboration yet. Because I had some other problems to deal with first.
In 1967, the tax collectors office wanted 174.000 Swedish krona from me – I had forgotten to pay taxes. In two years time, I paid back almost the entire debt. But the next claim was already waiting for me. I had to pay an additional 83.000 Swedish krona. Added to that, my company Hep House went bankrupt. Because of a movie that we wanted to shoot – which left us with a debt of 250.000 Swedish krona – I was completely finished. I was composing like a madman, hoping I would be able to pay off my debts with the money I made from royalties. I took every job that I could get, I produced an album for Anni-Frid with whom I was already befriended at the time.
In this situation, I met Stig Anderson. He knew the music business very well, he had his own record company and he knew how to deal with money. He was the Hootenanny Singers’ manager. Björn convinced me to talk to him. We came together quickly – Stig had the idea that we should perform together as a quartet: Björn and his girlfriend Agnetha and me and Anni-Frid.
On November 1, 1970 the time had finally come. We named ourselves Festfolk Quartet and performed in Göteborg. It wasn’t an overwhelming success, but we did take our first step. Only none of us knew how we should continue. Björn still performed with the Hootenanny Singers every now and then, I produced records for other artists.

In 1971, we signed a new contract at Polar, Stig’s record company. That’s when the story of ABBA started, although that wasn’t our name yet at the time.
In 1972, our first record was released, ‘She’s My Kind Of Girl’, a song that we had already composed in 1969. Although the cover only mentioned the names Björn and Benny, it was the girls’ voices that really stood out.
Our first big success was ‘People Need Love’. Outside Sweden, it was credited to Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Frida. In America, we were called Björn, Benny & Svenska Flicka.
With the growing success, we became more confident. We decided to enter the Swedish heat for the Eurovision Song Contest. ‘Ring Ring’ was the song that we composed for that event.
On February 10, 1973 the final decision would be made in Stockholm. We weren’t sure whether Agnetha would be able to take part at all. She was pregnant, and the expected date of delivery was February 2. We were more nervous than we had ever been in our life. We knew that our future was depending on our success at the contest and at the same time we had to consider that Agnetha could go into labour.
It all turned out well – until the disappointment after the votes had been counted. We had only finished in third place. This meant that the Eurovision Song Contest would pass us by. On February 23, Agnetha and Björn’s first child Linda was born.
The miracle happened later on – our ‘Ring Ring’ started to climb the charts and it sold really well outside Sweden too. We gave it another try and decided to enter the Swedish heat for the Eurovision Song Contest once again in the spring of 1974, and this time we actually made it. From then on, we named ourselves ABBA. With ‘Waterloo’ in our luggage, we travelled to Brighton to represent our home country Sweden.
When we left Stockholm, we were still convinced that we would return as the winners. But in Brighton we started to get cold feet. Barely any reporter took notice of us. Olivia Newton-John, who represented England, was the big favourite with the experts. On the other hand, this was good for us. We were able to see the city and prepare for our performance in peace and quiet. Shortly before our performance, Agnetha checked the costumes once again, Anni-Frid rehearsed the dance moves. Only Stig sat alone in his hotel room, already making plans for the future. He was thinking about how to continue with ABBA when the victory would become a fact.
Everything went really well. Nothing had been left to chance – then the nerve-racking counting of the votes started. It was an exciting neck and neck competition between us and Gigliola Cinquetti who had sung for Italy.
The tension was rising until the last minute. It was simply unbearable. We were sweating in our costumes. Like most of the other artists, our eyes were glued to the scoreboard. Then the definitive result was announced. We had won with six points ahead of Italy. For the first time in the history of the contest, a pop group had won.

Aftonbladet, October 1979: Thank you and goodbye America -Now we have to conquer Europe again

This article from Aftonbladet – published in October 1979 – was sent to me by Johan from Sweden and he was even kind enough to translate parts of the article. Thank you, Johan!
Agnetha in Salming’s shirt.
The big adventure for ABBA in the USA and Canada is over. Last night they performed their last concert in Maple Leaf Garden in Toronto. When it was time for the group to perform the encore, they appeared on stage in the local ice hockey team Toronto Maple Leaf’s shirts, to the delight of the audience. Agnetha had number 21 which was the Swedish player Börje Salming’s shirt. Stikkan Anderson told Aftonbladet that it has been a nice tour. But now everything is about conquering Europe all over again.

ABBA is on their way home from their tour in Canada and the USA. The final show was performed last night in Maple Leaf Garden in Toronto where they sang the final song wearing ice hockey shirts. Agnetha Fältskog reminded everyone in the audience about more famous Swedes in Canada except for ABBA when she appeared on stage wearing hockey professional Börje Salming’s shirt, number 21. After the show, there wasn’t any champagne or celebration. ABBA has started the final countdown for their next big challenge - conquering Europe all over again.

“It has been a great tour, bigger and better than we had imagined in our wildest dreams,” Stikkan says to Aftonbladet. “We could have chosen larger venues in some cities, for example Chicago and New York, where the demand for tickets was very high. Our new album ‘Greatest Hits Vol. 2’ will be released in America in November and I think that album will increase the number of record sales in the country. Because of the tour, our album ‘Greatest Hits Vol. 1’ is now back in the charts again. Before we came here, that album was dead.”

Sunday 16 January 2011

Popshop, May 1976: Is Anna going to leave ABBA?

ABBA is a group that has already established itself in pop history. It is namely the only group that has kept on scoring worldwide hits after winning the Eurovision Song Contest, two years ago in London. This is a striking contrast to – for instance – the Dutch group Teach In, that saw their singer Getty Kaspers leave the group only one year after their triumph in Stockholm.

At the time, emperor Napoleon may have been left with less pleasant memories of Waterloo, for top group ABBA, the victory started with ‘Waterloo’. It is generally known that ‘Waterloo’ brought them worldwide fame. And since then it has been clear sailing for the sympathetic quartet. Number one hits all over the world – yes, including America – time and time again.
Writing about this group or interviewing one of its members is definitely a nice job, because in fact everything is positive about ABBA: the women – blonde Anna and auburn Anni-Frid – are beautiful and both men Björn and Benny are always willing to talk about the group and their music. But considering the fact that ABBA hasn’t been able yet to come to Holland or Belgium, Popshop decided to look up the quartet in Hamburg. They were filming a TV special there, with their current worldwide hit ‘Fernando’ obviously as its highlight.
Since Popshop has already met ABBA several times before, there was no need to break the ice and – after ABBA’s obligations in front of the German cameras – we went straight to a cosy bar to catch up on the latest news.
Despite all their tiring efforts, Anna and Anni-Frid still looked so fresh, as if they had just come out of the shower. After we had all taken our seats, the waiter was called in. Anna ordered some refreshments, while Benny and Björn glanced through a couple of issues of Popshop.
After some small talk, we asked Benny about the secret of ABBA’s success. Benny looked surprised. “Secret,” he asked, “I didn’t know that we had a secret. Our success is the result of working very hard and being alert.”
We told ABBA that their Eurovision successor Teach In didn’t achieve half as much success and that they probably split up because of that.
“That’s a shame,” Björn said. “I thought Teach In was a nice group. But who knows what went on behind the scenes.”

To get into that subject, we immediately asked: What’s going on behind the scenes with you? Anni-Frid smiled and said: “Oh well, there’s always something going on everywhere, isn’t there. But we are trying to separate our job and our private lives as much as possible. It prevents big problems from happening. Both of the men determine the musical course, but whenever Anna and I are having reservations, then they are taken into consideration. And this professional approach is always the best way to do it. We are very popular at the moment so why would we start aguing?”
So you are consciously making very commercial music, we asked Björn and Benny.
“Commercialism is a controversial concept,” Björn replied. “No one knows exactly where it begins and where it ends. If it sells, then it’s commercial.”
When it comes to being successful abroad, there is a big similarity between you and the George Baker Selection: groups from a musically rather insignificant country, that still manage to score worldwide hits with simple tunes that catch the imagination of the audience. Do you feel the same way?
“There is some truth in that,” Benny said. “Sweden and Holland are indeed small suppliers of top groups. And that goes for Sweden most of all. Holland still has a couple of excellent groups. I think the George Baker Selection is a very good group. They have been scoring huge hits for about five years now. I think that they have sold more records than us.”
Your current hit ‘Fernando’ resembles the former Baker hit ‘Fly Away Little Paraguayo’ a little when it comes to atmosphere and lyrics. Is that a coincidence?
“Yes, it’s purely a coincidence,” Björn replied. “We did listen to this song at the time, but to be honest I had completely forgotten about it already.”
“And the subject, the South American revolutionary? Here is the story,” Benny continued. “You can go on singing about love forever and there is nothing wrong with that, but we want to put as much variation as possible into our songs. Our last single had an Italian title ‘Mamma Mia’. We were looking for something different as its follow-up. And a South American rhythm always goes down well. In the lyrics, we could have sung about black-haired women and tequila or red wine, but we thought that a more dramatic lyric would suit the melody better. That’s how the story about the revolutionary came into being. However, it’s not a song with a message. We won’t get into that area.”

It is known that you are doing very little live performances. Why is that?
“We try to reach as many people as possible at one blow,” blonde Anna replied. “In a concert hall, you reach about 2.000 people, with a television appearance it’s hundred times as many as that. You must understand that we have to travel all over the world and then this is simply the best way to reach everybody. Extensive tours are very exhausting, we won’t be able to keep that up. That’s when tensions, frustrations and mutual conflicts will arise.”
It is known that you don’t want to travel for too long because of your little daughter. Is that true?
“Of course,” she said fiery like a tigress. “A child should never be too long without its parents. A month is already too long.”
Would you give up your career for the sake of your child?
“Immediately,” Anna said.
Did you ever get to the point of cutting the knot?
“Yes, sometimes I think about it,” she admitted honestly. “But on the other hand, I am also working on her future. Money is important, you know.”
(We knew). Haven’t you made enough money yet to lead a pleasant life?
“Oh no, it takes a long time before you get the money from the records that are being sold. And appearing on television doesn’t make you a lot of money. And then we have to split everything in half. After the tax-collection office has taken the largest part of it. But I am not complaining. We make a nice living, but we don’t make as much money as often is being suggested. A millionaire? I wish it was true.”
It is claimed that ABBA would fall apart if you would leave the group. Do you believe that’s true?
“Oh well, so much is claimed,” she replied. “No one is irreplacable. Besides, I don’t write the hits. I would say that Björn and Benny are the most important ingredients. It’s easy to find two new singers. But for the time being, that’s out of the question.”
And with this last revelation from beautiful Anna, Popshop says goodbye to the Swedish miracle group. Until the next hit.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Oor, January 1978: ABBA – The Movie review

On reviewing ABBA The Movie, the question is raised: is this a 90 minute long commercial or may we consider this as some sort of dramatized documentary? The answer to this question will determine which criteria need to be used while reviewing it, while the choice of the criteria will subsequently be a deciding factor in the final verdict about the movie.
If you choose the first option, then you might say that ABBA The Movie is a fairly well made commercial that lives up to its aim, namely selling the product ABBA to a certain target group (50 million record buyers or more).
If you choose the second option, the verdict will be far less favourable and you could say that ABBA The Movie is a bad, cheap and especially uninventive movie, that partly distorts and partly disguises reality and fails in every respect to really inform the viewer. The information that actually is provided, is (apart from the music) a treacherous mixture of so called objective reports (people’s reactions, especially ABBA fans) and misleading looks behind the scenes, where nothing seems to be happening, except for maybe one and a half bodyguard and Anni-Frid warming up her voice in the dressing room.
Where the music is concerned, even that is fake; while we are looking at scenes of several performances of the group in Australia, we actually hear the songs from the record, but the scenes are so cleverly put together with the music that we barely notice the difference. The uninventiveness of the movie is especially underlined by the childish plot that glues the whole thing together. During the movie, an idiotic radio DJ tries to get his interview with ABBA and his mode of operation is so clumsy that it becomes laughable for those who know how things like that actually happen in reality. For the others who don’t know, it’s once again the fascinating world of commercials.
So, is ABBA The Movie indeed a long-drawn-out commercial? That’s fine by me. Apart from that, it makes the job of a reviewer much easier and when 50 million people want to be mistaken, then that’s up to them. Furthermore, if necessary, there is always something like the Commodities Act.

Sunday 9 January 2011

Hitkrant, November 1992: Björn from ABBA crushes all hope: “It’s definitely over”

Once they were the most popular group in the world and sold more records than the Beatles: 200 million copies. Their name is frequently mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records. This year, 10 years after they disbanded, they are at number one in the album charts again in many countries around the globe with their compilation album ‘ABBA Gold’. This accomplishment was the incentive for wild speculations about a possible reunion of the group. In a rare interview with former ABBA member Björn Ulvaeus we get a clear answer to that question...

Björn rubs his beard thoughtfully. We are in Stockholm at his home, where the embassy of Iceland was formerly residing.
“To get straight to the point: no, we will not get back together again. Never again. When we split up in 1981, that was definitely the end, and it will remain that way. I don’t believe in a half-baked comeback. I think it’s a little pathetic, all these old guys that go out on tour again after having been separated for years.”
But you have once said that you think it’s a shame that you’ve never been able to perform in places like Moscow or Rio de Janeiro. What if you were offered 10 million dollars right now to do a show in Moskow?
“No, the answer would still be no, I’m afraid.”
What about the rumour that you were going to release a new single around Christmas?
“That’s not true either. Pure fantasy.”
Only a couple of months after ABBA had won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 with ‘Waterloo’, rumours started circulating that the two married couples weren’t getting along privately. Eventually, both Benny and Frida as well as Björn and Agnetha got divorced. Now it is rumoured that especially these personal circumstances are getting in the way of a reunion. It’s denied by Björn with emphasis. Doesn’t matter, at least this conversation is setting the record straight.
“Obviously, there have been certain disagreements between us, but after the divorces had been settled, peace and harmony returned. Now we are getting along in a civilized manner. I have two children from my marriage to Agnetha, that’s why I see her every two weeks. And although Frida is living in Zürich in Switzerland these days, every two months she comes to Stockholm and she always pops in to say hello.”
So, the divorces haven’t been the cause of ABBA breaking up?
“No, we have always said that we would quit when the fire and the energy was gone. And that was what happened. Even the thought of having to get back into the studio had become unbearable. First, we agreed that we wouldn’t see each other for some time and go our separate ways for a while, but this period became longer and longer and then it was over.”
Björn’s wife Lena, a copy writer by profession, enters the room and she puts down some snacks and drinks. She has a striking resemblance to Agnetha. I ask him how long they have been married now.
“About 10 years. When Agnetha and I split up, I was planning to paint the city red and get the most out of my life as a bachelor. Only one week later, I met Lena, fell head over heels in love with her and five months later we got married.”
How dit you meet?
“At a party at Benny’s home. I thought she was wonderful. It was love at first sight. She is beautiful and has a great sense of humour. I think I have a strong urge to settle down. Either way, I do believe that men have the tendency to fall into the arms of a new partner sooner than women after a divorce.”
Is Lena into music?
“She has good taste, definitely. But professionally, she doesn’t have anything to do with music. She is in the advertising business. She has a career of her own, but she does help me with mine. I always sing my lyrics to her, because she speaks English much better than I do and because she knows a lot about literature. She gives me excellent advice.”
You have two children from your marriage to Agnetha and two with Lena. Are they important to you?
“They are the absolute highligh of my life. The oldest is now 19, she wants to become an actress. I’m not too happy about that. I would rather see that she wouldn’t pursue that. About 60 percent of all the actors and actresses are unemployed. It’s the toughest profession in the world. I remember that we were having auditions for ‘Chess’ (a musical written by Björn and Benny). I felt so sorry for all these people. They had to be at their best, and still there’s only a tiny chance to get picked.”
‘Chess’ was the most successful project by Björn and Benny after ABBA. Frida scored a couple of hits in collaboration with Phil Collins and Agnetha could be found on the charts two or three times as well. During ‘Chess’, Björn and Lena bought a house in London, but two years ago they returned to Sweden. How did ‘Chess’ come into being?
“Benny and I had enough of performing. So we decided to sit back in our studio and do some things there, writing for others. In the first instance, that was ‘Chess’. After that we only did something together occasionally. Actually, it’s only since last year, when Lena and I moved back to Sweden, that it got a little more again. At the moment, we are working on a musical about one of the most popular Swedish books, it’s about Swedish immigrants in America around 1850. We’ve searched for a good subject for a long time. We wanted to make use of the Swedish literature, just like the French and the Brits. It’s a hell of a job. The book has 2000 pages and we have to shorten it into a three hour musical.”
ABBA always had the image of a clean and decent pop group for all ages. Fresh and cheerful. Were you like that in reality?
“Not one hundred percent, no. Look, there was no danger that we would fall for sex, drugs and other excesses. We were two married couples, no Rolling Stones or something like that. Not that there weren’t any fans that offered themselves very clearly, in a sexual way you know, but of course we didn’t react to that. But this doesn’t mean that we never got drunk or smoked a joint.”
It appears that Agnetha is living like a recluse somewhere on an island and that she doesn’t want to have anything to do with the outer world. How did that come about?
“Out of the four of us, Agnetha has always been the most sensitive one. The enormous pressure of the fame has always been the hardest on her. Apart from that, she has gone through some nasty experiences. The worst one was that our children were threatened to be kidnapped at some point. I managed to deal with that, but for Agnetha it wasn’t that simple. I think that’s why she withdrew a little from the world outside. The thing that she hated the most was flying. Many times, we had to talk her into boarding a plane. She was scared to death. It all started once when she was on a private plane that ended up in a thunderstorm. That almost went wrong.”
In conclusion, what is – according to you – ABBA’s most important contribution to the history of pop music?
“We have opened the doors for all non-American and non-British bands to still be able to achieve a breakthrough in America and England. Before ABBA, that was almost unheard-of. And just look what happened afterwards with A-ha, Roxette, Europe. Apart from that, I think that we breathed new life into the pop song in its purest form. That’s why they are still hits now. We produced some immortal melodies and I am very, very proud of that.”

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Muziek Parade, January 1978: The ABBA Story, part 8

In the December issue of Muziek Parade we promised that we would pay some attention to Stig Anderson – the fifth ABBA – this month. That’s not going to happen. The article about Stig Anderson has to be postponed. The reason: as the first pop magazine in the Benelux, Muziek Parade has managed to lay its hands on the very latest colour pictures of ABBA. These colourful photographs have been selected by ABBA themselves and approved for publication. That’s why this month Muziek Parade is giving you not only ABBA on the cover, but on top of that four pages in colour. The photographs – taken by Barry Levine – are so beautiful and so unique, that we think that we’ve made the right decision to give precedence to this. Stig Anderson wholeheartedly agreed with our decision.

Part 7 of the Muziek Parade ABBA story was concluded in issue 244 with the publication about Stig Anderson’s working method. We told you that Stig Anderson is already at his desk at 6.30 in the morning, because then he is still able to make phone calls to - for instance - America and Australia. And we ended part 7 with the notification that ABBA records are being sold all over the world, except in China, North Korea and Vietnam. Okay, we refreshed your memory. Here is part 8.

Actually, it’s astonishing that ABBA is so successful all over the world. Artists like Rod Stewart and Elton John constantly appear in public, because they think they will fall from grace when they interrupt their constant publicity. ABBA only appears in promotional films and you will rarely see them at parties or receptions. ABBA doesn’t hate publicity, but ABBA likes their privacy. Agnetha says: “It has always been our strategy to try to achieve a maximum of record sales by making the right records and not by creating publicity. It would be wrong if people would only buy our records because we are on the front page of the newspaper every day.”
The ABBA strategy is clearly a healthy one. There’s no hurrying from one country to the other or from one party to the other, hoping to create some publicity. And behind this strategy is of course this fifth ABBA, Stig Anderson: “It’s a long term strategy. It’s nice to be on top of the charts for one or two years, but I believe in the gradual building of a career. ABBA has become this big very slowly. ABBA won’t disappear just like that. If it would go wrong – which I don’t expect – that will happen slowly as well.”
Björn: “This strategy of ours has many advantages. This calm and cool attitude is sometimes mistaken for arrogance, but that’s definitely not true. Our attitude has its advantages. I will explain what they are. In America, the people are crazy about us. Records are being sold like hot cakes. Our promotional films have contributed a lot to that. And in America, people want to see you when you have a big hit. And every European can’t wait to get there. ABBA is not like that. And these Americans just don’t understand that. They don’t understand why we don’t come over there faster than the speed of light to do a long tour. No, we have decided to maintain that cool attitude, until these Americans can’t cope with it any longer and come to us. Then you have a totally different state of negotiations. Then we can decide how many concerts we are willing to do, in how many weeks. We decide in which hotels we will stay. Well, that’s the advantage of this so called cool attitude. We don’t need a tour like that, but if we could do a tour on our own conditions, we would definitely do it. We owe it to the American fans.”
Stig Anderson mingles in the conversation again: “When we did our tour in England, people in the music industry thought we were crazy because we didn’t do any TV shows or commercials to announce where we would perform. We didn’t do that on purpose. This strategy of ‘we are doing it differently than others’ is working out really well. It has been proven. The tour was an enormous success. A lot of artists let themselves be used by television. It has to be the other way around. The artist has to use television. Television is a big monster that consumes creativity. An artist has to last longer than a couple of television shows that may or may not be directed badly. A lot of artists forget that. An artist is allowed to be picky. For instance, we have decided to appear on television in England twice a year at the most. Twice on Top Of The Pops, that’s more than enough. Apart from that, you shouldn’t forget about the danger of being overexposed. An artist has to be careful that he doesn’t appear on the television screen too much. People tend to get enough.”
And then, Stig tells about a problem he encountered in Australia: “After the Eurovision Song Contest, we did a fair amount of television shows in several countries. And what happened? The Australian broadcasting company sent a special employee all over the world to buy the tapes of these ABBA shows. All of a sudden, we were on television every week in Australia, without our approval. Something like that can destroy an artist. Now we’ve taken care of that. Whenever we perform for television, we make sure that there is an agreement in writing that our performance can only be broadcast once and that it can’t be used for export.”
And Stig about America: “Personally, I would love to go to America. It’s a fantastic country, with a big audience with great purchasing power. But we are not ready for it yet. And we are not happy with the terms under which we would have to work. I am sure that there are people in America that laugh at our attitude. They can’t understand that we don’t accept these offers. Apparently they don’t believe in an ABBA that can still be big in years to come or even bigger than they are now.”
And he continues: “Maybe we are wrong. It’s possible. In America they are saying that you can only get bigger if you do long tours. We have a different opinion. First, we want to get even bigger and stronger in America and when we have acquired our position, we will fly over there and then the reception will be as huge as the Beatles had in their heyday.”
That the Anderson strategy is the right one has been proven in Europe. ABBA’s record sales had first reached astronomic heights before ABBA – after a lot of begging and pleading – came to Holland, France, England and so on. And ABBA can afford to wait until this begging and pleading will come from America as well.

The industrious Stig comes back from yet another phone call: “I just had Norway on the phone, they asked if we wanted to come over. I had to say no again.” And then he says that 7.000 tickets for a concert in Oslo or 9.000 tickets for a concert in Gothenburg have been sold within a couple of hours. In Australia, the tickets were sold much faster than with the Stones concerts at the time. However, Björn, Benny, Anni-Frid and Agnetha won’t do a lot of travelling in the future. Not only are they very attached to Stockholm, to their families. But most of all, they want to stay close to home to keep working on compositions, arrangements and recordings.
And if they still have to get out there, it’s mostly for short trips. Back and forth in fourteen days, like earlier this year in Australia. ABBA can’t afford to be away from Stockholm for too long. They have responsibilities towards other Polar artists and they have to keep on writing new material. When the new album is released in February, there is a tiny chance that ABBA will take a couple of short trips to North and South America, just to promote the records. That’s going to be a trip of fourteen days at the most. TV interviews will be done and short performances in well-known programmes. Still, ABBA has cleared their schedule for two months in 1978. Why?
Stig Anderson: “If it turns out that we can do a couple of concerts on our own terms, I would like to do that in July and August. We have offers to stay in the States for months, but of course that’s not possible. July and August are suitable. Our own artists will be on holiday then, we will have very few commitments. It would be perfect. But again, it has to happen on our own terms.”
How do the other ABBA people feel about touring? Agnetha: “To be honest, I don’t like to perform outside Sweden. I have a very good reason for that. I can’t miss my children for such a long time. They are still young now. I want to be with them in this period of their life. Whenever we have to work abroad and I really can’t get out of it, I’m regularly crying in my hotel room when I think about the children. I’m a real mother, when it comes to that.” It is known that Agnetha and Björn’s phone bills are sky high whenever they are on tour. Several times every day, they are calling Stockholm. It doesn’t matter if they are in Brisbane or Singapore, these calls will be made and they don’t care about the costs. Björn may come across as being insensitive, but he is homesick just as much as Agnetha. To suppress this homesickness, Agnetha and Björn have the same flaw: they start eating, as much as they can. They stuff themselves with the most delicious food and when they get back to Sweden, they realize that they’ve become too fat. But eating is their reaction on being away from home.
It is known that Anni-Frid and Benny love delicious food as well. Especially fish, with a fruity wine. Agnetha says: “Anni-Frid and Benny can eat whatever they like. French fries with mayonnaise and other greasy food like that. But they don’t get fat. And that’s not fair.”
Whenever ABBA is on tour, they always stay at the Hilton hotel. In Germany, this was cause for the following occurance. The organizer asked “and where will the technicians and road managers stay?” Benny replied: “With us at the hotel, of course. These guys are at least as important as we are. They deserve the best treatment.” And they think that’s weird, in our adjacent country. An entertainer is an ‘artist’ over there, someone who lives far from his servants. Benny: “It surprised me that they still think like that in Germany. There is no difference in social position with us. We are working in a team and we are staying together as a team. If you don’t do that, you can’t perform to the best of your ability.”
In Australia, ABBA bought clothes for a TV show, amounting to 50.000 Dutch guilders. Very pretty exotic dresses and suits. All very exquisite. When the show had been filmed, and on top of that had been a great success, ABBA gave the clothes to their employees, who had been in charge of light and sound.

It is safe to say that the world is at ABBA’s feet. The Swedish quartet is at least as famous and strong as the well-known Swedish steel and the Swedish Volvo cars. But still, the Swedes won’t put ABBA on the same pedestal as other big Swedish traders. Because ABBA is a Swedish product. Together with the steel and the cars, ABBA is Sweden’s biggest export article.
Don’t ask us why, but ABBA still hasn’t been able to get the same recognition and esteem as they have received in other European countries. ABBA is looked upon as ‘just another little music group’ and ‘apparently, they are nice’. Stig Anderson is getting furious about that. Recently, the well-known director Ingmar Bergmann received the same treatment. He even got away from his country. Or some time ago, a well-known politician came from Sweden, named Dag Hammarskjold. This man has meant a great deal to Sweden, but he never got any recognition.
A rather famous producer once said: “Even if ABBA would become twice as big as the Beatles and the Stones together at their peak, the Swedes would still say: “Oh well, it’s just some Swedish group...”
The Swedes seem to be somewhat strange people. They play down their own quality and praise everything that comes from abroad. A strange kind of inferiority complex.
Even when Stikkan Anderson said on televison what ABBA had meant to the country, the next day the newspapers read: “much cry and little wool”. On top of that, they wrote that Anderson was only out to get publicity for himself and his group. Oh well, these Swedes can’t be convinced. There aren’t that many invitations for television performances either. After their big success in Brighton, ABBA received one invitation to appear on television. And that was even for a programme aimed at older people. When ABBA found out that they would have to work with an unfamiliar orchestra, Stig declined the invitation. Björn: “That was a very reasonable decision. And of course it was explained the wrong way. When you work with certain friends and musicians in the studio and on tour, you want to appear with them on television as well. And they didn’t understand that.”
However, ABBA did appear on the Swedish screens once. This happened in January 1975. They had to replace another group, of which the singer had suddenly lost his voice. After that TV performance, the papers read: “In Sweden, we have the ABBA herrings and those herrings are dead. It appeared that ABBA can actually sing and play, but unfortunately I have to say that they didn’t make any lively impression on me.” Believe it or not, this could be read in Dagens Nyheter. The author was Mia Gerdis.

Another reporter wrote: “ABBA’s music is nice to dance to, but that’s all.” The man that produced this from his typewriter was called Anders Klintevall, again in Dagens Nyheter. And mister Mats Olsson wrote in Expressen: “Their music is nice and definitely professional, but the ABBA lyrics couldn’t be poorer. ABBA sounds like a mixture of 10CC and the Beach Boys that run into each other in a discotheque. The production is fine, but the technical side makes it sound cold.” Muziek Parade can’t understand why ABBA still wants to live and work in Sweden. The country is clearly anti-ABBA. Stikkan Anderson: “We love Sweden and perhaps all this resistance is an extra incentive to keep on producing good music. The more people are writing negative things about ABBA, the harder the boys get to work. The amazing thing is that these people from the press are not at all the voice of their readers. Their readers bought 500.000 copies of the ‘Arrival’ album within three weeks. That has never happened before in Sweden. That’s why we let these reporters do their talking. They won’t be able to destroy us.”
Björn: “Most of the time, this criticism is unfair. They forget about the fact that we have had to work very hard for years to get some recognition. It’s not a piece of cake to be this popular in so many countries. I really don’t get this criticism. Okay, they are allowed to say that we produce music without a real message. They are allowed to say that our lyrics are somewhat superficial. But we are not messengers. Our most important message is: bringing some joy into a world that’s filled with more than enough misery already. And we are successful at that. Our fans are happy people. Someone once wrote: “whenever I’m feeling down, I play your records, then I feel happy again.” A letter like that means a lot to me. It exudes warmth and it encourages us to keep following the direction that we chose.”
What is the most important reason for all this criticism according to ABBA? “I think it’s jealousy,” Benny says. “People sympathize with you as long as things are not looking up. As soon as you become successful, people get jealous and they start to make up all kinds of strange stories about you.”
Agnetha: “The people here can’t tolerate that we are making a lot of money. They seem to forget that we have to pay 80 percent to taxes. Anyhow, what’s wrong with making a lot of money? That’s rather nice, isn’t it. And it’s like Björn said earlier. People forget that we have had to work very hard to get where we are. For years, we only bought sandwiches because we didn’t have any money. And sometimes we didn’t even have the money to buy those sandwiches.”
Björn: “Let me say this to wind this up, because I really don’t like to talk about things like this. We are making music for everyone, not only for the few critical people working for these magazines. We wouldn’t be where we are now, if we would only make music for these journalists. Our audience thinks that our records are great. We want to keep it that way.” Benny: “ABBA wants to entertain the people, we are not messengers. We leave that to the politicians. We don’t force our opinion upon the people in our songs. They are man enough to make up their own mind about all kinds of things.”