Wednesday 18 May 2011

ABBA Info, July 1985: Agnetha’s record talk

During Agnetha’s visit to Belgium, the Dutch Associaton of Record Retailers had an interview with her about the retail business and the records.

“It’s pretty obvious why things went wrong with the four of us,” Agnetha says. “You know, for years we were together twenty four hours a day, we worked like madmen and during our two month long holiday, we retreated to one of Sweden’s islands where we owned a grandiose mansion. The boys worked on new songs there and rehearsed them with us.”
At the question which music she prefers, she replies: “There is so much. I love big bands like Quincy Jones, Nelson Riddle and so on. Then I admire Frank Sinatra’s timing, Andy Williams’ voice, Sammy Davis jr.’s performance. I also started to like more pop music, like Michael Jackson, Prince and Dire Straits. It’s all good. In Europe, my fellow-countryman Svend Amussen is still one of my favourites. I just loved to listen to him when I was a little girl. I think James Last, whom I got to know pretty well, is a wonderful man. And his orchestra consists of excellent musicians and I think the arrangements and the performances are very good.”
When we ask Agnetha about her private life, she says that all the magazines are already writing and gossiping about that. “Ask it my mother,” was her evasive answer.
About the record retail industry: “I know that you are writing for a trade journal, so you won’t hear anything negative from me. No, but if you really want to know. We had a wonderful success with ‘Waterloo’. They had problems pressing sufficient records. The retailers couldn’t wait to get their hands on them. The releases after that we’re received wonderfully as well. We could only be more than satisfied, both with our record company Polydor as well as with the retailers. I do know that retailers gave us a lot of confidence, even before the record was released. They placed large advance orders before they had even heard anything. That gave all four of us an enormous satisfaction, it’s just as good as getting applause. Even now that Frida and I are making solo records, the retailers are still behind us and that’s important. The retail industry is the concluding piece to the consumers. You can bet that I realise that very well. Give my best to everyone in Holland. In conclusion I want to say this: Holland as a whole has always been great for us and I really mean that from the bottom from my heart.”

Sunday 15 May 2011

Bravo, 1978: ABBA and Andy

Björn, with his guitar under his arm, is walking back and forth nervously. Anni-Frid, dressed in white, is checking herself in the mirror while her make-up is being touched up. Benny is grinning amused while the stressed costume designer Fleur Thiemeyer is sowing the belt of his jacket. Olivia Newton-John is running around with curlers in her hair while Agnetha is handing over a large bouquet of roses on ABBA’s behalf.
The preparations of the Olivia Newton-John special for American television are in their final stages. The spectators have been waiting in line for five hours in front of the Columbia studio in Hollywood, to be admitted for the live broadcast. The past nine days, Olivia has been rehearsing nonstop with her guest stars ABBA and Andy Gibb. All of them have been standing in front of the TV cameras from early in the morning until late in the evening. The extra hours were necessary, because Steve Binder – the producer and director – is a perfectionist. And that was fine with ABBA because they hope to achieve a final breakthrough in America with their guest appearance on Olivia’s show (about 50 million Americans saw the show). America is the only country where the four Swedes aren’t that well-known yet.
Then they finally get started! The invited audience is applauding. ABBA and Olivia are in the spotlights. Andy Gibb, dressed in red with a white waistcoat, is running behind them and sighs: “Oh, I’m so nervous...” And then they all sing Cat Stevens’ song ‘Old Schoolyard’ together. They all do their best and Andy’s stagefright is fading rapidly. Then ABBA performs ‘Mamma Mia’, ‘Fernando’ and ‘Dancing Queen’. Andy and Olivia are singing along. Andy performs his hit single ‘I Just Wanne Be Your Everything’ and ABBA and Olivia are joining him as backing singers. Obviously the guests also join in on Olivia’s hits.
In the next scene of the show, they all sit cosily in a circle and chat about the start of their careers. Benny performs the old Beach Boys track ‘Barbara Ann’, Anni-Frid manifests herself as an opera singer. Andy is being teased by the others: “Don’t you have very famous brothers? Aren’t they promoting a record right now?” They are aiming at the ‘Saturday Night Fever’ album, the sales figures of which are unbeatable. Then it continues with the ABBA hits ‘Money, Money’ and ‘Take A Chance’. As a farewell they all sing ‘Thank You For The Music’ together.
The spotlights had barely died down when ABBA hurried into the recording studio. The four of them were slaving away there until six o’clock in the morning. On the same day, they are flying back to Europe, to perform in Germany in the TV programme Star Parade. Due to these commitments, they had to cancel a party at the Swedish embassy with president Carter.
With their three songs ‘Take A Chance’, ‘Eagle’ and ‘Thank You For The Music’, ABBA wowed all the viewers of Star Parade.

Monday 9 May 2011

1976: ABBA – Export from Sweden

After the Swedish group ABBA had won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 with the song ‘Waterloo’, the group produced one hit after the other. ABBA turned into an important export article for Sweden. At the moment, there are some problems within the group and the most important reason for the quartet to stay together is their financial gain. Harry van Nieuwenhoven is exploring ABBA a little deeper, their music and problems. Among other Swedish artists, ABBA can be seen in the programme ‘Export from Sweden’ that will be broadcast by the AVRO on Tuesday at 09.50 pm.

Being a writer about mainly progressive pop music, I now and then wonder desperately how the popularity of some hit groups can be explained in a rational way. What do droves of people all over the world exactly see in a group like ABBA? The meticulously oiled Swedish hit machine that, after having won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 with the infectious ‘Waterloo’, has succeeded in building an extremely successful career with songs like ‘Honey, Honey’, ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’ (there is not a single word of Oxford English in there!), ‘SOS’, ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘Fernando’. A career that even acquired an international flavour, thanks to chart successes in England and the United States.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to analyze ABBA’s popularity in a provisional way. In a mixed company, I digested the usual dose of TopPop on that particular Friday evening. All of a sudden, the ladies Frida Lyngstad and Anna Fältskog and the gentlemen Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus from ABBA appeared on the screen. Young and old jumped up and watched the screen contentedly on which the four thirtysomethings mimed to their latest hit ‘Fernando’. A small survey that was conducted afterwards among the persons present pointed to the combination of elements that appears to bring about ABBA’s popularity among the young and the old.
First of all, the clever appearance and show of the group. A mastermind behind ABBA sees to it that the eye-catching vocalists Frida and Anna are stylishly and sexily dressed in trendy clothes in such a way that neither the male viewers (the eye needs to be pleased too) nor the female viewers (because they are jealous of the exquisite garments that the girls are wearing again) are able to take their eyes off their television screen.
In ABBA’s visually very attractive show, blonde Frida is the absolute main attraction. The seemingly careless and cooled way in which she utilizes her body, mostly dressed in hotpants that are verging on being too hot, while singing the simple tunes, can be called great class.
The second reason for ABBA’s success is of course their simple but very infectious music. Practically all ABBA hits, composed by the gentlemen Andersson-Ulvaeus and manager Stig Anderson, are constructed with a simple chorus, repeated many times, that you can sing along to effortlessly after having heard it a couple of times, while the mostly overproduced instrumental part is made up of a boom-boom rhythm that is easy digestable.

That’s ABBA’s formula for success. Something that is emphasized yet again on their bestselling album ‘The Best Of ABBA’, nothing more but definitely nothing less than an excellent hit group that is even starting to get musical pretensions, as demonstrated by their latest chartbuster ‘Fernando’. Who ever dared to dream of that?
ABBA has now existed officially for three years. Unofficially, they have existed for six years already. In 1970, Andersson and Ulvaeus recorded the album ‘Lycka’ (Happiness), for which they called upon their girlfriends Frida and Anna, more like a fun experiment. Two professional singers, who were already very well-known in Sweden as solo artists. In these turbulent times for Swedish pop music, Andersson and Ulvaeus were mainly active as composers and producers. Before that, as the artistic motors behind the Hep Stars (who scored European hits in 1968 with songs like ‘Sunny Girl’ and ‘Music Box’), they played an important part in the evolvement of Swedish pop music that is flourishing in 1976 with artists like Harpo and Bo Hansson. When the Hep Stars split up, Andersson and Ulvaeus started working as producers and composers at Polar Records, the company of ABBA’s current manager Stig Anderson. While recording and producing records for Polar, the concept for ABBA grew slowly but surely, which manifested itself in the archetype of Björn & Benny & Frida & Anna in 1973 on the Eurovision Song Contest where the quartet finished in third place thanks to the song ‘Ring Ring’. One year later, the four Swedes came back with a vengeance and finished in first place with ‘Waterloo’.
The rest of the success story is well-known. Since then, ABBA is scoring one hit after the other. The group has turned into a multi-million company. With the gigantic sums of money that the members have made by performing and composing their hits, they have bought Polar Recors and changed its name to Polar Music: ABBA’s own music publishing company, record and promotion company.
During the six long years that the ABBA members have worked together intensively, their mutual understanding has only deteriorated. It’s a public secret that the two ABBA couples don’t especially get along and that they keep their personal contacts on a business level as much as possible. The tensions are mostly ventilated during nerve-racking promotional tours when – true to the habit of millionaires – caviar and other delicacies are often flying through the air. The tensions are not important enough to blow up the multi-million company. There’s too much money at stake. Especially now that the group is starting to achieve a breakthrough in huge territories like England and the United States.
Not considering the upcoming solo projects (among others a solo album by Frida?), it is expected that ABBA will keep exploring their successful formula for some time to come. A formula that seems to be a clever combination of Swedish self-mockery, business sense and naughtiness.

Thursday 5 May 2011

Pop Biz, 1979: Never before had ABBA been this good..., but still...

ABBA’s major super tour has been completed and we have been able to enjoy a successful concert at the Ahoy hall in Rotterdam. Everybody who has seen the concert agreed with us: never before had ABBA been this perfect and convincing.

Björn, Agnetha, Benny and Anni-Frid’s show was sensational and the fans were very appreciative and cheered their idols on. Not a single movement, not a single sound and not a single stunt had been left to chance. The entire show had been rehearsed to the smallest detail and even the critical music journalists had to admit that ABBA delivered the most perfect, maybe even the best concert of the year.
The whole tour cost more than two thirds of its receivings. But manager Stig Anderson doesn’t mind. The important thing is that the costs have been covered. Because the record sales benefit from a tour. When it comes to that, ABBA can rest assured that they will earn back all their expenses.
Fifty people travelled along with the group. Musicians, backing singers, technicians, a hairdresser and also a lady who took care of ABBA’s wardrobe. Apart from that, the group had rented the most expensive sound equipment in the world from an American company. For the impressing price of 10.000 dollar per night!

The tour was very exhausting and no one was allowed to come near the group. Only family members, acquaintances and friends. To arrive everywhere in time, ABBA travelled with their own super modern private jet, equipped with a telephone, a colour TV, a stereo system and a large bar. Björn: “Otherwise we would not have been able to cope with it all.”
Björn had brought along his girlfriend Lena Källersjö on this tour. “She helped me a great deal,” he revealed. “Without Lena, it would have been far more difficult for me.”
And Agnetha? “Agnetha and Lena have a very good understanding,” he claims. “They have become real friends. Otherwise I would never have brought Lena along...”
But still... “Agnetha was very lonely,” a good friend of hers revealed to us. “She didn’t want to give that impression, but that’s how it was. Every time I was alone with her, she poured her heart out. She missed the feeling of belonging to someone.
Anni-Frid belongs to Benny, Björn belongs to Lena now. She was all alone. In former times, she was able to discuss all her problems with Björn and ask his advice. Now she had to make her own decisions. Something she has been wanting to do for years. But now she realizes that it has disadvantages as well...”
But one thing is for sure: the tour was a bang on target for little Linda, Agnetha and Björn’s daughter. Because this was the first time that she could come along. She had a great time together with Stig Anderson’s little daughter. The highlight was their visit to Disneyland in America. Something she will never forget. “I wish we could be in America more often,” she sighed. Maybe her wish will come true, because meanwhile America is at ABBA’s feet as well. Agnetha was happy too that her daughter was present. “I’ve never had this much fun with her,” she said. “Next year, Linda will start school and then she won’t be able to come along anymore. But then I want to stay home more often. I’ve made her that promise. In the end, she will be needing me then.” That’s certainly true. But Agnetha needs someone too. Someone who really cares about her, who loves her. Her relationship with Swedish ice hockey player Lars has ended and that has hurt her very much. Let’s hope that she will find someone else soon.