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.


Monica said...

Hi,hi I like how the writer calls Frida the blonde one. Hi,hi
Thanks for the translation Michel.

Angela said...

Good article and just brings back memories of first seeing them on countdown all those years ago.

Hi Monica its good mikory's blog is running again.

Monica said...

Hi Angela yes I agree.

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