Sunday, 17 March 2013

Veronica, December 1982: Ten years with ABBA... and the story continues

Coming Sunday, Veronica will broadcast the third episode of 'The Story Of...". After The Beatles and Elvis Presley, it is now ABBA's turn to be honoured. A story that - contrary to the two previous ones - hasn't been ended yet and a story that's not going to end for the time being because the continuity of the group remains guaranteed by releasing one or two albums every year that will be promoted all over the world with promotional films. No exhausting tours for the quartet. ABBA is clearly a product of the seventies: they've become big with the help of the medium television, the world's best group in the middle of the road genre.

ABBA's home base is Stockholm. Polar Music is based in the city centre. The gigantic office from where manager Stig Anderson appears to have complete control over the financial household. He invests the money in oil, bicycles, real estate and art. Rumour has it that he has managed to make a deal with the Swedish tax collector. The group is also the owner of one of the world's best recording studios.
Stig has also been called the fifth member. At the end of the sixties, he founded his own company, together with Björn and Benny. Björn was a member of the popular Swedish group 'The Hootenanny Singers' and Benny had been playing with the Scandinavian group 'The Hep Stars' ('Sunny Girl'). Stig Anderson wrote English-language songs for the twosome and one of them even sold half a million copies in Japan. Stig was one of the most well-known songwriters in Scandinavia. In Holland, we are familiar with his 'Rocking Billy', at the time recorded by Ria Valk. ABBA was formed between '69 and '70. Agnetha and Anni-Frid both had separate solo careers and they both appeared regularly on Swedish television. They were already living together with Björn and Benny respectively. In 1972, the first single on which all four of them appear is released: 'People Need Love'. The surefire hit was reason enough for the Swedish broadcasting company to invite Agnetha, Benny, Björn and Anni-Frid to take part in the Swedish selection for the Eurovision Song Contest.
Contrary to all expectations, their entry wasn't chosen by the so-called experts, to the major disappointment of the public and the group. ABBA, in the meantime their group name had been shortened, decided to give it another go the next year and this time they were chosen to represent Sweden with 'Waterloo' at the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton, England.

Winning Eurovision, meanwhile beating Olivia Newton-John and Mouth and McNeal, was ABBA's big breakthrough. In the following years, ABBA would achieve enormous successes. Just a few of their hits: 'SOS', 'Fernando', 'Dancing Queen', 'Voulez-Vous', 'Chiquitita', 'The Winner Takes It All', 'Super Trouper' and 'One Of Us'. The success of their music can be attributed to the strong melody lines mainly courtesy of Benny (Björn generally writes the lyrics) and Agnetha and Frida's voices. Upon the release of 'Voulez-Vous', 'ABBA - The Movie' is released as well. A film that eventually was meant to be a simple documentary of the quartet's '77 world tour. However, the film features about 25 ABBA songs, alternated with scenes of a DJ trying to get an interview with the group. Reason enough for many critics to view the movie as one big promotional film.
'ABBA - The Movie' saved the foursome a lot of touring, because the fans were able to see their favourite group at the cinema. Björn and Benny concentrated on composing and Stig Anderson was making preparations for ABBA's definitive breakthrough in the USA. May 1978 was even declared ABBA month in the US, while the highlight of the campaign was a performance of the group on Olivia Newton John's television show, who had acquired superstar status by then. Indeed, 'The Album' climed the charts and 'Take A Chance On Me' became a top ten hit. But despite all Stig's attempts and despite their record sales, fact is that ABBA absolutely didn't conquer the USA. Björn: "Maybe we would have, if we had moved to America, but none of us was prepared to do that. We didn't like the atmosphere in America, after those few weeks we got tired of it."

In October '79, the group started their second world tour, on which they also performed in Rotterdam, and the rumours were circulating that Agnetha wanted to leave the group. Those rumours partly lead back to the fact that Agnetha is the only group member who hates to be away from home (and her children) for long periods of time. Meanwhile, their private problems started to become public too. Stig Anderson: "We never tried to keep the divorces a secret, we are relatively open. It's just that at the time when we share our problems with the general public, the internal problems have been solved already. The difficult thing is that the press then start to wonder whether the group will continue or not, while we have decided that already."
In the meantime, it has become almost one hundred percent certain that Björn and Benny are going to compose the music for a musical, while the lyrics are going to be written by Tim Rice ('Jesus Christ Superstar'). Frida is successful with her solo album 'Something's Going On'. Agnetha has been busy shooting scenes for a movie and she has declared that she would like to do more of this kind of work. She is starting recording sessions for her solo album in January, together with Mike Chapman. In conclusion, we ask Benny the question how long ABBA will continue: "As long as we enjoy recording music and as long as we still feel we have something to contribute to the music scene, ABBA will go on."


Monica said...

I am so glad they didn't move to the States they would have hated living here. Plus they wouldn't have the same level of privacy as they now have in Sweden and Switzerland.

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