Sunday 17 August 2014

Muziek Parade, 1978: The ABBA Story, part 10

Last month, Muziek Parade has made a little sidestep by making Stikkan Anderson as the 'fifth' ABBA the centre of attention. MP gave you an impression of 'a day in the life of Stig'.
A month before that, the story closed with the ongoing, partly unfair, criticism on the successful group from Stockholm. And that negative assault still continues today. For instance, the ABBA movie was critically reviewed in Sweden. The reporters were very inventive in pointing out the film's shortcomings.
Needless to say that everyone working at Polar Film were sour. Thankfully, the good press came from outside Sweden. Especially in Holland and Belgium the film was received with enthusiasm and it gave many ABBA fans the afternoon or evening of their lives.
Although it has become increasingly difficult for ABBA to acquire the number one position in the Netherlands, from a musical point of view friend and especially foe are in agreement that ABBA is getting better and better. And perhaps getting better is at the expense of a quick number one position.
For instance, an avid Queen fan entered the MP offices. Naturally, a discussion started about ABBA and Queen and this fan had to admit: "I've bought the last ABBA album. I think they are excellent now." Perhaps ABBA's music is getting more complex, but one thing is certain: ABBA is still growing musically and it isn't surprising that ABBA is now being compared to the Beatles more than ever. Björn and Benny are the McCartney/Lennon of the seventies. Even though ABBA's records are getting less accesible, take the time to listen to the records carefully. Pay attention to the arrangements, to the beautiful vocal harmonies and you will say: "Yes, that's exquisite." Now back to the story, part 10 already and... there are still at least five to come. Never before has a music magazine in Europe published such an extensive story about an artist or a group. Muziek Parade is proud of that. Thanks to the cooperation of ABBA themselves, of top photographers Barry Levine and Wolfgang Heilemann and not to forget Stockcolor International from charming Monaco, a top achievement like this has been possible. Thank you all. From the piles of mail that we received, MP has concluded that we've done something right.

The 'Arrival' album caused a sensation in the Swedish press. It was rumoured that Polar had decided that only orders exceeding 250 copies would be delivered to record stores. It was all nonsense of course but the damage had been done in the media. Stig Anderson: "Another joke, too ridiculous to even talk about. ABBA doesn't need to force their albums into record stores. Those records will sell like hotcakes anyway."
Things were especially difficult for ABBA in Sweden because they made so much money. A decidedly angry Agnetha says: "I really don't get why people have to moan about this. Everyone is doing well in Sweden and we are doing a little better, but we've worked very, very hard for it. People tend to forget that. And if we had to stop singing tomorrow, there won't be anybody writing: "Can we help ABBA in any way?". Indeed, ABBA's success didn't come easy. As Anni-Frid puts it: "I sometimes get the impression that people seem to think that we got our success on a silver platter." Nothing is further from the truth! A critic went even further by saying: "Shouldn't we warn people for ABBA and their success? The youngster adore ABBA, but the ABBA world is only glitter and plastic, that world doesn't exist." Stikkan is cool about this: "Every sensible human being knows that show business is a world of illusion. The word 'show' says it all. Everyone is able to see through that. If someone is dumb enough to not see through it, there are always magazines to point it out. Show business is a world of pretence. But it's a good thing that such a world of illusion still exists in these hard times. When you watch TV, you get mad of all the trouble. Isn't it wonderful to drift away every now and then with some good music. Because that's what ABBA makes: good music."
Björn concludes by saying: "We are making records for an audience as huge as possible. And not for a couple of critics who slate our records in the paper and then secretly take one of our albums home with them. But critics like this keep bothering us." Why doesn't ABBA leave Sweden and come live in Holland? Benny: "That would be a cowardly act. It would say: critics, we are running away from you. We would never do that. We will stay here and keep resisting unfair criticism."
How does the group feel about politics and taxes in Sweden? Aren't the taxes very high? Benny: "In Sweden, there is a general feeling that songs have to be socially engaged. Sweden is a free country, it's full of American conscientious objectors. That's fine, that we are ahead of everyone. But ABBA has a different opinion about music. We want to make people feel good. That's it. And that's hard enough already. Just let your Cornelis Vreeswijk walk the lead in demonstrations. We will not join in, at least not where our music is concerned. We keep our personal opinion to ourselves. When it comes to taxes: of course, they are very high in Sweden. Sweden has the highest tax rates, together with Holland. I obviously don't think that's very nice but it isn't really annoying either. There's still enough money left to lead a good life. I'm all for it that people like us - who make a lot of money - have to pay a lot of taxes. That's our duty and you could say that's our contribution to being socially engaged. None of us is even considering to leave Sweden because of the money. We don't want to be like Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart. These money-grubbers have moved safely to America, while the economy in England is shaky. It's exactly people like this that could make a positive contribution to their country."
No, money isn't the driving force with ABBA. Of every penny they earn, ABBA has to hand over 85 percent to the Swedish tax collector. ABBA's most important driving force is and remains: composing good music, recording these ideas in the right way and... making a huge audience happy with their music.

Agnetha has been the object of Swedish criticism as well. In 1975 she released a solo album called 'Eleven Women In A House'. On that album there were some lyrics about feminism. In her way she is fighting for a better place for all females in today's society. That record - her latest solo single - was panned because people were doubting Agnetha's sincerity.
Agnetha wasn't spared in any way. They wrote: "In the old days, Agnetha had a gap between her teeth that made her lisp a little bit. That gap has now disappeared, apparently she had it fixed. She can now laugh abundantly and she thinks she's prettier now." An outraged Agnetha: "Why do people have to write such things? Since I was eleven, I haven't had anything done to my teeth."

Here's another thing! In 1975 the Eurovision Song Contest was held in Stockholm because ABBA had triumphed the year before. Stikkan asked for a couple of extra tickets for the group but Swedish television replied: "There are no Polar artists in the show, that's why we can't supply extra tickets." Likewise, when foreign television broadcasters ask for footage, the steady answer is: "There is no footage of ABBA available. Would you like something else?" And of course the reply is: "No, we only want to buy ABBA footage."
There are people who claim that ABBA doesn't fit in with the social-democratic regime in Sweden. They don't like groups like ABBA. It's all too whimsical, too agreeable and not socially engaged. And Swedish TV has that same attitude. After huge pressure from Stig, Swedish TV had to produce a special with ABBA because Stikkan could actually prove that it would sell worldwide.

However, a highlight in ABBA's career does come from Sweden. In 1976, king Carl Gustav married a 'simple' girl: Silvia Sommerlath. In honour of their wedding, that got the whole country excited, a gala was being held at the Stockholm Opera House. ABBA performed in the big finale, dressed up in French baroque outfits they sang 'Dancing Queen'. "It was our tribute to Silvia, who would be the first queen after the war. The royal couple was overwhelmed. There was even a wonderful television broadcast. But of course there was again criticism aimed at those commercial ABBA people," according to Stikkan.
Stikkan Anderson: "In that same year we recorded another hour-long TV show. We wanted to sing live to show everyone that we weren't afraid of criticism. That programme was called 'The ABBA Story'. But not much did come of those live performances, because the TV sound isn't suitable yet for live performances. You have to understand that an ABBA song takes nights and days of hard work in the studio, where first class equipment is available. You can't recreate this sound just like that. That's why we decided to use a backing track and sing live to that. And it turned out really well. There were people who said that we sounded rather thin and that was justified. In the studio we overdub our vocals, which makes for a full sound. On TV, you can't overdub anything, that's why it sounds thinner. But we'd rather have a thin sound than mime, because ABBA actually isn't that good at miming. They hate it because it's dreary."

In Sweden, where the 'ombudsman' is a dreaded figure, it was decided by that same 'man' not to broadcast the top ten charts anymore because "the listener is being urged to only buy those top ten records". Complete nonsense, but in Sweden things like that are possible. In response ABBA has written an open letter to all the newspapers wherein the headman of the programme Stig Ulin was encouraged to take action against such a brutal decision. Nothing happened and in Sweden there are still no programmes such as Top Thirty, Top Forty or Euro Parade.

Finally something about a boycot in England. Precisely in the place where ABBA won Eurovision, Radio Brighton decided to put 'Waterloo' on their boycot list. Station manager Bob Gunnel said: "That song can be number one one hundred thousand times but that doesn't mean that I have to like the record or that I have to play it. I believe that our listeners don't like the record, that's why I don't play it." And that's how Radio Brighton has never played 'Waterloo'. We are living in a strange world, where other people are telling us what we can and what we can't listen to.

Thursday 17 July 2014

POP, 1979: ABBA promise: "In the fall we will come to Germany!"

ABBA's clean image has suffered a great deal since Agnetha and Björn's divorce. "Is this the beginning of the end?" their worried fans are wondering. During the filming of the Eurovision broadcast 'Snow Special '79', that should be aired in 16 countries at Easter and was filmed in the Swiss ski resort Leysin, ABBA peacefully showcased unity and harmony. POP accompanied the most famous group in the world during their stay and got to know all the background stories about the divorce and the group's future. And that's a scoop!

ABBA's trip to the Swiss mountains doesn't start very promising. Shortly after take off in Sweden, the plane that should transport the four famous Swedes to Switzerland, has to go back. A frozen jet engine makes a riskless flight impossible. With a different plane and a delay of more than six hours ABBA ultimately arrives in Geneva. POP photographer Hannes Schmid, who was hired by ABBA for their Swiss outing as their official photographer, is awaiting the group. After barely having landed in Geneva, the job begins for Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid. In front of a DC-9 by Swissair, that was decorated with the ABBA logo by the show's producers, the camera people once again re-enact the arrival with the famous quartet. When the filming of this scene has barely been completed, ABBA board a helicopter, that will take them to the ski resort Leysin within 20 minutes.

In the Valais ski resort, over 50 reporters and photographers from all around the world are already waiting for the first ABBA press conference since Björn and Agnetha's divorce. But before ABBA has to face the first questions, it's the photographers' turn first. Only after a fifteen minute long storm of flashing lights the reporters finally get the opportunity to ask the patiently enduring and always smiling quartet some questions.
The first question is aimed at Agnetha and obviously concerns the divorce and the group's future. Of course ABBA expected this and therefore it's not surprising that Björn answers instead of Agnetha: "There's absolutely no reason to worry about ABBA as a group. Our divorce only has private reasons. Agnetha and I simply couldn't live together any longer, although we've tried everything. The divorce was inevitable. As anyone can see, Agnetha and I will remain good friends." Meanwhile Björn glances at Agnetha in a sweet way.
Another reporter claims to know that another man is the reason for the divorce, since many newspapers have written about a relationship between Agnetha and her psychiatrist. The blonde Swede denies this fiercely: "Björn and I saw this psychiatrist together because we wanted to try everything to make it work again. The rumour about an alleged relationship emerged, because at times I saw our psychiatrist on my own. Because Björn and I wanted to avoid any speculations about our relationships from the start, I had to meet my psychiatrist secretly and at odd times. Unfortunately someone saw us together, that's how these ridiculous rumours started." Agnetha adds smilingly: "The only man in my life at the moment is my son Christian."

Shortly after the official press conference, POP reporter Heier Lämmler meets Benny for a private interview. The bearded Swede reveals that all eight songs for the new ABBA album have already been recorded. The recordings still have to be mixed and when everything goes according to plan the album should be available around Easter.
Benny: "At Easter, the 'Snow Special '79' should be aired in 16 countries as well. It is estimated that 500 million people will get to see it. Of course that would be an invaluable promotional tool for our album." Furthermore Benny reveals that ABBA wants to come to Germany this year. "As soon as the album is ready, we will start preparing for a major world tour. In our mind, the show is already in place and we are already planning the exact tour dates. No later than the beginning of October we will visit Germany. Our equipment will be more than 40-ton heavy and be transported in four trailers. But I can't reveal any further details."
That same evening ABBA has to appear in front of the television cameras again. In the ice rink of Leysin the four Swedes will be filmed as ice skating stars. Benny, Björn and Anni-Frid are having great fun at ice skating. But Agnetha is fighting the pitfalls of the slippery surface to no avail. Only after the blonde Swede has been given a lecture in figure skating by Denise Biellman, the sweet Swiss figure skating champion and third in the European Championships '79, is she able to skate round after round.
In the next few days ABBA is rushed around the beautiful ambiance of Leysin. The camera people want to film them everywhere. From all this material, a television special called 'ABBA in Switzerland' will be put together still this year. Apart from this ABBA special, the television producers are working on another major show, wherein ABBA will be one of many famous names. For the 'Snow Special '79' super show, they were able to engage, apart from the Swedish super quartet, Boney M, Leif Garrett, Roxy Music, Kate Bush, Bonnie Tyler, Eruption and many other major stars. In order for this gala to have the right ambiance, a circus tent was put up in the middle of the white arena of Leysin, wherein the television blockbuster should be filmed.

On the second to last day, ABBA shines in yet another form of sport. In the mountains of Les Diablerets they are putting on their skis. And then there's exactly the same scene as in the ice rink: while Benny, Björn and Anni-Frid are cheerfully skiing away, Agnetha is fighting with herself and her fear. Alone and trembling, she is standing at the slope. POP photographer Hannes Schmid, a brilliant skier and trick skier, takes care of the helpless ABBA girl. Slowly he is going down the ski slope. Agnetha follows him with a wide track and balancing fiercely. But she makes it. When she arrives in the arena, she wants to try again. In a flash, she is back at the top of the ski slope and only after the third descent, Agnetha has had enough as well. Anni-Frid can hardly believe that her colleague has suddenly become an ardent skier. Jokingly she says: "It's probably because of the ski instructor. Now we will soon read the headlines: 'Agnetha has fallen in love with her ski instructor!'..."

Sunday 4 May 2014

Mikro Gids, May 2014: Golden girl Agnetha Fältskog: "With ABBA, we were working amateurish"

In 1974 - the year of birth of Mikro Gids - ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest with 'Waterloo'. The enormously popular band split up eight years later. This was a big relief for the blonde singer Agnetha, she says. "In the end, I couldn't get up on stage without having had a whisky." A portrait of a blonde angel with broken wings.

It probably didn't go unnoticed to anyone that Agnetha Fältskog (64) and her three bandmates won the Eurovision Song Contest forty years ago and went on to become one of the most popular pop acts ever as ABBA. But the fact that the pressure of international fame, having to do constant promotion and endless touring affected her well-being tremendously is less known. "It's strange to sing 'I've been so lucky, I am the girl with golden hair' all the time when you don't feel that way," she admits. "I was less confident than the others, my English was not that good and I had less fun with it all." Where Anni-Frid, Björn and Benny enjoyed all the applause, the fans and the jetsetting, Agnetha only wanted one thing: to be back home. "I am a simple country girl, not a showgirl. The others liked to party, I enjoyed being alone. But I loved them too: Frida and I were companions. We had our differences now and then, but when one of us wasn't in great voice, the other stepped in. In all those years, we've only had to cancel two shows. But when I compare it with Beyoncé's approach to her performances, we were working rather amateurish. And Frida was even considerably more gracious than I was."

As a child Agnetha was already a musical talent who could play the piano very well and performed locally with her friends. "I was young, so nothing is scary at that time," she says. "A wonderful overconfidence. And in the sixties I had great role models: Connie Francis, Dusty Springfield, Sandy Shaw and the French girls like France Gall and Francoise Hardy. When I was seventeen I went to Stockholm, I could get a recording contract."
She became a national star primarily with songs that she had composed herself. That's how she met her future colleagues, with whom she worked together on a regular basis from 1970 onwards. "We noticed how our voices blended so beautifully," she says. "And we were all perfectionists and could have a laugh together - there was a connection." From 1972 onwards, ABBA started to take shape and in the following ten years Agnetha achieved superstar status. She didn't compose anymore: "Benny and Björn did ask me, but they were so good that it made me feel insecure. And I also didn't have the time for it, with my two children."

Performing live was becoming increasingly hard on her. "In the end I couldn't get on stage without having had a whisky. No one who has ever been in front of a screaming, boiling, hysterical crowd can avoid feeling shivers down their spine. There's really not that much difference between adulation and rage. It's terribly frightening when fans are pounding on your car. We were always afraid that somebody might get hurt in the commotion."
It didn't help matters that her fear of flying became worse: in 1979 the group's private jet got caught in a thunderstorm. After that she only boarded a plane when there was no other way to travel. On top of that she had to deal with a relationship crisis: that same year both she and Björn saw a psychiatrist. Agnetha: "I knew that the end of ABBA was drawing near, that's what made me hang on. When it was really over, I felt relieved. Ten years of working non-stop, getting married, having two children and a divorce. I haven't been able to listen to our music for a long time." In 1982, Anni-Frid, Björn, Benny and Agnetha went their separate ways.

Agnetha tried her luck with a solo career, but after an accident in 1983 when her tour bus crashed and she was catapulted out of the window, she preferred to withdraw on her private island in Ekerö. But she didn't find peace and quiet there either. Sometimes without her being to blame - many times fans were standing at her gate - but sometimes due to her as well. Agnetha namely had a colourful love life. First she fell for a Swedish ice hockey player, after that a fashion designer, a detective and subsequently her therapist. "Sometimes you are looking for happiness with others, when you actually have to find it in yourself." A marriage with a surgeon broke down within two years. And then there was the bizarre relationship with the Dutch truck driver Gert, who stalked her for years after she broke up with him. In her inner circle, there was also bad fortune. Her mother committed suicide in 1994 by jumping out of the window of her apartment. "It was awful," says Agnetha. "You wonder if there wasn't anything you could have done. Within a year my father passed away as well. So painful."

What followed was a depression. "Those were awful years, between forty and fifty. During that time I seriously started to do yoga because so many emotions were coming out. I stayed at home, I meditated, listened to music, lit candles. It helped me to heal, to distance myself a little from the sadness, but it never goes away completely." Her two dogs, who had to be walked, eventually brought her back among the people. She made an album in 2004, but it flopped. A reason for that was that her stalker turned up again so that she was too scared to do any promotion. In the following years, the peace and the inspiration returned. "I started having fun in making music again and I took singing lessons to find my voice again," she says about the album 'A' that was released last year. "The fact that I am having fun again, is enough for me. I have had a period where the music fell silent. Both within me and around me. Now I am able to enjoy it again, but on my conditions: no performances or tours anymore, that ship has sailed. I want to wake up in my own bed."

The other three
After the ABBA era, Björn and Benny kept composing songs together and they were intensively involved in the production of both the musical and the movie 'Mamma Mia!' Since 1981, Björn is married to journalist Lena Källersjö, he lives in London and still composes. Benny performs with his own orchestra and has been together with Mona Nörklit since 1981. Anni-Frid Lyngstad lives in Zermatt Switzerland with her current partner Henry Smith, viscount of Hambleden. She is a fanatic home pigeon racer and close friends with Queen Silvia from Sweden.

Sunday 13 April 2014

1975: The Hep Stars - Golden Hits (liner notes on Dutch compilation album)

The Hep Stars from Sweden - who remembers them? In 1968 they hit the big time with 'Sunny Girl' and 'Music Box', two romantic songs that stormed up the Dutch top 40. Shortly after that, the group disbanded and the first Swedish pop successes came to an end. But the Hep Stars were the origins of the Swedisch pop explosion of the last couple of months. The organ player of the group namely was Benny Andersson, who was already close friends with Björn Ulvaeus around that time and together with him he wrote songs on a regular basis. These days, Benny and Björn of course make up the male half of the most popular group in Europe at this time: ABBA, who have conquered the whole world with their hits 'Ring Ring', 'Waterloo', 'Honey, Honey', 'I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do', 'SOS' and 'Mamma Mia'.
Thanks in part to the phenomenal success of ABBA, Sweden has suddenly become an important pop country. Some examples: Sven & Charlotte with their 'Bang-A-Boomerang', Harpo with 'Moviestar', Blue Swede with 'Hooked On A Feeling' and Bo Hansson with his music accompanying the book 'The Lord Of Rings'.
The Hep Stars were the frontrunners of this Swedish pop explosion. They were the first pop group from that country that scored hits all over Europe and whose records were released in America (on Dunhill).
The story of the Hep Stars begins at the end of 1963 when guitar player Lennart Heglund and drummer Christer Petersson ran into each other during their military service with the air force. Their mutual hobby music soon started to pay off, so that they decided to form a pop group after their military service. Jan Frisk was hired as a solo guitarist and he would also do the vocals. An organ player was hired as well, but the archives don't mention his name anymore. After a couple of months his job was taken over by Benny Andersson. It soon turned out that the band needed a proper singer as well, that was found in Sven Hedlund which completed the line up. Their first try on record failed. Their single 'Kana Kapila' was hardly noticed. That's why the boys started looking for good songs abroad. Soon the right songs were found and recorded, like Mike Berry's 'Tribute to Buddy Holly' (already then!), the ancient 'Farmer John' and 'Cadillac', which became their first truly big hit. This song was initially recorded by The Renegades, a British group that moved to Finland to find the success that they couldn't find in their home country. The Hep Stars recorded a cover of this song and that established their name.

Not before too long there was a genuine Hep Stars mania in Sweden. It happened frequently that the boys were in the Swedish top 10 with two or three records simultaneously, an unprecedented achievement in that country. The boys got their nicknames too. Sven became Svenne, Jan became Janne, Lennart became Lenne, Christer became Crille and only Benny remained Benny. But the Hep Stars' success remained limited to Scandinavia, which wasn't that surprising because the group didn't have a very original sound at that time. They played tough rock and roll music, dominated especially by Jan's guitar and Benny's organ. Their approach may not have been too original, their performance mostly was outstanding and the group had a good ear for good songs. This is obvious from the choice of songs that they recorded: apart from the mandatory 'Sweet Little Sixteen' and 'Oh Carol' they also recorded 'Surfin' Bird', 'Then He Kissed Me' and 'Be My Baby'.
At the end of 1965 a live album was released, called 'Hep Stars On Stage' and that record made clear why the Hep Stars were the most important Swedish group in 1965. The album is one of the finest rock 'n' roll live records and it even far outshines the group's studio albums from that time.
The first two Hep Stars albums mainly consisted of covers, but after a while they also started to compose songs themselves. Especially Benny Andersson and Sven Hedlund were very productive in that department. At this stage, the musical approach of the group also changed. The tough rock was exchanged for music that was more mellow. The big example of singer Sven Hedlund was Elvis Presley. Sven even recorded an album full of songs of his idol.
Around this time, Benny also met Björn Ulvaeus, the lead singer of the Swedish folk group the Hootenanny Singers. The first song they composed together can be found on the fourth Hep Stars album: 'Isn't It Easy To Say'.
The international breakthrough of the Hep Stars was finally achieved in 1968. 'Sunny Girl' became a hit in our country and soon Germany and the other countries on the European continent followed. The follow-up was 'Music Box', perhaps a little less striking but still good for a couple of decent chart placings. After this sudden success things started to go wrong with the Hep Stars. Singer Sven Hedlund brought in his American girlfriend Charlotte Walker. Charlotte is known from the American girl group The Sherries who scored a hit in 1962 with 'Pop-Pop-Pop-Pie', good for a gold record. A nice addition to the group, but not everyone agrees. Sven decides to leave the group with his girlfriend. Benny Andersson quits as well and that sealed the group's fate.
Sven started recording with Lotte and now they are a popular duo in Scandinavia, where they are known as Svenne & Lotta. Abroad they are simply called Sven & Charlotte. Meanwhile they have recorded two albums together that both achieved gold status for sales in Sweden and Denmark. Benny started working at Polar Records, Stig Anderson's record company, where he became a producer together with his friend Björn Ulvaeus. In 1970, they recorded an album together called 'Lycka' (Happiness) for which they called in their girlfriends to help them out. That album certainly brought happiness for Benny and Björn, because it was the start of a new success story.

Sunday 23 March 2014

Hitkrant, 1977: ABBA doesn't get it for free!

So ABBA has made the giant step: from a recording act to a touring group. Their successful concert in Amsterdam was followed by a tour in the United Kingdom and that was the start of a somewhat risky venture. There have been several pop groups that sold millions of records, but that were completely exposed when they took to the stage. But ABBA didn't fail!

Still the British music journalists weren't completely ecstatic about ABBA's London performance: although they didn't have much criticism about the Swedish quartet's musical achievements, the show itself was deemed cold and distant. The audience on the other hand was overwhelmed, not least due to the fact that ABBA proved to be able to recreate their hits note by note on stage. Without any tricks.

Björn and Benny were very nervous before the tour started. Indeed, a lot was depending on it; ABBA wants to achieve a breakthrough in the US and the tour has done a lot of good in that respect. The show had been carefully thought out, whereby the mini-musical 'The Girl With The Golden Hair' was an important segment. Manager Stig Anderson didn't leave anything to chance and once again that meant an organization that seemed to resemble a military operation. Everything that ABBA does, is done with ultimate care.

It's not just the fact that Stig (meanwhile he is called ABBA's fifth member already), Björn and Benny are such excellent composers, lyric writers and producers, or that Agnetha and Frida are looking great and the group as a whole is delivering such perfect records that for instance in the UK every tenth family owns an ABBA record; apart from that there is a complete machine that's running flawlessly behind the scenes.

In the meantime, ABBA is indeed turning into a living legend. But Björn, Benny, Frida and Agnetha surely don't get it for free: the fact that 'Dancing Queen' stormed into the American top ten a couple of weeks ago is the result of tremendous hard work, endless rehearsals, writing, rewriting and a lot of talking. "We simply want to try to come up with something new every time," says Stig. "Hence that mini-musical, hence the movie that we are working on and for which the first recordings have been made in London already. And furthermore, we think everything is terribly exciting in the music business."

And so ABBA goes on! With making records, writing, performing and coming up with new things. In between all these proceedings Frida still has a complete solo career on the side: she is recording her own records that are unfortunately only released in Sweden and are extremely successful over there. One of them - 'Frida Ensam' - is filled with Swedish-language cover versions of world famous songs like 10CC's 'Wall Street Shuffle' and 'Life On Mars' by David Bowie. In comparison, that album is just as successful in Sweden as the ABBA albums are all over the world!

Once again: the group has to work hard for it. But the quartet doesn't mind that. "Two years ago, no one could have imagined that such a sensation could come from Sweden," says Stig Anderson. "But it turns out that good music is not restricted to a certain country. In this business anything can happen..."

Friday 21 February 2014

Das Freizeit-Magazin, September 1979: ABBA's awesome!

For seconds, the Northland Colliseum in Edmonton (Canada) is dark like the sky at night. For a moment, there's a sizzling tension among the 14.000 fans in the audience. All of a sudden, a thundering fanfare resonates - and as if by command the stage is bathing in hundreds of colourful lights.
The stage design is composed of blue, yellow and white pyramids, behind which Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Björn and Benny now emerge simultaneously. There's an enormous, thundering applause. ABBA doesn't wait until the applause fades, but gets right to it - with 'Voulez-Vous'.
The girls are wearing sporty, silk capes with reflecting gold patterns. Underneath skin tight, white latex suits. Benny has dressed himself in flowing, dark-brown trousers and a shirt. And Björn comes in a striking satin look and white baseball shoes.
Their music sounds exactly like the records. To be able to replicate the ABBA sound like that, the Swedish superstars are accompanied by three backing singers and six musicians. The Canadian people - who actually became aware of the quartet from Stockholm only one year ago due to a television show - are mostly pleased by the new songs.
The visual focus of the show is on Agnetha and Anni-Frid, who have to work the hardest. They have to do most of the singing and even have some small solo spots: to the fans' surprise, Agnetha is taking a seat behind Benny's piano and plays and sings 'When I Kissed The Teacher'. No one had ever seen her like this before. Because in former times she was only allowed to sing. Anni-Frid turns herself into a sultry vamp. With a long, white cigarette holder and pouting lips, she comes across like Marlene Dietrich during 'Money, Money, Money'.
The technical sensation of the supershow are Benny's keyboards that allow him to move hydraulically upwards, downwards and in a circle.
In the second part of the 120 minute show, ABBA makes sure that the audience is going completely wild and proves that they are one of the few groups that are able to churn out hit after hit. A medley of 'Fernando', 'Chiquitita', 'The Name Of The Game', 'Take A Chance On Me'.
ABBA has passed the test in America. From 25 October until 2 November, the group will be in our country with their fantastic show. Read on the following pages which extreme efforts have been necessary to make sure that the show turned out so good that it gets everybody out of their seats now.

Hecticness until the last day
Rocky has watched ABBA during their last days of rehearsals in their Stockholm studio. All of a sudden, things got pretty intense, because the foursome had to record their next single as well.

"It's a wrap!" Completely worn-out, Agnetha and Anni-Frid drop down in the first chair they can find and throw their shoes across the room. "In general, we have had fun during the rehearsals," says Anni-Frid after she has taken a deep breath, "but the last few days have been a real ordeal." Agnetha nodds approvingly and says: "It's true that we had an elaborate mode of operation wherein time was set aside for delays as well. But still there have been several unexpected difficulties. In reality, things can turn out a little different than one would have expected."
And they wanted to be as perfect as possible. The sound, the lights, the show, everything has to fit together and be coordinated. "That's why it could happen that I had to rewrite a complete arrangement for a song," Björn explains as he calmly takes the blame for all the hecticness. "But it's great that our musicians have done their jobs so well."
Anni-Frid - pretending to be angry - punches him in the side and complains: "And you had us dancing until we dropped and singing until we were hoarse. But we don't hear anything about that."
The relaxed atmosphere on this late evening proves that the irritations and tensions that had sometimes occured previously were just the result of stress. Anni-Frid: "We are feeling great and we are positive that this tour will be a success."
A world tour of 41 days, which will have its premiere in only 17 days. "Before that, we still have our next single to record. In between there will be a final dress rehearsal and we will also need a couple of days of relaxation," says Benny, appearing a little nervous, because again it's still unclear which song the group is going to record. "That won't be decided until we're in the studio," he reveals, "and that's why we have somewhat shortened our rehearsals to have a little more time for recording." Apart from that, the four of them also want to spend some time with their children before the tour kicks off. "Meanwhile, they are seeing more of the nanny than of us," Agnetha complains, "and they are mostly looking forward to 16 November, when we will be back home."

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Libelle, 1977: Frida, after years of bad luck and sadness: "Not ABBA, but Benny is the best thing that ever happened to me"

The whole world knows them: blonde Anna and dark-haired Frida, the two great girls from ABBA. Smiling, winking and just a little provoking, that's how they are standing on stage and beaming on thousands of television screens. As two inseparable friends. But is this for real?

A couple of times, just for a second, they stepped out of character. All of a sudden their smiles didn't go with the glances they exchanged any longer. Those glances were cold and snappy. Ever more often after that they started turning their backs to each other during their acts. That way it should be less conspicuous that they actually couldn't look each other in the eyes any longer. They were asked about it in interviews. What was going on with Anna and Frida? The blonde girl replied astutely: "Apart from the performances we are obviously not always as thick as thieves. We see a lot of each other and that's when little things can become a little irritating. That's all." She would liked to have said that nothing's the matter. That those spiteful glances were nothing more than stage fright. But too many people would not have believed an answer like that. So the truth was disguised by an explanation that anyone could have made up. Frida tried to be a little more honest: "Actually, it has annoyed me that Anna always put herself in the foreground. She was the eye-catcher of the cameramen. The boys Benny and Björn can hardly be seen on the screen in close-up and I very rarely. And I didn't like that very much, although it actually isn't her fault. She simply comes across as being more sympathetic than me. She is more spontaneous, she smiles a lot and is more open to other people. I have a more inhibited personality. That's why I look arrogant on television, but I can't help it."
This was a very daring statement coming from someone from ABBA. None of the four group members is very open-hearted about their personal lives. This is not Swedish rigidity but a mutual agreement that should protect the group's slick popularity against scratches and dents. The four group members should always be beaming with happiness, and not just on stage. That's the way it should be when everyone likes you. They always have to look like four Sunday's children who - after a smooth childhood - don't want to do anything else than make music that can be enjoyed by the young and the old. Only then millions of people will keep buying their records. And that's the most important thing to Anna, Björn, Benny and Frida who seem to beat all the Beatles' records after only three years of popularity. Soon they will have sold more records and be richer than the British quartet.
Anyone who ever thought that something like Beatlemania would never occur again, knows now that he was wrong. Everywhere where ABBA appears, thousands of fans are waiting for them. The venues wherein they perform, no matter how big, are packed to capacity. The ABBAmania is only a little quieter, just like their music. It's not real pop, raw and with lots of beating drums. The Swedish foursome is bringing something different to the table: melodic songs, that are even liked by children. Father is pleased to look at the girls, who have the right amount of sexiness without crossing the line. And mother is interested in "what will they be wearing this time". It's a show for the entire family. An enjoyable unity, wherein there is no room for difficulties that everyone has to go through at some time. That's why the quartet has all the reason in the world to be not too open-hearted.

The happiness that they radiate should not be overshadowed by the true story about the tensions between the girls. That's why Frida's words were rather daring, too open-hearted for a group about which no bad word may be spoken. In the eyes of the public, the girls are meant to be close friends who confide in each other with their deepest secrets over their morning coffee. While the boys are working in the studio, composing, deliberating, taking care of business, they should be inseperable and tell each other about the spats with their husbands or the most intimate happiness they have experienced. But anyone who takes the trouble to put together the pieces of Frida's life like a jig-saw puzzle, knows this can't be the case. Her life was too different from Anna's. After everything she has been through, it's no surprise that - to Anna - the dark-haired girl will always remain the odd one out in the group's harmony. She - Anna, who's actual name is Agnetha - is the youngest group member and she has always had a life that was running smoothly. Her father was active in the show business and he made good money from it. With his help, his talented and pretty daughter just had to reach out and grab her success. The only scandal in her career was that her pants once fell down while she was on stage, but at the time she was only six years old. The audience just couldn't stop laughing. The most horrible thing she experienced as a teenage singer immediately turned into a commercial success: her engagement came to an end and inspired by so much sadness, she wrote a song that moved the entire country and brought in a lot of money. After that she met the piano player Björn, married him and joined ABBA. Together with the other three group members she won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 which made her, together with her husband and child, even richer than she already was.

How different was Frida's life! Her road to a little happiness was long and bumpy, and every now and then rather dark. She didn't have a rich dad who took care of things for her. She was born on 15 November 1945 in Bjorkaasen, a small village near Narvik in Norway. In the civil register she was named Anni-Frid Lyngstad. It was made up of her grandmother's first name and her mother's last name. Perhaps it was all for the better that little Anni-Frid didn't carry her father's last name. He was a man named Alfred Haase, an officer in the German army, that occupied Norway during the war. Her mother was nineteen when she met him and fell in love with him. Shortly after it became clear that she was pregnant, he was called back to Germany. The war was coming to an end. And Synni - that was her name - was scorned in the village because she was expecting a German baby. This hurt her very much but she found comfort in the thought that he would return. That's what he had promised. In silence and without being too happy about it all she gave birth to her baby and she raised her together with grandmother. And while little Anni-Frid was making her first noises, got her first teeth and learned how to say 'mama', Synni waited, the entire cold and lonely winter long. The war was over, but Alfred did not return. She started having doubts. Did he just say this to get rid of her and to make their goodbye less painful? Another winter came. Anni-Frid was taking her first steps and Synni bought shoes for her, but her father didn't come. And she was too sad to fight for her life when she became seriously ill. She was twenty-one and Anni-Frid two when she died. And grandmother, who was left with the child, understood that the little girl wouldn't get a fair chance in the village. To everyone who knew her, she would remain a child of the despised occupant. That's why she decided to move to Sweden, a country that remained impartial during the war. That's where people would be less dismissive about her origins than in Norway.

Even before ABBA existed, Anni-Frid once told about how she tried to find her father: "All traces turned out to be a dead end. The only thing they could tell me in Germany was that he probably died at sea. The cargo-boat that carried the troops was scuttled by an allied torpedo near the coast of Denmark. I'm positive that he would have returned otherwise. Thankfully I still had my grandmother. She was really a sweet human being. She encouraged me in everything I did and during the long winter nights she taught me old folk songs. That's how I got my first singing lessons from her."

Still, Frida doesn't have a lot of wonderful memories of her childhood. It was a difficult time. In the Swedish city Eskilstuna, grandmother tried to make a living by working hard as a seamstress. Frida spent a lot of time on her own. Then she would sit at home, singing to herself, all the songs she had learned. These were good exercises, because at school she wasn't particularly good at anything, except singing. When she was eleven, she performed for the first time as a singer and when she was thirteen she joined a local band. But to be able to join that band, she had to lie about her age and tell them she was sixteen. This wasn't very difficult for her, because she made a very independent impression. And with that band, she performed at a restaurant.

Life started to look up for her. And in this excited state of mind, within a day she fell in love with the leader of the band, the bass player Ragnar Fredriksson. He had a second job on the side as a furniture salesman and that's how he managed to make enough money to start living together with Frida. It was all very romantic and she didn't know any better than to think that this was it. But in reality she didn't have any clue what she was doing with her young life. When she was sixteen, they got their first child, son Hans. Three years later, daughter Lise-Lotte was born. But this second child didn't seal a happy marriage. Soon afterwards, she and Ragnar separated. With pain. They had been happy in their childlike way, but when Frida started discovering herself, she realised she already had a whole life behind her before her actual life had begun. She wanted to move forward, achieve something, become famous. She talked about this for days with Ragnar. When he offered to raise the children, she felt that anything was still possible. That there was still a way out of the dead end road she had found herself in. And she made the hardest decision that a mother could make: "At the time I was known as a happy little singer, but that was just a charade. The reality behind it was utterly sad. It's a pity I have to say this, but when I decided to leave Ragnar and the children, there were people that were very cruel to me. And they really should have known better. They said I simply didn't care about the children. And that wasn't true at all. I only knew that Ragnar could take better care of them than I could. That's why I let them go. Don't let anybody think that's an easy thing to do. You hurt yourself and you keep feeling that, all those years that follow."
That's how they went their separate ways. Without holding a grudge, alone, but very sad about their failure. The doubts whether it would have been better to give it a second chance remained. Frida's only comfort was that she became very successful soon after her divorce. She was lucky with her very first television performance. That night, Swedish traffic would change from left to right. The authorities had advised everybody to stay at home so that they would have enough time to move all the traffic signs to the other side of the road. The entire country saw her talent that evening. That's how she became famous, long before ABBA was even in the picture. And one day, there was Benny, another celebrity from the Swedish show business.

This Benny Andersson also had a peculiar life behind him already when they met each other in a club in Malmö, where they coincidentally both had to perform that same evening. Of course she knew about his history. Who didn't in Sweden? The papers had been full of stories about him. Before he became famous, he had been a somewhat dreamy boy, who had to be forced to go to school by his dad every morning. The lessons in school didn't interest him at all. Two years after he graduated he still didn't know exactly what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to become someone in music. At some point, he had had two piano lessons and that was sufficient to be able to get music out of every instrument he laid his hands on from then on. By coincidence, he was asked to fill in with the Hep Stars, a rather well-known group in Sweden at the time. It was the time of the Beatles and Beatle hairdos, but he came in dressed neatly in a suit-jacket with tie. One month later, he had completely turned around, with long hair and jeans. The Hep Stars didn't let him go and he made a lot of money during that time. Still, he and his colleagues went bankrupt after a while. They had not taken care properly of their easily earned money. Benny hardly got the chance to work himself out of his financial problems. His fiancée took care of that. For years he had been living with her in secrecy: a girl named Christine Grönvall, his former girlfriend from school. Together they had two children. But all this time this had been kept secret from the fans. And just when the Hep Stars went their separate ways, Benny and Christine's adolescent love was over too. Shortly after the break-up, she was so full of resentment that she blurted out to the press: "You can write that this handsome, popular Benny has been living together with me for years. You just write that on behalf of me and his children, for whom he didn't have any room in his little glitter world. If he talked to them at all, it was always about the Hep Stars' records. Once, I was allowed to go on tour with them, but I couldn't travel along with them. I was kept hidden and during the shows I was sitting backstage on a stool."
That's how Benny was exposed in public. As a father and as a pop idol. He learned his lesson: "My experiences with Christine are the reason that I never tell anybody anything about my personal life. After that, I have had a very hard time getting any work. And my children? I can only think about them with nostalgia."

Only after four years of slaving away to get rid of his debts, Benny was able to think about the future again. He met Björn and realised that they got along really well. The good times of getting to work and making music seemed to return. And then he met Frida in this club in Malmö. He already knew her as that little singer, who sang those delicate, serious songs. Their conversation started out about their job, about the differences between her songs and his and Björn's repertoire. But then they discovered how wonderful their talk was. And before they realised they were listening to each other's life story full of interest. After that first meeting they kept thinking about each other. Their experiences with their adolescent loves and with the children, who they didn't see any longer, seemed similar. Then they knew that they had both met someone who understood them. Not long after that they ran into each other in a radio studio and they made an appointment. Since then they have been inseparable.

Meanwhile, Benny and Björn kept working on their musical plans and the idea of ABBA was born. The boys would compose and perform the music and the girls would be the faces of the group and sing. Everything seemed to be in the right place, but Frida remained an outsider. She was having difficulties in adjusting to the ABBA formula of 'oh, how happy we all are'. Despite the success, she couldn't simply forget about Alfred Haase, Ragnar, Synni and the children. But Anna and Björn didn't really feel like dragging along all those difficulties from the past. They thought they should be forgotten. Only Benny understood. That's why Frida once said: "Not ABBA, but Benny is the best thing that ever happened to me." And she showed it, even on stage. Now everything has been cleared up between the four of them. The acts and the dance moves have been adjusted. Frida is getting her share in the foreground as well. The girls are singing less in unison and more and more they are taking turns. The millions that the quartet have earned together with their manager Stig Anderson, are safe again. The quarrels have been talked out.

"It's all peaceful now," says Frida. They keep their private lives as separate as possible, but they still spend their summers together on the island they have bought together. And Frida's son Hans is welcome there as well. Perhaps she and Benny will finally get some peace to start thinking about marriage. Until now, Frida is still not in favour of such a thing: "We don't know if that would be a wise decision. So much has happened. Although we would love to have a baby, but since we are ABBA, that will be very difficult. That's why we say to each other: "We are happy with the children that we've got."

Sunday 16 February 2014

Privé, 1979: Why ABBA's Agnetha Fältskog lost her lover

Millions of people in the USA, Canada and Europe are already waiting in line to get a ticket for one of ABBA's concerts during the major tour of the Swedish supergroup. There seems to be no end to the successes of the quartet, but it is costing them their personal happiness. The boyfriend of blonde Agnetha Fältskog, Lars Erik Ericsson, couldn't stand this success any longer and broke off their relationship.

ABBA's Agnetha Fältskog is alone again. Her boyfriend, ice hockey player Lars Erik Ericsson, with whom she had been living together for a couple of months in her mansion just outside Stockholm, has suddenly broken off their relationship and left the mansion.
For the twenty-nine year old singer this means the second tragedy in one year. One year ago she divorced her husband and fellow band member Björn Ulvaeus. The end of her romance with the twenty-nine year old Ericsson was too much for Agnetha. She has withdrawn from public life and for the time being - until the start of ABBA's tour next week - she stays alone in her mansion.
Friends are saying: "Agnetha adored Lars Erik. She hoped she could marry him soon, right after the world tour. She thought he would be a good father for her children, the six year old Linda and little, one year old Christian."
But Lars Erik couldn't handle his relationship with Agnetha. Although he is a well-known Swedish ice hockey player - he is playing in AIK '77 and the Swedish national team - he was still ignored by the public. All attention went to the famous singer Agnetha. When the couple appeared in public, the fans were all surrounding Agnetha, Lars Erik was just standing on the side. To them, he was just Agnetha's boyfriend, not the ice hockey star Lars Erik Ericsson. "He wasn't seen as an individual anymore, but as Agnetha's companion. He couldn't stand it any longer," according to the couple's friends.
He felt that - if he would continue with the relationship - it would go further and further. He would be seen as Mr. Fältskog and  not as Lars Erik Ericsson. "Although he still loves her very much," according to intimate friends, "he still thought it was better to make the decision to end their romance now."
But Agnetha's sadness about the fact that the man she really loved, and who would become the father of her two children, has left her, is enormous. Agnetha is planning to stop singing after ABBA's tour, she wanted to do that for Lars Erik and her children. She wanted to build a new life together with him. As a happy family. Out of the limelight and without the public.

But that same public made sure that the happiness of the blonde singer has come to an end. That's the other side of ABBA's success. It turns out that twenty million Dutch guilders in the bank and all the glamour aren't everything. The man she loved has disappeared from her life, because of her popularity. She doesn't seem to be entitled to personal happiness.
Despite the fact that Agnetha was willing to make the decision for her personal happiness with her lover Lars Erik, by quitting her career after the gigantic tour, he still chose to leave her. "He knew," according to friends, "that the pressure - even though Agnetha would quit her career - would still be too big to have a chance to be happy together. There will always be people chasing after Agnetha and he would always be seen as Agnetha's man instead of the famous Swedish ice hockey player that he actually is," according to the friends.
That's why Lars Erik has decided to leave Agnetha, alone with her two children in her immense mansion. And now that she probably still will stop singing, the void will even be greater for her. It's the downside of success. The price she has to pay means she can't be happy in love.

Sunday 5 January 2014