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.