THE PROMOTIONAL TOUR
In February 1976 it was announced that ABBA would travel to Australia in March to film a special for the music program Bandstand. It was reported that ABBA were paid $100,000, Channel 9 reportedly outbidding television companies from Germany and France and for the privilege.The special was also timed to coincide with the national release of the compilation album The Best Of ABBA, which lent its name to the special. The special was also to be sold to overseas television companies for screening.
ABBA arrived in Sydney on Thursday 4 March, and after a night of rest faced the media on Friday at a press conference at the Sydney Hilton Hotel, which included a ceremony to present to group with gold records awarded in Australia to date.
The weekend saw ABBA taking it relatively easy, though cameras were present to record scenes for the overseas version of the special. ABBA were treated to a cruise on the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney, where they stopped at a cove on the river for a typical Australian barbecue, and were also given boomerang throwing lessons. They also went on a cruise on Sydney Harbour, followed by a trip to Taronga Park Zoo on Sydneys North Shore.
On Monday 8 March ABBA travelled to Melbourne for an appearance on The Don Lane Show, a nationally televised talk and variety show. After rehearsals during the day the show was broadcast live that night, with ABBA performing their just-released single Fernando, and chatting with host Don Lane. Bjï¿½rn took great delight in teasing the American-born host with the infamous Swedish tongue twister about "7,777 seasick sailors".
On Tuesday ABBA returned to Sydney, and spent the rest of the week filming the rest of the special, On Friday, the final day of work on the special, they were joined by an audience in the studio.
During this time ABBA also filmed a performance of Mamma Mia to be shown on Bandstand the week before the special, an appearance on the game show Celebrity Squares, and a special performance of what would be the next single, Dancing Queen, not to be shown until the single was released in August.
ABBA departed Sydney for Sweden on Saturday 13 March, the same night that their performance of Mamma Mia was shown on Bandstand in most capital cities. The following Saturday the special, titled The Best Of ABBA, was shown on Channel 9 and affiliated stations in most capital cities. It was shown on regional television stations the following Saturday.
The Best Of ABBA was the highest rating show ever on Australian television to date. Newspapers took great delight in reporting that it had out-rated the moon landing of July 1969! It went on to be repeated many times, also to high ratings, and occasionally in an edited half hour format.
In the special ABBA perform eight songs from The Best Of ABBA LP, which included all of their hits to date, plus both sides of the newest single, Fernando/Tropical Loveland, which was released in the first week that ABBA were in Australia. Due to Australian content requirements, ABBA are seen with three Australian backing musicians. Also country singer Lucky Starr appeared as special guest star and had two songs in the middle of the special, plus a short chat with Bjï¿½rn and Benny. This was not included in the overseas version.
ABBA can be seen wearing most of their famous stage costumes from the late 1975/early 1976 period, including the cat dresses, the blue satin suits, the peasant dresses (seen in the film clip for Fernando) and the velvet jumpsuits, later made famous in the official film clip for Dancing Queen. In the overseas version of the special they are also seen having the barbecue and cruise on the Hawkesbury River, and all the introductions between songs were filmed either here or at Taronga Zoo.
Following the special, Fernando went on to top the charts from March until July, while The Best Of ABBA also topped the charts and went on to become the biggest selling album in Australia, selling over 1.1 million copies (a feat still listed in the Australian supplement of The Guiness Book Of Records). ABBAmania had really swept Australia by now, and for the rest of the year it was impossible to avoid ABBA - they practically were everywhere!
Photographs from the special, and indeed from the trip as a whole, were soon used in scores of newspapers and magazines, and eventually ended up on all manner of merchandise including posters, t-shirts, bubble gum cards, jigsaw puzzles and stickers. A few, though not many, pictures from this trip still appear in ABBA books today.
The special performance of Dancing Queen was first shown on Bandstand in August 1976, after the single had been released. It was shown several times while the single was in the top 40, and was also included in the version of the special (retitled ABBA in Australia) sold to overseas television stations.
©1999 by Ian Cole, Sydney Australia