ABBA…about to invade U.S.A.

From Raymond J. Fullagar in Europe - Pix/People 4 November 1976
[Rock over Australia with Holger Brockmann & Tony Poulsen]

ABBA have been on the crest of the success wave for so long in Australia that their fans believe they’re tops everywhere – but Benny, Frida, Björn and Agnetha are much more realistic.

They realise there is still the toughest scene to be conquered – America. And until they’re at the top there, they won’t be satisfied.

Meanwhile, they’re looking forward to heading for Australia early next year, says Björn.

I spoke to him on the telephone at his holiday home on the Isle of Vittso. Don’t bother to get out an atlas – the Isle of Vittso is just off the Swedish coast, and in easy reach of Stockholm.

“We have been to America to do television, and promote our singles,” said Björn. “We are happy that our records are making the Top 30, but what we would like is a smash hit.

“I suppose we regard America as a challenge. Many top pop groups have failed to find big success in that country, but many say we will wake up one morning and find we are the toast of Los Angeles, New York and other American cities.”

While we were talking, his beautiful wife Agnetha (the one with the blonde hair and blue eyes) with their daughter Linda, not yet four years old, returned from a brief shopping expedition. I also learned that the previous day, Benny and Frida had been to the house for a meal.

Björn said more letters reach them in Stockholm from Australia than from any other country. “We are very popular with Australians, and hope to meet as many of our fans as we can during our visit.

“We have been asked to make a film there. But we have reservations about this. I will tell you why we hesitate. Many other pop groups have made films which have been a disaster at the box-office. The Beatles were an exception. Their films were very good. We have seen them many times and do not tire of them.”

Björn reminded me that every move ABBA makes is the result of a joint decision: “We have spent many hours discussing the possibility of making at least one film. The door is not closed. But at the moment I must tell you that we feel our scene is performing in front of our fans on stage, and before the television cameras.

“We are trying hard to be sensible and practical about everything we do. It is so easy in this business to make mistakes. We do not intend to have nervous breakdowns and ulcers. We shall continue while we ourselves get pleasure from what we are doing.

“Benny and I like writing songs. We never know what we are going to do when we start writing songs for a new album. This on its own can be very time consuming. Possibly, many people do not realise that to produce a new album a group may have to work six months or longer before it is finally completed.

“Promoting an album – or a new single – is also time consuming and makes great demands on a group. We all much prefer to make music than to give interviews and pose for photographs. But we equally accept it is necessary to do so.”

Björn admitted they did not welcome questions about their private lives and activities when giving interviews, and explained: “We are often amazed at some of the questions put to us. The state of our marriage? Are we happy, or do we often have rows? Do we wear anything when we go to bed, or sleep in the nude? Do we go along with, or condemn, wife-swapping? Have we plans to have more children?

“Anna and I treasure any time we can spend with our daughter. We want her to have as normal a life as we can possibly provide for and give her.

“We are fortunate in having a marvelous nanny to look after Linda when we are at work, or visiting other countries. We have no worries on that score. She is in good hands and loves her nanny. And of course, her grandparents are only too pleased to lend a hand with her.

“Children are funny though. Every time Linda switches on our television set she expects to see us. We do many shows for television. She quickly learns every word of any song we perform, and joins in. Of course, she does not understand that her parents are entertainers.

“Children grow up so fast. Only yesterday she was just a baby. Now she is a young lady with a definite mind of her own. Like her mother, she likes to wear colourful clothes. If we are asked for our autographs, and Linda is with us, she insists on giving hers as well.”

Then he said: “Once upon a time, all the fans wanted to know about their favourite star, or group, was whether or not they believed in horoscopes, lucky charms, what foods they like the best, and did they read books, and go to the cinema?

“Nowadays, anyone in the public eye is expected to be a walking encyclopedia…to answer off the cuff questions about politics, philosophy, sex, drugs, crime, space exploration…”

Knowing ABBA are themselves great admirers of and collect discs recorded by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, and many others, I decided to ask Paul McCartney, Elton John and the old groaner himself – Bing Crosby – their opinion of ABBA, and what they thought about ABBA’s chances in America.

Paul McCartney was very complimentary about ABBA. He said: “They deserve all the success they have had, and a lot more besides. It is far from easy for a foreign group to make it big in the States. But I am quite confident that ABBA will be successful.

“All the signs are there. They are being talked about in the right quarters. Their records are being given air time by enthusiastic DJ’s. Personally speaking, I think they make a great sound.”

It took several telephone calls before I found Elton John, a man who seems against staying more than five minutes in any one spot. Like Paul McCartney, he had plenty of nice things to say about ABBA, and reminded me the Swedish group had just toppled from top British charts slots Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, the single Elton John recorded with Kiki Dee.

He told me: “It was only after I heard Dancing Queen for the third or fourth time that I knew it was destined for one of the top slots in the charts. I liked it more with each hearing.

“This group not only sounds but looks good. They write and record good songs. They put everything into their performance on disc and on stage. What more can I say about them?

“They must do well in the States, but I would advise them to spend as much time there as they possibly can. You really work hard to promote a disc in the States. It is a mighty big country. Until you are in the States you don’t realise just how many radio and television stations there are.

“ABBA will achieve their ambition, providing they can stand the pace.”

Bing Crosby was playing golf in Scotland – his favourite sport. But he was kind enough to return my call, and told me not only did he think they deserved all the current adulation, but his children bought their records.

“I like Fernando. I saw them on television twice recently. So they want to do well in the States? I wish them every success. I get the impression they are a group of young people who know exactly what they want, have plenty of talent, and are not afraid of hard work.

“Two beautiful girls in one group…how can they possibly go wrong? Tell them both, when I saw them on television, my blood pressure rose…”

© 1976 RAM. Thanks to Samuel Inglles