He’s the genius behind ABBA

By Susan Foster Woman's Day 20 December 1976

In Europe’s press they call him the fifth member of ABBA.

Some people call him a genius. Of himself he says he has a rare combination of creative sensitivity and managerial cold-bloodedness. He’s Stig Anderson – “more than just ABBA’s manager”.

He was in Australia for a host of reasons. One was to oversee the mid-November launch of Arrival, ABBA’s latest LP. He was talking with television channel’s “about the future”, with an eye to the blatant ABBA over exposure by most television channels world-wide.

He had discussions with his music publishers, Essex Music. He had meetings with Qantas about the mammoth task of flying 35-40 musicians and technical people from Sweden, plus tones of equipment, for the ABBA tour next March 

There was merchandising to see to, and not the least important reason, “To discover who the hell is making these pirate tapes and records of ABBA in the Philippines or South-East Asia.”

Stig Anderson, former school teacher, a lyricist, singer, songwriter, music publisher and record producer in his own right, is also a supreme businessman. He’s 45 and admits that even if ABBA hadn’t come along he would have been doing very nicely, thank you.

“It might be that there are not too many Stig Andersons in the world. I’ve got the ability to organise things around me and I can see things from the artistic point of view.

“From my point of view ABBA is only the tip of the iceberg. Since I’m the biggest music publisher in Scandinavia we would be doing fine without them.”

He says he prefers to talk about ABBA’s music rather than ABBA’s money, not because money is such a crass subject, but because he genuinely believes the money is secondary.

“Obviously with success, money follows. I won’t deny we are making money in spite of the Swedish tax system. But as I see it, one of the most important things I have to take care of is to place this money for the future.”

Was he hinting that ABBA might be short-lived, that they might get out of the business before the fickle record buyers turned sour?

“They could get tired – this happens. In the future I don’t know.

“We don’t get stale because we always break our appearances and engagements with a week here and there. Benny, Björn and I shut ourselves off completely on our island near Stockholm.”

The Swedish tax laws – the ones that drove out director Ingmar Bergman and a host of others – are renowned for their voracity. After a certain level, personal tax is 85 percent.

Anderson, ever the forward-thinking businessman (in spite of his self-confessed sensitive streak) set up a company which he and group members Benny, Björn, Frida and Agnetha own 

“What we can do is use our company, Polar Records, to build for the future. Companies pay only (only?) 55 percent tax and many things are deductible in a company. 

One of Anderson’s strokes of genius has been to invest in works of art with ABBA profits. “You name it, we’ve got it – Chagall, Miro, Dali, Picasso.”

Could he explain the outstanding success of a group of four Swedes who no one in England, Australia or America had heard of three years ago?

“I remember telling Benny and Björn in 1971 I thought one day I would be able to help them be recognised all over the world. I believed in them all the time as a very good song-writing team. When they sang (before the girls joined them and took over that role) I was not so impressed with their voices.”

Marketing, astute business, the right promotion – all these played a part in the meteoric success, but, it all went back to the music itself – the promote-able product.

Not until a new song strikes a chord in all their heads is it ever recorded. Stig Anderson has the final say – he is like the master examining the work of his apprentices before it is put on public display to bring honour on the workshop.

Photo: Stig Anderson – song-writer, singer, music publisher and business genius.

© 1976 Woman's Day Thanks to Samuel Inglles