On the eve of a scheduled tour - ABBA tells: What Australia means to us

New Idea 22 January 1977

ABBA, Australia’s favourite pop group, scheduled to tour this country in March, has discussed its amazing popularity in Australia exclusively with New Idea.

Interviewed for us by Barbara Lewis during a recent US promotional tour, the group members said they didn’t quite know what to make of their Australian popularity.

“It’s hard to explain our success so far,” says Björn. “We started together as a hobby. We just liked the sound that we made, and we spent a lot of time in the production process.

“Sometimes we’re as surprised as anyone to see our songs become hits in such diverse parts of the world.”

The popular Swedish singing group has enjoyed success in many parts of the world, but nowhere has its acceptance been as great as in Australia.

Although ABBA has not done much touring in recent years – preferring to stay closer to home in Stockholm – the quartet is going to make an exception in March, when they are scheduled to spend most of the month performing in Australia.

A main point of controversy surrounding its Australian tour is that the group probably will not be appearing in Queensland.

“We’re going to appear in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth,” said Björn. “We originally had hoped to perform in Brisbane as well, but unfortunately we weren’t able to fit it into our schedule.

“We subsequently heard that there have been demonstrations there by kids who were unhappy that we wouldn’t be able to make it.”

ABBA – with its four talented singer-musicians, Björn, his wife, Agnetha, Benny and his constant companion and fiancé, Frida - has had more than five successive Number One hits in Australia and its list of popular songs could stretch from Melbourne to Darwin and back, with melodies like Waterloo, Honey, Honey, Ring, Ring, SOS, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, People Need Love, He Is Your Brother, Fernando, Dancing Queen and Money, Money, Money.

Although enormously popular in Sweden, ABBA hardly ever hears its records on Swedish radio.

“The radio stations in Sweden don’t play rock music,” said Björn. “They either have news, or they play music by Mantovani or Hugo Montenegro. So it’s thrilling to hear our music played on the radio, even so far from home.

“Also rock isn’t as big in Sweden as it is in countries like Australia,” added Agnetha.

ABBA is the only Swedish group ever to attain international success, except for Blue Swede (whose lead singer is Björn Skiff), whose record Hooked On A Feeling was a big hit several years ago.

“You must remember the entire population of Sweden is only eight million,” said Agnetha. “So we don’t have a big population to draw our musicians from. As we’ve said the Swedish radio stations don’t even play rock music and a rock group never gets on TV.”

“Young Swedish fans,” Benny explained, “learn about rock music from the American and British music magazines that are sold in Sweden. And they buy the records they read about, often without hearing them.

“Also, Swedish music fans don’t buy singles, only albums. We’ve had big hit singles in Australia and America that didn’t do at all well in Sweden. Dancing Queen was a number one hit in a lot of places, including Australia, but not in our own country.”

So when ABBA realised that its own brand of pop/rock music was not quite suitable for the Swedish market they made arrangements for their records to be distributed and promoted in other countries and it’s a decision they have never regretted, particularly in the case of Australia.

“We’re thought of as an international group now in Sweden,” explained Benny. “We record only in the English language, which is the language of rock. In fact, the only song we’ve recorded in Swedish in the past few years was Ring, Ring, and that was only for fun.” (Sam’s comment: ABBA also recorded Waterloo and Honey, Honey in Swedish. Frida recorded Fernando in Swedish and Agnetha recorded Disillusion and S.O.S. in Swedish.)

Björn and Benny write all of ABBA’s songs – both music and lyrics (their manager, Stig Anderson also write the lyrics on some of their biggest hits) – even though English is not their native tongue.

“English is accepted around the world,” said Agnetha, “even by young people who don’t speak or understand it.”

After Björn and Benny write their English lyrics, they show them to language experts. “Sometimes we’re unsure,” said Björn. “So we check with people who know English better than us. Frequently words have more than one meaning, and if we didn’t check, we might make mistakes that would slip through.”

Only once did they call upon someone else to write all the lyrics to one of their melodies, and that was when Neil Sedaka with assistance with his co-writer Phil Cody penned the words to Ring, Ring.

“We had written Swedish lyrics for the song and sent Neil the melody and a literal translation in English of the Swedish words we had written,” said Björn. “Within a few days he had come up with some great English lyrics.”

Agnetha, a slim, beautiful blonde, began her performing career when she was only 15, singing with a dance orchestra. She wrote and recorded a song, I Was So In Love, which became a hit in Sweden, and established her career there.

Frida, a tall redhead, launched her show business career even earlier, at the age of 10, when she soon began singing with an orchestra.

Benny, with the blond beard, was a member of a Swedish band in the 1960s called The Hep Stars. Björn, whose sparkling smile dominates his face and personality, once headed up a group called The Hootenanny Singers. He also performed in everything from Dixieland bands to dance orchestras.

The foursome met in a recording studio in Stockholm and they began singing together shortly thereafter. “We all had careers on our own,” recalls Björn. “But we wanted to do something different. We’ve tried to make ABBA’s music unique and something apart from what other groups are doing.”

ABBA has collectively decided that to keep its sound sharp, the group will tour only rarely, saving its energies for the studio and for songwriting.

“When we tour, we can show people that we’re real, and that we’re not a factory group that can only sound good in a studio,” said Benny.

“But I definitely think our songwriting would suffer if we toured a lot. We can’t write in hotel rooms. I don’t know how other groups tour all the time. It just wouldn’t work for us.”

Touring is particularly hard on Björn and Agnetha, since they have a three-year-old daughter whom they leave behind when they go on the road. “We’ve tried taking her with us,” said Agnetha, “but it just isn’t fair to her. Particularly, when we go to places where the time difference is considerable, like the United States or even Australia. It just throws her entire routine off. She sleeps in the daytime and is up all night. 

The time difference, though, has kept neither ABBA nor its music from reaching Australia and attaining amazing popularity.

And their scheduled tour, already sold out, is ABBA’s way of saying “thank you” to their Australian fans.

“We had our first overseas success in Australia and that is something we’ll never forget,” said Benny

Scheduled Australian tour dates so far…

Sydney: Showground – Thursday, 3 March, 1977

Melbourne: Myer Music Bowl – Saturday, 5 March, Sunday 6 March.

Adelaide: Westlake Stadium – Tuesday, 8 March.

Perth: Entertainment Centre – Tuesday, 10 March (two shows).

ABBA’s best-selling world-wide hit singles

Waterloo - 5 million units sold

Honey, Honey - 2 million units sold

I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do - 2.5 million units sold

So Long - 1 million units sold

SOS - 4 million units sold

Mamma Mia - 3.5 million units sold

Fernando - 6 million units sold

Dancing Queen - 3 million units sold to date

ABBA’s best selling world-wide hit albums

Waterloo - 3 million units sold

ABBA - 4 million units sold

Greatest Hits - 5 million units sold to date

ABBA’s sales in Australia

860,000 – Best Of ABBA =Sam’s comment: This album eventually sold more than 1 million copies in Australia during the 1970s.]

360,000 – ABBA (in 20 weeks)

200,000 – Fernando (singles in nine weeks)

(Five singles in the Top 10, April 1976.)

ABBA’s favourite recipes:

Swedish Gloegg

  • 2 bottles burgundy or claret
  • 1 small bottle (500 ml) Swedish aquavit or vodka
  • 250g (8 oz.) sugar
  • 10 peeled cardamoms
  • 10 cloves
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange rind
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ cup blanched almonds

Pour wine into saucepan and add sugar and spices. Simmer slowly without boiling until sugar is completely dissolved. Add aquavit, or vodka, heat, light liquid with a match and let burn down. Serve in mugs or in cups. Garnish with raisins and almonds. Serves 10.

Swedish Meatballs

500g (1 lb.) ground chuck steak

250g (8 oz.) lean ground pork

20 ginger biscuits

½ cup milk

1 egg, slightly beaten

1 large onion, diced

1 teaspoon salt

Dash of pepper

Dash of allspice, ground

60g (2 oz.) butter

60g (2 oz.) unsifted plain flour

1½ cups water

2 beef bouillon cubes crushed

Parsley sprigs

With a rolling pin crush biscuits between two sheets of waxed paper. Measure out 1¼ cups into a large bowl and combine with milk and egg. Add meats, onion, salt, pepper and allspice. Mix thoroughly by hand. Cover and refrigerate for one hour. Wet hands and shape mixture into medium-sized meatballs. Preheat oven to 165 deg. C (325 deg. F).

In hot butter (just enough to cover the bottom of a large skillet) sauté meatballs until browned all over. Remove to a two-litre casserole as they brown. Remove skillet from heat, pour off drippings, keeping a quarter of a cup, adding more butter if needed. Stir flour smoothly into drippings, slowly add the water, stirring. Add bouillon cubes and bring to the boil stirring constantly. Strain over meatballs. Bake covered for one hour. Decorate with parsley and serve over noodles if desired. Serves 6.

Photos: (1) The sensational singing group, ABBA in Stockholm. (2) Agnetha and Frida in Sydney last year. (3) Agnetha and Frida with star Jimmy Hannan.

© 1977 New Idea. Thanks to Samuel Inglles