Sweden’s phenomenal ABBA heads south, but not, sadly, to New Zealand

New Zealand Women's Weekly 14 February 1977

So near and yet so far…

That’s what New Zealand fans of the Swedish pop group, ABBA, must be thinking right now.

For the group begins a Down Under tour at the beginning of next month.

The famous four will be travelling to Sydney, Melbourne (where they will be the 1977 Moomba star attraction), Adelaide and Perth.

But – alas, alas – they will be going no further.

Some New Zealanders, however, are in luck.

They are the ones who have booked on one of the several special ABBA “tours” to Australia.

For the others – well, at least there’s the consolation that even if they can’t see their idols, they can certainly continue listening to them 

Massive record sales

Record company spokesmen say sales of ABBA records in this country over the past six months have been “phenomenal.”

In its first week, the album Arrival sold an astounding 100,000 copies.

The previous top-notcher had been a Neil Diamond release with a first week tally of 18,000.

ABBA began its meteoric rise to success with a song written by their manager, Stig Anderson and the boys of the group, called Waterloo, which scooped a pool of 7000 entries to win the top award at the 19th annual Eurovision Song Contest in 1974.

Broad appeal

Since then, ABBA written-and-performed songs such as Dancing Queen and Fernando, have set cash registers singing a merry tune in record shops all over Europe, North America, South Africa and Australia.

Such is the enthusiasm for the ABBA sound across the Tasman, that last year RCA Ltd exported 150,000 albums to help Australian retailers keep up with demand.

Pinpointing the secret of ABBA’s appeal – the group’s fans run the gamut from pre-schoolers to pensioners – is not easy.

But in addition to musical expertise, it probably has got something to do with warmth and a sort of joie de vivre that in the often rather blasé and jaded world of pop, comes as a breath of fresh air.

Much of that warmth is associated with the fact that the group is really a close-knit family, whose members share their lives as well as their music. Blonde Agnetha Fältskog (Anna), one of Sweden’s most popular vocalists since she first topped the charts in 1968 with her composition I Was So In Love is married to Björn Ulvaeus; and Anni-Frid Lyngstad (Frida), also a popular artist since she made her breakthrough in 1967 in the Swedish TV programme “Hyland’s Corner” is engaged to Benny Andersson.

Anna and Björn are the parents of a four-year-old daughter, Linda.

ABBA enjoys a simple life

Björn and Benny first began putting their musical heads together in 1966, three years before they met their future wife and fiancée respectively, when Benny was touring with the Beatle-mania-era pop group, The Hep Stars, and Björn was part of the folk group, The Hootenanny Singers.

Since forming ABBA five-six years ago, the two have written more hits between them than many songwriters dream of in a lifetime – even though Benny has never learned to read music!

Two houses

The fifth (silent) member of ABBA is business manager Stig Anderson, a former folk singer who helps write some of the songs and who designed the girls’ famous mini-skirted “animal/cat” costumes. He also helped design the glamorous white kimonos the quartet had worn in the Money, Money, Money film clip.

Frida and Benny live on the top two floors of a remodeled 15th century house in the old city of Stockholm, just a stone’s throw from the king’s palace. Agnetha, Björn and Linda also live near Stockholm, in their own separate home, at a villa in Lidingö.

They also have modern timber cottages on an island retreat where they go to relax and catch up on what for the girls at least is a favourite pastime – swimming and sunbathing.

The whereabouts of town houses and cottages is a well-guarded secret.

Although they could obviously afford to fly high, they prefer to keep life as simple as possible.

The town house, while probably expensive, is nevertheless very comfortable and homey, with deep sofas, pot plants, posters and lots of books (Benny and Björn are avid readers and have a wide general knowledge).

There are no servants in the ABBA households’, although a woman looks after Linda while Agnetha and Björn are working and travelling. Group members do their own laundry, shopping and cooking.

Their favourite foods?

Mainly simple things like cold meats, herring, salads, cheeses and for a real treat tiny crayfish cooked in water and dill.

How they write songs

Work for ABBA is a labour of love, perseverance and experimentation.

The birth of a song can be a slow process.

Usually, Benny and Björn will lock themselves away and toss musical ideas around in an effort to find new combinations of sounds, beat and rhythm. At this stage, they do not worry about words.

Then, as the theme begins to jell, they’ll put it down on a simple track, listen to it repeatedly and make changes. If by this time they really feel they’ve “got something,” they’ll make a second track in the studio.

This again will be listened to on and off for days – maybe weeks – and further amendments and adjustments will be made.

Eventually, the idea for words will just “come.”

As a rule, the girls have little to do with this part of the ABBA scene.

Individual tastes

Agnetha explains: “The boys have their own ideas. For ABBA, Frida and I go along with what they think.”

Although most of their work is done together, Anna, Frida, Benny and Björn all have individual musical interests.

Agnetha enjoys composing, and recently won a gold record for an LP on which she sang her own songs. She also likes singing in Swedish, something she does not have the opportunity to do with the group, who almost always record in English.

In their Australian concerts, the group will be on stage for more than two hours.

And that, by any standards, is certainly giving an audience its money’s worth.

© 1977 New Zealand Women's Weekly. Thanks to Samuel Inglles