They’re nice young people who like to sing nice songs and…they’re phenomenal: Four musical Swedes are the biggest attraction in Australia since The Beatles and they’re coming back for another performance

The Australian Women's Weekly 19 May 1976

“Right now, they only have to breathe – and, if it was on a record, they’d have a hit!”

Keith Cronau, national promotions manager for RCA, was talking about ABBA, the Swedish pop group, and trying to describe the biggest sensation the record company has known since The Beatles.

Hundreds of thousands of fans are scooping up ABBA’s discs faster than RCA can press them out. “We’ve had to call in other companies in Sydney and in New Zealand to help out,” said Mr Cronau.

Big news now is that ABBA is coming back to Australia in November. Apart from the group’s definite acceptance, details of the tour were not fixed at the time of going to press.

The phenomenon first gripped Australia with ABBA’s promotional tour in March. It reached crescendo with the Nine Network’s screening of a TV special, The Best of ABBA.

The programme took Sydney by storm. It glued more viewers to their sets than even the Neil Diamond special from the Showground. It was much the same in other State capitals.

Viewer response led to the March 20 show being repeated in an augmented form on March 31st in Sydney, and on April 24th in Melbourne. It is due to be seen again on May 23rd in Brisbane.

Probably more people watched ABBA on Channel Nine than any similar programme in Australian TV history.

By May, the group had five records in the Top 40 on the Australian national chart – “Can you hear the drums, Fernando?”, Ring, Ring, Rock Me, Mamma Mia and SOS. Three of these songs were in the Top 20.

ABBA had gained more than 30 gold albums in Australia alone, representing sales of nearly half-a-million records.

Why did it happen? What makes ABBA tick? The answer is complex, yet simple. For one thing the group shows no trace of the gimmickry that has become standard for aspiring pop groups nowadays.

Anni-Frid, Björn, Benny and Agnetha are just four pleasant, wholesome young people. They sing songs that have recognisable words and tunes that make you want to sing along. Their music is bland, harmonious and middle-of-the-road.

These factors combine in a magic password that allows them to do the apparently impossible and bridge the generation gap in popular music. The kids certainly dig ABBA. But so do their mums and dads, grandmas and granddads.

Cynics suggest the oldies, mystified – if not horrified – by the current crazes of their offspring, are glad to be able to share in a rave they can at last understand.

Keith Cronau pointed out that, although ABBA’s success matched that of The Beatles in Australia, there was a difference. “When The Beatles came here, they were already famous worldwide, ABBA were not.

“Of course, they were tops in Sweden, but even the Swedes were astonished by their popularity here. Now the rest of the world is catching on…”

Mr Cronau illustrated his point with the story of ABBA’s hit song, Mamma Mia, “It arrived here as a film clip for television, not intended for release as a record.

“But the response was such that we got permission from Sweden to take it off an LP as a single. It went on to become No.1 in Britain and make the Top 10 in many other countries.

“Similarly, Ring, Ring, originally recorded three years ago, was re-released and became a massive hit. In fact, the Swedes didn’t want us to re-release it because it was so old.”

ABBA’s star trek dates from 1966 when well-known Swedish pop group performers and aspiring composers Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus got together.

In the Summer of 1969 Benny met Frida Lyngstad. At the same time, Björn met Agnetha Fältskog. The girls weren’t exactly unknowns. Agnetha, being one of Sweden’s most popular female vocalists and Frida, a television personality and singer.

A success in Sweden from the start, their bandwagon really got rolling in 1974 when the group took out the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo.

ABBA admits to finding the furore just as much as anyone else. The girls say it’s the boys’ music. And the boys? “I think the girls’ looks have had a little to do with it,’ says Agnetha’s husband, Björn.

Frida’s fiancé Benny opted for the girls’ performances. “I think our albums have variety and hold good song value,” he said.

Only complaint from these decidedly unspoilt performers during their demanding first Australian promotional tour was that it was too short.

Photos: (1) ABBA in action during the sensational Channel Nine show. (2) A tear-out pinup picture of ABBA in Australia in 1976 by Keith Barlow.

© 1976 The Australian Women's Weekly. Thanks to Samuel Inglles