50 år B&B

8 June, 2016

berns-2

Sunday 5 June 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the first meeting of Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson. A chance meeting that became a firm friendship and songwriting partnership that endures to this day.

In a room filled with 300 or so invited family, friends and associates at Berns Salonger in central Stockholm, Björn and Benny celebrated the anniversary with a night filled with music, memories, and fun, arranged in secret by Benny’s son Ludvig Andersson, Görel Hanser, stage director and BAO member Lars Rudolfsson, and Master of Ceremonies Claes af Geijerstam.

The night featured an audio-visual presentation of Björn and Benny’s career. Interrupting the presentation were musical performances by guest singers, backed primarily by Benny Anderssons Orkester (without Benny), revisiting Björn and Benny’s vast catalogue.

Hep Stars lead singer Sven Hedlund sang Björn and Benny’s first song ‘Isn’t It Easy To Say’, apparently the first time he has ever performed the song live; Peter Jöback and Lill-Babs duetted on the Björn & Benny single ‘Det kan ingen doktor hjälpa’; Ludvig sang ‘Rock Me’ while his half-brother Peter Grönvall joined the band on keyboards; Pernilla Wahlgren and Lena Philipsson sang ‘Hole In Your Soul’; Helen Sjöholm sang ‘Where I Want To Be’ from Chess while Tommy Körberg sang BAO’s ‘Du är min man’, a reversal of their usual songs. Apparently there were other performances, but details haven’t been made public.

Paul McCartney sent a video greeting congratulating the pair on their long relationship and continued success. Björn and Benny have often professed that they were inspired to write songs, separately and together, by the example of Lennon and McCartney and The Beatles in the mid-1960s.

The night climaxed when Björn and Benny took to the stage to perform ‘Does Your Mother Know’, Björn handling lead vocals while Benny joined in on keyboards. After they returned to their seats, much to everyone’s surprise Frida and Agnetha were introduced to sing ‘The Way Old Friends Do’, dedicated to their old partners. Just as they did in 1979, Frida sang the first lines, Agnetha sang the next lines, then the two joined together in harmony. After the song, Björn and Benny returned to the stage for a brief emotional reunion.

With the formal events of the evening over, BAO took over with dance music until late in the evening.

Immediately the news of a so-called ABBA reunion flashed around the world. Unfortunately, as the story spread, it became more and more wrong about the events of the evening.

Due to an unfortunate misunderstanding of the song title, thanks to the way it had been introduced, it was reported in Expressen, quoting guitarist Janne Schaffer, that Frida and Agnetha had sung a song called ‘You And I’. Those are the first three words of ‘The Way Old Friends Do’, but are also the title of a song from Chess. So the story spread that they actually sang the song from Chess, perhaps not the best choice of song for a tribute. Then when other media outlets picked up the story and didn’t recognise that song title, but found that ABBA had a song called ‘Me And I’, they started reporting that the two women sang that song, an even less appropriate tribute than ‘You And I’ 

It was also widely reported that Björn and Benny joined the women on stage to sing, for an “ABBA reunion”, but that didn’t happen. The two men only returned to the stage after the song had finished. All the photos of the four together on stage on social media and elsewhere were taken in the minute or so after ‘The Way Old Friends Do’.

Pretty much every story stated that this was ABBA’s first public performance in 30 years. It was neither. The last (known) time the four sang together was 17 years ago, in June 1999 at Görel Hanser’s 50th birthday party. Prior to that they had also sung at Claes af Geijerstam’s 40th birthday party in 1986. Neither of these were public events, but like Sunday’s gathering, private parties for invited guests only.

The so-called last public performance by ABBA referred to in the media was not in public either, but to a small gathering of probably four or five with film crew and Görel and Anders Hanser, when they taped the performance of ‘Tivedshambo’ for Här är ditt liv (This Is Your Life) for Stig Anderson in January 1986. Hardly a public performance, but it was the last time “ABBA” were seen by the public, albeit on television 

After three decades of avoiding appearing as a group, this marked the second occasion that the four had been seen together this year. In January the four appeared on stage briefly at the opening of opening of Mamma Mia! The Party. Does this mean that a formal ABBA reunion is in the works? Of course not. On every occasion they’ve been together since 1982, it has been some private celebration, without media and fans present.

(Photo: Instagram @poptonten)

Agnetha Fältskog – The Girl With The Golden Hair

22 May, 2016

978-1-78155-521-7The life and career of Agnetha are celebrated in Daniel Ward’s new biography Agnetha Fältskog – The Girl With The Golden Hair.

Though unauthorised and thus with no direct input from Agnetha or those close to her, the book is extremely well researched. All phases of Agnetha’s life are covered, from her early childhood when she first fell in love with music, her infamous first public performance aged five, singing on the dance band circuit, her solo recording career, through the ABBA years, and on after ABBA, to her 2013 album A and beyond.

The Girl With The Golden Hair is well written and an enjoyable read. It’s very respectful and not sensationalist in any way. The unfortunate episodes of Agnetha’s later life are not avoided, as they shouldn’t be, but they are covered delicately and with respect.

There is also a photo section, with many familiar but some lesser-seen photos of Agnetha through her life – a few that I don’t recall seeing before.

I was honoured to be asked to read a draft version of the book. I’m happy to see that I was able to make a contribution to the finished product.

Daniel has also written ABBA – The Quiz Book, as well as crime fiction and articles for medical publications.

If you are a fan of Agnetha, I’m sure you will enjoy this book. More information can be found at the publisher’s website.

 

 

 

Fernando – 40 years as Australia’s biggest hit

8 March, 2016

fernandosleeveForty years ago this week, in the middle of ABBA’s promotional trip to Australia, the brand new single ‘Fernando’ was released.

This was the first new music from ABBA since the phenomenal breakthrough with ‘Mamma Mia’ and the other singles from the ABBA album the year before. The single’s release was highly anticipated, especially coming with ABBA’s first visit to the country.

‘Fernando’ had its Australian television premiere not on a pop music show, but on the news program A Current Affair on Friday 5 March, when Lasse Hallström’s now famous film clip was shown as part of a report on that day’s press conference at the Sydney Hilton Hotel.

‘Fernando’ hit record shops and radio stations from Monday 8 March. On that day, in the singles chart ‘Ring Ring’ was at number 14 (on the way up), ‘SOS’ was at 16, and ‘Mamma Mia’ was at 29 (both on the way down); the ABBA album was at number 4 (on the way down), The Best Of ABBA at 12, Ring Ring at 40, and Waterloo at 76 (all three on the way up). ABBA had travelled to Melbourne to perform ‘Fernando’ and ‘SOS’ on The Don Lane Show.

‘Fernando’ entered the singles chart at number 75 the following week, on 15 March. Three weeks later, on 5 April, it reached number 1, where it stayed for the next 14 weeks. It replaced Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ at the top spot. ‘Fernando’ equalled the previous longest running number 1, The Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’ in 1968 (Note: There was no standard national Australian chart until ARIA in 1983. Some charts quote different weeks at number 1 for both songs. These figures are from the generally accepted authoritative chart, the Kent Music Report).

‘Fernando’ was a highlight of the locally-made TV special The Best of ABBA, which was the prime reason for ABBA’s visit to Australia. In fact, both sides of the single were featured in the special, with Frida dedicated the B side ‘Tropical Loveland’ to Australia, “that is, when the cyclones aren’t blowing of course”. On both the Don Lane Show and The Best Of ABBA, Agnetha and Frida wore the same folk-style dresses they had worn in the film clip.

The screening of the special not only helped push ‘Fernando’ and The Best Of ABBA to number 1, but also several older singles and B sides into the chart, to the point where for two weeks (19 and 26 April) there were 5 ABBA singles in the top 40 (‘Fernando’, ‘Ring Ring’, ‘Rock Me’, ‘SOS’ and ‘Mamma Mia’; ‘Hasta Mañana’ would enter the chart on 10 May, by which time ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘SOS’ had left the top 40, but were still in the top 100), and for 12 weeks (26 April to 12 July) all four ABBA albums were in the top 40 albums.

During ‘Fernando”s run at number 1 there was some criticism that it had remained at the top for so long. Popular TV music show Countdown didn’t play the clip as the number 1 song every week, instead sometimes replacing it with another top 10 entry or predicted future chart hit.

One week when ‘Fernando’ was actually shown, that week’s guest host John Paul Young, whose ‘I Hate The Music’ had been stuck at number 2 for several weeks, donned a long blonde wig and emoted to camera when the show cut to him during the clip. That footage has never surfaced, but I’m sure I’ve seen footage from the same episode in recent documentaries on Countdown. If there is a starting point to the backlash over ABBA’s overexposure that led to the alarming drop in ABBA’s popularity after the 1977 tour, this would be it.

‘Fernando”s last week at number 1 was 5 July. The following week it was replaced by Sherbet’s ‘Howzat’, which led to many newspaper stories gloating that a local act had knocked the mighty ABBA off the top. But really, ‘Fernando’ couldn’t stay number 1 forever, so something was going to replace it eventually. ‘Fernando’ remained in the singles chart for a total of 40 weeks, until 13 December, its last placement at number 93.

RCA reported that ‘Fernando’ sold 400,000 copies during 1976. This was the highest selling single ever in Australia to that point, a record that would remain for a little over twenty years, until Elton John’s ‘Candle In the Wind 97’, which sold over 980,000 copies. Today in the age of cheap music downloads, sadly a few dozen songs have now outsold ‘Fernando’, but the population of the country has increased by over 70% since 1976.

‘Fernando’ entered the Australian vernacular, with the phrase “Can you hear the drums <insert name here>?” often quoted or used as a headline for instant recognition to this day.

Personally, ‘Fernando’ was the first newly released ABBA record I got that I had never heard. I’d missed that first TV screening of the clip (I was out at the roller skating rink), and it hadn’t had any radio airplay before the record hit the shops.

(Originally written for A.B.B.A : The Music Goes On And On And On)

Mamma Mia! It’s ABBA 2016

21 January, 2016

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Much to everyone’s surprise, not only did Bjorn, Frida, Benny and Agnetha attend the opening of Mamma Mia! The Party at Gröna Lund in Stockholm on the evening of Wednesday 20 January 2016, but the four appeared together on stage, posing and waving (briefly, for about 20 seconds or so).

(Photo: @grönalund instagram)

What is your favourite ABBA event of 2015?

1 January, 2016

2015 has been a slower year for ABBA, but there have still been many ABBA events, as well as things happening with Frida, Benny and Björn. What have been your favourites? Vote below for as many as you like. Please add any other events in the Comments.

 

 

Portrait of the artist as a young ABBA fan

25 December, 2015

Susan and Ian, Xmas Day 1975Forty years ago today I got my first ABBA record, the self-titled album released in 1975.

The photo shows my sister and I on Xmas Day 1975. I’m holding the ABBA album, not that you can tell. Our father liked to take candid snaps, rather then posed photos, so sadly there’s no photo of me holding the album properly. The following year there is a photo of me with an ABBA bag  in the foreground.

Having fallen for ABBA after hearing ‘Mamma Mia’, I’d asked my parents for the ABBA album for Xmas. I’ve written before about getting the album before here, and how I first fell in love with ABBA here.

Getting the album was the start of my ABBA fandom. From this point I collected every album and single, newspaper and magazine clippings, watched every ABBA special on TV, listened to the radio waiting for ABBA songs. A highlight of course was going to ABBA’s first concert in Sydney in March 1977.

Twelve-year-old me had no idea that forty years later I’d still be loving ABBA, have made so many friends (sadly lost a few along the way), and experienced so much through the love of ABBA.

 

The Best Of ABBA

29 November, 2015

The Best Of ABBAForty years ago this month Polar Music released ABBA Greatest Hits in Scandinavia. In the same month, RCA in Australia released its own compilation, The Best Of ABBA.

Polar had been motivated to release its album when copies of compilations from West Germany (The Best Of ABBA) and France (ABBA’s Greatest Hits) started appearing in Swedish record shops, which I wrote about in an earlier blog post.

The Australian album took the same title and track list as the West German album, but with a different sleeve, though the designer is uncredited. It was possibly F.H. Booth, who designed the cover for the re-release of Ring Ring, released in the same month, and other RCA sleeves in that era.

Initially The Best Of ABBA was released only in the states of South Australia and Western Australia. Though these two states had about 15% of the nation’s population at that time, the album entered the national charts at number 72 in December.

In February 1976 the album was released in the rest of the country. After ABBA’s visit to Australia in March, when the group made the tie-in TV special The Best Of ABBA, the album reached number one and stayed there for 16 weeks. It remained in the top 100 albums chart until April 1977.

The album went on to be the first album ever to sell over one million copies in Australia, selling 1,010,000 copies during 1976 alone. For many young ABBA fans in the 70s, this was their first ABBA record. It was my third ABBA record, after the ABBA album and ‘I’ve Been Waiting For You’ single.

Despite these amazing figures, for many years The Best Of ABBA had been forgotten in media reports about the biggest selling records in Australia; primarily because writers based their figures on ARIA accreditations, which only covered the period from 1984.

In recent years The Best Of ABBA has reclaimed its place in the list of biggest-selling albums in Australia. But unlike the other biggest sellers – Bat Out Of Hell, Whispering JackBrothers In Arms, Thriller, and <ahem> ABBA GoldThe Best Of ABBA has not had multiple re-releases, and is no longer available, having been out-of-print for over 25 years. A 1988 re-release on LP and CD barely counts, adding just over 10,000 copies to its total sales.

A look at ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions in progress

24 September, 2015

IMG_2640I’m very excited that my friend Carl Magnus Palm is writing a revised, updated, and expanded version of his first ABBA book, The Complete Recording Sessions.With so much more information that has come to light since the book was published in 1994, through Carl Magnus’s research for other ABBA book, CD, and DVD projects, and because it’s long out-of-print and highly in demand, the idea of a new version of this book is something we’ve talked about for several years.

I’ve been honoured to read draft versions of the first four chapters, covering the period from Benny and Björn’s first collaborations in 1966, through the gradual formation of ABBA, and up to the end of 1974. The most recent versions of the chapters include all the latest details and insights gleaned from Carl Magnus’s unique opportunity to listen to the unreleased studio tapes from the so-called Polar Archive.

Particularly fascinating to me is learning just how much work went into the recording of ‘Waterloo’, as ABBA worked to create the song that would have the most impact for the Eurovision Song Contest. How instruments and vocals were added and removed from the song, how many different mixes were attempted to find the right sound, how the song was edited to fit within the mandated three minutes, and why the various released versions (in Swedish, English, German, French, the alternate English mix, and the playback version used at Eurovision) sound a bit different from each other.

But it’s not just ‘Waterloo’ that’s got me excited. As ABBA’s recordings became more ambitious, when they began recording tracks for their third album later in 1974, they tried and discarded so much that was never heard on record, that will now be revealed in the book. Though we will probably never hear what’s on those tapes, they are described in such detail that we can imagine what they sound like.

I can’t wait to read what the rest of the chapters hold and what future research brings to the book. I’m really looking forward to the end of next year when we should all be holding copies of the book in our hands (and/or on our devices).

If you’re an ABBA fan, even if you have the original edition – perhaps especially if you have the original edition – you will want to read this vastly expanded and improved version of the book. Pre-order it now at http://abbathecompleterecordingsessions.com/

ABBA for Peace Tracks

22 September, 2015

Peace TracksTo commemorate International Peace Day on 21 September, the Talking Peace Festival 2015 and International Alert gathered musicians from around the world to collaborate on a musical project, Peace Tracks.

ABBA are part of this project, with two songs featuring an ABBA connection. Track 3, ‘Coupé in C Minor’ features a sample of the piano riff from ‘SOS’, while the final track ‘Soldiers 2015’ builds on the drums and bass of ‘Soldiers’.

Amazingly, these samples have been approved by ABBA, only the third time sampling of ABBA recordings has ever been officially authorised by the group.

The songs can be heard and the album downloaded free at http://talkingpeacefestival.org/peace-tracks/

An unusual ABBA record #7

8 September, 2015

ABBA & RubettesOne of the most unusual ABBA records ever released is this one, imaginatively titled ABBA & Rubettes, featuring hits by, you guessed it, ABBA and British group The Rubettes. 

It’s quite a strange album, with seven songs by each band. The cover is a not particularly attractive mash-up of ABBA’s 1975 self-titled album and Rubettes’ album We Can Do It released the same year, bisected with a diagonal yellow band with the song titles ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’ and ‘I Can Do It’, plus the apparent random phrase ‘Stop Stop Stop’, which isn’t an ABBA title and doesn’t seem to be a Rubettes title.

Five of ABBA’s seven songs come from the ABBA album, but only two Rubettes songs come from We Can Do It, the others from other albums and singles. The album was released in 1975 by Polydor In West Germany through the record club Club-Sonderauglage.

I’d seen images of this record on the net many times, but had never seen the record itself until I found a copy a few weeks ago at my favourite local record shop.

Trivia: The Rubettes hit ‘Sugar Baby Love’ which is on this album also  featured in the 1994 Australian movie Muriel’s Wedding, alongside ABBA hits ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Waterloo’, ‘Fernando’ and ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’.

More trivia: Rubettes’ creators and songwriters Wayne Bickerton and Tony Waddington wrote the English lyrics for Lena Andersson’s 1972 single ‘Better To Have Loved’ (Säg det med en sång) and ‘Cecilia’, written by Benny, Björn and Stig Anderson. ‘Säg det med en sång’ was their submission for that year’s Melodifestivalen. Bickerton also produced the Swedish and English recordings.

 

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