Archive for the ‘Ian’ Category

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)

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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.

 

Remembering when Arrival was released

27 April, 2013

ABBA/ARRIVALThe anticipation for Agnetha’s new album A, and the staggered release of her new songs (not to mention the leaking of other songs), made me recall the anticipation in late 1976 for ABBA’s album Arrival, and it shows what a different place the world is today.

Here in Australia Arrival was the anticipated event of the latter half of 1976. In the months leading up to its release we got our first taste in July when ‘Dancing Queen’ was shown on the television special ABBA In Europe (the German Musikladen special The Best Of ABBA retitled). The single ‘Dancing Queen’/’That’s Me’ followed soon in August, though it seemed an eternity.

During the next few months there were many reports in the newspapers telling us about the songs recorded for the album, including “a Hawaiian-sounding song”, an instrumental entitled ‘Ode To Dalecarlia’, and other intriguing titles such as ‘I Am The Tiger’ and ‘Money, Money, Money’.

In October we had back-to-back television specials featuring songs from Arrival. First we had ABBA In Sweden (a repackage of the Musikladen special), which previewed ‘Money, Money, Money’, followed a couple of weeks later by ABBA From The Beginning (an edited version of the Swedish special ABBA-dabba-doo!!), which included nine songs from Arrival.

We all recorded the songs on cassette from the TV, often by holding a microphone in front of the speaker. We had no other option to get these songs we had not heard before that had not been released. My friends and I would get together and listen to these low-fi cassettes over and over, engrossed in the new ABBA songs. We would copy these cassettes for other friends who had not recorded them from the TV themselves.

A week or so before Arrival was released a local radio station played all the songs from the album, one every hour for an entire day. But this was on a school day!!! How would I get to hear the songs? I hid my transistor radio in my coat pocket, running the earphone up through a hole in the lining, so I could surreptitiously listen during school. Luckily some songs were played during recess and lunch breaks, which made it easier to listen, and a group of us would huddle around the radio. No teachers questioned why I was wearing a heavy coat on a hot November day!

I kept note of each song played in each hour. I’d already heard ten eleven of the eleven songs by then (in Australia and New Zealand ‘Fernando’ was added to Arrival on side B, between ‘Why Did It Have To Be Me’ and ‘Tiger’), but this was the first time I heard “the title track”, as it was referred to every time it was played. I probably still have that piece of paper somewhere.

But where were the Hawaiian-sounding song and ‘Ode To Dalecarlia’ that we’d heard about? As it turned out ‘Happy Hawaii’ wasn’t included on Arrival, but released as the b-side to ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ in February the following year, and ‘Ode To Dalecarlia’ had been retitled ‘Arrival’.

There were no leaks of songs, and if unheard songs were broadcast overseas we would only hear them if we were lucky enough to have a pen friend who could send a cassette, but that would take weeks by mail.

Arrival was released in Australia on Monday November 15th. I had the album pre-ordered from my local record shop, which got its delivery of albums on the Friday before, and put them on sale immediately! So I was lucky and got the album three days earlier than expected. Finally I got to hear all the songs in the proper stereo glory, not on those buzzy mono cassettes recorded from TV.

My television debut

30 December, 2012

Ian on ABBA: Dancing QueenThis week I made my television debut in the new documentary ABBA: Dancing Queen, broadcast on SVT1 in Sweden last Wednesday night.

I’ve had a few TV appearances before, most notably a morning news report on an Australian ABBA fan event in March 1987. But this was my first sit-down on-camera interview.

It’s a rather unnerving experience to go through. Trying to concentrate on the questions, to think of something interesting to respond, to speak clearly and coherently, all under the glare of bright lights and the gaze of the camera. I don’t know how people in the public eye do it all the time.

The film takes a look at ABBA’s biggest hit and most well-known song, intertwined with the story of ABBA’s phenomenal success in Australia. It features lots of ABBA footage, some of it not seen on TV since the 70s, along with interviews with ABBA’s musicians, people involved in the Australian concert tour and ABBA – The Movie, international rock legends, and many more. You can watch the film here (in Swedish, all interviews are in English with Swedish subtitles). It’s a thrill to be included in such esteemed company.

Dancing Queen is the first of three ABBA documentaries screening on SVT1 over the next few weeks. See here for details about all three films. The films are produced by Roger Backlund, Carl Magnus Palm and Viktor Petrovski for Happy Monday Media. Hopefully we’ll see the films broadcast elsewhere later in the year.

Coincidentally I should be appearing in another ABBA documentary, Bang A Boomerang – Why Australia ♥ ABBA, at the end of January.

15 years of The ABBA Phenomenon in Australia

28 July, 2012

This month marks the 15th anniversary of my first ABBA website, The ABBA Phenomenon in Australia.

For as long as I’d been an ABBA fan I had been recording the details of ABBA’s career in Australia, collecting all the local pressings of ABBA records, as many articles and as much information as I could find.

In the early ’90s a local record collectors’ magazine published an article about ABBA’s Australian discography. It contained many errors, with record releases based on dates that records entered the top 40 singles chart (based on a book detailing the charts in the state of New South Wales only, not nationally). A few singles released in 1974 and 1975 entered the top 40 during 1976 after ABBA’s visit in March that year – the article gave the impression the singles were released then.

Slightly outraged at the many inaccuracies I wrote a letter to the magazine listing corrections, including a full Australian discography. This sparked the germ of an idea to write a book about ABBA’s Australian experience (an idea that sill sits in the back of my mind). I used the letter was the basis to write a longer history of ABBA in Australia, that then was filed away with my ABBA cuttings.

In 1996 we got our first home computer and connected to the internet. Seeing other fans create their own ABBA websites inspired me to create my own, and the ABBA in Australia idea seemed an obvious thing to do. A lot of fans had questions about that period of ABBA history, and many published biographies had a lot of incorrect information, mostly based on earlier inaccurate or incomplete information.

I got website creating software, got all my information together, and on 17 July 1997 The ABBA Phenomenon in Australia was born. It’s not the catchiest title, but obvious names like ABBAMANIA had already been used. The ABBA Phenomenon had been the local title of the 1977 book ABBA By ABBA (original Swedish title: Fenomenet ABBA), so that was an inspiration. To this day I try to keep it up-to-date with all the latest ABBA information.

The Visitors

5 February, 2012

The release of The Visitors in late 1981 took me completely by surprise. Though I’d read news of the progress of recording sessions in the Australian ABBA Fan Club magazines during the year, I had no idea that ABBA had a new album coming out until I heard an ad on a local radio station during the first week of December promoting a competition giving away copies the following week.

That Saturday morning the music show Sounds showed the album cover, which confused me – I could see Agnetha to the left and Frida in a chair, and what looked like Benny standing a little to the right (well, it was a man with a beard), but where was Björn?

The following night Australia’s famous music show Countdown played the promotional clip for ‘When All Is Said And Done’, but otherwise made no mention of a new ABBA album. As the summer holidays were coming up, that weekend saw the last shows for the year for both Sounds and Countdown, so there was no real opportunity for TV promotion for ABBA’s new album. Countdown did play ‘One Of Us’ on its first show for 1982, by which time it was too late for that single, which had already peaked at 48 and was on its way back down the singles chart. Sounds eventually played ‘Head Over Heels’, which was not released as a single in Australia.

Ironically, the radio station giving away copies of  The Visitors did not play any songs from the album, or any ABBA music at all, except for the first line of ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ in the competition ad. Nor did the ad actually mention the album title.

And so came the usual waiting game for the album to appear. As ABBA were no longer the big thing in Australia that they were in 1976, there didn’t seem to be much rush to get new ABBA records in the shops, and it wasn’t until Wednesday December 16th (yes, Benny’s birthday) that I finally got The Visitors.

In Australia The Visitors came in a gatefold sleeve, with the lyrics on the inside, which seemed like a waste to me – why not more photos, as other gatefold sleeve albums had? I later learned that in most other countries the lyrics were on an inner sleeve. I loved the imagery, but was pissed off that the ABBA members, who seemed to be getting smaller on each progressive album cover, were hard to discern. So Björn  now had a beard, and Benny was in the dark corner on the far right, but was Frida’s hair cut short? It was hard to tell.

On first listen I was mightily impressed. ABBA’s music always seemed to exist outside of mainstream music trends, but here was ABBA sounding like those British synthpop groups so popular at the time. Especially the opening title track, which has been described over the years as having a melody that sounded reminiscent of The Beatles Eastern musical excursions, but to my ears sounded like ‘Astradyne’, the opening track to Ultravox’s 1980 album Vienna, with the chorus that sounded like ‘Summer Night City’.

I also loved that ABBA’s lyrics had become more meaningful – the dissident paranoia of ‘The Visitors’, fears of dictators leading the populace into war in ‘Soldiers’, and the bittersweet experience of watching children grow up  and leave in ‘Slipping Through My Finger’  were immediately obvious to me. The heartbreak of ‘When All Is Said And Done’ was more inspirational than the previous year’s melodramatic ‘The Winner Takes It All’, and its personal inspirations were also obvious. ‘I Let The Music Speak’ addressed the poetry of music in clever twists and turns. ‘Two For The Price Of One’ was a little throwback to the quirky songs of ABBA’s first couple of albums, but unlike almost everyone else in the world I liked it from the start.

The only songs that didn’t grab me on the first listen, and still don’t particularly like, were ironically the two selected as international singles: ‘One Of Us’ and ‘Head Over Heels’. Possibly that’s coloured by the fact that they were the singles, chosen over such obvious choices as ‘When All Is Said And Done’ (actually the first single in the USA and second single in Australia) and ‘The Visitors’ – even Phil Collins, producer of Frida’s 1982 solo album Something’s Going On, thought ‘The Visitors’ was an obvious single for the times.

At the end of my first listen to the whole album, as the music box of ‘Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’ faded away and the incessant ticking clock suddenly stopped, I knew that ABBA was over, that this would be their final album.

Hear me on the radio

20 September, 2011

This coming Sunday (September 25th) I will be in Canberra, joining Allison and (I hope) Luke in the studio for Gimme Gimme Gimme, the weekly ABBA radio show on 2XX 98.3fm Community Radio.

Not only that, but we’ll be talking to Donnie Sutherland, host of Channel 7’s Saturday morning music show Sound Unlimited (later called Sounds) from 1975 to 1987. Sounds was on air during the famous period of ABBA mania, but also continued to support ABBA when the bubble burst and the rest of Australia seemed to turn on ABBA.

If you’re outside Canberra, in Australia or anywhere in the world, you can listen to live streaming at 2xx’s website between 5-6 pm Australia Eastern Standard Time (7-8 am GMT, 3-4 am US Eastern – check here for your local time). Chat with us and other listeners during the show on Facebook.

Dancing Queen – young and sweet, only 35

14 August, 2011

Dancing Queen & That's MeThirty-five years ago this week ABBA’s classic single ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘That’s Me’ was released.

Today ‘Dancing Queen’ is recognised as the most popular ABBA song, and ABBA’s biggest selling single. It’s been described as a chart topper in most countries it was released;  it was ABBA’s only number 1 on the US pop single charts.

‘Dancing Queen’ had its public debut in June 1976 at a televised gala concert commemorating the wedding of Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf to German-born Silvia Sommerlath. This led to a widely held assumption that ‘Dancing Queen’ was written specially for the occasion. But Ms. Sommerlath at 33 was hardly “young and sweet, only 17”, and in fact ABBA had started work on the song over 10 months earlier.

Another modern myth is that the ‘Dancing Queen’ was rush-released after the wedding, but it was long scheduled as ABBA’s next single, for an August release. Recording started in August 1975, around the same time as ‘Fernando’. In early 1976 ABBA and their manager Stig Anderson had the difficult choice of which song to release as a single first. ‘Fernando’ was selected because it was a ballad that was different from the previous international single (the upbeat ‘Mamma Mia’), and because ‘Dancing Queen’ was considered such an advance for ABBA.

I first heard about ‘Dancing Queen’ just after ABBA’s first visit to Australia in March 1976. Newspapers reported that while the group was in Australia filming the television special The Best of ABBA (aka ABBA in Australia, ABBA Down Under) they filmed “under strict security” a performance of the next single ‘Dancing Queen’, which would be released the following August. The reports described the song as “disco-influenced”, that it was the best thing ABBA had recorded so far and predicted it would be a huge hit.

Many fans outside Sweden (including me) heard ‘Dancing Queen’ for the first time on the German TV special The Best Of ABBA (a different programme from the Australian special of the same name; the German special was renamed ABBA in Europe for Australian viewers), which was screened in June and July in some countries.

The B side ‘That’s Me’ was another new song from recording sessions earlier in the year. Both songs would be included on the Arrival album, released in October 1976. ‘That’s Me’ would go on to be a hit in Japan as a single in its own right. ‘Dancing Queen’ became ABBA’s signature song, and was used as the encore song in ABBA’s concerts in for the rest of their career together.

‘Dancing Queen’ was released on 6 August 1976 in the UK, 9 August in Australia, 16 August in Sweden, but not until early 1977 in the USA.

See the rest of the entry for various TV performances of ‘Dancing Queen’ mentioned in this post.

(more…)

Working at ABBAWORLD

14 February, 2011

Since mid-December I’ve been lucky enough to work as a volunteer at ABBAWORLD at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.

The Powerhouse Museum, like many similar institutions, has a large volunteer workforce. When ABBAWORLD was announced late last year the call went out for ABBA fans to work as volunteers at the exhibition, to help visitors, answer questions and share their knowledge and love of ABBA.

Many ABBA fans answered the call, with fans working almost every day of the week for the duration of the exhibition, which is scheduled to close on March 6th [update: now closing June 26th].

It’s a fan’s dream come true, to get to work all day talking about ABBA, listening to ABBA music, watching ABBA videos (including all those exclusive interviews) and hanging out close and personal with ABBA’s costumes and other artefacts. It’s so enjoyable to see so many visitors having so much fun.

And if you visit ABBAWORLD, say hello to the fan volunteers. They’re the ones wearing the badge that says “ABBA question? Ask Me”.

ABBA Treasures

23 October, 2010

ABBA Treasures – A Celebration of the Ultimate Pop Group is a new book for your ABBA collection, to be released in November 2010. ABBA Treasures is written by Elisabeth Vincentelli, a French-born writer who now lives in the USA.

Like other “treasures” books ABBA Treasures is a pictorial biography of ABBA, with reproductions of original memorabilia, such as concert tickets, tour programmes, newspapers, photographs, promotional items and more, housed in sleeves that allows them to be removed. Many fans would have only seen photos of some of these items, so it’s fun to see them for real, albeit in reproductions (some of which are smaller than the original items to fit in the book).

The book is lavishly laid out and fully illustrated, with (to my eyes) many rarely seen if not previously unpublished photographs. Those fans overly familiar with the ABBA story probably won’t find anything “new” in the text, but there are some unique insights, and many people including Björn and Benny granted interviews to the author especially for the book. 

It’s a an honour for me to have been interviewed for the book, and it’s also a pleasure to see my friends Pepé, Roxy and Brian provide the wonderful memorabilia included in the book.

Elisabeth is the chief drama critic for the New York Post, and was previously music editor and then arts and entertainment editor for Time Out New York. She has also written for Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Weekly, and The Village Voice, and many other publications. She is the author of the 2004 book ABBA Gold, in the 33⅓ series of books on classic albums, and has also written the essay for the forthcoming re-release ABBA Gold – Greatest Hits CD/DVD Special Edition, also due out in November.

Some fans may grumble about some reversed photographs or incorrect photo captions, but I don’t think that detracts from the overall enjoyment of the book.


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