ABBA tribute acts face their Waterloo

So read the headline of this article in The Stage on 3 June 2010. The story reported that Universal Music hasd written to fifteen UK-based ABBA tribute acts requesting they stop using the name “ABBA”, stating that use of the name was “an infringement of its intellectual property rights”.  A UM spokeswoman was quoted: “We’ve had complaints from all over the world where fans feel they’ve been misled and we feel it’s our duty to protect the ABBA brand from misuse.”

It didn’t take long for the story to morph into “greedy ABBA sues to ban tribute acts”. Firstly in this article and comments on Yahoo! Music, then in this article in The Independant.

While it’s a long-standing tradition for tribute acts to use a name that puns the original (e.g. The Beatnix, Elton Jack), there are at least 100 acts around the world that use the unadultered name ABBA, in names as unimaginative as “ABBA Duo”.

Though many commentators have observed that ABBA fans recognise the real ABBA members, it’s a fact that many tribute shows are misleadingly advertised, especially in North and South America where the individual members aren’t as recognised as elsewhere. There have been dozens of stories in ABBA forums that some of the audience did genuinely believe they were seeing the original ABBA, but surprised that members of a band from the 1970s still looked so young. Some people have even joined ABBA forums and gushed over meeting “Agnetha”, only to feel humiliated when it’s pointed out they met a member of a tribute band.

Search for ABBA images on Google and there are almost as many tribute act photos as photos of the real ABBA. It’s becoming increasingly common to see a photo of a tribute band referred to as “ABBA”.

I wrote about this a few years ago in this very blog. I’m surpised that it’s taken this long for some sort of action to be taken. In 1999 when Stockholm Records (also owned by Universal Music) created the group ABBA Teens as a “new ABBA for the kids of the 90s” Benny Andersson  intervened and requested the name be changed, citing that “ABBA was ABBA”.

Madonna's Like An Angel

When Madonna released her ABBA-sampling hit ‘Hung Up’ in 2005, there were reports that this was not her first stab at the ABBA catalogue. It was said that a few years earlier she had recorded but not released a cover of ‘Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’, the final track from ABBA’s eighth and final studio album The Visitors.

Now on the eve of the megastar’s 50th birthday her version of ‘Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’, apparently recorded during sessions for her 2000 album Music and produced by William Orbit, has leaked out on to the internet.

Hear it at:
You Tube
Madonna Radio

For a contrast, here are some other performances of ‘Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’:

German songstress Nina Hagen from a 2004 ABBA TV tribute on ZDF.
Swedish soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, who recorded it for her Elvis Costello produced album For The Stars.
Norwegian singer Sissel.

Finally, here is an early ABBA version, Another Morning Without You, with prominent vocalising from drummer Ola Brunkert. Michael B. Tretow once played this on Swedish Radio.

'Dancing Queen' cameos

Dancing QueenABBA’s 1976 single ‘Dancing Queen’ is widely acknowledged as the group’s biggest worldwide hit and most enduring song, and a guaranteed dance-floor filler.

But ‘Dancing Queen’ has also become a pop culture icon that has been referenced or quoted in several songs by other artists.

‘Spice Up Your Life’ by the Spice Girls from their second album Spice World (1997) mentions the song title alongside another mid-70s hit in the second verse:

Yellow man in Timbuktu
Colour for both me and you
Kung fu fighting
Dancing queen
Travel spaceman
And all that’s in between

‘Ballad Of Cleo & Joe’ by Cyndi Lauper on her 1997 album Sisters of Avalon tells the story of “Joe”, who at night transforms himself into drag queen “Cleo”, using the title as narrative:

And he works his body just to be somebody.
There’s a woman in the mirror looking like a dream.
And he works his body…
And he feels somebody…
And the working boy becomes a dancing queen.

‘Disco Down’ by Kylie Minogue on her 2000 “comeback album” Light Years, like ‘Spice Up Your Life’ above, pairs the title with another Seventies disco classic:

And now l boogie in my dreams
To le Freak or Dancing Queen
Baby l still recall those things
And ooh, I’m missing you now

‘Disco Down’ also echos the guitar riff from ‘Does Your Mother Know’. 

‘When I Was Cruel no. 2’ by Elvis Costello on his album When I Was Cruel (2002) actually quotes several lines from the song lyric:

The ghostly first wife glides up on stage whispering to raucous talkers
Spilling family secrets out to flunkeys and castrato walkers
See that girl,
Watch that scene
Digging the “Dancing Queen”

Elvis had already referenced ‘Dancing Queen’ on his 1979 hit ‘Oliver’s Army’, which featured a piano figure influenced by ‘Dancing Queen’s famous descending piano riff.

Seventies legends reunite

Two legendary bands from the Seventies have made the news in recent weeks for announcing one-off reunion concerts.

Led Zeppelin will be performing at the O2 Arena in London on 26 November this year in aid of the Ahmet Ertegun Education Fund . This is the third time the band have reuniting since disbanding in 1980. Famously this forthcoming concert has attracted over one million applicants for tickets.

The Sex Pistols will also be performing three concerts in November at Brixton Academy in London to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the band’s classic album Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols. This is not the first reunion for this band either, having done a world tour in 1996 and a US tour in 2003.

With the news of two of ABBA’s contemporaries reuniting (albeit briefly) it’s surprising that on-line ABBA fandom hasn’t been flooded with “if they can do it, ABBA could too” sentiments, though one newspaper article I read about the Led Zep announcement commented that “two billion dollars wasn’t enough” for ABBA to reunite.

Elvis has left the building

This week the world commemorates the 30th anniversary of the death of the king of rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis Presley.

There’s no real connection between Elvis and ABBA. Benny has said that his first rock/pop single was Elvis’s ‘Jailhouse Rock’, while ABBA engineer Michael B. Tretow is an avowed Elvis fan. But there’s no real aural evidence of Elvis’s influence in ABBA’s music. Still, Elvis influenced those who influenced ABBA, such as The Beatles, so an influence can be traced back.

It’s possible that Elvis’s 1970s Las Vegas-era spangly jumpsuits may have been one of the inspirations for some of ABBA’s mid-’70s costumes – some wouldn’t look out of place alongside ABBA’s 1977 tour costumes.

Conversely it seems that the ABBA Gold compilation may have been an influence on the 2002 Elvis 30 #1 Hits CD, with a similar gold/black/white scheme and similar simple style, with the title only in the centre of a plain background.

Elvis may have left the building, but he lives on in his fans’ hearts forever.

Tribute bands trading as "ABBA"

ARRIVALABBA tribute bands have become a booming industry, ever since Björn Again started performing at pubs in Melbourne, Australia in 1989.

I’ve never been a fan of tribute acts. I don’t need a facsimile. I can enjoy the real ABBA at any time on a multitude of CDs and DVDs. But that’s just me. For those people who do want to get that live-on-stage ABBA experience, because they may be too young to have seen the real thing, or they may want to relive it, these dozens of tribute acts give something more that you can’t get from CDs and DVDs.

I have to admit that I’ve seen a few tribute band performances: I saw Björn Again’s first ever performance in Sydney in 1989 (I didn’t enjoy it at all), and I saw Arrival from Sweden when they toured Australia a few years ago (an enjoyable night and a very good recreation). I’ve also seen Australia’s FABBA and BABBA, and I wasn’t too impressed with either.

Tribute acts generally fall into three broad categories:

  • Those attempting a faithful replication of an ABBA performance.
  • Those that are part homage, part parody.
  • Those that cater for the party crowd, often just two girls in ABBA-style costumes with a backing tape.

Many of these acts use the name “ABBA” in some form – ABBAlanche, ABBA Again, ABBA Alive, ABBA Gold, ABBA-cadabra, ABBA Girls, ABBA Babes, ABBAesque, ABBA Forever, Gimme ABBA, ABBAsolutely FABBAulous. You get the idea.

What’s surprising is that these tribute acts are allowed to use the word “ABBA”, which was once upon a time noted as being “a registered trademark of Polar Music International AB”. When the ABBA*Teens released their first single in 1999, Benny himself requested they stop using the name ABBA, because “there is only one ABBA, and they are not it” (though Björn had previously given his permission, and the group had been created by Stockholm Records specifically as an “ABBA” for the late-90s teen market). At another time, Björn Again was sued to stop using a logo featuring a reversed B.

What peeves me (and I know I’m not alone) is those tribute acts whose advertising can be seen to be misleading, that doesn’t make it clear it’s a tribute act, not the real ABBA.

For the last few summers, the USA has had “ABBA – The Tour (or The Show or The Music or The Whatever) featuring members of the original ABBA band”. To those not in the know, this would suggest that the act features at least one of the original ABBA members, not the musicians who backed ABBA in the studio or on tour. In previous years, this tour featured Swedish band Waterloo; this year it’s Arrival.

Several years ago Australian newspapers carried advertisements for something called “ABBA Thank You For The Music 25th Anniversary Tour”, complete with a photo of ABBA circa 1977. Nowhere did the advertising mention that it was tribute a act, ABBAsolutely FABBAulous, performing.

One of the most frequent search terms of this very blog over the past month or more has been “ABBA tour USA 2007”, which indicates to me that there are still people out there who think that it’s ABBA, not a tribute act, that is touring.

Of course, the real ABBA continue to refuse to reunite for anything less than “something special” – even that infamous alleged billion-dollar offer. They’ve proved what they mean by “something special” by singing a song together at friend and business associate Görel Hanser‘s 50th birthday party in June 1999.

"No more f*cking ABBA!"

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

This week I saw Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the stage musical version of the 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, for the second time.

I first saw Priscilla not long after it premiered in Sydney in October last year. It was interesting to see the show again. There have been some cuts in dialogue and music, which tightens up the story.

The show is very funny, with the best moments and lines from the movie, and more faaaaaaaaaabulous songs along with some of those that featured in the film. Priscilla will be playing in Sydney until late September, and will then move to Melbourne, opening in October.

As I’m sure you know, there were many ABBA references in the movie, including Bernadette’s infamous interjection quoted as the title of this post, the controversial “ABBA turd”, and the “grand finale” featuring a performance of ‘Mamma Mia’ by Mitzi and Felicia.

The stage version removes all references to ABBA. Some of the dialogue references have been changed to Kylie Minogue (and a couple of her songs are included) while others are simply gone from the storyline.

The producers have said that there were “international rights issues” that stopped them from using the ABBA songs, but it’s more than likely that permission wasn’t given because ABBA’s songs are in their own musical Mamma Mia!

These changes actually makes sense for today’s audience. When the movie was filmed, ABBA was extremely popular in the gay community, with the ABBA revival of the 1990s dating back to ABBA theme nights in gay clubs in the late ’80s.

But to a new generation of young gay men, Kylie has taken the place that ABBA once held (especially since the revival of her own career with 2000’s Light Years CD). Someone of Adam/Felicia’s age is more likely to be a life-long Kylie devotee than an ABBA fan.

So Bernadette’s wish in the movie for “no more fucking ABBA” has, in the stage version, finally come true!

It was 40 years ago today…

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band   Super Trouper

… that The Beatles landmark album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released.

Sgt. Pepper has, for all the years since 1967, been considered by music critics and music fans as a peak of pop/rock music, something for all other artists to aspire to.  It was the album that changed the focus of popular music from the single to the album, that lasted up to the download era of the Naughties.

Björn and Benny have both said that The Beatles, particularly the song-writing partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, inspired them first individually, and then together, to compose their own songs.

In some interviews in the 1970s, Björn and Benny had said that many expected them to create their own Sgt. Pepper with each next ABBA album.

There are a remarkable number of similarities between Sgt. Pepper and ABBA’s Super Trouper album:

  • Both front covers show the group surrounded by a crowd – The Beatles, by life-size cut-outs of various friends and heroes; ABBA, by friends and circus performers.
  • Both album covers involved elaborate staging.
  • Both title tracks refer to a band performance.
  • Both title tracks cast a thematic aura over the whole album.
  • Both albums have several songs with a nostalgic air.
  • Both albums have the final two tracks cross-faded as a “grand finale”.
  • Both have sound continuing into the run-out groove, so that those whose record players didn’t have automatic lifting arms would hear sound infinitely (on Sgt. Pepper, specially recorded gibberish; on Super Trouper, the applause following ‘The Way Old Friends Do’). [the CD of Sgt. Pepper recreates this effect; no CD version of Super Trouper does this]
  • Both albums came at the popular peak of each group’s career. Afterwards, both groups fell into a downward spiral.
  • Both albums were each group’s first after their final concert tours.
  • Both are considered by many fans and critics as the group’s finest achievement.
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