Posts Tagged ‘1976’

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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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.

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.

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