Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

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)


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.

ABBA: Bang a Boomerang

25 January, 2013


24 Jan 2013


ABC Wide,Television

In brief

  • ABBA: Bang a Boomerang tells the story of how Australia fell in love with the Swedish supergroup.
  • It is narrated by Alan Brough (Spicks and Specks) and premieres Wednesday 30 January 8.30pm – ABC1

The full release

ABBA: Bang a Boomerang tells the inside story of Australia’s colossal 70s crush on the Swedish supergroup ABBA and their music, and how this unequalled and enduring fan‐worship changed them and us forever.

ABC’s innovative music program Countdown and its host Molly Meldrum were instrumental in bringing ABBA to a burgeoning mid‐70s television audience looking for something different. It was due to Countdown that Mamma Mia was released as a single, first in Australia and then the world, and the ABBA phenomenon was born. Molly said: “Tony Vuat, who was one of our people on the floor, said ‘Come and have a look at this song. I know you’ll love it.’ It was Mamma Mia. I went ‘THAT, we’re definitely going to use!’”

Viewers were going into record shops wanting to buy the single. Molly rang RCA records asking about the release of Mamma Mia and was told there were no plans to do so. “We then played it again in defiance and they had no option but to release it… it was lucky, it went to number one” Meldrum continues. ABBA: Bang a Boomerang digs deep into heartfelt memories, cardboard cartons of memorabilia, face‐to‐face encounters, local pop icon recounts, lavish personal and public ABBA museums and Australia’s rich media archives to relive a moment of collective national ‘craziness’, when we did literally go ABBA mad. The result is a warm, bright, captivating engagement with ABBA‘s time Down Under that will remind us all of the band’s impact and how our open‐hearted embrace of all things ABBA would eventually define us. One in three Australian households owned an ABBA record – from Prime Minister Fraser to eight‐year‐olds around the nation, we were hooked even if some of us didn’t want to admit it back then and we didn’t realise the crush would be for keeps.

By 1976 ABBA‐mania had truly gripped the nation, so much so that when the groundbreaking ABBA Australian TV special went to air it out‐rated the moon landing.

ABBA became a magnet to some extraordinary characters who all contributed to the band’s rise to the top. This documentary has unprecedented access to this inner circle, including tour manager Michael Chugg, Hollywood film director Lasse Hallström, their bodyguard on the ’77 Australian tour Richard Norton as well as their publicist, RCA’s Annie Wright.

The program also speaks to Australian fans whose devotion has never wavered, including entertainment professionals such as John Paul Young, Daryl Somers, Julia Zemiro and Libbi Gorr; founder of the Australian ABBA Fan Club Graeme Read; and music critics such as RAM’s Anthony O’Grady and music journalist Barry Divola, who both now concede the genius behind these perfectly crafted pop songs.

Australians related to ABBA’s innocence and vitality, which somehow resonated with us more than any other music before it. Later it took Australian tribute band Björn Again and two Australian movies, Muriel’s Wedding and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, to bring ABBA back from an 80s’ wilderness and return them to centre‐stage worldwide – where their music, old and new, remains today.

As Benny and Björn have always said: “We have always been grateful to the Australian audience because that’s when things started to happen.”

ABBA: Bang a Boomerang tells the inside story of ABBA’s success in Australia, how it reverberated into world stardom and the birth of a supergroup.


Magnus Palm – Official ABBA Biographer
“I think Australia was the only country where the film clips had that kind of impact. I think it’s probably one of the few cases or one of the earliest cases, at least, of a group achieving a breakthrough simply through film clips. The whole country was just going gaga over them – really, really mad. And, being Swedes and not being quite used to that kind of thing, I’m sure they were surprised – and moved.”

Lasse Hallström – Film Director
“Benny Anderson told me that, you know, ‘If we didn’t have those clips, we wouldn’t have been the success we are in Australia’. I hadn’t seen anything like it, not since ‘The Beatles’.”

Julia Zemiro – Performer, Die Hard ABBA Fan
“They’re clearly the most successful winner of Eurovision ever, no question. And I suppose in a way every act thinks they’ll do it again, but no one really has. ABBA was my first concert ever. And yeah, there’s always something really surreal, isn’t there, when you see someone that you adore on paper, or on television in one dimensional form, and there they are in three dimensional form and you still can’t touch them.”

Molly Meldrum – Music Guru
“I never admitted I liked ABBA because I thought, ‘They’ll think I’m gay’.

Stephan Elliot – Film Director
“I’m a fan, alright I am a fan. There I’ve said it. What the hell happened in the 70s, in Australia? I mean it was a mess. It was a social mess, it was a political mess, it was a disastrous decade.”

Molly Melddrum
“I never admitted I liked ABBA because I thought, ‘They’ll think I’m gay’.

Anthony O’Grady – Editor, RAM MAGAZINE 1975‐83
“Waterloo is very much based on the Phil Spector wall of sound. Every little bit that they wrote led somewhere, which led it to another place, which might turn back on itself. It was beautifully constructed music. As ABBA music got more introspective and sophisticated and had higher production values, it lost its fun, the crowd don’t want it. They wanted us back in satin suits.”

Annie Wright – RCA Publicity Manager 1976‐79
“Molly was very instrumental in their success because once he embraced it and also knew that it was a big deal – and he defied also the music critics as well who were going, ‘It’s uncool.’”

Ross Grayson‐Bell – Film Producer, Die Hard Fan
“I was ecstatic. I went across to the Sebel Townhouse in my school uniform and they pulled me aside and said, ‘We want to take a photo of you and Frida and Agnetha.’ And so there’s the photograph of me being hugged by both of them, which is an enviable position to be in. It was like Sunday roast, you know.

You’d sit down, have your roast with your family, and you’d watch Countdown. It was gay to like ABBA. Come on, we have to be honest about that. And I wasn’t aware that I was gay at the time and it’s almost like it was an outing – I was outed.”

Libbi Gorr – Performer, ABBA Devotee
“We were at that age and it was ABBA that put that huge footprint into our hearts. It’s just that tweenagerhood of learning about longing and desire, and some freak called Fernando. You never get over it. You never get over it. I was a great fan of ‘When I Kissed the Teacher’ because it seemed a bit naughty. You know, it’s embedded in our DNA.”

Roxanne Dickson – ABBA Fanatic
[Channel Nine ABBA Special 1976] what I remember is me staring at the TV and loving every second of seeing a whole show of ABBA. And knowing they were on a stage in Australia. Me and my little sister just adored it. And I insisted we learnt the whole show and we would perform it for my older sisters and their friends. ”

Barry Divola – Music Journalist
“Even though I was a Frida man, looking at that picture of Agnetha in a very short, quite sheer, floral dress and wearing boots, and I remember somewhere back in my reptile brain, something stirred. And 20 years later you can embrace that inner dag that you were in 1975 and 1976 and say, ‘You know what? I actually love those songs and I love that group and they make me feel happy.’”

John Paul Young – Pop Music Icon
“When Mamma Mia was a big hit, we’d get into our hired 1975 Fairlaine and hit the horn and it was exactly in tune with . ‘Da da da da da da da da, Mamma Mia, here I go again. ’ I didn’t think was going to be as big as it was, but it proved to be my nemesis. It kept me out of the number one spot for something like 12 weeks. So you know, they were right and I was wrong.”


(Media release from ABC. Thanks to James O’Brien @ ABBA Village)

ABBAWORLD opens in Melbourne

18 June, 2010

ABBAWORLD The Official Interactive Exhibition was declared open last night by none other than Agnetha and Benny, by video from Stockholm. See their video greeting here.

Members of the Official International ABBA Fan Club were treated to a special preview on Wednesday night, with the official gala opening on Thursday night.

Everyone at both events seemed to really enjoy the experience, taking part in the interactive activities and marvelling at the memorabilia on display. In a nod to the location there is a selection of original Australian ABBA merchandise from 1976 and 1977, and a board of stories from Australian ABBA fans.

Also in a special coup Australian writer Christopher Patrick’s book Let The Music Speak – an armchair guide to  the musical soundscape of the Swedish supergroup is on sale in the gift shop, the only book aside from Björn Ulvaues’s The Little White Piano authorised for sale at ABBAWORLD by the ABBA members themselves. But if you can’t get to ABBAWORLD to buy it you can order it from Christopher’s website.

ABBAWORLD opens to the public at Federation Square, Melbourne on Saturday June 19th. The exhibition is schedule to run until October 31 2010. See a report on the opening here. Go to the ABBAWORLD website for more information.

Did you know?

3 November, 2007

ABBA – The Movie is the tenth-highest grossing Australian-made documentary film of all time in Australia, and the 110th highest-grossing documentary film overall.

Source: Australian Film Commission.

10 years on the 'net

19 July, 2007

The ABBA Phenomenon in Australia

Ten years ago today, my very first ABBA website, The ABBA Phemomenon in Australia, went online.

Way back in early 1997, there were already quite a few ABBA fan sites. Most were fairly generic, with basic biographies and standard discographies.

But there was a gap about ABBA’s unique success in Australia that I had lived through.

Inspired by a 1995 article on ABBA’s Australian dicography in a local record collector’s magazine that had included many mistakes, I had already compiled the full ABBA discography, which continued what I’d already been collecting since 1976. I had an idea that it could be the starting point for a book about ABBA’s Australian experience. Then the internet came along and that seemed the perfect outlet for the information I’d gathered so far.

The site has come a long way since July 19th, 1997. It started out as the basic Australian discography with just a few pages, but has grown to include memorabilia, ABBA’s visits to Australia in 1976 and 1977, ABBA – The Movie (filmed on the Australian tour in 1977), the commercials for National electronic products that ABBA made for Australia, and much more. It’s continued to be updated right through to today.

It’s also moved around the net until its current home today as a sub-site of ABBA World – ironic really, as ABBA World’s predecessor, ABBALINK, started out as an offshoot of The ABBA Phenomenon.

I’m pleased that my site had served its purpose in explaining this significant era of ABBA history. As well as being visited by fans across the globe, it’s been used as reference material for several ABBA books, television documentaries and the media at large.

To commemorate the 10th anniversary, I’ve resurrected a concept that I started several years ago but never really got off the ground – The Archive, featuring classic articles from newspapers and magazines. Thanks to my friend Samuel Inglles, The Archive now includes lots and lots of articles from the height of Australian ABBAMANIA in 1976 and 1977, with still more to come.


The ABBA flag

10 July, 2007


Viewers of ABBA – The Movie will have seen one of these flags fluttering in the evening breeze at the start of ‘Fernando’. The flags bearing the ABBA logo in blue, green, yellow and red letters decorated the various concert venues during ABBA’s Australian tour in March 1977. I remember a row of them flying from flagpoles atop on of the stands behind the stage during that legendary first concert in Sydney on March 3rd. They can be seen adorning the Perth Entertainment Centre in The Movie (the round building Ashley runs into not long after arriving in Perth). And the one seen in close up was probably filmed in Melbourne.

The flags themselves were manufactured by AB Industri-Reklam in Stockholm, Sweden. So it’s surprising that there’s no recollection of the flags flying at European concert venues that year.

The colours of the letters are probably a simplified version of the “rainbow” ABBA logo that appeared on the European tour programme and on the recent authorised biography Fenemonet ABBA (aka The ABBA Phenomenon and ABBA By ABBA), and later featured on the ABBA Annuals (1978 to 1983) and 1994’s ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions by Carl Magnus Palm.

How many of these flags were made or how many still exist is anyone’s guess. There were almost certainly several dozen on display in 1977. I’ve encountered three of them over the past twenty years – one hanging on the front wall of a house in Cleveland Street, Sydney in 1987; one in the hands of PolyGram Records in Sydney around 1992; and the one pictured here, that was offered for sale about ten years ago on the various ABBA mailing lists at the time, long before eBay came into our lives. I was hoping to buy it at the time, but it just didn’t work out. I recently heard from the successful buyer of the third one, who assures me that it’s in safe hands and being well looked after.

Many fans yearn for a particular rare ABBA record or merchandise, such as the ABBA dolls. This is my “holy grail”.

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