Posts Tagged ‘Fernando’

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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40 years of ABBAMANIA

2 August, 2015

ABBA, 1975The 40th anniversary of ABBA’s Eurovision Song Contest win and international breakthrough was widely celebrated last year, with new releases and commemorative events. As it should be.

This year there’s another 40th anniversary that’s just as important to the story of ABBA, but less celebrated.

On Sunday, August 3rd 1975, Australian TV programme Countdown played the promotional film clip for ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’. Countdown was a nationally-broadcast weekly music programme on the government-owned ABC network that ran from 1974 to 1987. The show’s producers were always in search of popular music to play. They found that a song called  ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’ by ABBA was in the top 20 in Brisbane, the capital of the state of Queensland.

Countdown‘s producers approached RCA, ABBA’s Australian record company, requesting any footage they could play. RCA provided four film clips from the group. Countdown was impressed with the clip for the single ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’, but were even more taken with another song, ‘Mamma Mia’.

‘Mamma Mia’ was apparently also broadcast at the end of the show on August 3rd, in Melbourne (the capital of Victoria) only. But the following Sunday evening, ‘Mamma Mia’ was broadcast nationally, and something amazing happened. Though the song was not scheduled to be released as a single, public demand on record stores, radio stations, RCA and Countdown led to RCA requesting from Polar Music in Stockholm permission to release ‘Mamma Mia’.

Stig Anderson initially refused, claiming that “the Australians had released so many damn singles”. In a way he was right: in the 16 months since ‘Waterloo’ had been released, RCA had put out ‘Ring Ring’ (its second local release, in remixed form), ‘Honey, Honey’, ‘So Long’, ‘I’ve Been Waiting For You’ (separate singles released simultaneously), and ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’, plus a four-track EP. After ‘Waterloo’s peak at number four in August 1974, ABBA’s highest chart position had been ‘Honey, Honey’s number 30 peak in January 1975.

Eventually Polar relented, and ‘Mamma Mia’ entered the singles chart at number 52 on September 22nd. In the meantime, ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’ was rushing up the national chart, reaching number one on October 13th. After three weeks at the top, it was replaced by ‘Mamma Mia’, which remained at the number one for ten weeks. The songs’ parent album, ABBA, was caught in the slipstream, entering the album chart on September 8th and reaching number one on December 8th.

The public reaction and quick chart success caught the attention of overseas media. Contemporary UK news programmes reported on the astonishing Australian success of this almost-forgotten Eurovision-winning group, whose latest domestic single ‘SOS’ was gaining international attention thanks to interest in what was happening in Australia. ‘SOS’ went on to reach number six in the UK in November, followed by ‘Mamma Mia’, which topped the UK chart in February 1976.

Back in Australia, ‘SOS’ replaced ‘Mamma Mia’ at number one on January 12th, and a compilation album The Best Of ABBA had been released, topping the chart on March 28th and becoming the first album to sell over one million copies in Australia (ABBA’s Arrival later in the year would be the second).

I didn’t see ‘Mamma Mia’ on Countdown. I wasn’t a regular watcher then. I became aware of the hubbub over the song, but I didn’t really hear it until a party sometime in late 1975. I wrote about that experience here a few years ago.

Interest in ABBA had been waning after after the initial rush of the Eurovision win. But after the events in the last third of 1975, they were never to be forgotten. 

Thanks to Matti Crocker and Trent Nickson (ABBA Charts) for details.

Alternate versions

18 May, 2014

WaterlooABBA’s main catalogue consists of 98 individual songs, with a plethora of well-known alternate versions: recordings in languages other than English, remixes, edits and more.

However, there are a number of alternate versions of ABBA songs that evaded most fans for many years, or the stories behind them aren’t well known. Here is the first part of a two-part look at some of those alternate mixes.

Waterloo: when the English version of ‘Waterloo’ was first released in Sweden in March 1974, the single contained an early mix, not the final approved one. When it was discovered, the single was recalled, and reissued win the correct mix under the same catalogue number. Some copies had already been sold and remained out in the world. This alternate mix was not widely known among ABBA fans until the early 21st century, when fans who owned the single started discussing it in online forums. The alternate mix was included in The Complete Studio Recordings box set in 2005. It is now available on the Waterloo Deluxe Edition CD (2014).

Ring Ring: in 1974 after the number one success of ‘Waterloo’, Epic Records in the UK decided that ABBA’s 1973 Eurovision hopeful ‘Ring Ring’ should be re-released as the follow up single. But rather than re-release the 1973 version, Epic Records A&R man Paul Atkinson suggested it should be “beefed up” to more closely resemble the sound of ‘Waterloo’. Atkinson flew to Stockholm to oversee the makeover, which featured a heavier sounding guitar riff, and a short saxophone riff near the end of the choruses. It seems that it may have actually been a different take of the vocal. As well as being released in the UK (where it reached a dismal number 32), it was also released in Australia and West Germany. Curiously, it appears that in West Germany it was intended as the A side, backed with ‘Honey, Honey’, but it was ‘Honey, Honey’ that was promoted and sold as the A side. It’s certainly the side that ABBA promoted on various West German television shows. This mix was also used on the promotional clip, filmed in June for distribution for television stations around the world. A different mix of the alternate version appeared on the Atlantic Records Waterloo album in the USA and Canada, with an even heavier and noisier mix, and saxophone riffs after every line of the chorus. The single mix first appeared on CD in the CD singles box set Singles Collection 1972*1982 in 1999, mastered from a vinyl single as the master could not be located. The master was eventually found, and included on the 2001 compilation The Definitive Collection. The so-called US mix was first released on CD on the Waterloo remaster in 2001. Both mixes are included on the Waterloo Deluxe Edition CD.

Man In The Middle: another alternate mix that only came to light in recent years is the ABBA album track ‘Man In The Middle’ from 1975. First thought to only have appeared in the 1986 Polydor CD release of the ABBA album in Japan, it has since been found that it appeared on the album when released in France by Vogue Records in 1975. The difference is minor: on the standard version the vocal “in the middle middle middle… ” at the end of the second chorus has been subjected to electronic treatment, and possibly an additional overdub by engineer Michael B. Tretow, making it deeper and more rumbling. On the alternate mix, this vocal is untreated, like the one at the end of the first chorus.

Fernando: when ABBA performed their new single ‘Fernando’ on the West German television special The Best Of ABBA in early 1976, they mimed to a very different mix to the one released on record. This version featured a chiming sound playing a counter melody throughout the choruses. Later in the year, ABBA performed ‘Fernando’ on the US program Midnight Special, the backing track over which ABBA sang live had two extra bars of music in the break between the first chorus and the following verse. Neither of these variations has been released on CD, though the full West German TV special was briefly available in a DVD box set of the Musikladen series.

When I Kissed The Teacher: the Swedish television special ABBA-dabba-doo!! featured specially-made clips or performances of most of the songs from the forthcoming Arrival album. The special included an early mix of the album’s opening track ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’. The first verse was missing the echoed vocal “they dreamed”, and the rumbling build up under the lines “nearly petrified cause he was taken by surprise”. The rest of the track is a slightly different mix from the album version. This version was released on DVD along with the entire special on the Arrival Deluxe Edition in 2006.

The King Has Lost His Crown, Kisses Of Fire, Lovers (Live A Little Longer), Does Your Mother Know: in February 1979 ABBA travelled to Switzerland to make the television special ABBA in Switzerland. Several early mixes of songs from the unfinished Voulez-Vous album were included. The most radical difference was ‘Does Your Mother Know’, which had a much looser and more rock and roll feel than the discofied final version released on record a few months later. The special including all these alternate versions was released on the Voulez-Vous Deluxe Edition DVD in 2010.

More alternate mixes to come in part 2…


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