Posts Tagged ‘The Best Of ABBA’

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.

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.


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