AS IT WAS Stockholm, and as the ever-witty 10cc were playing there, Eric Stewart thought it’d be nice to pay a little tribute to a Swedish group and hammered out a few bars of ‘Mamma Mia’.
The audience, fearing that it would be beneath their dignity to acknowledge publicly the importance of this home-grown sound and group, whistled and howled at the gesture.
“C’mon,” Stewart pleaded. “You should be proud of this.”
The audience, for some strange reason, weren’t. Abba are the current kings of Euro-pop but their involvement with the Eurovision Song Contest has made many loth to accept that they have something positive to offer.
Without Eurovision, the world might never have heard of Abba, though it is generally accepted that there is genuine talent within their ranks: a talent for writing good pop songs and recording and performing them, always maintaining an incredibly high standard.
There are a thousand other pop groups on the Continent that we’re never going to hear of, but recently Euro-pop has been playing a more important part in music.
Suddenly, bands and artists are starting to creep into American and British charts. Abba, though they do not attach any significance to the fact that they are continental, would seem to have opened the door that gives other European acts a platform to the world.
From Germany, the music of Silver Convention owes as much to British and American music as Abba’s does. Unlike Abba, who rely on the pop influences, Silver Convention look to the disco soul sound and it’s with that they’ve achieved a success that is almost equalling Abba’s.
They’ve had hit albums and singles in the States and Britain, the most recent being the infectious chugalong ‘Get Up And Boogie’.
The group was formed by producer Michael Kunze at the end of ’74, comprising of Ramona Wulf, Linda G. Thompson and Jackie Carter. Soon afterwards, Penny McLean took the place of Carter and after an appearance the following year at the Midem Festival, the group’s success took off internationally.
Their first single, ‘Save Me’, a minor hit in Britain, scored in 43 other countries, including the lucrative American market.
The second single reinforced this breakthrough. ‘Fly Robin Fly’ went to the top of the US charts but again merely scratched the British surface.
‘Get Up And Boogie’ brought down all the barriers. The three girls also continue to follow successful careers.
Then there’s Demis Roussos, who has just recently been publicly acclaimed in Britain. In four years, Roussos, an Egyptian born of Greek parents who has spent most of his life in Greece, has sold more than six million albums.
He has averaged a gold disc every year since 1968. Quite an achievement. Roussos, a former member of Aphrodite’s Child, has reached the stage now where he could comfortably play a string of concerts in the Royal Albert Hall and not worry about filling them.
‘Moviestar’, by Harpo, also from Sweden, was released on the Continent almost a year ago. A massive hit which Britain rejected, but which Dick James Music, his record company here, were confident would eventually make it and the record came awake about a month ago, deejays picking up on the song and playing it to death.
As usually happens when the Beeb picks up on a record, it was a hit. Harpo, too, struck a blow for Europe.
From Holland, the George Baker Selection were set to follow suit until man-about-pop Jonathan King decided that he’d record a version of their Continental hit, ‘Paloma Blanca’.
Jonathan called it ‘Una Paloma Blanca’, put it out on his own UK label, and, presto, had a hit. After an interesting struggle between the two versions early on, the George Baker Selection’s original conceded defeat.
But ‘Paloma Blanca’ was the group’s sixteenth single. Written by the guitarist, singer and producer, Jans Bouwens, it was number one in Germany for 14 weeks and also went to the top in Austria, Switzerland, South Africa and Italy, positions the group has become accustomed to hitting.
Britain would have been a nice addition but for our Jonathan.
And there are thousands of other continental artists who’re massive there and totally anonymous here.
Throughout the turmoil surrounding their current world-wide success, Abba remain quaintly unaffected and stay in the comfort of their suburban Stockholm homes. They refuse to pursue the glamour that such success inevitably brings, and remember, their success ranges from America to Australia to Japan.
There’s a philosophy attached to this homeliness. Abba, you should know, do not tour much.
Explains Bjorn Ulvaeus: “There are a lot of groups who tour the whole year round. I don’t know how they do it. We couldn’t. We couldn’t live from hotel to hotel. That would kill us. We couldn’t write songs m hotel rooms.”
“This lifestyle suits us perfectly. We can do what we want to do and occasionally we’ll go out and tour and show people that we’re real and that we’re not another factory group. That is one thing we’re not.”
“This lifestyle” is what makes Abba so special. If there is such a thing as “the perfect situation” for a pop/rock band to be in, Abba are close to it.
They don’t have to tour to earn success, having reached that magical state where records sell themselves. They’ve got their own independent organisation in Sweden.
Polar Music is Abba’s own record, publishing and promotion company. (“The only record company in the world that doesn’t release records,” boasted Benny.) From there, they plot their strategy, record their songs and generally take care of business.
With the help of manager Stig Anderson, Abba have become their own bosses, working under their own pressure. Polar gives them invaluable freedom.
There’s more to Abba than ‘that band that won the Eurovision’. Bjorn and Benny had been writing songs for many years before they teamed up with girl-friends Frida (Annifrid) Lynstad and Anna Faltskog, two Scandinavian beauties, who were also successful solo artists.
They agreed to help their boys out in the plans for world domination.
Bjorn and Benny had taken a conscious decision that they would write only in English and desert, for the most part, their native tongue.
After working for a time as Bjorn and Benny, Anna and Frida, and appearing in the Eurovision Song Contest as such in 1973 singing ‘Ring Ring’ (they finished third), the name was changed to the snappier Abba (their initials) for the competition in Brighton the following year.
Their song was ‘Waterloo’; and while our own Olivia Newton-John was crying about not liking her song, ‘Long Live Love’, Abba marched to victory.
“We were aware that ‘Waterloo’ was not a typical Eurovision song,” Bjorn recalled. “A lot of people considered that it was too rocky for the contest, but it was the song we wanted to sing. We wanted it to be different from the rest.”
What Abba didn’t realise was that there was an inbuilt scepticism in the minds of the British to anything Eurovision, that anything on Eurovision, no matter how good or original, was regarded as superficial, to be forgotten with Sunday lunch the next day.
“There seemed to be this thing in England,” said Ulvaeus, “that anything from the Eurovision lacked credibility. But that’s one of the things we’re after. We believe that we’re a credible group and that what we do is worthwhile.”
“It wasn’t frustrating trying to overcome the problem. I knew that if we just kept putting out good singles we’d make it in England sooner or later. We had to.”
“The English are always on the look-out for something new, which is good.”
“I think we’re contributing something positive to music. There is a lack of strong melody, that’s what I think. If you look at the English chart, a month ago there were so many oldies.”
“I suppose that is part of the continental tradition that we have. In places like France and Italy, they love that. It has to be a strong melody to get into the charts. And this is maybe something we can contribute to English pop.”
© Harry Doherty, Melody Maker, 22 May 1976