It seems everyone took credit for the first rock video. It was actually ABBA who created the form! The Waterloo and SOS clips are definitely recognizable as rock videos. ABBA fully defined the musical format that would prevail into the 21st century. If this is not understood in the U.S., it is because their videos had no forum here. In the 1970s, rock video had not yet taken over television. That happened with the rise of cable.
ABBA Gold and More ABBA Gold are commercial releases of their slickest video hits. The early clips display the energy which characterized ABBA in the 70s. Later ones are situational, a product of the format itself. As with the albums, the videos capture a maturing process.
ABBA dramatized about one/third of their songs. I arranged them chronologically, breaking down commercial packages and adding those which were omitted.
1 People Need Love - The beginning! They gather around Benny's piano. Agnetha looks like a teenager. She still has the gap between her teeth.
2 Love Isn't Easy (But It Sure Is Hard Enough) - They walk toward us. They pair off and act out the lyrics. Look at Agnetha's long hair and the wide lapels on the guys' jackets. They walk away from us in Under Attack.
3 Waterloo - ABBA began their onslaught after Eurovision! A bust of Napoleon is flashed. Agnetha wears her blue cap and pantaloons. Frida has on her cowboy shirt. Benny is on the upright piano. Bjorn plays his Star Wars guitar. They are young and eager! Swedish Waterloo is performed in a bandshell.
4 Ring Ring - ABBA used the peacock fashion of the disco years to their advantage. The wide lapels and platform shoes never distract from the music. Agnetha's two-piece showcases her assets well.
5 SOS - Shots of the group looking up at us. They are dressed for cold weather. Double vision. Agnetha's gap is closed!
6 Mamma Mia - Agnetha's white outfit laces up, and she and Frida turn back to back. The shot of them looking perpendicular to one another is nice, a profile against a full face. They used this technique often. The staccato of Benny's keyboard is accented.
7 I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do - Benny and Bjorn play saxophones. The ladies have glossy sex appeal.
8 Bang-A-Boomerang - Comic book effect! The impact of lovers coming together is compared to the wallop of super heroes. It is obvious that the 4 enjoyed each other's company.
9 So Long - Rare clip in the cat costumes. Platform shoes and knee-high boots. Love those gams!
10 Fernando - Around a campfire. The setting sun and the stars keep props to a minimum. The videos put the girls in our faces!
11 Dancing Queen - Note Benny's keyboard intro. The girls wear jumpsuits in a discotheque. They sing "see that girl" and point to the dancers. Frida bobs, and Agnetha uses her eyes.
12 Knowing Me, Knowing You - Winter scenes. Both couples hugging and kissing. An alternate clip uses boating scenes. Sailing is a favorite sport among Stockholmers and a pastime enjoyed by the quartet. Stockholm sits on the Baltic Sea.
13 Money Money Money - Frida's lead in a wide-brimmed hat. Benny drives the car. Swedish crowns, U.S. dollars!
14 When I Kissed The Teacher - Agnetha kisses him twice, once at the skeleton and again over her geometry. She wears number 32. The classroom reminds me of the library I ran at Castle Heights Military Academy.
15 My Love, My Life - Agnetha's reflections up close. Where is Frida?
16 Tiger - Agnetha drives in this nighttime spin through Stockholm. We sense the tiger's presence!
17 That's Me - In our faces! We get to know them. The girls are mouth-to-mouth, eyeball-to-eyeball. Our eyes follow Agnetha. Seven clips came from the Arrival album.
18 Eagle - The girls, wind-blown, with scenes of a soaring eagle. Swirling colors and Agnetha's searching eyes! Can't help but notice Agnetha's thin eyebrows and rounded earlobes, oval mouth and full bottom lip. Such an interesting face! The alternate was in The Movie.
19 Take A Chance On Me - The girls dance around the guys, who mope. They roll eyes and wink seductively. Agnetha is a knockout! The long curve of her back is so sexy. She wears a red flower in her hair. The alternate aired on The Midnight Special.
20 One Man, One Woman - Overlapping faces. Frida looking great!
21 The Name Of The Game - Swedish parcheesi. Who won? The alternate is in The Movie. That ABBA was able to make two clips of several songs is evidence of their strength during this period.
22 Thank You For The Music - Agnetha in her rabbit outfit. Tongue, eye and hand movements. The girl with the golden hair!
23 SummerNight City - The girls stroll through images of night. They sing back to back. Dawn appears, and they crawl home. Frida seems disgusted with Benny as we glimpse the Royal Palace and City Hall.
24 Voulez-Vous - Discotheque atmosphere with dancers. Agnetha shakes it in her tight pants. Her smile lights up the world! "Voulez-Vous" means "Do you want it?"
25 Chiquitita - In front of a big snowman. "Try once more like you did before."
26 Does Your Mother Know - Bjorn's lead. The only ABBA hit not sung by the girls.
27 Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! - In the studio! Our first look at Michael B. Tretow. This was done the day they left for the U.S. tour. The instrumental interlude is absent.
28 Super Trouper - ABBA is in the midst of a circus troop. The Super Trouper is the spotlight, and Agnetha points to it during the song. Frida wears a turtleneck.
29 Happy New Year - Agnetha sings after the party. She is the flower of womanhood. She joins a depressed Bjorn at the window. The circus people again.
30 The Winner Takes It All - Agnetha's sad face is reflected in Benny's piano. Red heels and blue eye shadow. Black and white photos suggest the past.
31 Lay All Your Love On Me - Terry Byrne did this for club promotions in Chicago, packing action shots into the frame of The Day Before You Came, a condensation of ABBA's career.
32 On And On And On - Stills before a concert audience. The ladies are butterflies. An extra verse is added. Humpty Dumpty!
33 Head Over Heels - Frida is Agnetha's friend. She primps and goes shopping. Bjorn is the henpecked husband.
34 When All Is Said And Done - Frida looking out to sea from a rocky coast. Looking over their shoulders while walking away foreshadows the split.
35 One Of Us - Agnetha moves into her flat after leaving Bjorn. She paints and hangs wallpaper. Among her things is a book called The Divine Garbo. When the Swedish press wanted to irritate Agnetha, it called her the new Garbo. Greta Garbo was Sweden's great movie star who became famous for her reclusiveness. Youth and beauty are fleeting! There is this idea of becoming different people at different times. It derives from the failure of art to capture life. No sooner is the picture taken or the ink dried than we have outgrown them.
36 Hovas Vittne - They put on the Waterloo garb for Stig's 50th birthday. He joins in, and there is flag waving. Sweden's flag is a yellow cross on a blue field. Hovas Vittne means Hova's witness. Hova was Stig's home town.
37 The Day Before You Came - Agnetha makes eyes and has an affair with a man she meets on a train. Pensive and thoughtful.
38 Under Attack - Warehouse setting. They converge and exit through the front door. Droidlike demeanors forecast techno.
ABBA left an incredible amount of material on video! ABBA GOLD, MORE ABBA GOLD, THE MOVIE and THE STORY OF ABBA constitute a core collection. It was not easy to get ABBA video. The problem lay in the difference between American and European VHS systems. Europeans used PAL tapes. Transfer was costly, and copies of copies suffered. I got what was available. My listing is chronological.
ABBA was all over television after winning the Eurovision:
1 TOMMY COOPER HOUR 1974 - The women are lighthouses, beacons to the musical mariner. Agnetha's hair is waist-length.
2 STARPARADE - German TV. Frida points at the audience in her customary way. The couples pair off for "Honey Honey." Cool outfits and plenty of romance!
3 AUSTRIAN TV - Bjorn is duck walking for "Honey Honey" and "So Long." Agnetha in a skirt, Frida in black slacks.
4 DIE AKTUELLE SCHAUBUDE - "Waterloo" on German TV.
5 SEASIDE SPECIAL - ABBA does "Waterloo" in a carnival atmosphere, rides and everything. They could have stepped out of an Elvis movie. "SOS" is a leg show! The folkparks are mentioned in interviews. The Hep Stars and Hootenanny Singers toured them habitually. So did Agnetha and Frida.
6 TOP OF THE POPS in London - "SOS"
7 MOMARKEDET - Wearing the blue panther and yellow cat, the girls spring full-blown from my most redolent fantasies, two strapping fillies coming to the wire! They perform "Waterloo" and "I Do, I Do", and we learn that Sweden hosted the 1975 Eurovision. Momarkedet came from Norway.
MADE IN SWEDEN FOR EXPORT 1975 links ABBA with Swedish favorites and sends them on their way. It is a short set: "Mamma Mia," "I Do, I Do" and "So Long." They emerge from a crate lowered onto a dock. Dock workers labor with Benny's piano as the girls sing "Mamma Mia." They go on a picnic for "I Do, I Do" and are serenaded by saxophones. This is in the days when the couples were in love, and Agnetha and Frida are gorgeous. With "So Long," it is Amazon time! Their dance is done under a strobe light. Frida and those long legs! The enthusiasm is contagious.
ABBA made appearances on weekly rock shows. AMERICAN BANDSTAND drew "SOS" and "I Do, I Do." Dick Clark related to them well. Bjorn speaks the best English. Benny is second, Frida third and Agnetha fourth. Still, Agnetha is the one we want to hear: "8 millions!" They wore the cat costumes a year before retiring them, showing them in different countries. They performed "Fernando" on THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, both guys playing guitar. On DON KIRSHNER'S ROCK CONCERT, they did "Waterloo," "SOS," "Dancing Queen," "Fernando" and "Mamma Mia" in white jump suits. Another time, they did the same repertoire in different costumes. Agnetha wears a green cape and white flared pants. She throws her hip to one side! Magnifique! Frida wears a white cape and skirt. Wonder Women!
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE used "Waterloo" and "SOS" for a comedy sketch. They sing on a sinking ship. It must be the Titanic!
DINAH! showcased "Fernando". Benny and Frida politely declined Dinah Shore's invitation to marry on her show.
MUSIKLADEN SPECIAL 1976 set the pattern for later shows. Nine songs are punctuated by short question and answer periods. ABBA puts on blue suits and bow ties for "Honey Honey" and "Mamma Mia." Each suit sports a different flower. Agnetha and Frida whisper shyly like school girls in class. Benny and Bjorn talk candidly about having control over every aspect of the music. They are an industry within an industry. It shows to what extent they wanted to do this. I wanted to step into the television and be part of it. I had no idea they were doing these shows then. Auras around them during "Fernando" presage Olivia Newton-John's disco movie, Xanadu.
There was a Swedish ABBADABBADOO and one for Engish audiences. We visit the house where Benny and Bjorn compose. They discuss their approach to songwriting and the importance of melody. Agnetha tells how nervous she was making her first record and how her father brought her to Stockholm. She looks so beautiful and innocent! Frida talks about the fun of performing. All four are open to the questions put to them. They are quite articulate! The show includes the video of When I Kissed The Teacher. For "Money Money Money," they don cabaret outfits. Agnetha swings her arms and prances. A flapper! "Dum Dum Diddle" is delicious! The Swedish ABBADABBADOO contains material edited out of the English one. Of the baby pictures, Benny is the most recognizable even without the beard. We share a nighttime spin in the elusive Tiger video.
Back in the States for a kids' show called WONDERAMA, it is standard fare: "Mamma Mia," "SOS" and "Fernando." They wear karate outfits, and the kids love it. Benny greets them in Swedish.
ABBA IN POLAND begins with introductions on the plane. Benny explains the significance of the inverted B. It represents two couples, each B turned toward one of the As. "Nina, Pretty Ballerina" accompanies their arrival. Agnetha and Bjorn are reunited after taking separate planes. Agnetha is wearing her Superstar sweater. Once in Studio 2, they do a set of seven numbers. Agnetha pouts and knits her brow during "My Love, My Life". Frida cannot suppress her wiggle at the end of "Knowing Me, Knowing You" while Agnetha smiles in deference. Both ladies are radiant during the pause of "Fernando," two flowers in a vase! Plastic pillows fall for "Tiger", and "Fernando" is repeated as an encore. They wear white, the jump suits and karate outfits. There is an understanding between Benny and Bjorn that Bjorn takes the kidding when joke time comes. Benny retains his dignity. An example is on the plane when Benny says of Bjorn, "Yes, he's a bit backwards all the time!" There are exceptions. On a later show, they kid each other for growing beards to hide their round faces.
For the AUSTRALIAN SPECIAL 1976, ABBA lip synched 12 songs from the early albums. "Hasta Manana" and "Tropical Loveland" are surprises. They talk and show native animals. Bjorn has a snake, Frida a opossum and Benny a cockatoo. Agnetha prefers the park ranger. Skirts come off for "Waterloo", and Agnetha gives her all for "Honey Honey." "So Long" ends with their dance, flying arms and hair!
While in Australia, they did COMMERCIALS FOR NATIONAL, an electronics firm. They are shown using sound equipment and home appliances. The jingle is to the tune of "Fernando."
The DON LANE SHOW in Australia featured an amusing interview.
ABBA THE MOVIE
The big rock movie of 1977 was Saturday Night Fever. The Bee Gees provided the music. It was such a box office hit that it labeled them a one album group. A decade later, they were still trying to shake free from it. In the shadow of Saturday Night Fever, was ABBA The Movie. It was a success around the world but went unnoticed in the States. It was 12 years before I saw it! ABBA The Movie is about a deejay named Ashley who follows ABBA around on their Australian tour, hoping to get an interview. They lead him to Sydney, Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne. Along the way, he tapes comments from fans. At the film's end, he catches ABBA in an elevator and gets his interview. Mixed in with the plot are scenes from the concerts. Frida struts boldly in hot pants, prowling the stage like a female Elvis! Agnetha teases the crowd with her bottom during "Money Money Money" and "He Is Your Brother!" She knows what she is doing. A cross section is provided of what had been done up to that time:
"Tiger" - When Agnetha flashes her eyes, we are mesmerized! The women are the stars. It makes for a more palatable situation. Agnetha and Frida serve as role models for girls and provide fantasizing males with a veritable feast.
"Money Money Money" - The Money Money Money video is always shown when finances are discussed. In The Movie, it is accompanied by scenes of merchandise being sold. Hype surrounded ABBA as it did Elvis and The Beatles.
"He Is Your Brother" - Agnetha and Benny mix it up!
"Intermezzo no. 1" - Benny shows off.
"Waterloo" - Mike Watson dressed as Napoleon for the album cover. It was not Stig as I once thought.
"Rock Me" - Bjorn! What a stud!
"I've Been Waiting For You" - Waiting for Ashley. The girls sound like angels.
"The Name Of The Game" - Two videos in the film center around Ashley. The Name Of The Game is his dream. He lives his fantasy of getting the interview with ABBA, and they treat him like royalty. The song is packed with questions like an interview would be. Eagle is the second video.
"Ring Ring" - Little girls sing!
"Why Did It Have To Be Me" - Frida struts uninhibitedly. She is a tigress, stalking her prey. Her microphone stand serves as a barbell as she flexes her bicep.
"I'm A Marionette"/"Get On The Carousel" - They girls wear blonde wigs, and we see the paradox: one woman with two personalities. In the mini-musical, The Girl With The Golden Hair, the girl receives local recognition, braves the world at large and finds it a rat race. She becomes robotic, impersonating herself. This is Agnetha's story. The prologue and the mime add to the surrealism.
"Dancing Queen" - The long introduction builds excitement! The ladies make an entrance.
"So Long" - Saying goodbye to Australia. The dance at the end recalls the big band era.
"Eagle" - The waking interview takes place during "Eagle." Our heroes came flying, and Ashley loves hearing their stories. Like good friends, they answer his questions. He is no longer dreaming. The bird is a bald eagle, which does not mean he has no hair. It means his head is white. "Bald" is an old English word for white.
"Thank You For The Music" - Signature tune! Agnetha gets a surge as Benny and Bjorn watch from the control room. Benny told of how The Movie started out as a desire to have a personal record of their time in Australia and grew into a feature film. Benny, like the others, has a way of understating accomplishments. The Movie contains a press conference in which the four respond to what seem to be impromptu questions. The thing coming across is ABBA's knack for keeping stardom in perspective. The Movie was directed by Lasse Hallstrom, the same guy who directed the videos. It builds onto A Hard Day's Night. The Beatles traveled to London for a television show. ABBA flew to Australia for a concert tour.
Summary of THE MOVIE
It is sunrise in Sydney, Australia. Kangaroos are awakening, and disc jockey Ashley Wallace is wrapping up his all night radio show. He meets with his boss and gets an assignment to interview ABBA. Suddenly, he is at the airport. ABBA's plane has landed, and they are in the terminal. Agnetha hugs a security officer. Ashley misses them. He rents a car and drives to the press conference. He gets caught in traffic and misses them again. At the press conference, ABBA fields questions about money, traveling and Agnetha's bottom. Ashley stalks them unsuccessfully at the Sydney Opera House, where they have convened for a photo shoot. We cut to the concert! It is nighttime, and it is raining. Ashley shows up. He cannot get in because he has no press card. Short on cash, he is harassed by a ticket scalper. Bjorn comments on the rain, and they leave the stage to fireworks. Meanwhile, Ashley lies to his boss by telephone. He runs out and buys ABBA merchandise. He tracks them to Perth. In Perth, he interviews fans using his tape recorder. He sneaks into the concert. ABBA's bodyguard catches him and throws him out. He tries to reach them in their hotel. ABBA is reading reviews on their beds. Agnetha's bottom is news! The bodyguard hears a ruckus outside the door, and Ashley is ushered out. That night in bed, he dreams of ABBA! Agnetha and Frida dote on him. His dream is interrupted by the phone, and he tells his boss he is trailing them to Adelaide. In Adelaide, the road crew struggles with the stage as Benny tries out the seating. Vendors sell buttons and posters, and girls argue whether or not ABBA is sexy. Ashley is desperate! He boards the plane for Melbourne. There is pushing and shoving as ABBA enters their room. The look on Agnetha's face says this confusion may have been real. In Melbourne, Ashley crashes the barrier. Stig promises him an interview early the next morning, and he attends the concert that night assured. Fans in the audience light sparklers, and Frida takes one. The unlucky disc jockey oversleeps, awakened by a passing parade. ABBA makes a final appearance, waving from their balcony. Ashley thinks all is lost and refuses his belated press card. Then, the elevator opens, and there they are: ABBA! Ashley gets his interview! Ecstatic, he rushes to the radio station. The cabby is the same actor who plays the bodyguard. He gives a scathing critique. The program airs in the nick of time! As ABBA gets on the plane, Benny expresses regret about leaving. The jet wings its way to Stockholm. Back on their island, we spot them through the window of their summer house. Agnetha plays with a daisy as credits roll and the camera pans the archipelago.
A guest spot on OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN'S 1978 SPECIAL was part of ABBA's push into America. They perform "Dancing Queen," "Fernando" and "Take A Chance On Me". "Dancing Queen" sounds more rhythmic, more Americanized. There is a jam session with Olivia in the mold of Elvis' 68 Comeback Special. They do "Jailhouse Rock," which was the first record Benny bought. Olivia was an Australian version of Agnetha. Her popularity was partly due to her not becoming a mother until she was almost 40. Agnetha had two children in her 20s. Motherhood affects the career of any singer or actress. It is hard to be glamorous while changing diapers, which is why Agnetha blossomed as a composer instead of Frida. Frida had kids even younger.
ABBA appeared on JAMES LAST'S STARPARADE for German television. Dressed as they were on the Olivia Special, they do "Take A Chance On Me", "Eagle" and "Thank You For The Music".
A show from Switzerland was built around an interview in the studio. Beneath gold discs on the the wall, they discuss their image in the Swedish press and the effect of women's liberation groups.
ABBA IN JAPAN was a special for Japanese television. The usual method was to do TV in countries and then follow up with concerts. The group offers bits of information between songs. Agnetha and Frida wear shiny red and blue body suits for three numbers. Frida's physique is awesome on "Tiger!" She dwarfs her Japanese partner. Both women are statuesque, listed at 5'8". Frida weighs 125 pounds. Agnetha weighs 123 pounds. They don animal costumes for "Waterloo." Foxy Frida! Two seldom performed songs are "That's Me" and "If It Wasn't For The Nights." "Thank You For The Music" is the closer, a tradition. There are a number of costume changes. Agnetha and Frida always dressed in a similar manner but never identically. It might be a different colored sash or a different species of flower. Complementary looks and movements made an effective stage presence. Owe Sandstrom designed their clothes.
ABBA did a short, high-powered set for the JAPANESE MUSIC FAIR. They are on top of their game, young and strong. In the black UNICEF outfits, they do "Dancing Queen," "Take A Chance On Me," "SummerNight City" and "Thank You For The Music." You get the feeling they are crashing through a brick wall!
"If It Wasn't For The Nights" was done on the MIKE YARWOOD SHOW 1978. Agnetha looks from side to side as she sings "staring at the wall." As part of a comedy bit, they imitate their host's sissified catch phrases. Agnetha says she is exhausted from playing the piano since she was six. She is irresistible during "Thank You For The Music" as she winks and points to her head, pouring it on with the golden hair.
UNICEF: A GIFT OF SONG aired in January, 1979. They wear black for their song at the U.N. Benny brings his white piano. They sing "Chiquitita," and Agnetha and Frida shine as consummate performers. They remained proud of this song. There is plenty of help on "He Is Your Brother." Joining them are Rod Stewart and Olivia Newton-John. UNICEF is the United Nations Children's Fund.
ABBA IN SWITZERLAND (SNOWTIME SPECIAL) features tunes from Voulez-Vous. They open in the U.N. costumes. Three sleepers are "The King Has Lost His Crown", Kisses Of Fire" and "Lovers (Live A Little Longer)". This is a high-spirited and colorful performance. There is insinuation in the comments about long, Swedish nights. They engage in winter sports, getting on skis for "The Name Of The Game" and on ice skates for "Hole In Your Soul." Frida makes a pitch for the UNICEF Year Of The Child, and "Mamma Mia" gets the nod. "Mamma Mia" and "Slipping Through My Fingers" are ideal for children. My son Michael was singing them when he was five years old. This show is done in the mountain resort of Leysin. A helicopter picks them up at the airport and takes them there. The United Nations' European headquarters is in Geneva.
News shows covered ABBA's ascendancy. Stig introduced the group on 20/20 and described their personalities. History is traced, and their contribution to UNICEF is noted. 20/20 ends with "Thank You For The Music" after Stig has answered tough questions about investments, money and merchandise. CBS News interviewed them relative to the upcoming U.S. tour. They absorb shocks for one another during interviews.
5 JAAR ABBA is a commemoration of the years following Eurovision. History is woven into a series of videos. This show is from Holland and in the Dutch, so I cannot understand a word. ABBA transcends language! Or they are a language within themselves. ABBA fans across the world comprise a nation. Race, religion, language, and economic and political systems dissolve in the heat of this musical melting pot. No other recording group comes close to having such powers of unification. They represent the highest goals of the United Nations and the purest instincts of human kind. I should feel safer in parts of the world with a membership card from an ABBA fan club than I would with an American passport.
A fan taped the concert in Dortmund, Germany. Agnetha performs "I'm Still Alive". This is the same show they took to the U.S. and to Wembley.
London's WEMBLEY ARENA CONCERT 1979 encompassed footage from the American tour. The group maps out the tour on a cake shaped like the U.S. The cities are mostly across the north. In London, they wear blue and white spandex against a background of icebergs. The concert is a grand one, and ABBA is well-poised! Frida's dance routine for "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" exhibits the movements and grace of a professional dancer. The women look six feet tall! "Voulez-Vous" is smooth. "Hole In Your Soul" has more fire than the album cut. And isn't it provocative when the women kneel beside the jamming Lasse Wellander? Benny tickles the ivories midway through "I Have A Dream," and Agnetha's daughter, Linda, makes an appearance. As a finale, Benny drags out the accordion for "The Way Old Friends Do". This live version is on the Super Trouper album.
ABBA did a Spanish special, 300 MILLONES (300 MILES). They did nothing halfway. We see the footage used in the Wembley concert, the American tour. Read Agnetha's lips when she bites into her ice cream! The 6 minute version of "Voulez-Vous is sexy!
Casey Kasem, host of AMERICA'S TOP TEN, recognized them as Holland's top group for 1980.
To AMERICAN BANDSTAND, ABBA sent an excerpt from German TV featuring "The Winner Takes It All." Agnetha is in pink. Frida wears purple. Dick Clark calls them the world's biggest group.
ABBA received a "Georgie" from the AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS in Los Angeles. The acceptance speech was taped in Stockholm. Bjorn's meticulous choice of words elicits empathy in spite of their being too busy to make an appearance. "On And On And On" is shown from Show Express, the same show the Dick Clark tape came from. They get down!
My favorite concert was part of DICK CAVETT MEETS ABBA 1981. After a meandering interview, they cut loose before a studio audience. They run through "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!," "Super Trouper," "Two For The Price Of One," "Slipping Through My Fingers," "Me And I," "Knowing Me Knowing You," "SummerNight City," "Thank You For The Music" & "On And On And On." "SummerNight City" retains its eerie prelude, and Benny rocks the house with "On And On And On." Agnetha bites her bottom lip during Slipping Through My Fingers. It is her way of absorbing emotion. She does it when performing "Chiquitita." This is in their final months together, and there is a mature look. They are great! The ladies wear lacy blouses and leather trousers. They could have stepped out of a painting by one of the Old Masters. When their eyes meet, electricity jumps between them! I wanted to freeze the picture and keep them together. The show was taped in Sweden, and Cavett is condescending. The best part of the interview is hearing Agnetha tell how her mother reminds her of the time she lost her knickers while singing Billy Boy. Cavett is curious as to how they avoid sex scandals. Well, are not scandals promulgated by the enemies of the people involved in them? ABBA makes no enemies! Even those who laugh at their musical innocence find it impossible to wish them harm.
THE INDISCREET LETTER is an interview given in Stockholm to be shown in Argentina. It is December, 1981. It starts with a game in which they answer funny and sometimes embarrassing questions. If Frida were an animal, Benny calls her a snake. Watch her reaction! If Agnetha were a song, Bjorn calls her "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick." It is all in fun! The interview probes. Each member is interrogated about his or her opinion of the others. Answers range from flattery to playful charges of stubbornness. We sense the comfort and trust they feel in each other's presence. They will not sabotage. Benny wrestles with questions about age and other serious matters that seem to anticipate his thinking in CHESS. Bjorn reveals that "Slipping Through My Fingers" is about Linda. This show is revealing, and I like what I see. The only tragedy in ABBA is the way the camera slowly records their transition from two hot, young couples to a four-way business arrangement. Two questions crisscross B&B with each other's ex-spouses. Would Bjorn wear Frida's socks? What would Benny do if trapped in an elevator with Agnetha? I guess the swap idea crossed a few people's minds. It did mine! When you study the tapes, you see that Bjorn and Frida interact more on stage. The two extroverts! Some of it is due to Benny being stationary at the keyboard. For a decade, there was always a marriage within the group. ABBA kept one foot in the legal world and one foot in the realm of free love. They had something for everyone! Agnetha is a delight I cannot define what it is. There is just something about the way that cute, little tongue darts out and licks that top lip. And she cooks! Agnetha pronounces spaghetti like spa-gett-t. The Swedish accent! She is quizzed about her domestic side, life on her island retreat. She talks of sleeping habits, clothes and her relationship with her kids. When asked if she prefers cinema, theater, reading or music, she replies, "I like everything of that." I am honest in disagreeing with Frida about Phil Collins, so I will state my differences with Agnetha about her favorites. I cringe when she says whom she listens to. My taste is in line with Benny and Bjorn's, more writer-based.
THE STORY OF ABBA (1982) documents early biography and their 10 year history as a group. Snatches of videos are alternated with interviews. "Waterloo" is performed after winning the Eurovision, and the Ring Ring and Honey Honey videos sizzle! When Agnetha extends her derriere, she takes our breath! She responds with modesty and composure when asked about the "sexy bottom" issue. You can tell that on one hand she likes it and on the other hand she knows she must be demure. She explains why "The Winner Takes It All" is her favorite and comments on long walks with her dog. The performance of "Dancing Queen" at the royal wedding is enchanting. They wear period costumes, and the ladies kneel before their sovereigns. In retrospect, Bjorn says the lyrics reflect their combined experiences. All factors contributed equally to their success. Benny is the most intent on trying something new when asked about future plans.
ABBA appeared on THE LATE, LATE BREAKFAST SHOW via satellite from Stockholm. They answer silly questions similar to the ones they were given for The Indiscreet Letter. They are sharp! When Bjorn answers that his least favorite garment was the one he wore for Eurovision because it was too tight, Frida jokingly tells him he was "thick," meaning he was pregnant. Frida is now in sync with Bjorn, and Benny and Agnetha are juxtaposed. By now, ABBA's sphere of influence has shrunk to the surrounding European countries. It happened quickly, and I never heard "Under Attack" when it was out. Hawking The Singles on another BREAKFAST SHOW, each member names a selection as his or her favorite. Frida has lost her girlishness and makes light of the press' disparaging remark. Historians, take note! Bjorn describes the conditions under which they might split too well. Despite disclaimers, rigor mortis has set in! The interviewer senses the unspeakable.
Agnetha and Benny took phone calls on SATURDAY SUPERSTORE in London. Benny divulges plans for CHESS. It is obvious that the passion they require will be derived from separate projects. Has ABBA failed? Is their kind of success no longer a challenge? Is it winged victory, that no matter what we do, we must still prove ourselves!
They performed their final songs for German television, SHOW EXPRESS, November 11, 1982. It is the last appearance together before the Stig reunion. Agnetha does "The Day Before You Came", and the others are rolled out. Frida is perched on Benny's piano. She dances and claps her hands above her head at the end of "Cassandra." Benny and Bjorn wear the coats and ties with which they became identified. By now, Bjorn has grown a beard and Agnetha is wearing a headband, a popular thing with women around this time. No matter what has gone on in the entertainment world in six decades, ABBA has done something similar and done it better! They bow in Beatle fashion. These songs may have been meant for the Opus 10 album. But it consisted of art songs like "Cassandra" and dummy lyrics like "Every Good Man." There were no chart candidates, and Opus 10 was abandoned.
For PROFILES IN ROCK, FREEZE FRAME ABBA, Bob Hamilton put questions to Agnetha, Frida, Benny and Stig about the future, what they have accomplished and the meaning of ABBA. Hamilton is pushy! When he abruptly asks Benny what he thinks of Stig, Benny hesitates. The look on his face reads, "What kind of question is that?" Stig is as cocksure about his accomplishments as ever, and it takes Frida to bring Hamilton under control. Despite Hamilton's rudeness, these are real questions. ABBA cannot grasp breaking up in the American or British sense.
ABBABALLET interpreted songs to Birgit Cullberg's choreography. One looks for meaning in the choice of songs or in their sequence. Generally, youth is toward the front, sex and politics (war) in the middle and age in the rear. The order does not seem conscious, and the 15 numbers smack of a smorgasbord. Songs that normally do not get attention are "Watch Out," "Andante Andante," "The Visitors," "Soldiers" and "Like An Angel Passing through My Room." We are titillated by the daring of "Andante Andante." Its eroticism is overt, the dancers tying themselves in knots. I am no connoisseur of ballet, but this style of dance is bearable when performed to ABBA songs. More proof that ABBA is a complete entertainment package!
ABBACADABRA bridged the gap between The Girl With The Golden Hair and CHESS.
On THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TRACKS (1985), Benny and Bjorn were interviewed for a British audience. There is a retrospective of hits, but the focus is on their evolution as writers. CHESS is the thing now! They squirm when asked to compare Agnetha'a ability with Frida's. Agnetha gets labeled the interpreter, and Frida the natural singer. Some might quarrel: "My ex-wife is better than your ex-wife!" It is the complicity between Benny and Bjorn that impresses. Neither tries to get an edge. Divorce is handled well. Everyone is better off, they agree. Bjorn gets fidgety when the interviewer points out the autobiographical element in "The Winner Takes It All." "You don't write from nothing," he replies. What makes their interviews interesting is the way they meet questions head on. If they do not know an answer, they try to figure it out. Benny discusses commercialism in music. You do what is in you, and people either buy it or they do not. That writers contort themselves to write for others is a myth. As time went on, they specialized with Benny taking the musical load and Bjorn turning into a lyricist. The music coming first, they reached the point of laying tracks before writing lyrics. That Bjorn felt comfortable writing lyrics to finished music is expressed in "I Let The Music Speak". Benny tells how they worked with Tim Rice. They wrote music for each scene in his synopsis. Rice then added lyrics. They recognize a discrepancy between what is in their heads and what goes on tape. The last part of the show features Bjorn and Tim making jokes.
THIS IS YOUR LIFE, STIG 1986 was for die-hards. It is largely in Swedish. Stig's life is reviewed, and various artists sing his compositions. When it is brought out that Stig is not typically Swedish, I thought of the spelling of his name. He dropped the second s from Anderson to be more accessible to the British. Benny retains both ss. ABBA reunited for this show. They performed "Tived-Shambo," and the mini-reunion spawned rumors. But ABBA had gone home, and this show is a looking back, a reflection on what had been done. It became necessary to reestablish old ties, to lick wounds. This sense of homecoming is also strong in A For Agnetha. Stig is visited by Gorel Hanser. She was in management at Polar and became president of Mono Music. Gorel has Benny and Bjorn's trust. "Tived-Shambo" showed that these people are still friends and will sing together if there is a reason to. It is impossible to overestimate Stig's importance to the group. He was a one-man music machine when Benny and Bjorn were kids, the only man in Sweden with contacts. "Ljuva 60-Tal" is featured and reeks of the decadence that pervaded Europe between the wars. ABBA first appeared as a unit just months after The Beatles announced their breakup, playing a restaurant in Gothenburg on November 1, 1970, using the name, Festfolket (Party People)
The revival began in Europe. ABBA Gold sold eleven million CDs while going to number one in 15 countries. A show was done in England called A FOR ABBA in which writers and artists explain the lasting appeal of this music. Benny and Bjorn wrote from the female perspective. They wrote what the women were feeling. That made them unique. A criticism of Agnetha's and Frida's solo material is that it was composed by males with no knack for the feminine touch. As for assertions of clumsiness, Bjorn grudgingly yielded to his critics. He wanted his lyrics to have meaning and believed they did. His lyrics evolved to being better suited to musicals: epic plot and characters. ABBA Gold was released in the U.S. in the fall of 1993, and stayed in the Billboard charts 104 weeks.
THANK YOU ABBA, another look at the legacy, assembled manager Stig Anderson, engineer Michael B. Tretow, costume designer Owe Sandstrom and art director Rune Soderqvist. Sandstrom and his clothes steal the show! He defends them against those who would save the music and trash the fashion. An unwritten law of the revival was that ABBA had to be divested of the glitter. No doubt the costumes contributed much, a counterpoint to the melancholy of some of the lyrics. Tretow says he appreciates the girls' talents even more in retrospect, the ease of working with them. Stig resigns himself to being left behind. It is disconcerting to watch people age.
An Australian movie called Muriel's Wedding used five tracks as the music of the 1970s penetrated the 1990s.
ABBA tribute bands flourished: Bjorn Again, Arrival and Bjorn Baby Bjorn. I saw Bjorn Again twice: once in Washington, D.C. and once in Nashville.
June 3, 1997, my cousin and I drove to Washington, D.C., to see Bjorn Again at the Capital Ballroom. We glimpsed the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building. The Ballroom was behind the Capitol, and I glimpsed the Statue of Freedom atop the dome. The Ballroom was a discotheque with a '70s theme. My cousin got his wish when the girls performed in the cat costumes. White knee-high boots accented sumptuous thighs! There was choreography and interplay between the girls. Bjorn Again is from Australia, and they are the best of the tribute bands. They performed 18 songs.
VH-1 was to be congratulated on its 8-TRACK FLASHBACK with host David Cassidy. "Take A Chance On Me" only reached number three, however, and Benny Andersson's work with Orsa Spelman was folk music, not Swedish jazz. VH-1 adopted ABBA! They showed the MUSIKLADEN SPECIAL and the AMERICAN BANDSTAND gig. When they ran THE MOVIE, Terry Byrne was their guest. Bjorn remained loquacious through the revival. He denied wife-swapping, "Frida wouldn't have liked it," and confessed to smoking marijuana. When he expressed shame about the costumes, he must have been thinking of the cape he wore for STARPARADE. The '70s thing was nostalgia. ABBA is not nostalgia! They will entertain and be interpreted by future generations along with Elvis Presley and The Beatles.
ABBA used radio. Tim Browne interviewed them in 1977 to promote Arrival. His show is quite thorough about the preABBA years, and we get a sense of this quartet rising from its peers, the cream of the Swedish music business. Benny and Bjorn elaborate on how it is in the studio, and Browne cites them as pioneers in rock video. Indeed, the visual dimension is ABBA's great contribution. Elvis Presley invented rock n' roll in Memphis in 1954. The Beatles enlarged it a decade later and in the 1970s, ABBA feminized it. Shania Twain ultimately took it to Nashville and into the new millennium. Browne's interview was in London.
Robert Morgan's interview at the UNICEF CONCERT in January, 1979, aired on his SPECIAL OF THE WEEK. ABBA handled themselves well during interviews, shedding light on the nature of their art. Benny plays down the idea of having any particular sound. There were comparisons to the wall of sound employed by Phil Spector. Benny says they just fill up holes to create a weblike effect. If the wall of sound was a phase, they got beyond it. Arrangements like those of "I Wonder (Departure)" and "Head Over Heels" show how versatile ABBA could be. Bjorn tells how he and Benny wrote their first song in the paper mill where his father worked on the night they met. Agnetha reflects on the importance of writing all the time since it is hard to resume. Frida admits she had trouble making it before ABBA.
Englishman Ray Moore interviewed them extensively in his THIS IS ABBA segment. Several points are clarified. The guys are quick to downplay their role in the Eurovision Song Contest. They make it clear that the contest was a means of gaining exposure and not an end in itself. Bjorn intimates that The Beatles turned him against folk music. I like Moore's comment about ABBA music being full of surprises. He points out the age spread among their fans.
BOB HAMILTON'S RADIO REPORT 1982 originated from Polar Studios in Stockholm. There is the usual rehash of history. Bjorn and Stig met in 1963. Benny and Bjorn met on tour. Stig thought of them as writers but not as artists. Agnetha and Frida knew each other from television shows. ABBA went by Engaged Couples in 1970 and for a while, Agnetha and Frida were called Svenska Flicka (Swedish Girls). Hamiliton speaks of family in reference to what he sees at Polar. From the American point of view, the entire Swedish nation is a family.
Dick Clark looked back at ABBA on ROCK, ROLL AND REMEMBER.
THE REVIVAL ON RADIO
As music went retro, radio stations went to '70s formats. Saturday night disco shows played ABBA on compact discs.
CROSSTALK, a Chicago radio show, did a special in 1994. Terry Byrne was behind it. The climax came when Gorel Hanser was asked the age-old question of whether the group would get back together. Bjorn finally said they would not reunite because it would "take away from what is there."
A national radio show called Yesterday Live spotlighted ABBA. Deejay Dick Bartley made harsh comments about "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do," then softened, noting the haunting quality of "The Name Of The Game."
In November, 1996, President Bill Clinton was re-elected as if to validate the revival. Clinton was more than a new Jimmy Carter. He seemed the embodiment and promise of Kennedy, destined to be the first two term Democrat since Roosevelt. The revival continued as long as ABBA themselves lasted. The election of George W. Bush in 2000 and the 9/11 attacks brought a return to conservative ideas. But like the phoenix of Greek mythology, ABBA rises from its ashes!
ABBA did not have gay fans in the '70s, or at least no one was aware of them. It was in the '90s that gays like Andy Bell of Erasure voiced support for ABBA. Supposedly, the revival began in the gay clubs of Europe. For me, it grew out of my own effort. I thought I was the one who started it until I hooked up with the ABBF fan club in Holland. My kind of music disappeared after 1982. In 1988, I said I was going to bring ABBA back if I had to do it single-handed. Apparently, a lot of other people were thinking the same thing. The revival has pretty much been continuous since. I do not understand the gay thing, nor do Benny and Bjorn.
The Revival carried to the summer of 2008. The Mamma Mia! movie was released in the U.S. on July 18. It starred Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan and featured 20 ABBA songs. Once again, ABBA was on the charts!
July 31, 2009, I saw a Nashville-based ABBA band called Knowing Me, Knowing You at 3rd & Lindsley. ABBA goes on! They were inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.