By Cotton Ward
ABBA was the biggest name in music in Australia from 1975 to 1978.
By March 1977 the Australian market was saturated with one in three Australian households owning an ABBA record.
In January 1976 ABBA equalled the Beatles record by having three singles in top 10 at the same time and in June Fernando sales rocketed past the Beatles’ hit Hey Jude and became the longest standing hit in Australia for a record 15 weeks.
When “Dancing Queen” reached number one in July, ABBA had topped the singles chart for 29 out of the previous 52 weeks.
The album “Arrival” which coincided with the 1977 Australian tour notched up advance sales worth 36 gold records.
The group sustained a rash of pop magazines with titles such as Spunky!, Scream! and Superstar!
There were innumerable pin-up booklets and “exclusive” ABBA fan clubs.
TV Week and TV Times devoted page after page of giant pinups of the group and when they ran out they began throwing in double-page photos of the individual members.
The Australian ABBA market was surveyed in 1977 and was made up of the 10 to 14 age group, with a gap in the 15 to 23 section, and then a group of young men, Mums, Dads and grannies.
Pages were devoted to articles such as numerologists predicting the ABBA fortunes, astrologers delving into the ABBA psyche, psychologists analysing why ABBA made millions out of kids (because their music was “accessible” and “easy to sing along to”) and cooking experts devising recipes so you could eat their fave foods.
When there was nothing left to write, newspapers would conduct ABBA versus the Beatles popularity polls. In The Daily Mirror (Sydney) ABBA beat the moptops 40-1 in June 1976.
The group became massively overexposed between October 19 and November 3 1976 ABBA fans in Sydney saw four TV specials: “ABBA in Sweden” (Ch.7), a repeat of “The Best of ABBA” (Ch.9), “ABBA From The Beginning” (Ch.9, and was shown five other times that year) and “Export From Sweden” (Ch. 9). In November ABBA’s manager Stig Anderson ordered an ABBA blackout.
“We are shown on television once a year in Sweden – compare that with once a day in Australia,” Mr Anderson was reported as saying.
Their record company, RCA, delayed the Greatest Hits album because too many Arrival albums were being pressed to keep up with demand. At the time of their 1977 tour, 250 people in Australia were making ABBA T-shirts. Coles was selling ABBA socks for $1.48 a pair. In a book about the History of the TV program Countdown, host Molly Meldrum recounts how a Swedish promoter offered $5000 for the show to promote a single. However, the band and single were not mentioned.
While they were at their peak in 1977, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser got front row seats at the Melbourne ABBA concert, met the group backstage and got their autographs. “His kids wanted to go,” Mr Fraser’s press secretary explained.
Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen lead an unsuccessful bid to get ABBA to Brisbane.
“I don’t have any ABBA records, but it is a wholesome group not associated with drugs,” Sir Joh said in October 1976.
ABBA was the first big international group to start on the road to fame through Australia.
Waterloo was a modest hit in 1974 in Europe, but follow-up releases failed.
But when Mamma Mia was played on the ABC’s popular music show Countdown in 1976 the response was so strong that Polar Music breached its policy and issued Mamma Mia as a single and it quickly sold 121,000 copies.
Britain woke up and Fernando toppled the Brotherhood of Man’s Save Your Kisses For Me from the highest rung of the UK singles ladder.
Dave Faulkner, lead singer of the Hoodoo Gurus, is a renowned “huge” ABBA fan.
His favourite ABBA memory was of being in a punk rock group called The Victims in 1978 when they played Mamma Mia at Hernando’s Hideaway in Perth.
“At first I had nothing but contempt for ABBA but I grew to like the music.
“I went to see ABBA – The Movie dressed in leather with a stuffed parrot on my shoulder when I was 19 and everyone was singing along and dancing in the aisles. There were all these grannies and kids and I felt like a perverted child molester, the odd one out.”
He said the chords in SOS influenced the Hoodoo Gurus song I Want You Back.
Andy Travis of The Happening Thang said he had also “grown to be an ABBA fan”. “Sometimes we sing Mamma Mia in the middle of our song Tyre Trouble,” Andy said.
He picked up The Best of ABBA album for 99 cents in an Op Shop about four years ago. “It’s like Frampton Comes Alive – you see it everywhere,” Andy said. “I like the kitchness of the group. We have two ABBA pillows in our tour van, and I’m sitting on another one right now.”
“Sometimes we’ve given away ABBA albums at our gigs. They wrote pop masterpieces that instantly appealed to the masses. The melodies are great — you can’t fault their songwriting,” Andy said.
For the group’s 1977 UK tour they had a touring party of 16 singers and musicians, made up of five keyboard players, three guitarists and four backing singers, plus a saxophone players and a rhythm section of a bassplayer, drummer and percussionist.
Apaprt from their individual equipment, they were to be amplified through a 20,000 watt stereo p.a. system and illuminated by about 30 tons of lighting.
Around 40 people were needed to erect and dismantle the equipment, all of which called for highly detailed planning and special road and air cargo transport arrangements.
The members of the group and management team travelled on scheduled flights and the cost of the entire operation worked out at about $20,000 for each day the show was on the road.
During their March 1977 Australian tour, ABBA’s entourage expanded to 40 musicians and 60 film crew who were making ABBA – The Movie.
Scott Morgan of Billy Hyde Stage Systems, Sydney, said ABBA hired two Arbiter Auto-Tune drum kits for the Sydney concert.
“The kit was a mid-1970s fad which died out because they weren’t sturdy enough, the hardware was faulty,” Scott said.
A special feature of the auto-tune meant the drum could be easily tuned by swivelling the drum head around.
ABBA also used two mounted toms (12 x 8 and 13 x 9) and two floor toms (16 x 16 and a 18 x 16).
Each kit had Paiste cymbals, 16 and 18 inch crashers and a 20 inch ride.
The bottom drum heads were removed and microphones placed inside.
“They had a lot of percussion gear: a bell tree, two congas and Ludwig chimes,” Scott said.
All the amps (including keyboards and bass) were by Music Man and they used Ovation classical acoustic and electric guitars, a Fender Telecaster and Stingray bass guitar.
COVERS (as at 1991)
Cover bands: Bjorn Again, Abba-rations, Abba-toir “We butcher ABBA songs”, FABBA (Newcastle band).
AUSTRALIAN COVERS (as at 1991)
Norman Gunston’s Salute To ABBA
Mamma Mia is sung in an pseudo-Italian accent. Innovative use of harmonica.
Young Talent Time Salutes ABBA
A 1976 production featuring Karen Knowles, Debbie Bryne, Derek Redfern and the rest of the Team wearing body-hugging ice-blue lame outfits with silver-fringed tops.
Mini Pops – ABBA Medley
A group of 5 to 10-year-olds singing on a K-Tel classic. Sounds like the chipmunks on speed.
1. Just in case ABBA dropped in during their 1977 tour, Margaret Fulton devised recipes of the pop stars’ favourite dishes – steak in black bean sauce for Agnetha; roast lamb with haricot beans for Bjorn; barbecued spareribs for Frida and Tahitian salad for Benny.
2. Renowned astrologer Richard Sterling revealed the real Abba in their stars, saying Agnetha was “romantically attracted to unusual people”; Bjorn had an “ impulsive, impetuous streak”; Frida’s marriage would not always be “happy or harmonious” and that Benny enjoyed “thrills, adventure and excitement”.
3. In March 1976 ABBA filmed a Bandstand TV special in Sydney which was watched by a greater percentage of Australian viewers than had viewed Neil Armstrong’s moon landing in July 1969. Reg Grundy Productions, which produced the video and co-produced ABBA the Movie, says it cannot find the special.
4. What do Peter Allen, Victoria Nicholls (Sale of the Century hostess) and ABBA have in common? They all promoted National electrical goods. ABBA signed a $1million deal and changed the Fernando lyrics to: “Together we can make the future shine and be ahead of our time with National.”
5. Reg Grundy Productions was the agent for the group and logged 20 requests a day in 1976 from marketing merchandisers. The price for an advertising endorsement was $15,000.
6. The Perth concert was interrupted for 20 minutes mid-way by a bomb hoax.
7. ABBA joined Colonel Clean up and posed for free wearing Keep Australia Beautiful T-shirts to promote an anti-litter campaign in 1977.
8. In April 1976, David Abba, head of the Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service who lived at Lane Cove, was reported as having “met his Waterloo” with the number of telelphone calls from people thinking he had something to do with the super Swedes.
“Sometimes I get calls at 2am from teenyboppers wanting to speak to Benny or Bjorn,” he said. “It’s got to the stage where I can’t lift the phone without people singing songs like Mamma Mia to me.” He had to disconnect his phone and get a silent number.
9. The B-side of one of Agnetha’s 1968 Swedish solo singles was written by Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent, creators of the Neighbours TV soap theme song.
10. Numerologist John Arthur Daley did a two-part two tabloid pages worth of analysis in People magazine predicting ABBA’s future. Agnetha would “undergo tremendous mental agitation”; Bjorn “felt trapped by ABBA and is in a rut”, Frida was “struggling to break free” and Benny wasn’t mentioned.
11. Benny told a Sydney press conference in 1977 that his greatest fear was: “An audience of 30,000 people booing.”
12. The Financial Review predicted in May 1976 that nostalgia collectors would pay dearly for Reg Grundy’s merchandising items such as ABBA dolls and children’s clothes.