ABBA's Benny Andersson reflects on Eurovision win and the credit he still gives to 'Countdown'
The super-group co-founder-turned movie producer reflects on the role Australia played in reviving the band's fortunes post-Eurovision.
In 2005 the public voted ABBA’s 1974 Eurovision entry Waterloo as their favourite Eurovision song winner ever and the long disbanded group, which existed from 1972 till 1982, has never ceased to amaze in the subsequent years. Mamma Mia! the musical, built around 24 ABBA songs, went on to become a 2008 cinematic blockbuster, the most successful movie musical of all time. The band famously declined a $1 billion offer to reform, saying pop music is a young person’s game. (Also, the deal would have come with strings attached, such as committing them to 250 live performances).
Now, after 360 million album and singles sales, they give credit where it is due. And together with Eurovision a lot of the credit goes to us ABBA-loving Aussies.
Whether Guy Sebastian can take the contest by storm remains to be seen, but hey, we at least are in there with a chance.
The fact was not lost on ABBA’s Benny Andersson in our recent Berlin Festival interview.
“You’re in The Eurovision Song Contest all of a sudden I just read,” he enthuses offering support. The well-preserved, determinedly down-to-earth 68 year-old, who seems leaner than in his early years, clearly loves Australians—and our senses of humour—and hearing the words : “G’day”.
“I hear where you are from,” he exclaims, emitting a big grin when we first met.
I tell him how Swedish colleagues say he’s the more intellectual of the two ABBA men.
“Oh come on, none of us are!” he responds definitively.
At first in our interview this self-effacing prodigious talent, who together with Björn Ulvaeus had painstakingly written and arranged ABBA’s anthems, resists talking too much about ABBA and Eurovision as he is here to promote a Swedish-language teen fantasy movie, The Circle, which he has personally financed and produced together with his 33 year-old son, Ludvig. (Ludvig’s mother is Andersson’s second and current wife, Swedish TV presenter Mona Nörklit, whom he married in 1981 just after his divorce from fellow ABBA member Anni-Frid Lyngstad.) Yet once Andersson hears the Australian twang I can't stop him.
Of course he already knows about Countdown’s 40th anniversary as it came hot on the heels of ABBA’s 40th anniversary of their Eurovision win, which was widely celebrated with a book, an exhibition and a Wembley concert DVD compilation culled from six of ABBA’s 1979 Wembley shows and put together by Ludvig, who is also a musician.
“Countdown was essential to us,” Andersson admits. “That's when it really started to happen. After we won the Eurovision Song Contest and had a big hit with Waterloo all over the world, then nothing happened, like often is the way with Eurovision Song Contest contenders. We worked in England and they said, ‘Well not to worry,” he grumbles at the memory. “So from sending us big limousines in the Waterloo period, the cars got smaller and smaller and we had a Volkswagen bus by the end!
“But then we met Lasse Hallström, who made three videos for 'I Do, I Do, I Do', 'SOS' and 'Mamma Mia' for K25,000 [around $4000] which is not much for three videos and they were sent around the world for us, so we weren’t having to travel that much. [ABBA’s Agnetha Fältskog had young children with Ulvaeus and also had a fear of flying.] Then Countdown started to show the videos and it took off. When it started in Australia the different labels around the world realised they were maybe missing something and we started to work again.”
The limousines got bigger?
“Yes they did!”
Anderson recalls that when ABBA came to tour Australia in 1977, the biggest surprise was the merchandising.
“There were ABBA soaps, ABBA towels, ABBA pillows, ABBA everything. There was soap everywhere! I don't know how that happened because we never agreed to anything commercial.”