While the music industry debates the possibility of another super-group like The Beatles dominating the world market, ABBA, the Swedish quartet which won the Eurovision Song Contest less than three years ago, is already making significant strides in that direction.
Although their albums and singles have been setting records in almost every nation – on both sides of the Iron Curtain – they have yet to achieve that kind of results in the world’s top 2 markets, North America and Japan.
In the US, where they’re distributed by Atlantic Records, the charge is starting to occur. Their first two albums were rather soft in sales, but Greatest Hits has gone gold and is near platinum and their latest Arrival, is approaching gold. At the same time their latest US single release, Dancing Queen, is past 500,000 and selling.
A glance at record sales around the world, including chart positions, shows that ABBA is doing things which haven’t been done before.
In Australia, ABBA’s Arrival album has already sold more than 1,000,000 copies. “That’s in a country of 13,000,000,” said Irwin Steinberg, president of Polygram Inc. in the U.S. Comparative sales in the U.S. would mean 16,380,000 LPs. Steinberg said: “That means we should reassess our concept of depth of penetration of the market. If they can sell that many in Australia, why not more sales on best selling albums in the U.S.?”
Arrival and The Best Of ABBA / Greatest Hits are raking up tremendous sales throughout the world, where they’re being handled by a number of distributors, including Polydor, RCA, CBS Epic, Dig It-MM, Sunshine EMI and their own ABBA label, among others.
The group, an acronym of the first name of Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog, is managed by Stig Anderson, who writes some of the lyrics with the two men, who perform and sing while the women handle most lead vocals.
Anderson, who has guided the fortunes of the quartet since they won the Eurovision Song Contest in April, 1974, and even earlier when they were building toward the competition, developed his formula for success earlier when he was a writer-performer. Basically he believes in maintaining total control of everything, from the time the ideas are converted to tape and wax to the eventual purchase of the disks and beyond.
“The signs in the U.S. now are the same as they were before in other countries. I think it’ll happen in the U.S.” Anderson plans to use the excellent film clips which have helped sell ABBA and their disks in other markets in the U.S. shortly. “They’re produced for us by Lasse Hallström, but we control them, actually produce them, ourselves.”
ABBA opened its first major tour in Oslo on the 28th of January, 1977, touring Europe and winding in London before heading for Australia where they conclude on the 13th of March, 1977. “Previously,” Anderson said, “we had only played Scandinavia and Germany. We have 40 people on the road with four trucks specially built for us by Volvo to carry tons of equipment. It has been a major problem to move everything to Australia from London and it’ll be a good year for Quantas.”
Following the tour, ABBA heads back to Sweden where they’ll write and produce new material. “We’re also doing a full-length film of the tour, but with a story line. It’’ll be in English, with Hallström producing. It should be ready for worldwide release by October 1977, but if we don’t like it, we won’t release it.”
Anderson said they have found ABBA’s audience ranges across the demographic spectrum, from four to 80. “Promoters are astonished when they see the crowds. They tell us it’s the first time it has happened. The film is aimed at the same audience. U.S. film companies have told us they’re looking for this kind of film and we have already been offered big guarantees for North American rights. During the Summer and fall we’ll finish the film and another album.”
One of the reasons cited by most record execs for ABBA’s failure to break big in the U.S. market has been their reluctance to tour. Anderson, however, feels he wants to wait until the demand is much greater and records are selling in large numbers.
“We became the No.1 single and LP group in England without touring and without doing anything on TV except using our film clips. We have done TV in the U.S. and we may go back for another promotional tour in November.
“I’m a no-sayer. There are only 24 hours in a day and we want to enjoy life while we enjoy our success. We want to concentrate on record production. If we don’t believe in a track, we won’t release it. Arrival took a year.
“I’m somewhat frightened of a U.S. tour. When it comes, we’ll have the same problems with the overwhelming publicity we have elsewhere. When we tour the U.S., we’ll play only the big halls and maybe stadiums. We had a deal with a promoter, but it has run out and we won’t make another arrangement until we need someone. We may do some new things, things which have never been done before. And we have a Swedish promoter with whom we work, Thomas Johansson-EMA Telstar.”
Like the bid to handle ABBA on tour, the fight for their recording and publishing rights is a constant one, with representatives of most of their distribs showing up for the Oslo concert.
“The problem with us,” Anderson said, “is we don’t need the money. I don’t deal from a money point of view. I see what they do for us and whether they do it the right way. I don’t believe in worldwide deals, a company can be strong in one region, weak in another. It depends on the people. I go with people I like and hand-pick them territory by territory.
“The Japan contracts with Discomate are up now and we’re in negotiation. We have a few weeks to make a deal. U.S. and Canadian rights with Atlantic are up in August and I’ll start working on that by Easter at the earliest.”
Anderson said the group will remain in Sweden as a home base despite the personal income tax which is up to 85%. “One aspect of the group is that we’re not taking out more money than we need. I’m adding other acts for management, but ABBA is going into other fields.
“We bought one of the biggest art galleries in Sweden, we bought a film theatre, we have our own studio and film production, we’re into real estate, including the hotel and restaurant business and we’ll use the ABBA name where it makes sense.”
ABBA works only in English after having initially released their first hit, Eurovision winner Waterloo, in Swedish, but it doesn’t seem to deter sales.
Anderson thinks his government has been somewhat lax in recognizing their achievements. “The only reaction we’ve had from Sweden has been a letter from the ambassador to Australia. In England we would have been honored by the Queen long ago.” Transcribed for ABBA World
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