Outside their home country, Sweden, the ABBA singers have hardly caused a ripple – with the extraordinary exception of Australia, where they are the most popular pop group of all time. Why here? Millions of Australian kids know the answer.
Four-year-old Julie Denham of Sydney recently woke up her parents and solemnly announced that she was running away to Sweden.
“I still love you and mummy,” she told a bemused Kevin Denham, of Lansvale, Sydney. “But I’m going to Sweden to be Anna’s little girl.”
Anna – for the information of those who didn’t buy any of the one and a half million ABBA records sold in Australia over the past year or so – is Agnetha Faltskog, the Swedish Rock/Pop group’s blonde beauty.
It’s toddlers, or “weenies”, like Julie who are a major force behind the group’s staggering success in Australia.
On the record front, ABBA’s single Fernando recently eclipsed The Beatles’ Hey Jude to become the all-time best-selling single in Australian history.
Album sales for the group are by far the most extraordinary in the annals of Australian rock.
ABBA’s four locally released albums have earned more than 100 gold records.
At 15,000 copies for each gold record, that adds up quickly.
But the ABBA phenomenon is not worldwide; apart from Sweden and Australia, the rest of the world is relatively unexposed to the group.
Entrepreneurs have not been slow to recognise the sizable ABBA market in Australia.
Promoters, disc jockeys and psychologists say it is the group’s clean cut image and simple melodic style that is behind the foursome’s extraordinary success with the weenies, tweenies and early teenies.
Clean cut? Well, two of them, Agnetha and guitarist Bjorn Ulvaeus, are married while Anni-Frid Lyngstad and pianist Benny Andersson have pledged their troth. (Their first-name initials make up the groups name.) Simple and melodic? Just listen to Mamma Mia and Fernando.
And that is the type of music a lot of parents will be listening to over the next few months with ABBA-mania reaching fever pitch again.
A new record will soon be released, a souvenir “explosion” – including T-shirts and cigarette cards – is planned, a Swedish television special will be screened and a concert tour is planned for next March.
Never before has a pop group so totally captured the attention of the kids’ market in Australia.
They won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 with their self-penned song, Waterloo.
Waterloo was a hit in Europe, Australia, USA, Hong Kong and South Africa.
The hard-nosed American market will come under ABBA siege later this year when the group makes its US promotional tour.
A recent university survey on the viewing habits of Australian children produced some startling testimony to the popularity of the group in this country.
In one Sydney primary school class alone, 20 children rated ABBA film-clips as their favourite television viewing.
The group has inspired toddlers barely able to write to send off for posters, photos and records.
Every day their tortuous letter-writing efforts pour into the offices of RCA, ABBA’s recording company.
Psychologist Alan Craddock, from Sydney University, has had first hand experience with the ABBA-mania among children.
His four year old daughter, Alison, is an ABBA buff – she sits in front of the television whenever the group makes an appearance.
Although she doesn’t know the lyrics, she sings along with her own version of the song.
Mamma Mia becomes “Memmer Ria”, but she doesn’t seem to mind. Alison, like thousands of other kids, wears an ABBA T-shirt with pride.
Her psychologist dad can’t see any harm in the ABBA craze, and puts their success down to “accessibility”.
“ABBA’s music is readily accessible to kids – they can understand it and participate in it,” he says.
“Heavy rock and classical music are too complex for them to follow.
“I think it’s a participation thing for them – it’s not much different from ‘Play School’ in that they become involved and have fun.”
Veteran Sydney breakfast announcer Gary O’Callaghan is another parent with ABBA-loving children.
He’s got two daughters, Marita, eight, and Lucy, 10.
“I get ABBA from breakfast time ‘till tea,” he says.
“Both my girls know all the lyrics and even have a system worked out so they can’t miss ABBA on television.
“On Saturdays they each watch a different television set on a different channel – when ABBA comes on one of them, there’s a mad rush from one room to the other.
“I’m pestered to enter all the competitions, I’m asked very nicely to buy ABBA records and T-shirts.”
Gary O’Callaghan’s years of experience in radio have given him a good ear for popular music. He says ABBA have made it with the little folk because of their simplicity.
“They don’t go in for musical calisthenics, and I think that is what’s won them the kids’ market.
“Their lyrics are discernible, the melodies are good and they dress very well.”
The retail wizards are well aware of the sway ABBA holds over the yo-yo brigade.
Scanlen’s, the bubble-gum people, are producing a series of ABBA cards, similar to their evergreen footie cards.
Spokesman Bruce Luscombe says: “There can be little doubt that ABBA are extraordinarily popular with kids at the moment. We’re looking at the possibilities of producing a card series on them.”
Reg Grundy’s, the sole merchandising and advertising agents for ABBA in Australia, have several projects on the boil.
Among them are a T-shirt design with 75,000 advance orders – the Woolworths chain will be among the retailers.
A three-dimensional wall plaque, a pendant, replicas of ABBA stage costumes and a book on the group’s history will all be on the market before Christmas.
Grundy’s spokesman Graham Liney is certain the million-dollar-plus venture will bear fruit.
“All our products are aimed at the 10-14 years age group, there can be little doubt that’s where the bulk of ABBA’s following lies,” he says.
“The kids have the influence, but it’s the mums and dads who have the money.
“I don’t think they’d buy ABBA products if they didn’t like the group themselves.”
* Fabian Muir, 7, of Toorak, Melbourne, says: “I like I Do… the best. I’d watch every program where they sing that. I wouldn’t mind if they just sang that and nothing else.”
* Kristine Zacharko, 6, of Parramatta, Adelaide, says: “I like the words, and dance around. Dancing Queen is my favourite.
* James McCarthy, 9, of Jindalee, Brisbane, says: “I just like the sound and you can sing with them. I know all the words.”
* Donna Thornton, 8, of Karrinyup, Perth, says: “I love ABBA because they don’t wear make-up and dress up in mad clothes… they don’t shout and you can hear every word.”
* Dominic Harris, 8, of Melbourne, says: “I like Benny the best. He has a great beard.”
* Rebecca Williams, 5, of Rose Bay, Hobart, says: “If they ever come to Hobart they’ve got to come and stay with us. I like Anna best. She can have my bed.
Photo of ABBA: Why they’re making millions out of our kids. Transcribed for ABBA World
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