It’s June 1975 and I’m working on a passenger ferry. It’s not my shift, so I have lots of time to sit around doing nothing. The muzak in the restaurant consists of a not very long loop of Abba songs, and I groan as I hear “Mamma Mia, here I go again…”. I wish they wouldn’t go again. And again. I’m a not very cool teenager, but at least I’m cool enough not to be into Abba. Hence the groans.
It’s some time in 1993 and I’m in my neighbour’s car, and Abba Gold is playing on the radio. My (English) neighbour sings along happily, and I feel a little sorry for her. Then I realise she is so much younger than I, and will have been at a very impressionable age in 1974. I can’t blame her for being a fan.
Soon, of course, I grow up and realise that Abba are quite good. Actually. I start to feel proud. Offspring who have no unwanted baggage about being cool, like the music, and Daughter picks out Super Trouper on the piano without help, because she is keen. Balance is eventually achieved when she asks her Chinese piano teacher for help with Mamma Mia. She has never heard of Abba. I’m almost affronted, but she is only 21 and comes from Shanghai.
I give Daughter tickets to see Mamma Mia! in London with me for her eighth birthday. We soon return, with the rest of the family, the disdain I felt when my fellow Swedes here talked about having seen the show several times, gone. So much for that early cool.
ABBA – The Story by Carl Magnus Palm makes me a little bit nostalgic. It was nice to find myself back in the sixties, way before cool. Not much of the early years of Abba is new to me. That kind of information is something you just know, somehow. But it was good to get back to the Swedish pop scene of forty years ago. The Hep Stars were my absolute favourites, I quite liked the Hootenanny Singers, and I admired Agnetha Fältskog from the start.
Reading a book by a Swede, for Swedes, means that not much has to be explained. The author can concentrate on what happened and what people did. Though it’s worth noting that Carl Magnus was barely born in those days, so didn’t experience it himself. He’s done a great job, and from what I gather he’s the authority on Abba, and has several other Abba books, including ones in English, already out.
This book deals competently with all that happened, starting with each of the four, plus Stikkan Anderson, as children, and taking the reader along their varied routes to stardom. For me it was the early years of Stikkan and Anni-Frid Lyngstad that were particularly interesting. The other three had more ordinary beginnings, whereas these two really had to pull themselves up with their boot straps. Very admirable.
It’s quite normal reading about the way up, because you sort of know what happened. And even though you also know how it ended, it’s much harder reading about that, but it’s logical. Things can’t stay the same forever. And Carl Magnus knows why I wasn’t so keen on Abba in those days. He also knows why I like them now, so it would appear I’m not unique at all.
There is a lot on the composing of all the famous songs, quite a bit about the possibly dubious business ventures which made Abba so unpopular with many. Background to the Abba tours, and even a snippet on why the American Maffia might be after one of their helpers.
This is a fascinating read, and very much a history of Sweden in the second half of the twentieth century. Lots of photos, both well known ones, as well as new pictures. Let’s hope it gets translated eventually.