- 31 Jan 19
ABBA's hit song broke Queen's nine-week run at number one.
43 years ago today, ABBA’s ‘Mamma Mia’ hit number one in the UK Singles Charts – replacing Queen’s masterpiece ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, which had held the position for nine weeks. Interestingly, both songs feature the phrase “mamma mia” in their lyrics.
To mark the occasion, we’re revisiting ABBA co-founder Benny Andersson’s 2017 interview with Hot Press.
Thank you for the music. In May 2013, a dedicated ABBA Museum was opened in the heart of Stockholm to honour Sweden’s biggest-ever musical export. In amongst all the glitzy costumes, stage props, memorabilia and gold discs (the band sold a staggering 375 million singles and albums in their decade-long career), one of the exhibits on display is simply called ‘Benny’s Piano’. The instrument is connected electronically to ABBA co-founder Benny Andersson’s grand piano in his own RMV Studios on the island of Skeppsholmen, about a mile away. At any time of day or night, its ivories can, as if by magic, suddenly begin to tinkle.
“It’s where I’m sitting right now,” the 70-year-old musician explains down the line, speaking in a clipped Swedish accent. “I have a grand piano here in my studio, which is a Yamaha. It’s set up with electromagnetic stuff. So when I play here, I can transmit over the ‘net to the piano in the museum, which plays exactly what I play here in real-time.”
Benny’s piano must have been extra busy in recent times, as the legendary star recorded his latest album. Featuring 21 unaccompanied tracks from his lengthy and celebrated career, including reinterpreted songs from ABBA, his musicals and other solo compositions, Piano is soon to be released through iconic classical music label Deutsche Grammophon. In the album’s liner notes, Andersson writes, “I feel like I am playing my memoirs.”
“Yeah, well I had to write something on the sleeve,” he laughs. “That’s what I put. When I actually went through it all, I wasn’t sure whether it would hold up or not. It’s just me playing the songs, a piano stripped away of everything with no lyrics or vocals. I started by recording two or three songs, and listened to those and realised, ‘Maybe I should continue.’ When I listened to it all, those 21 songs, I felt like, ‘Yeah, I still think there’s music in there.’ The thing is, because the treatment is like there is no treatment, it’s just me playing, it becomes very homogenous.
“If I didn’t know, I wouldn’t be able to say if this song was from 1973, or this one from 2016. It made me think that this is sort of a biography, because hearing the music like this for the first time, I felt very connected to it.”
First shooting to fame in the mid-1960s as keyboardist with Swedish pop outfit The Hep Stars, before going on to form ABBA in 1972, and then later to write hit musicals Chess and Mamma Mia!, Andersson has enjoyed an enormously successful career.
“It was wonderful to be in The Hep Stars in the ‘60s, because we were really celebrities. We were the hottest thing in Sweden and it was fun being in a rock band. Being with ABBA, what we achieved was also wonderful. It’s hard to say – so much happened.”
Andersson spent many years addicted to drink and drugs before finally quitting in 2001. It’s not a decision he regrets.
“Oh yes, I recommend sobriety,” he says. “Everything is easier once you stop. Everything comes easier. Every day is a good day. It was one of the best choices I made in my life, saying I’m going to quit this. I don’t think I would be talking with you here today otherwise.”
Surprisingly for a man who made a fortune from pop music, he says he doesn’t really listen to much contemporary stuff.
“I’m not into the pop scene at all anymore, because it is too streamlined,” he explains. “Occasionally someone comes along like Lady Gaga or Adele and you can’t really avoid hearing some good stuff popping out of the stream of non-interesting music, which I really appreciate. Hearing something like a good pop song is very inspiring. But I mostly listen to classical music and have done so for many, many years.”
Having said that, there’s an ABBA reunion tour in the works. However, it’s a tour with a virtual reality twist – it will feature computerised images of Benny and his three bandmates rather than the real life flesh and blood versions. I’ll tell you why we wanted to do it – Simon Fuller came to us a year ago with the idea. It was at the forefront of what technology can do, and it’s nice to be involved in that. It hasn’t been done like this before. So we agreed and said, ‘Yes, let’s penetrate that thinking and see what we can do.’ We work on the project as if we were actually going out on the road, so really it’s a live concert. Everything is live apart from the four of us. Dancers, you name it, everything will be there for real. At the ripe old age of 70, Andersson is still keeping himself busy. Still alive to the possibilities of music, he spends most of his time in the studio. “I suppose it’s a matter of making things happen, not trying to stay where you are.”
Revisit the two hit singles below: