OBITUARY : Stig Anderson

In the music business, the pop entrepreneur is a much maligned creature, often seen either as a svengali pulling the strings or a financial wizard investing money on his charges' behalf. Then there are the true visionaries who actually see something in artists and help them realise their vision, even beyond their wildest dreams. The impresario Stig Anderson was the perfect embodiment of all these tendencies.

He was the driving force behind Abba, the Swedish/Scandinavian (one member, Frida, is Norwegian) pop group who dominated the charts through much of the Seventies. His business acumen and occasional lyrical contributions helped turn the 1974 Eurovision winners into a worldwide phenomenon and a record-breaking act, scoring nine No 1 singles, eight No 1 albums, and 18 consecutive Top Ten singles in the British charts.

Born in 1931 in Hova, a small town 200 miles south-west of Stockholm, Stikkan Anderson had once nursed ambitions to be a pop star himself. After leaving school at 13, he went to night classes and became a primary school teacher. But, bitten by the rock 'n' roll bug, he also appeared as Stig Anderson & His Mashed Creampuffs. However, his real forte was lyric-writing, often in haphazard, simplistic English. He wrote his first song at 16 for a girl who had refused to dance with him and embarrassed her by performing it in public.

Of the 2,000 songs he claims to have penned, the most memorable are the hilarious "The Girls Who Know Are Found In The Country and Rockin' Billy", a 1960 hit for Lill-Babs in Scandinavia and Holland. He used his royalties wisely to finish his schooling and graduated from the National Training College of Teachers in Stockholm.

Having had his first taste of international success, Anderson set up the pompously named Sweden Music company to publish his songs. Three years later, he joined forces with Bengt Bernhag, an imaginative promotion man and studio engineer, to form Polar Music. They discovered the West Bay Singers, featuring one Bjorn Ulvaeus, at a Swedish Radio competition. Wanting to cash in on the popularity of skiffle and folk music, they renamed the band the Hootenanny Singers and had them cut a Swedish version of Tom Jones's "Green Green Grass Of Home".

By 1966, Ulvaeus was keen to strike on his own. He met Benny Andersson who played keyboards with the Hep Stars, then almost as famous in their homeland as the Beatles. When both their groups floundered in 1969, Stig asked the duo to write songs for his other acts and also their own album. Together, the three composed the jolly "Lycka" ("Happiness") and, on the subsequent long-player of the same name included a track called "Hej Gamle Man" ("Hey, Old Man"). This was the first time Benny Andersson, Anni-Frid Lyngstad (known as Frida), Bjorn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Faltskog appeared together on record. By then, they'd become two couples but still pursued separate musical careers.

Following the suicide of his partner Bernhag after years of health problems, Anderson wanted Ulvaeus to join him in the Polar organisation but Ulvaeus held out for his friend Benny Andersson to become a partner too.

Anderson was determined to come up with a winning entry for the Eurovision Song Contest. In 1972, "Better To Have Loved", the writers' first attempt, for the Swedish singer Lena Andersson, came third. The following year, having had a couple of hits with "People Need Love" and "He Is Your Brother", Bjorn, Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid thought they were on to a winner with "Ring Ring" but they lost. Complaints flooded in and it was decided that in 1974, the Swedish entry would be decided by a phone-in.

On Anderson's advice, the quartet shortened their name to Abba, using the initials of their first names (they also had to ask the permission of the largest fish-canning factory in Sweden which shared the same name). They couldn't decide whether to enter "Hasta Manana" or "Waterloo" but plumped for the latter because, according to Ulvaeus, "it was more fun to perform". Once again, it was Stig Anderson who had set things in motion and suggested the name Waterloo.

This time, Abba were duly selected to represent Sweden, worked on the choreography, the look, and convinced Sven-Olof Waldoff, the orchestra's conductor, to wear a Napoleonic hat. On 6 April 1974, in Brighton, they trounced all comers (including Olivia Newton John's "Long Live Love") and victory was theirs.

The rest is music history. Abba's heady blend of catchy melodies and sexual chemistry proved irresistible. With Anderson providing lyrical input and a global vision, the group overcame the one-hit wonder curse which so often afflicts Eurovision winners. Their singalong, bouncy yet easy-on-the-ear singles, dominated the charts from 1975 to 1982. "S0S", "Mamma Mia", "Fernando", "Dancing Queen", "Knowing Me Knowing You", "The Name Of The Game", "Summer Night City" blared out of every juke-box.

Abba got bigger, pioneered pop videos, launched a thousand parodies, toured the world. Abba The Movie, released in 1978, even showed Anderson playing himself (he also co-produced the film with Reg Grundy, the Australian who later launched Neighbours). He was enjoying every minute, cutting deals and looking after what had become the second most profitable corporation in Sweden, with average profits of pounds 5m a year in the late Seventies - not far behind Volvo.

After the film, Anderson had less time to contribute lyrics but remained a sounding-board for Ulvaeus and Andersson who assumed full creative control on later classics like "Angel Eyes", "I Have A Dream", "The Winner Takes It All", "Super Trouper" and "One Of Us". By then, the they were documenting the break-up of both their relationships in songs.

Ninety eighty-one saw the group pay respect to their mentor on his fiftieth birthday with a limited edition 12in single pressed on red vinyl (200 copies) enfitled "Salute To Stig". But behind the scenes, matters were coming to a head. Anderson had set up various companies to help reduce Abba's tax burden. The four members had always refused to become tax-exiles and were paying Sweden's highest rate tax - 85 per cent. Anderson was also selling Abba records behind the Iron Curtain. Payment was often in kind, and soon, through Pol Oi1, he was dealing in oil as well as records. Following a sudden drop in the average price of a barrel, the whole house of cards collapsed and an investigafion into Abba's affairs was launched.

Apart from Frida who had sold all her shares in 1982, the rest of the band very nearly went to jail and had to settle out of court with their Inland Revenue. Anderson became persona non grata with his former proteges who, justifiably, held him responsible for the whole fiasco, and sued him for unpaid royalties. It was a messy end to one of the greatest music business partnerships of all time.

However, by the late Eighties, the nostalgia cycle had spun so fast that everybody from Elvis Costello to U2 via Erasure and the Lemonheads was performing Abba songs. The Australian "tribute" band Bjorn Again were also doing fine business on the college and cabaret circuit. To maximise income for Polar Music, Stig Anderson had always set up separate deals with various record companies in different countries (including a surprising early deal with Hugh Heffner's Playboy records in the US). In late 1989, he decided to cash in his chips and sell off the whole company to Polygram for an undisclosed amount. The way was thus cleared for a host of lucrative compilations (Abba Gold, 1992, has to date sold over 11 million copies), a lavish box-set (Thank You For The Music, 1994) and the reissue of the whole catalogue.

In 1989 Anderson set up the Polar Music Pize, given through the Royal Swedish Academy of Music to one pop and one classical musician every year. Dizzy Gillespie, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen have thus been honoured alongside the Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski and the choir director Eric Ericson.

Two years ago, the pop producer Tony Calder and Rolling Stones Sixties impresario Andrew Oldham collaborated with Anderson on Abba, The Name of the Game, a book which documents some of the goings-on behind one of pop's major success stories. In 1976, when asked the secret of his and Abba's success, Stig Anderson gave a simple reply: "Always work very hard. Do your best. Don't forget anything. And don't take life too seriously."

Stikkan ("Stig") Anderson, lyric writer, music publisher and manager: born Hova, Sweden 25 January 1931; married (two sons, one daughter); died 12 September 1997.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

HR Assistant / Human Resources Assistant

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An HR Assistant / Human Resources Ass...

Talent Community Coordinator

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Talent Community Coordinator is nee...

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried