NEW YORK — No one was more surprised about ABBA being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame than the band’s co-founder Benny Andersson.
“We’re a pop band from the North Pole,” Andersson says, calling from his studio in Stockholm. “There’s no such thing as a (continental European) band in the Rock Hall, so it is flattering. It feels good, but it’s very unexpected.”
After all, ABBA — Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Faltskog — is best known for pop hits such as “Dancing Queen” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and disco anthems such as “Lay All Your Love on Me,” as well as the Broadway smash “Mamma Mia!” and the movie of the same name. Andersson’s latest album, “Story of the Heart” (Decca), gorgeously runs the gamut of classical-inspired instrumentals, American Songbook-styled ballads and even a tinge of country. Big rock guitars and heavy drumbeats? Not so much.
“Every year, there’s someone that attracts attention from people who aren’t happy about the choice,” says Terry Stewart, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s president and chief executive. “One of the problems this year is you have the extremes of ABBA getting inducted and KISS doesn’t. I’ve answered 5,000 to 10,000 e-mails and letters. This issue is a high point this year.”
Of course, what could be more rock ‘n’ roll than a little bit of controversy?
What gets lost in all the Internet hubbub about this year’s incredibly diverse induction class — which includes punk pioneers the Stooges, reggae ambassador Jimmy Cliff, British Invasion stars the Hollies and British art rockers Genesis — is that ABBA is exactly the kind of artist the Rock Hall needs.
“ABBA, for some people, skews the class in a direction that’s really weird, but what it does is get into the question of ‘What is rock and roll?”” Stewart says. “Everybody defines it personally, and nobody’s wrong. But few people really look at it with the same fully encompassing view that we do. ABBA doesn’t come out of the Gershwin songbook, they come out of the Elvis Presley songbook, the Little Richard songbook. But it’s translated through people who don’t speak English as a first language, so it’s no surprise that it has a little different feel. It’s all in there, it’s just a little different.”
For David Weier, vice president of programming and talent for Fuse, which will broadcast this year’s induction live Monday night, it shouldn’t even be a question. “I don’t know why they wouldn’t be inducted,” Weier says. “These are artists that have a significant body of work. ... Rock is such a thin term these days. We should be looking at music in general — great music.”
It’s an approach that Weier says fits with Fuse, as well as the Rock Hall. Though none of the year’s inductees, aside from maybe Genesis, would ever be considered a Fuse artist, Weier says celebrating their accomplishments on Fuse is a good fit.
“We bring music to people in a broad fashion,” he says. “They may not be known to our audience, but we are there to make the connections. We bring the best of the old and new together.”
Actually, it’s those connections that should cement ABBA’s place in the Rock Hall. Obviously, the band has a massive following. It has sold more than 375 million albums worldwide, ranking ABBA among the world’s biggest sellers, behind only the Beatles, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson.
“We tried a little in the beginning (to be a rock band) because we sort of enjoyed that side of music,” Andersson says. “But it never worked really because we were just a genuine pop band.”
Sometimes, the rock influences shone through, such as the bit of rock guitar in “Does Your Mother Know.” But ABBA’s influence is more evident in today’s rock and pop stars. “ABBA influenced Erasure, Pet Shop Boys and Culture Club,” Weier points out. “And they influenced Lady Gaga and Adam Lambert. No ABBA, there may be no Lady Gaga.”
Perhaps more important to today’s music is the way ABBA influenced other Swedes to enter pop music. These days, Stockholm — thanks to producers and songwriters Max Martin, Dr. Luke, Rami, Shellback and others — is a music industry hub that has built hits for everyone from Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys to Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Katy Perry and Ke$ha.
“We may have inspired them by showing that it is possible to come from Sweden and be known throughout the world,” Andersson says. “There’s a lot of good recording producers here, making lots of good recordings.”
That includes Andersson, who continues to write in his studio every day, working on new music for the Benny Andersson Band, as well as bringing the musical “Kristina,” which was performed at Carnegie Hall last year, to Royal Albert Hall in London.
Andersson is also looking forward to attending his first Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, along with Lyngstad, and meeting his fellow inductees, especially songwriting team Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and Jeff Barry, who will be honored with his partner, the late Ellie Greenwich.
“I very rarely get to speak to other songwriters,” says Andersson, who will be inducted with ABBA by Barry and Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees. “I’m a bit nervous about it, but I’m looking forward to it.”
And for the Rock Hall, it’s another chance to celebrate the unpredictable.
ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME 2010 CLASS
The 2010 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction class may be the most diverse in the hall’s 24 years, stretching from pop to punk with experimental art rock in between.
Here’s a look:
MEMBERS: Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Faltskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad
KNOWN FOR: Pretty, pristine pop that succeeded around the world, making them Sweden’s second-biggest company in the late ‘70s, behind Volvo, as well as inspiring the Broadway musical “Mamma Mia!”
DEBUT: “Ring Ring” (1973)
BIGGEST HIT: “Dancing Queen” (No. 1, 1977)
WORKING ON: Though they have reportedly been offered $1 billion to reunite, the members of ABBA work separately. Andersson released a solo album, “Story of a Heart,” earlier this month, including collaborations with Ulvaeus, whom he also works with for the staging of “Mamma Mia!” Faltskog released a solo album in 2004. Lyngstad is focusing on charity work.
HOMETOWN: St. Catherine, Jamaica
KNOWN FOR: Turning reggae into a more rebellious, serious art form and bringing it to a worldwide audience in the movie “The Harder They Come.”
DEBUT: “Hard Road” (1967)
BIGGEST HIT: “I Can See Clearly Now” (No. 18, 1993)
WORKING ON: Finishing a new album — “Existence” — and readying a world tour
MEMBERS: Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett, Anthony Phillips, Mike Rutherford
HOMETOWN: Godalming, England
KNOWN FOR: Two distinct periods — the prog-rock era with Gabriel and the poppier era led by Collins — where the band dominated the British rock scene.
DEBUT: “From Genesis to Revelation” (1969)
BIGGEST HIT: “Invisible Touch” (No. 1, 1986)
WORKING ON: Though Genesis says its 2007 tour was its last, its members all have active solo careers.
MEMBERS: Allan Clarke, Bobby Elliott, Tony Hicks, Graham Nash, Eric Haydock, Terry Sylvester
HOMETOWN: Manchester, England
KNOWN FOR: Bringing three-part harmonies and a mix of American R&B and folk rock to the British Invasion era
DEBUT: “Stay With the Hollies” (1964)
BIGGEST HIT: “Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress)” (No. 2, 1972)
WORKING ON: The current version of the Hollies, including Hicks and Elliott, has a new album “Then, Now, Always” and a European tour. Nash will tour with Crosby, Stills and Nash this summer.
MEMBERS: Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton, Iggy Pop, James Williamson
KNOWN FOR: Simple, grinding rock that formed the base for punk, grunge and indie rock.
DEBUT: “The Stooges” (1969)
BIGGEST HIT: No chart singles, but best known for “I Wanna Be Your Dog”
WORKING ON: A summer European tour
ALSO SET FOR INDUCTION THIS YEAR Record label founder and manager David Geffen, the songwriting teams Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, as well as songwriters Otis Blackwell, Mort Shuman and Jesse Stone.