IN FOCUS // ABBA's North American & European Tour 1979
Published on 5 October 2015
ABBA's concert tour of North American and Europe in 1979 would become the band's third and final concert tour. Primarily visiting North America, Europe and Asia during 1979 and early 1980, the tour supported their 'Voulez Vous' album. The tour opened in Edmonton, Canada on 13th September 1979 and closed in Tokyo, Japan on 27th March 1980 having performed fifty-two shows in forty cities across thirteen countries. As it was the group's final tour before unofficially disbanding in late 1982, the concert tour included the largest catalogue of hit songs performed on a tour.
Since forming in 1972, ABBA had only performed about twenty-four concert dates over eight years. Pressured to tour by their record companies, ABBA had performed a brief tour in Europe and Australia in the summer of 1977. Upon the release of their sixth album the group decided to tour North America for one month. Benny Andersson stated that the decision to tour was based on the need for the group to become more "present" to North American audiences. He further felt that the media would not consider ABBA to be a "real" group if they had not toured.
In January 1979, ABBA performed alongside the Bee Gees, John Denver and Earth, Wind & Fire at the "A Gift of Song - Music for UNICEF Concert" at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, New York. The concert benefited the United Nations Children's Fund. ABBA performed 'Chiquitita' and subsequenly donated all future royalties to the fund. Shortly after this performance, it was revealed that Bjorn and Agnetha had been separated for several months. Despite this, Agnetha assured the media that the group was united, stating "Everyone feels very good at the moment. We are working well together and we still have something to give".
The tour was officially announced by WEA in May 1979, beginning in Canada and the United States before venturing across the Atlantic and into Europe. While promoting the album, the quartet began rehearsals for the forthcoming concert tour in June 1979 at the Stockholm Concert Hall in Stockholm, Sweden. Agnetha and Frida began taking private vocal lessons while Benny and Björn organised the tour. In the United States, the tour was heavily promoted by various media outlets including Billboard Magazine when a fifty page mini-magazine about ABBA was included in an early September 1979 issue. The magazine provided a history of the group as well as outlining their success in over forty countries worldwide. It also provided details of ABBA's forthcoming tour, as well as personal interviews with each member of the quartet. During one of the interviews, Benny and Bjorn remarked how important the tour was to the group, especially touring in new territory and stated "to us, the US is mainly a challenge. The whole tour to us is a great challenge. Tonight, the audience was great and everything went smoothly. But it was a very strange feeling when we have not toured in 2½ years. You don't have the self confidence that most artists have that tour a lot and you don't know until you're up there, until you meet the audience face-to-face, whether it's going to work or not…"
Unfortunately, ABBA last scheduled concert in the United States in Washington DC on 4 October 1979 was cancelled due to Agnetha's emotional distress suffered during the flight from New York to Boston. The group's private plane was subjected to extreme weather conditions and was unable to land for an extended period.
Rehearsals of the tour continued when ABBA made a surprise appearance at a nightclub in Stockholm as a sneak peek for the upcoming tour. Benny felt this was much needed as the group was not primarily known as a touring act. He said the quartet needed to build the self-confidence needed to perform onstage in front of large audiences. The group returned to rehearsals in August 1979 after promotions in the United States and Mexico ended. While rehearsing at the Europafilm Studios in Sundbyberg, Benny and Bjorn needed to produce a song to help promote the tour. Together, they wrote 'Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)'.
The staging for the band's North American and European Tour was a standard endstage with a blue backdrop and several triangular structures which were said to resembling icebergs. It was on this tour that Agnetha and Frida wore their iconic blue, indigo and violet figure-hugging jumpsuits. The outfit was later recreated by Madonna on her 'Confessions Tour' as a tribute to the band. As the group toured the United States, their film 'ABBA The Movie' was shown in the city after each concert.
Despite critical acclaim, the band would never tour again. Frida stated that she felt secure onstage whereas Agnetha felt more comfortable in the recording studio. The group disliked the conditions of traveling for the tour with one plane trip that was very traumatic for Agnetha. Their reactions to touring would later be penned in the song 'Super Trouper'. Many fans speculated the song was a long letter written to Bjorn's new lover - shown in the lines: "I was sick and tired of everything, when I called you last night from Glasgow, all I do is eat and sleep and sing, wishing every show was the last show". However the song shifts viewpoint in the lines "Facing twenty thousand of your friends, how can anyone be so lonely, part of a success that never ends, still I'm thinking about you only".
Even though ABBA members continued their musical careers as solo artists, they never regrouped as ABBA for a concert tour. The 1979 tour is considered to be a classic among ABBA fans with many contemporary artists and ABBA tribute bands including elements of this tour in their shows. Indeed, the 'Thank ABBA For The Music' UK theatre show dedicated more than half of the second act to this concert tour.
For further information on ABBA please visit the official ABBA website at www.abbasite.com