How was ‘ABBA – The Album’ promoted in Hungary? What media coverage did it get in the Hungarian press? A retrospective press review.

An unexpected chance

The Swedish quartet’s fifth album, The Album, was a surprise because it featured longer and better-arrangeded compositions with much more sophisticated lyrics than the previous long-plays. This change in style divided the fanbase because many of them missed the more upbeat sound of their earlier material. However, The Album allowed ABBA to rise towards new heights.

While the record was released in Sweden and South Africa in December 1977[1], the rest of the world had to wait until 1978 because there were some problems with production capacity, and these countries had the desire to have the album in stores at the same time as ABBA-The Movie[2].

As for Hungary, due to the unstable economy of the country, Hungarian fans thought the album would be available in record shops for a limited time, perhaps in the second half of the year, so they might hear the album on the radio and could record it on a cassette. However, thanks to an unexpected coincidence, Hungarian music lovers could listen to the new album much earlier than they had expected[3].

Radio and television editor Péter Tardos, a unique figure in the Hungarian musical scene, had excellent contacts abroad. Moreover, he was responsible for the Beat-pop-rock section of Ifjúsági Magazin and several radio programmes for teenagers.  Because he travelled abroad a lot in order to buy vinyl, Hungarian  Radio relied on his enormous record collection. He presented ABBA’s fifth album on the radio – much earlier than the record became available in Western Europe, so the Hungarian fans and the tape recordists must have been delighted.

Péter Tardos (on the right side) at Hungarian Radio, 1970. Source: Fortepan / Szalay Zoltán

” (…) let’s tell the story of how the newly released album by Abba premiered on Only for the Young and Sunday Cocktail. The record got available in Stockholm in early December, and because of some legal problems, no Western European radio station could play it. However, a dear friend called me from Stockholm to see what he could bring me as a present. He asked me whether he would bring the new ABBA album that came out the other day.”[4]

„The Kangooro-ed ABBA”

However, the release of the long-play was months away, so it is not surprising that we could read this kind of article in the domestic press of the time:

„Popular music is elegantly being left out of the domestic record distribution. While Supraphon in neighbouring Czechoslovakia reacts immediately to the new releases of Demis Roussos and Abba, following the fast-changing fashions – this is the normal accompaniment of commercial music. In our country, Indian or Czechoslovakian copies of Western records are handed over under the counter amid the whispers of insiders. (…) It is unlikely that economic considerations would prompt the country to buy a licence for a Yellow Dog or a Rose Royce or even an ABBA record”[5].

Even though this was not an option then, The Album was available as Swedish and Indian-licensed records in Hungary in the early summer of that year. They cost 190 HUF, which was very expensive then, but the 50,000 Swedish imported copies were quickly snapped up. In fact, the „kangaroo ABBA”, as the release was known among the people of the time, was also available in Yugoslavian editions, as the article „Elvis: three kilos” proves.

„He ponders for a moment, then beckons me to follow him. He leads me to the Trabant on the corner. Inside the car sits his partner with a large pile of plates. They rummage around a bit, then press the Abba „kangaroo” record into my hand, the one and only. They convince me it’s the latest. (…)

– Well, look! I get my records from Pécs. On the first Sunday of every month, I go to the fair, where many Yugoslavs sell the latest records relatively cheaply. (…) Those who know the ropes can make a good deal with the Yugoslav guest workers and Turkish truckers on their way home. They bring real novelty. They want to spend a few good days in Pest and they’ll just drop the record”[6].

Mixed reviews

The album set the stage perfectly for the ABBA film, which was released in Budapest cinemas on 13rd July 1978, and soon afterwards they success continued at the cinemas in the countryside. The music album was, of course, covered by the press of the time, two of which are worth a look.

One of the reports on Agnetha and Björn’s recently born son, Christian and quotes Benny Andersson, who said the following about the new long-play:

„In our opinion, The Album is the most successful album we have ever made. The album is the best album we have ever made. Although ‘The Name of The Game’, ‘Take A Chance On Me’ and ‘Hole in Your Soul’ are the songs that made the charts, our favourite is Thank You For The Music because it’s our ars poetica. The album sold 600,000 copies before it was released, which is the highest Swedish record ever”[7].

The 2-page article on the ABBA discography. Z Magazine, 1997. Source: my own collection

Swedish and Indian copies of ‘The Album’ were avaiable in Hungarian records shops. Source: Discogs

The other one was not so cordial, as Imre Vass wrote a rather long, dismissive review of the album under the title Volt Jobb…! The journalist questioned whether the album was worthy of being at the top of the charts because, in his opinion,

„Some kind of quest, an effort to move from this – perhaps – degrading position to a higher one, to give something „bigger”, „more serious” – this can be heard in the material of „The Album”. And rather the effort. But isn’t there something, or someone, to get ABBA back on track?”[8]

As it was written above, the music press was quite critical of the more serious tone on their fifth album, and many of the critics missed the much more direct, playful song forms of the earlier years. Imre Vass was also highly critical of the business plans of Polar Music and blamed ABBA for the manager’s financial machinations. This is not surprising, since it was a trend in the Eastern Bloc and Sweden to criticise ABBA’s financial dealings and the manager’s dubious investments. On the other hand, some prominent Hungarian journalists, such as János Sebők, called the band’s music commercial and disposable.

„Getting more and more carried away, Benny and Björn imagine themselves as composers beyond their instinctive talents, and the public (for the time being) drinks the juice of their experiments, although they hardly know it, thanks to the ABBA hysteria that completely blinds and dulls them” [9]–  Imre Vass continued in his review, which drew heavily on NME’s Bob Edmands’ infamous negative article.

Vass criticized not only the composers but also looked down on the fan base. In his review of the album, he even highlighted the so-called self-repetition of ABBA musical structures:

” the old hit-making band barely managed two or three overdubs (sic!) on the last album. The recipe is the same: the accompaniment, the effect of the whole background is so elaborate, so precise, so little changed over time that it always remains the same, with the same task; what at the same time gives the illusion of constant „otherness” is the eternal variation and recreation of the charm of the melodic line. This is the magic of ABBA, the trick we have certainly found and admired in the eight or ten tracks on most of the albums that have been brought to us so far. (…) May I hope (…) that Benny and Björn will abandon their plans to become composers of ‘serious, great’ music and that, awakening from their slumber, they will ‘contain and contain themselves as long as they can”[10].

Praising ABBA and The Album

Fortunately, Imre Vass was not a visionary, and his wishes for ABBA did not come true in the light of subsequent events and happenings. However, almost twenty years later, Paul Berger praised the band in a completely different way in Z Magazin which was one of the most influential music magazines in Hungary.

The 2-page article on the remastered ABBA CDs. Z magazine, 1997. Source: my own collection

„In Hungary (…) they were already being criticised around 1977-78. Even (…) Ferenc Demjén allowed himself to make silly and narrow-minded comments about them. It is true that we only knew one ABBA, the one which was on the radio and TV. We were unaware of those great gems hidden on albums that did not sell millions of copies.”[11]

In his article, Berger presented the then-complete ABBA discography on the occasion of the first remastered CD release. He wrote the following about The Album:

(…) ABBA – The Movie was released in cinemas in the early spring of 1978, at the same time as did The Album , which effectively continues the line of the earlier studio album, Arrival. The album kicks off with ‘Eagle’, which is among the very best ABBA songs. Björn and Benny were inspired in no small part by the work of the American country-rock band the Eagles, who were then making a name for themselves with their masterpiece Hotel California. Even more, the song ‘Move On’ also shows country influences.”[12]

However, he also points out that „naturally, ABBA songs are not worth interpreting for others. Their essence could and can only be adequately performed by the authors and the girls who worked with them and inspired the songs.”[13]

Even though some journalists dismissed the record and the band in the 1970s, it can be seen clearly how much the Hungarian public was fond of ABBA and how successful The Album was in Hungary. Thanks to ABBA Gold, which restarted the interest in ABBA, it is great to see that there have been more realistic, fact-based and appreciative articles, which have been praising the high artistic qualities of the Swedish Fab Four.

[1]   Palm, Carl Magnus. Abba: Bright Lights Dark Shadows, Omnibus Press, 2001, pp. 366.

[2]   Palm, Carl Magnus. Abba: Bright Lights Dark Shadows, Omnibus Press, 2001, pp. 366.

[3] Tardos Péter.“ Beat- pop-rock”.Ifjúsági Magazin, XIV., no. 2, 1 February. 1978, p. 47.

[4] Tardos Péter.“ Beat- pop-rock”.Ifjúsági Magazin, XIV., no. 2, 1 February. 1978, p. 47.

[5] Szigethy, András. “Lemezmizéria.” Népújság, 2 Mar. 1978, p. 4.

[6] Szántó, Péter. “Hanglemezüzlet, Szatyorból. Az Elvis: Három Kiló.” Népszava, 26 Jan. 1979, p. 4.

[7] “ABBA-story. Gyermek és hanglemez”. Népújság, 12 Apr. 1978, p. 5.

[8] Vass, Imre. “Volt Jobb…! ABBA: Az Album.” Nógrád, 5 Aug. 1978, p. 5.

[9] Vass, Imre. “Volt Jobb…! ABBA: Az Album.” Nógrád, 5 Aug. 1978, p. 5.

[10] Vass, Imre. “Volt Jobb…! ABBA: Az Album.” Nógrád, 5 Aug. 1978, p. 5.

[11] Berger, Paul. “Katalógus: ABBA.” Z Magazin, June 1997, pp. 30.

[12] Berger, Paul. “Katalógus: ABBA.” Z Magazin, June 1997, pp. 30–31.

[13] Berger, Paul. “Katalógus: ABBA.” Z Magazin, June 1997, pp. 31.