Björn and Benny in Torremolinos 1971 - in a photo that appeared in a Swedish newspaper at the time. / SUR

The language of love in Torremolinos

The two male members of ABBA achieved their first international success on the Costa del Sol, years before Eurovision launched them to stardom

ALEKK M. SAANDERS

The long-awaited ABBA Voyage concerts begin this weekend in London. Few know, however, that Torremolinos' music history includes the arrival of the Swedish folk/rock duo Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, who later became the male half of ABBA.

Lycka for Happiness

In 1970 Björn & Benny released their first album Lycka (meaning 'Happiness' in Swedish). The songs were influenced by Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys and The Beatles "Ticket to Ride"-era, combined with their own traditional folk music. Lycka was produced with help of Bengt Bernhag and engineered by Michael B. Tretow. Benny and Björn's tracks were accompanied by two Swiss musicians, drummer John Counz and bassist Gus Horn. Most of the songs featured lead vocals by Björn, and one of the songs on the album was performed on the Costa del Sol, roughly 50 years ago.

Björn and Benny landed in Malaga airport in January 1971. They were accompanied by Stig Anderson, who came to Torremolinos as the duo's manager and producer. Later, in ABBA's early years, Anderson co-wrote many of the lyrics, and so was sometimes referred to as the 'fifth member' of the band. At this point, they already knew and had collaborated with Frida and Agnetha, the girls with whom they would form ABBA.

'The Language of Love'

The Swedish duo competed in the Costa del Sol International Song Festival with 'Livet går sin gång' (literally meaning 'Life goes by', but translated into English as 'The Language of Love'). It was performed to ten thousand people gathered in Torremolinos with just a guitar and a piano.

The Swedish entry was quite possibly the catchiest of the entire festival. However, victory went to American singer Donna Hightower, who had incidentally just moved to Madrid. As a result of her victory in the Costa del Sol International Song Festival, she began recording in Spain for Columbia Records, and in other parts of Europe for Decca Records.

Björn & Benny, future superstars, finished sixth but 'The Language of Love' lived on. The rights to the melody were sold to no less than nine countries. Shortly afterwards, the French singer, Francois Hardy, and the Swedish singer, Lena Anderson, included the song on their albums.

The song eventually became Björn Ulvaeus & Benny Andersson's first European hit. A couple of years later, ABBA was officially born. Within three years, 'Waterloo' skyrocketed them to success, followed by a string of hits that still resonate today.

The perks of Torremolinos

Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Stig Anderson took advantage of the warm winter days in Torremolinos, where they tanned in sun loungers at Playamar. Newspapers at the time reported that the Swedes also went horseback riding in the resort.

Participating in the Torremolinos International festival served them well. They say that they took the opportunity to discuss trends in music, and were already writing their songs in English as well as Swedish.

It is believed that it was on the Costa del Sol that Anderson predicted Björn and Benny's success, saying “One day this duet will write a song that will become a worldwide hit”.

The album Lycka, with the song 'Livet går sin gång', was reissued in 1972. Ten years later the world was saddened by the news that the band were breaking up. Now, 40 years later, we can celebrate their reunion thanks to the ABBA Voyage concerts, where the band's avatars will be accompanied by a 10-piece live band.