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Ring Ringing in the year: ABBA's other 50th Eurovision anniversary

19 October 2023 at 09:00 CEST
Celebrating 50 years of 'Ring Ring' - ABBA's very first attempt at making it to the Eurovision Song Contest.

Malmö 2024 is still over 6 months away; but ever since Loreen lifted that Eurovision Song Contest trophy for Sweden in May, speculation has been rife about just how the Swedish broadcaster SVT might (or might not!) use next year’s Contest to mark a very special occasion.

Loreen from Sweden, winner of the Eurovision Song Contest 2023 Corinne Cumming / EBU

It will be the 50th anniversary of Sweden’s very first Eurovision Song Contest win in 1974. And it’s a particularly noteworthy one, since that victory in Brighton ended up launching the career of one of the most successful acts in the history of music.

Much fuss will be made around ABBA’s Waterloo in 2024 - even outside of the context of the Eurovision Song Contest, if not at the event itself. But before that rolls around, we can’t neglect another milestone that is well worth celebrating before then.

2023 marks 50 years since ABBA very nearly made it to the Eurovision Song Contest with another song, were it not for them being halted at the pre-selection stages (Sweden’s Melodifestivalen), only managing a third-place finish with Ring Ring and therefore missing out on the ticket to Luxembourg that year.

It’s hard not to wonder whether ABBA might have had quite the same impact on international audiences had they been afforded an introduction to us all a year earlier. But what we can be certain of with Ring Ring is that it played an important role in preparing them for the career-altering year that lay ahead of them in 1974. And 50 years on from its participation at Melodifestivalen, the song remains one of the most beloved Eurovision pre-selection gems of all time.

Sweden were preparing for their 14th Contest participation in 1973. The already popular Melodifestivalen was by now an established format for choosing the country’s Eurovision entry, and was once again being rolled out to determine the song that would go on to represent the Scandinavian land at Luxembourg’s Grand Théâtre in April that year.

10 songs were competing at Melodifestivalen in 1973, with ABBA (then known as Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid) lined up to make their national final debut as a foursome. But despite it being the band’s first time competing together, the members did have something of a history with the Swedish pre-selection.

A year earlier in 1972, Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson had competed as songwriters, penning Säg Det Med En Sång for Lena Andersson and finishing in third place. While in 1969, Anni-Frid Lyngstad had competed as a solo artist with Härlig Är Vår Jord, finishing 4th on the night.

At that same contest in 1969, Benny had co-written Hej Clown for Jan Malmsjö, which had tied for first place but ended up finishing second after a further set of votes was called upon to break the tie. And so while neither Frida nor Benny managed to take the win that year, they did come away from the competition with each other's phone number! The pair started to date not long after meeting at Melodifestivalen.

Fast-forward to 10 February 1973 and the band were ready to face the challenge of attempting to win Melodifestivalen again - but this time with all the might of their combined talents.

'Ring Ring': truly "the happiest sound of them all"

As it turned out, ABBA weren’t the only future Swedish Eurovision act that Melodifestivalen 1973 proved to be the ideal training ground for.

Ted Gärdestad finished just behind ABBA that year - in 4th place with Oh, Vilken Härlig Dag - but would go on to represent Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1979 with Satellit. The recording and release of his Melodifestivalen 1973 entry, which became a huge hit in Sweden and remains a ‘midsommar’ staple today, actually featured both Agnetha and Frida on backing vocals, Björn on guitar and Benny on piano!

Lasse Berghagen also competed that same year with Ding-Dong, finishing in 7th place. And after ABBA had enjoyed their turn at eventually claiming a Melodifestivalen win in 1974, Lasse himself scored victory the following year in 1975, representing Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm with Jennie, Jennie.

Also competing against ABBA at Melodifestivalen 1973 were two acts who had previously gotten the opportunity to represent Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest: Lil-Babs in 1961 and Claes-Göran Hederström in 1968. So one could well credit their combined presence and influence for that year's competition for being such a fertile breeding ground for future winners!

On the night, Ring Ring earned a respectable medal finish, ending the evening in third place. Winning the opportunity to represent the Nordic nation in Luxembourg was Malta & The Dolls with Sommaren Som Aldrig Säger Nej.

The song ended up being translated to You’re Summer for the Eurovision Song Contest 1973, and the band name was changed to Nova & The Dolls, so as not to confuse the group with the name of another competing nation. Though in the end, the country Malta withdrew from the Contest that year anyway, before the deadline for submitting a song.

Sweden finished in 5th place with 94 points thanks to Nova & The Dolls - which would remain the country’s highest points tally at the Eurovision Song Contest until Carola’s career-launching first appearance in 1983.

Back home in Sweden, ABBA needn’t have been dissuaded by their failure to achieve that Melodifestivalen win on their first attempt as a band. The Swedish record-buying public responded enthusiastically to the schlager tune, sending Ring Ring (Bara Du Slog En Signal) to number 1 on the Swedish charts - the band’s first number 1 hit of the very many that they would go on to enjoy around the rest of the world.

ABBA's very first number 1 single (of very many!)

Having anticipated Melodifestivalen victory and the subsequent Eurovision Song Contest exposure that it would have brought, aspirations inside the group had inevitably turned international - and ABBA had already recorded a good-to-go English-language version of the song with which to try their luck abroad.

Brought on board for help with the English lyrics was Neil Sedaka - the acclaimed American singer who had also penned plenty of hits for other artists, including Stupid Cupid for Connie Francis and (Is This the Way to) Amarillo for Tony Christie.

The English-language Ring Ring was released just 5 days after its Swedish counterpart and peaked at number 2 on the charts in Sweden - right behind the original!

Despite the song’s missed opportunity to be performed at the Eurovision Song Contest, Ring Ring did go on to wow international audiences regardless, and it also managed to chart in other countries outside of Sweden too. The pulsating pop offering became a hit in Norway, Denmark, Finland, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands that year, and it also ended up charting in the United Kingdom and Australia when it was released a single in more territories the following year, after the band’s catapulting Eurovision win with Waterloo.

The 'Ring Ring' album was released in March 1973, a month after ABBA's Melodifestivalen participation

ABBA's pre-selection also-ran ended up being the band's very first taste of success outside of Sweden. So when SVT invited them to submit a song to Melodifestivalen 1974, the foursome were left with the task of composing something that might give them an even greater level of that addictive international success they'd just sampled with Ring Ring...

Thankfully, we're all familiar with what happened next!

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