Classic Rock in Scandinavia

Out of all of the Scandinavian countries, Sweden has had the most visible contribution to classic rock and oldies, but the other Scandinavian countries made contributions as well. You probably know of ABBA and maybe a couple more of these musicians. Let’s get started! In this blog post we will also cover musicians from Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland.

Note: Some of the information that I found about the bands is not in English or a language I can understand well enough, like Spanish or French. I don’t speak Danish, Swedish, Icelandic, Norwegian, or Finnish. I have to rely on Chrome’s translator and sometimes it’s good, sometimes not so good. I’m trying my best. If you do speak one of these languages and you see misinformation in the post, please leave a comment below and I’ll fix the mistakes.

Sweden:

ABBA: Easily one of Sweden’s most famous exports, being one of the top selling acts in the world, after The Beatles. They were made up of Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Eurovision Song Contest 1974 was where they broke out and became the first Swedish win with the song “Waterloo”, which was in the Top 10 in various European countries, the United States, and Australia. Ring Ring was their debut, released in 1973, before they were known as ABBA, so it was originally credited to Björn Benny & Agnetha Frida. By the mid 70s, they were at their best with many hits like “Fernando”, “SOS”, “Take a Chance on Me”, “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)”, and of course their best known song “Dancing Queen”. One song I liked that was overlooked in the charts was the 1979 highly disco influenced song “Voulez Vous”. In additCion to their work with ABBA, Benny and Björn have written musicals like Chess and Kristina från Duvemåla. Anni Frid and Agnetha have released solo albums.

Ann-Margret: While she was raised in the United States, she was born in Sweden and speaks fluent Swedish! Elvis fans will also remember her for being in the film Viva Las Vegas. Fans of The Who will know her for her role as Tommy’s mum in the film Tommy.

Blue Swede: Thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy,  “Hooked on a Feeling” was introduced to a younger audience, but it was a success long before many fans of the movie were born with it reaching #1 in the United States. “Hooked on a Feeling” was originally by BJ Thomas, but that version was nowhere near as successful as Blue Swede’s version. The song was also #1 in Australia, Canada, and The Netherlands. Blue Swede were formed in 1973 in Stockholm. Other minor hits the band had in the US were “Silly Milly”, “Never My Love”, and “Hush/I’m Alive”. Only two albums were released by this band, Hooked on a Feeling and Out of the Blue.

Europe: Besides Asia, they were the other big 80s rock band named after a continent. Formed in 1979, they became famous in 1986 with “The Final Countdown”. The following year they had another top 10 hit in America with “Carrie”.

The Hep Stars: Benny Andersson and Svenne Hedlund were in this band in the 60s. They formed in 1963 and were very successful in Scandinavia in the mid 60s around the years 1965 and 1966. Their sound is reminiscent of their British Invasion contemporaries, upbeat and fun. In their home country “Cadillac” and “Farmer John” were #1. Another big hit they had was “Tribute to Buddy Holly”, which went to #5.

Hootenanny Singers: Before Björn Ulvaeus was in ABBA, he was in this band in the 60s. Many of their songs were in Swedish. Here are a couple songs: one of them a Swedish cover of “Elenore” by The Turtles and the other an original English composition by Björn called “No Time”

Lena Andersson: Singer who was signed as a teenager in the early 70s to the Swedish label Polar. In 1971 she made a TV appearance singing a Swedish cover of the Buffy Sainte-Marie song “I’m Gonna Be a Country Girl Again”. This song went to #1 in Sweden and launched her career. She also had a fanbase in Japan and she recorded a few songs in Japanese.

Svenne and Lotta: Husband and wife duo from the 60s. Svenne is Swedish and was in the band The Hep Stars and Lotta was originally from the United States, where she was in a girl group called The Sherrys – she was known as Charlotte Butler then. In the late 60s she joined the Hep Stars and sang on a few of their singles “Let it Be Me” and “Speedy Gonzales” are just a couple that she contributed vocals to. In 1975 they released the song “Bang-A-Boomerang”, which was written by Benny and Björn of ABBA. Ultimately, they didn’t represent Sweden that year in the Eurovision Song Contest, but it’s a great pop song. They were a success in Denmark, where they were one of the best selling acts of all time.

Denmark:

Denmark also had a rock and roll scene starting in the late 50s and early 60s. Many of the early 60s bands were influenced by guitar groups like The Shadows. The bands that came later were inspired by The Beatles.

Anna Karina: Actress born in Denmark who started her career in France, notably being in Jean-Luc Godard films like Une femme est une femme and Vivre sa vie. She moved to France at the age of 17 very poor, not speaking a word of French. One day she was approached by a woman who was from an advertising agency to model in an advertisement. In the late 60s she made her foray into singing with singles like “Sous le soleil exactement” and “Roller Girl”. As a singer she worked with famous French songwriter Serge Gainsbourg.

The Beefeaters: Blues rock and soul influenced garage band that formed in 1964. They opened for Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall, and Pink Floyd when they played shows in Denmark. They have also worked with Alexis Korner, one of the founding fathers of British Blues.  Their 1967 self-titled debut was considered one of the most important Danish albums. My favourite track on this album is “Night Flight” because it’s psychedelic and sounds so ahead of its time. They also do a decent job with covers of “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” and “Crossroads”.

The Cliffters: Denmark’s first rock band. They were heavily influenced by The Shadows and like them, they mostly play instrumentals. Some of their best known instrumentals are “Perfidia”, “How Wonderful to Know” (a song in English), and “Django”. The band were formed in the late 50s. “How Wonderful to Know” was #1 in their home country and launched the band’s career. “Django” was a hit in Japan. One of the members, guitarist Johnny Reimar was popular in Germany.

Gasolin’: Copenhagen band formed in 1969 and active through the late 70s. They were the most popular Danish band in the 70s. Their music ranges from psychedelic folk to arena rock.

The Hitmakers: Danish band that started off as heavily influenced by The Shadows, but later on took more influences from The Beatles. In fact, their first single was a cover of “I Saw Her Standing There”. Like The Beatles they also recorded a cover of “Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard. In 1965 they released their biggest hit “Stop the Music”. Like other Danish (and international) rock bands, their sound evolved to a more psychedelic/hippie one, but it was not as successful as attempts by other bands. The band broke up in 1968.

The Rocking Ghosts: Band founded in 1962. They won a contest in Copenhagen in 1964 and got signed to Metronome Records, a Swedish record label. Like the Cliffters, they were influenced by Cliff Richard and The Shadows. Their first album was an album of instrumentals, but they weren’t only known for that. They had a vocal hit called “Belinda”. Their style evolved and in 1967 their sound turned psychedelic. They opened for prog rock band Procol Harum. The band still tour to this day.

Steppeulvene: The best known Danish hippie band. Like Canadian rock band Steppenwolf, their band was a namesake of the book Steppenwolf. They only released one album called Hip in 1967. In 2014, a biopic of the band, called Itsi Bitsi (named after one of their songs), was released. Their album also was reissued this year.

Norway:

Norway’s rock scene had bands with a wide variety of sounds like Shadows-esque guitar group instrumentals, Frank Zappa inspired progressive rock, and synthpop.

A-ha: New wave group formed in Oslo in 1982. If you watched MTV, you’ll know their 1985 hit “Take On Me”. The song was #1 in Norway, Australia, Austria, Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. They followed up with another international hit called “The Sun Always Shines on TV”, their first #1 in Britain. A-ha had other hits in their country throughout the 80s and in 2015 reunited, released an album, and planned to tour again.

Aunt Mary: Short lived heavy prog rock band. I like the funk and soul influenced “Listen To The Music” (love the guitar solo), Jethro Tull-esque “Whispering Farewell”, and “There’s a Lot of Fish in the Sea”.

The Beatniks: Norwegian rock band founded in 1961. Their sound is reminiscent of The Shadows. “Flickorna I Smaland” was their first single. They were one of the top bands of their style in Scandinavia.

The Pussycats: Norwegian band active during the mid 60s. Their sound is British Invasion and Shadows influenced.

Titanic: Hard rock band active during the 70s. If you like Traffic and Santana, you might like them. Roy Robinson’s voice is a lot like Steve Winwood’s. Their first album was released in 1970. Their biggest hit in the UK was the catchy, funky instrumental “Sultana”. Love the percussion on this track! If you liked that track, you’ll also like “Searching”. Great organ playing on that track!

The Vanguards: One of the most popular guitar groups of the 60s in Norway. If you like instrumentals, their music is for you.

Finland:

Finnish rock, like other Scandinavian countries, was influenced by British and American groups. Many bands did covers of pop hits in their native language. In the 70s, progressive rock had a following there and a couple bands from Finland got famous internationally.

Blues Section: 60s band inspired by jazz, blues, r&b, and 60s hard rock. The band were short-lived, only being together for a year. A good amount of the members went on to join prog rock bands Tasavallen Presidentti and Wigwam. My favourite songs of theirs are the mod sounding “Hey Hey Hey” “Call Me On Your Telephone”. I also like the songs “Answer to Life”, “Only Dreamin'”, and “End of a Poem”.

Ernos: Band active from the mid 60s to the early 70s. Their music is mostly in Finnish and are original compositions. The band had a following in Estonia, where they were one of the first western bands to play in Tallinn.

Jormas: Band active from the mid 60s to the late 60s. Many of their singles were overs of popular songs like “Go Now”, “California Dreamin'”, and “Mr Tambourine Man”.

Tabula Rasa: Finnish prog band from the mid 70s. They have opened for Wigwam. They released two albums, a self titled debut and Ekkedien Tanssi. Highlights from their debut album are the psychedelic “Lähtö” and the Jethro Tull-esque “Tuho”. If you only listen to English language prog rock, you’re really missing out. Check out this band!

Tasavallan Presidentti: Prog rock band founded in 1969 and released albums through the mid 70s. They were made up of some members of Blues Section and other Finnish musicians. Their first album is a good place to start and it contains influences from blues and jazz. There’s a bit of poetry in it as well. If you like Procol Harum and Jethro Tull you might like Tasavallan Presidentti.

Topmost: 60s band best known for covers of songs in English and Finnish. They were one of the most popular bands in the country at the time. Here are a couple of Finnish covers of songs from the 60s I like:

Wigwam:  Progressive rock band from the 70s with a decent sized following in Europe. They were the biggest band to come from Finland. From 1969-1977, they released 6 albums. Their debut album, Hard n’ Horny, is good and I would recommend it if you’re a fan of The Zombies, The Kinks, ELP, and The Nice. Their second album, Tombstone Valentine, has a diverse sound amongst the tracks on the album, from the more poppy “Wishful Thinker” to the more psychedelic prog “Frederick & Bill” (my favourite track on the album) to the country influenced “Autograph” to the jazzy “For America”. I also like the song “1936 Lost in Snow”. My favourite album of theirs is Fairyport from 1971.

Iceland:

Björk: One of the most famous Icelandic singers. Her 90s albums are the best known, but she started recording songs in the 70s. She was born in Reykjavik. She got her start in 1976, aged 11, when she sang “I Love To Love”, a song by Tina Charles, for radio. This radio debut led to her getting a record deal. Her first album was released in 1977 not too long after she turned 12. It was a mix of covers of popular English songs by Stevie Wonder, Edgar Winter, Melanie Safka, and The Beatles translated to Icelandic and songs written for the album by other songwriters and Björk herself. It is a rarity and collectors item, with copies of the album going for hundreds of dollars. The album begins with a sitar with the song “Arabadrengurinn” and then the song  turns a bit poppy/disco. The album overall is an interesting listen. As a teenager she was in a punk band called Spit and Snot and a jazz fusion group called Exodus. Tappi Tíkarrass was another band she was in after those bands were formed. Their sound is a punk with a mix of other influences. She was also in a band called The Sugarcubes before her solo career in the 90s.

Jónas og Einar: Prog folk duo from Iceland. They only released one album in 1972 called Gypsy Queen. Their sound is a bit like Jethro Tull’s at times.

Stuðmenn: Rock band made up of students from Iceland that formed in 1970 in Reykjavik. Their first single was released in 1974 and their first album, Sumar á Syrlandi, was released in 1975 and launched their career. Tivoli, their sophomore album, sold better than their debut. In addition to being musicians, they are pop artists. They have played concerts with Long John Baldry (who sang vocals on one song on their debut album, “She Broke My Heart”), Ringo Starr, and Kevin Ayers. You can find their albums on Spotify.

Thor’s Hammer/Hljómar: Sixties rock band formed in Keflavik. In 1966 they released and English EP called Umbarumbamba, a nice blend of freakbeat, garage rock, and beat music. Some claim that this is one of the rarest released records in the world with Parlophone pressings of the album selling for hundreds of dollars. Checking eBay, I saw an original Icelandic pressing going for over $2,000 and that’s not a typo! Take a look at this screenshot! It’s a great album, but I’m not made of money. If you like The Who, The Beatles, The Easybeats, and The Kinks, you’ll certainly love this band. In 1967 and 1968 they released two Icelandic language albums. They’re worth checking out.

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Trúbrot: Icelandic prog rock supergroup made up of members of Thor’s Hammer and Flowers in response to the commercialised pop scene in their country. They released their first album in 1969 and released four albums total. They were together until sometime in the early 70s. The first album only contains Icelandic language songs, but later albums had songs in English. These albums are worth a listen. The song below is a cover of The Beatles’ “Things We Said Today”.

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