The ABBA Story by Carl Magnus Palm. Date: April 2008. For Polar Music International/Universal Music Group.
The ABBA story began in June 1966 when Björn Ulvaeus (born 1945) met Benny Andersson (born 1946) for the first time. Björn was a member of the Hootenanny Singers, a very popular folk music group, while Benny played keyboards in Sweden’s biggest pop group of the 1960s, The Hep Stars.
The pair wrote their first song together later that year, and by the end of the decade they had established a regular partnership as composers. By that time, Benny had left The Hep Stars, while the Hootenanny Singers only existed in the recording studio. The Hootenanny Singers released their records on the Polar Music record label, owned by Stig Anderson (1931–1997), who was to become ABBA’s manager. Stig also contributed lyrics to many ABBA hits during the first years of the group’s career.
In the spring of 1969, Björn and Benny met the two women who were to become not only their fiancées but also the other half of ABBA. Agnetha Fältskog (born 1950) had been a successful solo singer since releasing her first single in 1967. She and Björn were married in July 1971. Anni-Frid Lyngstad (born 1945), also known as Frida, started her recording career shortly before Agnetha. Frida was of Norwegian origin, but had moved to Sweden at a very early age. Benny and Frida didn’t get married until October 1978.
At first, the four members collaborated musically mainly by contributing songs, instrumental backing, production work or backing vocals to the recordings they each made as solo or duo acts. In 1970, the attractive sound of their four voices combined gave them the idea to put together the cabaret act Festfolk (which had the double meaning “engaged couples” and “party people”). This first attempt failed, but in the spring of 1972 they recorded a song called ‘People Need Love’, garnering a medium-sized hit in Sweden. At this time they called themselves Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid.
Encouraged by this success, they entered the 1973 Swedish selections for the Eurovision Song Contest with the song ‘Ring Ring’. They finished third, but the single and the album of the same name competed for the top positions on the Swedish chart. ‘Ring Ring’ also became a hit in several other European countries.
The group entered the selections again in 1974, this time with ‘ Waterloo’, which took them all the way to the finals in Brighton, England. By this time they had changed their name to ABBA, an acronym of their first names. ABBA was also the name of a Swedish canned fish company, which luckily agreed to lending their name to a pop group. The Eurovision Song Contest on April 6, 1974 turned out to be the most famous moment in ABBA history, when the group won the international juries over with ‘ Waterloo’.
Soon after this triumph, ‘ Waterloo’ was Number One on the charts all over Europe, and even reached the US Top Ten. The album of the same name was also a huge hit in Sweden. However, the “stigma” of being winners of the Eurovision Song Contest made it difficult for ABBA to be taken seriously when they tried to follow this first success. It was not until some 18 months later that they got a major worldwide hit again with ‘SOS’, taken off their third album, simply titled ABBA.
‘Mamma Mia’, also taken from ABBA, returned the group to the UK Number One spot, which they occupied a total of nine times between 1974 and 1980. ‘Mamma Mia’ was also a Number One hit in Australia, which was the first territory to release it as a single in August 1975. Over the next few years, Australia would be caught up in a virtual ABBA fever, giving the group a total of six Number One hits.
1976 was the year when ABBA finally and firmly established themselves as one of the most popular groups in the world. The different greatest hits compilations released in the UK and Australia this year (Greatest Hits and The Best Of ABBA respectively) are still among the best-selling albums of all time in those territories. Classic single releases such as ‘Fernando’ and ‘Dancing Queen’ topped the charts all over the world. In April 1977, ‘Dancing Queen’ became ABBA’s only US Number One.
In late 1976 ABBA’s fourth album, Arrival, was released. The album stormed up the charts and spawned hits such as ‘Money, Money, Money’ and ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’. This was followed by a concert tour of Europe and Australia between January and March 1977. The tour was a complete success with capacity houses everywhere. When the tour reached Australia, work was also begun on the feature film ABBA – The Movie. The première of the film in December 1977 coincided with the release of ABBA – The Album. Hits from the album included ‘The Name Of The Game’ and ‘Take A Chance On Me’.
The spring of 1978 saw the group embarking on a major promotional campaign in the USA, leading to a Top Three single with ‘Take A Chance On Me’ and a Top Twenty entry for ABBA – The Album. The hit singles ‘ Summer Night City’ and ‘Chiquitita’ were followed by ABBA’s sixth album, Voulez-Vous, released in April 1979. Earlier that year, Björn and Agnetha announced their divorce. This did not mean the end of ABBA, but it did overthrow their image of two happy, music-making couples.
ABBA’s single ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’ was released in the autumn of 1979, coinciding with a major tour of Canada, the United States and Europe. Around the same time a second compilation album, Greatest Hits Vol.2, became an international success.
In March 1980, ABBA took their tour to Japan for what turned out to be their very last live concerts. The rest of the year was devoted to the recording of ABBA’s next album, Super Trouper, containing classic hits like ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and the title track.
In February 1981 the final blow was dealt to ABBA’s happy-couples image of the 1970s, when Benny and Frida announced their divorce. This event still didn’t stop the foursome from working together. At the end of the year, ABBA’s eighth album, The Visitors, was released. ‘One Of Us’ was the biggest hit off the album.
1982 saw the energy gradually running out of the group, as Björn and Benny set their sights on writing the musical Chess and Agnetha and Frida were reviving their solo careers. The only ABBA LP release this year was a compilation double album of their hit singles, entitled The Singles – The First Ten Years, including two new songs. Although the single ‘The Day Before You Came’ was one of the group’s most accomplished recordings it failed to become a worldwide hit on the scale that they had been used to. At the end of 1982, ABBA decided to take a break. If they wanted to they could always get back together after a few years, they reasoned.
The ABBA Revival
More than two decades after ABBA’s “temporary break”, there still has been no ABBA reunion. But the group’s music lives on: the 1990s saw the beginning of a major revival, with successful cover versions and high-profile movies using ABBA songs on their soundtracks attracting a great deal of attention. The compilation CD ABBA Gold, released in 1992, has sold 26 million copies to date.
The 1993 companion album, More ABBA Gold, went on to sell 2.5 million copies. The box set Thank You For The Music followed in 1994, containing all the hits, selected album tracks, plus rare and previously unreleased recordings.
1999 saw the London première of the hugely successful musical Mamma Mia!, based on the songs of ABBA. The musical opened on Broadway two years later, and today it is the world’s most popular show, having been seen by more than 30 million people. The fifth anniversary of the musical in London in 2004 was attended by Björn, Benny and Frida of ABBA, while the Swedish première in ABBA’s home country of Sweden in February 2005 was attended by all four members of the group. Mamma Mia! shows no signs of slowing down: a movie version, starring Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan, opens in July 2008.
Since the start of the 21st Century, Universal Music has continually upgraded the ABBA catalogue. So far, ABBA’s eight original studio albums have been reissued with additional bonus tracks, revised artwork and expanded booklets (Waterloo, Arrival and ABBA – The Album have since been released as expanded Deluxe Editions, featuring DVDs containing previously unissued television performances and other rarities). The compilation albums ABBA Gold and ABBA Oro have been reissued with revised booklets and updated liner notes, and a double-CD compiling all ABBA singles, The Definitive Collection, has sold more than 1 million copies. A comprehensive box set, The Complete Studio Recordings, was released in 2005, receiving spectacular press reviews.
ABBA’s videos have been collected on two different DVD releases: The Definitive Collection and ABBA Gold, featuring the cleaned-up and remastered original film clips. The two live concert films ABBA – The Movie and ABBA In Concert have been restored and re-released on DVD, with bonus material. Other DVD releases include the official documentary Super Troupers and the short film The Last Video, which featured cameo appearances from the ABBA members. The official website, ABBA – The Site, is an acclaimed resource for authoritative information about the group.
The ABBA members today:
Frida recorded her first English-language solo album in 1982, ABBA’s final year together. The album was called Something’s Going On, and was produced by Phil Collins. In 1984, she released the album Shine, produced by Steve Lillywhite, before abandoning her music career and devoting herself to family life and environmental work. She made a comeback in 1996 with the Swedish-language album Djupa andetag (“Deep Breaths”), which remains her last album to date. Today, Frida is mainly devoted to charity work, but occasionally appears as guest vocalist on other artists’ records, the most high-profile of which was 2004’s collaboration with former Deep Purple member Jon Lord on ‘The Sun Will Shine Again’. In 2005 her albums for Polar Music (Frida ensam, Something’s Going On and Shine) were re-released with bonus tracks. Along with an expanded edition of Djupa andetag, the albums were also included in the box set Frida 4xCD 1xDVD, which featured a DVD of promo clips, television appearances and a brand new interview with Frida.
Agnetha’s first English-language solo album, Wrap Your Arms Around Me, was produced by Mike Chapman in 1983. Two years later she released Eyes Of A Woman, produced by Eric Stewart. Her last album for many years, I Stand Alone, was produced by Peter Cetera in 1987. An authorized book on Agnetha’s life, As I Am, was published in 1996, but otherwise she remained withdrawn from public life. In 2004 Agnetha released her first album in 17 years, entitled My Colouring Book. The following year her three albums released on Polar Music (the Christmas album Nu tändas tusen juleljus – recorded with her daughter Linda – Wrap Your Arms Around Me and Eyes Of A Woman) were re-released with bonus tracks.
Björn and Benny:
After ABBA’s final recordings, Björn and Benny collaborated with Tim Rice on the musical Chess. A concept album was released in 1984, followed by the London première of the musical in May 1986. Benny released two mainly instrumental solo albums in 1987 and 1989. In 1990, Björn and Benny started work on a new musical. The Swedish-language Kristina från Duvemåla (“Kristina From Duvemåla”) was premièred in 1995 and became a major success. The musical has been translated into English and may be staged in the United States at some point.
Benny released his first “solo” album in 12 years in 2001, Benny Anderssons Orkester (“The Benny Andersson Orchestra”); a further three albums with the orchestra have followed since then, along with brief but successful tours. The first few years of the new millennium saw Björn and Benny devote themselves to a revival of their Chess musical. A Swedish production – the first in their home country – opened in Stockholm in 2002. The pair is also engaged in the various international stagings of the Mamma Mia! musical.
Source: Official ABBA biography, written by ABBA historian Carl Magnus Palm.