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ABBA (clockwise from top left: Anni-Frid ('Frida'), Benny, Agnetha, Björn) on the cover of their single Summer Night City.
ABBA (clockwise from top left: Anni-Frid ('Frida'), Benny, Agnetha, Björn) on the cover of their single Summer Night City.

ABBA (1972–1983) was a Swedish pop music group. They remain the most successful Swedish music act and were one of the most popular groups in the world. Estimates of ABBA's total worldwide sales vary from 140 to 500 million (there seems to be no reliable source for this information) which could make them the second most successful band of all time after The Beatles.

ABBA was formed around 1972 with Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, Agnetha Fältskog, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad (nicknamed "Frida"). They became widely known after winning the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with "Waterloo". The group consisted of two couples, Björn and Agnetha along with Benny and Frida. ABBA collectively decided to take a break at the beginning of 1983. They have yet to record together again in the studio.

ABBA is an acronym formed from the first letters of each group member's name. It is usually written ABBA but is sometimes written as a word, Abba. The first B in the logo version of the name was reversed on the band's promotional material from 1976 onwards.


Before ABBA

Andersson was a member of the Swedish rock/pop band Hep Stars who were very popular in Sweden during the 1960s. The band was modeled after various US and UK groups such as Herman's Hermits, The Who and The Rolling Stones. The Hep Stars had a huge following, especially among teenage girls. Meanwhile Björn Ulvaeus was fronting a skiffle group called the Hootenanny Singers whose sound was softer and more easy-listening than the Hep Stars. The singers crossed paths sometimes and they decided to write songs together. One of these, "Isn't It Easy To Say," became a hit for the Hep Stars and Björn sometimes guested with the band on tour. It was even suggested that the two bands merge but this never happened. Stig Anderson, manager of the Hootenanny Singers and founder of Polar Music, saw more potential in Benny and Björn working together and encouraged them to write more songs and create an album which was eventually called Lycka ("Happiness") when released on the Polar label.

Agnetha Fältskog was ABBA's youngest member and a pop phenomenon in her own right who wrote and performed Swedish hits while in her teens and had also played Mary Magdalene in the Swedish production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Agnetha was noted by critics and songwriters as an accomplished composer but she considered it hard work, writing and performing light pop songs in the Schlager style, recording covers of hit songs and touring Swedish folkparks, the main "live circuit" at that time. Inevitably she bumped into the Hootenanny Singers on their folkpark tours, meeting and eventually falling in love with Björn. Their marriage in 1971 was the Swedish celebrity wedding of the year and drew much publicity.

Housewife Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad was a part-time cabaret singer who decided to enter a talent competition and won. Sweden was changing over from driving on the left side of the road to the right and a series of spectacular shows was being aired to encourage people to stay off the roads on the night of the switchover. Invited to appear on TV that evening with her winning song, Frida's musical career took off. She met Benny Andersson on the wonted folkpark tour. They became lovers and Benny invited Anni-Frid to sing backing vocals with Agnetha on the Lycka album (the two women were uncredited for this work).

Early years

The cover of the 1973 version of the album Ring Ring.
The cover of the 1973 version of the album Ring Ring.

By the early 1970s although Björn and Agnetha were married they pursued their own separate musical careers. However Stig was ambitious and determined to break into the mainstream international market, not something that Swedish acts were usually known for, though previously achieved by Swedish instrumental guitar group The Spotnicks (their best known hit was "Orange Blossom Special"). As a result he encouraged Björn and Benny to write a song for the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest and it was performed by Lena Anderson. "Say It With a Song" won third in the contest selection rounds but was a huge hit in several countries, convincing Stig he was on the right track.

Björn and Benny persevered with their songwriting and experimented with new sounds and vocal arrangements which brought some success in Japan. One of the songs they came up with was "People Need Love," featuring guest vocals by the girls who were now given much greater prominence than previously. Everyone involved felt enthusiastic about the new sound and Stig released it as a single, credited to Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid. The record reached number 17 in the Swedish charts, enough to convince them they were on to something.

The following year they decided to have another crack at Eurovision, this time with the song "Ring, Ring." The studio work was handled by Michael B. Tretow who experimented with a Phil Spector-like "wall of sound" production technique that became the wholly new ABBA sound. Stig arranged an English translation of the lyrics by Neil Sedaka and Phil Cody and they thought this would be a sure-fire winner. Yet again, it came in third. Nevertheless the proto-group put out an album called Ring Ring, still carrying the awkward naming of Björn, Benny, Agnetha & Frida. The album did well and the "Ring Ring" single was a hit in many parts of Europe but Stig felt the true breakthrough could only come with a UK or US hit.

Around this time Stig, having tired of the unwieldy names, started to refer to the group privately and publicly as ABBA. This was done as a joke at first, since Abba was also the name of a well-known fish-canning company in Sweden. However, since the fish canners were more or less unknown outside Sweden, Stig came to believe the name would work in international markets and so it stuck. Later the group negotiated with the canners for the right to use the name.

Eurovision and after

They tried Eurovision again in 1974, now inspired by the growing glam rock scene in the UK and tracks like Wizzard's "See My Baby Jive". "Waterloo" was an unashamedly glam-style pop track produced with Michael B. Tretow's wall of sound approach. Now far more experienced, they were better prepared for the contest and had an album's worth of material released when the show was held in Brighton, England. The song won hands down and catapulted them into British consciousness for the first time. Now they had a catchy name, ABBA, and people could buy the whole album (Waterloo) straight away.

"Waterloo" was ABBA's first UK number one. It was also released in the US, reaching #6. However momentum proved hard to maintain and their follow-up singles "So Long" and "Honey Honey" did not do nearly as well. The group was overstretched and unable to promote the songs convincingly in any one country. Moreover, much of their material was still heavily derivative. It wasn't until the release of their second proper album ABBA and their single "SOS" that ABBA began to show the first signs that they were destined for bigger things. "SOS" consolidated ABBA's presence in the UK where it was a Top 10 hit and they were no longer regarded as a one-hit wonder.

Much wider success came in 1975 with every release charting solidly and "Mamma Mia" reached the UK number one spot in January 1976.

At this time the band released the somewhat hubristically titled Greatest Hits album despite having had only five Top 40 hits in the UK and the US. This album included "Fernando" (an earlier version had been a Swedish-language hit single for Anni-Frid and included on her 1975 Benny-produced solo LP Frida Ensam). Becoming one of ABBA's best-known tracks, "Fernando" did not appear on the Swedish or Australian releases of Greatest Hits. In Sweden the song would wait until 1982's The Singles-The First Ten Years to appear in an English-language version credited to ABBA; the track was later included in the Australian release of their 1976 album Arrival.

The next album, Arrival, represented a new level of accomplishment in both songwriting and studio work for ABBA. Hit after hit flowed from it: "Money, Money, Money", "Knowing Me, Knowing You" and "Dancing Queen", their most enduring and definitive hit. By this time ABBA were widely popular in the UK, most of Western Europe and Australia (who in a way almost "adopted" ABBA as their own) but still had only moderate recognition and airplay in the US and "Dancing Queen" remains the only number one ABBA ever achieved there.

Movie poster for ABBA: The Movie and The Album carried the same artwork.
Movie poster for ABBA: The Movie and The Album carried the same artwork.

By this time the ABBA sound was synonymous with European pop and was widely copied by groups like Brotherhood of Man and later, Bucks Fizz. Some felt it was necessary to copy ABBA's sound and two girl/two boy approach to win Eurovision and the notion seemed validated when Brotherhood of Man won in 1976 and Bucks Fizz took the prize in 1981.

Meanwhile in 1977 ABBA followed up Arrival with their more complex The Album which was released to coincide with ABBA: The Movie, a feature film of their Australian tour. This album was less well-received by the critics but it spawned several hits, "Take a Chance On Me" and "The Name of the Game", which both topped the UK charts. This album also carried the well-known "Thank You for the Music" which was later released in the UK as a single (1983) and had been a B-side of "Eagle" in territories where that song was released as a single.

Later years

By 1978 ABBA was a megagroup. They converted a disused cinema into the Polar Music Studio, a new state-of-the-art studio in Stockholm which was used by several other successful bands (Led Zeppelin's In Through the Out Door was recorded there, for example).

Their standalone single "Summer Night City", their last Swedish number one, stopped just short of topping the UK charts but set the stage for ABBA's foray into disco with the album Voulez-Vous, which was released in Spring 1979. This release marked a slight decline in ABBA's popularity in the UK and Europe but gained them more attention in the US. The hits still came: "Does Your Mother Know", "Voulez-Vous", "Chiquitita" and "I Have a Dream" all charted.

Later that year, the group released their second greatest hits album, Greatest Hits Vol 2, which featured a brand new track "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)", their best known disco hit.

In 1979 ABBA toured the US and Canada, playing to huge audiences, but the breakthrough there was perhaps too little, too late.

1980's Super Trouper reflected a change in ABBA's style with more prominent synthesisers and more personal lyrics. It set a record for the most preorders ever received for a UK album after 1 million copies were ordered before release. Anticipation for the release had been built up by "The Winner Takes It All", the group's eighth UK chart topper (their first since 1978). The next single from the album, "Super Trouper" also hit number 1.

The Visitors (1981), their final studio album, showed a songwriting maturity and depth of feeling distinctly lacking from their earlier recordings but but still placed the band squarely in the pop genre, with catchy tunes and harmonies. The Visitors' title track refers to secret meetings held against the approval of Communist governments in Soviet satellite states and other tracks address topics like aging, loss of innocence, a parent watching her child grow up and so on. Their melodies were still catchy but their change of style was reflected by the start of a commercial decline after their final great pop single "One of Us" which was a worldwide hit in December 1981.

Although now regarded as a group in decline, ABBA still drew huge audiences, particularly in continental Europe and might have gone on indefinitely if it not for the band's personal turmoils: the two married couples were both divorced by this point. Songs like "The Winner Takes It All" and "One Of Us" gave glimpses of personal issues ABBA's members were facing.

In summer 1982, the group gathered to record a new album but in the end, they settled for a double album compilation of all their past successes with two new songs. The double album The Singles-The First Ten Years topped the UK album chart and was a worldwide bestseller. The new tracks were "Under Attack" and"The Day Before You Came", which was the last song ABBA ever recorded together. The group split in 1983 though there was no formal announcement.


Fashion and videos

Members of ABBA embodied the height of disco glamour in the 70s.
Members of ABBA embodied the height of disco glamour in the 70s.

ABBA was widely noted as an epitome of 1970s fashion for the colourful costumes its members wore. The videos which accompanied some of their biggest hits are often cited as being among the earliest examples of the genre. Most of ABBA's videos (and ABBA - The Movie) were directed by Lasse Hallström who would later direct the films My Life as a Dog, The Cider House Rules and Chocolat.

ABBA made videos because their songs were hits in so many different countries and personal appearances weren't always possible. Some of these videos became classics because of the 1970s era costumes and early video effects (such as overlapping one girl's profile with the other's full face) never mind the generous use of blue eyeshadow. In 2005 most of their videos could be seen on the DVDs ABBA Gold and The Definitive Collection.

A still from ABBA's music video, or promo clip, "Ring Ring."
A still from ABBA's music video, or promo clip, "Ring Ring."

Several ABBA videos were spoofed by others: The video "Knowing Me, Knowing You" was satirised on the BBC comedy show Not the Nine O'Clock News as "Super Dooper." The title Knowing Me, Knowing You was also borrowed for a spoof chat show on BBC starring Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge who always entered the studio shouting "Aha!" (an exclamation in the lyrics). UK comedy duo French and Saunders parodied ABBA with their song "C'est La Vie", an homage to "The Winner Takes it All."

After ABBA

Björn and Benny wrote the music for the West End show Chess (1984) with lyricist Tim Rice. Chess ran for three years in London. The show also opened on Broadway in the US (1988) but the song order, lyrics and storyline had been tampered with and the show closed within weeks.

Björn and Benny, inspired by the successes of Rice and his former collaborator Andrew Lloyd-Webber, had long expressed their desire to write a musical. Their first attempt had been a "mini-musical", The Girl with The Golden Hair, performed by the group during their 1977 tour of Europe and Australia. Excerpts were included in ABBA - The Movie and ABBA - The Album. Björn and Benny followed Chess with Kristina från Duvemåla (1995), directed for the stage by Lars Rudolfsson and based on the Emigrants tetralogy by Swedish novelist Vilhelm Moberg. Mamma Mia!, a musical built around ABBA's songs, had its London premier in 1999. In 2003 their first musical was given new life in a Swedish-language version, Chess På Svenska.

Agnetha and Frida each had some moderate solo success after ABBA split. In 1982, Frida released her successful Phil Collins-produced album Something's Going On (with hit single "I Know There's Something Going On"), and Agnetha followed in 1983 with Wrap Your Arms Around Me. Both had further releases during the 1980s but eventually retired.

After I Stand Alone in 1987 Agnetha withdrew from public life and refused to give interviews. In April 2004 she emerged to release a disc of cover songs called "My Colouring Book" which had a mediocre reception but debuted at number one in Sweden and number six in Germany. The album went gold in Finland and sold enough in Great Britain to get a silver disc award.

Frida released Shine (produced by Steve Lillywhite) in 1984 but it was not until 1996 that she released her last album to date, the Swedish-language Djupa Andetag which had great success in Sweden but went unknown internationally. In September 2004 Frida recorded "The Sun Will Shine Again" with former Deep Purple member Jon Lord for his latest album, making some rare appearances on German television.

After being largely forgotten throughout most of the 1980s ABBA experienced a resurgence. The attention was often ironic, along the lines of "they were so naff they were good," yet others recognised that while ABBA was often panned by critics and sneered at by punk and New Wave musicians they were masters of their art, the three minute pop song. Björn and Benny were finally recognised in 2001 with an Ivor Novello Award for their songwriting. Many former punk and New Wave artistes later admitted to levels of fondness and respect for ABBA they were unwilling to own up to in their early years.

During the 1990s many ABBA tracks were rediscovered and covered by other artists, such as Erasure, Ash and the A-Teens, among others. The avant-garde band Blancmange had also covered The Day Before You Came in the mid-1980s, one of the first bands to cover an ABBA track. In 1988, Information Society released their self-titled album with a cover of "Lay All Your Love On Me".

On April 6th 2004 three former ABBA members (Björn, Benny and Frida) showed up together in London for the 30th anniversary of their Eurovison Song Contest win in 1974, appearing on stage after the fifth anniversary performance of Mamma Mia!. In a November 2004 interview with the German magazine Bunte Björn said a reunion would not satisfy ABBA's many fans, even though there are legions of them around the world often clamouring for one. In February 2005 all four members of ABBA appeared together in public for the first time since 1986 at the gala opening of Mamma Mia! in Stockholm.

On October 22 2005, during the celebration show for the 50th anniversary of the Eurovision Song Contest held in Copenhagen, Denmark, Waterloo was voted the best Eurovision song in the history of the contest.

ABBA Trivia

  • Songwriters Benny and Björn were unable to write music down on paper. Only Agnetha could (as revealed in a Dick Cavett interview with the group).
  • At the height of their success ABBA was Sweden's biggest export, exceeding even Volvo cars.
  • While selling their music into Russia during the late 1970s ABBA was paid in oil commodities because of an embargo on the rouble.
  • All the royalties from the song Chiquitita were donated to the children's charity UNICEF, and the track featured on a compilation album of the "Music for UNICEF" concert, at which ABBA had performed the song live.
  • The sound track of the successful Australian film Muriel's Wedding (1994) prominently featured ABBA songs: The two female leads lip sync "Waterloo" and the wedding scene is scored to an orchestral rendition of "Dancing Queen". The movie also features "Money Money Money, "Fernando" and "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do".
  • The ABBA tribute band Björn Again became so successful that as of 2004 there were five casts of Björn Again performing in various parts of the world. The original Björn Again had been touring for 15 years, longer than the original group.
  • A Swedish band, the A-Teens, started their career in pop music as ABBA Teens, borrowing ABBA's arrangement of two men and two women. These Swedish teenagers launched their careers with an album containing only ABBA covers.
  • In 2000 ABBA were reported to have turned down an offer of approximately one billion dollars (US) to do a reunion tour.
  • Estimates of ABBA's total worldwide sales vary from 140 to 500 million (there seems to be no reliable source for this information). ABBA's US sales were 20 million, with UK sales estimated at 25 million.
  • In 2005 ABBA's 1976 hit single "Fernando" still held the record for the most weeks spent at number one in Australia (along with The Beatles' "Hey Jude").
  • In addition to being an acronym, the name "ABBA" is also a palindrome. In 1975, ABBA's "SOS" became the first song with a palindromic title recorded by a group with a palindromic name to hit the pop charts.
  • To date, ABBA has only permitted two artists to sample its music: The Fugees, who sampled "The Name Of The Game" for their 1996 track "The Rumble In The Jungle", and Madonna, who sampled "Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)" for her 2005 single "Hung Up".

Tribute Artists & Bands

See also

External links

Preceded by:
Anne-Marie David
Winner of the Eurovision Song Contest
Succeeded by:
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