ABBA (although an acronym the name is often written as Abba) was a Swedish pop music group, the most successful to date from that country. The group was formed around 1970 by Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, Agnetha Fältskog, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, and the name ABBA comprises their first initials. They became widely known when they won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with "Waterloo". Abba split up in 1982.
Benny Andersson was a member of the Hep Stars, a Swedish rock/pop band who were very popular in their native country during the 1960s. The band was modeled after various US and UK groups of the time, such as Herman's Hermits, The Who and the Rolling Stones, and had a particularly huge following among teenage girls. At the same time Björn Ulvaeus fronted a skiffle group, the Hootenanny Singers, with an altogether softer and more easy-listening sound than the Hep Stars. Nevertheless, the singers' paths crossed and eventually the two found a lot in common and decided to write songs together. One of these, "Isn't It Easy To Say", became a big hit for the Hep Stars, and Björn sometimes guested with the band on tour. It was even suggested that the two bands merge, but in the event this didn't occur. Instead, the Hep Stars manager Stig Anderson saw more potential in Benny and Björn working together, and encouraged them to write more songs and create their first album together, Lycka (meaning "happiness").
In the meantime, Agnetha Fältskog was a pop phenomenon in her own right, singing light pop songs in the Shlager style, as well as covering contemporary hits. She met the Hep Stars on a folkpark tour - the main live circuit at the time - and fell in love with Björn. Their 1971 marriage was the Swedish celebrity wedding of the year. The final piece of what was to become Abba was Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad, a housewife and part-time cabaret singer. She won a talent competition on the night Sweden changed over from driving on the left side of the road to the right, and with the TV companies' big shows encouraging people to stay at home, the TV exposure brought her to the attention of a wide public. She and Benny Andersson crossed paths, and both girls provided uncredited backing vocals for Lycka.
The early years
Björn and Agnetha continued to pursue separate musical careers after their marriage. However, the ambitious Stig was determined to break into the mainstream international market, a feat never before achieved by a Swedish pop act. He encouraged Björn and Benny to write Lena Anderson's entry for the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest. "Say It With a Song" came third, but it was a big hit in several countries. Björn and Benny persevered, experimenting with new sounds and vocal arrangements, and began to find success in Japan. One of these songs, "People Need Love", featured more prominent guest vocals by the two girls. The single, credited to "Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid", was a minor hit, but enough to convince them that they were on to something with their new sound.
In 1973 the group decided to have another crack at Eurovision, this time with the song "Ring Ring". The track was engineered by Michael B. Tretow, who by emulating Phil Spector's Wall of Sound in time perfected the wholly new "Abba Sound". Stig employed Neil Sedaka to write an English lyric for the contest. Again they came third! But the proto-group "Björn, Benny, Agnetha & Frida" put out an album, Ring Ring, and both single and album did well across Europe. About this time, Stig started to refer to the group as "Abba", having grown fed up with the unwieldy names. This was done as a joke at first, as Abba is the name of a Swedish fish canning company. Thanks to the fish canners' relative anonymity elsewhere, however, the name stuck.
Eurovision and after
In 1974, they decided to try Eurovision once more, and were inspired by the growing glam rock scene in the UK, and tracks such as Wizzard's "See My Baby Jive". As a result, they started work on "Waterloo", an unashamedly glam-style pop track, again utilising the wall of sound approach mastered by Michael B. Tretow. This time they were far better prepared for the contest, and already had an album's worth of material released by the time of the show, held in Brighton, England. This time there was no mistake - the song won hands down and catapulted the group into the British consciousness for the first time. This time they had a catchy name - Abba - and people could buy a whole album (Waterloo) straight away.
The song was a UK hit, the group's first number one. It also was the first to be released in the US, where it did moderately well. However, the momentum seemed hard to maintain, and follow-up singles did nowhere near as well, partly because the group were overstretched and unable to promote these convincingly in any one territory, and partly because the songs were perhaps not as strong. It wasn't until "S.O.S", a song originally written for one of Agnetha's solo projects, that Abba scored another UK top ten. This time it consolidated the band's UK presence, no longer were they dismissed as a one-hit wonder.
Things really took off in 1975, with every single release charting solidly, and yielding several more number one hits, including "Mamma Mia". The band even released the somewhat hubristically titled Greatest Hits at this time. However, the best was yet to come, with the 1976 album, Arrival. This album was polished more highly than any so far, and represented a new level of accomplishment in both songwriting and studio work. Hit after hit flowed from the album - "Money, Money, Money", "Knowing Me, Knowing You", "Fernando", and the huge hit, "Dancing Queen". By this time, Abba were massive in both the UK and Australia, but still with only moderate recognition in the US.
By this time, the Abba sound was synonymous with European pop, and started to be widely copied by groups such as Brotherhood of Man, and later, Bucks Fizz. It was felt that it was necessary to copy Abba's sound and two girl, two boy approach in order to win Eurovision, and as Brotherhood of Man won in 1976, and Bucks Fizz in 1981 it seems they had a point. Abba meanwhile were not standing still, and followed up Arrival with the more complex 1977 release, Abba - The Album, released to coincide with the feature film of their Australian tour, Abba - The Movie. This album was, if anything, even more polished than Arrival, but was less well received by the critics. However, the hits continued to flow—"Take a Chance On Me", "Thank You For the Music" and "Name of the Game" were all chart toppers.
Rise and Fall
By 1978, Abba were megastars. They built a new state of the art studio in Stockholm, and it was in demand from numerous other bands - Led Zeppelin's In Through the Out Door was recorded there, for example. The single "Summer Night City" topped the charts, and set the stage for Abba's foray into the disco sound, with the album Voulez-Vous. This release started to mark the beginning of Abba's decline in Europe, while getting them considerably more attention in the US. Hits still came - "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (A Man After Midnight)", "Voulez-Vous", "Chiquitita" and "I Have a Dream" all were taken from this album, but in the light of Punk and New Wave in the UK, many felt that Abba were past their prime and were looking for something new.
Abba toured the US in 1979, with huge audiences, but the US breakthrough was perhaps too little, too late. The next release, Super Trouper (1980), again achieved respectable sales but it started to sound as if the group themselves were running out of ideas. It is ironic that this, and the final album, The Visitors (1981) show a songwriting maturity and depth of feeling that is distinctly lacking on their earlier recordings.
Despite a feeling that Abba were in decline, the band were still achieving huge audiences into the early 1980s, and might have continued indefinitely if it wasn't for the fact that on a personal level, the married members of the group were falling apart. For a while it was possible to keep personal and professional lives separate, and it was under this arrangement that the last two albums were recorded. However, the songs of the time - such as "Winner Takes it All" and "One Of Us" - give a glimpse of the personal difficulties the group's members were facing. In time, it was unsustainable, and the band decided to finally split in 1982. The Visitors was to be the last "proper" album the group recorded, though there have been many compilations, re-releases and a live album put out by the record companies since.
Fashion and Videos
Abba were well known for their colourful costumes (the epitome of 1970s fashion), and also for the videos which accompanied some of their biggest hits -- these being among the earliest examples of the genre. All of Abba's videos were directed by Lasse Hallström, who also directed a feature-length film about the group, Abba - The Movie. Abba chose to make them because they were often touring and could not appear in all the countries where the song was likely to be a hit. Some of these videos became classics. For example, the video of "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 radio and television, starring Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge, who always entered the studio shouting "Aha!", this being the next word in the lyrics of the original song.
Ring Ring (1973)
Greatest Hits (1975)
Abba - The Album (1977)
Greatest Hits Vol 2. (1979)
Super Trouper (1980)
The Visitors (1981)
The Singles (1982)
Björn and Benny wrote the music for the West End show, Chess, in partnership with lyricist Tim Rice. This opened in 1984 in London, and ran for three years. Björn and Benny had often expressed a wish to write a musical, inspired by the successes of Andrew Lloyd-Webber throughout the 70s. Their first effort was part of the Abba stage show for 1977, the so called "mini-musical", The Girl with The Golden Hair. Excerpts from this can be seen as part of Abba - The Movie. Some of the songs also feature on The Album. Björn and Benny followed Chess with Kristina från Duvemåla, a musical co-written with Lars Rudolfsson and based on the work of Swedish novelist Vilhelm Moberg. Mamma Mia, a musical based around Abba's songs, premiered in London in the late 1990s.ongs.
Both Agnetha and Frida went on to have some solo success after Abba split - Frida with Phil Collins produced the album Something's Going On, and Agnetha returning to her solo career with Wrap Your Arms Around Me. Both were moderately successful. Both persevered with further releases in the 80s, but eventually decided to retire. Agnetha subsequently became very private and reclusive, refusing to give interviews.
Abba experienced a resurgence in the 1990s after being largely forgotten during the 80s. To some extent this was in an ironic way - fondly remembered for being so bad they were good; yet for others it was the recognition that while Abba were frequently dismissed by the critics during their heyday as a lightweight pop act, and sneered at by punk and new wave musicians, in fact they were masters of their art - the three minute pop song - something very few others can claim to have been as successful at. Björn and Benny were finally recognised in 2001 with an Ivor Novello Award for their songwriting. Many former punk and New Wave artistes have since admitted a fondness and respect for Abba they were unwilling to own up to in their early years.
The sound track of the successful Australian film Muriel's Wedding (1994) contained several Abba songs, which were featured prominently in the movie, first when the two female leads lip sync "Waterloo" and secondly when the wedding features an orchestral arrangement of "Dancing Queen."
The Abba tribute band Bjorn Again became so successful that as of 2004 there are five 'Bjorn Again's performing in various parts of the world. The original Bjorn Again have now been touring for 15 years, longer than the original group.
A Swedish band, the A-Teens, started their career in pop music borrowing Abba's arrangement of two men and two women. The Swedish teenagers launched their careers with an album containing only Abba covers.
Techno and house remakes of many original Abba hits were released under the name Abbacadabra.
And a Broadway (originally West End) musical, Mamma Mia, whose music is all Abba songs, was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical in 2002.
In 2000, Abba were reported to have turned down an offer of approximately one billion dollars to do a reunion tour.
Abba has sold over 350 million albums worldwide. Only the Beatles and Elvis Presley have ever sold more.
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