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ABBA (although an abbreviation, the name is more often written as Abba) was a Swedish pop music group, the most successful one from their native country and second only to The Beatles in total worldwide sales. The group was formed around 1970 by Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, Agnetha Fältskog, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad and the name ABBA incorporates their first initials. They became widely known when they won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo. Abba split up in 1982.

Table of contents
1 Pre-History
2 The Early Years
3 Eurovision and after
4 Rise and Fall
5 Fashion and Videos
6 Albums
7 Chart positions
8 After Abba
9 Trivia
10 External link
11 See also


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 huge following, particularly 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 on a number of occasions, and eventually the two found a lot in common and decided to write songs together. One of these, a track called 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 merged, but in the end this never happened. 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 an album together, eventually called Lycka (happiness) when released.

In the meantime, Agnetha Fältskog was a pop phenomenon in her own right, singing light pop songs in the Shlager style, as well as cover versions of hits from groups of the day. As a result, Agnetha went on a tour of the Swedish folkparks, which was the main "live circuit" at that time. It was only a matter of time before she bumped into the Hep Stars on their folkpark tours, and so she met and fell in love with Björn. They married in 1971, in what was the Swedish celebrity wedding of the year, with huge publicity. The final piece of what was to become Abba was provided by housewife Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad, who worked as a cabaret singer part time. She decided to enter a talent competition, which she won. On that particular night, Sweden changed over from driving on the left of the road to the right, and the TV companies put on a series of "big" shows to encourage people to stay off the roads. As a result, Frida was invited to appear on TV with her winning song. The TV exposure brought her to the attention of a wide public for the first time, and so her musical career took off.

Again, it wasn't long before Frida crossed paths with Benny Andersson, and the two found they got on very well. The songwriters asked the girls to provide some backing vocals for the Lycka album, but at this stage the men were still taking the lead vocal parts, and the Abba sound had yet to be discovered.

The Early Years

By the early 1970s, even though Björn and Agnetha were married, they both pursued their own separate musical careers. However, Stig was very ambitious and was determined to break into the mainstream international market - a feat never before achieved by a Swedish pop act. As a result he encouraged Björn and Benny to write a song for the Eurovision Song Contest for the 1972 year, which was performed by Lena Anderson. The song, Say It With a Song, came third in the contest, but was a huge hit in a number of countries, which convinced Stig he was on the right track.

Björn and Benny persevered with creating hit songs, experimenting with new sounds and vocal arrangements, and started to have some success in Japan. One of the songs they came up with was People Need Love, featuring guest vocals by the girls that were given much greater prominence than previously. Everyone involved felt that it was a very good and new sound, and Stig decided to try releasing it as a single. The record was credited to "Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid". The song was a moderate hit, but enough to convince them that they were on to something.

The following year, the group decided to have another crack at Eurovision, this time with the song Ring, Ring. For this one, the studio work was handled by Michael B. Tretow, who was permitted to try some experiments to come up with a Phil Spector-like "wall of sound". The result was the wholly new Abba Sound. For the contest, Stig arranged an English translation of the lyrics by Neil Sedaka, and they felt it was a sure-fire winner. Sadly, it wasn't - it came in third yet again. Nevertheless the proto-group decided to put out an album titled Ring Ring, and again it carried the awkward naming of "Björn, Benny, Agnetha & Frida". The album did well and the Ring Ring single was a huge hit in many parts of Europe - but Stig felt that the true breakthrough would only be to have a UK or US hit. About this time, Stig started to refer to the group privately and publicly 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 well-known fish canning company in Sweden. However, since the fish canners were more or less unknown outside Sweden, Stig felt the name was OK, and so it 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. It wasn't until S.O.S, a song originally written for one of Agnetha's solo projects, that Abba scored another UK number one. 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.


(omitting compilations and reisssues):

Chart positions

Date Pos Wks Date Pos Wks Date Pos Wks Date Pos Wks
01 Ring ring (1) 13.07.1974 32 5 wks             23.06.1973 5 8 wks
02 Waterloo 20.04.1974 1 9 wks         1   13.04.1974 2 14 wks
03 Honey honey                   21.12.1974 16 6 wks
04 I do I do I do I do I do 12.07.1975 38 6 wks             22.03.1975 3 10 wks
05 S.O.S. 20.09.1975 6 10 wks         1   14.06.1975 2 10 wks
06 Mamma mia 13.12.1975 1 14 wks         1   06.12.1975 13 7 wks
07 Fernando 27.03.1976 1 15 wks         1   20.03.1976 1 12 wks
08 Dancing queen 21.08.1976 1 15 wks   1     1   14.08.1976 1 15 wks
09 Money money money 20.11.1976 3 12 wks         1   13.11.1976 1 12 wks
10 Knowing me knowing you 26.02.1977 1 13 wks         1   26.02.1977 3 7 wks
11 The name of the game 22.10.1977 1 12 wks             29.10.1977 2 9 wks
12 Take a chance on me 04.02.1978 1 10 wks             28.01.1978 2 9 wks
13 Eagle (2)                   20.05.1978 4 9 wks
14 Summer night city 16.09.1978 5 9 wks             16.09.1978 5 9 wks
15 Chiquitita 03.02.1979 2 9 wks             27.01.1979 1 13 wks
16 Does your mother know 05.05.1979 4 9 wks             12.05.1979 4 8 wks
17 Voulez-vous (3) 14.07.1979 3 11 wks             21.07.1979 4 9 wks
18 Gimme gimme gimme (a man after midnight) 20.10.1979 3 11 wks             27.10.1979 2 9 wks
19 I have a dream 15.12.1979 2 10 wks             15.12.1979 1 11 wks
20 The winner takes it all 02.08.1980 1 10 wks             02.08.1980 1 14 wks
21 Super trouper 15.11.1980 1 12 wks         1   15.11.1980 1 10 wks
22 Lay all your love on me 18.07.1981 7 7 wks                  
23 One of us 12.12.1981 3 10 wks         1   12.12.1981 1 9 wks
24 Head over heels 20.02.1982 25 7 wks             20.02.1982 4 6 wks
25 The day before you came 23.10.1982 32 6 wks             30.10.1982 3 7 wks
26 Under attack 11.12.1982 26 8 wks             11.12.1982 5 6 wks
27 Thank you for the music 12.11.1983 33 6 wks             12.05.1984 38 3 wks
  Dancing queen (4) 05.09.1992 16 5 wks             26.09.1992 15 5 wks

(1) Ring ring was originally released in the Netherlands under the band name Björn, Benny, Agnetha & Frida
(2) Eagle was released in the Netherlands as a double A-side single together with Thank you for the music
(3) Voulez-vous was released in the UK as a double A-side single together with Angeleyes
(4) Dancing queen in 1992 was a re-issue of the 1976 version of the song to promote their ABBA - Gold compilation

After Abba

Björn and Benny wrote the music for the West End show, Chess, in partnership with lyricist Tim Rice. This opened in 1984, 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. Chess was a success, but it wasn't until the late 1990s that Björn and Benny created Mamma Mia, a musical based around Abba's songs.

Both Agnetha and Frida went on to have some solo success after Abba split - Frida with the Phil Collins produced album Something's Going On, and Agnetha returning to her solo career with Wrap Your Arms Around Me. Both were moderately sucessful. 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 group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002.

External link

Vocal Group Hall of Fame page on ABBA

See also