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ABBA

[uh-bah, ah-buh]

ABBA was a Swedish pop music group active between 1972 and 1982. The band comprised Benny Andersson (Sweden), Björn Ulvaeus (Sweden), Anni-Frid Lyngstad (Norway), and Agnetha Fältskog (Sweden). They topped the charts worldwide from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. The name "ABBA" is an acronym formed from the first letters of each of the group member's given name (Agnetha, Björn, Benny, Anni-Frid).

ABBA gained immense international popularity employing catchy song hooks, simple lyrics, and a Wall of Sound achieved by overdubbing the female singers' voices in multiple harmonies. As their popularity grew, they were sought after to tour Europe, Australia, and North America, drawing crowds of near-hysterical fans ("ABBAholics"), notably in Australia. Touring became a contentious issue, being particularly unpopular with Agnetha, but they continued to release studio albums to great commercial success. At the height of their popularity, however, both marriages of the band members (Benny with Frida, and Björn with Agnetha) failed, and the relationship changes were reflected in their music, as they produced more thoughtful lyrics with different compositions.

They remain a fixture of radio playlists and are one of the world's best selling bands, having sold over 370 million records world wide; they still sell two to three million records a year. ABBA was also the first pop group from mainland Europe to enjoy consistent success in the charts of the English-speaking countries, mainly the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Their enormous popularity subsequently opened the doors for other Continental European acts. The music of ABBA has been re-arranged into the successful musical Mamma Mia! that has toured worldwide and a movie version was released in July 2008. All four of the former members of ABBA were present at the Stockholm premieres of both the musical (2005) and the film (2008). The film première took place at the Benny Andersson-owned Rival theatre at Mariatorget, Stockholm on 4 July 2008.

A new museum devoted entirely to the pop supergroup was scheduled to open in Stockholm in 2009, but the project was put on hold indefinitely as of September 2008.

Before ABBA (1960s)

Benny Andersson (born in Stockholm, Sweden on 16 December 1946) was a member of a popular Swedish pop-rock group, The Hep Stars, that performed covers of international hits, from the age of 18. He played keyboards and eventually started writing original compositions for his band, many of which became major hits including "No Response" that hit #3 in 1965, "Sunny Girl", "Wedding", "Consolation", all of which hit #1 in 1966. Andersson also had a fruitful songwriting collaboration with Lasse Berghagen, with whom he composed his first Svensktoppen entry "Sagan Om Lilla Sofi" in 1968.

Björn Ulvaeus (born in Gothenburg, Sweden on 25 April 1945) also began his musical career at 18, when he fronted The Hootenanny Singers, a popular Swedish folk-skiffle group. Ulvaeus started writing English language songs for his group, and even had a brief solo career alongside. The Hootenanny Singers and The Hep Stars sometimes crossed paths while touring, and on one occasion in June 1966 Ulvaeus and Andersson decided to write a song together. Their first attempt was "Isn't It Easy to Say", a song later recorded by The Hep Stars. Stig Anderson was the manager of The Hootenanny Singers and founder of the Polar Music label. He saw potential in the collaboration, and encouraged them to compose more. Both also began playing occasionally with the other's bands on stage and on record, although not until 1969 did the pair write and produce some of their first real hits together: "Ljuva Sextiotal" ('Merry Sixties'), recorded by Brita Borg and The Hep Stars' 1969 hit "Speleman".

Andersson wrote and submitted the song "Hej, Clown" for the 1969 Melodifestivalen, the Swedish Eurovision Song Contest finals. The song tied for first, but re-voting relegated Andersson's song to second place. On this occasion, Andersson briefly met his future spouse, singer Anni-Frid Lyngstad, who also participated in the contest. A month later, the two had become a couple. As the two bands began to break up, Andersson and Ulvaeus teamed up and eventually recorded their first album together in 1970, called Lycka ("Happiness" in Swedish), that included original compositions sung by both men. Ulvaeus still occasionally recorded and performed with The Hootenanny Singers until the summer of 1974, and Andersson took part in producing their records.

Agnetha Fältskog (born on 5 April 1950 in Jönköping, Sweden) had a #1 record in Sweden when she was only 17, and was soon noted by the critics and songwriters as a talented singer/songwriter of schlager style songs. Fältskog's main inspiration in her early years were singers like Connie Francis. Along with her own compositions, she recorded covers of foreign hits and performed them on tours in Swedish folkparks. She submitted an original song for Melodifestivalen at 17 years old, titled "Försonade", but it was rejected. She briefly met Anni-Frid Lyngstad for the first time during a TV show in January 1968, and Björn Ulvaeus at a concert venue a few months later.

During filming of a Swedish TV special in May 1969, Fältskog met Ulvaeus again, and they eventually became romantically involved and they married in 1971. Fältskog and Ulvaeus eventually got involved in each other's recording sessions, and soon even Andersson and Lyngstad added backing vocals to her 1970 album "Som Jag Är" (As I Am). In 1973, Fältskog starred as Mary Magdalene in the original Swedish production of Jesus Christ Superstar and attracted favourable reviews. Between 1967 and 1975, Fältskog released five studio albums.

Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad (born on 15 November 1945 in Bjørkåsen in Ballangen, Norway) sang from the age of thirteen with various dance bands, and worked mainly in a jazz-oriented cabaret style. She also formed her own band named Anni-Frid Four. In the summer of 1967, she won a national talent competition with the song "En Ledig Dag", included in the EMI Compilation Frida 1967-1972. The first prize was to perform live on the most popular TV show in Sweden, and included was a recording contract with EMI. This first TV performance is included in "Frida the DVD". Lyngstad released several singles on EMI and had many hits in the Swedish charts. When Benny Andersson started to produce her recordings in 1971, she got her first #1 single, "Min Egen Stad" (My Own Town), for which all four future ABBA members sang the backup vocals. Lyngstad toured and performed regularly in the folkpark circuit and made appearances on radio and TV. She met Björn Ulvaeus briefly in 1963 during a talent contest, and Agnetha Fältskog during a TV show in early 1968.

Lyngstad finally linked up with her future bandmates in 1969. On 1 March 1969, she participated in the Melodifestivalen, where she met Andersson for the first time. A few weeks later they met again during a concert tour in southern Sweden and they soon became a couple. Andersson produced her single "Peter Pan" in September 1969 – the first collaboration between her and Benny & Björn, as they had written the song. Later Andersson produced Lyngstad's debut album, Frida, which was released in March 1971 and praised by critics. Lyngstad also played in several revues and cabaret shows in Stockholm between 1969 and 1973. After ABBA formed, she recorded another successful album in 1975, Frida Ensam, which included the original Swedish rendition of "Fernando", which became a huge hit in Scandinavia before the English version was recorded.

First live performance and the start of "Festfolk"

An attempt at combining their talents occurred in April 1970 when the two couples went on holiday together to the island of Cyprus. What started as singing for fun on the beach ended up as an improvised live performance in front of the United Nations soldiers stationed on the island. Andersson and Ulvaeus were at this time recording their first album together, "Lycka", which was to be released in September 1970. Fältskog and Lyngstad added backing vocals on several tracks during June, and the idea of them all working together saw them launch their own stage act, "Festfolk", which translates from Swedish to mean both "Party People" and "Engaged Couples", on 1 November 1970 in Gothenburg. The cabaret show attracted positive reviews. The foursome performed the Andersson and Ulvaeus hit "Hej, Gamle Man" – the first recording credited to all four – and solo numbers from respective albums, but the foursome did not feel like working together, and soon concentrated on individual projects again.

First record together "Hej, Gamle Man"

"Hej, Gamle Man"("Hello, Old Man") became the foursome's first hit, -the song's lyrics is about an old Salvation Army soldier, and the record was credited to Björn & Benny reaching no 5 on the sales charts, and no 1 on Svensktoppen, staying there for 15 weeks. In the first half of 1971, the four artists worked more together, adding vocals to the others' recordings. Fältskog, Andersson and Ulvaeus went on a tour together in May, while Lyngstad toured on her own. Frequent recording sessions brought the foursome tighter together during the summer.

Forming the group (1970–1973)

After the 1970 release of Andersson and Ulvaeus' album "Lycka", two more singles credited to 'Björn & Benny' were released in Sweden, "Det Kan Ingen Doktor Hjälpa" and "Tänk Om Jorden Vore Ung", but clearly with more prominent vocals by Fältskog and Lyngstad -and with moderate chart success. Fältskog released her fourth album in 1971 and married Ulvaeus on 6 July 1971. Andersson, Ulvaeus, and Fältskog started performing together on a regular basis during the summer of 1971. Stig Anderson, founder and owner of Polar, was determined to break into the mainstream international market with music by Andersson and Ulvaeus. "One day the pair of you will write a song that becomes a worldwide hit", he predicted. Stig encouraged Ulvaeus and Andersson to write a song for Melodifestivalen, and after two rejected entries in 1971, Andersson and Ulvaeus submitted their new song "Säg Det Med En Sång" ("Say It With A Song") for the 1972 contest, and they chose newcomer Lena Anderson to perform. The song won third place, encouraging Stig, and became a huge hit in Sweden. The first signs of foreign success came as a surprise, as the Andersson and Ulvaeus single "She's My Kind of Girl" was released by chance by Epic in Japan in March 1972, giving the duo a Top 10 hit. Thus, two more singles were released in Japan, "En Carousel" (earlier version of "Merry-Go-Round") and "Love Has It's Ways" (a song they wrote with Koichi Morita).

Their first hit as 'Björn, Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid'

Ulvaeus and Andersson persevered with their songwriting and experimented with new sounds and vocal arrangements. "People Need Love" was released in June 1972, featuring guest vocals by the women, who were now given much greater prominence. Stig Anderson released it as a single, credited to Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid. The song reached #17 in the Swedish combined single and album charts, enough to convince them they were on to something. The single also became the first record to chart for the quartet in the United States, where it peaked at #114 on the Cashbox singles chart and #117 on Record World's singles chart. Billed as Björn & Benny (with Svenska Flicka), it was released there on Playboy Records. However, according to Stig Anderson, "People Need Love" could have been a much bigger American hit, but a small label like Playboy Records did not have the distribution resources to meet the demand for the single from retailers and radio programmers. The foursome decided to record their first album together in the autumn of 1972, and sessions began on 26 September 1972. The two women shared lead vocal on "Nina, Pretty Ballerina", on this day, and the two women's voices combined in harmonies for the first time gave the foursome an idea of the qualities of their combined talents.

"Ring Ring"

For 1973, the band and their manager Stig Anderson decided to have another try at the Melodifestivalen, this time with the song "Ring Ring." The studio sessions were handled by Michael B. Tretow, who experimented with a "wall of sound" production technique that became the wholly new ABBA sound. Anderson arranged an English translation of the lyrics by Neil Sedaka and Phil Cody and they thought this would be a surefire winner, but in the Melodifestivalen, on 10 February 1973, it placed third, and thus never reached the international contest. Nevertheless the proto-group put out their first album, called Ring Ring. The album did well and the "Ring Ring" single was a hit in many parts of Europe, but Stig Anderson felt the true breakthrough could only come with a UK or US hit.

Official naming

In early 1973, Stig Anderson, tired of unwieldy names, started to refer to the group privately and publicly as ABBA. At first, this was a play on words, as Abba was also the name of a well-known fish-canning company in Sweden. However, since the fish canners were unknown outside Sweden, Anderson came to believe the name would work in international markets. A competition to find a suitable name for the group was held in a Gothenburg newspaper. The group was impressed with the names "Alibaba" and "Baba", but in the end all the entries were ignored and it was announced in the summer that the name "ABBA" was official. Later the group negotiated with the canners for the right to the name. "ABBA" is an acronym formed from the first letters of each group member's name: Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid (Frida). The first 'B' in the logo version of the name was reversed on the band's promotional material from 1976 onwards and became the group's registered trademark. The first time the name is found written on paper is on a recording session sheet from the Metronome Studio in Stockholm, dated 16 October 1973. It was first written as "Björn, Benny, Agnetha & Frida", but was subsequently crossed out with "ABBA" written in large letters on top.

The official logo was designed by Rune Söderqvist, used for the first time on "Dancing Queen" single in August 1976, and subsequently on all later original albums and singles. In 1992 Polygram redesigned the logo for the ABBA Gold compilation, having a different font along with a crown emblem. Still, the classic logo is more commonly seen, for instance being used on the official ABBA website.

Breakthrough (1973–1976)

Eurovision victory

Ulvaeus, Andersson, and manager Stig Anderson believed in the possibilities of using the Melodifestivalen and Eurovision TV contests as a way to make the music business aware of the band and Andersson, Ulvaeus and Stig as composers. In late 1973, they were invited by Swedish television to contribute a song for the 1974 contest, and from a number of newly written compositions, the foursome chose the upbeat "Waterloo"; the group was now inspired by the growing glam rock scene in England. "Waterloo" was an unashamedly glam-style pop track produced with Michael B. Tretow's wall-of-sound approach.

ABBA won their national heats on Swedish TV on 9 February 1974, and with this third attempt were far more experienced and better prepared for the international contest. With an album's worth of material released when the show was held at the Brighton Dome in England on 6 April 1974, the song won and catapulted them into British consciousness for the first time—and to the top of the charts all over Europe. Winning the Eurovision Song Contest gave ABBA the chance to tour Europe and perform on major TV shows; thus the band saw the "Waterloo" single climb the charts in many European countries. "Waterloo" was ABBA's first UK #1 single. In the US, it reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, paving the way for their first album there that was their second album, Waterloo —although it only peaked at #145 on the Billboard 200 album chart.

ABBA's follow-up single, "Honey, Honey", reached #27 in the US, and was a Top 3 hit in Germany. However, in the UK, a cover version of the song by the act Sweet Dreams made #10 because ABBA's British record company, Epic, decided to re-release a remixed version of "Ring Ring" instead. It failed to reach the Top 30, increasing growing speculation that the group were simply Eurovision one-hit wonders.

1974 Tour

In November 1974, ABBA embarked on their first European tour, playing dates in Denmark, West Germany, and Austria. It was not as successful as the band had hoped, since most of the venues did not sell out. Due to a lack of demand, they were even forced to cancel a few shows, including a show scheduled in Switzerland. The second leg of the tour which took them through Scandinavia in January 1975, was entirely different. They played to full houses and finally got the reception they hoped for. For three weeks in the summer of 1975, ABBA compensated for the planned 1974 Swedish tour they were forced to cancel after their Eurovision triumph. They played sixteen open-air dates in Sweden and Finland, attracting huge crowds. Their Stockholm show at the Gröna Lund amusement park was seen by an estimated audience of 19,200.

Reception in Australia

The release of their third album, ABBA, known to fans as "The Limo Album", and their single "SOS" brought back their presence in the UK, where the single hit #6 and the album reached #13. Huge success was further solidified with "Mamma Mia" reaching the #1 spot in the UK at the end of January 1976. In the US, "SOS" reached #10 on the Record World Top 100 singles chart and #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, picking up the BMI Award along the way as one of the most played songs on American radio in 1975.

Yet the success of the group in the United States remained patchy. While they managed to break into the US singles market where, by early 1976, they already had four Top 30 singles, the album market proved to be tough to crack. The eponymous ABBA album generated no fewer than three real American hits, but it only peaked at #165 on the Cashbox album chart and #174 on the Billboard 200 chart. Opinions were voiced, by Creem in particular, that in the US ABBA had endured "a very sloppy promotional campaign".

In Australia, the airing of the videos for "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do" and "Mamma Mia" on nationwide TV in August 1975 started an immense interest for ABBA, resulting in #1 positions on both the single and album charts for months.

Superstardom (1976–1981)

In March 1976, the band released the compilation Greatest Hits, despite having had only six Top 40 hits in the UK and the US. Nevertheless, it became their first UK #1 album, and also took ABBA into the Top 50 on the US album charts for the first time, eventually selling more than a million copies there. Also included on Greatest Hits was a new single, "Fernando". This song had first been written by Ulvaeus and Andersson in Swedish for Lyngstad's Nr 1 1975 solo album Frida ensam (Frida alone). After Lyngstad's major success with the song in Scandinavia, the group decided to record an English version. With "Fernando" hitting #1 in twelve countries worldwide, it occupied the top position in Australia for 14 weeks, tying The Beatles for longest number one for "Hey Jude", making it one of the best-selling singles of all time in that country. That same year, the group received its first international prize, with "Fernando" being chosen as the "Best Studio Recording of 1975". In the US, "Fernando" reached the Top 10 of the Cashbox Top 100 singles chart and #13 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also topped the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, ABBA's first American number one single of any kind.

The group's next album, Arrival, represented a new level of accomplishment in both songwriting and studio work, prompting rave reviews from more rock-orientated UK music weeklies such as Melody Maker and New Musical Express, and mostly appreciative notices from American critics. In fact, hit after hit flowed from Arrival: "Money, Money, Money", "Knowing Me, Knowing You", and "Dancing Queen". In 1977, Arrival was nominated for the inaugural BRIT Award in the category "Best International Album of the Year". By this time ABBA were very popular in the UK, most of Western Europe and Australia.

Their popularity in the US would remain on a comparatively smaller scale, and "Dancing Queen" became the only Billboard Hot 100 #1 single ABBA ever had there (they did, however, get three more singles to the #1 position on other Billboard charts, including Billboard Adult Contemporary and Hot Dance Club Play). Nevertheless, Arrival finally became a true breakthrough release for ABBA on the US album market where it peaked at #20 on the Billboard 200 album chart, while reaching platinum sales there as well.

European and Australian tour

In January 1977, ABBA hit the road. The group's status had changed dramatically and they were clearly regarded as superstars. They opened their much anticipated tour in Oslo, Norway, on 28 January, and mounted a lavishly produced spectacle that included a few scenes from their self-penned mini-operetta "The Girl With The Golden Hair." The concert attracted immense media attention from across Europe and Australia. They continued the tour through Western Europe visiting Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Berlin, Cologne, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Essen, Hanover, Hamburg, and ended it with shows in the UK in Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and two sold-out concerts at London's Royal Albert Hall. Tickets for these two shows were available only by mail application and it was later revealed that the box-office received 3.5 million requests for tickets, enough to fill the venue 580 times. There were, however, complaints about the group's performance lacking the same intriguing qualities on stage as what was presented in the studio, as an article in The Times accused the show of being boring. One of the Royal Albert Hall concerts was filmed as a reference for the filming of the Australian tour for what became ABBA: The Movie, though it is not known exactly how much of the concert was filmed.

After the European leg of the tour, in March 1977, ABBA played eleven dates in Australia before a total of 160,000 people. The opening concert in Sydney at the Sydney Showground on 3 March before over 20,000 was marred by torrential rain and Frida slipped on the wet stage during the concert. However, all four members would later recall this concert to be the most memorable of their career. Upon their arrival in Melbourne, a civic reception was held at the Town Hall and ABBA appeared on the balcony to greet an enthusiastic crowd of 6,000 people. In Melbourne, ABBA played three concerts at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl with 14,500 at each including the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and his family. At the first Melbourne concert, an additional 16,000 people gathered outside the fenced-off area to listen to the concert. In Adelaide, the group performed one concert at West Lakes Football Stadium before 20,000 people with another 10,000 listening outside. During the first of five concerts in Perth, there was a bomb scare with everyone having to evacuate the concert hall. The trip was accompanied by mass hysteria and unprecedented media attention, and is vividly captured on film in ABBA: The Movie, directed by Lasse Hallström.

The Australian tour and its subsequent ABBA: The Movie produced some ABBA lore, as well. Agnetha Fältskog's blonde good looks had long made her the band's 'pin-up girl', a role she disdained. During the Australian tour, she performed in a skin-tight white jumpsuit, causing one Australian newspaper to use the headline "Agnetha's bottom tops dull show". When asked about this at a news conference, she replied: "Don't they have bottoms in Australia?

In December 1977, ABBA followed up Arrival with the more musically and lyrically ambitious fifth album The Album, which was released to coincide with ABBA: The Movie. Although the album was less well-received by the critics in the UK, it did spawn more worldwide hits: "The Name of the Game" and "Take a Chance on Me", both of which topped the UK charts, and reached #12 and #3, respectively, on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the US. Although "Take a Chance on Me" did not top the American charts, it has actually proved to be ABBA's biggest hit single in the United States, selling more copies than "Dancing Queen". The Album also included the ABBA signature tune, "Thank You for the Music", released as a single in the UK in 1983, and had been the B-side of "Eagle" in countries where the latter had been released.

Polar Music Studio formation

By 1978, ABBA was a megagroup. They converted a vacant theatre into the Polar Music Studio, a state-of-the-art studio in Stockholm. The studio was used by several other bands; notably, Genesis' Duke and Led Zeppelin's In Through the Out Door were recorded there. During May, the group went to the US for a huge promotional campaign, and performed on Olivia Newton-John's TV show. However, a lot of effort was put into the new recording studio in Stockholm. The recording sessions for "Summer Night City" were an uphill struggle, but upon release the song became another significant hit for the group. The track would also set the stage for ABBA's foray into disco with their upcoming album.

Several years ago, the original Polar Music Studios (by that time renamed Polar Studios) were closed because the landlord of the building had increased the rent required. The site is now a Fitness First gymnasium, and there is a display in its foyer acknowledging its history as Polar (Music) Studios.

On 9 January 1979, the group performed "Chiquitita" at the Music for UNICEF Concert held at the United Nations General Assembly to celebrate UNICEF's Year of the Child. ABBA donated the copyright of this worldwide hit to the UNICEF; see Music for UNICEF Concert. The single was released the following week, and reached #1 in ten countries.

Fallout of success

In mid-January 1979, Ulvaeus and Fältskog announced they were getting divorced. The news caused a massive interest from the media, and led to speculation about the band's future. ABBA assured the press and their fanbase they were continuing their work as a group, and that the divorce would not affect them. Nonetheless, the media continued to confront them with this in interviews.

The group's sixth album, Voulez-Vous, was released in April 1979, the title track of which was recorded at the famous Criteria Studios in Miami, U.S. with the assistance, among others, of recording engineer Tom Dowd. The album topped the charts across Europe and in Japan and Mexico, hit the Top 10 in Canada and Australia and the Top 20 in the US. None of the singles from the album reached #1 on the UK charts, but "Chiquitita", "Does Your Mother Know", "Angeleyes", the Double A-side in UK for the single "Voulez-Vous", and "I Have a Dream" all charted no lower than #4. In Canada, "I Have a Dream" became ABBA's second #1 on the RPM Adult Contemporary chart, after "Fernando" hit the top previously. Later that year, the group released their second compilation album, Greatest Hits Vol. 2, which featured a brand new track: "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)". In Russia during the late 1970s, they were paid in oil commodities because of an embargo on the ruble.

On 13 September 1979, ABBA began their first (and only) North American Tour at the Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton, Canada, with a full house of 14,000. During the next four weeks, they played a total of seventeen sold-out dates, thirteen in the U.S. and four in Canada. The last scheduled ABBA concert on U.S. soil, in Washington, DC, was canceled due to Agnetha Fältskog's emotional distress suffered during the flight from New York to Boston, when the private plane the group was on was subjected to extreme weather conditions and was unable to land for an extended period. The tour ended with a show in Toronto, Canada at Maple Leaf Gardens before a capacity crowd of 18,000. The shows also generated the same type of complaints that were expressed during the group's 1977 tour: many fans regarded ABBA as more of a studio group than a live band. On 19 October 1979, the tour resumed in Western Europe where the band played 23 sold-out gigs, including an unprecedented six sold-out nights at London's Wembley Arena.

Progression

In March 1980, ABBA traveled to Japan where upon their arrival at Narita International Airport, they were besieged by thousands of fans. The group played eleven concerts to full houses, including six shows at Tokyo's Budokan. This tour was the last "on the road" adventure of their career. The same year saw the release of ABBA's seventh album Super Trouper, which reflected a certain change in ABBA's style with more prominent use of synthesisers and increasingly more personal lyrics. It set a record for the most pre-orders ever received for a UK album after one million copies were ordered before release. Anticipation for the album had been built up by "The Winner Takes It All", the group's eighth UK chart topper (and their first since 1978). In the US, the single reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and became ABBA's second Billboard Adult Contemporary #1. The song was allegedly written about Ulvaeus and Fältskog's marital tribulations. The next single from the album, "Super Trouper", also hit #1 in the UK, the group's ninth and final UK chart-topper. Another track from Super Trouper, "Lay All Your Love on Me", released in 1981 as a 12-inch single only in selected territories, managed to top the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart and peaked at #7 on the UK singles chart becoming at the time the highest ever charting 12-inch release in UK chart history.

Also in 1980, ABBA recorded a compilation of Spanish-language versions of their hits called Gracias Por La Música. It was released in Spanish-speaking countries as well as Japan and Australia. The album became a major success, and along with the Spanish version of "Chiquitita", this signaled the group's breakthrough in Latin America.

The final album and performances (1981–1982)

In January 1981, Ulvaeus married Lena Källersjö, and manager Stig Anderson celebrated his 50th birthday with a huge party. For this occasion, ABBA recorded the track 'Hovas Vittne' as a tribute to him, and released it only on 200 red vinyl copies, to be distributed to the guests attending the party. This single has become a most sought-after collectible. In mid-February, Andersson and Lyngstad announced they were filing for divorce. Information surfaced that their marriage had been an uphill struggle for years, and Benny had already met another woman, Mona Nörklit, whom he married in November the same year.

Andersson and Ulvaeus had songwriting sessions during the first months of 1981, and recording sessions began in mid-March. At the end of April, the group recorded a TV special, Dick Cavett meets ABBA with the US talk show host Dick Cavett. The Visitors, ABBA's eighth and final studio album, showed a songwriting maturity and depth of feeling distinctly lacking from their earlier recordings but still placing the band squarely in the pop genre, with catchy tunes and harmonies. Although not revealed at the time of its release, the album's title track, according to Ulvaeus, refers to the secret meetings held against the approval of totalitarian governments in Soviet-dominated states, while other tracks address topics like failed relationships, the threat of war, aging, loss of innocence, and a parent watching a child grow up. This change of content was reflected in the relative commercial decline, mostly evident in the UK, after the release of the #3 single "One of Us" in December 1981.

Although it topped the charts across most of Europe, entered the Top 20 in France and Japan and the Top 30 in the US and Australia, The Visitors was not as commercially successful as its predecessors. A track from The Visitors, "When All Is Said and Done", was released as a single in North America, Australia and New Zealand, and fittingly became ABBA's final Top 40 hit in the US, while reaching #4 on the RPM Adult Contemporary chart in Canada. The song's lyrics, as with "The Winner Takes It All" and "One of Us", dealt with the painful experience of splitting up from a long-term partner, though it looked at it more optimistically. With the now publicized story of Andersson and Lyngstad's divorce, speculation increased of tension within the band. Also released in the US was the title track of The Visitors, which hit the Top Ten on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart.

Last recording sessions

In the spring of 1982, songwriting sessions had started and the group came together for more recordings. Plans were not completely clear, but a new album was discussed and the prospect of a small tour suggested. The recording sessions in May and June were a struggle, and only three songs were eventually recorded: "You Owe Me One", "I Am the City", and "Just Like That". Andersson and Ulvaeus were not satisfied with the outcome, so the tapes were shelved and the group took a break for the summer.

Back in the studio again in early August, the group had changed plans for the rest of the year: they settled for a Christmas release of a double album compilation of all their past single releases to be named The Singles: The First Ten Years. New songwriting and recording sessions took place, and during October and November, they released the singles "The Day Before You Came"/"Cassandra" and "Under Attack"/"You Owe Me One", the A-sides of which were included on the compilation album. Neither single made the top 20 in the UK, though both singles became Top 5 hits in The Netherlands and Belgium. The album went to #1 in the UK and Belgium, Top 5 in the Netherlands and West Germany and Top 20 in many other countries.

"I Am the City" and "Just Like That" were left unreleased on The Singles: The First Ten Years for possible inclusion on the next projected studio album from ABBA, though this never came to fruition. "I Am the City" was eventually released as a bonus track on the compilation album More ABBA Gold in 1993, while "Just Like That" has been recycled in new songs with other artists produced by Andersson and Ulvaeus. A reworked version of the verses ended up in the musical Chess. The chorus section of "Just Like That" was eventually released on a retrospective boxset in 1994. Despite numerous requests from fans, Ulvaeus and Andersson are still refusing to release ABBA's version of "Just Like That" in its entirety, even though the complete version surfaced on bootlegs.

The group travelled to London to promote The Singles: The First Ten Years in the first week of November 1982, appearing on Saturday Superstore and The Late, Late Breakfast Show, and also to West Germany in the second week, to perform on Show Express. On 19 November 1982, ABBA appeared for the last time in Sweden on the TV programme Nöjesmaskinen, and on 11 December 1982, they made their last performance ever, transmitted to the UK on Noel Edmonds' The Late, Late Breakfast Show, via a live link from a TV studio in Stockholm.

Last performances

Andersson and Ulvaeus began collaborating with Tim Rice in early 1983 on writing songs for the musical project Chess, while Fältskog and Lyngstad both concentrated on international solo careers. While Andersson and Ulvaeus were working on the musical, a further cooperation between three of them came with the musical Abbacadabra that was produced in France for television. It was a children's musical utilising 14 ABBA songs. Alain and Daniel Boublil, who wrote Les Miserables, had been in touch with Stig Anderson about the project, and the TV musical was aired over Christmas 1983 on the British channel ITV. Lyngstad, who had recently moved to Paris, participated in the French version, and recorded a single, "Belle", a duet with French singer Daniel Balavoine. The song was a cover of ABBA's instrumental 1976 track "Arrival". As the single "Belle" sold well in France, Cameron Mackintosh wanted to stage an English language version of the show in London, with the French lyrics translated by David Wood and Don Black; Andersson and Ulvaeus got involved in the project, and contributed with one new song, "The Seeker". "Abbacadabra" premièred 8 December 1983 at The Lyric Hammersmith Theatre in London, to mixed reviews and full houses for eight weeks, closing on 21 January 1984. Lyngstad was involved in this production as well, recording 'Belle' in English as "Time"; a duet with actor and singer B. A. Robertson: the single sold well, this time produced and recorded by Andersson and Ulvaeus.

All four members made their last public appearance, as four friends more than as ABBA, in January 1986, when they recorded a video of themselves performing an acoustic version of "Tivedshambo", which was the first song written by their manager, Stig Anderson, for a Swedish TV show honouring Anderson on his 55th birthday. The four had not seen each other for more than two years. That same year they also performed privately at another friend's 40th birthday: their old tour manager, Claes af Geijerstam. They sang a self-composed song titled "Der Kleine Franz" that later was to surface in Chess. The same year ABBA Live was released, featuring selections of live performances from the group's 1977 and 1979 tours. Their last appearance as a group was filmed privately by Anders Glenmark. They were guests on the 50th birthday of Görel Hanser in 1999. Hanser was a long-time friend of all four, and also former secretary of Stig Anderson. Honouring Görel, ABBA performed a Swedish birthday song "Med En Enkel Tulipan" a cappella.

Benny Andersson has on several occasions performed old ABBA songs. In June 1992, he and Björn Ulvaeus appeared with U2 at a Stockholm concert, singing the chorus of "Dancing Queen", and a few years later during the final performance of the B & B in Concert in Stockholm, Andersson joined the cast for an encore at the piano. Andersson frequently adds an ABBA song to the playlist when he performs with his BAO band. He also played the piano during new recordings of the ABBA songs "Like an Angel Passing Through My Room" with opera singer Anne Sofie von Otter, and "When All Is Said And Done" with Swede Viktoria Tolstoy. Andersson and Ulvaeus both did an a capella rendition of the first verse of "Fernando" as they accepted their Ivor Novello award in London in 2002. Frida Lyngstad performed and recorded an a cappella version of "Dancing Queen" with the Swedish group The Real Group in 1993, and has also re-recorded "I Have a Dream" with Swiss singer Dan Daniell in 2003.

Breaking up

ABBA has never officially announced the end of the group, but the group has long been considered dissolved. Their last public performance together as ABBA was on the British TV programme The Late, Late Breakfast Show (live from Stockholm) December 11, 1982. In January 1983, Agnetha started recording sessions for a solo album, as Frida had released her Something's Going On a year earlier to great success. Björn and Benny started songwriting sessions for the musical Chess—and ABBA was shelved in the meantime. In interviews, Björn and Benny denied the split of ABBA ("Who are we without our ladies? Initials of Brigitte Bardot?" ) and Frida and Agnetha kept claiming in interviews that ABBA would come together for a new album repeatedly during 1983 and 1984. Internal strife between the group and their manager escalated and the group sold their shares in Polar Music during 1983. With this, the foursome did not come together publically until all four members were reunited at the Swedish premiere of Mamma Mia! on 4 July 2008. In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, following the premiere, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, confirmed that there was nothing that could entice them back on stage again. "We will never appear on stage again", Ulvaeus said. "There is simply no motivation to re-group. Money is not a factor and we would like people to remember us as we were. Young, exuberant, full of energy and ambition. I remember Robert Plant saying Led Zeppelin were a cover band now because they cover all their own stuff. I think that hit the nail on the head.

After ABBA

Andersson and Ulvaeus

In October 1984, Ulvaeus and Andersson together with lyricist Tim Rice released the musical concept double album Chess, The singles "One Night in Bangkok" (with vocals by Murray Head) and "I Know Him So Well" (a duet with Barbra Dickson and Elaine Paige -later also recorded by both Barbra Streisand and Whitney Houston) were both huge successes. In May 1986, the musical premièred in the West End of London, and ran for almost three years. On Broadway it opened in April 1988, but closed within two months due to very bad reviews. The musical has been staged regularly on small scale to great success, and even the concert version is popular. In Stockholm, the composers staged Chess På Svenska ('Chess in Swedish') in 2003, with even some new material.

What is considered to be Andersson and Ulvaeus' masterpiece, however, is Kristina från Duvemåla, a Swedish epic musical, which the composers premiered in Malmö in southern Sweden in October 1995, directed for the stage by Lars Rudolfsson and based on the The Emigrants tetralogy by Swedish novelist Vilhelm Moberg. The musical ran for five years in Stockholm, and an English version has been in the works for a long time, and it had been reported that the Broadway pre-production is in its earliest stage.

Since 1983, besides Chess and Kristina Från Duvemåla, Benny Andersson has continued writing songs with Björn Ulvaeus. The pair produced two English language pop albums with Swedish duo Gemini in 1985 and 1987. In 1987, Andersson also released his first solo album on his Mono Music, called Klinga Mina Klockor, all new material inspired by Swedish folk music - -and followed it with his 2nd album titled November 1989. In the 1990s, Benny wrote music for the popular Swedish cabaret quartet Ainbusk Singers, giving them two massive hits: "Lassie)" and "Älska Mig", and later produced Shapes -an English language album by the group's Josefin Nilsson;with all-new material by Andersson and Ulvaeus. Andersson has regularly written music for films (most notably to Roy Andersson's Songs from the Second Floor). In 2001, Benny Andersson put together his own band, BAO!, which has released three successful albums in 2001, 2004 and 2007. Benny Andersson has the record of staying in the longest ever run in the Swedish Svensktoppen charts as of April 2007 (the song "Du Är Min Man", sung by Helen Sjöholm is still there, in its 220th week as of September 21, 2008 Andersson has released his 3rd album BAO 3 October 2007 with new material with his band BAO! and vocalists Helen Sjöholm and Tommy Körberg -as well as playing to full houses at two of Sweden's largest concert venues in October and November 2007 with an audience of 14,000.

Björn Ulvaeus has not appeared on stage performing music since ABBA, but had a reunion with his co-members of The Hootenanny Singers on 16 July 2005 at a music festival in his hometown of Västervik, singing their 1966 hit "Marianne".

Andersson and Ulvaeus are highly involved in the world wide productions of the musical Mamma Mia!, alongside Lyngstad attending premieres. They were also involved in the production of the film version of the musical, which opened in July 2008; Benny Andersson produced the Soundtrack using the musicians ABBA used on their albums and tours. Benny Andersson appears in a cameo role as a 'fisherman' piano player in the 'Dancing Queen' scene in the movie version of "Mamma Mia", while Björn Ulvaeus is seen as a Greek god playing harp during the closing credits according to www.imdb.com.

Andersson and Ulvaeus are continuosly composing new material; most recently the two wrote a song for Swedish singer Sissela Kyle for her Stockholm stage show "Your Days Are Numbered", titled "Jag Vill Bli Gammal" ("I Wanna Grow Old"); last year they wrote "Han Som Har Vunnit Allt" ('He Who's Won It All') for actor/singer Anders Ekborg and "I Walk With You Mama" and "After the Rain" for opera singer Anne Sofie Von Otter -for her Andersson tribute album "I Let The Music Speak".

Fältskog and Lyngstad

Both female members of ABBA pursued solo careers on the international scene following the break-up of the band. In 1982, Lyngstad chose Genesis drummer and singer Phil Collins to produce the album Something's Going On and unveiled the single and video "I Know There's Something Going On" in autumn of that year. The single became a #1 hit in France, where it spent five weeks at the top, Belgium, Switzerland and Costa Rica. The track reached #3 in Austria, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Poland, and was also a Top 10 hit in Germany, Italy, South Africa and Finland. In the United States, the single reached #13. In all, "I Know There's Something Going On" sold 3.5 million copies worldwide and is the biggest selling single any of the four members have had outside ABBA. Lyngstad's album sold 1.5 million copies internationally. Frida's second solo album after ABBA was the experimental Shine (produced by Steve Lillywhite), released in 1984. The album proved a big success in Sweden, reaching #6 there. It was also Frida's final studio album release for twelve years.

Agnetha Fältskog followed in 1983 with the album Wrap Your Arms Around Me. This included the hit single "The Heat Is On", which was a hit in Europe and Scandinavia. In the US, Fältskog scored a Billboard Top 30 hit with "Can't Shake Loose". In Europe, the single "Wrap Your Arms Around Me" was another successful hit, topping the charts in Belgium and Denmark, reaching the Top 5 in Sweden and the Netherlands and the Top 20 in Germany and France. Her album sold 1.2 million copies worldwide.

Fältskog's second post-ABBA solo album was Eyes of a Woman, released in March 1985, which reached #2 in Sweden and performed reasonably well in Europe. The first single from the album was "I Won't Let You Go". In November 1987, Fältskog released her third post-ABBA solo album, the Peter Cetera-produced I Stand Alone, (which also included the Billboard hit "I Wasn't The One"). The album sold very well in Sweden, where it spent eight weeks at #1. Later that year, however, Fältskog withdrew from public life and halted her music career for a while. In 1996, she released her autobiography, As I Am, and a compilation album featuring her solo hits alongside some ABBA classics. In 2004, she made a successful comeback, releasing the critically acclaimed album My Colouring Book, which debuted at #1 in Sweden (achieving triple-platinum status), #6 in Germany, and #12 in the UK, winning a silver award, and achieving gold status in Finland. The single "If I Thought You'd Ever Change Your Mind" became Fältskog's biggest solo hit in the UK, reaching the #11 position. The single saw the #2 spot in Sweden and was a hit throughout Scandinavia and Europe. In January 2007, she sang a live duet on stage with Swedish singer Tommy Körberg at the after party for the final showing of the musical, Mamma Mia!, in Stockholm, at which Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus were also present.

In 1992 Frida was asked and chosen to be the chairperson for the environmental organisation "Artister för miljön" (Artists for the Environment) in Sweden. Frida accepted and became chairwoman for this organisation from 1992 to 1995. To mark her interests for the environment, she recorded the Julian Lennon song Saltwater and performed it live in Stockholm. She arranged and financed summer camps for poor children in Sweden, focussing on environmental and ecological issues. Her environmental work for this organisation led up to the decision to record again. Djupa andetag (Deep Breaths) was released towards the end of 1996 and became a huge success in Sweden, where it reached #1 and Scandinavia. The lyrics for the single from this album, "Även en blomma" (Even a Flower), deal with environmental issues. In 2004, Lyngstad recorded a song called "The Sun Will Shine Again", written especially for her and released with former Deep Purple member Jon Lord. The couple made several TV performances with this song in Germany. The following year, she released a career retrospective DVD, "Frida the DVD" and also a boxset, The "Frida Box Set". Lyngstad lives a low-profile life but occasionally appears at a party or charity function. On 26 August 1992, she married Prince Heinrich Ruzzo Reuss von Plauen, of the German Reuss family. Von Plauen died of lymphoma at the age of 49. In addition to losing her husband, Lyngstad had also lost her daughter in a car crash a year earlier.

Revival

The same year ABBA went separate ways, the French production of a 'tribute' show; a children's TV musical named Abbacadabra, using 14 of ABBA's songs, spawned new interest in the group's music. The London staging of the musical had stars like Elaine Paige, and Finola Hughes singing new lyrics to the old hits.

After receiving little attention during the mid 1980s, ABBA experienced a major resurgence in 1988 when the Australian Band Björn Again was formed. UK synth-pop duo Erasure's then released an EP featuring cover versions of ABBA's songs, which topped the charts in the spring of 1992. As U2 arrived in Stockholm for a concert in June of that year, the band paid homage to ABBA by inviting Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson to join them on stage for a rendition of "Dancing Queen", playing guitar and keyboards. The September 1992 release of ABBA Gold: Greatest Hits, a new compilation album, ended up selling massively worldwide and setting chart longevity records. The album became the most popular ABBA release ever, selling more than twenty-six million copies to date.

The enormous interest in the Gold compilation saw the release of More ABBA Gold: More ABBA Hits in 1993. This collection also contained the bonus track "I Am the City", one of the unreleased songs from the 1982 recording sessions.

In 1994 two Australian movies caught the attention of the world's media, both focussing on admiration for ABBA: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Muriel's Wedding. The same year, Thank You for the Music, a four-disc box set comprising all the group's hits and stand-out album tracks, was released with the involvement of all four members. For this release, several demo versions and odd tracks were discovered in the Polar vaults.

ABBA were soon recognised and embraced by other acts: Evan Dando of The Lemonheads recorded a cover version of "Knowing Me, Knowing You", Sinéad O'Connor and Boyzone's Stephen Gately have recorded "Chiquitita", Tanita Tikaram, and Blancmange paid tribute to "The Day Before You Came", Cliff Richard covered "Lay All Your Love On Me", while Dionne Warwick and Peter Cetera recorded their versions of "SOS". U.S. alternative-rock musician Marshall Crenshaw has also been known to play a version of "Knowing Me, Knowing You" in concert appearances. Swedish metal guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen covered "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" with slightly altered lyrics. Tribute albums were released both in Sweden and the UK.

In Sweden, the growing recognition of the legacy of Andersson and Ulvaeus resulted in the 1998 B & B Concerts: a tribute concert (with Swedish singers who had worked with the composers through the years) showcasing not only their ABBA years, but even hits from the 1960s and after ABBA. The concert was a huge success, released on CD, and later toured Scandinavia and even went to Beijing in the People's Republic of China for two concerts. In 1999, Sweden saw the birth of ABBA Teens, later re-named A*Teens, recording techno-pop versions of ABBA songs to huge success worldwide: not only the English original versions, but ABBA's Spanish versions also.

In April 1999, the Mamma Mia! musical opened in London, and soon premièred in cities worldwide to huge success.

In 2000 ABBA were reported to have turned down an offer of approximately US$1,000,000,000 to do a reunion tour consisting of 100 concerts.

For the 2004 semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest, staged in Istanbul thirty years after ABBA had won the contest in Brighton, all four members of ABBA appeared briefly in a special comedy video made for the interval act, entitled "Our Last Video Ever". Each of the four members of the group made a brief cameo role, as did others such as Cher and Rik Mayall. The video was not included in the official DVD release of the Eurovision Contest, but was issued as a separate DVD release, retitled "The Last Video" at the request of the former ABBA members. It was billed as the first time the four had worked together since the group split. In fact, they each filmed their appearances separately.

In 2005 all four members of ABBA appeared at the Stockholm premiere of the musical Mamma Mia .

With Mamma Mia!'s huge success worldwide, and the 2008 film starring Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan, there is a huge interest in ABBA's music. However, in a November 2004 interview with the German magazine Bunte, Ulvaeus 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 2008 all four ABBA members were reunited at the Swedish premiere of the film Mamma Mia! on 4 July. It was the second time all of them had appeared together in public since 1986. During the appearance, they re-emphasized that they intended never to officially reunite, citing the opinion of Robert Plant that the re-formed Led Zeppelin was more like a cover band of itself than the original band. Ulvaeus stated that he wanted the band to be remembered as they were during the peak years of their success.

The compilation album ABBA Gold: Greatest Hits, originally released in 1992, returned to number one in the UK album charts for the fifth time on 3 August 2008.. On 14 August 2008, the "Mamma Mia" film soundtrack went to Number 1 on the USA Billboard Charts. While ABBA were together, the highest album chart position they ever achieved in America was No. 14. 2008 was the first time an "ABBA" album went to the top of the American Record Charts.

In 2008 the Swedish band The Airwaves recorded an ABBA tribute song "Hey You, Ring Me Tonight". The song is written by Clive Jones who is a member of an English band Black Widow.

Fashion, videos, and advertising campaigns

ABBA were widely noted for the colourful and trend-setting costumes its members wore. The videos that 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. This was also in an effort to minimize traveling, particularly to countries that would have required extremely long flights. Fältskog and Ulvaeus had two young children, and Fältskog, who was also afraid of flying, was very reluctant to leave her children for such a long time. ABBA's manager, Stig Anderson, realized the potential of showing a simple video clip on television to publicize a single or album, thereby allowing easier and quicker exposure than a concert tour. Some of these videos became classics because of the 1970s era costumes and early video effects, such as the grouping of the band members in different combinations of pairs, overlapping one singer's profile with the other's full face, and the contrasting of one member against another.

In 1976, ABBA participated in a high-profile advertising campaign by the Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd., which was designed to promote the brand "National". This campaign was designed initially for Australia, where "National" was still the primary brand used by Matsushita, who had not introduced the "Panasonic" brand to Australia yet, despite its widespread use in other parts of the world such as the U.S. However, the campaign was also aired in Japan. Five commercials, each approximately one minute long, were produced, each using the "National Song" sung by ABBA, which used the melody and instrumental arrangement of Fernando, adapted with new lyrics promoting National, and working in several slogans used by National in their advertising.

In 2008, United States Senator John McCain wanted to use the group's music in his 2008 presidential campaign, but opted against it, citing licensing and other concerns.

Discography

Awards and recognition

Bibliography

  • Potiez, Jean-Marie (2000). ABBA - The Book ISBN 1-85410-928-6
  • Palm, Carl Magnus (2002). Bright Lights Dark Shadows: The Real Story of ABBA ISBN 0-7119-9194-4
  • Palm, Carl Magnus (2004). From "ABBA" to "Mamma Mia!" ISBN 1-85227-864-1

See also

ABBA-related

Lists

Other

Notes

External links

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