Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
ABBA were a Swedish pop music group, the most successful to date from that country. Although an acronym formed from the initial letters of the names of the group's members, it is more often written as Abba. The first 'B' in the logo version of the band's name was shown reversed on the band's promotional material from 1976 onwards. The group was formed around 1970 by Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, Agnetha Fältskog, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad (nicknamed "Frida"). 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 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 merge, 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, having come to public notice after playing Mary Magdalene in the Swedish production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Agnetha wrote and performed 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 the wider public for the first time, and so her musical career took off. It was not long before she was noticed by Benny Andersson, and the two met on the inevitable 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.
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 only third in the contest selection rounds, 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. However, it wasn't to be—it failed to be selected for the contest, coming 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 in international markets, 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, and partly because the songs were perhaps not as strong (and it is certainly true that their output at this stage was far more derivative than songs from just after this period). 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 their most enduring and definitive 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 was a mega group. 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 were all 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 sounding a little dated.
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 sounded to some 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 - the title track of The Visitors addresses the topic of holding secret meetings against the approval of an unknown fascist regime for example, and other tracks treat the subjects of ageing, loss of innocence, one's child growing up and so on. The euro-style lightweight pop was light-years behind, though the catchy melodies of these songs disguised their depth.
Despite a feeling that Abba was in decline, the band was 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 couples 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 The Winner Takes it All and One Of Us—gave 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. In the summer of 1982 Björn and Benny decided to put two hitherto unreleased songs onto a double album under the title ABBA - The First Ten Years. The song The Day Before You Came was literally the last song the band ever recorded, though there have been many compilations, re-releases and a live album put out by the record companies since. To this day, along with pop group Boney M, they remain the most widely-known western group in the non-European world, including India, Africa and South-East Asia.
Fashion and videos
ABBA was renowned for their colorful 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, as was Abba - The Movie. ABBA chose to make them because they preferred perfecting the songs rather than making personal appearances 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, 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.
This section lists only the singles released by ABBA's Scandinavian record label Polar Music between 1972 and 1983. For singles pertaining to certain countries, please refer to your countrywide ABBA website or singles list.
- People Need Love/Merry-Go-Round (1972)
- He Is Your Brother/Santa Rosa (1972)
- Ring Ring [Swedish Version]/Åh, vilka tider (1973)
- Ring Ring [English Version]/She's My Kind Of Girl (1973)
- Love Isn't Easy (But It Sure Is Hard Enough)/I Am Just A Girl (1973)
- Waterloo [Swedish Version]/Honey, Honey [Swedish Version] (1974)
- Waterloo [English Version]/Watch Out (1974); #1 UK, #6 US
- Honey, Honey/King Kong Song (1974); #27 US
- So Long/I've Been Waiting For You (1974)
- I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do/Rock Me (1975); #38 UK, #15 US
- SOS/Man In The Middle (1975); #6 UK, #15 US
- Mamma Mia/Intermezzo No. 1 (1975); #1 UK, #32 US
- Fernando/Hey, Hey Helen (1976); #1 UK, #13 US
- Dancing Queen/That's Me (1976); #1 UK, #1 US
- Money, Money, Money/Crazy World (1976); #3 UK, #56 US
- Knowing Me, Knowing You/Happy Hawaii (1977); #1 US, #14 US
- The Name Of The Game/I Wonder (Departure) (1977); #1 UK, #12 US
- Take A Chance On Me/I'm A Marionette (1978); #1 UK, #3 US
- Eagle/Thank You For The Music (1978)
- Summer Night City/Medley: Pick A Bale... (1978); #5 UK
- Chiquitita/Lovelight (1979); #3 UK, #29 US
- Does Your Mother Know/Kisses Of Fire (1979); #4 UK, #19 US
- Voulez-Vous/Angeleyes (1979); #3 UK, #80 US
- Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!/The King Has Lost His Crown (1979); #3 UK
- I Have A Dream/Take A Chance On Me (live version) (1979); #2 UK
- The Winner Takes It All/Elaine (1980); #1 UK, #8 US
- Super Trouper/The Piper (1980); #1 UK, #45 US
- One Of Us/Should I Laugh Or Cry (1981); #3 UK, #107 US
- Head Over Heels/The Visitors (Crackin' Up) (1982); #25 UK
- The Day Before You Came/Cassandra (1982); #32 UK
- Under Attack/You Owe Me One (1983); #27 UK
- Ring Ring (1973)
- Waterloo (1974); #28 UK, #145 US
- ABBA (1975); #13 UK, #174 US
- Greatest Hits (1975); #1 UK, #48 US
- Arrival (1976); #1 UK, #20 US
- Abba - The Album (1977); #1 UK, #14 US
- Voulez-Vous (1979); #1 UK, #19 US
- Greatest Hits Vol 2. (1979); #1 UK, #46 US
- Super Trouper (1980); #1 UK, #17 US
- The Visitors (1981); #1 UK, #29 US
- The Singles (1982); #1 UK, #62 US
- Thank You for the Music (1983); #17 UK
- Live (1986)
- Gold - Greatest Hits (1992); #1 UK, #63 US
- More ABBA Gold - More Abba Hits (1993); #13 UK
- The Definitive Collection (2001); #17 UK, #186 US
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.
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 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. Frida released Shine, produced by Steve Lillywhite in 1984, but it was not until 1996 that she released another album. Her Swedish-language recording, Djupa andetag, was met with great success in Sweden, though it went unknown internationally.
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 naff 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.
On April 6th 2004 three of the former ABBA members (Björn, Benny and Frida) showed up together in London for the 30th anniversary of their Eurovison Song Contest win in 1974. They appeared together on stage after the fith anniversary performance of the Mamma Mia musical. Also in April of 2004 Agnetha released a disc of cover songs titled "My Colouring Book." It was met with mediocre reception, but debuted on the Top Spot in Sweden and at No 6 in Germany. In Finland it went gold, in Great Britain it sold enough to receive a silver disc. In September 2004 Frida had recorded a song on the new album by Jon Lord (former Deep Purple member) and made some rare appearances on german television. In November 2004, Björn, in an interview with the German magazine Bunte , said that a reunion would not satisfy ABBA's many fans, even though there are legions of fans around the world that often clamour for such a reunion.
In February 2005, all four members of Abba appeared in public for the first time in many years for the gala opening of Mamma Mia in Stockholm.
- 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 "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do."
- Another 1994 Australian fillm The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, features a performance of Mamma Mia by two drag queens. This has further emphasised ABBA's status as gay icons.
- The Abba tribute band Björn Again became so successful that as of 2004 there are five 'Björn Again's performing in various parts of the world. The original Björn 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 370 million albums worldwide. Only the Beatles and Elvis Presley have ever sold more.
- Abba's 1976 hit single "Fernando" currently holds the record for the longest weeks spent at number one in Australia (along with The Beatles' "Hey Jude").
- Official Site
- Vocal Group Hall of Fame page on ABBA
- http://www.abba-story.com -- Everything about ABBA
Singles chart positions for UK, US, Germany and Netherlands
|01||"Ring Ring" (1)||13.07.1974||32||5 wks||23.06.1973||5||8 wks|
|02||"Waterloo"||20.04.1974||1||9 wks||22.06.1974||6||12 wks||1||13.04.1974||2||14 wks|
|03||"Honey Honey"||12.10.1974||27||4 wks||21.12.1974||16||6 wks|
|04||"I Do I Do I Do I Do I Do"||12.07.1975||38||6 wks||27.03.1976||15||8 wks||22.03.1975||3||10 wks|
|05||"S.O.S."||20.09.1975||6||10 wks||11.10.1975||15||8 wks||1||14.06.1975||2||10 wks|
|06||"Mamma Mia"||13.12.1975||1||14 wks||19.06.1976||32||4 wks||1||06.12.1975||13||7 wks|
|07||"Fernando"||27.03.1976||1||15 wks||25.09.1976||13||11 wks||1||20.03.1976||1||12 wks|
|08||"Dancing Queen"||21.08.1976||1||15 wks||22.01.1977||1||15 wks||1||14.08.1976||1||15 wks|
|09||"Money Money Money"||20.11.1976||3||12 wks||56||1||13.11.1976||1||12 wks|
|10||"Knowing Me Knowing You"||26.02.1977||1||13 wks||04.06.1977||14||10 wks||1||26.02.1977||3||7 wks|
|11||"The Name Of The Game"||22.10.1977||1||12 wks||28.01.1978||12||9 wks||29.10.1977||2||9 wks|
|12||"Take A Chance On Me"||04.02.1978||1||10 wks||06.05.1978||3||14 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||08.12.1979||29||14 wks||27.01.1979||1||13 wks|
|16||"Does Your Mother Know"||05.05.1979||4||9 wks||09.06.1979||19||10 wks||12.05.1979||4||8 wks|
|17||"Voulez-Vous" (3)||14.07.1979||3||11 wks||64||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||27.12.1980||8||16 wks||02.08.1980||1||14 wks|
|21||"Super Trouper"||15.11.1980||1||12 wks||45||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||"When All Is Said And Done"||06.02.1982||27||8 wks||20.02.1982||4||6 wks|
|26||"The Day Before You Came"||23.10.1982||32||6 wks||30.10.1982||3||7 wks|
|27||"Under Attack"||11.12.1982||26||8 wks||11.12.1982||5||6 wks|
|28||"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|
|"Waterloo" (5)||17.05.2004||20||? 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
(5) "Waterloo" in 2004 was a re-issue of the 1974 version of the song to celebrate the 30th anniversary of ABBA's Eurovision victory
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