FORMED: 1971, Stockholm, Sweden
During the 1970s, fate - in combination with talent and hard work - would have it that one of the most dominating forces within the field of popular music was a group from Sweden. ABBA, a musical entity consisting of two couples, became by far the most successful act of that decade, even one of the biggest phenomenons of the whole century.
As far as the world knew, ABBA's story started in April 1974 when they won the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo, but by that time the group had existed for two years and the individual members were virtual showbusiness veterans in their native Sweden.
It all began in June 1966, when Björn Ulvaeus met Benny Andersson for the first time. Björn was a member of the Hootenanny Singers, a popular folk music group, while Benny was a member of the Hep Stars, Sweden's number one pop band at the time.
In the summer of 1966, the two groups were touring Sweden's popular open-air Folkpark circuit when they happened to meet up at a crossroads. The Hootenanny Singers were planning a party that night and invited the Hep Stars to come along. Björn and Benny soon found that they had a lot in common, and when they met at another party later that summer, they decided that they should try to write something together.
With the help of Björn's father, they transported all the instruments and amplifiers to his office in the middle of the night. The result was a song called Isn't It Easy To Say, which was later recorded by the Hep Stars, and the first seeds had been sown for what eventually would blossom as ABBA.
By 1969, the popularity of the two groups hade begun to wane somewhat, and after their respective summer tours of that year, the Hootennany Singers became more or less a recording act doing the occasional live performance, while Benny chose to leave the Hep Stars altogether. The two friends continued to write and record songs, encouraged by record company owner and publisher Stig Anderson who was to become ABBA's manager. Stig had great belief in the the songwriting and producing talents of Björn and Benny, assuring them that they would achieve worldwide success sooner or later.
The second Björn & Benny single was a song called Hej gamle man! ("Hey Old Man!") which featured the backing vocals of their respective fianc閑s Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad, the first time the four future ABBA members appeared on the same record.
Frida, who had been a recording artist since the autumn of 1967, had met Benny when she appeared with a cabaret act in the town of Malmö in the south of Sweden in March 1969 - the Hep Stars had an engagement at another venue in the same town. Agnetha, a successful solo singer since her breakthrough in early 1968, had met and fallen in love with Björn in May 1969 when the two of them appeared in the same TV special.
It was as the cabaret act Festfolk, having the double meaning "engaged couples" and "party people" that the foursome first introduced themselves to the public in November 1970. This first attempt was ultimately not very successful, and all thoughts on a permanent group where shelved for the time being.
Meanwhile, they continued to appear on each other's records, and working together in different constellations. In July 1971 Björn and Agnetha got married, and in the autumn of that year Björn and Benny started working as house producers at Stig Anderson's record company Polar.
In the spring of 1972, it was decided to try the foursome concept again, and the first true ABBA single, People Need Love, was recorded. Released under the somewhat clumsy name "Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid", it became a Top Twenty hit in Sweden. On the back of that success, the two couples started to record a whole album together in the autumn of 1972, although they were far from sure if there was any long-term future in the group.
In February 1973, they took part in the Swedish heats for the Eurovision Song Contest with Ring Ring, a song composed by Björn, Benny and Stig. At the time of the contest, Agnetha was highly pregnant with Björn's and her first child, daughter Linda.
The group only finished third that year, but the Swedish and English-language singles and the album of the same name were by far the most popular of the Swedish contestants, and they soon found themselves at the top three places of the Swedish combined singles and albums chart. It was only with this final confirmation of their popularity that the four decided to put their respective solo careers on the backburner and concentrate on the group.
Everyone realized that the name Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Frida (as Anni-Frid now was called on their records) was far too unpractical, however. For the sake of convenience, Stig Anderson had come to refer to them as ABBA - an acronym of their Christian names - and when a "think of a name for Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Frida" competition held in a newspaper reached the same conclusion, the decision was sealed.
The only problem was that there already existed a Swedish canned fish company of that name, but when Stig asked them if they would mind lending their name to a popular music group, they fortunately did not object.
During the summer of 1973, the group set out on a tour of the Swedish Folkparks, but it was not until the autumn, when they started recording their next album, that ABBA became their official name. Late that year, Björn, Benny and Stig made a new attempt to come up with a winner for the Eurovision Song Contest. This time, the result was Waterloo, which effortlessly won first the Swedish heats in February, and then the finals in Brighton, England on 6th April 1974.
The Waterloo single became their first truly international hit, topping the charts in England, West Germany, Norway and Belgium, and reaching the Top Five in several other countries. Even the United States succumbed to the instant hit quality of Waterloo, sending it to Number Six on the Billboard Charts.
ABBA soon found themselves travelling all over Europe, appearing on countless TV and radio shows over the next several months. But as many Eurovision Song Contest winners can testify, it is one thing to have a big hit with your winning song, and another to follow it with something that proves that you are more than a one hit wonder.
ABBA ran into trouble almost immediately when every single they released in the UK over the next 18 months barely scraped into the charts, although they had continued success in many other European countries.
The autumn and winter of 1974 and early 1975 saw the group touring Europe and also recording their third album, simply titled ABBA upon its release in the spring of 1975. It was with the third single from that album, SOS, that they finally had a big UK hit again, the first of 18 consecutive Top Ten hits.
This was followed by Mamma Mia, their first UK Number One since Waterloo, and the song that together with I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do gave ABBA their great breakthrough in Australia during the summer of 1975. The enormous success ABBA had in several other territories notwithstanding, Australia was perhaps the country that most wholeheartedly embraced ABBA over the next few years.
In March 1976, ABBA released their Fernando single, which was one of their most successful ever. The same month they started recording sessions proper for their Arrival album, which was released in the autumn, reaching Number One virtually everywhere. The album had been preceded by the Dancing Queen single, released in August 1976, but actually recorded at the same time as Fernando a full year earlier. ABBA's biggest selling single ever, Dancing Queen was also their only US Number One.
The next single from the Arrival album was Money, Money, Money, and while this song conquered the charts, ABBA were busy preparing for their tour of Europe and Australia, due to commence in February 1977. Notable for the 3.5 million ticket applications that were received simply for the two concerts at London's Royal Albert Hall, the tour was a complete success with capacity houses everywhere. Small wonder that the current ABBA single, Knowing Me, Knowing You spent five weeks at Number One in the UK charts.
When the tour reached Australia in March, work was also begun on the feature film ABBA - The Movie, which went on to become one of the most successful films worldwide during 1978.
Back in Stockholm after the tour, Björn and Benny started writing new songs, and in May 1977 the group began recording sessions for what was to become ABBA - The Album. The release of the album in December 1977 (the Nordic countries only, the rest of the world in early 1978) had been preceded by the single The Name Of The Game. Just as ABBA - The Album was released in Sweden, Agnetha also gave birth to her second child, Christian.
The second single from the new album was Take A Chance On Me, another major hit which also reached the Number Three in the US. Indeed, part of the spring of 1978 was devoted to a major promotional campaign in the United States, a territory notable for being a little more resistant to ABBA's charms than most other countries. As a result, ABBA - The Album became their highest charting US album ever, reaching Number Fourteen.
ABBA themselves were soon back in the studio again, recording tracks for a new album. The first result of those sessions was the Summer Night City single, released in September 1978. Ultimately not included on the upcoming album, it was ABBA's last Number One hit in their native Sweden, reaching the top position on 6th October, the same day that Frida and Benny finally got married after more than nine years as a couple.
In January 1979, the group released another single, Chiquitita, which was premi鑢ed at an all-star UNICEF gala in New York, becoming ABBA's most successful single of 1979. On a more distressing note, the release of the single coincided with the news that Björn and Agnetha had decided to get a divorce. Although there was much speculation that this would mean the end of ABBA, both parties agreed that their marital split actually took a lot of tension off their working relationship.
Work on the new album continued throughout the spring, and in April 1979 the Voulez-Vous album was finally released, almost at the same time as Does Your Mother Know, the last single to feature Björn as lead vocalist.
The autumn of 1979 saw the group set out on a tour of Canada, the United States and Europe, and at the same time they released their brand new Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) single. The tour ended in Ireland in November, and was followed by the release of the successful I Have A Dream single.
A new year meant a new album, and 1980 was no exception. February found the group back in the studio again, although for the first time since 1975 they actually took a break from recording work to complete their final tour, taking place in Japan during three weeks in March. It was not until July that a new single appeared, The Winner Takes It All, which reached Number One in the UK, The Netherlands, and Belgium.
The next single, Super Trouper, was released as the lead-off single from the album of the same name in November 1980, and was the last of ABBA's nine UK Number Ones, a statistic topped only by The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard.
If this seemed like a promising start for the new decade, February 1981 brought further sad news when Benny and Frida announced their divorce. Echoing Agnetha's and Björn's statement, Benny and Frida maintained that their marital split did not affect their work with ABBA, and the group soon started recording what was ultimately their last album.
In December 1981, the single One Of Us was released almost simultaneously with the album The Visitors, and both releases soon found themselves in the higher regions of the charts all over Europe.
1982 turned out to be ABBA's final year together, and although they planned to record a new album, they did in fact only release two singles and the compilation double-album The Singles - The First Ten Years.
The double-album was soon at the top of several charts, but the first of the new singles, The Day Before You Came, met with mixed reactions. It only reached 32 in the UK, although in Sweden, Norway and The Netherlands, it was a Top Five single, even reaching Number One in Belgium.
The very last ABBA single to be conceived and released by the group during their active life was the December 1982 single Under Attack, which also had varied success on charts over the world.
Around this time, the individual group members were starting to feel that it was time to take a break from ABBA and move on to other challenges for a while. As it turned out, the four of them never recorded together again.
But after a few years when pop music fans had been distracted by new groups and new sounds, public interest in the Swedish foursome reached new heights in the 1990s. The compilation album ABBA Gold, released in 1992, topped the charts the world over, becoming the group's biggest seller ever.
However, despite all this revival success, no reunion has been on the cards as yet, and the group members constantly deny that they have any such plans. But the music is still there for anyone to enjoy - and a remarkable legacy it is, too.