Welcome to my ABBA shrine! First of all, let me recount the story of how I became “Abbagirl”…
And now, a history of ABBA I wrote for rocknpop
Sadly, Stikkan “Stig” Anderson, ABBA’s manager and frequent lyricist, died of a heart attack on September 12th, 1997 at age 66.
|Group Members.||Agnetha Faltskog – vocals|
Anni-Frid (“Frida”) Lyngstad – vocals
Benny Andersson – vocals, piano/keyboards, wrote music and lyrics
Bjorn Ulvaeus – vocals, guitar, wrote music and lyrics
Stig Anderson – ABBA’s manager and lyricist
ABBA, an acronym for the first names of the group’s first names (spelled with the first “B” backwards), formed in the early 70’s as a combination of two singer/songwriter friends, Benny & Bjorn (who had collaborated on an album called ‘Lycka’), and their girlfriends/fiancees (later to become wives), Frida and Agnetha, respectively.
Both of the women were singers with successful solo careers, making ABBA a Swedish “supergroup” to begin with. Though the women had joined Benny and Bjorn in song as early as 1970, performing at various clubs, parks, and festivals throughout Sweden, and released their first group effort, the single “People Need Love” (under the name “Bjorn and Benny with Svenska Flicka,” Svenska Flicka meaning “Swedish girls”) in 1972, it wasn’t until 1973 that the group really got its start.
The song “Ring Ring,” with music by Bjorn and Benny and lyrics by manager Stig Anderson, was entered in the Swedish heat of the Eurovision Song Contest. Though it lost out that year, the public opinion was that ABBA had deserved to represent Sweden in the competition, and as a result of all the controversy, Eurovision’s panel of “experts” was replaced by members of the general public. The following year, ABBA entered the Eurovision fray again, with another dynamic single (again written by Benny and Bjorn with lyrics by Stig), “Waterloo”. This time, however, ABBA won the Swedish heat, and was eligible to compete against the best of Europe at th 1974 competition in Brighton, England. The group gave a memorable and exciting performance at the Brighton Dome and easily won the contest, bringing them instant fame throughout Europe. 1974’s ‘Waterloo’ album also introduced them to the U.S., where the title single did reach the Top 10.
European and world tours and many successful albums followed – ‘ABBA,’ ‘Arrival’, but one single that stood out among ABBA’s many number-one hits of the decade was 1976’s “Dancing Queen,” which was the one ABBA song to make it to Number One on the American charts as well as around the world. The song was even performed at the wedding of the King of Sweden! ‘ABBA – The Album’ marked a change in ABBA’s music in that the lyrics became more profound, and included the group’s “mini-musical,” entitled “The Girl With The Golden Hair”. One of these three ‘scenes’ was “Thank You For The Music,” an Agnetha solo-vocal track which is also classic ABBA, and was later used as the title of the recent Polydor 4-CD collection. At the same time ‘ABBA – The Album’ was released, a movie called ‘ABBA – The Movie’ came out as well. The movie chronicled ABBA’s success with footage from the group’s live concert performances in Australia at the height of “ABBA-mania”, framed with a fictional story about a frustrated Australian radio deejay attempting to get an ABBA interview.
1979 brought the divorce of Agnetha and Bjorn, but the group continued on, releasing the disco album ‘Voulez-Vous’, performing their hit single “Chiquitita” in a UNICEF gala in New York (along with the Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, Olivia Newton-John, among others), and embarking on their first ever American tour. They then released ‘Super Trouper’ in 1980, and then their final album, ‘The Visitors’, in 1981. Benny and Frida divorced that year as well. ‘The Visitors’ was also a good deal more somber than previous albums and reflected the evolution in the members’ lives and relationships. ABBA’s commercial success declines; 1982’s release of “Head Over Heels” as a single was the first by ABBA to fail to reach the Top 10 – or even the Top 20 – in the UK since 1975.
The band eventually broke up by about 1982 or 1983. Although the group stopped recording together, Agnetha and Frida resumed their solo careers and had much success in the 80’s. (Frida is remembered most often for her hit single, “I Know There’s Something Going On,” which featured Phil Collins, who also produced some of her solo albums, on drums.) Bjorn and Benny won accolades for their collaboration with theatrical lyricist Tim Rice, on the 1984 musical, ‘Chess’, which also yielded a hit single (sung by Murray Head), “One Night In Bangkok”. Benny and Bjorn also recently wrote another musical, entitled ‘Kristina fran Duvemala,’ which has been performed in some areas on the U.S. as well as Sweden.
Agnetha now has an autobiography (and a tie-in album), called “My Love, My Life” (also the title of an ABBA song on which Agnetha did lead vocals). ABBA has enjoyed a significant revival in popularity in the 90’s, with acts like Erasure (who recorded an ABBA cover album called ‘ABBA-esque’) and U2 (who once had Benny & Bjorn come onstage during a concert) declaring their admiration of the group and their classic pop tunes. (There’s even an Australian band called “Bjorn Again” that tours the world doing their ABBA covers and ABBA-inspired tunes, in full 70’s ABBA regalia.) The 1992 greatest hits compilation, ‘ABBA Gold’, has sold way over 7 million copies, and has served to introduce a whole new generation to the group and their music.
Why does ABBA have such a timeless appeal? Well, almost all of their songs are pop masterpieces, with a sophisticated layering of sound, and some of the first uses of synthesizers to produce a wide variety of different sounds. And of course, Agnetha and Frida’s powerful, flawless vocals make ABBA stand out from many other acts of the 70’s. ABBA was also always interesting visually – a pair of sexy Swedish couples in an assortment of kooky disco garb; all of the members frequently wore platforms or tall, heeled boots, and glittering, colorful outfits that shimmered and swayed. They were also pioneers of the music video before MTV was born, recording imaginative video performances so that those who couldn’t see ABBA live could get a taste of their style. (These videos were directed by Lasse Hallstrom, who later went on to win acclaim for such films as “My Life As A Dog” and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” All of these factors make for a group that will not soon be forgotten, even if the group never reunites. (Stig Anderson, their long-time manager, advises that you go see Bjorn Again, the closest substitute for an ABBA performance.)
ABBA on the Web!
And be sure to check out the masters of Abba impersonation, Bjorn Again!! I’ve seen them in concert and they’re simply fabulous. There’s also a tribute group in the UK called Abbagirls, amusingly enough!
Rhonda & Muriel, fellow “abbagirls”! (from Muriel’s Wedding)
I love the video for “The Day Before You Came”!
By the way, I saw “ABBA: The Movie” for the first time on VH1 in early January ’97 as a part of their Rock ‘n Roll Picture Show series. My verdict? Cheesy, but enough to keep me singing Abba all night! I especially liked the footage of “The Girl With The Golden Hair,” their mini-musical. And as of April ’99, I finally own my own copy, woo-hoo! 🙂 (A big thanks to Ross Barker for helping me out!)
I also got my copy of Agnetha Faltskog’s autobiography, As I Am: ABBA Before and Beyond! It’s a fascinating read for any Abba fan and certainly any Agnetha fan, chronicling her years with the group (and her romance and marriage with Bjorn), and also her whole life story and what she’s doing these days. It also features loads of great pics of Agnetha, Bjorn, and the group (some of which I will try to scan as soon as possible).
If you live anywhere near the UK or Canada, by all means go see the new Benny & Bjorn musical hit on London’s West End and in Toronto, Ontario! It’s called “Mamma Mia”, and it’s basically a slew of terrific ABBA songs worked into a coherent plotline about a mother and daughter. I finally saw it in Toronto at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in August, it was absolutely fabulous! (Although not quite as much of a religious experience as seeing Bjorn Again in concert!) Thanks again to Ross Barker, who sent me the London program and even a poster…I also got the Toronto program myself, as well as the (London) soundtrack. From hearing the CD I think I actually like the Toronto cast better! The show is also on tour and will be coming to cities like San Francisco before it eventually hits Broadway in the fall of 2001.