The story of ABBA goes back over 50 years (can you believe that?) in Sweden. In June 1966, Björn Ulvaeus (born 1945) met Benny Andersson (born 1946) for the first time. Björn was a member of the Hootenanny Singers, a very popular folk music group, while Benny played keyboards in Sweden’s biggest pop group of the 1960s, The Hep Stars.
The pair wrote their first song together just a few weeks later, and by the end of the decade, they had established a regular partnership as composers. By that time, Benny had left The Hep Stars, while the Hootenanny Singers only existed in the recording studio. The Hootenanny Singers released their records on the Polar Music record label, owned by Stig Anderson (1931–1997), who was to become ABBA’s manager. Stig also contributed lyrics to many ABBA hits during the first years of the group’s career. By 1972. At this time, they called themselves Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid.
The group entered Melodifestivalen in 1973 with some success and did it again in 1974, this time with ‘Waterloo’, which took them all the way to the Eurovision finals in Brighton, England. By this time they had changed their name to ABBA, an acronym of their first names. ABBA was also the name of a Swedish canned fish company; fortunately, they agreed to lend their name to a pop group. The Eurovision Song Contest on April 6, 1974, turned out to be the most famous moment in ABBA history when the group won the international juries over with ‘Waterloo’.
Soon after this triumph, ‘Waterloo’ was Number One on the charts all over Europe, even reaching the Top Ten in the US, where the Eurovision Song Contest had no impact. The album of the same name was also a huge hit in Sweden. However, the “stigma” of being winners of the Eurovision Song Contest made it difficult for ABBA to be taken seriously when they tried to follow this first success. It wasn’t until some 18 months later that they got a major worldwide hit again with ‘SOS’, taken off their third album, simply entitled ABBA.
‘Mamma Mia’, also from the ABBA album, returned the group to the UK Number One spot, which they occupied a total of nine times between 1974 and 1980. ‘Mamma Mia’ was Number One for ten weeks in Australia, which was the first territory to release it as a single. Over the next couple of years, Australia would be caught up in a virtual ABBA fever, giving the group a total of six Number One hits.
In 1976 ABBA finally and firmly established themselves as one of the most popular groups in the world. The various hits compilations conquering the world during this period (entitled Greatest Hits or The Best Of ABBA depending on where you lived) became global blockbusters. Classic single releases such as ‘Fernando’ and ‘Dancing Queen’ topped the charts all over the world, including the US (in 1977) – ‘Dancing Queen’ was ABBA’s only stateside Number One.
In late 1976 ABBA’s fourth album, Arrival was released. The album stormed up the charts and spawned hits such as ‘Money, Money, Money’ and ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’. This was followed by a concert tour of Europe and Australia between January and March 1977. The tour was a complete success with capacity houses everywhere. When the tour reached Australia, work was also begun on the feature film ABBA – The Movie. The premiere of the film in December 1977 coincided with the release of ABBA – The Album. Hits from the album included ‘The Name Of The Game’ and ‘Take A Chance On Me’.
The spring of 1978 saw the group embarking on a major promotional campaign in the USA, leading to a Top Three single with ‘Take A Chance On Me’ and a Top Twenty entry for ABBA – The Album. The hit singles ‘Summer Night City’ and ‘Chiquitita’ were followed by ABBA’s sixth album, Voulez-Vous, released in April 1979. Earlier that year, Björn and Agnetha announced their divorce. This did not mean the end of ABBA, but it did overthrow their image of two happy, music-making couples.
In March 1980, ABBA took their tour to Japan for what turned out to be their very last live concerts in front of a paying audience. The rest of the year was devoted to the recording of ABBA’s next album, Super Trouper, containing classic hits like ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and the title track.
In February 1981 the final blow was dealt to ABBA’s happy-couples image of the 1970s when Benny and Frida announced their divorce. This still didn’t stop the foursome from working together. At the end of the year, ABBA’s eighth album, The Visitors, was released, with ‘One Of Us’ as its biggest hit single.
Through the course of 1982, the energy was gradually running out of the group, as Björn and Benny set their sights on writing the musical Chess and Agnetha and Frida were reviving their solo careers. The only ABBA LP release this year was a compilation double album of their hit singles, entitled The Singles – The First Ten Years, including two new songs. Although the single ‘The Day Before You Came’ was one of the group’s most accomplished recordings it failed to become a worldwide hit on the scale they had been used to. At the end of 1982, ABBA decided to take a break. If they wanted to, they reasoned, they could always get back together after a few years.
Keeping the memory alive there are movies, there’s the ABBA museum in Sweden (yes, a museum) and all the interviews, shows, music videos and music to keep you entertained below from the group as well as some of their more well-known songs as solo artists and this amazing BBC FOUR documentary from 2013.
Abba went to sell over 360,000,000 records around the world, a feat only topped by Elvis and The Beatles.
Source: WikiPedia, Abbasite and The Beat Staff
Find ABBA playing in many of the mixes we feature each weekend on our Friday Night Jams and Saturday Night Live Ain’t No Jive Chicago Dance Party. Click here for mixes