When I think of the phrase “guilty pleasure” the Swedish pop supergroup ABBA comes to mind. I mean, how can one NOT like their songs! There was something about their harmony, the lyrics, and even the musical arrangements that provided a nice backdrop for the harmonies that people found to be incredibly infectious and eventually, the listener just simply, sweetly surrenders to the music of ABBA! We all know ABBA for their song “Dancing Queen”. We all know that it even helped out the music careers of A-Teens and Erasure as they both paid tribute to ABBA, whether it was a tribute album or basically making a career off of singing ABBA songs. We all know the Mamma Mia! musical as well that sold out countless movie theaters and was a major hit on Broadway! I mean if I have heard of the musical on Broadway, it’s a huge musical! Let’s look at the career of ABBA!
In 1972, ABBA formed in Stockholm, Sweden. ABBA was composed of Agentha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Anderson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. In 1974, ABBA became the first Swedish group to win the Eurovision Song Contest at The Dome in Brighton, England, and worldwide record sales are estimated at up to 500 million units sold worldwide throughout the history of ABBA. ABBA boasts of having eight consecutive number one albums in the United Kingdom. They released their hit songs in Spanish, and had tremendous success in Latin American countries. They consistently charted in the United States, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and South Africa.
ABBA composed of two married couples, with Agentha and Bjorn being married to each other, while Benny and Anni-Frid were married to each other. In 1979, Agentha and Bjorn divorced and in 1981, Benny and Anni-Frid filed for divorce. Their music got darker as their respective relationships got more strained. Movies and the Mamma Mia! musical kept the ABBA name alive, along with Swedish teen pop group the A-Teens, who offered up their own interpretation of the ABBA classics that we all know and love.
ABBA got their name as an acronym from the four members’ first letters of their first names. ABBA broke out in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton with their smash hit “Waterloo”. Winning that contest gave ABBA the chance to tour Europe and to perform on major television shows throughout Europe. The song peaked at number one in the United Kingdom and West Germany, and at number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Here is their Eurovision performance of “Waterloo” below.
The mindblowing thing is that their debut album only peaked at No. 145 in the Billboard 200, but critics took notice of ABBA. ABBA’s follow-up single “Honey, Honey” peaked at number 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, and “Ring Ring” failed to peak at the Top 30. Many were wondering if ABBA was just a flash in the pan.
It took ABBA’s third album to see the pop group to start finally catching some breaks. ABBA tried the glam rock ways before but realized that they were a pop group, not a glam group, citing that they were trying to be too much like The Sweet. Their self-titled record produced the hits “SOS” and “Mamma Mia”. “Mamma Mia” reached number one in three countries and “SOS” was a top ten worldwide single. Here is “SOS” by ABBA.
Here is their smash hit “Mamma Mia”
In 1976, after seeing success with “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do”, ABBA hit superstardom. 1976 was the year of ABBA! ABBA released their “Greatest Hits” compilation album, despite only having six Top 40 hits in the United Kingdom and United States. They released a song called “Fernando” on there. In Australia, the single would tie “Hey Jude” by The Beatles with 14 consecutive weeks at the number one singles chart. The single would also be ABBA’s first number one single on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Charts in the United States. ABBA would win the Best Studio Recording award for “Fernando”.
ABBA would release their fourth studio album entitled “Arrival”. This album title was appropriately titled because ABBA has arrived! The album produced three smash hits, including “Money, Money, Money”, “Knowing Me Knowing You”, and their biggest hit “Dancing Queen”. “Dancing Queen” charted number one worldwide, along with becoming their first and only number one single in the United States! “Arrival” also received BRIT Award nomination for Best International Recording.
ABBA would proceed by selling out arenas on an international scale. In 11 cities in Australia, they played in front of over 160,000 people. ABBA: The Movie and ABBA: The Album was produced, it try to portray Agentha’s pin-up model looks, Agentha HATED that, she wanted to be taken seriously as a singer not for her good looks. The album produced three more hits, including “The Name Of The Game”, “Thank You For The Music”, and their biggest selling single in the United States, “Take A Chance On Me”.
ABBA had international success! They donated a single to UNICEF to promote the United Nations’ “Year of the Child” with the song “Chiquitita”. The single went to number one in ten countries. They converted a vacant movie theater into a studio, and Genesis and Led Zeppelin would also have albums produced at their studio.
In 1979, Agentha and Bjorn filed for divorce, despite this they created their sixth album “Voulez Vous”. The album produced four Top 5 UK hits, including “Chiquitita”, “Does Your Mother Know”, “Angeleyes”, and “I Have A Dream” all charting. This album saw a lot more success in Europe than the United States and in the same year they created a second “Greatest Hits” album, which included the top 5 U.K. hit “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!(A Man After Midnight)”. In spite of seemingly lack of American success with these two albums, ABBA sold out arenas around the world in 1979.
In 1980, ABBA released “Super Trouper”, fans noticed more synthesizers and the music was more dark. It was rumored that some of the songs were written about the divorce and the marriage trials and tribulations between Benny and Anni-Frid. The album sold over one million copies in pre-orders and the title track became ABBA’s final U.K. number one single. “Lay All Your Love On Me” also topped the Billboard Dance Play charts. ABBA also recorded a Spanish version of their hits entitled “Gracias Por La Musica”.
In 1981, Benny and Anni-Frid filed for divorce, revealing that their marriage was a constant uphill battle. They released their swansong entitled “The Visitors”. The songs were darker, and rumor has it the album was titled after secret meetings they had against the approval of totalitarian governments. Other topics address included war, aging, loss of innocence, and broken relationships. The album produced two more hits, including “One Of Us” and “When All Is Said And Done”. “One Of Us” dealt with the topic of divorce and “The Winner Takes It All”. The title track also peaked at number 10 in the United States Billboard Dance Play charts. After that, ABBA tried to come together for another album, but decided to take a break. Three singles were created at their sessions. Benny and Bjorn weren’t satisfied with the outcome and they decided to take a break for the summer. On December 11th, 1982, ABBA’s final public performance was on the British TV show “The Late Late Breakfast Show”. In 1983, tensions between the four members and the manager escalated and ABBA sold their shares of Polar Music. They had one more TV appearance in 1986, and never appeared in public together again until Mamma Mia! the musical in 2008.
ABBA has stated in the Sunday Telegraph that they will never appear on stage together again. However in October 2016, ABBA has reunited to create a digital experience. That’s right, a hologram like form from their heyday in the 1970’s, details will surely be announced.
Bjorn and Benny went on to produce and write Broadway musicals and plays including “Chess” and they also wrote and produced other songs and Swedish Broadway musicals.
Agentha pursued a solo career, including a duet with Phil Collins with the song “I Know There’s Something Going On”. The song was a Top 15 single in numerous countries, including a number one single for five weeks in France. She also dueted with Peter Cetera, and in 2004, released “My Colouring Book”, which is her covering various songs that impacted her teenage years.
Anni-Frid took the environmental activist route as she was heavily involved in the “Artists For The Environment” organization in the 1990s. She also covered Julian Lennon to raise money for poor children in Sweden, and worked with Deep Purple’s Jon Lord and sang on the 2010 Cat Stevens song “Morning Has Broken”, which saw that song chart on the Swedish charts.
Madness To Creation’s take and the impact of ABBA:
There is absolutely no denying the power and the harmonies of ABBA. They are one of those groups that you instantly know its an ABBA song based upon the harmonies and musical arrangements of the songs. I felt that it was the pressure of the music business and the pressure of the record companies that eventually caused the two marriages in ABBA to split apart and for them to split apart as a group. The saying goes, “you have a lifetime to make your first album and six months to make a second album”. That saying was so true with ABBA. Their music is a celebration of life, love, and happiness. They were very much ahead of their time and a lot of groups in the pop genre today will never be able to hold a candle to the music of ABBA. I mean Erasure, A-Teens, and the Mamma Mia! musical really holds up the legacy that is ABBA and that is for constructing creative pop numbers and making memorable musical arrangements. Madness To Creation has no choice but to rate them a 10 out of 10 stars. Their music instantly puts you in a good mood and it is the music that is timeless. People will be listening to “Fernando”, “Take A Chance On Me”, “Super Trouper”, and “Dancing Queen” hundreds of years from now. The Lemonheads, Sinead O’Connor, Boyzone, Steven Wilson, Dionne Warwick, The Culture Club, and The Corrs have all paid tribute to their music! To show that they are artists in every sense of the word, ABBA was offered one billion dollars for a 100 city worldwide tour, they turned it down because they didn’t want to tarnish the integrity of the music! Their song “Waterloo” was cited as the greatest performance in the history of Eurovision! There is not enough accolades and superlatives to describe the legacy of ABBA! They may not be making music anymore but their music lives on! Thank you ABBA!