The acronym Abba, coined in 1973, represented the coming together of four leading figures in Swedish pop. Agnetha Fältskog had achieved pop success in her country with the 1968 hit 'Jag Var Sa Kar' ('I Was So In Love'). Björn Ulvaeus had previously appeared with the folk-influenced Hootenanny Singers (originally known as the Westbay Singers). They also recorded and released a few records overseas as Northern Lights, before teaming up with Benny Andersson, appearing occasionally with his popular beat group, the Hep Stars. The one non-Swede in the line-up was the solo singer Anni-Frid Synni Lyngstad (later known as Frida). Under the guidance of Scandinavian svengali Stig Anderson, and following the break-up of the Hep Stars in 1969, Ulvaeus and Andersson joined forces for one album, Lycka. After its release in 1970, the duo started working as house producers at Stig Anderson's Polar record company. Meanwhile, Ulvaeus continued to work with the Hootenanny Singers in the studio only.
The marriage of Ulvaeus and Fältskog, followed later by that of Andersson and Lyngstad, had laid the romantic and musical foundations of the Abba concept. An early single, 'People Need Love', reached number 17 in Sweden in June 1972. The Eurovision Song Contest served as a backdrop to their international ambitions and after Lyngstad's tentative entry in the qualifying Swedish heats as a soloist in 1971, the quartet, now known as Björn And Benny, Agnetha And Anni-Frid, attempted to represent their country with the infectious 'Ring, Ring' in 1973. They succeeded the following April as Abba, with the more polished and bouncy 'Waterloo', which not only won the contest, but topped the UK charts and, amazingly, for a Eurovision entry, infiltrated the US Top 10. The middling success of the re-released 'Ring Ring' and singalong 'I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do' provided little indication of the chart domination that was to follow. In September 1975, Abba returned with the worldwide hit 'S.O.S.', a powerhouse pop production highlighted by immaculately executed counter-harmonies and an infectiously melodic arrangement. These classic ingredients of the Abba sound were ably evinced on their first trilogy of UK chart-toppers 'Mamma Mia', 'Fernando' and 'Dancing Queen', which also found favour in Australia and Germany, and just about every other country in the world. The last also brought them their only US number 1 and precipitated their rise to pop superstardom with sales unmatched since the golden age of The Beatles.
Firmly in control of their destinies, both on the artistic and commercial fronts, the band undertook a tour of Europe and Australia in 1977, most remarkable for its extravagant use of costume, sets and orchestration. Between 1977 and 1978 they celebrated a second trilogy of UK chart-toppers - 'Knowing Me, Knowing You', 'The Name Of The Game' and 'Take A Chance On Me', whose haunting grace was enhanced by some of the finest promotional videos of the period. Although Abba: The Movie proved less memorable, there was no doubting their commercial acumen. With international stardom assured, they began the 80s with two more UK number 1s, 'The Winner Takes It All' and 'Super Trouper', taking their UK chart-topping tally to an impressive nine in a little over six years. Although the dissolution of both marriages in the band threatened their unity, they maintained a high profile, not least on the international business circuit where they eclipsed the car manufacturers Volvo as Sweden's largest earners of foreign currency during 1982. With little left to achieve within their chosen genre, they elected to rest the band that same year.
Agnetha and Anni-Frid (Frida) subsequently went solo, but found chart success elusive. Björn and Benny, meanwhile, concentrated on composing, and enjoyed a productive relationship with Tim Rice, culminating in London's West End musical Chess. In 1990 the Australian band Bjorn Again enjoyed some success touring with a set composed entirely of faithful Abba cover versions. In 1992 a well-publicized 70s fashion and music boom gave fuel to countless (misguided) rumours of an Abba re-formation. Seven years later, Mamma Mia!, a stage musical based on the songs of Abba, opened in London to excellent reviews. A detailed and revealing biography Bright Lights, Dark Shadows: The Real Story Of Abba was published in September 2001.
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