Two of the most towering figures in popular music for half a century; Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson have created an enduring legacy of some of the most famous and beloved songs of the twentieth century. After attending university Ulvaeus joined the Swedish folk band the Hootenanny Singers (initially briefly called the Westbay Singers) and while touring during 1966 met another popular Swedish band the Hep Stars whose keyboards player was Benny Andersson. Kindred spirits with similar musical ambitions the pair started writing songs together, several of which became hits for the Hep Stars while another track 'Ljuva Sextital' featured lyrics by their mutual friend (and future manager) Stig Anderson. When the Hep Stars split in 1969 the duo released the album Lycka (surprisingly not containing the hit single 'She's My Girl') the following year on Stig Anderson's Polar Records, and when Anderson offered them positions as producers at his company while still allowing Ulvaeus to continue his work with the Hootenanny Singers they accepted. The songwriters often recruited their girlfriends (and later wives), Ulvaeus' Agnetha Fältskog and Andersson's Anni-Frid Lyngstad who were both professional singers to help them out in the studio. This in turn lead to the creation of the mighty ABBA.
After bursting onto the world stage through their memorable appearance at the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest where their performance of their own composition 'Waterloo' swept the competition aside and made them the clear winners they became the most successful band in Swedish history. They were a money making machine that saw their 1982 exports outstripping that of their home country's Volvo. While their phenomenal success began in Sweden their records dominated charts around the world and nowhere more so than the UK where they racked up nine (including compilations) chart-topping albums and no fewer than twenty-seven Top 40 hits which included a staggering nineteen Top 10 entries and the nine number ones; 'Waterloo', 'Mamma Mia', 'Fernando', 'Dancing Queen', 'Knowing Me, Knowing You', 'Name Of The Game', 'Take A Chance On Me', 'The Winner Takes It All' and 'Super Trouper'.
Between 1974 and 1983 they were rarely out of the charts and they became ubiquitous on British TV shows such as Top Of The Pops. Their success was built on substantial foundations; the undoubted songwriting talent and musicianship of Benny and Björn, the superb and instantly recognisable vocals and harmonies of Agnetha and Frida, the slick production by Stig Anderson, the photogenic looks of the girls, the costumes, their extravagant live shows and the professional manner it which they conducted their career all combined to create what could be said to be the blueprint of a perfect pop band. Despite both couple's marriages ending the quartet stayed together until they finally bowed out at the end of 1982. While the girls went on top pursue solo careers Benny and Björn continued working together and with the aid of lyricist Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat etc.) they created the musical Chess
which was released as an album in 1984 and yielded the UK No 1 'I Know Him So Well' recorded by Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson and the Top 20 'One Night In Bangkok' by Murray Head. Chess went on to open as a stage musical in London's West End in 1986 where it ran for three years and subsequently played around the world including a run on New York's Broadway from 1988.
Much lower key was Benny and Björn's next project, 1995's 'Kristina från Duvemåla' a stage show based on the novels by Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg. Hugely popular with critics and the public alike the show ran for more than four years (over 650 performances) in different venues and was recognised with numerous awards and accolades. In 1999 the duo revisited the source of their success with playwright Catherine Johnson who created the stage musical phenomenon Mamma Mia which was based on and around a number of ABBA songs including 'Dancing Queen', 'Thank You For The Music', 'S.O.S.', 'The Winner Takes It All', 'Super Trouper', 'Voulez Vous', 'Lay All Your Love On Me', 'Take A Chance On Me', 'Knowing Me, Knowing You', 'Money Money Money' and the title song itself. The show opened in the West End in 1999 where it has continued to run and has also been staged on Broadway and numerous other cities around the world. In 2008 the production team that brought the show to the stage created a film version starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård and Julie Walters which went on to become the highest grossing musical of all time while the DVD became the best selling DVD ever in several territories including the UK and Sweden.
Both Ulvaeus and Andersson have been recognised with numerous awards for their achievements around the world but their greatest and most lasting legacy are their songs which remain timeless classics that will endure as long as there is a market for popular music and as long as people are born with a pair of ears.
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