Are you a dancing queen? Young and sweet? Only seventeen? The odds that you’re all next are slim, but the odds that you’re dying to know more about Swedish pop group ABBA are high.
You may know ABBA’s music from Mama Mia! the musical that adapted hits like “Dancing Queen,” “Gimme! Give me ! (A Man After Midnight)”, and finally, in the sequel “Angeleyes”. Additionally, their recent tour with holographic members is taking the world by storm. This beloved disco group consists of four members: Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. All four members were, incidentally, married, making the divorce the end, or at least a momentary end, of the group.
But what happened in the meantime? How did they meet and discover music? How did married couples choose the name ABBA? Let’s find out.
The group had been in music long before their breakthrough in 1973. Benny Andersson was part of the Hep Stars, a Swedish version of the Beatles. Björn Ulvaeus led the Swedish folk group Hootenanny Singers. Anni-Frid “Frida” Lyngstad has been part of various jazz dance groups since she was 13 years old. She also created her own group, the Anni-Frid Four. Agnetha Fältskog rose to fame in Sweden through a demo recording sent to a bigger record company, which led to her having a number one hit in Sweden at the age of 18.
Because the group was entirely in the industry, they met throughout their individual art. Andersson and Lyngstad met at Melodifestivalen in 1969, a Swedish contest that would see them win a hit song in their country. The winning song would go to the Eurovision Song Contest, which could guarantee the winner international success.
The two became a couple at the same time Ulvaeus and Andersson’s bands broke up in 1969. The men began recording together while Lyngstad joined them and often helped with sessions. Also in 1969, Ulvaeus met Fältskog while filming a Swedish television special and married in 1971. Both were involved in their recording sessions, and thus with Andersson and Lyngstad.
The group earned their first hit with the song “Hej, gamle man” but were credited with Bjorn & Benny because the two girls only sang out loud. The song caught the attention of Stig Anderson who was the head of Polar Music and was determined to make the band an international hit.
ABBA: an acronym and a palindrome
In 1972, the group finally became a proper quartet as their song “People Need Love” gave more prominence to women, and the song was eventually credited to all four as Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid. With more hits and more Stig Anderson in the mix, the ABBA name was officially born.
When the band’s songs were aired all over Swedish radio, the media started getting riled up with their long name. According to Billboard, a contest was held in a tabloid to choose a new name. The winning entry was the couples initials arranged in an acronym and palindrome – ABBA.
In a 1988 interview, it is revealed that the name was also an important fish factory name. Fältskog said, “We had to ask permission and the factory said, ‘OK, as long as you don’t shame us for what you’re doing,’ I think we did a good job.” And, a good job they did, as 1974 rolled around for the band, and they made their international breakthrough.
Swedish television invited ABBA to contribute a song for the 1974 Melodifestivalen. Deciding to sing in English, which increased their chances of European success, they eventually won the Melodifestivalen and the Eurovision Song Contest with their single “Waterloo “.
“Waterloo” became a top ten hit in major European countries like the UK, West Germany, Spain and France. The single hit the seas in South Africa, Australia and Canada. In the United States, it entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart at six. Thus, paving the way for their first album and a trip to the United States.
But ABBA’s breakthrough wasn’t always a steady upward arrow. Their first European tour dates in Denmark, West Germany and Austria did not sell out and due to lack of demand they even had to cancel some shows. Yet their second leg of the Scandinavian tour was different as they played mostly sold-out shows.
ABBA released two more singles which received little airplay, but decent landings on the charts. However, it wasn’t until their singles “SOS” and “Mamma Mia” later in 1975 that they returned to major chart presence in the UK and in the US “Mamma Mia” also changed. group management by awarding them first place. charts in the UK and Germany, but a number 16 spot in the US.
In 1976, “Dancing Queen” was released from their album Arrival, and ABBA began to top the charts in Europe along with the United States, Canada, Soviet Union and Japan. It would be their only number one hit in the United States. From there, in 1977, the band had their first sold-out world tour which started in Europe and ended in Australia.
The Australian leg of the tour provided much of their film content ABBA: the movie. To coincide with the film, they released their anticipated fifth studio album, ABBA: the album.
Two years later, in 1979, Ulvaeus and Fältskog announced their divorce but claimed it would not affect the band. In 1981, Andersson and Lyngstad divorced.
A long break
Divorce speculation brought greater tension to the band, as well as a struggle in the recording studio in the spring and summer of 1982. They went on hiatus in the summer and returned in the fall where they have released several compilation albums like Singles: The First Ten Years. They also released new singles “The Day Before You Came”/”Cassandra” and “Under Attack”/”You Owe Me One” but neither went heavyweight.
ABBA never officially ended the group but their last performance together on The Late Breakfast Show in December 1982 marked the end. That was until their reunion in 2016.
In 1992, people returned to ABBA with the release of their new compilation album ABBA Gold: Greatest Hits. In 2008, the Mama Mia! The film the soundtrack brought a number one album in the US Billboard chart, bringing the band their first number one album in the United States.
January 2016 marked the group’s first meeting. The entire band made an appearance at Mama Mia! Celebration in Stockholm. In June, they appeared at a private party which celebrated the 50th anniversary of Andersson and Ulvaeus’ first meeting in Stockholm. The band sang “The Way Old Friends Do” live.
Their manager Simon Fuller announced that ABBA would meet to work on a digital experience. In 2021, the group releases its new album Travel and in May 2022 they kicked off their hologram performance tour at ABBA Arena in London.
Photo by Gus Stewart/Redferns