The ABBA story began in June 1966 when 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 later that year, 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.
In the spring of 1969, Björn and Benny met the two women who were to become not only their fiancées but also the other half of ABBA. Agnetha Fältskog (born 1950) had been a successful solo singer since releasing her first single in 1967. She and Björn were married in July 1971. Anni-Frid Lyngstad (born 1945), also known as Frida, started her recording career shortly before Agnetha. Frida was of Norwegian origin, but had moved to Sweden at a very early age. Benny and Frida didn’t get married until October 1978.
At first, the four members collaborated musically mainly by contributing songs, instrumental backing, production work or backing vocals to the recordings they each made as solo or duo acts. In 1970, the attractive sound of their four voices combined gave them the idea to put together the cabaret act Festfolk (which had the double meaning “engaged couples” and “party people”). This first attempt failed, but in the spring of 1972 they recorded a song called ‘People Need Love’, garnering a medium-sized hit in Sweden. At this time they called themselves Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid.
Encouraged by this success, they entered the 1973 Swedish selections for the Eurovision Song Contest with the song ‘Ring Ring’. They finished third, but the single and the album of the same name competed for the top positions on the Swedish chart. ‘Ring Ring’ also became a hit in several other European countries.
The group entered the selections again in 1974, this time with ‘Waterloo’, which took them all the way to the 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, which luckily agreed to lending 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, and even reached the US Top Ten. 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 was not until some 18 months later that they got a major worldwide hit again with ‘SOS’, taken off their third album, simply titled ABBA.
‘Mamma Mia’, also taken from ABBA, returned the group to the UK Number One spot, which they occupied a total of nine times between 1974 and 1980. ‘Mamma Mia’ was also a Number One hit in Australia, which was the first territory to release it as a single in August 1975. Over the next few years, Australia would be caught up in a virtual ABBA fever, giving the group a total of six Number One hits.
1976 was the year when ABBA finally and firmly established themselves as one of the most popular groups in the world. The different greatest hits compilations released in the UK and Australia this year (Greatest Hits and The Best Of ABBA respectively) are still among the best-selling albums of all time in those territories. Classic single releases such as ‘Fernando’ and ‘Dancing Queen’ topped the charts all over the world. In April 1977, ‘Dancing Queen’ became ABBA’s only US 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 première 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.
ABBA’s single ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’ was released in the autumn of 1979, coinciding with a major tour of Canada, the United States and Europe. Around the same time a second compilation album, Greatest Hits Vol.2, became an international success.
In March 1980, ABBA took their tour to Japan for what turned out to be their very last live concerts. 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 event still didn’t stop the foursome from working together. At the end of the year, ABBA’s eighth album, The Visitors, was released. ‘One of Us’ was the biggest hit off the album.
1982 saw the energy 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 that they had been used to. At the end of 1982, ABBA decided to take a break. If they wanted to they could always get back together after a few years, they reasoned.
Björn and Benny has since had additional international success as musical composers with Chess (Benny Anderson/Tim Rice/Björn Ulvaeus) and (Björn Ulvaeus & Benny Andersson) both going up on Broadway. Benny Andersson is also successful as a folkmusician with Bao (Benny Anderssons Orkester) where he composes and play the accordion mainly.
After ABBA also Anni-Frid and Agnetha have both had solo careers as singers, mostly of pop music. Anni-Fridh last recorded with Marie Fredriksson (of Roxette) called Alla mina bästa år in 1997. Agnetha last released the album My Colouring Book in 2004.