FORMED: 1971, Stockholm, Sweden
The most commercially successful pop group of the 1970s, the origins of the
Swedish superstars ABBA dated back to 1966, when keyboardist and vocalist
Benny Andersson, a onetime member of the popular beat outfit the Hep Stars,
first teamed with guitarist and vocalist Bjorn Ulvaeus, the leader of the
folk-rock unit the Hootenanny Singers. The two performers began composing
songs together and handling session and production work for Polar Music/Union
Songs, a publishing company owned by Stig Anderson, himself a prolific songwriter
throughout the 1950s and 1960s. At the same time, both Andersson and Ulvaeus
worked on projects with their respective girlfriends: Ulvaeus had become
involved with vocalist Agnetha Faltskog, a performer with a recent Number
One Swedish hit, "I Was So in Love," under her belt, while Andersson began
seeing Anni-Frid Lyngstad, a onetime jazz singer who rose to fame by winning
a national talent contest.
In 1971, Faltskog ventured into theatrical work, accepting the role of Mary
Magdalene in a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar;
her cover of the musical's "Don't Know How to Love Him" became a significant
hit. The following year, the duo of Andersson and Ulvaeus scored a massive
international hit with "People Need Love," which featured Faltskog and Lyngstad
on backing vocals. The record's success earned them an invitation to enter
the Swedish leg of the 1973 Eurovision song contest, where, under the unwieldy
name of Bjorn, Benny, Agnetha & Frida, they submitted "Ring Ring," which
proved extremely popular with audiences but placed only third in the judges'
The next year, rechristened ABBA (a suggestion from Stig Anderson and an
acronym of the members' first names), the quartet submitted the single "Waterloo,"
and became the first Swedish act to win the Eurovision competition. The record
proved to be the first of many international hits, although the group hit
a slump after their initial success as subsequent singles failed to chart.
In 1975, however, ABBA issued "S.O.S.," a smash not only in America and Britain
but also in non-English speaking countries such as Spain, Germany and the
Benelux nations, where the group's success was fairly unprecedented. A string
of hits followed, including "Mamma Mia," "Fernando," and "Dancing Queen"
(ABBA's sole U.S. chart-topper), further honing their lush, buoyant sound;
by the spring of 1976, they were already in position to issue their first
Greatest Hits collection.
ABBA's popularity continued in 1977, when both "Knowing Me, Knowing You"
and "The Name of the Game" dominated airwaves. The group also starred in
the feaure film ABBA--The Movie, which was released in 1978. That year Andersson
and Lyngstad married, as had Ulvaeus and Faltskog in 1971, although the latter
couple separated a few months later; in fact, romantic suffering was the
subject of many songs on the quartet's next LP, 1979's Voulez-Vous. Shortly
after the release of 1980's Super Trouper, Andersson and Lyngstad divorced
as well, further straining the group dynamic; The Visitors, issued the following
year, was the final LP of new ABBA material, and the foursome officially
disbanded after the December 1982 release of their single "Under Attack."
Although all of the group's members soon embarked on new projects -- both
Lyngstad and Faltskog issued solo LPs, while Andersson and Ulvaeus collaborated
with Tim Rice on the musical Chess -- none proved as successful as the group's
earlier work, largely because throughout much of the world, especially Europe
and Australia, the ABBA phenomenon never went away. Repackaged hits compilations
and live collections continued hitting the charts long after the group's
demise, and new artists regularly pointed to the quartet's inspiration: while
the British dance duo Erasure released a covers collection, ABBA-esque, an
Australian group called Bjorn Again found success as ABBA impersonators.
In 1993, "Dancing Queen" became a staple of U2's "Zoo TV" tour -- Andersson
and Ulvaeus even joined the Irish superstars onstage in Stockholm -- while
the 1995 feature Muriel's Wedding, which won acclaim for its depiction of
a lonely Australian girl who seeks refuge in ABBA's music, helped bring the
group's work to the attention of a new generation of moviegoers and music
fans. ~ Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide