The sensational Swedish quartet ABBA are without a doubt among the greatest heroes in popular music. In this world of wars, sadness, and destruction they treat millions of people with their sublime brand of pop that can lift the spirits and hopes of the most forlorn heart.During their ten years together as an active band they produced over 150 songs, 8 original studio albums, and a myriad of singles and compilation albums. Their sophisticated, catchy European melodies had a distinctive, cohesive sound combined with oft-insightful lyrics that amounted to simple magic. ABBA was explosively popular in Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Japan throughout their career. After their anticlimactic parting of ways in 1982 ABBA’s popularity seemed to wane but the 1992 ABBA Gold compilation, which consists of 19 digitally remastered ABBA hits, sparked an ABBA revival. By 1999 ABBA had sold over 350 million records, which made it one of the best selling groups of all time. Only the Beatles and possibly Elvis have sold more records than ABBA. However, ABBA’s influence and popularity did not end with record sales. The songs of ABBA have been given new life through the musical Mamma Mia which has received widespread critical acclaim and is arguabley the number one musical on Earth. There are more productions of Mamma Mia playing simultaneously around the world than any other musical and it has just passed the $1 billion mark in sales.
However, ABBA’s success is not simply based on remembering and recyling the past, as individuals they are very busy and active these days. 2004 represented a very busy year for ABBA through their own individual projects and the promotion of Mamma Mia and ABBA. ABBA’s various musical releases, interviews, and public appearances made 2004 the busiest post-ABBA year for ABBA.
A SHORT HISTORY OF ABBA
Unfortunately the four members of ABBA no longer like to be called ABBA. ABBA is an acronym, each letter representing the first letter of each member’s name. Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid (Frida) Lyngstad had successful solo careers in Sweden before they met up and recorded together. In addition to being musical partners they were also romantically. They cut their first record in 1972 but did not make international waves until they won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with their smash hit “Waterloo.” The song made the top ten charts in seventeen countries and spurned the budding foursome to forge ahead with their sublime brand of pop music. They continued to release some singles, which only had success in Europe but failed to break into the British top ten. However, in 1975 they came back to the British charts S.O.S. followed closely by Mamma Mia. ABBA was starting to really develop a definitive sound that spoke to music listeners in Europe, the United Kingdom, and Australia and beyond. After Waterloo they had 18 singles on the British top ten (they had seven singles that reached the Canadian top ten). ABBA became cult icons the world over with songs like Fernando, Dancing Queen and Take a Chance on Me and the Winner Takes it All. By 1981 the two couples were four divorced individuals. Agnetha and Björn’s marriage was over by 1980 and that Benny and Frida’s crumbled the following year. The raw emotion and pain that is involed in the breakups had its benefits in that it was a catalsyt for the group to explore new musical depths, writing songs based on their experience of separation and divorce. These serious/sad ABBA songs included: The Winner Takes it All, When All is Said and Done, and The Day Before You Came which was ABBA’s final song. Many afans feel that this post-divorce music was ABBA’s best work, but after 1981 poor records and the strain of working together became too much. They gave up on their 1982 album in the middle of the recording sesssions, released a compliation and went on a break. It soon beame apparent that this so-called break was a permanent break up of the band. By 1983 they had all moved on to individual projects. Agnetha released three solo albums in the 1980s; Frida released two in the 1980s and one in the 1990s. Björn and Benny spent their post-ABBA time writing musicals. Since 1992 ABBA has received innumerable requests to reunite but have thus far declined. Their most famous refusal took place in 2000 when they were offered $1 billion to reunite for one hundred concerts. They wanted fans to remember then as they were in their heyday and according to Björn any future ABBA performance would be “pathetic.” However, it’s worth noting that all four members of ABBA have reunited and sang since their break up in 1982. In 1986 they sang on a television special for a programme honouring their manager, and in 1999 they sang a Swedish folksong at their friend’s fiftieth birthday party.
ABBA IN 2004
In April of 2004 ABBA fans worldwide celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of ABBA’s victory with Waterloo, the occasion was combed with the fifth anniversary celebration of the musical Mamma Mia. ABBA fans worldwide were abuzz with excitement at the porspect of an ABBA reunion. The rumour, which reported that all four members of ABBA would appear together on stage (and possibly sing a line or two from one of their songs) was preliminarily confirmed by Frida. However, the anniversary approached and Agnetha was nowhere near her former band mates. Undaunted, the rest of ABBA pressed on and made a highly publicised appearance on stage where they thanked the ecstatic audience in London and the world for their support and love over the years. Much of the footage from these activities appears in the documentary Super Troupers which was released shortly after.
Fans all over the world expressed a faint hope through the media and ABBA forums that ABBA might perform at Eurovision 2004 to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of their own Eurovision victory. Although they did not perform they did make a surprising small-scale comeback… sort of. The Last Video, which was made especially for Eurovision 2004, is a five-minute video starring four Jim Henson puppets that look like ABBA. The video features cameos from all four original ABBA members and Cher. Of course the original members of ABBA appear very briefly and don’t have any lines. Agnetha and Frida both appear in the same frame for a nano second but alas, they were not actually in the same room together! The magic of technology was what brought them together in the end. They were filmed separately in front of a blue screen and digitally placed in the same frame. The story line for The Last Video would be somewhat confusing to anyone unfamiliar with ABBA music, but to the delight of ABBA fans most of the lines are taken from ABBA songs, making for a very silly but catchy dialogue between the characters. The four little ABBA puppets and their manager attempt to get a recording contract from a hardnosed record executive who listens to them play some ABBA hits, which draws the attention of the entire record studio staff, the real Agnetha and Frida, and Cher. Although the video was only five minutes in length, enormous effort was invested into its production and was the most expensive music video ever made in Sweden. The behind the scenes material on how the film was made was actually five times longer than the video itself.
Although ABBA’s appearance together in The Last Video was woefully short and could hardly be called a reunion, they have certainly not avoided the public eye this year. Much to the delight of ABBA fans everywhere, they have all kept very busy at public events and musical comebacks.
Earlier this year Agnetha released her first studio album in seventeen years. Unlike her previous albums, which consisted of new songs written by or especially for her. My Colouring Book, as her new album is called, is exclusively comprised of covers of 1960s tunes. For over a decade she felt uninspired and “quiet.” After a life of busy touring, recording, promotions and so forth she needed time to digest everything. In recent years, however, she has once again found the inspiration to come out of her shell and sing. Moved by encouragement from her fans she has once again ventured into the recording studio to produce thirteen heartfelt songs. All of which have deep personal meaning for her. They were songs she grew up listening to. Far from a heavily commercialised product, this record is Agnetha’s personal tribute to her legions of fans who have enjoyed her music over the years and to the artists who inspired her to create it.
Shortly after the excitement over Agnetha’s new album began to wane ABBA fans were re-ignited with new appreciation for the group members when it was announced that Frida would be doing a duet with ex-Deep Purple/Whitesnake keyboardist and composer Jon Lord. Jon Lord and Frida have been friends since 1999 and the song The Sun Will Shine Again which features vocals by Frida and piano by Jon Lord, is a stunningly uplifting and transcendent song that captures Frida’s voice at the height of excellence. Many Frida fans believe that this is her finest recording to date. The Sun Will Shine Again appears on Jon Lord’s new album Beyond The Notes Frida has promoted The Sun Will Shine Again extensively by making numerous performances of it on European television. In addition to these performances she has made numerous appearances at Mamma Mia premieres all over Europe with her former bandmate Björn Ulvaeus. Björn has devoted most of his time to the promotion of the musical. He has made appearances at Mamma Mia openings all over the world sometimes with Frida and occassionally with Benny. Benny has been occupied with his band Benny Anderssons Orkester. It’s a tradiational Swedish band in which he plays the accordian. Their latest album entitled BAO! Was released in June. Unlike Agnetha who did minimal publicity for her own album, Benny and his bandmates did a tour August, playing throughout Sweden.
ABBA’s music is frequently associated with a time and era long since past, but such a glib assesment could not be further from the truth! ABBA are not embarassing reminders of your mother’s record collection bundled up as sillly nostaligia for the seventies, they are lasting cultural icons that continually prove their releavance and artistic genius decades after they split up. ABBA’s music does not belong to one particular nationality, generaton or gender – it has an appeal that crosses so many boundaries that are too numerous to menion, constantly taking on new meaning to new people all the time. The continuing success of their albums and the musical Mamma Mia (which will be celebrating its fifth year in Toronto this May), have solidified ABBA’s prominent place in popular culture for generations to come.