Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Swedish pop group formed in 1973: Bjorn Ulvaeus (b 25 April 1945, Gothenborg), Benny Andersson (b 16 December 1945, Stockholm), Agnetha Faltskog (b 5 April 1950, Jonkoping), Anni-Frid 'Frida' Lyngstad (b 15 November 1945 Narvik, Norway). The girls attained fame in Sweden as solo singers, Bjorn in Hootenanny Singers and Benny with the Hep Stars ('Swedish Beatles'). The boys made an album together (single 'People Need Love', '72); by then Benny and Anni-Frid and Bjorn and Agnetha were couples, and they formed a group using their initials as an acronym. Quickly popular in Europe, they won more fame when 'Waterloo' won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, a no. 1 UK single and made the USA top ten. Yet the Eurovision stigma held them back for a year; then followed a remarkable run of 18 consecutive top 10 UK singles (eight at no. 1) and eight no. 1 albums; the first LP Waterloo made the top 30 UK LPs '74, Abba no. 13 '75, Greatest Hits no. 1 and stayed in the chart 130 weeks, Arrival no. 1 '76. Subsequent albums were all no. 1: The Album '78, Voulez-Vous and Greatest Hits Vol. 2 '79, Super Trouper '80, The Visitors '81, 2-disc set The Singles/The First Ten Years '82. Spanish Album (aka Gracias Por La Musica) was issued '81.

The records were on Epic in UK, Atlantic in USA. Less dramatic success in USA included hit LPs and ten top 40 singles ('Dancing Queen' was no. 1 '76). They formed Polar Music Company, acquired property and became a valuable share on the Swedish market. Tours were costly because their slick production was difficult to duplicate live; also the girls disliked touring (first international tour '77, USA tour '79); even so they were the most successful group since the Beatles, resembling them with self-written material and good production, and their sound was also redolent of the Mamas and the Papas. 'I Have A Dream' (no. 2 UK '79) was typical of their clever writing, a folkish sound carrying not quite mawkish sentiment. (Listening to the song, the line 'I believe in angels' somehow did not have to be taken literally.)

They faded as the couples divorced (Bjorn and Agnetha '79; Benny and Anni-Frid '81). Phil Collins produced Frida's solo Something's Going On '82; the single 'I Know There's Something Going On' was no. 43 UK. Agnetha's 'Can't Shake Loose' was produced by Mike Chapman for a USA top 30 '83. The boys collaborated with Tim Rice on the musical Chess, recorded in London '84, staged '86; they also produced the album Gemini '86 (a duo of Karin and Anders Glenmark), etc. Critics had looked down on them and they became deeply unfashionable, like everything else of the 1970s, but soon it was okay to like them again.

Producer Judy Craymer had met the boys in 1983 when they were working with Rice, and conceived the idea for a musical show based on their songs (but not on their lives or careers), virtually inventing what came to be called the jukebox musical. It took a while because the boys were not terribly enthusiastic at first, but with a book by Catherine Johnson (allegedly based on a 1968 Gina Lollobrigida film called Buona Sera, Mrs Campbell), and with Phyllida Lloyd directing, three women launched a smash hit show in London in 1999 called Mamma Mia, after a 1976 hit single. The original cast album was available in several languages, and a film version in 2008 with an unlikely cast including Pierce Brosnan and Meryl Streep was a huge hit, still with Lloyd directing.

A 1992 compilation, Gold - Greatest Hits, topped the UK chart in 2008, the oldest album ever to do so, and the fifth time it had done so.