ABBA Conquers The World In The 1970s: How Swede It Was
1979: Swedish musical group ABBA performing on stage, (L-R:) Bjorn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Faltskog, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad sing while Benny Andersson plays the accordion. All wear blue and lavender spandex outfits. (Photo by Bob Grant/Fotos International/Getty
ABBA was a Swedish pop quartet that became a global phenomenon thanks to hits like "Mamma Mia," "Dancing Queen," "Waterloo" and "Take A Chance On Me." As it turned out, group members Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad were not just talented musicians, but shrewd marketers as well, figuring out a way to appeal to a worldwide audience without losing their Swedishness. When pop gave way to disco, ABBA was already ahead of the curve. Their story is one of a group that adapted, innovated, and never gave up.
That ABBA Look
ABBA created their own look and fashion that was largely a departure from '70s trends of the time, and actually foreshadowed '80s trends. While the rock-star look was often shaggy and bohemian in the post-Woodstock years, ABBA took the stage in hot pants, jumpsuits, glitter, and of course, pantsuits, all in vibrant colors. The costumey and vaguely futuristic appeal was no accident -- it was actually driven by Swedish tax law. The group was allowed to deduct the cost of the clothes they wore for their performances, as long as they were so outrageous they could not wear them in their regular lives., they created quite a presence on the stage.
Their outfits seemed appropriate for their energetic songs, simply adding to the sheer joy of their music. And they were saving on their taxes!
Globalism At Its Finest
Perhaps because they'd grown up speaking a language other than English, Abba saw the value of accommodating and catering to international audiences. Almost all of their songs were recorded in English, but they also did versions of many of them in other languages. All told, Abba recorded 15 songs in Spanish, four in Swedish, three in German, and one in French.
In 1969, Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus met Ani-Frid (also known as Frida) and Agnetha who would become their fiancées as well as bandmates. By 1972, they recorded their first Swedish hit as Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid, called “People Need Love.” Their next notable single was “Ring, Ring,” a song they hoped to take into the Eurovision Song Contest in 1973 -- even though it fell short (finishing third in the Swedish competition), it became a hit not only in Sweden but in other European countries.
The Eurovision contest is a strange competition that pits musical acts from European countries against each other, and it's notorious for rewarding silly or weird songs by artists who don't actually achieve global success afterward. But for ABBA, it was a springboard to fame -- more than once.
1974: The Year They Become ABBA
1974 was a big year for them as the quartet officially became ABBA. Their name, an acronym of their first names, was also the name of a Swedish canned fish company. They released the album Waterloo, which featured songs in a variety of styles and included the hit of the same name. They again entered the Eurovision Song Contest, and this time, their song “Waterloo” won. It topped the charts not only in Sweden but throughout Europe. “Waterloo” attained international fame when it hit the top ten in the U.S.
That year, they also embarked on a European tour which was not the success they had hoped for and they had to cancel a few of their shows. Undeterred, they released their third album, eponymously titled ABBA. However, it appeared they may be a one-hit wonder, as the singles that followed “Waterloo” were flopping. They recorded the final track on the album, “Mamma Mia”. The song, like so many ABBA songs, is not one that can be played simply on guitar and piano, but relies on other sounds, such as the harmonies of their voices. In the case of “Mamma Mia,” they experimented by adding a Marimba, creating the distinct opening of the song.
Mamma, Mia, Here We Dance Again
“Mamma Mia” was one of the songs their recording company, Polar Music, had created promo clips for. The song really caught on in Australia, and eventually, it hit the top five in 10 countries. By 1976, they released their fourth album, Arrival, the album that included “Dancing Queen.”
"Dancing Queen," which was written with the working title of “Boogaloo” was influenced by disco music. Stig Anderson, their manager, titled the song, as he did so many others. “Dancing Queen” premiered in June 1976 for a celebration of Swedish King Carl XVI’s marriage. The song, about a teenage girl on a Friday night, still holds some power. Recently, perhaps to convey her own humanity, Theresa May danced to it.
So... did ABBA foresee the giant wave of disco that was about to crash all over the world? It seems they might have been attuned to the scene perfectly -- their music was poppy enough to succeed on the charts, but was not out of place in the dance clubs that were growing like weeds. Wherever you went, there ABBA was.
The Later Years
In 1977, “Dancing Queen” hit Number One in the U.S. This would be their only song to chart that high. However, 20 of their songs have hit the Top 100 and eight of their albums are certified gold.
Their concentration on international success paid off. Though Abba only scored one chart-topping hit in the U.S., they had seven number-ones on the Austrian pop chart, nine on German chart, and eleven on the Dutch chart. The compilation of their Spanish songs, Gracias Por La Musica, reached #2 on the album chart in Spain, where it was certified platinum, and #4 in Argentina.
By 1981, both couples had divorced, but the band stayed together until 1982. The band’s breakup did not have a sense of finality but was intended as a break to allow them to work on individual projects. ABBA has remained popular, fed by a hit musical, a movie, and, of course, the museum in Stockholm which opened in 2013. Currently, they have been teasing fans with a new song, which may be released in fall 2019.
Tags: 1970s Music | ABBA | Disco
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