Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Numerous web sites, Mamma Mia - The Movie - Official Web Site, Internet Movie Data Base - ABBA, Mamma Mia - The Musical & ABBA - The Official Web Site were quite helpful in preparing my tribute to ABBA. Please click on the hyperlinks to enjoy these web sites.

They have a great web site, click on the hyperlink, ABBA - The Official Web Site. If your speakers are on, music will start playing once the site opens.

ABBA is an acronym for the first letter of the first names, of the four band members, Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad.

The ABBA story began in June 1966 when Bjorn 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 Faltskog (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 Chess The Musical (containing the hit “One Night In Bangkok,” by Murray Head) 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.

Twenty-five years after ABBA’s “temporary break”, there still has been no ABBA reunion. But the group’s music lives on: the 1990s saw the beginning of a major revival, with successful cover versions and high-profile movies using ABBA songs on their soundtracks attracting a great deal of attention. The compilation CD ABBA Gold - Greatest Hits, released in 1992, has sold 26 million copies to date.

The 1993 companion album, More ABBA Gold – More ABBA Hits, went on to sell 2.5 million copies. The box set Thank You For The Music followed in 1994, containing all the hits, selected album tracks, plus rare and previously unreleased recordings.

1999 saw the London première of the hugely successful Mamma Mia - The Musical !, based on the songs of ABBA. The musical opened on Broadway two years later, and today it is the world’s most popular show, having been seen by more than 30 million people. The fifth anniversary of the musical in London in 2004 was attended by Björn, Benny and Frida of ABBA, while the Swedish première in ABBA’s home country of Sweden in February 2005 was attended by all four members of the group. Mamma Mia - The Musical! shows no signs of slowing down: a movie version, starring Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan, opens in July 2008.

Since the start of the 21st Century, Universal Music has continually upgraded the ABBA catalogue. So far, ABBA’s eight original studio albums have been reissued with additional bonus tracks, revised artwork and expanded booklets (Waterloo, Arrival and ABBA - The Album have since been released as expanded Deluxe Editions, featuring DVDs containing previously unissued television performances and other rarities). The compilation albums ABBA Gold - Greatest Hits and ABBA ORO - Grandes Exitos have been reissued with revised booklets and updated liner notes, and a double-CD compiling all ABBA singles, The Definitive Collection, has sold more than 1 million copies. A comprehensive box set, The Complete Studio Recordings, was released in 2005, receiving spectacular press reviews.

ABBA’s videos have been collected on two different DVD releases: The Definitive Collection and ABBA Gold, featuring the cleaned-up and remastered original film clips. The two live concert films ABBA - The Movie and ABBA In Concert have been restored and re-released on DVD, with bonus material. Other DVD releases include the official documentary Super Troupers and the short film The Last Video, which featured cameo appearances from the ABBA members.

June 2009 sees the opening of ABBA the Museum in Stockholm. The permanent museum is endorsed by the former members of the band, who are also contributing items to the exhibition.

Agnetha Fältskog's biography…

Agnetha Åse Fältskog was born on April 5, 1950 in the town of Jönköping in Sweden. At the age of six she wrote her first song, ’Två små troll’ (”Two Little Trolls”). Agnetha was 16 when she started singing in a dance band called Bernt Enghardts. A song she wrote for the band, ’Jag var så kär’ (”I Was So In Love”), became her first single. This 1967 debut record became a number one hit on the Swedish charts. The following few years were followed by several singles, albums and even a number of German-language recordings released in West Germany. In 1969 Agnetha became romantically involved with Bjorn Ulvaeus and they got engaged in April 1970. In November the pair staged a cabaret show together with Björn’s songwriter partner, Benny Andersson, and his fiancée, Anni-Frid Lyngstad. On July 6, 1971, Björn and Agnetha got married. In early 1972, Agnetha auditioned for the part of Mary Magdalene in the Swedish stage version of the musical ’Jesus Christ Superstar’. She got the part, although two other girls alternated with her during the course of the show’s duration. After that, and for a decade onwards, Agnetha was mainly occupied by her work with ABBA. During this period she also released her Swedish-language solo album Elva kvinnor i ett hus (”Eleven Women In One House”). All music had been written and produced by Agnetha herself (except her Swedish version of ABBA’s ’ SOS’), with lyrics by Bosse Carlgren. As ABBA began to slowly dissolve during 1982, Agnetha made her debut as actress in the Swedish movie Raskenstam. In January 1983 she started recording her first English language solo album, Wrap Your Arms Around Me, produced by Mike Chapman. Her second international solo album, Eyes Of A Woman, was released in 1985. The producer was Eric Stewart. Agnetha’s third and final English-language solo album to date was the 1987 release I Stand Alone, produced by Peter Cetera. The album entered the Swedish charts at number one. After that, Agnetha withdrew from public life. 1996 saw the release of the compilation album ’My Love, My Life’, with tracks selected by Agnetha herself. At the same time her authorized biography ’As I Am’ was published. In 2004 Agnetha made a comeback as a recording artist with a brand new CD, My Colouring Book, consisting of cover versions of some of her favorite songs. However, since then she has kept a low profile, and it is not known whether she will record again. ‘Can't Shake Loose’, written by Russ Ballard, who’d penned the previous year’s Anni-Frid Lyngstad hit, ‘I Know There's Something Going On,’ gave Agnetha her biggest solo success in the United States, where it reached the Top 30.

Björn Ulvaeus's biography…

Björn Kristian Ulvaeus was born in Gothenburg on April 25, 1945. In the mid-Fifties Björn fell in love with rock’n’roll and skiffle. By the early Sixties he was a member of a folk group called the West Bay Singers. In 1963 they entered a talent contest arranged by Swedish radio. This led to discovery by songwriter and publisher Stig Anderson and his partner, Bengt Bernhag. Stig and Bengt had recently started a record company called Polar Music. The band acquired a new name, the Hootenanny Singers, and quickly became one of Sweden’s most popular groups of the Sixties. In 1966, Björn had a chance meeting with Benny Andersson, himself a member of Sweden’s number one pop group, The Hep Stars. They hit it off and wrote their first song together, ’Isn’t It Easy To Say’. Björn recorded a couple of solo singles in the late Sixties, at which point he also started concentrating more on his collaboration with Benny Andersson. In 1970 the pair started releasing records as a duo and also staged a cabaret show together with their fiancées, Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. On July 6, 1971, Björn and Agnetha got married. From 1972 and a decade onwards Björn was occupied by his work with ABBA. In 1983 Björn and Benny started writing Chess The Musical with lyricist Tim Rice. A concept album was released in the autumn of 1984, and in May 1986 the musical opened in London’s West End. In 1988 Chess The Musical received its Broadway première. A reworked version of the musical opened in Stockholm, Sweden in 2002. By 1990, Björn and Benny had decided to write a new musical. This time they wanted to write exclusively in Swedish, and they chose the Emigrants novel series by author Vilhelm Moberg as basis for their work. The musical Kristina från Duvemåla (Kristina From Duvemåla) opened in October 1995. The show ran for three and a half years at various theatres in the Swedish cities of Malmö, Gothenburg and Stockholm. Recently, Björn has involved himself heavily in the staging of Mamma Mia - The Musical !, a musical based on ABBA songs. The show opened in London, England in April 1999 and has since then been staged virtually everywhere, even being turned into a movie which opens in July 2008.

Benny Andersson's biography…

Göran Bror Benny Andersson was born December 16, 1946 in Stockholm. At the age of six he got his first accordion and started playing together with his father Gösta and his grandfather Efraim. Benny also learned how to play the piano. He became a member of The Hep Stars in October 1964. The following year the band achieved their breakthrough and quickly became Sweden’s number one pop group of the 1960s. In 1966, Benny had a chance meeting with Bjorn Ulvaeus, himself a member of the folk group the Hootenanny Singers. They hit it off and wrote their first song together, ’Isn’t It Easy To Say’. In August 1969, Benny left The Hep Stars after a turbulent few years of financial problems and musical differences. Instead, he intensified his working relationship with Björn. The pair was writing songs for other artists and also started recording as a duo. Around the same time Benny met Anni-Frid Lyngstad and got engaged to her – they were eventually married in 1978. In November 1970, Benny, Frida and Björn staged a cabaret show together with Björn’s fiancée, Agnetha Faltskog. In 1972, the first ABBA record was released, and Benny was occupied by his work with the group for the following decade. In 1983 he started working on Chess The Musical together with Björn and lyricist Tim Rice. A concept album was released in the autumn of 1984, and in May 1986 the musical opened in London’s West End. In 1988 Chess The Musical received its Broadway première. A reworked version of the musical opened in Stockholm, Sweden in 2002. By 1990, Björn and Benny had decided to write a new musical, based on the Emigrants novel series by Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg. The musical Kristina från Duvemål (Kristina From Duvemåla) opened in October 1995. The show ran for three and a half years at various theatres in the Swedish cities of Malmö, Gothenburg and Stockholm. Parallel with this, Benny released two Swedish solo albums in the late 1980s. In 2001 he formed the highly successful Benny Anderssons orkester ("The Benny Andersson Orchestra"), which has released four albums, topping the Swedish album charts twice and performing a select number of concerts in Sweden and abroad. Benny has also been busy composing songs for the stage, the cinema and even an official Swedish hymn. While Bjorn Ulvaeus has been heavily involved in Mamma Mia - The Musical!, Benny has kept his commitment on a lower level. However, he produced and played on the soundtrack for the 2008 movie version of the musical.

Anni-Frid Lyngstad's biography…

Anni-Frid Synni Lyngstad, better known simply as Frida, was born November 15, 1945 in Ballangen outside of Narvik, Norway. At the age of 11 she made her stage debut at a Red Cross charity event. Two years later, she started working as an underage vocalist in a dance band, and performed with different bands for a decade. On September 3, 1967, Frida won a talent contest in Stockholm. Immediately after her victory she appeared on national television singing her winning song. Soon afterwards Frida signed to EMI records. Frida didn’t have much commercial success as a recording artist up to the early Seventies, but she was a fairly well-known stage artist. In 1970 she was part of a cabaret show together with her fiancé, Benny Andersson, along with Bjorn Ulvaeus and his fiancée, Agnetha Faltskog. From 1972 and for the next decade Frida was mainly occupied by her work with ABBA, although she released the Swedish-language solo album Frida ensam (”Frida Alone”) in 1975. In February 1982 Frida started recording her first English language solo album Something’s Going On, produced by Phil Collins. This was followed by the 1984 album Shine, produced by Steve Lillywhite. But then Frida withdrew from the public for a number of years. In the early 1990s she devoted most of her time to environmental issues, but in 1996 she made a comeback with the Swedish language album Djupa andetag (”Deep Breaths”). This remains Frida’s latest solo album so far. Today she leads a low-key life, devoting herself to charity work. However, Frida has guested on records by other artists: her most recent recording was the lead vocal on the song ‘The Sun Will Shine Again’, included on former Deep Purple keyboard player Jon Lord’s 2004 album Beyond The Notes. In 2005 her albums for Polar Music (Frida ensam, Something’s Going On and Shine) were re-released with bonus tracks. Along with an expanded edition of Djupa andetag, the albums were also included in the box set Frida 4xCD 1xDVD, which featured a DVD of promo clips, television appearances and a brand new interview with Frida.

Mamma Mia! – The Movie…

In July 2008, the star-studded film version Mamma Mia - The Movie - Official Web Site, of Mamma Mia - The Musical, opens in cinemas all over the world.

For the past ten years, it’s highly unlikely you’re not familiar with the global success story that is Mamma Mia - The Musical ! After opening in London, England on April 6, 1999, the musical – about a single mother, her daughter, and three possible dads invited by the daughter to her wedding – has become a success beyond all comprehension. Mamma Mia - The Musical ! has played in innumerable stagings all over the world, and has so far been seen by more than 30 million people.

“I knew early on that there would be a film sooner or later, although I don’t remember the exact turning-point”, says former ABBA member Bjorn Ulvaeus. According to Bjorn Ulvaeus those fears had been overcome just a few years later. “It used to be that one wouldn’t make a film until ‘the stage musical has had its run’,” he explains, “but that rule has been abandoned these days. There doesn’t seem to be a particular timing that is exactly right, but there is plenty of evidence that the stage version benefits from a film version, no matter what kind of business the latter does. ‘The Phantom Of The Opera’ is an example of that. It was about to close on Broadway when the film – which wasn’t a major success – opened, but it could continue after all the media exposure from the film.”

The production company responsible for bringing Mamma Mia! to the screen was Playtone, founded by Hollywood star Tom Hanks and producer Gary Goetzman. And although it was clear from the outset that Hanks himself would not star in the movie, many of the original production team from the stage version would be on board: for instance, original director Phyllida Lloyd would make her debut as film director – said Bjorn Ulvaeus about Lloyd, “If there’s anyone who knows this story, it’s her” – and Catherine Johnson, who wrote the so-called book (the musical manuscript), would write the screenplay.

Johnson certainly never thought twice about grabbing this opportunity to transfer her story to the screen. “I relished the challenge!” she enthuses. “I love movies, I want to write movies, this was an unmissable opportunity for me – and of course I felt ‘no-one knows these characters like I do, it has to be me writing the screenplay’.” That said, Johnson certainly had to find a unique way of approaching the process of screen writing, balancing the appeal of the original stage show against the opportunities afforded by a cinematic context. “What took me some time to accept is that the show has a very solid structure”, she admits. “My early drafts of the screenplay tried to move away from that and everything became over-complicated. I was excited to be doing something different and trying to re-write every line, but as they say ‘if it ain’t broke ...’”

In January 2007 it was announced that none other than Meryl Streep – one of the most famous and well-respected American actresses of the past three decades – had signed on to play the lead role of Donna. Well before the movie version Streep had made it clear that she was a fan of the musical, sending her compliments to the cast after seeing a Broadway performance. Naturally, the production team took note. When Streep was asked whether she would like to appear in the movie version, her reply was more enthusiastic than the production team had dared hope for: “Are you kidding? I AM Mamma Mia!”

With Streep on board, there were no problems in attracting a stellar cast for all the main characters. It was soon announced that Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Sweden’s own Stellan Skarsgard would play the three possible dads, while Julie Walters and Christine Baranski would take on the parts of Donna’s friends. Amanda Seyfried had landed the part as Sophie, Donna’s daughter, with Dominic Cooper cast as Sophie’s boyfriend, Sky. “What a kick in the pants, to be able to go off and spend time with Meryl on some Greek island, singing ABBA songs”, said an impressed Pierce Brosnan.

Although few of the cast members are known as singers, the producers obviously did their casting with an important but often overlooked truth about musicals at the back of their minds, namely that it’s more crucial that the actors can be believable as their characters – and deliver lyrics like they really mean them – than that their voices are what may be described as traditionally “pretty”. That said, the actors’ vocal qualities were obviously a consideration, and in interviews especially Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard have been quite self-deprecating as to their singing abilities. However, ABBA’s Benny Andersson had complete faith in them and was 100 per cent satisfied with the end result. “They were primarily chosen for their qualities as actors,” he said, “but if they hadn’t been able to sing they wouldn’t have got the parts.”

It was self-evident that Benny Andersson – the man who, in partnership with Bjorn Ulvaeus, wrote and produced all of ABBA’s recordings way back when – would be in charge of the soundtrack recording. To get that authentic feel, a selection of the original musicians ABBA used on their recordings were asked to take part in the Mamma Mia! recordings: at the core during the sessions were bassist Rutger Gunnarsson, guitarist Lasse Wellander and drummer Per Lindvall, with Benny himself on keyboards. Benny describes the experience of reworking the old ABBA songs with the original musicians as “very pleasurable”. It probably says something about the musicians’ professionalism and familiarity with the material that everything went much quicker than anyone had expected. “I had counted on recording everything in three weeks – it took five days”, Benny notes.

When the stage version of Mamma Mia! was put together, the original ABBA backing track tapes were retrieved and the music on them faithfully transcribed, in order that the arrangements would be as close to the ABBA sound as it was. But now, revisiting songs that were originally recorded more than a quarter of a century ago, was Benny ever tempted to add something new to his tunes? “I’ve tried to keep as close to the original recordings as possible”, he explains, “but sometimes you get the urge [to change things] when a new thought pops up! However, the result is very close to ‘reality’.”

With the soundtrack in place, shooting could finally start – first on location on the Greek islands of Skopelos and Skiathlos, and then at Pinewood Studios in England. By the way, both Björn and Benny were present for parts of the filming and they each have their own cameo appearance in the movie.

Judging by trailers and advance buzz, it seems Mamma Mia! will become one of the major hits of 2008 – thus continuing what has turned out to be the greatest musical success story of the past decade. And in July, you may find out for yourself what the movie version of Mamma Mia! is really like.

Mamma Mia - The Movie, debuted in the U.K. on July 10th. It debuts in the United States on July 18th. See Mamma Mia - The Movie for details.


ABBA Number Ones - 2006

The Complete Studio Recordings - 2005

The Definitive Collection - 2001

ABBA ORO - Grandes Exitos - 1999

Thank You For The Music - 1994

More ABBA Gold – More ABBA Hits - 1993

ABBA Gold - Greatest Hits - 1992

ABBA Live - 1986

The Singles – The First Ten Years - 1982

The Visitors – 1981

Gracias Por La Música - 1980

Super Trouper – 1980

Greatest Hits Vol. 2 - 1979

Voulez-Vous – 1979

ABBA - The Album – 1977

Arrival – 1976

ABBA – 1975

Greatest Hits - 1975

Waterloo - 1974

Ring Ring - 1973

ABBA is one of my all-time favorite artists. They have many great songs, such as Chiquitita, Dancing Queen, Does Your Mother Know, Fernando, Gimme ! Gimme ! Gimme ! (A Man After Midnight), Honey Honey, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Have A Dream, Knowing Me, Knowing You,Lay All Your Love On Me, Mamma Mia, Money, Money, Money, Ring, Ring, SOS, Super Trouper, Take A Chance On Me, The Name Of The Game,The Winner Takes It All, Waterloo, and When I Kissed The Teacher, among others…

I also have a copy of the terrific rock band, U2, doing a solid cover version, of ABBA’s Dancing Queen, my all-time favorite song.

Thank you, ABBA, for some fantastic music…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, just thought I'd let you know that to celebrate the release of Mamma Mia, global polling community Poll the People have launched a poll to find the definitive BEST ABBA SONG!
have your say now -