Here ABBA Goes Again
Their album sales soared with the 2008 release of the ABBA-inspired movie musical "Mamma Mia!" And now they can prepare for another surge, as the prequel/sequel "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again" opens in theaters. Click through for 20 things you may not know about the Swedish pop stars who still seem to be having the time of their lives.
They Had a Practical Reason for Wearing Those Crazy Outfits
Even in the 1970s, ABBA's glittery getups weren't exactly cool, and in hindsight we can only wonder,, what were they thinking? "In my honest opinion, we looked like nuts in those years," Björn Ulvaeus said in 2014. "Nobody can have been as badly dressed on stage as we were." Still, there was a benefit, which came down to money, money, money. The Swedish Tax Agency allowed a deduction for stage costumes that clearly weren't street clothes.
Agnetha Has a No. 1 Hit Before ABBA
In 1968, when she was just 18, Agnetha Fältskog wrote and recorded "Jag var så kär" ("I Was So in Love"), which topped the pop chart in Sweden. Inspired by soloists like Connie Francis and Marianne Faithfull, she released four albums and a string of hit singles in the next few years. In 1972, still pre-ABBA, Agnetha played Mary Magdalen in a Swedish production of "Jesus Christ Superstar."
The Group Grew Out of Two Romances
Agnetha and Björn (see here) got together in 1969 just weeks after Norwegian-born singer Anni-Frid Lyngstad became involved with Björn's friend Benny Andersson. But the pair of couples who would form ABBA weren't always in synch. Agnetha and Björn, who married in 1971, separated in 1978, around the time Anni-Frid and Benny got married.
Benny Was Once a Teen Idol
Benny (seen here) and Björn were songwriting partners who'd both been in popular Swedish bands in the 1960s. Björn's was a folk group, the Hootenanny Singers, which had a hit that stayed on the Swedish pop chart for a record-breaking 52 weeks. Benny became a teen idol as keyboard player for the Hep Stars, a group often called the Swedish Beatles. Björn joined the Hep Stars in 1969, not long before the band broke up.
They Tried Out Various Names
Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad first performed together as Festfolket ("Party People"). They later got the idea of combining their four initials into an acronym. This wasn't an instant success—LUAF, based on their last names, never caught on, and AABB was impossible to pronounce. So ABBA's first album, "Ring Ring," was released before the group had an official name.
There's Another ABBA
In Sweden, Abba is a well-known brand of preserved fish products. Although that's not the origin of the band's name, they had to get permission to use the trademark, which was registered by Abba Seafood AB in 1906. In 1974, that permission was granted, just in time for their breakthrough.
Winning a Contest Changed Everything
ABBA's breakthrough moment came on April 6, 1974, when they won the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton, England, with their performance of "Waterloo." Composed by Benny and Bjorn, the song was sung by Agnetha and Anni-Frid. In 2005, when Eurovision celebrated its 50th anniversary, "Waterloo" was named the best song in the entire history of the competition.
Their First Hit Sold as Well as "She Loves You"
Topping the charts in many European countries, "Waterloo" peaked at No. 6 in the U.S. but went on to sell more than million copies. That's up there with the Beatles' best-selling single.
Anni-Frid's Father Was a Nazi Soldier
Born in Norway just after World War II, Anni-Frid was one of what were known as "the German children," kids with a Norwegian mother and German father conceived as part of a Nazi plan to "enrich" Aryan blood. As a baby, Anni-Frid was taken by her grandmother to Sweden. Her mother followed, fleeing persecution, but died soon after that. Anni-Frid wouldn't meet her father until 1977, at the height of ABBA-mania. By then he was a retired pastry chef.
They Lip-Synced on SNL
While ABBA remained more popular in Europe, the group got a boost from a couple of American TV appearances, starting with "The Mike Douglas Show" in 1974. A year later, they performed on an early episode of "Saturday Night Live" (if lip-syncing counts as a performance).
They Turned "Fernando" Into an Advertising Jingle
In 1973, Björn and Agnetha appeared with their infant daughter Linda in an ad campaign for Swedish baby food. And in 1976, the entire group performed in a series of TV commercials for a now defunct electronics brand National, tweaking the lyrics of one of their biggest hits and replacing "Fernando" with "National." "That did it for me," Benny said years later. "We've never sold another song again."
Their Videos Were Directed by an Oscar-Nominated Filmmaker
Swedish director Lasse Hallström was responsible for most of ABBA's music videos as well as the 1977 feature-length documentary "ABBA: The Movie." He later received Academy Awards nominations for "My Life as a Dog" (1988) and "The Cider House Rules" (2000).
They Were Savvy When It Came to Branding
In 1975 the band enlisted Rune Söderqvist, who had a background in advertising, to design their album covers and, more important, the ABBA logo. What he came up with was simple and instantly iconic, with the first "B" turned backward (reportedly Benny's idea) to make the logo symmetrical.
They Could Have Sold Out Royal Albert Hall for Nearly Two Years
Anyone who wanted to attend one of the two shows that ABBA performed at Royal Albert Hall in 1977 had to apply for tickets by mail. The famous London concert hall has a capacity of 5,272, but that didn't begin to satisfy the demand. The box office received requests for about 3.5 million tickets.
They Topped the U.S. Singles Chart Only Once
Despite ABBA's worldwide popularity, the group scored only one No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100—"Dancing Queen," which topped the chart on April 9, 1977, and held that position for just one week. Today the "Dancing Queen" video has more than 263 million views on YouTube. To watch it, click here.
They Inspired Blondie
Chris Stein, who co-founded the new wave band with his then girlfriend Debbie Harry, admitted that Blondie's "Dreaming," a Top 10 hit in 1979, was "pretty much a copy" of "Dancing Queen."
There Was No Bad Blood Between Anni-Frid and Agnetha
The "cat fight" cliché was nonsense—or so Anti-Frid insists. "A lot has been written about how Agnetha and I fought and quarreled with each other," she said. "There is absolutely no truth in that.... Of course we competed, but to good effect."
Their Best-Selling Album Came Out 10 Years After ABBA Broke Up
Released in 1992, ABBA's "Gold: Greatest Hits" went on to sell an estimated 30 million copies worldwide. Its certified sales outstripped those of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," thanks in part to the phenomenal success of the Broadway musical "Mama Mia!" as well as the 2008 film, which was one of the highest-grossing live-action movie musical of all time.
There's Now an ABBA Museum in Stockholm
Called ABBA: The Museum, the place opened in 2013, with high-tech exhibits including "Benny's Piano" (which is electronically linked to Benny's actual piano at home and plays whenever he does), "Waterloo" (designed to look like Brighton in 1974, the year ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest) and interactive holograms of the group's members. Also on display are some of those tax-deductible costumes.
If You're Waiting for Them to Reunite, Don't Hold Your Breath
Björn is unequivocal on the subject. "We will never appear on stage again," he said. "There is simply no motivation to re-group. Money is not a factor, and we would like people to remember us as we were—young, exuberant, full of energy and ambition."
His sources of inspiration weren't what you imagine—except when they were
Intriguing facts about The Doors' legendary lead singer
Holiday cheers for 15 performances that deserve a bigger spotlight
It's the most wonderful time of the year—for some
25 things you may not know about the Golden Age Hollywood legend celebrating his 102nd birthday
They're among the most prominent centenarians of our time