Anni-Frid “Frida” Lyngstad, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Anderson and Agnetha Faltskog comprise the Swedish pop quartet that formed in Stockholm in 1972. ABBA got their name from an acronym using the first initial of each of their first names. However, Abba was the name of a Swedish fish canning company. The group negotiated with the cannery for the right to use their name.
Benny started out in a Swedish pop group called The “Hep Stars” in 1964. They were also known as the “Swedish Beatles.”
Bjorn, at the age of 18, worked with a Swedish folk-skittle group called the “Hootenanny Singers.”
Agnetha was a singer/songwriter and, at the age of seventeen, had her first number one single in Sweden. She released four solo albums between 1968 and 1971. While filming a Swedish TV special, she met Bjorn. They were married in 1971.
Frida, the final link to the group, was singing in various dance bands, starting at the age of thirteen. In 1969, she met Benny during a concert tour in southern Sweden. He produced her first album in 1971.
Before they became ABBA, the two couples vacationed in Cyprus in 1970 and sang for fun on the beach. Liking what they heard, they launched a stage act called Festfolk, but met with disappointing reviews.
They returned to singing together in 1971 and by 1972, although the songs were labeled as “Bjorn and Benny,” the women sang background. Stig Anderson, no relation to Benny, became their manager in 1971 and helped orchestrate the group’s popularity.
In 1973, a Swedish newspaper ran a contest to come up with a name for the group. Some names considered were, “Alibaba,” “FABB” and “Baba.” But, eventually, all the entries were dismissed and Stig Anderson, who had been calling the group ABBA, was the name they went with.
In 1974, they had their first international hit with “Waterloo.”
On the U.S. charts, ABBA had fourteen Top 40 hits with one going to number one, according to Billboard’s Top 40 Charts. Here are ABBA’s 10 biggest hits:
1. Dancing Queen – 1977 – The group’s only number one single was originally titled “Boogaloo.” From the “Arrival” album, it has been called ABBA’s signature song and has been covered by many artists.
2. Take A Chance On Me – 1978 – Bjorn’s hobby was running and while he ran, he would sing a styled rhythm to himself which became, “take a chance on me.” The song was originally called “Billy Boy.”
3. Waterloo – 1974 – ABBA’s first Top 10 U.S. hit was a number one hit in many countries. The song won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. The song, about a girl surrendering to romance, like Napoleon surrendered to Waterloo, was originally called “Honey Pie.”
4. The Winner Takes It All – 1980 – Benny denies that the song, although it is about divorce, is not about his divorce from Agnetha. Their last Top 10 single was never performed live by ABBA to an audience.
5. The Name of the Game – 1978 – Released on their album entitled, “ABBA: The Album” it was also included in a 1977 movie entitled, “ABBA: The Movie.”
6. Fernando – 1976 – Originally recorded as a solo by Frida, in Swedish, it went through several name changes including “Tango” and “Hernandez” before their limo driver suggested “Fernando.” That’s when an English version of the song was recorded. It is ABBA’s best-selling single of all time.
7. Knowing Me, Knowing You – 1977 – Also from the “Arrival” album, the song deals with breakups, as did many of their songs. This song also went through several title changes, including, “Ring It In” and “Number 1, Number 1.”
8. SOS – 1975 – Agnetha recorded this song in Swedish on her 1975 solo album, but an English version was recorded by the group for their self titled album. To date, it is the only single in which the title and the credited act are palindromes.
9. I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do – 1976 – Influenced by the saxophone songs of Billy Vaughn, this song was featured in the film, “Muriel’s Wedding.”
10. Does Your Mother Know? – 1979 – Most ABBA songs featured either Frida, Agnetha or both doing the leads. This one features Bjorn on leads and deals with a man responding to flirting by a much younger girl. From the “Voulez-vous” album.
In 1978, Benny and Frida were married, but divorced three years later. Bjorn and Agnetha divorced in 1979. The group disbanded in 1982.
Frida recorded solo and had one U.S. Top 20 hit “I Know There’s Something Going On” in 1983. It was produced by Phil Collins.
Bjorn and Benny continued to write successfully.
Agnetha also had a solo career and went Top 30 in the U.S. with “Can’t Shake Loose.”
Even though ABBA disbanded over 30 years ago, their music has been kept alive with Greatest Hits albums, tribute groups and with the musical, “Mama Mia” which reunited the group for the first time since 1986, in 2005, for the Stockholm premiere. The musical has since been an international success and spawned a 2008 film, “Mama Mia! The Movie” starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Amanda Seyfried.
ABBA was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.