Friday, December 19, 2014

ABBA, The #21 Artist of the Seventies*

Benny Andersson and his group the Hep Stars performed covers of big international hits, with Anderson playing keyboard.  Soon, Anderson was writing songs for the group, including three that reached #1 in his native Sweden.

Meanwhile, Björn Ulvaeus was a singer and guitarist with a popular Swedish folk-skiffle group called the Hooteanny Singers.  Ulvaeus began writing English-language songs for the group and began a solo career as well.

The two groups met while touring.  In 1966, Andersson and Ulvaeus wrote a song together that the Hep Stars recorded.  Stig Anderson, manager of the Hootenanny Singers and founder of Polar Music Records, was impressed, and encouraged the two to collaborate more.

In 1969, Andersson composed a song for the Melodifestivalen, the Swedish festival that would select the country's entry in the annual Eurovision Song Contest.  There, he met his future wife, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, who also had an entry in the festival.  The two were married a month later.

Andersson's and Ulvaeus's groups broke up in 1969, so the two recorded as a duo in 1970 and enjoyed several hits in Sweden. 

Agnetha Fältskog sang lead for a local band led by Bernt Enghardt, who sent a demo to Karl Gerhard Lundkvist.  This led to Agnetha recording two of her own songs, one that reached #1 in Sweden.  Fältskog recorded four solo albums between 1968 and 1971 and scored several hits in her native country.

During the filming of a Swedish television special, Fältskog met Ulvaeus, and the two were married in 1971.  The couple contributed to each other's albums, and soon, Andersson and Lyngstad added vocals to Fältskog's third studio album.  In 1972, Fältskog starred in the Swedish production of Jesus Christ Superstar and received great reviews.

The four sang their first record together in 1971, which was credited to Benny and Björn.  Anderson urged Ulvaeus and Andersson to write a song for Melodifestivalen, and their entry in 1972 came in third place.  The single "People Need Love" (credited to Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid), which featured prominent guest vocals by the women, was released in 1972.  It peaked at #17 in Sweden, and received airplay in the United States.

In 1972, the foursome recorded the album Ring, Ring together and released the single "Nina, Pretty Ballerina", a Top 10 hit in Austria.  The single let the four (as well as Anderson) know the incredible sound they could make together, and it was just a taste of things to come.

The single "Ring, Ring" reached #5 in the Netherlands and #7 in Australia.  The four entered it in the Melodifestivalen, but it came in third.       
 The four members knew they had something magical together, and Anni-Frid, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid formed an official group, with the name ABBA being an acronym of the first letters of the members' first names.  

ABBA launched their career by winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 with "Waterloo", which in 2005 was voted the best song in the 50-year history of the contest.  Afterwards, ABBA toured Europe and performed on major television shows. 

The group recorded their second album, Waterloo, and the title song raced to #1 in the U.K., Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Norway, and #2 in Austria, #4 in Australia, and #6 in the United States.

ABBA had now broken through in America, and it allowed the group to visit there and appear on The Mike Douglas Show.  The follow-up single, "Honey, Honey", went to #2 in Germany but had spotty success elsewhere.  "Hasta Manana" was also released as a single.

ABBA did a major European tour in 1974 and '75, then released their self-titled album in 1975.  But the lead single, "So Long", again received only spotty success, reaching #3 in Austria. 
But the follow-up, "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do", was another big international hit, going to #1 in Australia and New Zealand, #2 in Norway, #3 in the Netherlands, #4 in Austria, #6 in Germany, and a highly-underrated #15 in the United States.

"SOS" was the song that made them solid stars.  It topped charts in Germany, Australia and New Zealand, and reached #2 in Austria, the Netherlands and Norway, #4 in Ireland, and #6 in the U.K.  Once again, the United States, brought up the rear at #15.  All that does when radio goofs up is to make "SOS" one of The Top Unknown/Underrated Songs of the Rock Era*.

ABBA scored another smash hit with "Mamma Mia", #1 in the U.K., Germany, Australia, and Ireland, #2 in New Zealand and Norway, and #3 in Austria.  America blew it big time, as even they would find out years later, as the international smash stalled at #32 in the U.S.  The fault wasn't just with radio, but with the trade magazines.  This was proven when BMI calculated airplay for the year 1975 and "Mamma Mia" was one of the most-played songs of the year in America as well. 

Although ABBA had now enjoyed success in the U.S., that success was limited to singles.  However, the critics praised the group:  Cashbox said "there is a recurrent thread of taste and artistry inherent in Abba's marketing, creativity and presentation that makes it almost embarrassing to critique their efforts," and Creem wrote "SOS is surrounded on this LP by so many good tunes that the mind boggles".

The group had already caught on big in Australia, as their music videos on the television show Countdown triggered a great interest for ABBA music.

In 1975, ABBA released their Greatest Hits album, which went Platinum, and became the group's first #1 album in the U.K.  The group recorded a new song for the compilation, "Fernando".  The single became one of their biggest hits, hitting #1 in every major country in the world except for Sweden, oddly enough, Norway, both of which took it to #2, and the United States, again bringing up the rear at #13, although "Fernando" was a #1 hit in the U.S. among adults.  "Fernando" was #1 in Australia for an incredible 14 weeks, tying "Hey Jude" by the Beatles as the longest-running #1 song in Australian history.  It has now sold over 10 million copies worldwide, one of the top-selling songs of all-time.

ABBA had enjoyed incredible worldwide success, and, while they had scored hits in the U.S., they wanted to conquer it the way they had every other country.  The album Arrival in 1977 was intended to symbolize the group's "arrival" in America, and it did that.  Not only that, but rock-oriented publications such as Melody Maker and New Musical Express recognized a new level of songwriting and studio work from the group.

The lead single "Dancing Queen" was #1 in every country in the world (including the U.S. this time!), except Austria at #4.  Plus, it sold over one million copies in the United States alone. 

The single "Money, Money, Money" hit #1 in Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands, and #2 in Ireland and Norway, and #3 in the U.K. and Austria.  The United States (at #56) still didn't quite get it completely.  But they would. 

The amazing single "Knowing Me, Knowing You" topped charts in the U.K., Germany and Ireland, hit #2 in Austria and the Netherlands, and reached the Top 10 in every country in the world except the United States (#14).

Arrival became the first album to go Gold in the U.S., but the U.S. shared something in common with only France and Austria, as being the only three countries in the world where Arrival wasn't a #1 album.  The vocal talents of Anni-Frid and Agnetha gave them incredible versatility, being able to release rockers as well as ballads.  Another great track on the album is "My Love, My Life".

Arrival also contained the beautiful instrumental title track.

In 1977, ABBA went on a major tour.  Shows were lavishly produced and included a few scenes from their self-written mini-operetta The Girl with the Golden Hair.  The media flooded the group with interview requests and stories throughout Europe and Australia.  ABBA played before 160,000 people at 11 dates in Australia.  The tour ended with two sold-out shows at London's famous Royal Albert Hall.  Tickets for those two shows were only available my mail application.  It turned out that the box office in London received 3.5 million requests for tickets, which would have filled the Hall 580 times.  One of the concerts in London was filmed and later released as part of ABBA:  The Movie.

The group released ABBA:  The Album to coincide with the release of their movie.  The single "The Name Of The Game" gave them a sixth #1 in the U.K., as they were quickly becoming one of the top artists in the history of the Kingdom.  Ireland, the Netherlands, and Sweden also took the song to #1, and it peaked at #3 in Norway, and #4 in New Zealand.  The United States and Austria were the only countries in the world that didn't have the song in their Top 10.

"Take A Chance On Me" also went to #1 in the U.K., as well as Ireland and Austria, and rose to #2 in the Netherlands, and #3 in the United States and Germany.  The single sold over one million copies.

Most people know the hits of these incredible artists.  We like featuring the other songs on their albums in music specials as spectacular as this one, because doing so shows the immense depth that they have.  Great songs like this one ("One Man, One Woman") took the album to Platinum status in the United States.

We want to feature three other songs from this great album--this one reached the Top 10 in Germany and the Netherlands--"Eagle".

The next song became one of the featured songs in a play many years into the future that finally had America going ga-ga over this group--"Thank You For The Music".  For our American friends, there's a lot more to this group than their hits.  Never released as a single, it has become one of the most-loved ABBA songs of all-time.

ABBA has recorded numerous songs, but I don't know if any capture the human spirit more than this one. Another great track on the album is "Move On".

By this time, ABBA were one of the top acts in the world.  They converted an old movie theatre in Stockholm, Sweden into a state-of-the art recording studio called the Polar Music Studio.  Several other groups, including Led Zeppelin (In Through the Out Door) and Genesis, recorded there.  ABBA appeared with Andy Gibb on Olivia Newton-John's television show in the United States.

In 1979, ABBA scored another #1 album in the U.K. with their Greatest Hits, Volume 2, which also went Gold in the United States.  The single "Summer Night City" became another huge hit, topping charts in Ireland and Sweden and hitting #5 in the U.K. and #6 in Germany.

In 1979, ABBA performed "Chiquitita" at the Music for UNICEF Concert at the United Nations General Assembly.  ABBA donated all proceeds from the single to UNICEF.  The single was released the following week, and went to #1 in ten countries, including Ireland, New Zealand, and the Netherlands.  It was a Top 5 song in every country in the world except the U.S. (#29).  They still didn't get it.  But they would.

In 1979, Ulvaeus and Fältskog announced that they were getting a divorce.  The media hounded them with questions about how this would affect the future of the group.  To escape the press, Andersson and Ulvaeus secretly travelled to the Bahamas, where they would spend the next two weeks preparing for the group's next album.

In 1979, ABBA released their sixth studio album, Voulez-Vous.  The album went to #1 throughout Europe and in Japan and Mexico, hit the Top 10 in Canada and Australia and Top 20 in the United States.  The single "Does Your Mother Know" reached #3 in Ireland and the Netherlands and #4 in the U.K.

Another huge international hit was the title song, hitting #3 in the U.K., Ireland and the Netherlands.

The group scored another big hit in the U.K. when "Angel Eyes" hit #3.  The single "Gimme!  Gimme!  Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" was released from the Greatest Hits, Volume 2 album. The song topped the Irish chart, and reached #2 in Austria, Norway and the Netherlands and #3 in the U.K. and Germany.

Incredibly, ABBA achieved a fifth Top 5 song in the U.K. from Voulez-Vous--even the Beatles never did that.  The song that gave them six was the single "I Have A Dream", at #2 in the U.K.  The song topped charts in Austria and the Netherlands, and rose to #2 in Ireland and #4 in Germany.

ABBA went a tour of North America (their first and only), and they played 17 sold-out dates, 13 of them in the United States.

The group released two more albums in the 80's and collected 10 more hits before splitting.  Despite that, ABBA are one of a select number of acts that are more popular now than they were during their heyday.  The French children's television musical Abbacadabra generated new interest in ABBA.  The duo Erasure released covers of ABBA songs.  When U2 arrived in Stockholm in 1992, they invited Ulvaeus and Andersson onstage for a version of "Dancing Queen".

In 1992, the album ABBA Gold:  Greatest Hits was released, and it has now topped six million in sales in the U.S. alone.  Since most of the group's music and big hits were in the Seventies, a large percentage of that album's sales are naturally factored into the rankings for this special.

Ulvaeus and Andersson went on to tremendous success writing music for the stage.  Then in 1994, the Australian cult films The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Muriel's Wedding, both focusing on admiration for ABBA, attracted interest from the media.  This renewed interest led to the formation of numerous tribute bands.  The four-disc box set Thank You for the Music was released that year as well.

American critic Chuck Klosterman wrote "By the end of the twentieth century, it was far more uncool to not like ABBA than to love them."  And a phenomenon was about to occur in which ABBA's American fans would grow exponentially.

 In 1999, Ulvaeus and Andersson finally finished a project that they had poured their hearts into.  They adapted ABBA's music into the highly successful musical Mamma Mia!, that was a smash hit on Broadway and has toured to every part of the globe.  All four members of ABBA appeared at the premiere of the musical Mamma Mia!, which told a humorous tale featuring the music of the group.  The movie version of Mamma Mia! was released in 2008, with all four members again reuniting for the film premiere.  The soundtrack to the movie went to #1 in the United States, ABBA's first #1 album there.  The movie starring Meryl Streep was extremely successful, becoming the highest-grossing film in the U.S. that year.  The play is still attracting sold-out crowds each night on Broadway 15 years after it opened.

Americans, who were blind to the incredible music of ABBA during their worldwide peak, all of a sudden finally embraced the group.  They let their enthusiasm and love for the group be known through countless standing ovations throughout America, from Broadway to every city in the country.  Yes, America finally "got it"! 

In 2000, ABBA turned down an offer of one billion U.S. dollars to do a reunion tour.  In 2002, ABBA was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.  In 2004, the members of ABBA were presented an award from Universal Music and Polar Music for worldwide record sales (both single and album) of 360 million between 1974 and 2004. 

The album ABBA Gold:  Greatest Hits, released in 1992, returned to #1 on the U.K. album chart for the fifth time in 2008. 

In 2010, ABBA was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Earlier this year, the book ABBA:  The Official Photo book was published to mark the 40th anniversary of ABBA's win at Eurovision.

ABBA is featured on two postage stamps in Sweden, issued in 1983 and 2000. 

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