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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Mama Mia, Here They Go Again! 12 amazing facts about comeback ‘Kids’ ABBA

As music lovers welcome back perhaps one of the greatest groups in the history of music, here's a look at twelve amazing facts about them.

Written by Nimish Dubey | New Delhi |
Updated: September 5, 2021 8:50:16 am
AbbaABBA's Voyage will be their first album almost 40 years. (Photo: AP)

It is being seen by many as the music comeback of the year. Pop legends ABBA have finally announced that they will be releasing a new album, their first after almost 40 years — Visitors in 1981 was the last studio album from the group. The group had announced plans to have special performances through digital versions of how its members looked in the seventies (ABBAtars if you will). There had also been talk of some new songs, but now, there’s a whole album coming up. And if the band is to be believed, the magic has not left them.

“We’d see each other every now and then, but it was especially clear when we were in the studio for the first time for this album, together, because that was so strange and wonderful at the same time,” ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus told Zane Lower on Apple Music about the group’s return to recording. “Everything came rushing back, like it was yesterday. This was a very familiar, normal situation we were in, the four of us. ‘Yeah. Okay. We’re recording,’ like it was yesterday. …I looked around and I looked into Agnetha’s eyes and Frida’s eyes and there was the same kind of feeling, the warmth and the friendship and the bonds, between us that, as you suddenly realize no one on earth has experienced this kind of relationship that we have because, thinking about it, it’s true, nobody else has.”

Well, only time will tell just how well the album, “The Voyage,” comes out (it is set for release on November 5). But as music lovers welcome back perhaps one of the greatest groups in the history of music, here’s a look at twelve amazing facts about them:

Meeting up on the beach, and singing to soldiers

Guess who were the first people to get the chance to hear the four band members perform together? No, it was not an audience in a club, a studio or a stadium. The first folks who got to see them together were the United Nations soldiers stationed at Cyprus in 1970. The four artists had gone to Cyprus on a holiday and while they knew each other, they had never performed together. It is said that they started off by singing at the beach and then performed in front of the UN soldiers. Alas, no recording of that performance exists (no phone cameras around those days).

Saying ‘Hello’ with their first song

The first recording to feature all four of ABBA was made in 1970. It was however credited only to Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Anderson, although Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid had also performed on it. The song was called “Hej, Gamle Man” (Hello, Old Man) and reached number five on the Swedish charts. A year later, Anni-Frid had her first number one hit called “Min Egen Stad.” It was written by Benny Anderson and actually featured all four performers who would later become ABBA. The first song on which all four actually got credit was “People Need Love” in 1972 which was credited rather elaborately to “Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid.”

You can check out “People Need Love” here:

Before becoming ABBA, they were Party People…and could have been Fabb!

Many folks think that the name ABBA is basically an anagram of the first letters of the names of the four members of the band – Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid. Well, it is. But it could well have been very different. When the four of them got together to sing, they initially called themselves Festfolk (which means “party people”) in 1970. However, they had limited success. Other names were tried, including the names of all of them – their first song as a group called “People Need Love” was actually credited to “Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid.” Finally, their manager, Stig Andersen, decided to get an easier name in 1973. There was actually a competition held in a Swedish daily in 1973 to find a name for the band. And the quartet even considered Alibaba, Baba and Fabb. Finally, however, they decided to go with ABBA – the term had been used to describe the group informally prior to that, but there had been a complication because of which it could not be used officially. Which takes us to the next point.

ABBA ABBA’s forthcoming album Voyage, to be released Nov. 5, is a follow-up to 1981’s The Visitors, which until now had been the swan song of the Swedish supergroup. (Photo: AP Photo/Ron Frehm, File)

‘Can’ do fishy business? That’s ABBA (too)

The reason why the name “ABBA” could not be used officially by the group initially was because it was actually associated with something else. ABBA was in fact the name of a company known for its tinned fish products, which had actually been around since the early nineteenth century. There were negotiations between the brand and the band and eventually the company gave permission for the name to be used for the group too. Legend has it that the company said that the band could use its name “as long as you don’t make us feel ashamed for what you’re doing.'” We can safely assume that the quartet kept their side of the deal.

ABBA A view of a screen showing ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson being interviewed in London, at the ABBA Voyage event at Grona Lund, in Stockholm, Sweden, Thursday, September 2, 2021. (Photo: Fredrik Persson/TT News Agency via AP)

Meeting success with ‘Waterloo’

ABBA had been grabbing some attention on and off and the group’s members were reasonably well-known in Sweden. But what really got them on to the world stage was their victory in the 1974 Eurovision Song contest. The band had tried getting into the competition earlier but had come up short (the later to-be-iconic “Ring, Ring” could only come third in the Swedish qualifying round in 1972). In 1974, however, they won the contest singing “Waterloo” – the group opted to sing it in English rather than Swedish for the contest, and the conductor of the music entered into the spirit of the song by coming dressed as Napoleon. The UK gave them zero points but the group still won! The victory gave them the opportunity to tour and perform on shows, and also exposed them to a larger audience. And the rest, as they say, is history. Napoleon would envy their success with Waterloo, the venue of his greatest defeat!

You can see their 1974 Eurovision performance here:

ABBA is not really Swedish…well, in a manner of speaking

Music lovers know ABBA as a Swedish group, but the fact is that not all of its members were from Sweden. Ann-Frid was in fact born in Norway and had a Norwegian mother and a German father. She was brought up in Sweden when her mother passed away and her father was believed to be missing after his ship was believed to have sank (he would meet her several years later). She would finally marry Prince Reuss of Plauen and her current title is Princess Anni-Frid, Dowager Countess of Plauen.

Mama Mia! They took more than 30 years to get a number one album in the US

You would have thought that given their cult status, ABBA would have been bossing the charts across the world. Well, they were. But for some reason, their albums never got to the number one spot in the most prestigious of all, the Billboard charts of the US – in fact, only four of their eight albums got into the top twenty on those charts. The group would not be denied the top spot however, and in 2008, thirty four years after “Waterloo” made them famous, an album by the group topped the Billboard charts. Of course, the group had broken up by that time. The album was the soundtrack of the film “Mama Mia!” which had starred the likes of Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgard. The band members swore there would be no reunion (little did they know) but they had their US number one album. Finally.

See the trailer of Mama Mia here: 

Hakuna Matata, ABBA could have done The Lion King

The soundtrack of The Lion King is supposed to be one of the greatest of all time, with Elton John and Tim Rice churning out hits like “The Circle of Life,” “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and of course, Hakuna Matata. However, it could have all turned out very differently. For, Elton John was not Tim Rice’s first choice for the soundtrack. When the idea of the film was floated in 1988, Rice actually approached ABBA if they would be interested in doing the soundtrack, even though the group had not done any work since 1982 and was supposed to have broken up. Rice had worked with Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus for a musical called Chess in 1986 and wanted the group to do the soundtrack for The Lion King. ABBA however, turned down the offer.

Those weird shiny dresses and get-ups? Thank the tax laws

One of the most distinct features of the group in its pomp was how it dressed on stage. ABBA had a reputation for turning up on stage and on videos in loud, shiny and glittering clothes and footwear. Most people assumed it had something to do with the seventies and entertainers’ penchant for flared trousers and boots and all. The truth however is that the group chose those costumes because of the Swedish tax laws. As per the laws at that time, any clothes that could not be categorised as “daywear” could be written off for tax purposes. Well, most of what ABBA wore on stage at its peak would definitely not fall into that category (some might even categorise it as “nightmarewear”). The band itself did not seem overfond of its look, and Bjorn Ulvaeus would later say that they “looked like nuts” in ABBA’s official photo book. “Nobody can have been as badly dressed on stage as we were!” The fans did not seem to mind, though.

Check out just some of ABBA’s outrageously amazing costumes here: 

Paid in oil products by the Soviets

Of course, ABBA were very popular in the erstwhile USSR or the Soviet Union. And their records sold heavily there as well. However, this created a problem as regards royalties – at that time, currencies from the Soviet Union were not accepted in other countries, so ABBA could not receive payments in the Soviet currency, the Rouble. The work around? The group was paid in oil commodities. Not a bad deal, and we are sure it did wonders to Sweden’s GDP as well. Which takes us to the next point…

One of Sweden’s biggest exports

A measure of ABBA’s impact can be gauged by the fact that according to many, the group was one of Sweden’s biggest exports in the seventies, adding millions to the country’s GDP. A popular belief is that at their peak, Volvo was the only Swedish organisation that brought in more money to Sweden than ABBA did!

They never disbanded or broke up…well, not officially

Although they stopped performing after 1982, ABBA actually never officially disbanded. Their final performance together was in December 1982 on Noel Edmonds’ The Late, Late Breakfast Show, via a satellite link from a studio in Sweden. The band never really released a statement saying it had disbanded, but barring sporadic appearances on special occasions (such as the release of the Mamma Mia film in 2008), it seemed to have broken up, with members going their separate ways.

See Björn Ulvaeus speaks to Zane Lowe on Apple Music about the band’s return and revival:

“We ended, and for creative reasons. We ended because we felt the energy was running out in the studio, because we didn’t have as much fun in the studio as we did this time. And that’s why we said, “Let’s go on a break.” And we never said, “This is it. We’ve split and we’ll never reunite again.” We never said that. We just said back then that we’d go on a break. And this break has now ended. Sounds strange…Sadly, people die and they don’t stay on friendly terms for their whole lives, but we have. And I’m so incredibly happy for that”, ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus would say in an interview to Zane Lowe.

In fact, ABBA would even claim that they were once offered a billion Dollars to reunite, but turned down the offer. In 2016, the band members finally got back together and talked to releasing new material through a digital experience that included digital avatars of the band called ABBAtars, based on their iconic seventies appearance. Now, of course, there are new songs and a new album coming up.

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