ABBA are a Swedish pop group formed in Stockholm in 1972 by Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. The group's name is an acronym of the first letters of their first names arranged as a palindrome. One of the most popular and successful musical groups of all time, they became one of the best-selling music acts in the history of popular music, topping the charts worldwide from 1974 to 1983, and in 2021. ABBA have achieved 48 hit singles.
ABBA is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with record sales estimated to be between 150 million to 385 million sold worldwide and the group was ranked 3rd best-selling singles artists in the United Kingdom with a total of 11.3 million singles sold by November 3, 2012. ABBA was the first group from a non-English-speaking country to achieve consistent success in the charts of English-speaking countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
They are the best-selling Swedish band of all time and the best-selling band originating in continental Europe. ABBA had eight consecutive number-one albums in the UK. The group also enjoyed significant success in Latin America and recorded a collection of their hit songs in Spanish.
In 1974, ABBA were Sweden's first winner of the Eurovision Song Contest with the song "Waterloo", (which in 2005 was chosen as the best song in the competition's history as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the contest.) During the band's main active years, it consisted of two married couples: Fältskog and Ulvaeus, and Lyngstad and Andersson. With the increase of their popularity, their personal lives suffered, which eventually resulted in the collapse of both marriages. The relationship changes were reflected in the group's music, with latter compositions featuring darker and more introspective lyrics. After ABBA separated in December 1982, Andersson and Ulvaeus continued their success writing music for multiple audiences including stage, musicals and movies, while Fältskog and Lyngstad pursued solo careers. This clip is a brief history of ABBA:
In November 1974, ABBA embarked on their first European tour, playing dates in Denmark, West Germany and Austria. It was not as successful as the band had hoped, since most of the venues did not sell out. Due to a lack of demand, they were even forced to cancel a few shows, including a sole concert scheduled in Switzerland. The second leg of the tour, which took them through Scandinavia in January 1975, was very different. They played to full houses everywhere and finally got the reception they had aimed for. Live performances continued in the middle of 1975 when ABBA embarked on a fourteen open-air date tour of Sweden and Finland. Their Stockholm show at the Gröna Lund amusement park had an estimated audience of 19,200. Björn Ulvaeus later said that "If you look at the singles we released straight after Waterloo, we were trying to be more like The Sweet, a semi-glam rock group, which was stupid because we were always a pop group."
In late 1974, "So Long" was released as a single in the United Kingdom but it received no airplay from Radio 1 and failed to chart in the UK; the only countries in which it was successful were Austria, Sweden and Germany, reaching the top ten in the first two and number 21 in the latter. In the middle of 1975, ABBA released "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do", which again received little airplay on Radio 1, but did manage to climb to number 38 on the UK chart, while making top five in several northern and western European countries, and number one in South Africa. Later that year, the release of their self-titled third studio album ABBA and single "SOS" brought back their chart presence in the UK, where the single hit number six and the album peaked at number 13.
"SOS" also became ABBA's second number-one single in Germany, their third in Australia and their first in France, plus reached number two in several other European countries, including Italy. Success was further solidified with "Mamma Mia" reaching number-one in the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia and the top two in a few other western and northern European countries. In the United States, both "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do" and "SOS" peaked at number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, with the latter picking up the BMI Award along the way as one of the most played songs on American radio in 1975. "Mamma Mia", however, stalled at number 32. In Canada, the three songs rose to number 12, nine and 18, respectively. Here is a clip of the, Eurovision Song Contest with ABBA performing of with the song "Waterloo" on April 6, 1974:
The success of the group in the United States had until that time been limited to single releases. By early 1976, the group already had four Top 30 singles on the US charts, but the album market proved to be tough to crack. The eponymous ABBA album generated three American hits, but it only peaked at number 165 on the Cashbox album chart and number 174 on the Billboard 200 chart. Opinions were voiced, by "Creem" in particular, that in the US ABBA had endured "a very sloppy promotional campaign". Nevertheless, the group enjoyed warm reviews from the American press. "Cashbox" went as far as saying that "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", while "Creem" wrote: "SOS is surrounded on this LP by so many good tunes that the mind boggles."
In Australia, the airing of the music videos for "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do" and "Mamma Mia" on the nationally broadcast TV pop show "Countdown" (which premiered in November 1974) saw the band rapidly gain enormous popularity, and Countdown become a key promoter of the group via their distinctive music videos. This started an immense interest for ABBA in Australia, resulting in "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do" staying at number one for three weeks, then "SOS" spending a week there, followed by "Mamma Mia" staying there for ten weeks, and the album holding down the number one position for months. The three songs were also successful in nearby New Zealand with the first two topping that chart and the third reaching number two.
In March 1976, the band released the compilation album "Greatest Hits". It became their first UK number-one album, and also took ABBA into the Top 50 on the US album charts for the first time, eventually selling more than a million copies there. Also included on "Greatest Hits" was a new single, "Fernando", which went to number-one in at least thirteen countries all over the world, including the UK, Germany, France, Australia, South Africa and Mexico, and the top five in most other significant markets, including, at number four, becoming their biggest hit to date in Canada; the single went on to sell over 10 million copies worldwide. Here is the "Mamma Mia" music video:
The group's fourth studio album, "Arrival", a number-one best-seller in parts of Europe, the UK and Australia, and a number-three hit in Canada and Japan, represented a new level of accomplishment in both songwriting and studio work, prompting rave reviews from more rock-oriented UK music weeklies such as "Melody Maker" and "New Musical Express", and mostly appreciative notices from US critics. Hit after hit flowed from Arrival: "Money, Money, Money", another number-one in Germany, France, Australia and other countries of western and northern Europe, plus number two in the UK; and, "Knowing Me, Knowing You", ABBA's sixth consecutive German number-one, as well as another UK number-one, plus a top five hit in many other countries, although it was only a number nine hit in Australia and France. The real sensation was the first single, "Dancing Queen", not only topping the charts in loyal markets like the UK, Germany, Sweden, several other western and northern European countries, and Australia, but also reaching number-one in the United States, Canada, the Soviet Union and Japan, and the top ten in France, Spain and Italy. Here is the video of "Take a Chance On Me":
The band's popularity in the United States would remain on a comparatively smaller scale, and "Dancing Queen" became the only Billboard Hot 100 number-one single ABBA with "Knowing Me, Knowing You" later peaking at number seven; "Money, Money, Money", however, had barely charted there or in Canada (where "Knowing Me, Knowing You" had reached number five). They did, however, get three more singles to the number-one position on other Billboard US charts, including Billboard Adult Contemporary and Hot Dance Club Play). Nevertheless, Arrival finally became a true breakthrough release for ABBA on the US album market where it peaked at number 20 on the Billboard 200 chart and was certified gold by RIAA. Here is the "Dancing Queen" music video:
In January 1977, ABBA embarked on their first major tour. The group's status had changed dramatically and they were clearly regarded as superstars. They opened their much anticipated tour in Oslo, Norway, on 28 January, and mounted a lavishly produced spectacle that included a few scenes from their self-written mini-operetta "The Girl with the Golden Hair". The concert attracted immense media attention from across Europe and Australia. They continued the tour through Western Europe, visiting Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Berlin, Cologne, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Essen, Hanover, and Hamburg and ending with shows in the United Kingdom in Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and two sold-out concerts at London's Royal Albert Hall. Tickets for these two shows were available only by mail application and it was later revealed that the box-office received 3.5 million requests for tickets, enough to fill the venue 580 times.
Ten years after the group broke up, a compilation, ABBA Gold, was released, becoming a worldwide best-seller. Here is the 1994 tribute to ABBA's fans "Thank You For The Music":
In 1999, ABBA's music was adapted into "Mamma Mia!", a successful musical that toured worldwide and, as of November 2021, is still in the top-ten longest running productions on both Broadway (closed in 2015) and the West End (still running). A film of the same name, released in 2008, became the highest-grossing film in the United Kingdom that year. A sequel, "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again", was released in 2018.
In 2016, the group reunited and started working on a digital avatar concert tour. Newly recorded songs were announced in 2018. Voyage, their first new album in 40 years, was released on November 5, 2021. ABBA Voyage, a concert residency featuring ABBA as virtual avatars – dubbed 'ABBAtars' - is due to take place in London from May to December 2022.
The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, the first and only recording artists to receive this honor from outside an Anglophone country. In 2015, their song "Dancing Queen" was inducted into the Recording Academy's Grammy Hall of Fame.
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