Originally seen on the Polygram Web Page
Benny Andersson (keyboards, vocals) was born on December 16th, 1946, in a suburb of Stockholm. He was a member of The Hep Stars, a very successful beat group who were known as "the Swedish Beatles" from 1964 to 1969 (their most successful period). After leaving that group, he formed a songwriting partnership with Bjorn Ulvaeus (vocals, guitar), who was born on April 25th, 1945, in Gothenberg, Sweden. Bjorn was the leader of a well-known folk/rock group, The Hootenanny Singers, who were strongly influenced initially by American acts like The Kingston Trio. Anni-Frid Lyngstad (vocals, known as 'Frida') was born in Norway, near the large town of Narvik, on November 15th, 1945. After her mother's death, Frida moved with her grandmother to Sweden in 1947, and grew up in Eskilstuna, about 100 miles from Stockholm. After singing with a jazz group led by Bengt Sandlund, she and the group's bass player, Ragnar Fredericksson, left to form their own band: The Anni-Frid Four, circa 1964. In 1967, she won a national talent contest, soon afterwards leaving Eskilstuna to live in Stockholm. She acquired a solo recording contract, and became a local celebrity. Agnetha Faltskog (vocals, known when ABBA first emerged in UK as 'Anna,' although her name is actually pronounced "Ann-yetta") was born on April 5th, 1950, in Jonkoping in the south of Sweden. After singing with bands from the age of 15 onwards, she topped the Swedish singles chart for the first time before she was 18, and was a consistent hitmaker both before and during her period with ABBA.
By 1970, Bjorn and Agnetha had fallen in love and were living together, as were Benny and Frida, although the two girls were still working on their separate solo careers, while Bjorn & Benny were writing songs and working as producers for Polar Music/Union Songs. This publishing/production company was headed by Stig Anderson, a well-known Swedish Music business entrepreneur who is said to have written more than 2,000 songs in the Sixties and early Seventies. Stig first signed Bjorn as a songwriter, and when Stig's original partner died, Bjorn was invited to become the latter's replacement. Bjorn would only accept the position if he could continue to work with Benny, and they eventually shared the job until ABBA was formed. In 1971, Bjorn and Agnetha moved into theatrical work (at Bjorn's suggestion), playing the part of Mary Magdelene in the Rice/Lloyd Webber musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, and scoring a massive hit with a Swedish cover version of "Don't Know How To Love Him." In 1972, Bjorn & Benny scored a big hit in Japan with a song which they also wrote, and later that year, came close to reaching the US Top 100 with a single they wrote and performed, "People Need Love" on which Agnetha & Frida were also featured.
Because of these successes, the songwriting team of Bjorn, Benny & Stig, (Stig was initially influential as a lyricist), were invited to enter a song for the Swedish heat of the 1973 Eurovision Song Contest. They decided to perform it with their partners using the unwieldy name of Bjorn, Benny, Angetha & Frida, and altougth the song "Ring Ring," clearly impressed the audience far more than any of the other entries, a panel of so-called "expert" judges placed it only third. The immense public outcry which resulted (especially when the winner of the Swedish heat came nowhere in the Eurovision Contest proper), led to future Swedish Eurovision entries being chosen on the basis of public voting.
In early 1974, ABBA (as Stig had christened the quartet) performed "Waterloo," a song written by Benny, Bjorn & Stig, and walked away with the Swedish Eurovision heat. In April, 1974, they became the first Swedish act to win the Eurovision Song Contest, which that year was held in Brighton. "Waterloo" became the first of the group's nine UK Number One singles, and launched ABBA as the first internationally successful pop/rock superstar act who sang in a language other than their native tongue. ABBA were second only to Volvo as Sweden's biggest export earners for several years, and remain revered and legendary as one of the most accomplished pop/rock groups ever.
The "Waterloo" single also topped charts around the world, as well as making the US Top 10, and while the group reached the charts on both sides of the Atlantic with follow-up singles, for over a year, they seemed unable to overcome the apparent stigma which has afflicted non-British Eurovision winners. However, in the autumn of 1975, "SOS" returned them to the UK Top 10 and US Top 20 - during this period of uncertainty, their fame in non-English speaking markets (Scandinavia, Germany, Benelux, Spain, etc.) was fast increasing, and at the start of 1976, they returned to the top of the UK singles chart with "Mamma Mia," which also topped the charts in Germany. Their next dozen consecutive singles released up to the end of 1979 reached Top 5 on the UK chart, and included five more UK Number One hits; "Fernando" (which topped the charts in Holland and Australia), "Dancing Queen" (also their only US Number One), "Knowing Me, Knowing You" (another German Number One), "The Name Of The Game" and "Take A Chance On Me." Between 1976 and 1979, five consecutive ABBA albums topped the UK chart. During this period, ABBA were at Number One on the UK album chart for 36 weeks of a possible 192. The only group to have spent more weeks at the top of the UK album chart by the end of 1991 was The Beatles.
In 1977, just as "Knowing Me, Knowing You" was released to become their fourth Number One in 15 months, ABBA embarked on their first live concert in Britain, during which they filled the Royal Albert Hall. 1977 was also the year when the group starred in a feature film made in Australia, where they were incredibly popular. ABBA - The Movie, jointly produced by Stig Anderson and Reg Grundy, an Australian who was later responsible for the incredibly popular "Neighbours" TV series, was released also in 1978 to immense box office success (but little critical acclaim). 1978 also saw Benny & Frida, who lived together for several years, finally getting married, so that for the first time, ABBA was composed of two husband and wife teams. This situation lasted less than three months, as by the end of the year, Agnetha and Bjorn had separated.
The first of ABBA's 1979 albums, Voulez-Vous, was seen as a departure from previous work, as it was a much more personal collection in lyrical terms, with several songs about the tribulations of romance from which the group members were suffering. "I Have A Dream," ABBA's final UK single of a decade which they had dominated, topped the Dutch charts, and was different again - a sing-a-long item which was specially recorded live at Wembley Arena with a large choir of children, at the last concert of what would sadly turn out to be ABBA's final world tour.
However, it wasn't all over - not by a long shot. 1980 found Benny & Bjorn working on songs for the group's seventh original album Super Trouper, which was eventually released at the end of the year, when, of course, it instantly topped the UK album chart, a position echoed in the singles chart by the title track, which also outsold everything in Germany and Holland. The album also included another Number One single, "The Winner Takes All." a reflective song about the end of a romance which mirrored the emotional situation of each member of the group - in early 1981, Benny and Anni-Frid became another divorce statistic, adding poignancy to Benny & Bjorn's songs.
A third track from the album, "Lay All Your Love On Me," made the Top 10 of the UK singles chart, and the song proving another milestone when it topped the US club chart, proving that ABBA were both versatile and able to understand many musical styles besides the pure pop which had made them famous. However, with relationships between the couples inevitably strained - Bjorn had remarried, as would Benny before the end of the year - a concert tour was out of the question, although the quartet reconvened for what turned out to be their final original album, The Visitors, which included another UK top 3 single of that era, "One Of Us." A few smaller hit singles extracted from the album kept ABBA's name in both the chart and the public eye, but by this time, each of the group members was considering future projects outside the ABBA umbrella.
Anni-Frid and Agnetha embarked on solo careers with some success, but the appeal of their records was simply less attractive to record buyers than had been the case with ABBA's output between 1974 and 1982. The release of a compilation double album, The Singles - The First Ten Years, which predictably topped the UK album chart, perhaps tended to deflect attention away from solo albums by Frida (produced by Phil Collins), or Agnetha (produced by Mike Chapman of Chinnichap fame). As songwriters, Benny & Bjorn were obviously better placed to prolong their success, and their most notable achievement during the 1980s was probably the musical Chess which they co-wrote with famed English lyricist Tim Rice. Based on an actual confrontation in Iceland between American and Russian grand masters of the board game, it included several international hit singles, and spawned a big selling album released in 1984.