A Different Name
ABBA was first formed in 1972 by Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Long before the group became internationally known as ABBA (the initials of their first names), the band was known as “Festfolk,” meaning “party people” in Swedish. The pronunciation of that word is very similar to another Swedish word, fästfolk, which was 70s slang for “engaged couples”—a pretty appropriate name since the members found love within the group…
Love in the Limelight
At ABBA’s height, Agnetha and Bjorn, as well as Benny and Anna-Frid, were actually married. ABBA fans know that sadly both relationships would end in divorce, but contrary to popular belief, the pressures of stardom were not what caused the couples to call it quits. “A lot of people think that the divorces came about because of the stress of having to tour together and working together, but I don’t think so,” Ulvaeus has said. “I think, rather, the other way round.” The group did continue to record and perform for a short period following the divorces. “The four of us decided we had so much more to give, but it was strange in the studio,” Ulvaeus said.
ABBA is iconically known for their outlandish fashion but few people know that their choice of outfits were actually a way to save ‘money money money’ on their tax bill. As revealed on “ABBA: The Official Photo Book,” they exploited a particular loophole in Swedish law which stated that clothes were tax deductible if their owners could prove they were not used for daily street wear.
Over the Moon
At the height of their stardom, the world was utterly obsessed with the Swedish foursome. Astonishingly, a 1976 TV special filmed in Australia got more views than the 1969 moon landing. ABBA-Mania was in full swing in the land down under, titled “The Best of ABBA,” the special was screened four times to record-setting ratings.
A Brief Absence
Eagle eyed fans may have noticed but few know that Agnetha was briefly replaced in 1973. Following the birth of her and Björn’s first child, their daughter Linda, a local singer and friend of the group joined the others for a short stint for performances in Germany.
Björn and Benny are notorious for being fiercely protective of their iconic catalogue of tracks. In 1987, they actually sued British band The KLF over their unauthorised use of a passage from ABBA’s smash hit Dancing Queen. Almost 10 years later, they allowed The Fugees to use a sample from The Name Of The Game on their 1996 album. In 2005, Madonna would beg the ABBA men for permission to use one of their samples on her track, Hung Up. The boys eventually gave the Queen of Pop their thumbs-up. “It is a wonderful track, 100% solid pop music,” said Benny.
In 1977, the band could have sold out London’s famous Royal Albert Hall a whopping 580 times. ABBA’s first concerts scheduled in the UK included two dates at the venue. 3,5 million ABBA-loving Brits applied via mail for the 12,000 available seats.
Top of the Charts
It might be difficult to believe, but the band didn’t have a #1 album in the US until 2008. Back in their heyday, the band only ever made it as high as #14 on the US pop charts. Thanks to the release of the first Mamma Mia! film in 2008, ABBA finally made it to the top spot thanks to the movie’s soundtrack which boasted spectacular tracks by Meryl Streep, Colin Firth and Pierce Brosnan.
Ever since the band first took to the world stage, rumors swirled that the ladies of ABBA hated one another, making touring and recording a true nightmare for the band. In 2009, Anni-Frid would put the speculation to rest, saying “A lot has been written about how Agnetha and I fought and quarreled with each other. There is absolutely no truth in that,” adding, “Of course we competed, but to good effect.”
ABBA found international recognition when they won the 1974 Eurovision song contest with their toe-tapping song Waterloo. Since the competition was held in Britain, the band wanted to write a hit song about a London rail terminal that UK listeners would relate to. They struggled to decide on which terminal to use in the track. Just three minutes before they were set to take to the stage, someone came into the band’s dressing room and approached Bjorn. The friend asked him if he’d like to go to Waterloo. Lightening struck and the rest, as they say, is history.
Two of a Kind
A bizarre conspiracy theory regarding the band’s male members has been making its rounds for decades. Back in the eighties, the world press discovered that Benny and Bjorn had never been photographed together alone. The fact sparked rumors that the ABBA men were, in fact, the same person. Forensic scientists would later put the strange theory to rest when they studied pictures of the pair, Benny parted his hair to the left while Bjorn had his parted to the right.
During the 70’s, ABBA was poorly treated by many journalists in the band’s homeland. In a 1999 documentary outlining the group’s rise to stardom, Frida recalled that the band received severe criticism from the Swedish press due to their non-involvement in the country’s tumultuous internal politics. The former group member added that the foursome was also heavily criticized for selling millions of records and earning an exorbitant amount of money, a thing that was considered by many to be immoral during Sweden’s then-troubled political climate.
Bjorn had an ongoing insecurity surrounding his height. The singer stands at just under five foot tall, even in his towering platform boots. Apparently, the frontman’s piano, had been specially scaled down for the short star. At the height of the band’s popularity, Bjorn reportedly chose to wear a fake beard under the strange impression that it made him look taller. The star also allegedly refused to be photographed with taller celebrities.
Break Up Song
In bizarre findings by recent studies, supposedly a considerable percent of all the marital break-ups from the year 1976 took place while the ABBA song Knowing Me, Knowing You was playing in the background. Hans Grudellmeir, an Oslo-born acclaimed professor of social psychology, claims that the track has a certain strange and sinister note that has the capacity to affect even the happiest marriages. He conducted controlled experiments in which married couples were forced to listen to the song while closed together in a room. By the song’s end, many of the marital couples were in the throes of a vicious fight.
World Record Holders
During its extensive and wildly impressive musical history, ABBA has broken a string of world records. The band itself has sold between 400-500 million records worldwide, making them one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time. The pop group was the very first group from a non-English-speaking country to have earned top spots in charts in all English-speaking countries including Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom and The United States.
Anni-Frid Synni, commonly known to fans as Frida, actually went on to become royalty. In 1986, Frida began a high profile romance with Prince Heinrich Ruzzo Reuss von Plauen who was a prince of the former sovereign German House of Reuss. The former ABBA star became a royal after marrying the prince in 1992, earning the titles of Princess Reuss and Countess of Plauen. She lived with her royal partner in his home castle at Freiburg until he died from cancer at the untimely age of 49.
A Brush with Fate
In 1979, the chart-topping foursome had a terrifying brush with fate. While touring the US, the pop group chartered a small private jet to fly them from New York to Boston. The aircraft abruptly encountered a tornado in a patch of terrifying weather, forcing them to make an immediate emergency landing. Fortunately, everyone walked away from the harrowing experience. Despite her luck, blonde bombshell Agnetha Fältskog developed a deep phobia of flying following the incident.
There are few people in the world who can resist the infectious beat of ABBA’s most poplar tune, Dancing Queen. Interestingly enough, the band actually first debuted the immortal track to a king and queen. The group held their first live performance of the song at an extravagant gala during festivities for the royal wedding of Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden in 1976.
ABBA was once paid by Russia in oil. Due to an federal embargo on the Russian ruble during the years of the Cold War, the band received royalty payments in oil commodities from all states under communist control during the time period. The unusual exchange organized by the group’s management was actually pretty lucrative. At the height of their fame, behind vehicle manufacturer Volvo, ABBA was Sweden’s biggest selling export.
The devastating break up of the band was never actually confirmed by the band or their management. Following the bitter end of the marriages between the members of ABBA, the supergroup announced it was taking a “temporary break” in 1982. To the heartbreak of millions of fans, the break endured and despite the band never officially confirming their split, ABBA was no more.
Music fans were devastated by the band’s abrupt end. In recent decades, the former group members have all said that a reunion would sadly never be on the cards. In 2014, Frida told an Irish newspaper, “No amount of money would change our minds.” The foursome reportedly turned down a $1 billion pay check when they were approached with an offer in 2016.
Back to the Future
But it seems that recent years have inspired a change of heart in the former band members. In late 2017, it was confirmed that the ABBA would soon release a futuristic hologram tour. Special ‘Abbatars’ will represent the four members as they were in their heyday. The digital world tour is in the works for 2019 or 2020, according to the Times.
In April 2018, ABBA announced they were headed to the recording studio for the first time in 35 years. “We may have come of age, but the song is new. And it feels good,” read a statement released by the group. One of the tracks, titled I Still Have Faith in You is set to be released in December and will be featured in ABBA’s upcoming virtual world tour.
Along with their manager and unofficial ‘fifth member’, Stig Anderson, ABBA co-founded their own music label, Polar Music label. ABBA, with the help of Stig, converted an abandoned movie cinema into a state-of-the-art recording studio in Stockholm. ABBA weren’t the only stars to make use of the space. Led Zeppelin, Genesis and The Backstreet Boys have all recorded in the still-functioning studio.
Though seemingly original, the name ‘ABBA’ was actually already in use by a well-known fish-canning company in the group’s home country. In 1974, after much negotiation, the company gave the group the rights to share the name. The group’s popularity actually gave the company a little sales boost.