Yeah, we know. The last few weeks, all of these facts blogs have been on cool, big-balled rock bands like the Doors, Queen, KISS and Led Zeppelin - your basic meat-and-potatos groups you get into from listening to too much classic-rock radio with your parents. But this week, we dive into a special group that still manages to enchant the world decades after their split in 1982. In fact, they seem to have only gotten stronger in their dormancy.
Why ABBA? This week in 1976, the group was at the top of the UK singles chart with "Dancing Queen," which would be their only U.S. chart topper. Also, next Friday and Saturday at the Stafford Centre, you can catch ABBA: The Concert, with the ABBA tribute band Waterloo holding court for two straight nights of Swedish super-pop.
Yes, super-pop. ABBA was a pop force, unyielding in their dedication to hooks and harmonies, throwing down giddy singles like lightning bolts from Heaven itself. When those choruses kick in on a great sound system or in your car, they bump. It was all almost industrial, brutally poppy, in the best way possible.
From songs like "Money, Money, Money," "Fernando" and "Take A Chance On Me," you get the DNA of modern pop, sounding like it came from a military facility somewhere in northern Europe. When most people think of pop, they think boy bands, Britney Spears, and her ilk, but ABBA was those sounds in their purest form. Everything since is watered down. Plus you have that decadent, big dumb production, with a disco element that gets us every time.
One night Rocks Off drunkenly yelled between songs at one of our own Leon's Lounge DJ sets that we saw "no difference between Sabbath and the Bee Gees, (gurgle)" and, as the old saying goes, a drunk man's words are sober man's thoughts. There has been many a time we have gone from a Zeppelin or an AC/DC binge and snorted a whole bag of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack alone, only to put back on a platter of Van Halen and see nothing wrong in the slightest.
But back to ABBA and their Swedish machinations. The quartet - Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Agnetha Fältskog - began germinating as The Hootenanny Singers, a folk group in the late '60s. It was the standard, flowery, mountaintop, post-hippie stuff that was sweeping the world. It would take the hands and ears of producer Michael B. Tretow turn them into the ABBA that we all know today.
Carl Magnus Palm's book, ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, is a great start for anyone looking into how Tretow created the band's catalog.
Skimming through it, you will see that a lot of the techniques used were heavily indebted to the tribal, drum-heavy sounds of glam rock in the late '60s and early '70s. He's a pedophile now, but Gary Glitter had some monster singles that aren't too far from ABBA's works.
Here are 10 facts about ABBA that you probably don't know. Super-fans, please bear with the newbies. Special thanks to our longtime friend Natalie for feeding me some of this information. She was a really sweet ABBA tattoo which we cannot find on Facebook right now, but rest assured she has one.
ABBA's sales in communist Eastern Europe were so high in the late '70s the group had to accept payments in oil because some of the countries in that bloc didn't have the funds on hand. Rumor has it that at one time Keith Richards was paid in heroin for his share of merch sales in the '70s as well.
It is said that more than 3,300 ABBA records are sold every day all over the world. The group dominated the charts in Sweden in their heyday to such an extent that a special rule was handed down, restricting each release to just 10 weeks in the top slot.
Agnetha and Bjorn married in 1971, and Frida and Benny waited until October 1978 to get hitched. The two married couples were a rarity in pop music, and it is not known if there was a wife-swapping going on, though it would explain "Knowing Me, Knowing You" a little. Both couples were divorced by 1981, two years before the band's breakup.
ABBA is also the name of a Swedish canned-fish company, that luckily was cool with a pop group as the same name. Seriously, with those album sales it couldn't be anything but beneficial, right?
ABBA - The Movie and ABBA - The Album debuted in December 1977. The plot centered on a bumbling DJ who is tasked with getting a "dialogue" with the group by his boss, and the shenanigans involved in his quest to pin down the group. If there was a movie screaming for a deluxe 3D re-release, it's this one. All those white teeth, it would be like Shark Week. Here's the trailer:
The group's squeaky-clean image was tarnished after Robert Plant, that Robert Plant, revealed that he had often enjoyed attending porn clubs with Bjorn and Benny from time to time. They went to escape their somewhat wholesome wives. The thought of Zep's lead singer and the dudes from ABBA hanging out watching live sex shows aside, imagine the two bands joining forces.
Frida, the foxy brunette, was the product of an affair between a Norwegian woman and a Nazi soldier. Her mother was involved in one of SS chief Heinrich Himmler's Lebensborn houses, meant to "mate" supposed Nazi supermen with pure white Norwegian women. The innocent products of these conquests were not always treated humanley, and many were abused. Frida met her father years later and reconciled.
ABBA's ace hits compilation, ABBA Gold, was released in 1992 and has sold over 26 million copies worldwide. Yes, we own one.
The band broke up in 1982. Bjorn has since said, "ABBA never officially broke up. In 1982, we just said we were going to have a rest and that was it." The group have not worked together since they scuttled an album after tracking just six songs. The four members were offered $1 billion dollars in 2000 to reunite for a tour, but declined. They have said that they would reunite for a one-off show just for charity, but nothing has materialized. In 1999 the group did reform privately to sing a birthday greeting for Benny and Bjorn's manager Gorel Hanser's 50th birthday.
Since the band's split, a cottage industry of tribute acts has tried to fill the hole left by ABBA in the world. Most newer fans never saw the group live, so tribute acts are the only way to experience the music in concert. Our favorite is GABBA, which performs ABBA songs in the style of the Ramones.
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ABBA's modern legacy was in part helped along by 1994's The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a campy Australian flick about the travels of some drag queens in the desert on the way to a gig, featuring a then-unknown Guy Pearce as a drag queen. The 1999 staging of the ABBA-soundtracked musical Mamma Mia! in London's West End, and the subsequent film adaptation in 2008 with Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan, also ushered in a whole new line of ABBA devotees. Rocks Off fell asleep watching Mamma Mia! last Thanksgiving Day at our parents' house.