ABBA songs have a sound and feel all their own, one that is instantly recognizable and difficult to reproduce. It is a sound that brings back memories of the 1970s, when pop and disco filled the airwaves. It is also a sound that has endured, enjoying a renaissance in the late 1990s and 2000s and even reaching the venerable heights of Broadway and Hollywood.
Who would have thought four folksingers from Sweden could have such an impact on the world? Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Agneta Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad are all talented musicians in their own right, but it was when they came together in 1969, combining the men's songwriting with the women's sweet vocals, that they created the sound that would eventually make them stars.
They worked with limited success in Europe until 1974, when the song "Waterloo" became their first #1 in Germany and the UK. It had the signature glam-rock feel that would become the trademark of ABBA songs and it was soon garnering the quintet tremendous interest. It also peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the U.S., marking the band's first real success there.
By 1975, they had released three studio albums, and the single "Mama Mia" became a #1 hit across Europe. They still struggled to find a niche in the U.S. but began reaching audiences in places as diverse as Japan and Latin America. The success of songs such as "Fernando" and "Chiquita," many recorded in both English and Spanish, helped to solidify their popularity in Spanish speaking countries.
During the late 1970s, the ABBA phenomenon really took off. Their albums still enjoyed limited success outside of Europe but their live concert appearances became major events. Turn on a radio during this period and you could hardly miss ABBA songs. The hits began to pile up, including "Super Trouper," "The Winner Takes It All," and "Does Your Mother Know."
Finally, with the single "Dancing Queen," ABBA was able to reach #1 on the charts in the U.S., something they had not been able to achieve previously. By 1977, they were officially a worldwide success and one of the most popular live acts in music, with concerts regularly selling out wherever they went. In 1977, "ABBA: The Album" was released and the breakout single "Take A Chance On Me" became the group's biggest hit single in the U.S.
After more than a decade together, ABBA finally called it quits in 1982. All four members moved on to do solo work but the interest in the group never quite went away. In the 1990s, as current groups began rediscovering the unique sound of ABBA songs, the interest culminated in the Broadway musical, "Mamma Mia!," based on the group's songs. A film version of the show premiered in 2008.
Ask fans what they love about ABBA and they might be hard pressed to give an answer. It's hard to put your finger on what makes their music stand out, but one thing is certain. When you listen to it, you always come away feeling better. It's the sunny sound of the 1970s that just won't quit.
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