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___ ABBA... One of the most influential and popular musical formation of all times. They are one of the musical groups who have sold the most records worldwide alongside such groups as the Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The ABBA formation broke up in 1983 but they are still selling more records than some established artists of today, almost thirthy years after their initial impact. But most importantly, they have achieved a devoted cult status following that every artist dreams of, deeply rooting their very recognizable image and sound identity in our collective consciousness.

They were not the most efficient performers live on stage, none of them moving very well since dancing was really not their forte. They often dressed up in costumes so flamboyant that any drag queen would be green with envy. And they were practically beheaded by most critics of the time during their heyday, which roughly lasted ten years. The medias of that era didn't quite understand how important they would become to our "pop culture". I mean, one look at those bizarre attires convinced the medias of the 1970's that ABBA were a group that would never be taken seriously.

And it might sound funny to us now because frankly, the 70's are notorious for the hideous clothes worn by most celebrities and therefore, by their adoring fans trying to emulate them. But they were criticized so much that the strain would take its toll on the four of them. As you probably know if you are a devoted fan like I am, not only were all of them good friends but, they were married couples as well for a while. Frida was married to Benny and Agnetha to Bjorn...

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My devotion to ABBA started around the time I was nine years old. The year was 1977 and ABBA had just released "Take a chance on me" as a single. Even though I was very young, I still remember the impact that song had on me. I had never heard such a "perfect" song before. It was so intricate and complex that I would listen to it incessantly on a 45rpm (those ancient "singles" on vinyl...), driving my mother absolutely crazy.

I didn't really know who they were and it took me a long time to find out more about them. In those days, the video-clips were practically non-existent and the VCR's were not even invented yet, much less DVD's. Therefore, we couldn't record anything from television and certainly couldn't watch pre-recorded tapes. The 45rpm of "Take a chance on me" was all I had. It had been given to us by my sister's friend. At that time, I had no idea what they looked like and who they were so I had to rely solely on the sound of the music... And what a sound it was.

ABBA has a very distinctive "flavor" to their music and it was only much later that I found out how they achieved it. A recording engineer they worked with had been fascinated by the fact that records from such popular groups as "The Beach Boys", even if heard on tiny and cheap record players and played in mono, sounded so great. He was stunned to learn that those groups would actually use two of each sets of musicians (guitars, drums...), record them on separate tracks and then incorporate it all together, creating a fuller sound.

He then proceeded to experiment with the idea and went even further while recording with ABBA. They would record each instruments many times, all on separate tracks. Then, he would put it all together making the song sound as though hundreds of musicians had been used. Björn and Benny were adamant about incorporating different styles of melodies in their work, with influences borrowed from many ethnic music flavors. In doing this, they were able to invent a unique sound all their own.

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The engineer, who in a way helped shape the unmistakable ABBA sound, also utilized the same technique with the vocals as he had with the instruments. The two women would record many singing parts countless times. Then, the engineer would set the pitch of all the tracks slightly out of tune. And by juxtaposing this new version of the track with the original one, it would create a "dusting" effect on the voices and the music, making the whole song "sparkle".

If you listen carefully to the vocals on any of the ABBA records, you will hear that "chorus" effect, so effectively used by many recording artists of today. A good example is "Enya" which reportedly records as many as one hundred different vocal parts for every song. It is a lengthy and tedious process for the singer who has to endlessly record different part of a melody with slight variations. But the end result is worth all the efforts.

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My fascination with ABBA didn't end with "Take a chance on me". They might have become nothing more than some one-hit wonder but the raw talent they possessed allowed them to record extremely beautiful songs, one after the other until they reached worldwide stardom. In my case, I discovered them quite a few years after they had made their first impact but I wasn't the only one. It took them quite a long while to break through and enjoy success all around the world...



I thought I could offer you a very short bio of the four members of this amazing formation. And yes, I do have a favorite. Mine is Frida, "Anni-Frid Lyngstad" being her full name. I know, many people prefered Agnetha "Fältskog", the blond one for her angelic looks and higher-pitched voice. Technically speaking, Agnetha was a soprano while Frida was a mezzo-soprano. But I've always had a soft spot for the underdog and it always seemed to me that Frida was neglected in favor of Agnetha, at least by the media.

First, Agnetha sang the "lead" on a lot more tracks than Frida, at least in terms of the "singles" that were released. Also, it always seemed like Agnetha got more attention from the public and the media than her blonde counterpart. But the moment I heard Frida's deeper voice, on which she had an amazing control, it was clear to me who was my "fave" and I became an absolute and total fan of hers. Her voice is richer with more texture and I sincerely feel she is a better singer than Agnetha technically, even though the latter had a voice with powerful emotional abilities.



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Frida was born on the 15th of November 1945, in the town of Ballangen in Norway. She started to sing professionally at the age of thirteen and had quite a few hit records as a solo artist before she met Benny Andersson in 1969. She had been married before and had a couple of children already but fell in love with Benny almost instantly and they were in a relationship for 12 years during which time they got married.

Thus was born the first "half" of the very popular formation. I just LOVE Frida. There is something very special about her. Not only is she beautiful and talented but I think that the reason I dig her so much is also related to the fact that she loved being a singer and enjoyed herself tremendously live on stage, in the recording studios and through the different video-clips the group has made over the years. She has this sense of fun about her and it seems she was quite a party girl with a very sociable personality. And her immense talent in the vocal department is a force to be reckoned with.



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Agnetha was born in Jönköping, Sweden, on the 5th of April 1950. She is the youngest member of the group and was always the focus of much of the media attention. She recorded her first professional album at age 18 in 1968 and had quite a successful solo career but, until she met "Björn Ulvaeus" in that same year, her fame was limited to Sweden. She married Björn in 1971 and had two children with him: a girl born in 1973 and a little boy in 1977.

Even though I really like her, I must admit she hasn't touched my heart as much as Frida did. Part of it is probably due to the fact that she didn't really like being famous as much as the others and raising her kids was her first priority. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, you're right but somehow, when I see someone having this kind of fame and not really being into it, that makes me feel a bit sour in a way. Envy I guess...



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Björn "Kristian" Ulvaeus entered this world in Gothenburg on 25th April 1945. He was part of a swedish folk-song group named "The Hootenanny Singers" (ridiculous name which he admits himself...) when he was only 18 years old. He enjoyed some success but grew tired of being the only true musical driving force within the group and, when he met Benny in 1966, a new friendship emerged that would change pop music history.

I always thought that Björn was quite handsome and even had a slight crush on him for a while when I was very young. But at that time, like most people, I mostly devoted my love and attention to the two lead singers and somehow, even though Björn and Benny were the true core of the ABBA formation, they always seemed to be in the shadows of the two girls. The female singers both had so much charisma that they usually outshone the male duo of the band.



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"Göran Bror" Benny Andersson, who was born 16th December 1946 in Stockholm, was raised in the suburb of Vällingby. Like Björn, he was fascinated with music and learned to play the accordion and the piano very early. As a teenager, he became part of a group called "Elverkets spelmanslag" who played cover versions of songs from established artists of the day. Benny got tired of playing other people's songs and went to work, composing "Sunny Girl" which was a big success, reaching the number one spot on the Swedish charts.

He said in an interview that it was a very important moment in his life because he realized right then and there he had the potential to be a songwriter. He figured that if he could write one hit single, he could write more. He is a very important part of the ABBA sound, sharing the composing duties with Björn, their different temperament being totally compatible. He always seemed to be the less visible member of the group and I remember not being very impressed with him back then, not knowing how essential his contribution to the group was. Now of course, I know otherwise and am amazed at his talent as a songwriter. When a man can come up with songs as beautiful as "Dancing Queen" and "Fernando", he deserves a hell of a lot of respect...



The most amazing element of the ABBA songs, in my very humble opinion, is their "perfection". Nowadays, with the proper perspective, every critic has to agree that any ABBA song has a perfect structure and is the absolute blueprint and template on how to create a pop song. They are so complex and rich but with one very important aspect: simplicity...

Benny believed that a perfect melody has to be as simple as possible and he is absolutely right. Take for instance "The winner takes it all" which was one of their monster hits. This song is amazing because, not only can we listen to it many times over without ever getting tired of it but mostly, the melody has a very powerful "hook" and yet, is extremely simple. But that simplicity has the power to reach a certain part of our brain and settle into our minds vividly, giving us a sense of euphoria that only beautiful music can do.

I remember being able to listen to any ABBA song over and over again as a child while being transported in some other dimension. Their melodies are powerful because of their very simplicity. But that is not to say making a pop record is easy. Simplicity is the most difficult thing to achieve as any songwriter knows. Benny and Björn had to spend countless hours working so the good notes would come to them. Björn said that it takes a long while to get rid of all the "rubbish" and free your mind to let the melodies come to you...

But at the same time, even if the melodies were "simple", they were recorded with complex arrangements considered very innovative for that era before the advent of computers and digital enhancements. Benny and Björn wanted to fill out every part of the musical spectrum on each of their songs. If you listen to their records and try to concentrate on singling out every sound and instrument, you will have a very hard time at first. Dissecting any ABBA song is no small feat. They used many different instruments and melodies, all intertwined in total harmony with the massive amounts of vocal arrangements, creating an extremely rich effect.

In 1999, a British theater company decided to create a musical entitled "Mamma Mia", incorporating no less than 27 ABBA hits such as "Dancing Queen", "Money, money, money", "Voulez-Vous" just to name a few. Benny and Björn worked a lot on the making of the show, getting involved in many aspect of the production but mainly, helping dissect their own compositions to help transpose them into a stage show format. And it was far from easy...

The thing is that they had never written any of their compositions and arrangements on paper. That's why a musical expert had to sit down, for months on end, and listen to all their songs over and over again so he could write down every part of it on music sheets. And it was a "Herculean" job to say the least. Björn helped a lot with the process but even he was sometimes amazed at how complex their songs really were. Layers after layers of melodies played by countless instruments on a multitude of tracks, not to mention the stupendous amount of different vocal arrangements.



Their career really started when they won the "Eurovision Contest" in 1974 with the song "Waterloo". At that point in history, this contest was probably the only way for a small Swedish group like ABBA to reach outside of their native country. But that victory only served as an introduction. It took them a full year and a half before enjoying success again, this time with "SOS" which was a top ten hit in England in 1975. From then on, they would enjoy countless hit singles for many years to come, completely dominating the 70's in terms of album sales in many countries. In Australia where they had their first big impact, the ABBA formation is still worshipped today like no other band on earth.

What has "marked" ABBA with a big cross from the standpoint of critics in the 1970's was the fact that they came on the scene in the age of Punk Rock. Every generation of youngster wants to rebel against the convention set by their elders and music certainly is a powerful way to do it. In the 70's, if a teenager wanted to look hip in front of his friends, he would listen to something like "The Sex Pistols" or "Led Zeppelin". Certainly not ABBA which had mainstream appeal written all over it...

I mean, their public was so broad, because of their catchy pop songs, that people of every age would buy their records. We're talking from the age of 5 to 95 here... Grand-parents could enjoy ABBA music just as much as their grand-kids and that probably caused the fact that ABBA, even at their prime, were considered extremely kitsch and tacky.

But they were so unhip in the 70's, completely out of the fashion of the time, that they went at their own pace, not worrying about having to keep up with some musical trend of the moment. They totally concentrated on making the best records they could. And this is precisely why their presence is so vivid today. They transcended many generations and became legendary, thus surviving in our culture unlike many other formations of that period.

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Even though they haven't recorded new material or set foot on a stage in over 18 years, they still are very much alive as an enduring pop phenomenon. As a matter of fact, the demand for ABBA items of any kinds is still so strong that they are the object of "fan conventions" (not unlike "Star Trek") where people who love them gather around and buy items of their favorite pop icon and exchange views on their idols.

And startingly enough, since the public can't see the real band on a stage, they settle for the next best thing. They attend, in very large numbers all over the world, concerts from a formation called "Björn Again", a contemporary group of four people with two girls singing and two guys playing instruments. "Björn Again" is a formation performing ABBA songs exclusively. It is mind-boggling when you think about it.

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After all, they are not ABBA and yet, can reap off the benefits of the group's tremendous fame by capitalizing on the fact that people will pay to see and hear ABBA in any way they can. Since the fans can't get the real people, in this case they settle for impersonators. And you would be stunned at the impressive crowds attending those concerts. When a group is still so popular that people will pay to see some look-alike on stage performing in their place, that's called fame on a huge scale.

But all of this is no mystery. And it all boils down to the fact that the whole body of work ABBA has created is nothing short of a masterpiece. Yes, the word is not too strong. A musician is very lucky when he sees even only one of his songs survive time and transcend generations. But when you see a formation like ABBA which has many songs being considered classics today, you have to respect their tremendous talent and amazing staying power. They are here to stay and will continue to conquer many future generation's hearts for a very long time to come.



I thought it could be fun for you to read about some of my favorite ABBA songs. And since they are always changing (depending on my moods), I didn't want to do a top ten format, with a number one spot and so on. All of those songs are number ones in my book and I love them all equally, each in their own distinctive way. Therefore, I placed them in no particular order.

And if a song is not here, it doesn't mean I don't like it. It is only because I had a limited amount of space and had to settle on just a few of them. I also included some songs which were not released as singles and therefore, never appeared on any "charts" on their own volition... So, without further due, here they are!



Whenever a DJ wants to "loosen up" a crowd in a gay bar and make them go crazy with wild abandon, he only has to put this record on. This is probably their biggest hit ever and is still the one song that epitomize the ABBA sound in its purest form. It was their only number one hit in the USA (they had trouble getting hits there, unlike everywhere else in the world) and still holds up well, even though the technology to create dance music is far superior today. But a strong melody will always win over.



I remember being totally fascinated with this track as a kid. It had such a catchy hook to it and still represent 70's music to me much better than any record from any other artist of that period. And since Frida is my favorite and has the lead here, I can't help but consider this one of my favorites. It was a monster hit for them, everywhere it played...



This song was on the "Voulez-Vous" album and wasn't even released as a single but I don't understand why frankly. Whenever I hear those three "Ha" vocals at the beginning of the song, I just melt. This melody has haunted me for a long time and still does. Definitely one of my very favorites, over such songs as monster hits like "Chiquitita" and "Money, money, money". Which is not to say that I don't like those last two but this one deserved a single release and I don't understand why it was never to be...



Another track which wasn't released as a single. I guess the record companies had so many potential hits to choose from on an ABBA album that they sometimes overlooked precious gems like this one. This is a very danceable tune and contains one of the best melodies ever in my opinion. Damn those two guys knew how to compose a catchy song!



No surprise here... This was the first song I ever heard from this quartet and I was instantly a fan. There is such a pure joy to this record that we can't help but we swept up into the whole fantasy of it... And the video clip still holds up well today.



I admit, this isn't one of their most recognized songs and it wasn't released as a single even though I wish it had. One of my favorite songs on the wonderful "Super Trouper" album (from 1980) which contains many other hits. Once again, Frida has the lead and she makes the most of it!



This track has a very powerful "mixed" emotional core which I think is the reason I love it so much. It seems very happy on the surface but when you listen closely, contains a sad undertone which had a tremendous impact on me as a kid. And it still moves me today even though my childhood years are long gone.



Another moving and emotionally-charged song. I know, the melody is once again very cheerful and happy but somehow, Benny and Björn were able to inject just enough sorrow into it to melt my heart. And it was also very nicely delivered by the "girls", with enough vocal arrangements to fill out 10 songs, all compacted into one record, making it sound very spacious and intricate.



This was released as a single after the tremendous success of "Waterloo", the song that won at the "Eurovision" contest. And, even though it was not a great success at that time, its luscious arrangements and powerful melody just got imprinted in my psyche. I discovered that song quite late, long after ABBA had split up. And I was amazed that such a great song wouldn't enjoy the success it deserved. But it just goes to show that the success of a particular musical creation doesn't only depend on its quality but rather, on the "timing" of its release. This song was caught at a bad time and didn't get the chance it deserved.



This song was actually written to be included on a Frida solo album but, due to the group's success, was incorporated into a greatest hit's album and went on to become one of their biggest hit. Frida has the lead here and sounds simply divine. And the melody has a powerful hook with a slight Spanish feel to it.



They are without a doubt the most talented band to ever come out of Sweden. And probably one of the most recognizable groups of the 1970's. But even more than that, they became one of the most successful formations of all times. And when you think about it, their accomplishments are amazing. They were the dark horse in the music world and somehow, defied all odds and became immortal icons, even though they originated from Sweden, a country not known for producing pop sensations.

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ABBA made its mark in music history as very few bands did and is still part of our consciousness, being heard everywhere around the world 18 years after they went their separate ways. And even though they had been crucified by the critics in their prime, they are finally paid their due respect by our comtemporary world which has included the formation as an indelible cultural pop icon of the twentieth century. Personally, I just love them to death.

Long live ABBA!