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- Posted on Mar 26th 2010 5:00PM by James Sullivan
Be that as it may, the double-dating quartet that gave the world 'Dancing Queen,' 'SOS' and the song that inspired a worldwide theatrical revival, 'Mamma Mia,' has a personal history that's a lot more intimate than the typical unshowered-dudes-in-vans tales of most rock bands. Like another pop phenomenon of the '70s, Fleetwood Mac, Abba featured two committed couples riding two roller coasters at once -- monogamy and the pop charts.
Abba originated when two young Swedish songwriters, Benny Andersson of the Hep Stars, a popular Merseybeat-style group, and Björn Ulvaeus, a member of a folk group called the Hootenany Singers, met at a party in 1966. The Hep Stars' successful run as Sweden's most popular band of the 1960s began to dim when the group ran into financial trouble trying to finance a film project in 1967.
Ulvaeus already had several songwriting credits with Andersson's band when the Hep Stars lurched toward a breakup in 1969. The two friends soon worked together on a song by Anni-Frid Lyngstad, a national talent-contest winner born in Norway. "Frida," the illegitimate daughter of a German soldier and a Norwegian mother who died at age 21, moved to Sweden as a child. Soon after meeting, Lyngstad and Andersson were engaged.
Meanwhile, Ulvaeus was becoming involved with another rising star, Agnetha Fältskog, who'd already had a No. 1 hit in Sweden. The foursome entered the 1973 Eurovision contest in Sweden as Björn, Benny, Agnetha & Frida, finishing third with the song 'Ring, Ring.'
A name change to Abba -- the initials of their first names -- helped the new group win the Eurovision competition the following year with Waterloo.' With Andersson and Ulvaeus's shimmering production proving apt for the budding disco era and their partners' girlish vocals translating well across international lines, the group quickly became international superstars, landing a dozen songs in the US Top 40 in five years.
Although Björn and Agnetha had been married since 1971, Benny and Frida didn't tie their own knot until 1978. By then, Björn and Agnetha were on the verge of separation. One of the group's last major hits, 'The Winner Takes It All,' is often assumed to be about their divorce, though Ulvaeus insisted it was fictionalized: "There wasn't a winner or a loser in our case," he said.
Two years later, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad announced their own divorce after three years of marriage. By the end of 1981, the two B's in Abba were both remarried. The group soldiered on, releasing its final studio album, 'The Visitors,' in 1982. Although the group never formally announced their breakup, they have not performed together as Abba since.
Frida had some solo success with the album 'Something's Going On,' produced by Phil Collins; she went on to marry a prince, who died in 1999. After the breakup of her own second marriage, Fältskog briefly lived with a man who claimed he'd been in love with her since seeing her on TV when he was six years old. She eventually took out a restraining order on him.
Meanwhile, Andersson and Ulvaeus moved into musical theater together, working on various adaptations of the 'Mamma Mia!' musical. All four members came together for the Swedish premiere of the film version of 'Mamma Mia!' in 2008.
Ulvaeus, who has suggested that he suffers from long-term memory loss, remembers enough about his time as a pop superstar to acknowledge the opposition to Abba's induction into the Rock Hall of Fame. "Critics suspected we weren't quite as serious as some other bands from the '70s," he said. Their music may not have been, but their private lives have been as serious as a heart attack.