The Rise of Swedish Music: ABBA's Rock and Disco


ABBA is the first group from a non-English-speaking country to achieve consistent success in the charts of English-speaking countries, including the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and on a lesser scale, the United States of America.

ABBA also enjoyed significant success in Latin American markets, and recorded a collection of their hit songs in Spanish. They became one of the most commercially successful acts in the history of popular music, topping the charts worldwide from 1974 to 1982.

ABBA formed in Stockholm in 1972 by Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad (Frida). They won the Eurovision Song Contest 1974 at The Dome in Brighton, UK, giving Sweden its first triumph in the contest, and are the most successful group ever to take part in the competition.

ABBA at Eurovision Song Contest, 1974
"Waterloo" was a song for the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. The song broke the "dramatic ballad" tradition of Eurovision by its flavour and rhythm, as well as by its performance. ABBA gave the audience something that had never been seen before in Eurovision: flashy costumes (including silver platform boots), plus a catchy uptempo song and even simple choreography. At that time, ABBA also broke from convention by singing the song in a language other than that of their home country.

Agnetha Fältskog
Andersson, Ulvaeus, and Stig Anderson (ABBA's manager) wrote the songs. Then, Andersson and Ulvaeus composed and played musical instruments for the songs. As lead vocals, Fältskog and Lyngstad also contributed ideas at the studio. The band created a basic rhythm track with a drummer, guitarist, bass player, and overlaid other arrangements and instruments. Vocals were then added, and orchestra overdubs were usually left until last.

Björn Ulvaeus
ABBA are considered as a pop group. But, influenced by the Beatles, in their early career ABBA originally play rock with the accompaniment of Andersson’s naughty tunes from his keyboard and piano. In 1976, ABBA made a disco song which became a worldwide hit, Dancing Queen. Hereafter, they made more hits with disco. They also combined disco with rock in Does Your Mother Know. Andersson’s aggresive tune from his synthesizer in the intro of Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) remain stuck in that era before Madonna use that melody in Hung Up (2005).

Benny Andersson
1970s was an era for rock. At that time, disco was unique. Because musicians who play disco have different sound and style from rock musicians. Along with the Bee Gees, ABBA marks the triumphant era of disco. 

Andersson and Ulvaeus expertise in arranging music, along with Fältskog and Lyngstad’s appeal in their hypnotized beauty and voice, are the keys to ABBA’ success in 1970’s music industry.

Anni-Frid Lyngstad
ABBA was widely noted for the colourful and trend-setting costumes its members wore. The reason for the wild costumes was Swedish tax law. The clothes could be deductible only if they could not be worn other than for performances.

During the band's active years, Fältskog-Ulvaeus and Lyngstad-Andersson were married.

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ROCK

Waterloo

Released 4 March 1974, "Waterloo" was a song for the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. The famous version of the song has a hard rock sound, omitting the saxophones (played by Christer Ecklund). At the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, "Waterloo" was played with simultaneous rock music and jazz beats.
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Bang-A-Boomerang

Released 21 April 1975, Bang-A-Boomerang lyrics compare the "message of love" with the returning boomerangs which the Australian Aborigines developed.
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SOS

Released in June 1975, "SOS" is unique among pop songs of the period, opening with unaccompanied classical keyboard in a subdued D-minor key. Unlike most ABBA tracks that preceded it, the vocal begins with an emotional solo performance by Fältskog. The descending chords and ominous Minimoog synthesizer melody line of the introduction set the tone for Fältskog’s vocals, sounding almost as if she were breaking down in tears. The song then transitions to a rock chorus in a major key, dominated by a distorted electric guitar and full vocals.
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Mamma Mia

Released in September 1975, "Mamma Mia" is the opening track on the group's third album, the self-titled ABBA. The song's name is derived from Italian, where it is an interjection used in situations of surprise, anguish, or excitement.

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DISCO

Dancing Queen

Released 15 August 1976, "Dancing Queen" is a Europop version of American disco music. As disco music dominated the US charts, the group decided to follow the trend, replicating the "Wall of Sound." The song alternates between "languid yet seductive verses" and a "dramatic chorus that ascends to heart-tugging high notes." It features keyboard lines by Andersson, which accentuate the melody's sophistication and classical complexity, while Ulvaeus and Andersson interlace many instrumental hooks in and out of the mix. Lyngstad and Fältskog's layered vocals have been noted for their dynamism.

Fältskog said: "It's often difficult to know what will be a hit. The exception was 'Dancing Queen.' We all knew it was going to be massive." Andersson agreed, calling it "one of those songs where you know during the sessions that it's going to be a smash hit."

The first International Standard Musical Work Code was assigned in 1995 to "Dancing Queen;" the code is T-000.000.001-0.
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Summer Night City

Released 6 September 1978, A 43-second ballad-style introduction to "Summer Night City" had been edited out to improve the overall quality, but nothing seemed to work. Allegedly, mixing the single took at least a week, far more than it took to mix any other track in ABBA's recording history. They felt something was wrong with the recording but couldn't put their finger on it. In the end, the song had an enormous amount of compression applied to it to give it a more "driving" sound.
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Voulez-Vous

Released 2 July 1979, a songwriting trip to the Bahamas saw the birth of Voulez-Vous melody, and the proximity to Miami made it convenient to recording the backing track at Criteria Studios with members of the disco group Foxy. Criteria Studios is where The Bee Gees made their disco-era records. "Voulez-Vous" is the only ABBA song to be recorded outside of Sweden, not including live recordings.
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Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)

Released 2 October 1979, Fältskog, as the narrator, weaves the image of a lonely young woman who longs for a romantic relationship and views her loneliness as a forbidding darkness of night, even drawing parallels to how the happy endings of movie stars are so different from her own existence.

The single version of this song, which was released in its full length of 4:48 everywhere else in the world, was released in the United States and Canada in an edited format, being just 3:36 in length. This was done by removing the first half of the opening instrumental, the first four of the eight bars of the instrumental bridge between the second and final chorus, and fading the song out early.