ABBA: 40 Years of Swedish Schlager!

ABBA take the stage in Brighton on the first step to a glittering career.
ABBA take the stage in Brighton on the first step to a glittering career.

6th April 1974, Brighton, United Kingdom and Katie Boyle is comparing her fourth Eurovision Song Contest. The Swedish entry is drawn more or less in the middle, a cute little number by a group called ABBA. The song is called ‘Waterloo’ and the conductor of their orchestra takes the role incredibly seriously in Napoleonic dress. These are the days before ‘douze points’, but with a total of 24 – six points ahead of its Italian rival and ten points ahead of the as yet to ‘Grease’ it up Olivia Newton-John, ABBA take home the crown and so begins a legacy of Swedish schlager pop that dominates the charts until their split in 1982.

In the UK with 9 number ones between 1974 and 1980 they are only surpassed by Westlife, Take That, The Shadows and The Beatles along with a handful of solo artists in the amount of chart toppers they have had. Unlike three of those groups, ABBA also has a much coveted American number 1 single to their name as well – topping the Billboard charts in 1976 with the iconic tune ‘Dancing Queen’. However whilst ABBA stopped producing new music in the early 1980s, it is not hard to see why the fortieth anniversary of their first success is the subject of so much comment. Whilst the two female members of ABBA pursued solo careers, Benny and Bjorn had success teaming up with Tim Rice for the musical ‘Chess’. Then there is the success of ‘Mamma Mia’ the stage play based entirely on ABBA songs which has run in the WestEnd since 1999, ran for eleven years on Broadway until 2013 and has also become a cult UK film since a premiere in 2008. ABBA undoubtedly lives on in the hearts and minds of many generations old and new.

Whilst ABBA may have drifted away from its Eurovision roots, Eurovision never really forgot ABBA. One could claim that Sweden’s victorious song in 1999 ‘Take Me To Your Heaven’ could have very easily been written and performed by the quartet themselves – as could a large number of other Swedish entries to have graced the Eurovision stage since. In addition, Europe voted ‘Waterloo’ as the ‘Best Ever Eurovision Winner’ in 2005 when it celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, and an amusing tribute to ABBA starring Rik Mayall formed a highly entertaining interval act in 2004 as seen below.

With hits that could be sung by most people at any family disco – ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Waterloo’, ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme’ to name but a few, ABBA has a truly lasting legacy in music. Whilst some may not approve of its gentle happy and extremely catchy melodies, they have stood the test of time. As mentioned earlier ABBA had 9 number 1 hits in the UK, and there are many more memorable ABBA songs in the public conciousness that simply didn’t get to No. 1. In a time where longevity of musical acts is very much a treasured thing, the legacy of ABBA still lives on – musicals, films, Eurovision, a 1999 Brit Awards tribute act and a Westlife cover – there has been no new material for thirty years but I can guarantee you whilst the songs of ABBA flicker in and out of the spotlight people maybe talking about this Swedish super-group even more in ten years time.