Sunday, January 12, 2014

ABBA and the price of fame

Bright Lights Dark Shadows: The Real Story of ABBA by Carl Magnus Palm (2009)

I'm an ABBA fan!  (Yes, I'll admit it.)  I started listening to them back in the 70s when I was a teenager.  My brother Wayne and I had several of their long-playing 33 rpm albums and 45 rpm singles in our record collection.  (No, they didn't have CDs back then.)  So I was really excited when I recently came across a serious biography of the the pop-music group.

ABBA was a popular music group formed in Stockholm, Sweden in 1972 which comprised Agnetha Faltskog (A, high soprano vocals, married/divorced to Bjorn), Bjorn Ulvaeus (B, guitar, vocals, composer, producer, married/divorced to Agnetha), Benny Andersson (B, keyboard, vocals, composer, producer, married/divorced to Anni-Frid), and Anni-Frid Lyngstad (A, low soprano vocals, married/divorced to Benny).  Managed by Stig Anderson under the Polar Music label, they became one of the most commercially successful music groups in the history of popular music selling well over 381 million albums and singles worldwide and have been inducted into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame.  Their record sales and popularity are right up there with Elvis Presley and the Beatles.  
Their success made each of the ABBA members quite wealthy and their manger, Stig Anderson, the wealthiest man in Sweden.  At one time, worldwide earnings from ABBA made up a significant portion of the Swedish GNP (exceeded only by Volvo). 

Here's few interesting things I learned:
  • Agnetha (A) is actually extremely introverted and private, was never comfortable performing in public, touring, or being in the public eye, and has more-or-less shunned the limelight since the group broke up in the early 80s.  She was also a very doting mother to her two children, hating leaving them to do appearances, and has never emotionally recovered from her divorce with Bjorn.
  • Bjorn (B) is actually a brilliant composer and lyricist and wrote most of the lyrics to ABBA's songs.  He and Benny have been song writing partners since the 60s. He is also an avowed atheist.
  • Benny (B) is also a brilliant composer but not very good with lyrics.  He and Bjorn are right up there with Lennon and McCartney in their music composing abilities and successes.  His first instrument was the accordion.  He also became a father when he was a teenager, and left his wife and two children to pursue a music career.
  • Anni-Frid (A) was actually from Norway and was the illegitimate daughter of a German soldier and a Norwegian teenage girl.  Her grandmother brought her to Sweden to raise her because of extreme prejudice in Norway.  Anni-Frid also became a mother when she was a teenager, and like Benny left her husband and two children in her early twenties to pursue a music career.  Later on in life, her daughter was tragically killed in a car accident in New York in 1998, and her third husband, Prince Heinrich Reuss, died of cancer in 1999.
  • Stig Anderson like Anni-Frid came from a very poor, single parent background and through hard work and determination built a successful music business.  Like Bjorn, he was also a talented lyricist and helped write the lyrics to several of ABBA's biggest hits including Waterloo.  Unfortunately, he also was quite abrasive, a cheapskate, a workaholic, and an alcoholic.  After the breakup of ABBA, there was a falling out between Stig and the ABBA members due to financial improprieties.          
The book details how popularity and profit has their price and how their lives epitomize the old saying, "be careful of what you wish might just come true." 

Here are a few links to some of my favorite ABBA hits:

Waterloo (this won the Eurovision song contest and catapulted ABBA to super-stardom), Bang-A-Boomerang, Dancing Queen, Fernando, Knowing Me Knowing You (written by Bjorn after Agnetha and the kids moved out of the mansion),  Take a Chance on Me,  The Winner Takes It All (Agnetha's favorite, written by Bjorn after the divorce), Cassandra (see my essay The Cassandra Complex),  The Day Before You Came (ABBA's last recording)

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