THEY REALLY SHOULD have been called BABA if you think of it chronologically. Because the story of their enormous success didn't begin with any of the two A's but with a B: Björn Christian Ulvaeus was the one born first - on 25 April 1945. The there was an A: Anni-Frid Synni Lyngstad, born on 15 November the same year. A year, a month and a day later her fiancé Göran Bror Benny Andersson was born. And four years later, 5 April 1950, Agnetha Åse Fältskog, the baby of the group was born. But you couldn't expect Stikkan Anderson, who was smart enough to sign them to his record label at an early stage, would think of that when the phone calls started coming in requesting them to perform. At that time they were known as Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Frida, and that became tiresome for Stikkan to say many times a day. So he just took their initials and put them together and he had a group name for them - ABBA. And that was final. But not really, first he had to get permission from the large Swedish canned fish company with the same name. And just to make sure he had chosen the right name he let one of the evening papers conduct a survery among their readers and the name ABBA won with a landslide. And then it was really decided.
But let's begin from the start: Björn Christian Ulvaeus was born on 25 April 1945 in Gothenburg. His parents were hoping he would be born on his father's birthday 22 April and his mother went to hospital in the morning that day. But Björn kept them waiting for three more days. Nowadays he is much more punctual according to himself. When Björn was six years old the family moved to Västervik, a town that was to become very important for his musical career.
- What really made me interested in music was my cousin, Jon Ulfsäter, who also lived in Västervik. He was one year older than I, he had already been to England and was very fond of pop music. On Christmas day the year before my 13th birthday I spent a lot of time by the Ulfsäter's grand piano with Jon. We played together and I thought it was fantastic. When we came back home that evening I started nagging my parents: "I need something to play on!". Shortly there after his parents gave him a guitar.
- I learned how to play very quickly, because I enjoying it so much.
The following summer Björn went to England with his guitar. He realised that the fun of playing the guitar also was a great way to communicate with people. Where ever he went he found that he got new friends as soon as he started to play the guitar. When he got back home he started a skiffle group with his friend from school, Tony Rooth. Eventually the group was dissolved and he and Tony started a new group with two boys from another group; Hansi Schwartz and Johan Karlberg. That was how the Hootenanny Singers were formed. Björn's mother thought they were so good so she enrolled them in a talent competition on the radio. After several radio shows they got the chance to play on TV's new entertainment show "Plats På Scen" - and the Hootenanny Singers became famous.
IN THE MEAN TIME Benny was growing up in Vasastan in Stockholm, he was quite a handfull playing tricks on everyone around him. There were grass snakes in people's beds, broken windows etc. The only time he was calm was when he played the accordion, and luckily he did that quite a lot.
- I got an accordion when I was seven, says Benny. My grandfather and my father who both played taught me how to play and the three of us played together for years. We used to play at dances on Mjölkö outside of Vaxholm, it was so cool! The songs we played weren't exactly pop music, it was my grandfather's kind of music. When I came home from school one day when I was ten a piano was standing in my room. Talk about understanding parents! Since I already knew how to play the accordion it was easy for me to learn how to play the piano - and anything that is fun is so much easier to learn. And playing music was the best thing I knew.
- I didn't listen to music a lot back then, but I had one idol: Catherina Valente! I was around 11 when I saw a movie with her - "Du Bist Musik" and I fell for her. I think the soundtrack from that movie was the first record I ever bought. It sounds a bit corny today, but I was only 11. And soon enough, Elvis and the others came along and my taste in music changed.
Inspired by Elvis and other rock performers Benny started his own group called Elverkets Spelmanslag in Vällingby. In the group a girl named Christina was the singer. She became Benny's fiancé and they were blessed with two children. Their relationship didn't last, perhaps because at the time it was considered better if a pop idol didn't have a wife and family. Benny didn't dare to show off his fiancé and children in public. But the main reason was that Christina and Benny grew apart because they were so young when they became parents. They were only 17 years old. By that time big things had started happening in Benny's career. He became every teenage girl's idol when he was in Hep Stars. The other members of that group was Svenne Hedlund, Lennart Hegland, Janne Frisk and Christer Pettersson. Benny played the organ and wrote most of the songs for the group.
Hep Stars and The Hootenanny Singers were two of the most popular groups in the country at the same time. They checked each other out from a distance and kept track of each others successes. And one day they met. Benny and Björn tells:
- It was on a dirt road close to a folk park in Västergötland. None of us will ever forget that meeting, which would come to mean so much for us in the future.
- We in the Hootenanny Singers did our last gig before we were going to do our military service and we were going to have one last party after the show. We were standing there on that road next to our car when a big Thunderbird drew up to us. It was Hep Stars!, says Björn.
- We said hello, thought it was great that we finally met and we from Hep Stars got invited to the after party that the Hootenanny Singers were planning later that evening. Unfortunately we mistook the name of the town, Linköping - we went to Lidköping. We searched everywhere for Hootenanny Singers but couldn't find them. Eventually we decided to try and go to Linköping instead. We found them, but when we arrived it was 3:30 in the morning and the party was over. But we took our instruments out and started jamming together. Björn and I made a really good connection, says Benny.
- The next time we met, Björn continues, was at a party in Västervik. In the middle of the night Benny and I got the idea that we should write a song together. The only problem was we didn't have any place to go where we could write it. I came up with the idea of using my father's office at the paper mill in Västervik. We got there and carried our instruments up a lot of stairs and sat down and wrote until the morning. The song that came out of it was "Isn't It Easy To Say" which Hep Stars recorded.
TODAY BJÖRN AND BENNY have lost track of how many songs they have written together. It's somewhere around 80 songs. The first international succes came with "She's My Kind Of Girl" three years ago. It went to number one in Japan. The same year was "People Need Love" released and went to number 1 on Tio I Topp. The year after came "He Is Your Brother" and "Ring Ring" which was a huge success in most parts of the world. In the spring of 1974 came "Waterloo" and with it world fame for ABBA. A success we never would have achieved without the girls, says Björn and Benny.
FRIDA IS THE first girl! She was born in the small village of Björkåsen in Ballangen, around 30 kilometres from Narvik. It was on 15 November 1945, the peace year. She was called Anni-Frid Synni Lyngstad. Synni after her mother, who she does not remember:
- I have never known my mother or my father. My father died when I was just born and my mother died when I was two years old. She was 21 at the time. She was beautiful and had a good singing voice, that's about all I know about her. When I was younger I thought alot about parents who I never got to know and love. Today I'm over it, I think... Maybe I will never really get over it. I have a tendency to brood over things. Maybe it comes from my situation as a child. Frida grew up with her grandmother in Torshälla.
- I sang all the time when I was a kid, she remembers. I was a member of the school choir and I got to sing a lot of the solos. My first public appearance was at a Red Cross market in Torshälla. I sang "Fjorton År Tror Jag Visst Att Jag Var", but in reality I was only nine years old. And very pretty, at least I thought so, in my Norwegian national dress. I can still remember that dress in detail. It was bright red with embrodiered flowers everywhere. My mother's sister had made it for me.
ANNI-FRID WAS ONLY 17 when she had her first child, Hans. The father's name was Ragnar Fredriksson and he was a furniture dealer and part time musician. They led a happy family life in a villa in Eskilstuna. Three nights a week they played together in their band "Anni-Frid Four". Five years later they had another child, Lise-Lott.
On 3 September 1967 Frida travelled from Eskilstuna to Stockholm to participate in "Nya Ansikten" a talentshow at Skansen. It was the day when Sweden changed traffic from driving on the left side to driving on the right side of the roads. It also became the day when Anni-Frid Lyngstad became a household name in Sweden. After winning the competition, the conferencier Lasse Holmquist asked Anni-Frid:
- What are you going to do tonight?
- Going home to Eskilstuna and go to sleep, said the tired Frida.
- No, that's out of the question. You're going to be on TV on "Hylands Hörna". There's a car over there waiting for you, said Lasse Holmquist.
At home in Eskilstuna Frida's family were watching TV when suddenly Frida appeared on the screen. She sang the song she won the competition with "En Ledig Dag". She got a lot of applause and praise after her performance. Frida was 23 and had finally gotten her breakthrough - after 10 years of hard work. She started singing professionally at 13!
THINGS STARTED EVEN earlier for Agnetha, the baby of the group! Agnetha Åse Fältskog was born on 5 April 1950 in Jönköping, where her father was a famous cabaret perfomer.
- I have felt the need to express myself with music my whole life, says Agnetha. We didn't have a piano when I was little, but I used to go upstairs to our neighbour and play on theirs. When I was five I wrote my first song. It was called "Två Små Troll" and it was, of course, very childish. The same year I did my first public appearance. It was some sort of a charity gala and there were lots of people there. I was five and had a very short dress. I sang "Billy Boy" and during the song the elastic band in my underpants broke and the pants started falling down to the floor.
AGNETHA CONTINUED TO write music and when she was 18 she got a recording contract and recorded her first song "Jag Var Så Kär". It was quickly followed by "Utan Dej" and "Om Tårar Vore Guld". Since then Agnetha has released five more albums, with mainly her own material. Right now she's in the middle of recording her sixth album.
- It's fantastic, she says. Bosse Carlgren has written the lyrics, Janne Schaffer is the arranger and I have written the songs and I'm also the producer of the album. One song on the new album is called "Visa i Åttonde Månaden" it's sort of a lullaby for Linda.
- I still have this huge need to write music, but nowadays it's harder. I have to work more to get them out. Earlier it was much easer, I could compose anywhere, on tour, walking in the city. But nowadays it's much harder. I guess I'm getting more critical of myself.
WHAT ABOUT ABBA's private life? Well, it's understandably something they try to keep private. But here's a little of what they told us:
- Benny is the best thing that has happened to me, says Frida. We met when I was so lonely and about to give up. I had left Eskilstuna to persue my career. My two children stayed with their father where they were happy. Our divorce was a very friendly one, we agreed. But of course I missed the security.
- We met at Kockska Krogen in Malmö. Björn and I came there to eat. She was there with Charlie Norman who she worked with at that time. We hit it off straight away. Afterwards, Frida and Charlie came back to our hotel. We drank coffee and Aalborg and talked until 7:00 the next morning. Later that summer we got engaged. We will get married when we have the time.
- I had seen Agnetha on TV a couple of times and I thought it was really cool with a girl who wrote her own material - it's not so common. Then we met on Västkusten in TV-show where we both performed. It was a show with Jules Sylvain songs. I thought she was even prettier in person...
- I liked Björn from the start. He was so cute, he came up to me and warmed my hands when I was standing on the bridge together with Agnetha Munther. We were waiting for our turn and it was freezing outside, says Agnetha.
ABOUT THE FUTURE Björn and Benny say:
- We have to cut down on the touring. The tempo has been way to high lately. We will have to focus on recording albums and making TV.
About the success all four members say:
- We think it has come because the group started so naturally: Björn and Benny met, they liked each other and started working together. Benny met Frida, Björn met Agnetha. The girls started to "help out" with the singing. We realized that we work great together - we like to be together and make music together. That's how simple it is.
VeckoRevyn 6 August 1975