Blonde Goddess from ABBA
Agnetha Åse Fältskog (born 5 April 1950) is one of the most enigmatic pop stars, and she prefers it that way. She also is as well known throughout the world as any of today's one-name pop stars, though she is not as well known in the States. As one of the "A's" in legendary Swedish rock group ABBA, Agnetha remains a worldwide celebrity to this day, one of the true greats.
|Frida and Agnetha.|
There is a lot more to Agnetha Faltskog than ABBA, though, so let's learn a little more about this Swedish superstar.
Agnetha was born in Jönköping, Småland, Sweden on 5 April 1950. Her father was a department store manager who loved music and show business. Both Agnetha's mother and father lived into the mid-1990s and thus enjoyed their daughter's success.
Agnetha first began singing with friends at age nine. She and two friends called themselves the Cambers. They had a few local gigs.
Agnetha left school at age 15 to pursue a musical career.
Faltskog's first job was as a switchboard operator at a car firm. She sometimes sang with a local band, and eventually quit the operator job.
The local band was simply known as the Bernt Enghardt band. Enghardt sent some demo tapes to a friend who had connections at Cupol Records. The friend, Karl Gerhard Lundkvist, liked Agnetha and signed her to a recording contract with CBS Records.
Much like Taylor Swift decades later, Agnetha began writing about her break-ups. She recorded her own song "Jag var så kär" ("I Was So in Love") and released it. The song became a huge hit in Sweden, hitting No. 1 on 28 January 1968 and selling over 80k copies.
Agnetha had big dreams, and submitted her recording of "Försonade" ("Reconciled") to Melodifestivalen, the Swedish contest for entry to the Eurovision Song Contest. The song was not selected.
During 1968, the issue of Gypsies was much in the news in Sweden (just as migrants became an issue in 2015). Agnetha somewhat opportunistically released a song about gypsy love called "Zigenarvän" ("Gypsy Friend"). It caused some snickers as being "ripped out of the headlines," but was another hit.
Agnetha was having a lot of success in Sweden, but she wanted to become successful throughout Europe. She began dating a German record producer, Dieter Zimmerman, but when he was unable to get a record contract there, she dumped him. In those years, Agnetha was quite ambitious. Hey... he had her for a while.
Agnetha continued releasing material in Sweden. In 1970, she released "Om tårar vore guld" ("If Tears Were Gold"), which became a huge hit. However, her success was still largely limited to Sweden and the adjacent Nordic countries.
Agnetha knew a local folk-rock singer, Björn Ulvaeus, and eventually began dating him. Bjorn sang and played with the Hootenanny Singers. The Hootenanny group was successful in its own right, and in the early days of ABBA, Bjorn would pose holding his gold records from that group along with the others holding ABBA awards, which made the group look much more successful.
Bjorn had written songs and played with Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Benny Andersson, who were kind of an on-again and off-again couple. Agnetha married Bjorn on 6 July 1971, with Benny playing the organ at their wedding. Anni-Frid and Benny also married, but only many years later.
The four friends hung out together. They took a vacation together to Cyprus and began singing for some bemused UN soldiers hanging out casually on a beach. You know, just a bunch of tourists having a spot of fun. If only they had known....
Ulvaeus and Andersson were busy writing songs together. Agnetha, of course, also wrote much of her own material. At one point, long before ABBA, she even half-jokingly (maybe?) told a magazine that she was a better songwriter than Bjorn. Eventually, Bjorn and Andersson used their songs to create an album ("Lycka"), and Agnetha and Frida (as Ani-Frid became known) sang some vocals on it. It was the start of their mutual collaboration.
Agnetha and Frida began to sing together as a cabaret act, and a song written for them by Bjorn and Andersson - "Hej, gamle man" ("Hello, Old Man") - proved popular in their act. They recorded it, and it hit No. 5 on the charts. Obviously, their voices worked well together.
Agnetha, of course, had done better than that on her own. However, it was still a good start for a casual, friendship, family kind of deal. A lot about music is how the artists get along - so many great groups rely on that personal chemistry, and when it is there it is magic. Of course, when it disappears, that's another story.
The guys continued writing songs together, and the two girls chipped in with some vocals.
|Agnetha with Stig.|
Their friend, producer Stig Andersson, encouraged the two guys to write, and some of their songs became minor hits overseas as recorded by other performers. Stig was one of those flashy, hail-fellow-well-met types who didn't let anything get in his way. It's a little unclear how the four future members of ABBA actually teamed up, but Stig probably had something to do with it.
"People Need Love" was the first song that the four future members of ABBA recorded together and that achieved real success. It only hit No. 17 on the Swedish charts, and also had some very minor success in the United States.
Agnetha and the others decided to record an album together. They also decided (at Stig's urging) to try Melodifestivalen again, though none of them had ever had any success with it. They submitted "Ring Ring," which didn't make the Eurovision Song Contest, but at least came in third at Melodifestivalen.
During this time, Agnetha was busy on her own separate project: on 23 February 1973, she gave birth to Linda Elin Ulvaeus.
Stig came up with the name (actually an acronym of the band's first names) "ABBA" in 1973. The band chose this despite a contest in Swedish newspapers to choose the band's name, with none of the suggestions being "ABBA."
Encouraged by its modest success at the 1973 Melodifestivalen contest, the band decided to enter the 1974 contest. They had many choices, but ultimately chose "Waterloo" because it was fun and upbeat.
ABBA won Melodifestivalen with "Waterloo," and went on to the Eurovision contest in the dome at Brighton, England. Expectations were low, because no Swedish act had won the contest since its inception in the '50s.
"Waterloo" proved immensely popular and the performance by the group was flawless. ABBA won the 1974 Eurovision contest. "Waterloo" since has been voted time and again the best song in the entire contest's existence, and few would disagree.
ABBA still had to make its breakthrough in terms of international sales. After some stumbles, it did so in 1975 with "SOS." Agnetha sang lead vocals on the song, which catapulted the group into global celebrity.
From then on, ABBA was unstoppable. It topped the charts for the remainder of the '70s throughout the world. The only place where ABBA had only indifferent success was the United States, but the group was so popular elsewhere that it didn't really matter. The States in the '70s were not very welcoming to foreign acts, and it was hard for Europeans to crack the code of either urban disco or heavy metal that ruled the charts. ABBA's "Dancing Queen" was their only No. 1 single in the States. Somewhat incredibly, not a single ABBA album ever cracked the top ten on the US Billboard album chart throughout the band's existence, continuing to the present day.
ABBA has sold somewhere in the vicinity of 400 million records and are said to be the second-most-popular pop group in history, second only to The Beatles. They continue to do well today - the "Dancing Queen" video has well over 100 million youtube hits and climbing.
Agnetha gave birth to Peter Christian Ulvaeus on 4 December 1977.
Now the mother of two young children, Agnetha began disliking many of the inconveniences of being in a rock group, such as being away from home so much. She had worked the hardest at selling the group in its early days - just watch her early performances of "Waterloo" and "SOS" - but as the '70s dragged on, Agnetha began limiting her willingness to perform and withdrew into herself. The group had to cancel a concert or two because Agnetha had issues, though the band is justly proud of rarely cancelling. Rumors arose that Agnetha was "difficult." Bjorn, on the other hand, loved performing and promoting the group and worked increasingly hard on selling the group and writing more hits. There are rumors pinning the real problem on both parties, and isn't that so often the case. In any event, interaction within the group became cold, and then minimal, and ultimately virtually nonexistent, at least between some of the members. Group members who once sat next to each other no longer did.
Things came to a head in 1978. Agnetha and Bjorn basically broke up that summer, but Agnetha promised to stay together through Christmas, perhaps for the sake of the children. She kept her promise - she left for good that night.
ABBA songs gradually became more wistful, some would say sadder, as in "The Winner Takes It All." It is a song about regret and forlorn hope about a breakup, and its original demo title had been "The Story of My Life." Agnetha herself, after years of adamant denials that it wasn't about her own breakup, fairly recently said simply, "You'll have to ask Bjorn." In truth, there had been an edge to ABBA's music going all the way back to "SOS." While able to be joyful as appropriate, Agnetha's expression in videos increasingly became a frown, as if she were carrying a great weight and about to cry. The group's popularity, however, remained strong, increasingly led by Agnetha's soaring vocals.
The group ran its course by the early 1980s, as all things do, and basically disbanded around 1983 (though never formally). Some again would point to the disharmony within the group for its ending, but times had changed and their final few singles had weak sales. It is extremely difficult to look at some of ABBA's later music videos - which they helped to make an art form long before MTV - and not read into them signs of their internal situation, but the quality of the material remained strong to the end.
Agnetha resumed her solo career, which she had continued even during ABBA, and had good success in Sweden - where she always will be a national treasure - but only middling success elsewhere. Finally, she gave it up by 1988. Agnetha later mentioned that it was tough for her around that time because her daughter was in her difficult teen years. Everyone would agree that she deserved a break.
Agnetha retired to Eckerö, her private island outside of Stockholm. She married a doctor, but divorced him after a couple of years. She dated a Belgian forklift driver, then discarded him, then sought an order of protection against him. Agnetha became known as a recluse, perhaps a bit eccentric, and there were persistent rumors - wildly overblown, it seems, but who knows - that she was troubled, depressed, isolated. Fan sightings, though, sometimes turned into impromptu conversations with the elusive star.
Agnetha overcame the doubters and had more surprises in store. In 2004, she unexpectedly returned to the music scene and released a new album, "My Colouring Book," which contained new renditions of 1960s songs. It was a big hit - not ABBA style success, but excellent for someone long thought lost to the music world forever.
Agnetha made some appearances with the other members of ABBA in following years. The "Mamma Mia" musical and film revived interest in the band, which truthfully had never died. Agnetha recently has said that she would be fine with a reunion of the group, but the others appear to be against it - and one or two may secretly resent Agnetha's sudden (and public) willingness after many years when she apparently was the obstacle to any reunion. There are many hard feelings within the group, because both couples had bad divorces and have since remarried - though Agnetha herself remains single now.
Agnetha released another album, "A," in 2013. She did a lot more publicity for this than she had previously, and it was even more successful than "My Colouring Book." Word is that "A" sold around a million copies worldwide, which is a great success indeed, but that has not been verified.
Agnetha Faltskog continues to receive worldwide publicity for her rare public appearance, which now occasionally even include some live performances for specific purposes. There is every likelihood that she will release more music for her fans around the world, but you never know when: Agnetha always operates on her own timetable.
Agnetha remains active in the music scene. There are always rumors of a ABBA reunion. The rumors are not far-fetched - Agnetha and Frida have both performed fairly recently and done well, showing no deterioration of their vocal talents. They both have given broad hints that they would at least consider it - and the amounts of money being bruited about would make it worth anyone's while.
The two guys, Bjorn and Benny, while also still active, are big music industry tycoons now and not keen to reunite. In fact, they seem to think the mere idea ridiculous, something that would sully the group's legendary reputation. Still, the possibility exists. Even many of the same studio musicians the group used in the 1980s remain working for Bjorn and Benny in Stockholm. Theoretically, the group could go in the studio and resurrect the entire operation (except the studio itself, which is gone). It would be identical to when they last recorded in 1982. Exactly the same, except that they are older. But so what? They still are in great shape. They would sound the same, perhaps with some old and some new material. It would be epic.
But, alas, it's been denied so often that any revival is an extreme long shot. However, there also have been hints that Agnetha and Frida themselves may just record together, not necessarily with live performances but perhaps some studio work. It would not be ABBA, but it would be as close as we'll ever get. Maybe the guys will come around eventually. But, in any event, thank you for the music.
What a winning smile!
UPDATE JUNE 2016For the group's 50's anniversary, all four members reunited at the Berns Salonger hotel in downtown Stockholm on Sunday, 5 June 2016.
The group has appeared together twice together in public so far in 2016 - for the opening of Bjorn's "Mamma Mia! The Party" in Stockholm in January. Agnetha in particular looked fabulous.
Not a lot is known about this event - whether they sang or just reminisced or whatever it was that they did. But, naturally, ABBA fans are very excited. It just seems as though the stars are aligning for something new - and it's about time.