x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Required reading: Those super troupers Abba

How did Abba come to exert such a remarkable influence on popular culture? And what was it like dancing in those platform shoes?

The Complete Abba has all you need to know about the Swedish legends.
The Complete Abba has all you need to know about the Swedish legends.

After a 25-year hiatus, Agnetha Fältskog – yes, the blonde one from Abba – is releasing her first album of new material today. Expect a duet with Gary Barlow and songs by the writing team that works for Britney Spears.

As any Abba fan will tell you, the famously reclusive Agnetha withdrew from public view when Abba split in 1982 and – bar a low-key release of a covers album in 2004 – has not been seen since.

Now, she’s back with a new album, simply titled A, and has given her first set of interviews for 30 years.

So how did Abba come to exert such a remarkable influence on popular culture? And what was it like dancing in those platform shoes? Time to hit the books.

Turn to the definitive The Complete Abba (Titan Books, Dh88) for an overview of the band’s story, from formation in Stockholm in 1972 to their split more than a decade later. Their breakthrough came when they won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo. But for most fans, the musical high watermark came later: The Winner Takes it All, anyone? Or Lay All Your Love on Me?

But as the Abba machine rolled on, worldwide fame took its toll on the two relationships at the heart of the band: Agnetha’s marriage to Björn Ulvaeus, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad’s marriage to Benny Andersson. Read Bright Lights, Dark Shadows: The Real Story of Abba (Omnibus Press, Dh76) for the inside story, and learn how both couples divorced, although the band continued to function after those traumas. The Winner Takes it All is widely thought to be Björn’s tribute-in-song to his dying marriage, though both Fältskog and Ulvaeus deny it.

For years after their split, Abba lay – like so many other 1970s glam pop outfits – largely forgotten. Then something happened. Turn to Mamma Mia! How Can I Resist You? (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Dh118) to remember just what that thing was. The smash hit stage musical, which premiered in 1999, has grossed US$2 billion (Dh7.34bn) worldwide since then, and created a new generation of devotees.

Meanwhile, Agnetha and co are said to have turned down $1bn to play a 100-date reunion tour. Still: thank you for the music, guys.

artslife@thenational.ae

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