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ABCs OF ABBA

Mamma Mia, has Sweden's famous band left a legacy

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Can you hear the drums, Fernando?

A recent poll asked music fans to pick one band from yesteryear they would like to see reunite, most of all.

The group that came out on top -- edging out stalwarts like Pink Floyd, the Smiths and All Saints -- was ABBA.

It's been more than three decades since ABBA called it a "dag." But thanks to films like Mamma Mia -- and to tribute acts like ABBAsolutely FABBAulous, which appears at the Burton Cummings Theatre on Oct. 23 -- the quartet remains as beloved as ever.

Little wonder, says Winnipeg Coun. Thomas Steen, a native of Stockholm -- the European capital that foisted ABBA upon an unsuspecting public 41 years ago.

"I have to admit I was a fan," says Steen. "It was light, catchy music, which, the way it was produced, made a new sound that is still used today."

Steen says ABBA's global domination paved the way for Swedish acts like Avicii, and before them, Roxette and Ace of Base. But like a true politician, the ex-Jet plays no favourites when asked which ABBA tune he holds most dear.

"There were so many hits it's hard to pick just one."

With an eye towards Wednesday's The ABBA Show starring ABBAsolutely FABBAulous, we decided to take a closer look at ABBA. And since, alphabetically speaking, ABBA albums tend to front most people's CD shelves, we thought we'd profile the group, from A to Z.

Acronym: ABBA is an acronym, formed from the first letter of each member's given name: Agnetha F§ltskog, Bjrn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anna-Frida Lyngstad. Funnily enough, Sweden was already home to one Abba. A fish-canning company based in Gothenburg had been going by Abba for years, but the owners granted the band permission to use their tag. Billions: In 2000, an American-British consortium offered ABBA $1 billion to reunite for a world tour. "It's a hell of a lot of money to say no to, but we decided it wasn't for us," Andersson said.

Charts: Abba Charts is a website that tells you how big a seller ABBA was around the globe. Who could have guessed ABBA has had more No. 1 albums in Zimbabwe -- six -- than in the United States -- zero?

Does Your Mother Know: It's not your typical ABBA single. Lead vocals were handled by Ulvaeus. One critic was impressed: Donald A. Guarisco referred to the song's "macho feel" when he described the ditty as an "intriguing dance/rock hybrid."

Erasure: An English synth-pop duo. In 1992, the pair released Abba-esque, which contained covers of ABBA songs. The EP is widely credited for introducing ABBA to a new generation of fans.

Fontspace.com: A website where you can download reverse versions of letters, like the backwards B used in ABBA's famous logo. In 1976, while band members were posing for photos, each held up a placard bearing his/her first initial. On a lark, Ulvaeus flipped his card around.

Gracias Por la Mºsica: The Urban Dictionary defines "abba" as a verb, meaning "to phonetically sing the lyrics to a song written in a foreign language you don't understand."

Heavy Rotation: A book by Peter Terzian that asked writers to name one album that changed their lives. Pankaj Mishra chose Super Trouper because the record evoked a world far removed from his tiny, Indian village. "The truth is that ABBA still gives ample pleasure during bouts of drunken karaoke," Mishra writes. "I remember my 12-year-old self... and feel a twinge of gratitude for the Scandinavians who expanded, briefly but exhiliaratingly, our very limited possibilities of fun."

International Morse Code: ABBA turned to a highly-recognized distress signal for its 1975 single, SOS. Get this: SOS is the only song to chart in which the title and artist are both palindromes.

Joke: "I met a chap with a didgeridoo. He was playing Mamma Mia on it. I said, 'That's aboriginal.'"

KFSL: An oldies radio station on The Simpsons. The tag-line for KFSL Fossil Radio states that the station plays all the hits, "from ABBA to Zeppelin, comma, Led."

Let's Dance: David Bowie's hit was the No. 1 record in Sweden on June 13, 1983 -- a spot that was taken one day later by F§ltskog's Wrap Your Arms Around Me -- the first, post-ABBA solo album.

Muriel's Wedding: ABBA music has a starring role in Muriel's Wedding, a 1994 comedy. Muriel Heslop (Toni Collette) is so ga-ga for the group that at one point in the flick she states, "My life is as good as an ABBA song."

Napoleon Bonaparte: ABBA's breakout hit, Waterloo, is about a girl who surrenders herself to romance. The song's lyrics compare her feelings to Napoleon's state of mind at the Battle of Waterloo.

Opus 10: The title of an ABBA album that was shelved after the group broke up. On a fan site, one person writes, "Do we think judging by the tracks actually recorded... it would have turned out to be ABBA's greatest album?"

Podcast: There is an Internet station based in Russia that plays all ABBA, all the time. Not only do they spin songs made famous by the band, they also play cover versions, like the Chipmunks' Take a Chance On Me.

Queen Silvia: Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden, married Silvia Sommerlath in 1976. The night before their nupitals, ABBA performed Dancing Queen on Swedish television in a nod to the new monarch.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: ABBA entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. The honour didn't sit well with music fans who wondered what business ABBA had in the shrine. One critic opined, "I guess Neil Young was wrong. Rock and roll will die."

Sonya Lundstrom: President of the Swedish Cultural Association of Manitoba. Lundstrom and members of her association will "definitely" be making their way down to the Burt for The ABBA Show. "ABBA embodies traits important to Swedes: strong fashion and design sense, beauty enhanced by health and vitality, mixed in with a little sexiness, creativity and global thinking far ahead of their time."

Tribute bands: There is no shortage of ABBA tribute bands roaming the planet, including Abbacadabra and Bjorn Again. But our favourite, hands-down, is Gabba -- a London-based outfit that performs ABBA tunes in the style of the Ramones.

U2: During U2's Zoo TV tour, the Irish group regularly performed Dancing Queen as one of its encores. U2 played Stockholm June 10, 1992, at which time Ulvaeus and Andersson joined the band on-stage to sing the hit.

Vows: If you can believe TheTopTens.com, ABBA produced two of the 10 best wedding songs of all time: I Do I Do I Do I Do I Do (No. 5) and Slipping Through My Fingers (No. 6).

Wii: ABBA: You Can Dance is a 2011 video game developed for Wii. One online reviewer wrote, "Some people love ABBA, some people loathe them... but steadfast detesters... will be lying only to themselves if they refuse to tap their feet to infectious tunes like Voulez-Vous (and) Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!"

X Factor: The British version of The X Factor has hosted ABBA weeks twice, when contestants were required to sing ABBA and only ABBA. It turns out Ulvaeus isn't a fan. "I don't like the way a young person is standing there and is sometimes humiliated," Ulvaeus told a British reporter in 2010.

Yodeling: Switzerland may be more associated with yodeling than Sweden. But that didn't stop ABBA. People Need Love features F§ltskog and Lyngstad delivering their best yoda-lay-hee-hoos.

Zombies: On Oct. 28, 2010, NBC aired a Halloween-themed episode of Community. During the show, students from Greendale Community College attend a Halloween party, where they ingest tainted snacks that turn people into zombies. Meanwhile, ABBA tunes keeps everybody else on the dance floor. Said a TV critic, "It's got zombies, it's got ABBA; what more could you want?"

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 19, 2013 D12

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