Number One at Last!

Thirty-four years after they first charted and over a quarter of a century after they broke up, ABBA scores their first Number One Album in the United States as ABBA Gold makes the biggest gain of any album on the Billboard Charts and climbs from #6 to #1 on the Top Catalog Albums Chart in its 443rd week.

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ABBA Gold has sold over 26 Million Copies Worldwide

First released in 1992 at the height of an ABBA revival that saw U2 cover ABBA's Greatest Hit Dancing Queen at every stop on their Zoo Tour, ABBA Gold only reached #63 on the album charts, but it has remained a chart staple ever since, being certified as six times platinum by the RIAA.

ABBA's music has long been described as "timeless" and "multi-generational." Back in the 1970's, unlike any other musical act, it was common for entire families to attend ABBA concerts--wives, husbands, daughters and sons; grandparents and grandchildren, aunts and uncles, boyfriends and girlfriends. This multi-generational appeal of ABBA's music has continued over the years as children who grew up with ABBA as the soundtrack of their lives have passed ABBA's music down to children of their own.

And so the built-in audience had already been created by the time Mamma Mia! opened in London and Broadway in 1999 and 2001. And this week, more history is being made as the Original Soundtrack to Mamma Mia! The Movie is the greatest gainer on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart and climbs from #7 to #3 in its second week of release.

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Number 3 and Skyrocketing Up the Charts

While the stage version of Mamma Mia! has kept theater-goers dancing in the aisles for a decade now with it's simple story, sequinned and satin costumes, and quirky and often hilarious choreography, the major appeal has always been the nostalgic performances of the ABBA classics which the story weaves around. The conversion to a motion picture lost some of that stage charm in translation, however for the first time, Meryl Streep and company have gained performance value which equals the star power of ABBA's music.

That being said, Mamma Mia! The Movie is NOT high art. The movie is not Oscar material. The movie is not an example of brilliant writing or choreography or dancing or cinematography. But what Mamma Mia! achieves that no movie has ever achieved is a pure two hours of unadulterated joy, fun, exuberance and escapism--which ultimately is what you get when you listen to ABBA's music.

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ABBA in 1977

It is no surprise to those of us that have grown up with ABBA's music why their music has endured. To this day, when Dancing Queen is played in any club, the dance floor becomes packed. To this day, when Dancing Queen is played on the radio, those in restaurants, in cars, in shopping malls all start grinning and tapping their feet and start to hum or even sing along.

As newspaper columnists around the world are compiling lists of interesting ABBA facts, I figured I would be no exception. So here are some interesting facts about ABBA that you might not have known or read before:

1) Burt Ward, who played Robin on the original Batman television series, was the first President of the ABBA Fan Club in the United States.

2) ABBA was already a well-established brand of canned herring in Sweden when the idea of combining the first letters of each of the band members' names was tossed around, and the group actually had to get permission from the fish-canning company before they could use the name.

3) It is often reported that Dancing Queen is ABBA's greatest worldwide hit, and it is true that Dancing Queen achieved the greatest chart success worldwide in terms of rankings; but Fernando actually sold more copies as a single than Dancing Queen worldwide and was #1 on the Australian Charts for a staggering 16 Weeks.

4) Further, Take A Chance On Me sold more copies in the United States than Dancing Queen, and because of greater longevity in the Top 10 than Dancing Queen on the U.S. Charts, Take A Chance On Me was actually a bigger chart hit than Dancing Queen, even though it only reached #3.

5) Further, Dancing Queen was #1 on the Billboard Top 100 for one week back in 1977, but Dancing Queen was not ABBA's sole U.S. Number One Hit. Both Fernando and The Winner Takes It All were #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart for two weeks. And the medley of Lay All Your Love On Me/Super Trouper/On and On and On was #1 on the Billboard Dance Chart for two weeks.

6) A palindrome is a word or phrase that is a mirror image of itself when it is read forwards and backwards. SOS is the only palindrome song title by the only plaindrome artist ever to hit any worldwide chart.

7) Back in the days of the Cold War, eastern European countries had a hard time generating cash to pay for any consumable goods, let alone record albums. So Poland actually traded crude oil for ABBA albums in order to meet the demand for ABBA albums in that country.

8) Lasse Hallström, the Award Winning Director of such films as The Cider House Rules, actually got his start directing ABBA's music videos. MTV did not go on the air until 1980. The music videos that ABBA produced were cutting edge for the time. Because the demands for ABBA appearances and interviews around the world were so great, ABBA decided to produce "promotional films" for each of their new singles along with taped interviews that they could send to every media market around the world in lieu of their appearance. In this fashion, ABBA actually "appeared" on the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Labor Day Telethon in 1979, and performed their hit Does Your Mother Know.

9) Almost everyone knows of the superstar collaborations of Band-Aid and Do They Know It's Christmas and USA for Africa and We Are the World. But before these great collaborations to raise money for starving children in Africa, ABBA performed at the United Nations in New York in January, 1979 along with Olivia Newton-John, Donna Summer, The Bee Gees, Earth Wind and Fire, Gilda Radner, Andy Gibb, Kris Kristofferson and others in a Concert for UNICEF. All participating artists recorded a song and donated its royalties in perpetuity to UNICEF as a fundraising gift for then and for the future. ABBA's contribution was the song Chiquitita, which was a worldwide #1 hit in Spanish speaking countries, and indeed, ABBA recorded a version of Chiquitita in Spanish. To this day, Chiquitita is generating more revenue for UNICEF than any other artist's contribution. And when you go see Mamma Mia! on stage, or at the movies or buy a copy of ABBA Gold, a portion of the revenue is contributed to UNICEF because of the inclusion of Chiquitita in those works.

10) It is often reported that ABBA wasn't critically respected at the time by their peers. While this is certainly true of most music critics of the time, nothing could have been further from the truth. When SOS came out none other than Pete Townsend of The Who proclaimed that "SOS was the greatest pop rock song ever written." Saturday Night Live has always been known for showcasing cutting edge rock artists. ABBA appeared on the fifth episode of SNL in its very first season and performed SOS. John Lennon said the same thing of Knowing Me, Knowing You that Pete Townsend said about SOS. Additionally, ABBA was always on the cutting edge of recording technology. In 1979, ABBA's own recording studio, Polar Music Studio, opened in Stockholm. The first recording act to record an album at ABBA's new studio was Led Zeppelin. That's right. In Through the Out Door was recorded at Polar Music Studio. And finally, in 1982 when ABBA released The Singles: The First Ten Years, giving all of us hope at the time that there would be a second ten years of ABBA music, Rolling Stone gave the greatest hits compilation a glowing five-star review.

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ABBA in 2004

It's been a long wait for ABBA's first number one album in America! And after 34 long years, it's evident that ABBA has finally arrived and have been embraced wholeheartedly by the only worldwide market that ABBA never completely conquered.

Tell me, are you an ABBA fan? And if so, have you always said you were or have you only enjoyed ABBA as a guilty pleasure in secret from your friends and families? We all have ABBA stories to tell, and I want to hear yours.

Note: If you liked this post, please vote for it on Yearblook.

Thanks for reading.

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26 comments:

Artster63 said...

I've got to admit I'm a "closet ABBA lover". It just wasn't cool to go around asking "Hey do you dig this ABBA song, it's so cool", when everyone else was taking about Led Zep, Jehtro Tull or Thin Lizzie.

ABBA's music for me was clean, smooth and of course for a 10 year old on the verge of puppy love I shared the feelings of there messages on a personal level.

I'm only saddened that's it's taken so long for mainstream to realize theer talent and contributions in music.

July 26, 2008 10:59 AM
Matthew S. Urdan said...

Artster63--Well my friend, the day has arrived! Now I challenge you to add that ABBA link to your sidebar...you've got all those classic rock greats there, add ABBA. Come on, be brave, you can do it!

Thanks for stopping by!

July 26, 2008 11:13 AM
RollerKaty said...

I love ABBA! I have this album too and I listen to it whenever I need to be perked up.

I am looking forward to watching the movie too but there is no way I am going to be able to drag my boys to go see it with me. I have the feeling we'll be watching The Dark Knight multiple times before I get the chance to see Mama Mia!


Anyone want to go see Mama Mia! with me?

July 26, 2008 11:16 AM
Mister Scott said...

god help me i seriously suggested to my wife seeing mama mia! last week instead of the dark knight... it would have cost me my comic geek cred, but i'm betting it would have been more fun! ;)

July 26, 2008 11:34 AM
Matthew S. Urdan said...

RollerKaty and Mister Scott--

I saw both The Dark Knight and Mamma Mia! the same day on the friday it came out. There was no way I could choose between the two, but I'm glad I saw The Dark Knight first...after the darkness of that movie, Mamma Mia! was truly a breath of fresh air.

If you want to go out and have a good time and just smile and laugh and tap your feet, Mamma Mia! is the movie to see! And in reality, how much is comic geek cred really worth on the street these days anyway? I bet not as much as the ABBA-vibe cred now that they've finally been recognized as respectable in the United States!

ABBA Nice Day!

July 26, 2008 11:44 AM
The Natural State Hawg said...

Now, here's a post that borders on obsessive. I can't say I blame you, though -- ABBA is a heck of a lot of fun and even those of us who prefer the Ramones and the Sex Pistols when thinking about great music from the 1970s can't help but like "Dancing Queen," right?

Great stuff, and you're Dugg!

The Natural State Hawg

July 26, 2008 2:08 PM
Clueless said...

Oh, I loved reading this article as I've been an Abba fan in the USA since Waterloo days. I have the Unicef album and watched the special. No VCR in those days, affordable at least, so I have an audio recording from a microphoned cassette player/ recorder.

I absolutely loved the play and was trying to figure out what song would be next before they started the music...I only missed one!!! Okay, do I sound like a fan.

Thanks for this post. It made me feel good. And, it was very thorough...you are a fan as well. BIG one.

July 26, 2008 3:51 PM
sheila sultani said...

I love ABBA, I bought this album a few months backs and the memories it brings forth make me smile.

July 26, 2008 6:45 PM
Good N Crazy said...

We just saw this last night. LOVE LOVEd it. Lauged out loud at the parts where Pierce sang.

July 26, 2008 8:58 PM
Matthew S. Urdan said...

The Natural State Hawg--Thanks for admitting that ABBA is great fun! Again, try not to smile while you listen to an ABBA song--it's pretty hard. I listen to a lot of music from the 70s but it always comes down to ABBA, Fleetwood Mac, Olivia Newton-John, Carly Simon, James Taylor, Elton John, Paul Simon, Kansas, Heart, England Dan and John Ford Coley and the Carpenters. Great melodies, great vocals, great voices, great originality.

Clueless--sounds like you've got a clue to me! ;) Thanks for your compliments on the post. I really appreciate it!

Sheila Sultani--thanks for taking the time to share. ABBA Gold is incredible, no doubt.

Good N Crazy--Yeah, Pierce Brosnan can't sing. I think a trained seal would have done so much better. I really wish they could have cast Ewan McGregor, Gerard Butler or Patrick Wilson in the role of Sam. All three of those guys can sing, and with makeup in hollywood, they could have made any of those three look mid 50s. Ah well, it's not like I needed another recording of Our Last Summer and SOS, but that new version of When All Is Said and Done would have been so much better if someone with a voice was actually singing it.

ALL--you want to know why ABBA will never be matched? I don't think two singers that can blend their voices together so perfectly like Agnetha and Anni-Frid will ever come around again--at least not in my lifetime.

Thanks for sharing and stopping by MTMD!

July 26, 2008 10:15 PM
Cindi-Moomettesgram said...

I think ABBA is awsome! There was a time in the '80s when I played it over & over & over! Went to a wedding Friday nite, and you're right, the dance floor was packed! BTW ~ I've tagged you with a Meme!

July 27, 2008 12:36 AM
Rachel Fox said...

Hi
I'm from over Ken's way. Great post this..I love to read other people's enthusiasm especially about music. I loved ABBA as a kid and enjoy listening to them now and again still. I am taking my Mum and daughter and cousin for a big family trip to cinema for 'MM' (whilst uninterested parties see the Batman thing at the same time). There aren't many films for Mums and daughters to enjoy together but I'm hoping MM will be one of them.

I write a lot of poems about music and for a minute I didn't think I had an ABBA poem but then I remembered I mentioned them in my wedding poem (well, it's kind of an alternative or anti-wedding poem). I can email you it if you're interested!

Knowing me, knowing you, aha and all that
Rachel
x

July 27, 2008 5:02 AM
Ken Armstrong said...

Your enthusiasm is contagious mate.

My street cred would *never* survive me going in to see MM while DK is on next door but I'll make a DVD night of it just like I did with In Bruges last night (I'm about to rave about that over at my place).

I saw 'Chess' when it first came out in London too - how did you feel about that, I wonder?

July 27, 2008 9:05 AM
Matthew S. Urdan said...

Cindi--thanks for adding your enthusiam! I'll stop by and check out the tag soon.

Rachel--Knowing Me, Knowing You is my favorite ABBA Song....I would love to see your wedding poem...If you can email that to me or leave it here in a comment that would be awesome!

Ken--Unfortunately, I never got to see Chess. I had tickets and was in NYC, but it closed 4 days before my trip. Do you have any idea how ticked off and disappointed I was? I exchanged the tickets for M Butterfly, however, and we got to see John Lithgow and B.D. Wong on Broadway--which was a great thrill--still I would have preferred to see Chess.

The music was simply brilliant. They had the coldwar theme down perfectly, and with the highlights of Heaven Help My Heart, One Night in Bangkok, and I Know Him So Well it would have been a miraculous evening...What's interesting is that One Night In Bangkok was about as big a hit worldwide as any of the other ABBA hits, except maybe Fernando and Dancing Queen--and nobody really knew that Benny and Bjorn wrote the song.

But the music from Chess just shows that there were still legs left if ABBA had continued to record together.

Another interesting and seldom known fact is that there's a song on The Visitors: I Let the Music Speak. Bjorn has always said that this was a song that was out there that might not have been recorded by ABBA. And if it hadn't been, it would have ended up in Chess. If it had, there's a very good likelihood that I Let The Music Speak would have been the showstopper instead of I Know Him So Well. I for one would have loved to have heard Barbara Streisand, Whitney Houston, and who knows who else cover I Let The Music Speak. The song is brilliant and to this day remains one of my favorite ABBA recordings and one of Frida's best vocal performances.

PS, once again, here we are on the web commenting on the same blogs at about the same time.

Cheers Mate!

July 27, 2008 9:17 AM
Ken Armstrong said...

'Chess' had some great music in it - that really *was* the best part of the show though.

But, hey, wasn't 'M. Butterfly' great?? We saw Anthony Hopkins do it in the West End, an extremely memorable evening...

July 27, 2008 10:34 AM
Rachel Fox said...

Here's the poem - it's from about 2005.

A wedding poem (not to be read at weddings)

Oh, another girl in big frock
Oh, another suited groom
Oh, another messy, lost flock
Oh, another sense of doom

Oh, another huge tiara
Oh, foundation everywhere
Oh, the bride looks like her father
Oh, those looks weren't made to share

Oh, another hundred places
Oh, another chicken dish
Oh, just look at those grim faces
Oh, they should have gone for fish

Oh, I bet they all want ABBA
Oh, except that fierce young man
Oh, he'll want early Nirvana
Oh, that's not the thing for Gran

Oh, are weddings ever special
Oh, they can just merge as one
Oh, they can be simply dreadful
Oh, may my day never come


love
Rachel
x

July 27, 2008 11:50 AM
tashabud said...

Excellent writing and review. It shows your passion for the ABBA group. I'm sure you know by now that I am also a big fan. However, I don't think I can ever match your fanaticism with ABBA. Nevertheless, I truly dugg this post and I'm going to DIGG you and vote for you.

There is so much information here that I wasn't aware before. I am most surprised with info #7. It's amazing to know that a country can go as far as to trade crude oil for music albums! Wow! Unbelievable!

You thoroughly covered ABBA from A to Z in your post. It's a very excellent read. Thanks again for sharing your almanac knowledge with all of us. Hehe.

July 27, 2008 5:49 PM
Sassy Mama Bear said...

Definitely an Abba fan and not afraid to state that I've always been, loved the stage performance and other than Brosnan's singing adored the movie version of Mamma Mia. Abba will always have a place in the music world I believe.

July 28, 2008 12:47 PM
Shawie said...

Too bad, my husband thought it's a chick flick movie:( gotta invite my friends to watch that movie then:(

July 28, 2008 3:46 PM
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July 28, 2008 8:13 PM
My Pink Shoelace said...

After reading this entry ... I definitely should watch Mama Mia ... and buy the soundtrack album too. Now I cant wait for it to show in theaters here!!

July 29, 2008 12:03 AM
The BoBo said...

I'm a child of the 70's - living many of those in Germany as an Army brat. I really liked ABBA then and still do. Don't plan on seeing that movie..but..would certainly buy the soundtrack!

July 29, 2008 12:04 AM
Henson Ray said...

I have always been an ABBA fan, ever since I can remember. Of course it wasn't always cool to be singing songs like "Dancing Queen" and "Mamma Mia!," but I have been listening to ABBA, working out to ABBA, cleaning the house to ABBA, and driving to ABBA forever. They have created some of the best music to sing along to, and there is not a vacation I have ever taken that ABBA music wasn't playing in the car, or on my iPod or on a stereo. FYI---the movie has done a rather amazing thing for the Broadway show, which as you know, has been running for years. But now, instead of people going to see the movie again, now they want to see the stage show. And "Mamma Mia!" on Broadway has apparently been playing to over-capacity ever since the movie opened. LONG LIVE ABBA!

July 29, 2008 7:13 AM
Matthew S. Urdan said...

Ken--Yes indeed, M Butterfly was phemonenal...One of the finest plays I've ever seen on Broadway! It must have been amazing to see Sir Anthony Hopkins in the role!

Rachel--thanks for sharing the poem! I wonder how many other poems are out there that mention ABBA? They are certainly institutionalized in worldwide popular culture.

Tasha--My mother said that if it were worth doing, it was worth doing well. Thanks so much for your kind words. I wouldn't call myself fanatical about ABBA exactly...yes I'm a huge fan and I've always loved the group, but a lot of this I've just picked up over the years...34 of them since ABBA first hit the charts. I actually love all music and a lot of it I got listening to American Top 40 Week after Week with Casey Kasem on the radio and subcribing to Billboard Magazine as a kid from high school through college. I love a lot of music, and even though the Swedish Fouresome have created my favorite music, they actually occupy less than 1% of all the music I've collected over time. Hard to believe, I know. But I'm just not as passionate about Olivia Newton-John or Fleetwood Mac or England Dan and John Ford Coley or Elton John or Carly Simon as I am about ABBA--maybe it's because I've always had to defend my appreciation for ABBA's music because they weren't considered cool when I was growing up. Of course, everything is different now after Mamma Mia! And it will NEVER be the same again!

Sassy Mama Bear--You are right. ABBA will always have a most distinguished place in movie history.

My Pink Shoelace--Yes, go see the movie! I saw it again with a coworker last night. It's pure, unadulterated fun. If you want to laugh and have a good time, go see Mamma Mia! Do not deprive yourself of the experience.

Shawie--Your husband doesn't know what he's going to be missing. Mamma Mia! does appeal to women, but it's physical comedy on par with Lucille Ball's best. It's worth seeing in the theater.

The BoBo--there's nothing wrong or stigmatizing about going to see the movie! Last night a whole family of 4 sat right in front of us. The DAD enjoyed it and laughed out loud more than anyone else in the family. For those of us children of the 70s, it's a journey back to childhood and innocence. There is nothing wrong with that. I promise, if you go see the movie, you will laugh and have an awesome time. I'll even offer a money back guarantee!

Henson--AMEN BROTHER!

July 29, 2008 7:48 AM
media boy said...

way to go Meryl Streep... what's the Dark Knight got to say now, eh?

August 14, 2008 2:57 AM
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