The ABBA women: Success blots out a sad past

By Jenny Irvine - Women's Day 7 March 1977

One is married, with a four-year-old daughter. The other has a disastrous marriage behind her and ‘is not keen to walk down the aisle again’. One is blonde, effervescent; the other a redhead with the racy good looks and “clever” smile of an Emma Peel.

One was a telephonist in a small town; the other the product of a tragic childhood, the daughter of a German officer who went missing.

These are the ABBA women, Agnetha and Frida – the feminine talents who have helped ABBA rocket to international stardom and make them both millionaires in their own right.

On stage they both sparkle. Agnetha moves continuously, lithe, rhythmic and leggy. Frida moves more slowly and turns her green eyes at the audience in her high camp Eartha Kitt version of Money, Money, Money 

Today they have everything – the love of the men they adore, success on a scale neither ever envisioned; money, freedom…..

But it wasn’t always that way.

Frida’s childhood was tough. Her mother, a young 19-year old Norwegian girl, committed the unforgivable sin in 1944 – she fell in love with a German officer.

When the war ended, the officer shipped out and never returned. His daughter (Anni-Frid Lyngstad, named after her grandmother) was born a little later.

Her grandmother, wise and warm, realised that the future for a “tyskbarn” in Norway was hopeless. She gathered her possessions and left for Sweden with her tiny grand-daughter.

Frida’s mother waited for her German boyfriend to return, put up with the taunts of “tyskbarn” (German child); but after two years, grief-stricken, she wasted away from an illness and died. Frida was just two years old.

Frida now regards herself as Swedish and has Swedish citizenship. Her childhood in Sweden was a far cry from the bitter days of Norway. She and her grandmother would sing Norwegian and Swedish folksongs and, by the time she was 11 years old, encouraged by her grandmother, she made her first public debut – singing a jazz song at a Red Cross bazaar.

Almost two years later Frida became a regular singer with a local band, known as Evald Ek’s band.

By October 1960, at the age of 15 Frida began singing with Bengt Sandlund’s big band. At 16 Frida fell in love with the trombonist from the band, Ragnar Fredriksson, and they began living together. A son, Hans, was born on the 26th of January, 1963. A determined Frida later forms her own dance band with Ragnar, called The Anni-Frid Four. A year later, they eventually married and also had another child, a daughter called Lise-Lotte who was born on the 25th of February, 1967.

Career or family?

The marriage, for a time, was happy. Then, at 18, Frida won an amateur singing contest which took her to Stockholm. After she won a New Faces Swedish talent quest in 1967, she went solo – touring the country. She missed the children desperately but Ragnar encouraged her to set up a base in Stockholm.

Eventually she had to make the hardest decision of her life. A career or her family?

She chose the career. She was now one of Sweden’s premier singers – on television, on tour, at the top. It was then that she met Benny Andersson. They were introduced and had a drink together.

A few weeks later they met again – on a radio quiz show. Benny with Björn was a member of The Hep Stars. Frida was a top singer.

This time Benny asked Frida to have dinner. She said yes and they started talking – and talking. During the hours of talking they suddenly realised they had “clicked” and, as Frida says, “we’ve been talking ever since”.

Frida divorced Ragnar in 1969 and moved with Benny into a bed-sitter flat in Stockholm. It was April 1 (April fools day). They still celebrate it as their anniversary.

Frida has now found complete happiness – her temperament, hot, alive, volatile, harmonising with that of easy-going, affectionate Benny.

Her children visit them and, with Benny, from whom she hates being separated, she has made the music charts the Number One spot world-wide as part of the phenomenon called ABBA.

Agnetha Fältskog, the lithe, blonde wife of Björn Ulvaeus, has no such tragic memories as Frida. She grew up in a small town on the lakeside north of Stockholm.

Her father, an amateur entrepreneur, used to do stage shows and at six little Agnetha made her debut. She recalls with horror, “My knickers fell down.” She was in the middle of a song and her panties dropped and the audience broke up.

Agnetha grew up with a musical background – her father and grandfather spent hours playing piano and accordion.

Agnetha’s troubles didn’t begin until she left her idyllic childhood behind and at 17 went to Stockholm with her first number one hit song, I Was So In Love.

Overnight she was famous and rushed to the recording studios and put under contract. Although only a teenager, Agnetha seemed to handle show-business well.

She negotiated her own contract. She tossed in her job as a telephonist and moved into a flat in Stockholm.

But fair, fragile Agnetha was not sure how to cope with the heady atmosphere and celebrities of the music world, and her forthright manner was misinterpreted often as rudeness. She, in fact, was hiding her nervousness and shyness but anxious to be assured and to give none of her real insecurity away.

For the little girl from the quiet town it had happened too quickly.

She talked non-stop to the Press about anything and everything – probably why, now, she says little more to reporters than yes and no. She’s learned the hard way.

She had love affairs but they came to nothing. Then she met Björn. It was in a television studio and she walked across, held out her hand, and introduced herself.

Björn was captivated by the girl he’d first heard sing I Was So In Love.

Fiery relationship

It was so cold in the studio Björn took Agnetha’s hands to warm them. “And we haven’t let go since,” says 26-year-old Agnetha. They married and have a little girl, Linda. It was with Björn and then later with ABBA that Agnetha grew up, became softer and warmer, the country girl of her adolescence.

At first, however, the couple weren’t keen to work together; they thought it would ruin their relationship and marriage. Both Agnetha and Björn admit the relationship is fiery.

But for fun they teamed up with Björn’s musical partner, Benny, one Summer and toured. That was to be the end of it, but then came Benny’s love, Frida, and the four became ABBA.

The rest is history.

And the ABBA women, happy, contended and successful, couldn’t ask for anything more.

Photos: (1) Frida: The hardest decision of her life. (2) Agnetha: Fateful meeting in a TV studio

© 1977 Women's Day. Thanks to Samuel Inglles