Is ABBA a super group?

Published September 24, 2011

In yesterday’s Expressen (Swedish newspaper), journalist Anders Nunstedt writes about so-called super groups – constellations of well-known artists who get together in a new band – and why these so seldom produce any great music. Nunstedt argues that there are few examples of successful super groups, and states that ABBA wouldn’t qualify “because most of the members were relatively unknown before their career picked up speed”. I’m not sure what he means by “relatively unknown”, but it is a fact that in Sweden the four members were anything but unknown when ABBA were formed. Certainly, on an international level – despite the odd hit enjoyed here and there on the planet by Björn and Benny – you could never say the members were household names. But in Sweden I believe the fact that four well-known artists got together was part of how they were marketed and presented in the media. It is no coincidence that for their first year together they were known as Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid. Their names were supposed to signal: “hey, these four singers who you know and love have got together – isn’t that exciting?”

Still, it’s hard to think of ABBA as a super group. I believe this is mainly because the term is mainly associated with rock and pop acts such as Blind Faith (Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker and Ric Grech) or Crosby, Stills & Nash. At the time of their formation, the four ABBA members were primarily associated with schlager and easy listening. For instance, if Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney, Perry Como and Bing Crosby had formed a musical constellation, we probably wouldn’t have used the term super group to describe them, even though formally that’s exactly what they would have been. In the case of ABBA, the group weren't so much a continuation of the individual members’ late Sixties and early Seventies work, as a reinvention and construction of a new musical language that had little to do with what they’d done previously. It’s hard to equate the singers who recorded the jolly ‘Det kan ingen doktor hjälpa’ in 1971 with the sophisticated studio wizards who created ‘Dancing Queen’ a few years later.

So, no, I wouldn’t say that ABBA were a super group. But not because the members were supposedly “relatively unknown” in their pre-ABBA careers.