Fifty years after releasing their debut album Ring Ring, Abba still command large crowds.
In Djurgarden, an island in central Stockholm, more than 100 of us brave the unseasonable drizzle to enter what has become a shrine to the Swedish pop quartet.
Launched 10 years ago with fireworks and much fanfare, Abba The Museum is now a tourist landmark and destination for fans, featuring interactive exhibitions, rare memorabilia and an audio guide featuring commentary by all Abba members.
The site is open daily and spread across three levels. Booking is essential and a self-guided tour can take up to two hours.
Back to the future
Abba The Museum was partly born out of the success of AbbaWorld, a travelling exhibition that toured Europe and Australia from 2009 to 2011.
The space is not concerned only with nostalgia.
With the group launching a virtual concert residency in London last year, Abba Voyage, the museum’s reception is home to a temporary exhibition detailing the creation of the show and the 2001 comeback album Voyage that inspired it.
It’s a small space but full of detail.
On display is one of the black motion-capture suits Abba members wore for five weeks in a Stockholm studio when recording their performances for Abba Voyage.
Numerous screens feature behind-the-scenes footage from those sessions and the album’s creation.
I am then ushered downstairs to begin what a staff member describes as my “Abba journey”.
Here is a tip for newcomers: spend the extra $1.90 for the audio guide, which can be streamed from your mobile phone.
Beautifully produced and featuring snippets of classic Abba hits, it is value for money with all band members chiming in with commentary.
Named after the Swedish public park where Abba played their first gigs, the first exhibition, Folkparken, retraces Abba's beginnings.
Each member’s origin story is displayed on separate stands with family photos and those from early solo performances.
Guitarist Bjorn Ulvaeus describes his family as "the poor relations” on account of his father's business going bankrupt.
"So, he had to work for his brother and that had a lasting effect on me. It made me ambitious to do well," he says.
Singer Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad recalls the death of her mother when she a two-year-old and being raised by her maternal grandmother after moving to Sweden from Norway at the end of the Second World War.
“She was an absolutely fantastic woman and taught me all I know about how to run a home,” she says.
“One thing my grandmother understood was my love of music.
“Although we had very little money, she got me a piano by paying on credit.
“I enjoyed my music and most of the time got all the lead vocals in the school choir. I joined my first dance band when I was only 13 years old, It changed my whole life.”
Victory at Eurovision
The blasts of horns and pummelling piano riffs from Abba’s Waterloo greets us in the next exhibition.
Titled Songs, the section is mostly dedicated to Abba’s victory at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton, England.
A large screen plays the winning performance on repeat besides a stage displaying a replica of the costumes worn on stage and the original star-shaped gold guitar played by Ulvaeus.
Pianist Benny Andersson’s Eurovision diary, originally printed a week after the ceremony in Swedish newspaper Expressen, is reproduced on a wall.
He details how the euphoric final performance was preceded with sound problems in rehearsals.
Andersson also describes the nerves felt before performing in front of a televised audience of “500 million people”.
“So now, we are on stage. And from now it’s a total buzz in the head,” he wrote.
“Sometimes one can be scared that something might happen, like losing the lyrics or something. But everything worked out fine.”
At the centre of the room, encased in glass, is the Eurovision Song Contest gold medal and an original pressing of the 1974 Waterloo single.
All about the songs
Amid Abba's success encompassing music, film and stage, an aspect less appreciated is the song-writing consistency of Ulvaeus and Andersson.
Responsible for all of Abba’s songs, the pair are one of the most successful partnerships in pop music history with more than 400 million albums sold.
The Creating the Songs exhibit explores their craft and respective approaches to songwriting.
The space features recreations of the beach house in the Swedish island of Viggso, where Ulvaeus and Anderson wrote Dancing Queen and Fernando.
Near by is the main performance room of the now defunct Polar Studios in Stockholm where many of Abba’s biggest songs were recorded.
“I could play things for Bjorn hundreds of times and hoping that he will say ‘Alright! I like this,’” Andersson says.
“If we didn't like anything we would never keep it.”
One of the museum’s biggest drawcards is also here: several karaoke booths where you can sing along to various Abba hits including Dancing Queen, Fernando and Mamma Mia.
On the road again
Producing the hits is one thing, but chasing their runaway success around the world can be even more challenging.
The Performing on Stage exhibition shows some of the epic back-to-back world tours Abba undertook in the mid-1970's through maps of their flight routes and concert memorabilia – including costumes, programmes and security badges – from Stockholm to Sydney.
No matter the destination, Abba was clear in their backstage requirements.
On display is a 1979 tour rider where an extensive list of items included a seven-foot Steinway grand piano to be placed on stage, two dressing rooms with big mirrors and a variety of beverages including 10 bottles of Coca-Cola, tea, coffee and milk.
The 15-person road crew were also looked after with all receiving “three sandwiches per person” for lunch, a hotel meal for dinner and plenty of doughnuts, coffee and tea.
A quiet end
Despite an overwhelming fanbase and enormous success, in Abba’s final years the group quietly imploded.
The constant touring and unaddressed tensions resulted in the divorce of singer Agnetha Faltskog and Ulvaeus in 1980, followed by Lyngstad and Andersson the following year.
While Abba never formally broke up, it was widely regarded as such when members began taking on solo projects after the release of 1981 album The Visitors.
Ulvaeus recalls those difficult days in the museum’s final exhibition, Slipping Through My Fingers, which details the group’s final years as touring artists.
“Agnetha hated leaving [the children] even for a very short time. I guess I was irritated back then and I didn't quite understand her. It was just a few days for heaven's sake," he says in the guide to the musem's recreation of the couple's empty kitchen and dining table.
“But I do understand her better now. We both loved them just as much, but I was constantly on the run into a potentially glorious future while she was in the here and now with our children.”
Andersson adds: “I know I've said before that Abba was keeping the couples together, but possibly it could be true the other way around.”
While the audio guide ends at this point, Abba The Museum ends on a lighter note.
Located two levels above is an extensive gift shop – including mugs, posters, vinyl records and Dancing Queen T-shirts – and a small section exploring the band members' respective careers away from Abba.
It can be argued the band found greater success after their hiatus from live performance, including the hit theatre show and blockbuster film Mamma Mia, it never matched the sheer pandemonium of Abba’s first glorious decade.
An affectionate tribute and fascinating oral history, Abba The Museum does what the band do best, by appealing to everyone.
Open daily from 10am; closing times vary from 6pm to 8pm depending on the season; $27; Djurgardsvagen 68, Stockholm, Sweden; abbathemuseum.com