ABBA Back In Action!

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ABBA has recorded two new songs, its first in 35 years, and plans a TV special and a digital project to recreate the four members performing as ‘ABBAtars.’ It is enough to inspire countless headlines today about “Money, Money, Money” – and “Mamma Mia,” here we go again - referencing some of ABBA’s best-known songs, along with “Dancing Queen,” “Take A Chance On Me” and “The Winner Takes It All.”

While figures vary, industry watchers agree that ABBA has sold at least than 200 million albums and singles worldwide, similar to the Rolling Stones. Only the Beatles are in front among groups. Some unconfirmed estimates, giving figures of 400 million, even put ABBA sales ahead of those for British bands Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Queen.

Mamma Mia, the movie version of the all-ABBA musical, earned $575 million at the box office. The stage version’s worldwide gross from 49 productions exceeded $2 billion in 2015, having been seen by 500 million people. The 14-year Broadway run alone grossed more than $600 million, according to the trade group Broadway League.

ABBA’s last tour was in 1979 to 1980 with just 52 dates – it was never a huge live act, with most of its earnings from record sales.

Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, in interviews and news conferences attended by this writer, previously deflected questions about a reunion. (It is something us reporters have also been instructed to put endlessly to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and more too, with sometimes varying answers.) “We have never made a comeback,” Ulvaeus said. “Almost everyone else has. I think there’s a message in that.”

The Eurovision-winning band was made up of two couples — Agnetha Fältskog and Ulvaeus, and Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Both couples split as the band became most successful, and ABBA broke up in 1982. Despite some disagreements, the four largely remained in touch, raising hopes that at some stage they may amicably reunite.

ABBA arrival in Bournemouth, England, 1981. (Terry Lott/Sony Music Archive/Getty Images)

As a reunion ticket, the band has always been hot. While Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin have topped many lists of fans’ favored reunions, ABBA was reported to have turned down $1 billion to reunite in 2000. The offer came from a British and American consortium amid a revival of ABBA songs.

Anni-Frid Lyngstad later told Irish national broadcasting company RTE that the offer was conditional on the performance of more than 200 shows. In pointed remarks, she said: “no amount of money would change our minds. Maybe we sometimes say it would be good to do a song together again, just a recording and nothing else, but I don't know if that will happen — so don't say that we will!”

Both men have been busy with projects, ranging from Mamma Mia! to the musical Chess, which this week has its first major London West-End revival for 30 years, starring Michael Ball, Alexandra Burke and Murray Head. The musicians also tried a Swedish musical, Kristina from Duvemåla, which had a memorable English-language version as Kristina: A Concert Event, which took place at Carnegie Hall in 2009.

If ABBA has already changed pop, could it do so again with its first music in 35 years?

So far we know of only two new songs, “I Still Have Faith In You” and another with a title not yet revealed. These will be shown in a TV special to be aired later in the year.

The group plans a digital ABBA avatar project rather than a full tour. Similar concepts have been used to create the likeness of Michael Jackson onstage. Details are still awaited but it does not look likely to be the $1 billion worldwide reunion envisaged some years ago. That could be a grueling prospect for the four members - Ulvaeus, 73; Andersson, 71; Lyngstad, 72; and Agnetha Fältskog, 68.

Still, initial reunions can be endlessly lucrative, as with the Elton John Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour, which was estimated to have a likely revenue of $400 million shortly after it was announced this year. The Rolling Stones have staged several tours such as 50& Counting, which made about $150 million.

I'm the author of books including All You Need is Rock, collecting my rock criticism for Bloomberg. I'm now editor of Dante magazine and write for ArtInfo and Forbes. Follow me @Mark_Beech