ABBA in spotlight as 'Mamma Mia!' bows

Benny Andersson talks about band's continued popularity

NEW YORK -- ABBA is about to take a chance on the movies. "Mamma Mia!" opens in the U.S. on Friday, employing nearly two dozen songs from the enduring Swedish quartet, including "Dancing Queen," "S.O.S.," "The Winner Takes It All" and "Take a Chance on Me."

The Universal Pictures film stars Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Amanda Seyfried, Colin Firth and Christine Baranski. It is based on the Tony Award-nominated stage musical, which tells the story of Sophie, who hopes to discover her father's identity before her wedding. She invites three past lovers of single mom Donna back to the Greek isle they last visited 20 years ago. Obviously, mayhem ensues.

The stage version launched in March 1999 on London's West End and opened at New York's Winter Garden Theatre in October 2001. According to Crain's New York Business, "Mamma Mia" ranked No. 5 for the 2007-08 Broadway season, while the original cast recording is the fourth-best-selling in the Nielsen SoundScan era, with sales of 1.4 million. The play has been pitched in 170 cities worldwide in eight languages and seen by a reported 30 million, with a $2 billion total gross.

Before the movie has danced across a single U.S. screen, consumers are already clamoring "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" for the soundtrack, featuring new cast vocals-and for ABBA's catalog. The former, released July 8 on Decca, debuts at a staggering No. 7 on this week's Billboard 200. It is produced by group co-founder Benny Andersson, utilizing musicians that recorded the original tracks.

Meanwhile, Universal's 1992 collection "ABBA Gold" is No. 6 this issue on the Top Pop Catalog chart (its 441st week). Total SoundScan-reported sales for "Gold" are 4.4 million, and worldwide, 25 million.

ABBA co-founder Benny Andersson, who produced the soundtrack for the film version of "Mamma Mia!" said his goal in the studio was to re-create the group's instrumental tracks true to form. "I tried to record the songs just as they were, down to the backing tracks, with synthesizers as close as to the way we did it originally," he said.

But he also wanted to have a little fun in the process. "For those who are intimately familiar with the arrangements, there are small touches where I added things to make this a little bit different," he said.

Commenting on why the music of ABBA continues to endure after 30 years, Andersson noted, "At the time, we were just trying to be contemporary, doing what everyone else was doing. But I think one of the secrets to why we're still around has to do with the fact that we grew up with different influences than most bands did in the U.S. or England. We had Swedish slagger, folk music, in addition to the Beach Boys, Elvis, the Beatles and Ray Davies. All of those are in your brain, and what came out was different from so many of the Anglo Saxon acts of the time."

Andersson added, "We just recorded what we liked. We're extremely fortunate that people are still discovering the music. That's just pure luck."
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