How Agnetha Fältskog’s Secret Solo Career Birthed ABBA’s Sound
With echoes of ABBA standards such as ‘Fernando,’ Agnetha Fältskog’s solo debut album pointed towards that group’s iconic sound.
As a young girl with dreams of fame and fortune, Agnetha Fältskog must have felt that the chances of emulating her idol Connie Francis’ international success were remote while growing up in the small Swedish town of Jönköping. That her first self-penned single would top the national charts before she had turned 18, and that she’d find herself one-quarter of the world’s biggest pop band, ABBA, is the stuff of fairy tales, and Agnetha’s self-titled debut is a magical opening chapter.
As first issued, in December 1968, Agnetha Fältskog comprised of both sides of the five Swedish singles that the singer had released by the end of 1968, plus two new tracks. The teenager was credited with the lyrics to nine of those songs and, tellingly, with the composition to three, including her breakthrough single, “Jag Var Så Kär,” which opens the album (and whose title translates to “I Was So In Love”). That song, initially relegated to the B-side of a cover of Julie Grant’s “Hello Love,” with Swedish lyrics by Agnetha, only caught the attention of a handful of radio DJs at first, and it wasn’t until an appearance on a local TV show that the track started to take off. It’s indicative of much of the album, which Agnetha would later say she wasn’t entirely happy with (“Many of the rhymes are just awful”), though that says more about the ferocious quality control that characterized ABBA than it does about the talent on display here.
Becoming central to ABBA’s sound
Agnetha Fältskog is a 60s pop album through and through, with much of the material reminiscent of her English-speaking contemporaries such as Judith Durham of The Seekers, Cilla Black, and even Dusty Springfield. None of the tracks breaches a three-and-a-half-minute running time, and a lilting melancholy underpins them all. What strikes you almost half a century later, however, is a fully matured example of the crystal-sharp precision of Fältskog’s stunning soprano range that became so memorably central to ABBA’s sound.
Agnetha had honed her delivery providing vocals for local dance bands and, when her first record took off, was still working the switchboard at a car firm. She had been discovered when a record producer heard her demo tape and brokered a professional recording session for her at the Philips Studio in Stockholm, which got her signed to the Swedish Cupol record label.
Some of those songs made it to the album, but Agnetha’s second single stalled and the third, the waltz “En Sommar Med Dej,” written by her father, failed to chart at all. A deal was signed to pair her with the West German hitmaker Dieter Zimmerman, and four of their songs made it to the first LP. They epitomize the schlager sound – melodic, midtempo, and often melancholic – that remains popular to this day across much of the continent and gets a wider airing at each annual Eurovision Song Contest. Fältskog’s own song from this set, “Försonade,” was even considered for that year’s Swedish entry to the competition by another singer, but was ultimately rejected. No matter. Agnetha would do rather well at the contest in her own right just six years later.
The sweeping orchestration that frames Agnetha’s haunting voice is a perfect fit for this folk-infused record, but there was a sharper contrast between what was then Agnetha’s more carefree personality and the brooding ballads that the public seemed to prefer. It’s a bittersweet mix that may have troubled the singer professionally at the time, but it makes for a memorable listen today. With echoes of ABBA standards such as “Fernando” to be found here, the genesis of that band’s legendary sound is evident enough.
Fate would pair Agnetha with three people that would change pop forever but, on this evidence, a more solitary path may well have led her somewhere special as well.
For the hits that Agnetha recorded with ABBA, listen to the best of ABBA on Apple Music and Spotify.
April 5, 2017 at 12:57 pm
i wish tell you HAPPY BIRTHDAY
and i will so happy to meet you one day in real is my dream for long
my name is Michel i am French live south west of France near Spanish border
evryday i listen to your nice voice and your songs i keep all on my my mind and my heart
my children like you too theys knows all your songs too
Agnetha i sent you a letter for you from France for your birthday i hope you will get it
enjoy your birthday Agnetha
kisses from me
David R Thayer
April 5, 2017 at 5:44 pm
Happy birthday agnetha.you and your voice have brought so much happiness in my life.your personality is so unique.your so kind and giving and one of the most beautiful women i have ever seen.i widh you and bijorn could have made a happy life together.what he sees in his wife now is beyond me.the first time i seen you on television in 1974 i knew you were going to make it big.well ill say bye and tell you im 62 live in new york usa.name is david thayer.i doubt you will ever see this but have a grat birthday anyway.
April 5, 2017 at 8:25 pm
Thank you for your music. I still listen to the songs
Thank You again
April 5, 2017 at 10:18 pm
Happy birthday agnetha! I love you . Jim from new jersey
April 6, 2017 at 1:24 am
Your songs have entertained so many. God bless you.
April 6, 2017 at 4:41 am
Why “secret” solo career when she had chart success? Strange headline.
April 6, 2017 at 8:33 pm
Ha0py birthday darling. Nick xxx
Siti Deliana Pasaribu
April 7, 2017 at 5:19 am
Happy Birthday Agnetha, I’m Siti from Bengkulu – Indonesia and one of ABBA’ s fans. Your voice is so beautiful, I really really love most of your songs…
May you have a great life, may God bless you always..
May 15, 2017 at 11:33 pm
your voice is golden Agnetha xx
May 17, 2017 at 9:27 am
Without the band Engharts no one in the world should know about Agnetha, she started 15 years
old and sing with us our bandleader know Little Gerhard producer on Cupol and therefore she have her chans!
Drummer in the band!
September 13, 2017 at 6:45 am
I have been buying the reissues of her first 3 albums and have 2 original singles ‘Om tårar vore guld’ and ‘Vart Ska Min Kärlek Föra .I dont know Swedish (a few words now) but I love to listen to her sing. Theres no doubt to me she was the best singer there then. Her ‘Vart Ska Min Kärlek Föra ( I dont know how to love him) from Jesus Christ Superstar is the BEST version of that song of any! I would love to meet her as she has touched me and I have such respect for her talent Happy late Birthday Agnetha 🙂
October 16, 2017 at 9:53 pm
Happy Birthday, Agnetha! Perhaps we’ll meet someday, thank you for the wonderful music.
October 17, 2017 at 8:23 am
Happy Birthday Agnethia hope you come back to Australia again very soon.⭐️
December 9, 2018 at 2:12 pm
To quote Bette Midler, Agnetha is truly the wind beneath my wings. I relate to this song as the lyrics encompass the way I feel about her. I have even legally changed my forename to Agnetha in her honour. She is everything I desire to emulate.
April 11, 2019 at 9:12 am
Lovely. When will there be a companion article about Frida’s solo albums and an article about Frida’s top 20 lead vocal contributuons to the memorable Abba sound?
September 16, 2019 at 8:58 pm
Ahoj Agnetha. Prajem veľa šťastia. Tvoj hlas je nezameniteľný. Keď v rádiu hrali premiéru skladby od ABBA, hneď som poznala tvoj hlas. Rada by som napísala súkromne. Objavila si sa v mojom živote, keď odišla moja mama a k rozlúčke mi nechala piesne ABBA. A si v mojom živote stále. Prajem ti šťastie a zdravi3. Veľmi sa teším na nové CD ABBA. Eva.
December 1, 2020 at 7:41 pm
I would like to tell Mr. Mark Elliot that he should have made a little more research and he would have discovered that Fernando was first sung by Frida, not Agnetha.
Both girls made a similar contribution to the ABBA sound, None of the two would have succeeded alone in creating that sound. It was the combination of the two.