ABBA's Benny Andersson

Last year, the Swedish government appointed Benny Andersson, former singer/songwriter and keyboardist with Swedish pop sensations Abba, to the Board of the Royal Swedish Opera. But Andersson also has continued to make music of his own. In March, he issued a new Swedish-language CD with Bjorn Ulvaeus, his former Abba bandmate.

Benny Bror Göran Andersson was born 52 years ago today in Stockholm, Sweden, to a musical family -- both his father and grandfather were musicians. Andersson, who played accordion and guitar as a child, joined the Hep Stars, the Swedish equivalent of the Beatles, in 1964. He left the band in 1969, the same year he met future wife and soon-to-be Abba singer Anni-Frid Lyngstad.

Jazz vocalist Lyngstad, guitarist Ulvaeus, and singer Anna Fältskog were also well-known in Sweden before they teamed with Andersson to form Abba in 1973. Ulvaeus' girlfriend, Fältskog, already had had a #1 hit in Sweden.

Her "I Don't Know How to Love Him" (1971), from her role in a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Jesus Christ Superstar," also had been popular. Andersson first composed songs with Ulvaeus, leader of folk-rockers the Hootenanny Singers, in 1966. In 1972, Ulvaeus and Andersson had a global smash with "People Need Love," which featured Fältskog and Lyngstad on backing vocals.

The four used the name Abba, (an acronym of their first names), to enter the Eurovision song contest, which they won in 1974 with "Waterloo." The song eventually became an international hit. In 1975, "S.O.S." (RealAudio excerpt) became a smash for Abba in the U.S., U.K. and many non English-speaking countries.

More global hits followed, including "Mamma Mia," "Fernando" and "Dancing Queen" (a U.S. #1 hit), leading Abba to become the most commercially successful pop group (counting global record sales) of the '70s. Their 1976 greatest hits collection hit big; "Knowing Me, Knowing You" and "The Name of the Game" continued Abba's hit streak in 1977. The following year, the band starred in the feature film "Abba -- The Movie." But by the beginning of the '80s, both married couples in Abba were divorced, a circumstance that led to the band's demise in 1982.

Lyngstad and Fältskog subsequently issued solo LPs, while Andersson and Ulvaeus collaborated with Tim Rice on the musical "Chess" (from which Murray Head had a #3 1985 U.S. hit with "One Night in Bangkok"). But Abba's music, as collected in two volumes of Abba Gold, continued to be immensely popular worldwide in the early '90s.

More surprisingly, the band's sound inspired the British dance act Erasure to release Abba-esque, a 1992 Abba covers album; and U2 performed "Dancing Queen" on their 1993 tour (during their Stockholm stop, Andersson and Ulvaeus joined Bono and company onstage). In addition to being cited as an influence by many pop bands, Abba spawned a successful group of impersonators: the Australian band Bjorn Again.

In 1995, the movie "Muriel's Wedding" brought Abba's music to a new generation. Also that year, Andersson and Ulvaeus opened a popular Swedish musical, "Kristina från Duvem&aromgla."

This year, PGD/Polydor issued the Abba compilations Collection and Forever Gold.

Other birthdays: Tony Hicks (Hollies), 55; Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), 49; Lars Ulrich (Metallica), 35; Christopher Thorn (Blind Melon), 30; and Michael Bass McCary (Boyz II Men), 26.