I was an ordinary 16-year-old with no real clue what to do with my life. I didn’t know that I should be a musician or a composer. I am a self-taught guy, but I could already find my way around the piano. Then I got this offer from a rock band, The Hep Stars, who had lost their organ player. So I just slipped into it. I would tell my younger self, just keep on doing what you are doing. You don’t have to worry so much. Take it as it comes and everything will sort itself out.
The early 1960s was a great time to turn 16. I was listening to all the music from the UK. The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks, The Who – those were the days! The Beach Boys could make such good recordings as well. Brian Wilson is one of my heroes, but it was definitely Lennon and McCartney who inspired me to write music. I was 19 when I wrote my first No 1. It was called Funny Girl. I still think it is a good song. Rubbish lyric but good melody. I thought maybe this is something I should spend my life trying to do. I haven’t had a reason to regret that yet.
My parents thought I needed a real job. In the 1960s, being in a rock band was not considered a real job. We were the biggest band in Sweden from 1965 to 1969 but they’d still say: ‘What are you going to do after The Hep Stars?’ There were a couple of years before Abba where all four of us needed to work to put food on the table and pay the rent. And I come from circumstances where we didn’t have much money in my family. So music has been good to me, but I know what it’s like to struggle.
I was very young when I became a father [he was 16 when son Peter was born]. Even if I thought I was a mature 16-year-old and was ahead of my friends at school, it wasn’t an ideal situation. It wasn’t great when I was out touring. I regret that. But it works now and has done for many years. Now my son is 53 and my daughter is 51. They say, ‘We are happy you did what you did. Because it means being able to live a decent life’. They don’t complain, but I don’t know. My younger son [Ludvig] is 35 and I was with him the whole time he was growing up. I loved being hands on. We do everything together. Now we are working on the next Mamma Mia! movie. My wife gets envious because she doesn’t see him as much as I do.
Abba came together organically. Björn met Agnetha and got engaged and at almost the same time I met Frida. They were solo artists, I had my band and Björn had his. Then Björn and I made a record called Lycka, which means ‘happiness’. For one song we asked our wives to come in for backing vocals and all of a sudden, wow. They sound good, we don’t! Björn said we should try to write pop music and sing in English. That was 1972 and we wrote People Need Love, which they do. It became a hit. After that, to make people realise us guys from the North Pole exist, we decided to enter the Eurovision Song Contest. All of a sudden, we had an audience that was not just in Sweden. That felt really good.