When Fernando Valenzuela, the screwball-throwing left-handed pitcher, took the home-field mound for the Los Angeles Dodgers, it was to the organist playing ABBA's romantic "Fernando." Most of the people there would sing along. They knew the words.
ABBA's music is much like the national pastime -- just a part of the fabric of things. Hits like "Fernando," "Dancing Queen," "Take a Chance on Me" and "Waterloo" are stuck in the heads of millions still, long after the band's heyday as the most commercially successful band of the 1970s.
"When they came out, they had a unique sound -- especially their recording techniques," said Christian Fast, of Stockholm, Sweden. Fast performs as part of a tribute act called "ABBA -- the Music," which performs the band's music with the Utah Symphony on Thursday in Ogden and the following weekend in Salt Lake City.
He points out that ABBA's recording engineer, Michael Tretlow, made the four-part vocal group sound like a big chorus.
"Everyone was intrigued and wanted to know how he did all that with a simple pop group. How they move in and out of the harmonies, it is just brilliant."
Fast and his group have performed ABBA's music in 26 countries thus far. They not only work to nail the sound of ABBA, but also the looks and moves of the group.
"First of all, hours and hours are put into transcribing the songs and working out the sound," said Fast. "Anyone can play a song by ABBA -- you can do that with an acoustic guitar and singing. To do it like them is something else."
The tribute group works out separate rehearsals for the band and the vocalists, then brings them together once both are sharp.
Costumes based closely on ABBA's originals are lovingly re-created. So are the dance steps.
"We also try to incorporate the original musicians who recorded and toured with ABBA. You have to work out in which spots they have to play and if they have solo spots. It is quite some hours you put in to make the whole show," said Fast.
Fast said that putting a set list together is important for this show. Of course, you have to get certain essentials in there, he said.
"They will, of course, expect 'Dancing Queen,' 'Mamma Mia' and 'Gimme, Gimme, Gimme.' But also we want to give them what they don't expect -- songs that may not have been the singles, but are great album tracks.
"Some of those songs have been hidden in the past for ABBA fans. But then they came up for many fans through that movie 'Mamma Mia.' Like 'Slipping Through My Fingers,' which Meryl Streep sang so beautifully in 'Mamma Mia.' That song was not so well-known, but now it is, through that movie. It is one we will do in Utah."
Fast said the musicians are looking forward to playing with the symphony in Utah. They toured for a number of years with the London Symphony, and have played as well with England's Royal Philharmonic and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
"We don't do it on a regular basis, but it is great to be backed up by a symphony orchestra when it does happen, because the sound is enormous. It is especially fun for the audience -- the powerful sound increases the excitement."
When asked why ABBA had such staying power, Fast said, "A good song is a good song. The Beatles are still around. Everyone loves Elvis. Everyone loves Johnny Cash. ABBA, too -- they were around a little more than 10 years, but are the second-best-selling band, after The Beatles."
When "ABBA Gold" was released in 1992, Fast notes, it went straight to No. 1 on the UK charts and also did quite well in markets worldwide.
"That is pretty good for a band that had not been around for 10 years," said Fast. "These are really just brilliant pop songs."