The Story of... 'The Winner Takes it All' by ABBA

31 January 2022, 10:13 | Updated: 13 October 2023, 16:01

The Story of... 'The Winner Takes It All' by ABBA
The Story of... 'The Winner Takes It All' by ABBA. Picture: Polar/YouTube

By Tom Eames

'The Winner Takes It All' by ABBA is one of the most heartbreaking breakup songs of all time, and it always makes us feel emotional.

ABBA's 'The Winner Takes it All' is up there as one of the finest pop ballads of all time, but did you know its moving history? 

Here's all you need to know about the classic love song (tissues at the ready):

  1. Who wrote 'The Winner Takes It All'?

    Benny (left) and Bjorn (right) in 2014
    Benny (left) and Bjorn (right) in 2014. Picture: Getty

    Like most ABBA songs, it was written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus.

    It originally had the title 'The Story of My Life'.

    Agnetha Fältskog sang the lead vocals on the ballad, which was recorded the same year that she and Ulvaeus divorced.

  2. What is the song about?

    ABBA - The Winner Takes It All (1980) HD 0815007

    Bjorn Ulvaeus has denied that the song is about his and Agnetha's divorce.

    However, he has said that is about divorce in general and the emotions that come with it.

    He said: "It is the experience of a divorce, but it's fiction. There wasn't a winner or a loser in our case. A lot of people think it's straight out of reality, but it's not."

  3. It was a tad awkward at first

    ABBA. Picture: Getty

    The song put Agnetha in the strange situation of being asked to sing a breakup song, written by her ex-husband, just a short period afterwards.

    However, Bjorn didn't intend it to happen this way.

    He said: "I sang a demo of it myself which a lot of people liked and said, you have to sing that. But I saw the sensible thing, of course, it had to go to Agnetha.

    "I remember coming to the studio with it and everyone said, Oh this is great, wonderful It was strange hearing her singing it. It was more like an actress doing something when she sang it, but deeply moving. Afterwards, there were a few tears as well."

    He added: "Usually it's not a good idea to write when you're drunk, but it all came out on that one. By the time I wrote 'The gods may throw their dice' the bottle was empty."

  4. It is Agnetha's favourite ABBA song

    Agnetha said: "Björn wrote it about us after the breakdown of our marriage. The fact that he wrote it exactly when we divorced is touching really.

    "It was fantastic to do that song because I could put in such feeling. I didn't mind sharing it with the public. It didn't feel wrong. There is so much in that song.

    "It was a mixture of what I felt and what Björn felt, but also what Benny and Frida went through."

  5. Where was the video filmed?

    Abba - The Winner Takes It All (Official Video)

    The music video to promote the song was filmed in July 1980, on Marstrand, an island on the Swedish west coast.

    It was directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat).

  6. How did it perform in the charts?

    The song topped the chart in the UK in 1980, and peaked at number 8 in the US.

    It also reached number one in Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, and South Africa.

  7. Who has covered it?

    Meryl Streep - The Winner Takes it All (Full Video) MAMMA MIA!

    The song features in both the stage and movie versions of the ABBA-inspired musical Mamma Mia! In the film, it was sung by Meryl Streep.

    Bjorn later said: "Meryl Streep is a goddess. And at first we couldn't believe that she wanted to do it.

    "I was completely taken by surprise when I saw her performance in the movie. To hear her delivering the songs with all the emotion we put in the lyrics is more than we could have dreamed of."

    Cher - The Winner Takes It All [Official HD Audio]

    Other covers include:

    - Susan Boyle

    - Cher

    - Beverley Craven

    - Jane Lynch and Matthew Morrison (in Glee)