ABBA's manager Stig Anderson would often come up with titles that musicians Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson would write lyrics around, and this is an example of that workflow. The phrase "Mamma Mia" is an Italian saying that literally means "My Mother" and is used to express surprise.
In a great example of lyrical dissonance, this infectiously catchy tune contains very sad lyrics dealing with heartbreak and the pain of letting someone go who you wish you could have back. This attention to lyrics (at least the English ones) was new for ABBA. Bjorn Ulvaeus explained: "In the beginning lyrics were a sort of necessary evil for us, just something you had to have to sing, usually it was about looking out for a hookline and then building something around that. But by the third album, when my grasp of English had got much better because we'd traveled a lot, I began to think that it would be fun to say something as well, and that people would listen to what we sang."
Owing to a Musician's Union ruling, ABBA were forced to perform the song live on Top Of The Pops when it hit #1, the only time they appeared live on the show.
The catchy xylophone-like hook that sets up the song was played on a marimba, an instrument of African origin similar to the xylophone but with wooden bars. Benny found a marimba in the studio and began playing it to see what it sounded like. He liked the sound it made and began using it with a tick-tock effect.
This was the last song to be written and recorded for the album.
The UK #1 single that preceded this was Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody
," which also contained the words "Mamma Mia" in the lyrics.
In addition to the UK, this topped the charts in Ireland, Switzerland, West Germany and Australia.
In 1999, the musical stage production Mamma Mia! opened in London. The show was based on ABBA's songs, which were used in the production. The show opened on Broadway in 2001 and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical, but lost to Thoroughly Modern Millie.
In 2010 the Danish right wing People's Party reworked this song's main lyric in honor of the organisation's chief, Ms Pia Kjaersgaard. Their revised version was played at the party's rallies, and the organisation's youth wing performed a live version. After Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus threatened to sue the party an out of court settlement was reached in which the Danes agreed to stop using the song.