Apr 092020

Here’s a time when I truly wish that The Great 48 was back among us to go all “Jane, you ignorant slut” on my ass. We can only hope to get him back in the Halls of Rock. Meanwhile…


  22 Responses to “Let’s Get Real: ABBA”

  1. general slocum

    I’m in camp 1 or 3 singles. And they are mainly catchy scaffolding for memories of ABBA on late night TV.

  2. BigSteve

    No ABBA record is anywhere near as good as Dancing Queen, which is total genius. Name of the Game is the only other ABBA song I even like. I certainly didn’t listen to it when it was on the charts, and I’m not even sure how I came around, but now I can say I love everything about Dancing Queen, even the way the lyrics are not quite idiomatic. You can jive?

  3. mikeydread

    Re Dancing Queen, there’s detailed look/listen of this on the Strong Songs podcast and it’s bit of a revelation.
    ABBA’s Knowing Me, Knowing You is top drawer pop writing in my book, heartbreak and harmonies rarely so sweet

  4. mikeydread

    …in Australia ABBA were, and in a way remain, a huge band. I’m not sure they got quite the same traction in the US.

  5. diskojoe

    I found a copy of ABBA Gold @ my local Savers for $1.99 & it was well worth the price. I remember liking “Fernando” when I was a lad & they had other good songs like the ones already mentioned.

  6. 2000 Man

    I haven’t come around. I like them about as much as I like Bread.

  7. Happiness Stan

    Great singles band. I don’t bother with guilty pleasures and remember my enjoyment of Eurovision being humoured here in a way my celebrating the music of Terry Jacks never was.

    When ABBA won Eurovision in 74 glam had been more or less wrested from the beautiful elfin hands of Bowie and Bolan and was being transferred to bands like Sweet and Mud, who, even in their wives and girlfriends makeup, looked like they’d be more at home on a building site than Top of the Pops.

    Over here on pop radio – we only had two (state owned) pop music radio stations, one for the kids and one for our grannies paying Engelbert Humperdinck all day long, and no rock presence at all – it was the golden age of factory glam, with most of the top twenty either written by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman or produced by Mickie Most, while American radio also had stations that focused on hair and guitars. How we envied you until punk happened and our pop station started playing Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles all day.

    ABBA took the glam look, saw that Suzi Quatro was the hottest chick on the planet at the time so decided to double it, came up with hooks and riffs as good as anything else Europe was turning out and won the biggest talent competition in the world. I can’t find the viewing figures for 1974, but since it started in 1958 it’s always been somewhere between 100 million and 200 million viewers worldwide. And Waterloo was a great performance. We lived thirty miles from where it took place, I never quite forgave my dad for not taking us to see it live.

    I don’t own any of their records, but they’re impossible to avoid, and just the opening notes of Knowing Me Knowing You, Dancing Queen, Ring Ring, Waterloo and probably half a dozen others send a shiver down my spine whenever I hear them.

    Over here they were, and remain, vast and all pervading. I was eight when the Beatles broke up so had no understanding of their impact on culture until it was modern history. As a teenager I tried to be sniffy about them, but they were like the second Beatles – those who now claim that mantle for Bowie either weren’t there or are guilty of some revisionism. Which isn’t meant to be knocking Bowie, just pointing out that ABBA were the great hit factory of their age. And they weren’t the Beatles either…

  8. Happiness Stan

    Mr Dread, that strong songs podcast looks interesting, I’ve subscribed and will have a listen later. Must admit the first episode being Africa makes me slightly nervous, but will build up to that episode.

  9. Happiness Stan

    2000m, you’ve reminded me of a stand up comic popular at festivals over here called Woody Bop Muddy, whose act consists of getting records from charity shops, playing them and getting the audience to vote on whether they should be saved and sent to record heaven, or nailed to a board and smashed to pieces with a golden hammer. The Sound of Bread is one he particularly relishes describing his feelings towards and almost always receives the same fate.

  10. alexmagic

    I like ABBA. I think Benny (the bearded guy, naturally) had some genuine Jeff Lynne-esque pop craftsman skills, fully capable of making unstoppable musical earworms, though more pre-disposed to the structure of songs for a musical. Learning that the ABBA guys wrote “One Night In Bangkok” made a ton of sense, for sure. ABBA ends up being what ELO would have become if Roy Wood had stayed with the band and started gathering a cult of disco babes to sing with them as the 70s pushed on. Lynne is a pop music killer robot who would happily default to corny lyrics most of the time, but Wood (who I also love) is a lot weirder and prone to kitsch and big old time rock ‘n roll (emphasis on the roll) throwback stuff, which are the elements that generally keep rock enthusiasts away from ABBA, I think. With Wood, it’s a guy who genuinely likes rock ‘n roll songs, but because of the outfits and his general aura, it feels like he’s maybe making fun of it. With ABBA, they also genuinely love the big drama of rock ‘n roll, but the accents, the fact that no one is around to tell them not to make songs called “Bang a Boomerang”, and the wholesomeness of it all makes it seem like a joke they’re not in on. Basically, what if ELO was Xanadu all the time? The songs are still good, but no one can blame you if you can’t hear the hooks over the roller skates.

    Production is probably another issue. ABBA comes in at full volume all the time, and replaces peak-ELO’s use of actual strings with all faux-disco strings or similar stand-ins all the time, which also makes it harder to get to the actual music below.

    Take “SOS”, which I rate above “Dancing Queen” – the latter is a much more accessible song and a monster hit for a reason to be sure, but “SOS” has all the elements to be better. Put some real (or at least some real-sounding) strings on it, play up the guitar part under the “when you’re gone…” hook, and drop that right on A New World Record. “Knowing Me, Knowing You” is another one that would get much more respect (whatever that’s worth) as a song with about 20% less disco in the production. Same for “Take A Chance On Me” (maybe dial that disco back by 30%).

    Deep-cut wise, “Tiger” is another one that feels incredibly close to being a killer ELO song. Goofy as hell, but still great.

  11. Happiness Stan

    Alex, great comment!

  12. DQ is 3rd on my list of ABBA singles. I’ve always liked “Waterloo” and “SOS” more than DQ.

    I’m still amazed they could get a musical and two movies out that catalog! The ELO comparison is good. I liked Xanadu a lot when it was released

  13. I forgot about “Waterloo,” which for me, is the only song in their catalog that’s not lapped by “Dancing Queen.” The Magic Man did make some excellent points. I’m not surprised!

    Wow, “Waterloo” is the first hit I associate with them. It takes me back to a public pool we went to one summer, when I was 11 or 12. It was a highlight whenever it would play over the pool’s speakers. As an adult, I forget how sexually aware I was at 11, until I think of “Waterloo” and the scene at that public pool. I wanted to get real with this thread. It just got real for me.

  14. Happiness Stan

    Alex, I’ve seen the tribute band Bjorn Again open Glastonbury twice, about twenty years apart but exactly the same both times, they were phenomenal. The point you make about production struck me last summer in the sunshine, every song just starts at full pelt and stays there, never letting up, even Slade had a bit of light and shade – it just struck me actually that their songs often followed the quiet, loud, quiet, louder pattern usually ascribed to Pixies and Nirvana, shouldn’t be surprised I suppose.

    Just listened to that strong songs podcast about DQ, I’ll be listening to more of those, thanks.

  15. alexmagic

    Yeah, Stan, we’re on the same page for sure, they needed a little room to let the hooks breathe. “Dancing Queen” at least has the decency to ease in, which might why it ended up their signature song.

    “Waterloo” is another highly-enjoyable one that forgets to ever take its foot off the pedal. I also think it sounds really close to what Eddy & The Falcons-era Wizzard Roy Wood would have been doing if he’d managed to steal Jeff Lynne’s ELO budget. Proof of the commercial value of going with two lovely Swedish lead singers over a frontman who looks like Jack the Ripper in kabuki make-up.

  16. Magic Man, the tie-in to Roy Woods’ ups and downs is so nicely played! It’s like a fucking Master Class with all of you gathered here.

    That said, where’s The Great 48? Lady Miss Kiroyale? Mwall? Et al? Better must come.

  17. hrrundivbakshi

    There’s all kinds of deep, insightful commentary going on here — but all I can think about is this: I believe “Waterloo” and “Hi Hi Hi” by Paul McCartney are EXACTLY EQUIVALENT in quality. Not “just as good, though one strives for blah blah, while the other is obviously geared to mwah mwah mwah… aeolian cadences, punkish urgency, prefabricated lemon curd vs a pie coming out of an oven fueled by buffalo chips…” Just this: I love them both exactly evenly, and they rub the same healing balm over the same bumps on my brain.

    Waterloo = Hi, Hi, Hi

    I have spoken.


  18. Well welcome back!

  19. ladymisskirroyale

    Sorry I’m late to this party – tons of house cleaning and chores during what is nominally our “Spring Break.” Ha ha ha ha ha.

    As some of you may recall, I am firmly in Camp Abba. I love all aspects of Abba – they were the very first band I saw live (multiple costume changes!) and that they came to Phoenix, Arizona on that US tour is now, in retrospect, is very impressive. I still have my t-shirt from that show. I was probably one of the few kids at my school to go see Abba – as others have said, Abba wasn’t as big in the US as other parts of the world. But I have English cousins so got to hear all sorts of things that were popular there but never made it big in, say, Phoenix.

    I love the singles. My first album of theirs was a double-sided greatest hits. Favorite songs from their early years: “Waterloo,” “Honey Honey,” “Mamma Mia,” “SOS,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” and “Why Did It Have To Be Me.” I love the golden-era of Abba albums. “Arrival” is great, from start to last. The lyrics, are, well, not consistently solid, but the melodies are very very catchy. The follow up was “The Album” which was sort of pretentious, as it included a 3-song “mini musical” but includes solid singles. I didn’t follow subsequent albums as closely, until Erasure put out “Abba-esque” which was a totally fabulous send up of several of their later singles.

    I have sat through the Mamma Mia movies (groan), but which have been leavened by being able to turn to my friends who accompanied me and singing along (a la “Muriel’s Wedding).

    One day, when I get to Stockholm, I plan on going to the Abba museum!

  20. mikeydread

    Re my earlier comment about how much Australia loved ABBA, the tribute act Bjorn Again started here in 1988. Still going strong. I guess they prey the real ABBA never reforms – they’ll unemployed in a broken heartbeat.
    And the film Muriel’s Wedding is of course an Aussie story. Yep, we love ’em.

    On a slightly less jingoistic note, I dig Alex’s observations about ABBA and ELO. I always look to The Beatles as the reference point for ELO (basically what Bjorn Again are ABBA). But standing ELO against their Swedish contemporaries is revealing of song craft, arrangement and sound. Fascinating!

  21. I’m on Team Waterloo. I even tried to get a band I was in to do a scruffed up cover of it a few decades ago but was rebuffed.

  22. Where would you like me to start? Yes – they are a great great band. An albums band – not so much. Dancing Queen is great and all – but well down my list – all the following I consider to be greater – in no particular order: Eagle, Knowing Me Knowing You, Name of the Game, SOS, Lay All Your Love on Me, Gimme Gimme Gimme, The Visitors. If you don’t much like them, don’t like the fluffier stuff, never got into the imperial phase of the band, just don’t really get it – then might I recommend you skip to the end of that list and stick on the track The Visitors and crank it up – you might still enjoy that one.

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