I’ve often said it takes a real man to admit he likes ABBA, so I’ll be a real he-man and confess my love for the world’s greatest pop group. Hey, I have company in the ABBA Admiration Society with the likes of Bono and The Edge from Youse2, Tina Turner, R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, Alice Cooper and even Oasis hard-ass Noel Gallagher. Dead loser Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain even once listed them as an influence—funny, it never showed in his music, but I digress...
I’ll spare you the minutiae of the history of ABBA, which is well-documented, and focus on why I enjoy their music—because it’s pretty bloody good! As beloved as ABBA are, you’d think there would be more artists who try to emulate them and their style, but given the dearth of decent pop music over the last 15-20 years, that is sadly not the case. Benny and Björn were/are master craftsmen at creating killer pop songs with catchy hooks and great melodies, and Agnetha and Frida are two of the finest female vocalists ever to grace this planet. True, some of ABBA’s stuff was on the schlocky side, and toward the end of their career they leaned a bit too hard on danceable fluff'n'stuff, but overall they produced some of the dandiest pop music of all-time.
I first got into ABBA sometime in ’75 when “S.O.S.” came out, mostly because I mistakenly thought it was my girl Olivia Newton-John singing it at first. Loved the song anyway, even when I found out it was the group that did “Waterloo” the year before. The summer of ‘76 was when I first embraced Kiss, but all the while I found myself also being drawn to their polar musical opposite, that little ol’ group from Sweden. The women-folk in the group certainly caught my eye, especially my (other) girl Frida, as I’m a sucker for redheads. People often tend to write off ABBA’s music as lightweight happy ‘70s music (“When I Kissed The Teacher“, "Honey, Honey" for instance), but at closer look, they also excelled at break-up songs—"Knowing Me, Knowing You", "The Winner Takes It All", “S.O.S.” and “One Of Us” being prime examples.
It took them a while, but ABBA finally scored a #1 hit in America with the quintessential pop record, 1977‘s “Dancing Queen”, but after that, they began to sound a bit too mechanical and things suddenly became minimalist with ABBA-The Album, ABBA-The Movie, etc., therefore it’s their earlier stuff that I prefer the most. In the 25 years since the group ceased recording and performing, there has been an unprecedented wave of ABBA nostalgia, with the hit musical Mamma Mia!, tribute groups like Björn Again, and movies featuring ABBA music like Muriel’s Wedding and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, as well as fans clamoring for a reunion concert/tour. Regarding the latter, I think a reunion—even just a one-off concert—would be a big downer, and I’d rather remember ABBA the way they were.
For the record, I pronounce the group’s name ‘AH-ba‘, not ‘aaaa-ba’, or even the Aussie variation ‘Ib-ba’! You say ‘to-MAY-to’, I say ‘to-MAH-to’…
My all-time ABBA Top 20:
20) “Honey, Honey” (1974) Cute little pop song that features one of the silliest lines in music history, “You’re a doggone beast!” Then again, it wasn't nearly as silly as what they wore in this video...
19) “Ring, Ring” (1973) You don’t suppose this is Ernestine the phone operator’s favorite song, do ya? “One ringy-dingy…two ringy-dingies…”
18) “Angeleyes” (1979) Second-best track off the overly disco-y Voulez-Vous LP.
17) “Take A Chance On Me” (1978) ABBA-The Album was a tad disappointing to me following Arrival, but this was easily the best single from it. Seeing Frida in thigh-high boots in the video was also quite a draw to my 14-year-old eyes!
16) “Does Your Mother Know?” (1979) Björn—who was 34 at the time—sounds rather Shaun Cassidy-ish here singing lines like “but I can’t take a chance on a chick like you,” but it’s a cool song anyway.
15) “Hole In Your Soul” (1978) Borderline Rock ‘N’ Roll here and very guitar-driven, a rarity on an ABBA record.
14) “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” (1975) Song that holds the world record for most often repeated words in a song title, and a natural for any wedding reception.
13) “When I Kissed The Teacher” (1977) Lead-off track from the Arrival album. Cornball as all get-out, but I like it anyway.
12) “Bang-A-Boomerang” (1975) The title has a hokey Archies quality to it, the chorus is hokey and so is the video, but the song still works!
11) “Why Did It Have To Be Me?” (1977) This song was often a concert highlight with Björn trading lead vocals with Frida while Agnetha was off-stage smoking a joint. Just kidding!
10) “Intermezzo #1” (1975) A rare instrumental from ABBA, this one gave brother Benny a chance to flex his muscles and show off his very underrated prowess on the keys. That’s pronounced “Inter-MET-zo” for youse non-Italians out there…
9) “Mamma Mia” (1975) Funny, they don’t look Italian…
8) “The Winner Takes It All” (1980) ABBA’s second-greatest break-up song ever, and Agnetha’s finest hour on record.
7) “Waterloo” (1974) Song that put ABBA on the map/globe and made Sweden famous for something other than Volvos and meatballs. It’s bouncy, catchy and pure ‘70s, and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that! Ignore the white "Soul Train" dancers at the beginning of this video...
6) “On And On And On” (1980) This one has really grown on me over the years, even though it’s from ABBA’s later era when their records tended to be a bit cold and over-produced.
5) “Knowing Me, Knowing You” (1977) One of the best break-up songs ever, this was Frida’s finest hour on record. The twin lead guitars on the outro were a nice touch too. Looks like Agnetha OD'd on the blue eye shadow in the video!
4) “So Long” (1975) This catchy little number went beyond break-up song to fuck-you song! ABBA used to close their concerts with this one, naturally (based on the title, not the fuck-you part, I presume).
3) “I’ve Been Waiting For You” (1975) Highly underrated track which features great vocals from Agnetha as she sings of devotion to someone without losing her cool.
2) “Dancing Queen” (1977) Arguably ABBA’s most famous song, and one of their very best. Pop singles don’t get much more perfect than this one.
1) “S.O.S.” (1975) Love the Wall of Sound effect during the choruses here. This song was the first ABBA song that really stuck with me, and remains my favorite, too.