The Swedish pop legends are reuniting next year for a mysterious “technology-based” project. Excited? Sophie Scott is.
I started writing this thinking it would be a cinch, as I absolutely LOVE ABBA. However, it turns out, I am also really easily upset, sexually traumatised and enraged by ABBA. Here are some examples of why.
I was seven when ABBA bestrode Eurovision like a glitterbeat behemoth, and this record sounded and looked like nothing else I had ever seen before. I found it extremely rousing. As did all of Europe, empirically.
When I Kissed the Teacher
All my teachers were female and, apart from Miss Ewan the maths teacher who was about two years older than me (or looked it and, oh god, I crushed on her so hard), I did not want to kiss any of them.
However, even in the frankly odd 1970s this song seemed a little… off message. Time has confirmed this. Don’t kiss teachers. Unless you’re kind of the same age as them or at least not in their actual school, and definitely not in front of all your school friends. Everybody was right to scream, ABBA.
Take a Chance on Me
The Name of the Game
Money, Money, Money
Absolutely solid gold pop. Shiny and glossy like an expensive and reliable Swedish car, with permanently ‘on’ sidelights.
FACT: some of the harmonies on ABBA songs are achieved with vari-speeding, a technique where you play prerecorded tapes at different speeds to create a distinct high pitch and timbre. No one, not even ABBA, can actually sing these harmonies in real life. Except for my sister. She doesn’t know she’s not supposed to be able to do this.
Dancing Queen was kept off the number one spot by Bohemian Rhapsody, in case you needed another reason to dislike Bohemian Rhapsody. EVEN MORE FACTS: the piano in Oliver’s Army by Elvis Costello was directly influenced by Dancing Queen.
OPINION: I greatly love the backing vocals in The Name of the Game, and I love that everyone is laughing really hard in the video.
Knowing Me, Knowing You
The Winner Takes It All
One of Us
The Day Before You Came
BUT THE LAUGHTER STOPS. The unutterable sadness of some ABBA songs reflects the true misery of relationships breaking up.
I can only imagine how hard it was to sing about relationships ending, while your relationship is ending, and the song is written by (and with) the person with whom your relationship is ending, and the track is accompanied by them. Truly there are few songs as harrowing as The Winner Takes It All (I just have something in my eye).
FACT: Blancmange did an excellent cover of The Day Before You Came.
Does Your Mother Know
This came out in 1979, when I was 12. Wikipedia describes it as “a pastiche to 1950s/early 1960s-style rock and roll and touches on the subject of a man responding to the flirting of a much younger girl.”
‘Touches on’, as in, is a man attributing uncontrollable sexual desires to someone also described in the song as a ‘child’. I saw a live recording (I suspect this one) in which Björn Ulvaeus, who sings the song, wears a tight fitting lilac jumpsuit. I was absolutely aghast.
A couple of years ago, I can recall a friend saying he’d been about 11 when Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Relax was released, and how the video left him horrified by the possible reaches of adult sexuality, and his desire to have nothing to do with it. I felt this way about Does Your Mother Know, in which men wearing strange all-in-one get-ups seem be negging very young women into sex.
It seemed to broadcast a terrible signal from the immediate future, where adult men in horrible outfits send mixed messages and are quite bullying*. I’m sure that’s not exactly what ABBA were quite ‘going for’. I’m listening to it now and it’s still slightly panicking me.
*To be fair, I was growing up in Blackburn and maybe ABBA were sending a rather pointed and detailed message for my immediate attention, like in Star Wars. Oh hang on, have I got this all wrong? Were they trying to help me?
Super Trooper/I Have a Dream/Thank You for the Music
Some of the worst records ever made. I will not even link to them. I will brook no argument with this. Sure, there may be worse records out there, but these have to be in any top 10.
The only thing I will say is that Super Trooper has the excellent backing vocal of “super-per trooper-per” and my brother and I could sing that repeatedly and make our younger sister cry. But that’s not exactly something I am proud of and, frankly, ABBA should not have encouraged us.
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I am a cognitive neuroscientist at UCL, and I study brains, voices, speaking and laughing. In my spare time I try to turn theory into practice with science based stand up comedy. @sophiescott