She may be a dancing queen, but she’s still underage

Posted: August 21, 2011 in music, Record reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Gold: Greatest Hits
More ABBA Gold
What? Still Gold?
OK, I made that one up

There was a time in the late 1970s when ABBA ruled. Though they captured the #1 spot on the U.S. Top 40 charts only once (with “Dancing Queen”), everything they recorded for about three years caused a global commotion. ABBA was a cultural force. Without ABBA we wouldn’t have had the film Mama Mia, obviously, but we also wouldn’t have had Muriel’s Wedding. The absence of ABBA would’ve punched a big hole in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I don’t know if it’s a shame or a blessing that ABBA existed before MTV.

Even U2 likes ABBA, or at least they like “Dancing Queen,” and come on, who doesn’t? It’s one of the iconic songs of the ’70s, the perfect companion to The Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” and the antidote to just about anything by Queen. Whenever I put on a dance, I could count on “Dancing Queen” to draw every woman onto the dance floor the way Jupiter suctions up moons. Even women who had already left the building felt a disturbance in The Force and surged back inside.

But it’s clear in hindsight – it was clear even while it was happening – that most of ABBA’s songs were solidified crud. It was just a higher grade of crud than what most mainstream pop bands of the era were peddling. Bread and Rod Stewart, for example.

The good songs, though, are very good. “Dancing Queen” exists in a realm beyond criticism. “Take a Chance on Me” is a terrific sing-along number. “S.O.S.” is fun, unless Pierce Brosnan is trying to sing it. “Knowing Me, Knowing You” is not only ABBA’s most complex song, it’s their only song that can be compared to The Beatles without looking ridiculous. How many bands have even one song that can do that? Which reminds me: “Waterloo” should’ve been recorded by Ringo.

Which further reminds me: One of ABBA’s contemporaries, The Cars, are the U.S. version of ABBA. This is particularly evident on “You Might Think” and “Tonight She Comes.” The Cars replaced the female voices with male voices and brought the guitars forward, but otherwise it’s the same froth, different beach.

So here’s a tip of the critic’s pointy hat to Agnetha, Frida, Bjorn, and Benny, and not just because the boys also made the musical Chess. Life wouldn’t have been the same without you. Though I wouldn’t mind living in a world where there was no Fernando to hear the drums and Agnetha and Frida could reliably find a man after midnight.

  1. I love ABBA, but then, I’ve been accused of having no taste. I think my brother actually proved it Scientifically one time by bring forth (during the early heady days of my Led Zepplin craze at 19) those well-worn tell-tale copies of Fame and A Chorus Line I with which I had supposedly tortured him and warped his delicate ear and ability to relate to his generation. Yeah, whatever Falco lover! I say that now, but at the time I didn’t have the courage of my convictions and confessed my lack of taste and with abject sincerity. Two years later, while still adoring Traffic and Janis Joplin and Dr. John and The Band, I found to my horror and my brother’s that I was just as smitten with Rhythm Nation!

    Taking a break from my Joan Armatrading obsession and love of listening to “I Shot The Sherriff” and other records owned and sanctioned by my father to sing Super Trooper into live microphones at my groovy uncle’s music room with its ski-lodge décor was one of the true musical joys of my childhood along with dancing on the back of the couch to Monday Morning, by Fleetwood Mac. In short, I’m definitely one of the moons willing to orbit the ABBA epicenter and Muriel’s Wedding and Priscilla have reached demi-iconic status in the narrative of films I’ve loved. (Far surpassed by Woody Allen, but still) But I agree with almost everything you’re saying, especially the insight into the similarity of ABBA and The Cars and the impossibility of comparing anyone to Beatles any day of the week.

    Anyhoo! Thanks for providing me with an opportunity to ramble!

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      I laughed so hard I scared The Notorious S.M.A.L.L., who was sleeping under my desk. You have no taste?? According to a guy who loves Falco? Granted, if you dance to Fleetwood Mac you might end up on one of those greeting cards that feature lists (“You know you have no musical taste if…” and then you open the card and discover a cartoon figure rocking out on a couch while the stereo blares the words “Monday morning you sure look fine…”), but leaving aside that abberation I’d say you’re as groovy as your uncle’s music room!

  2. Barb says:

    OK, I’ll grant you Muriel’s Wedding (thanks to Toni Colette, not ABBA), but I have zero interest in Mamma Mia and never will. Am I the only woman on the planet who never once felt transfixed by the abba-dabba-doo-doo?

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      Probably. But your love affair with Depeche Mode makes up for it. (I’d love to hear ABBA wade into “Black Celebration” and Depeche Mode tackle “Waterloo.”)

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