Posts Tagged ‘ABBA’

Gold: Greatest Hits
1993
More ABBA Gold
1996
What? Still Gold?
OK, I made that one up
ABBA

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.

The birthday of our nation is a good time to complain about complainers. I am referring here to “dues songs,” in which musicians who have been made wealthy by their music describe how difficult it is to be successful. And apparently success is very difficult indeed.

The ’70s were an unmatched decade for whiners, best typified by Deep Purple’s immortal doorstop, “Smoke on the Water.” This is of course the heart-rending ballad of a band that can’t record their music at a studio in Switzerland, not because the government of Switzerland wants to spray them for bugs but because the studio burned down. So the band makes other arrangements to record their music in Switzerland. Rough.

ABBA’s “Super Trouper” is not quite as dumb; ABBA, unlike Deep Purple, didn’t believe you had to have the guitar solo and then the organ solo except when you had the organ solo and then the guitar solo. But the story, about the love of one special person saving the singer from the horrors of performing before adoring crowds, makes me think they’re not such troupers.

Alas, even an artist as awesome as Joni Mitchell complained (though ruefully, and with wit) about the success that allowed her to enjoy carefree vacations abroad in “Free Man in Paris.” “Free Man in Paris,” by the way, is superior to the entire Deep Purple catalog, not counting “Hush.”

Moving to other decades, The Byrds and Bad Company warned us of the perils of reaching for the top in “So You Want to Be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star” and “Shooting Star,” respectively. Of course both bands were thoroughly enjoying those perils at the time.

Say what you will about The Grateful Dead, they never complained about the Deadheads.

A dues song done right
Bob Seger writes about the rigors of the road in “Turn the Page”:

Later in the evening
As you lie awake in bed
With the echoes from the amplifiers
Ringin’ in your head
You smoke the day’s last cigarette,
Rememberin’ what she said

“Turn the Page” is a journalistic, matter-of-fact account of Seger’s life that gains power from the slow accumulation of details, not from lamenting the illogical. When Seger released this song in 1972 he was unknown, unheralded, and unwealthy. Listening to this song you can’t help but root for him.

A dues variation
Peter Yorn is a singer/songwriter with a knack for reflection and a love for Bruce Springsteen. His “Rock Crowd” is a whole new look at life on the road:

I sit backstage
Oh I never know what to play
My mind gets cloudy
Can’t think of what I wanted to say
But when I see you
And we’re moving through the night
I feel like I can make it through another night

[chorus]
Rock crowd throw your arms around me
I feel glad when you all surround me
It’s you, it’s you who grounds me
When you’re done put me back where you found me

This song is beautiful and haunting. I wish it had a video. I wish I had a rock crowd!

Thousand Foot Krutch also addresses their fans in “Throw Up Your Rawkfist.” I love saying “Throw Up Your Rawkfist,” particularly at my birthday parties and when I’m teaching chess. But Thousand Foot Krutch is a Christian rap/head-banger outfit that makes me want to spray them for bugs, and their less-than-impressive lyrics don’t set my heart afire: “Throw up your rockfist/if you’re feelin’ it when I drop this.” Don’t drop it in here, I just vacuumed.

More news from Steveworld
I entered one of my short stories in a competition at Glimmer Train and finished in the Top 25. There were 1,000 entries so I’m feeling double plus good about this. Of course, if I had finished in the Top 3 and had gotten published in the zine, my next story would be about how awful it is to be published and rich and to find every train station surging with girls.

I have a new post in The Nervous Breakdown. This time around I use the occasion of my birthday (July 3) to share everything I’ve ever learned. You only have to scroll down twice! Thanks as always to Special D. I’ve learned a lot around here.

Happy Independence Day! Soon I shall be drinking the Bloody Marys of Liberty. (Robert Farley)