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2018 is a year of re-emerging ABBA Mania. After the commercial success of 2008 film version for the smash Broadway show Mamma Mia!, fans in July were rewarded once again with sequel Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! bringing back the fantastic original ensemble cast, but this time inviting disco queen Cher along to the party too. In September, Cher continued this celebration of ABBA’s extraordinary musicality by producing a cover album Dancing Queen to showcase some of their greatest hits with her one of a kind vocal talent. What’s more, December sees the quartet reuniting for a BBC and NBC broadcast of a special hologram performance of themselves in a digitalised ‘avatar’ form. And if this goes to plan, a tour dubbed the ‘Abbartar Tour’ will see these holograms perform in an international showcase of their hits to the world once again; Bjorn has even teased the release of a newly written track "I Still Have Faith in You," a whole 35 years since their last single "Thank You for the Music" was released. With all these ABBA celebrations happening, 2018 has summoned a special gratitude for the group, sending them a message of thank you for your music.
This year’s surge of ABBA festivities shows us just how powerful their cult following has remained ever since their breakup in 1983. The sustained respect and cross-generational enjoyment of their music has seemingly withstood an ‘ABBA Effect’—it’s almost like their songs were injected with an anti-ageing formula that allows them to continually grow a huge afterlife, ultimately making ABBA a force of pop immortality in the decades ever since. Displayed throughout their eight studio albums, their music was joyous and light, and all the more humane and cynical at the same time. With an ear for obscure and complex pop melodies, Bjorn and Benny wrote these songs perfectly for the sensual harmonic voices of their band-member wives Agnetha and Anni-Fred. With the group’s talents of song-writing and singing, a pop super-group was formed, taking 80s music and future pop in an entirely new direction. To celebrate the success of one of pop’s greatest musical acts, I countdown a list of some of their finest career-defining tracks.
10) When I Kissed the Teacher
One of ABBA’s least known singles, "When I Kissed the Teacher" demonstrates their knack for fun pop sensationalism at its finest. Telling a light-hearted tale of how their “whole class went wild/when I kissed the teacher,” this upbeat and flirty track bursts through to listeners with a huge theatrical chorus and a playful cheery melody. Although the song failed to reach the commercial heights of ABBA’s other singles, the song stands as an example of when pop’s silliness of nonsensical and ridiculous lyrics simply does not matter because the tune they are sung to is just too damn good for you to care.
9) Knowing Me, Knowing You
Released from their third studio album Arrival, "Knowing Me, Knowing You" is arguably the first of ABBA’s songs that explicitly addresses the troubles of their in-group marriages. Sung to the slow-building beat of the opening verse, Agnetha and Anni-Fred harmonise on there being “no more care-free laughter, [only] silence ever after” within their on-going relationships. The wistful and melancholic chorus that follows the verse stands as a poignant point in their musical journey, with it being the first time the group musically expose such raw emotions to their fans.
8) Take a Chance on Me
Bjorn has recently disclosed that the pulsing opening beats of ‘take a chance, take a cha cha chance chance” came to him as he listened to the rhythm of his breathing when on a morning run. What Bjorn created from this was one of ABBA’s most fun tongue-in-cheek tracks, lyrically describing the longing to recapture the love from the “one who got away.” The song’s interchanging dynamic tempo playfully evolves the track into a disco-esque floor filler with bouncy electronic synths and an earworm melody of a chorus.
7) Super Trouper
"Super Trouper," released in 1981, vents the loneliness of ABBA’s heavy touring schedule at the time, with the lyrics “all I do is sleep and eat and sing” signifying the toll that the band’s success was having on their composure as musical artists. However, as the chimes of the chorus kick in, the band express their ability to find poise and inner strength with the “super trouper lights” of their stage blinding the pain. Although of course fans were unable to directly relate to this down-side of fame, the uplifting and liberating melody of the chorus demonstrates ABBA’s musical ability to bring the fans right along with them in their dwelling of pain, no matter the context of the lyrics.
6) Angel Eyes
The dizzying melodies of "Angel Eyes" make it perhaps ABBA’s most underrated songs. Although not as universally recognised as their other singles, "Angel Eyes" stands more than comfortably amongst them with its fantastically joyous beat and catchy chorus bellowing “look into his angel eyes, one look and you’re hypnotised." The song’s lyrics describe the conflicting feelings one feels during the heartbreak from a devilish ex, and remains an example of the band’s particular flair for masking negative emotions as exuberant chirpy pop songs.
5) Does Your Mother Know
This upbeat anthem features rare Bjorn-lead vocals, taking listeners on a high-speed and debauched journey that playfully describes the sexual promiscuousness of crazed female fans. "Does Your Mother Know" is a perfect fusion of ABBA’s staple bubblegum pop and the 80s synth-rock sounds that were prevalent in the surrounding years of their success. From the song’s beginning explosive guitar grooves to the pop hook of the chorus, "Does Your Mother Know" was a fresh new direction for the group, demonstrating their talents as genre-bending artists.
4) Mamma Mia
Perhaps their most iconic song, "Mamma Mia" changed everything for ABBA with its release from third album Arrival back in 1979. The song was the first of ABBA’s singles that captured the attention of mainstream listeners across the globe, with its bubbling piano beat that builds to a chorus erupting with the potent feelings of falling in love. The song manages to both cement the international flavourings of their Scandinavian roots, but also advance the theatricality of 1970’s mainstream pop through its lively melodies that seem to take a new turn at every chance possible.
3) Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)
The song’s opening electronic synths are perhaps some of the most recognisable sounds in pop history, with even Maddona using the beat for her 2005 smash-hit single "Hung Up." But until then, "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" stood as ABBA’s most overtly sexual song with Agnetha wailing into the chorus “is there a man out there, someone to hear my prayers?” Released in 1982 as one of their later singles, the track became a disco classic, full to the brim with fizzy melodies and an unrestrained expression of sexual desire; something refreshingly mature for ABBA, who with the release of this single, had officially evolved from their earlier more innocent sounds.
2) The Winner Takes It All
"The Winner Takes It All" is not only one of ABBA’s greatest songs, but one of the most refined executions of pop composition in the history of mainstream music. The vulnerable sounds of Agnetha’s voice in the verses and the emotional power of the melodic chorus perfectly encapsulates the personal battle of emotions that one faces in a break-up; first, the mourning of your emotional loss, and then the search for inner strength to fight through the pain. The fact the song was written by Bjorn in the midst of his own divorce from Agnetha makes this song all the more compelling.
1) Dancing Queen
Could number one be anything else? The first time Bjorn and Benny played the demo of "Dancing Queen" to their wives, they apparently broke down in tears with pride and excitement for being those who will sing it to the world. This is certainly no surprise, with the euphoric build of its uplifting chorus and the cathartic sentiment of the lyrics effortlessly expressing music’s ability to reach the dizzying heights of universal human elation through having a good time on the dance floor.