Friday, March 31, 2017

1976 was peak Abba

To the modern listener, 1976 is pretty much peak Abba: this is the year of Mamma Mia and Dancing Queen reaching #1 in the UK charts. 

Oh, and Fernando too, which is even odder than I remember it being. More of which later.

Image by AVRO (FTA001019454_012 from Beeld & Geluid wiki) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons 

Although the monster hits continued till the end of the decade, this is the year of their latterly career-defining songs - the evergreen floor filler and the one that they named the jukebox musical after.

What's most impressive to me is that each of the three songs crushes all-comers in different contemporary styles. Mamma Mia is the acme of 1970's glam pop, Dancing Queen shows them effortlessly incorporating a kind of Scandi-disco into their repetoire and Fernando is a very good example of the decade's bewildering fondness for terrible holiday balladry.

I'll be honest here, I don't really care much for Fernando. But even then, it rises above its genre by featuring a lyric about Mexican revolutionaries, which I hadn't even picked up on till now, assuming to my shame that it was just about good times down by the Med. Now a crypto-political lyric is a very 70's thing to do, to be sure, but it also shows that the simple image we have of Abba as happy-go-lucky Swedes in jumpsuits doesn't entirely cut it. 

Our unfortunate tendency to reduce a band's discography down to one or two songs does mean though that both the other 'Abba standards' here have been heard far too much. There was a time when I used to sit out Dancing Queen at student discos - comfortably my favourite song of the three now - because any joy in it had been worn out through sheer repetition. 

This is the odd paradox of writing incredibly well assembled, catchy pop songs - they'll both get you played and overplayed. It's a shame, partly because it means that other great Abba tracks get comparatively neglected (I'm particularly fond of the sublime and ridiculous Gimme Gimme Gimme), but also because it tends to neglect the depth and breadth of what they achieved

It also reinforces the snobbish critique of Abba as purveyors of (at best) superior throwaway 70's Europop. As if this was easy to do, let alone in a second language! But as my investigations of 1976 are discovering, it seems to have been the Brits who were mainly responsible for producing the glut of mid-decade kitsch in the charts

So while Abba, specialists in all styles, reflected the music around them, they've survived in the collective consciousness to the present day because they also happened to be very, very good. To put it concisely, if a little strawmannishly, you can't blame Abba for punk!

Now, go off and listen to Dancing Queen. See that you have a boogie round the house while you do.

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