The joyful sounds of ABBA first hit my ears as a nearly-eight year old in Australia in 1976. ‘SOS’ was playing on dad’s radio in his work shed and it was love at first listen. RCA then very quickly rustled up a ‘Best of Abba’ record for us Aussies to catch up on the songs we’d missed three years earlier.
Holding the ‘best of ABBA’ later that year it was also complete adoration at first sight. I wanted to marry ALL of them – Annafrid, Benny, Bjorn and Agnetha. Nothing sexual, mind, just an all-encompassing fascination the four and pouring over every single word written on every album or single cover I could get my hands on. ‘Best of Abba’ and ‘Abba Arrival’ were played over and over in glorious mono on my parents’ 1960s-era radiogram in the billiard room.
Give or take a few million copies worldwide, the top ten most beloved and best-selling ABBA songs are:
- Dancing Queen (1976)
- Fernando (1976)
- Waterloo (1974)
- Take a chance on me (1977/78)
- The winner takes it all (1980)
- Knowing me Knowing You (1976/77)
- Money Money Money (1976/77)
- SOS (1975)
- Chiquitita (1978)
- Super Trouper (1980)
Songs 2 to 10 seem fair enough; all of them are classically brilliant pop songs. However, despite calling myself a true ABBA fan, I loathe ‘Dancing Queen.’ Always have, always will.
Even in 1976, I knew that the lines ‘you can jiiiive’ and ‘dig in the Dancing Queen’ were inexcusably daggy, eclipsed only by the unfashionableness of ‘feel the beat of the tambourine, oh yeah…’
And as for feeling that beat, it was plodding. There was no way that any queen, let alone one famed for dance, was going to be able to throw any half-decent shapes in the nightclub. To my young ears it wasn’t much different to ‘Nina, pretty ballerina’ which they’d recorded a couple of years earlier (also a dud dance song).
Despite this, I will confess to having serious jealousy for their velour jumpsuits. My mum recognised this and bought me several velour tops to wear to school; an act of kindness that made up for not being able to afford to take me to the ABBA concert at Footy Park in Adelaide a year later.
As the years rolled by and the Swedes released more albums and both couples eventually divorced, I did indeed develop sexual feelings (but not towards ABBA) and realised that I could like other groups, singers and performers as well. By this time, it was a sign of great shame and uncoolness to admit to remaining an ABBA fan in Australia, so when their albums were re-released on CDs in 1989, I bought each album immediately but hid them under copies of more publicly-approved artists like Fine Young Cannibals, Transvision Vamp and Def Leppard.
By then 21 years old and with a decent stereo, my ABBA moments were private but much more critical. No record scratches to contend with and headphones to muffle any derision from my flatmates. Instead of obediently playing each album and individual song over and over, it gave me the chance genuinely decide which songs were standouts and which ones were best left to the ‘skip’ button.
As for the remaining nine of the top ten sellers, my memories are much fonder.
Fernando –1976 was the perfect year to be an ABBA fan. There seemed to be a free ABBA poster in every newspaper or magazine. Mum let us hang a sheet on the clothesline to form a stage curtain so that my neighbour Jodi could perform as Frida and myself as Agnetha to a captive audience of my younger brother. Under the threat of a ‘dead leg’, David had to watch us or join us ‘onstage’ as a Bjorn and Benny combination: neither option was enjoyable for him.
Waterloo – best rumbling, excitement-building start to a song ever. Still the best Eurovision Song Contest winner by miles.
Take a chance on me – my best friend Samantha had her own record player in her room and got the brand new ‘Abba the Album’ from her parents the moment it was released in Australia, which was January 1978. My folks weren’t so flush with cash, so a new Abba record was always my birthday present. Unfortunately for me, my birthday was in November. Until then, I would carefully place the record onto her player, follow the line in order to avoid the first song ‘Eagle’ and listen to ‘Take a chance on me,’ until Samantha begged me to come outside. The boys singing ‘take a chance, take a chance, take a chance chance chance’ impressed me no end.
The winner takes it all – Even this then-twelve year old knew that the song embodied the pain of Agnetha and Bjorn’s divorce. Agnetha looked suitably heartbroken, all baby blue eyeshadow, fried blonde perm and her three mates laughing happily in the background.
Knowing me Knowing you – Even at eight years old, I’d wander around the billiard room, hair brush in hand, doing my best to fully emote the pain of divorce and split families. ‘In these old familiar rooms, children would pla-a-a-y….’ Mum’s laughter was often heard in the next room.
Money Money Money – Oh to be able to sing as fast as Frida did in the verses! And those flapper dresses! Ah haaaaa, aaaa haaaaa….
SOS – Still a complete banger today. Benny’s best piano, strained faces staring sadly at each other – and at us, the viewer – and Agnetha still with the adorably cute gap in her teeth.
Chiquitita – Lovely song and the only new release to keep me sane during the endless Grease soundtrack days of 1978. I bought the single, watched the interminable snow TV special and was consoled by receiving my OWN record player for Christmas and a funky purple vinyl bean bag to sit on.
Super Trouper – Such an uplifting song, but probably not beloved of Glaswegians when Frida admitted that she was ‘sick and tired of everything’ when calling her beloved from Glasgow. My only concern is with the lads singing ‘trouper pah poo per’ in the background. Was it just a convenient word to riff on or were they crying out for fibre?
And back to Dancing Queen; the biggest selling single and my least favourite. My replacement would be the complete opposite – try ‘The Visitors’ from their final album. Banned in Russia during the cold war, the urgently pounding soundtrack perfectly echoes the paranoia and danger of fighting back and paying a hefty price. Plus, it’s an amazing song to dance to!
So, waiting for ending 2019 that new tracks will finally be released, after 35 long long years, our question is Dancing Queen your favourite ABBA song?