SEQUINS AND SHADOWS
40 years of ABBA.
For decades the ABBA camp has staunchly insisted there will never be a reunion of the Swedish supergroup and, When All Is Said And Done, they haven’t. However, the release last year of Agnetha’s unexpected solo project, A, seemed to signify a major shift in the ABBA landscape. Here was pop’s Greta Garbo finally returning to the charts, making videos, happily doing interviews and seemingly at ease with the adulation she’d once apparently shunned. In fact, it was more like, “I was never really that lonely old woman hiding out on a Swedish island that you made me out to be!”
The next significant shift came when Agnetha appeared on stage with Take That’s Gary Barlow for a rendition of one of her new tunes, I Should’ve Followed You Home, at a charity concert in London. This really did seem to suggest that, after all these years and all the denials about a reunion, the possibility that the fab four might perform on the same stage together at the same time might actually occur. Agnetha appeared confident and thrilled to be on stage (even though it also seemed like she was lip-syncing) and a lot of wishful thinking among ABBAphiles began.
Next month marks 40 years since ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton, England with Waterloo and their global domination of the pop charts began.
Over the past four decades the awesome foursome have not only achieved a lot for themselves but also for Swedes and Europeans. In the English-speaking world, Swedish pop music is now taken very seriously. That ABBA were inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame in 2010 (by the surviving members of the Bee Gees, no less) shows the breadth of their impact and influence.
It’s fair to say that pop as we know it would be quite different without the four Swedes who brought not only a sense of folksy melody to their songs, but a penchant for Swedish melancholy. This complex quality has found its way into much of the ballad work that Swedish songwriters and producers have since created for the likes of Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, Celine Dion and, yes, One Direction, to name but a few.
Post-ABBA, Sweden is considered pop central. From Roxette to Robyn, also consider the likes of Ace Of Base, Icona Pop, Alcazar, and the powerhouse DJ/production outfit Swedish House Mafia (with special mention of the oh-so-gay Army Of Lovers). While some of the acts haven’t translated as well internationally, their songwriting teams have and the country is regarded as a one-stopshop if you want a pop hit. Head straight to Stockholm for a #1 – and do pass go!
Another legacy of ABBA is one that almost happened by accident: Mamma Mia! the stage musical. This hugely successful show, then movie, which strung together their hits in a flimsy plot about a Greek three-way set the bar very high for future jukebox musicals. Some did well ( We Will Rock You, featuring the hits of Queen or Movin’ Out with those of Billy Joel) while others faltered ( Viva Forever featuring the hits of the Spice Girls). Mamma Mia! The Movie was also a huge box office hit. Such was its ABBAtastic appeal, it overtook Titanic as the highest grossing movie of all time in the UK.
There are other reasons why ABBA’s legacy looms so large – the outlandish glam-rock costumes, groundbreaking videos (most by renowned Swedish director Lasse Hallström) and their ability to churn out an album a year during their 10-year reign.
That’s not to overlook the important part Erasure played, covering four ABBA songs in their 1992 ABBA-esque EP, which helped to re-hip the ABBA brand. And lest we forget Australia’s own ABBA cover merchants Björn Again, who took up the ABBA mantle in 1988 and turned their live act into a career that
The four Swedes brought not only a sense of folksy melody to their songs, but a penchant for Swedish melancholy.
has outlasted ABBA’s own. They received the ultimate compliment in 1999 when Benny said, “Björn Again are the closest you can get to seeing ABBA. ABBA will never reform!” With Björn Again paying a licensing fee for the music and raking in the royalties for them, why would an aging ABBA ever want to hit the boards again?
Their imitator’s prove that the music lives on. Björn and Benny wrote some of the finest pop songs in history. Even Susan Boyle couldn’t murder angst-classic The Winner Takes It All, although she tried her very hardest.
At least two-dozen ABBA songs should be considered essential property for every home (copies of the compilations ABBA Gold and More ABBA Gold can easily fix that), but away from the hits there were some amazing highlights, too. The final track on their final album ( Like An Angel Passing Through My Room on The Visitors) was so eerie and odd that Madonna recorded it, then surreptitiously let it filter out on the internet as a free download on her 50th birthday. Madonna is one of only two artists to have ever legally sampled ABBA. She nicked Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) to brilliantly weave into her #1 hit Hung Up in 2005, while The Fugees sampled 1977’s The Name Of The Game for their 1996 hit Rumble In The Jungle.
That ABBA are so possessive of their legacy is admirable and perhaps another reason why their music has gone on and on and on. The fact that the gays have always loved them is possibly also another reason for their longevity.
Very few bands can claim to have their own museum, but ABBA now have one in Stockholm. After only a short time in operation it’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in Sweden. Expect there to be lots of fanfare and excitement about 2014 being the 40th anniversary of their Waterloo victory.
It would be fitting if Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Frida did manage to waddle out of their various retirement cottages and dress up to give a one-off performance at the Eurovision Song Contest. That may be too much to ask (they rejected a £600 million offer to tour), but it would be a good time to have the four of them onstage together so that the world can truly say to ABBA, thank you for the music. >>