It was August, at the tail end of the summer before I became a big, bad sixth grader at the middle school campus in my hometown. Little League baseball had ended a good three weeks ago, and my dad thought that I should run Cross Country in order to get in shape for Basketball. Since Dad had been a varsity coach, I began to develop a routine in order to become successful in that sport. Dad had been a good baseball and basketball player when he was in high school, so I listened to him.Sports were my life, and that really did not change until after I became a chronic pain sufferer.
So, Dad being Coach Dad told me that I ought to run a little bit before I started practice so I wouldn’t be sore when practice started. I ran in some old yellow low top Converse Chuck Taylor basketball shoes. We set up a course that was 1.5 miles long, the distance we would run in middle school. So, every day for the next three weeks, I ran that coursed.
One day, I was running past a home that contained a new family in the neighborhood. The first thing I noticed that they family had a girl. More importantly, she was laying out in the front yard listening to the radio, which was playing ABBA’s first hit song “Waterloo”. Immediately, I was taken by the melody, the vocals, the seemingly simplistic melody and the earworm quality of the chorus. I was hooked on the song. I immediately stopped to introduce myself to her and her family, but mostly to listen to the rest of the song. After pleasantries were exchanged and “Waterloo” ended on the radio, I re-started my run, only to finish it with the sound of “Waterloo” reverberating through my consciousness. Sometime later, I purchased a 45 single of that very song and still own to this day.
ABBA never really became big artists in the U.S.A. For most, the band was way too pop to be cool. And, thus the general population here never understand the greatness of this band that consisted of two married couples, though by the end of the group’s run, both couple’s marriages would end in divorce. However, what was unique about ABBA was that their music and lyrics did a fantastic job relating sophisticated pop melodies with some seemingly simple, yet still very insightful lyrics.
As the Seventies moved on from the time of their first American Top 10 hit, the group blew up to be the biggest selling band in Europe and the UK. ABBA registered hit after hit, most of which would only brush the lower threshold of the American Top 40, according to the great Casey Karem, who was working tirelessly to keep me informed about all popular music. In 1975, I became acquainted with such minor hits as “Honey Honey” and “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do”. But, then came the next song that capture my attention, “SOS”, which was yet another great pop song. Still, I was not convinced that the band was nothing me than another run-of-the-mill pop band.
Then, in 1976, ABBA, cut loose a bit. First, the group released the sublime disco hit “Dancing Queen”. By doing so, they had the first American Top 40 (and Billboard) number one song. The band followed up that hit with two more solid hits, “Money, Money, Money”, “Mama Mia” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You”. Now, the surprising thing about ABBA is that, like I said earlier, their lyrics tended to be somewhat sophisticated concerning their subject manner. The surprising aspect was the fact the women singers did not speak English, yet their lyrics were in perfect English. Go figure!
Finally, in 1977, ABBA released a great album ironically entitled The Album. The first hit song was a slice of pop heaven called “Knowing Me, Knowing You”. The follow-up was a strong hit song called “The Name of the Game”. But, for me, it was their third single, “Take a Chance on Me” in which the band became immortals in the rock world. The song worked as a soft rock hit, a dance hit, and, of course, a true hit pop hit. Now, I am determined to take ABBA seriously as artists. For me, this was the peak of their recording career., even though the band would continue record and release more music, little of the rest would measure up this album.
By the end of the Seventies, rumors were swirling around the UK music press that the couples in the band were hitting the skids. And although the two couple were facing divorce, they made four more albums, all of which contained some fantastic Europop songs, most of which would not translate into hits in the States. They only had two hits from their 1979 album, “Chiquitita”, as well as my all-time favorite ABBA song “Does Your Mother Know”, which has the distinction of being the only US hit song ABBA had in which the men sang lead. If you remember the song, it could nearly qualify as a power pop song, so you know why I like it.
As the 1980s began, ABBA released an album in 1980 called Super Trouper which really only spawned one hit song over here in the States. The song was the strong “The Winner Takes It All”, which seemed to be a veiled reference to the couples’ divorces. Finally, the most success Swedish export next to IKEA called it a career upon the release of their final studio album in 1981 called The Visitor. Although the album had many great hits in Europe and the UK from it, the album was quietly put to rest here in the States with no real hit songs to brag about.
But what has happened to the band is something next to remarkable. First, in 1982, one of the female singer in the band, the brunette Anni-Frid (Frida) Lyngstad teamed up with producer-slash-drummer-slash-songwriter Phil Collins to produce a fantastic hit song called “I Know There’s Something Going On” from her debut album entitled Something’s Going On. She released the project under her nickname Frida. That album happens to be one of the great “lost” albums of the 1980s.
Additionally, the two men, Benny Andersen and Björn Ulvaeus continued their songwriting partnership that lead to a Broadway production entitled Chess. The show was about the Bobby Fischer/Boris Spassky world chess championship. The show did spawn an American Top 10 hit song, “One Night in Bangkok” by Murray Head. The duo also worked together to bring their ABBA hits alive in a terrific Broadway show, and eventually a big hit movie called Mama Mia. The movie led to a small ABBA revival during which ABBA’s record was finally given all the respect it deserved. And all of that publicity finally lead ABBA to induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. Finally, a band that experienced more frequent success in Europe was given the credit and recognition it deserved. Hopefully, their induction will open the doors to other worldwide phenoms rather than being American successes. Now, the RRHOF should be ready to consider The Smiths, Slade, Cliff Richards, The Jam/Paul Weller, among many others.
Who knew that ABBA would be considered an influential band? Thank goodness that they have been.