So it’s official then. In this short five second sound clip from Bjorn, who was interviewed on Swedish radio mere days ago on 11 May, he makes it very clear that the band will never, ever reform. You can’t get much more definitive than he does, either in the choice of words, or tonally (he sounds exasperated and tired all at once being asked yet again about the subject that all ABBA fans obsess about to one degree or another).
Frankly I never expected them to reform again, so this news is hardly a massive surprise.
And in my heart of hearts I think I would rather they don’t attempt anything of the sort since those sorts of reunions are always fraught. Yes on one very nostalgic level you’re excited that the band you love is back – you get to see them do their thing one more time, and maybe just maybe recapture a little bit of the thrill you felt when you were younger. Go back in time and relive a special moment in your life.
But we all know, deep down, that you can’t go back. Not really. And I think I would prefer to remember ABBA as they were and enjoy the specialness of those memories than attempt to bring something from my past kicking and screaming into the my present.
I have no doubt that all four members have the talent to pull a reunion off if they wanted to, but they seem to sensibly realise there was a time and a place for ABBA as an active band and that that time is not now.
Good call Bjorn… even though the 10 year old insides still wishes it would happen.
I know. You’re probably thinking Mamma Mia here I go again (apologies but the lyric was just begging to be misused this way… AGAIN) but being the idiosyncratic soul that I am, who doesn’t try to run counter to the majority trend (I just do), this list does not contain the usual suspects.
You will not find Dancing Queen, Money Money Money or yes even Mamma Mia here. All fine songs, every last one of them, and worthy of inclusion in anyone’s best pop songs of all time list.
But not mine. For reasons I will attempt to outline next to each song, my tastes have always run to songs that didn’t always find favour with the masses but which resonated with me in ways that the more mainstreams hits simply didn’t.
Intrigued? And maybe a little concerned at non-conformity run wild? Worried at the darkness of so many of the songs I chose? Of course you are! But worry not. There is method in my obscure ABBA songs loving madness.
1. ELAINE It’s the paranoid fear that underpins every lyric and note in this song that make it such a compelling listen. Released as the B-side (back when we had B-sides of course!) to The Winner Takes It All, Elaine was, from the get go for me, a dark and almost nightmarish companion to the deep sadness of the single. They were not a happy pair of songs were they? But though I love the emotional resonance of Agnetha’s vocals on The Winner…, it’s Elaine’s traumatised vocals and urgent panicked melody that draw me in time after time. Both very emotional songs but Elaine seems a little more crazed, insistent, and scared, and above all, as I said, compelling.
2. TIGER This song, released on the Arrival album of 1976 manages the deft trick of sounding playful and menacing all at once. It bounces along with a surging energetic melody that counterpoints beautifully with the implied menace of the tiger. “I am behind you, I always find you.” It’s a bleak critique of urban life sprung to life in the persona of the titular feline.
3. SHOULD I LAUGH OR CRY This song is bleak as the woman in question, possibly fearfully, possibly with grim bemusement, reviews incident after incident in a relationship that is dominated by a narcissistic boyfriend. The relationship feels like an “eternal lie” but now she is so used to the dangerous ebb and flow of this destructive partnership that she can’t seem to pull herself away. Delightfully dark with a chilling melody that speaks of heartache and unspoken ridicule in equal measure.
4. LOVELIGHT Lest you think I am incessantly draw to songs that love and loss, here’s a song that exuberantly celebrates the giddy joy of new found love. Traffic’s lighter, the sun is brighter, everything is beautiful. Nothing is bad, everything is good as long as her lover is around and even when he isn’t. It’s a joy to listen to and warms the heart of a romantic like me.
5. THAT’S ME Much like Head Over Heels, which came later, this song celebrates the uniqueness of being the sort of person who can’t easily be pigeon-holed, and moves very much to the beat of her own idiosyncratic drum. Imploring a prospective love interest to see beyond the fact that she’s not a timid woman who will speak her mind, and is as free-spirited as she is iron-willed, she also speaks of softer qualities that may not be immediately obvious. It is riotous, bouncy fun with a beat that glides up and down with giddy abandon. I love it’s celebration of individualism.
6. LIKE AN ANGEL PASSING THROUGH MY ROOM Breathtakingly, heartachingly beautiful, and desperately sad. It is the sort of song you listen to after midnight with candles burning down to the holders, their dying light plunging the room by stealth into the darkness of regret and sadness. The metronome ticking back and forth underlines that this is a song about the passing of time, and the loss of great love and possibility. So sad is the singer that solitude is welcomed as is the twilight passing into the dark of night. It sends chills down my spine every time I hear it, and speaks to that part of me that fears I won’t live life quite as well as I want to.
7. HOLE IN YOUR SOUL Good rock ‘n’ roll fun! Life might be depressing, bland, numbing or just grindingly pedestrian. So what? When you do have time to yourself, the solution to that aching sense something is missing is the driving power of rock ‘n’ roll. This song surges with passion and the conviction of its lyrics. It energises me to dance my socks off, and yeah I do feel better after listening to it.
8. THE VISITORS (CRACKIN’ UP) More paranoia this time but of the political kind. Centring on dissidents fearing a raid by Big Brother type authorities, it articulates beautifully the fear you must feel waiting for the inevitable to happen. Knowing that you are about to be arrested, thrown into prison, possibly killed when the other shoe does drop, the music is chilling, dark, with vocals that match the fear they must all be feeling. The driving chorus makes you want to run for over even if you’re perfectly safe and sound. A masterpiece of fear-tinged pop.
9. MOVE ON A glorious tribute to the impermanence of life. It evokes a sense of restless wandering, inspired it seems by Jonathan Livingstone Seagull which was a popular book to put it mildly when this song was written in the 70s. It celebrates the renewal this type of life brings you and that it is worth celebrating the joy of every moment. It is a deeply-moving (no pun intended) call to value everything life offers with a melody that builds up and builds up to spine-tingling goosebumps of inspiration.
10. DUM DUM DIDDLE
It’s been criticised as a silly, pointless song which I think misses the point entirely. It’s a song about deep, passionate unrequited love, of a woman ignored unintentionally by a man utterly consumed by his music, his art. She adores him, and his music, but wishes she could be so much closer to him, and as valuable to him as his music is. You can sense that she doubts this will ever happen, given the desperation and longing in her voice, but I don’t find it depressing. Rather it’s hopeful, pleading for her would-be lover to finally truly notice her.
So quirky choices yes? Well yes. But I warned you that would be the case. If nothing else, it speaks to how deeply I feel every emotion, and if there’s one thing ABBA were never given enough credit for, it’s their ability to tap into emotions that weren’t always sunny or joyful, or when they were, were expressed in a complex thoughtful way.
So what are you choices? What ABBA songs make you dance, cry, sing, want to fall in love?
Why inside a JB HiFi store thank you very much snapping up a copy of the Deluxe Edition of ABBA’s final album, The Visitors, released in 1981. As with all the other deluxe editions that have been released to near universal acclaim, and yes, let’s be honest, frothing mouths of excitement, it will contain a whole host of extra goodies from B-sides (including one of my favourite ABBA songs ever Should I Laugh or Cry), the final singles (The Day Before You Came, and Under Attack), and mall the TV show appearances a fan boy could want.
But what really sets this release aside from all the deluxe editions that have preceded it is the inclusion of a song called From a Twinkling Star to a Passing Angel. In reality it’s not a song as such; rather a collection of the various demos that eventually became the breathtakingly sad, poignant song, Like an Angel Passing Through My Room. It’s the first time the ABBA vaults have been opened since 1994 when the 4 CD collection, Thank You For the Music was released with a 20 plus demos medley titled Undeleted that included the never released gem, Just Like That.
Am I excited? Oh yes. Any doubts that the overly excitable fan boy of the 70s is dead and gone are erased well and truly when news like this emerges. I cannot wait!
It’s 1976, and along with the rest of Australia I had fallen hopelessly, irrevocably (in my case anyway) in love with Swedish superstars ABBA. I loved how they looked, how they talked (with that delightful clipped accent), and most of all, of course, I loved their crisp, bright pop melodies, and the gorgeous layered vocals that matched them perfectly. I couldn’t get enough of them.
Fast forward, ahem, quite a few years (you do the math!), and I still love ABBA. Perhaps not with the same fervour I once did, but I love them. Their music is still among the most exquisite perfect pop I have ever heard (and with 8000 plus tunes on my iPod, I have heard a lot of great pop music) and it is a joy to listen to any of their songs, yes even the later darker ones that most people don’t know about. It is not a nostalgia thing per se; while I value my past, I don’t live in it, nor venerate it, and I love the thrill of powering into the future wondering what wonderful surprises await me.
ABBA making good use of aluminium foil.
No, what it is is a profound love of good soul-nourishing pop music, and I am not sure why but the Swedes and their fellow Scandinavians are preternaturally gifted at creating the most innovative, catchy, enticing pop. The key word here is innovative. It’s not that no one else produces great pop music that I like – they do, among them Coldplay, Yusek and Annie Lennox, and it is beautiful and delights my pop-loving soul.
But the Scandinavians seem to have this knack for creating pop that is both beautiful and clever, that beguiles and entrances, that makes me want to listen to them again and again. I don’t think it’s simply ‘the ABBA effect’ that makes me seek their one-of-a-kind pop out; that listening to all their brilliant songs predisposed me to liking a lot of other artists from their part of the world. That certainly didn’t happen during the 80s or 90s, when I listened to lots of music that was far more mainstream.
But sometime in the early Noughties, as some are want to call the first decade of the 21st Century, I started listening to more and more music that wasn’t on the charts, that flew beneath the pop culture radar. It was partly discovering Rage in the early hours of Saturday morning when all of the more obscure stuff gets played. It was also partly discovering the richness of music on iTunes (yes iTunes thank you – you just need to dig down and follow the threads of connected artists), YouTube, and even, my local record store HUM.
All of these avenues led me to music that hadn’t registered with me previously nor it seems with the populace at large. It was daring, fresh, dare I say even fun, and to my surprise, a great deal of the really top notch material was Scandinavian. I shouldn’t have been surprised with ABBA as a precedent but in the intervening years between my teenage love affair with them, and my grown up self, I had lost sight of how the music from that idiosyncratic in-all-the-best-ways part of Europe truly was.
And it is very good. Artists like Robyn, and Lykke Li manage to marry insanely catchy pop with lyrics that do more than celebrate being on the dance floor or kissing a hot guy you’ve just met. It is insightful, poetic and ins some cases, melancholic. But it always says something interesting, speaking from the heart about life as it really is in a way that a lot of other pop music doesn’t do. Of course there is nothing wrong with pop music that mindlessly bops along, and no one wants to feel they’re interpreting a thesis every time they hear a song on the radio or via their iPod, but it is good to know that when you want music that can both sonically enthral and engage the mind, that the music is there, and will, more than likely have come from the clever hands of a Scandinavian artist.
So who are my favourites among this talented bunch of northern European artists?
Born in 1979, she’s the daughter of Swedish actors, quirky but committed to social justice (she was a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador from 1999 – 2001) and creates pop so clever that you are left wondering how she is not bigger than Madonna, Britney and a whole host of divas combined. Catchy doesn’t begin to describe the songs she releases – you can’t help but dance! But it’s not only your feet she will have in furious motion. Your mind too will be drinking in lyrics that speak to the human condition with a brutal honesty few artists manage. This is real music that moves the mind and soul.
Not so much a solo act as I initially thought, they are in fact a duo made up of vocalist Sally Shapiro (not her real name) and musician Johan Agebjorn, who officially make what’s called Italo disco/synthpop. Their music is relentlessly lushly melodic and while the lyrics may not be as rich and insightful as their compatriot above, the emotional range they bring to the table is considerable and elevates their pop to a cut above most of the fare out there. They have a sense of wonder at life, and all it’s many facets, and Sally sings with an almost childlike wonder at times.
She describes her music as “pop with strange edges” and it’s a totally unique mix of electropop and synth pop. Her breakthrough album was Anniemal in 2004 and it established her as an artist and DJ that was not afraid to make edgy pop that defied easy categorisation. It’s bright, frothy pop confection but don’t let it fool you – it’s not disposable pop and she writes about stuff that matters (the song ‘Marie Cherie’ for instance is about a girl who kills herself after being abused by her alcoholic father). Once again, intelligent pop that will last.
Another unconventional pop princess and all the better for it. While her earlier efforts were a reasonably sunny mix of pop, rock and some electronica, her newest album, Wounded Rhymes, took a more melancholic turn, articulating darker themes of lost love and life’s disappointments. Amazing themes for a 24 year old to be grappling with but pain and sadness are no respecter of youth, and Lykke Li does an awesome of expressing these emotions with a vocally and emotionally powerful delivery. Yes she will remind you that you can get your heart busted in two as you walk through life, but her music is so powerful and yet fragile that you won’t mind a bit.
I have only recanted discovered this artists, thanks to an awesomely good music blog called Popservations (an inspired name if ever there was one!) and I am loving the music of Ester Odeskog (vocals and songwriting) and Sebastian Forslund (production). It is one of those catchy pop albums that runs the gamut from up-on-the-floor dance (“Make Me, Break Me”) to slower but no less melodic songs like “Bad Day”. The melodies, propelled by driving synth beats, are impossible to resist, and this is exactly what Ester had in mind as she told must.com when they interviews her recently:
“Intoxicating and sticky. The songs are made from nerve and dressed in catchy melodies with deep beats. I want to create a stickyness to each melodi that makes it impossible for the listener not to want more! The melodies are my babies!”
She is definitely one to look out for and I predict big things for this talented in the not too distant future.
So they’re the Top 5 but surely you say there must be more artists than that bursting forth the creative hotbed that is Scandinavia. Of course! I haven’t mentioned artists like Norwegian electronica masters, Royksopp because they are so well known and my object in this post was to highlight the people that have slipped beneath the radar.
I adore and love them, as well as the very lovely and talented Jenny Wilson (despite the name as Swedish as they come), Inga Liljestrom, The Perishers, Britta Persson, and Icona Pop. They are all deliciously, wonderfully idiosyncratic and I think that’s what makes them so attractive. They make music that is utterly unique and so different to anything else around, and in a world of homogenised everything, that is such a rarity. (You can see their clips below).
Go ahead and discover it all! Your ears and soul will thank you.