Category Archives: ABBA

The Arrival of ABBA

ArrivalOriginally released in Sweden on October 11 1976, Arrival quicklybecame a worldwide success: it topped the charts in countries such as Australia, Zimbabwe, The Netherlands and Belgium and went on to become the best selling album of 1977 in the UK. The album contains three of the group’s biggest hits: Money, Money, Money, Knowing Me, Knowing You and Dancing Queen, the group’s first and only #1 hit in the USA and signature song.

One of the things I like about ABBA’s music is that the whole is infinitely better than the sum of its parts. Both of the singers have incredible voices and know how to make a song their own – as proven by their solo albums both pre- and post-ABBA – but those songs aren’t the same without the production of Benny and Bjorn. In turn, the boys have demonstrated time and again they know how to write great music – one needs to look no further than the song I Know Him So Well from their 1983 musical Chess -, but without vocals from Frida and Agnetha, it’s just not the same.

Dancing Queen is a great example of just how many little things come together to create the brilliant ABBA songs. You don’t realize it when you listen to it, but there are a lot of different components that go into it; both the arrangements and vocals are more intricate and complex than one might realize. This video clip demonstrates just that. [EDIT: Actually, a brand new documentary was just broadcast a few days ago, all about Dancing Queen!]

The same goes for the lyrics; most of them don’t have any fancy turns of phrase, but still they convey so much about basic human emotions it’s impossible not to connect with them. The two ballads from this album – Knowing Me, Knowing You and the lesser known but equally powerful My Love, My Life – are perfect examples of this.

‘Breaking up is never easy, I know, but I have to go/ Knowing me, knowing you, it’s the best I can do’.

Yes, I know I don’t possess you/ So go away, God bless you/ You are still my love and my life,/ Still my one and only’.

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Dancing Queen & the B-Side, That’s Me

There’s nothing spectacular about those lines as they are, but when you hear them being sung by Frida and, respectively, Agnetha, they become so much more.

One song which some might argue is not on par with the rest of the album is Dum Dum Diddle, but I disagree. I won’t argue the lyrics aren’t silly (and in a bad way), because they are. At the same time though, the song is so joyful, bubbly and catchy that it more than makes up for it. At the end of the day, it has as good a chance to put you in a good mood as any ABBA song.

Apart from the clumsy lyrics of Dum Dum Diddle, there is little to complain about. Perhaps the absence of the hit song Fernando, which despite having been released as a single on the heels of SOS and Mamma Mia wasn’t included on this album until a 1997 reissue.

One hit that was included, however is Money, Money, Money. I’m not sure how to describe it; it’s a very clever song. It has a devilish quality to it that’s made to seem appealing, even alluring, instead of revolting… I don’t know of other songs that tackled the subject of lusting for money that have managed to do that.

In the end, the best way to describe the album would be the same way you would ABBA (well, as far as ABBA can be put in a box anyway): fun and full of life. From the playful When I Kissed The Teacher to the upbeat Why Did It Have To Be Me? to the majestic instrumental track Arrival, this album is a pure joy to listen to and definitely one of ABBA’s finest.

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Fun facts & goodies for fans:

Fun fact #1: The song Arrival  is the second and last instrumental song ABBA ever released and it borrowed its name from the album; not the other way around.

Fun fact #2: Fernando was originally written for Frida’s Swedish album Frida enam and then later recorded in Spanish for the group’s Gracias Por La Música album.

Goodie #1: A different version Arrival (the song), named Belle was sung by Frida and Daniel Balavoine as part of a French musical in 1983. Also, in the same year, B.A. Robertson re-recorded it with different lyrics and released it under the name Time (Frida provided vocals again). Also, there is a Gregorian chant version that is just lovely.

Goodie #2: Matt Pop has amazing remixes of ABBA songs. Two of my favorite and the best ones are Dum Dum Diddle and Arrival.

Goodie #3: A snippet of a different, danceable version of Fernando was released on the ABBA Undeleted feature on the Best Of compilation Thank You For The Music.

Goodie #4: The demo version of My Love, My Live was called Monsieur, Monsieur and a snippet can be heard during a radio interview with Agnetha.

Goodie #5: Finally… follow the link to hear the ‘lost verse’ from Dancing Queen which didn’t make the final cut.

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ABBA is ABBA is ABBA is ABBA

Country: Sweden
Release date: 21 April 1975
Format: LP
Label: Polar (original release)

After the success of Waterloo, ABBA actually struggled for a few months, as everyone had deemed them to be the usual one-hit wonder Eurovision winner. As he confessed in later interviews, Bjorn was afraid ‘that was it, we were done’. So Long was the first single they released from their third album, ABBA. It went on to become the group’s worst charting single ever – in the UK for example, it only reached #91.

However, things soon started to pick up speed. I do, I do, I do, I do, I do, although only peaking at #38 in the UK charts, became a sizeable hit everywhere else. It topped the charts in a number of territories including, for the first time, Australia. The song even reached #15 in the USA, making it the only song that performed better in the USA than the UK. The release of SOS and Mamma Mia marked the beginning of ABBA’s global chart dominance, which would last until the end of their career.

If you have read my previous review, you know Waterloo is not quite my favorite ABBA album. While their self-titled one is much better, it still didn’t have a big impact on me. Usually albums that don’t share their title with one of their tracks don’t work for me. Of course, there are exceptions – this, obviously, being one of them. Yet it always takes me a few seconds to think of which songs are on this album and I don’t like that.(Edit: Yeah, that doesn’t really make any sense. I was just trying to find something somewhat negative to say about this album. Sue me.) But name and its effects on me aside, this is a very good album, with a nice balance of cheerful and more slow paced songs.

Unlike Waterloo, I like all songs on this album (Man in the Middle may be the only one that’s not quite on the same level as the others, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless). Sure enough, Mamma Mia and SOS steal the spotlight, but even on a first listening you can find many more that are just as good. Bang-A-Boomerang, for example, has a great beat and is somewhat reminiscent of the Waterloo track.

One of my favorite songs from this album is I’ve Been Waiting For You, because the harmony of Frida and Agnetha’s voices really shines through. It’s full of sentiment as well, in the chorus – especially the lyrics: ‘I love you, I adore you/ I lay my life before you‘. Of course, Intermezzo no. 1 also stands out as being the first of only two instrumental pieces released during ABBA’s years together.

With songs in which the music blends beautifully with the powerful vocals of the girls, this album is definitely deserving of more than one listening. You will find more of the greatness present in some songs of the Waterloo album, you will be entertained, you will love it. ABBA is a must for…anyone, really.

Check out my other (sort of) reviews of ABBA albums: Ring Ring and Waterloo.

ABBA’s Waterloo: A loss or a win?

After the release of the Ring, Ring album, ABBA started to prepare for the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. They had two songs in mind as possible entrants: Hasta Manana and Waterloo. Because the former saw Agnetha sing lead vocals, the four feared this would give the world the wrong impression of the group. Consequently, they decided to go with Waterloo, which had both girls share vocals.

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This proved to be a wise decision. Not only did they win – first the Melodifestivalen, then the actual contest -, but the single did remarkably well in the charts and introduced the world to the phenomenon that was to become ABBA. Waterloo topped the charts in several countries such as the UK, Norway, Ireland and South Africa, while also reaching #6 in the US. To this day, it remains the only Eurovision song to reach the US Top 40.

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I love ABBA. I really do, but this album may be my least favorite. The main reason is because it doesn’t feel like an album, it feels like a collection of songs thrown together and they don’t work as a whole. Also, this is the only album on which there are songs I actually, sort of… dislike. Of course, there are enough good and great tracks as well, but they’re not enough to save the album, I’m afraid. For example, Waterloo – it’s a great song, very catchy. But it’s also the opening track and it sets quite a high bar; upon hearing it you expect a great album. Yet that great album never comes. In fact, the second song – Sitting in the Palmtree – has Bjorn singing about a guy who sits in a (surprise!) palm tree, ‘among my coconuts’.

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The problem is that Sitting in the Palmtree is not the only not-that-great song on this album; What about Livingstone is another that I feel was recorded just so that the album would have enough tracks. And while I have grown to like Watch Out, that took quite a while – maybe because it’s very different than most of the other ABBA songs.

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Nevertheless, the other songs are enjoyable – don’t let my mini-rant fool you! Dance (While The Music Still Goes On) is wonderful; probably my favorite song in which Bjorn sings lead vocals. With a melody and lyrics that are just a little bit sad and reminiscing, this is definitely one of the albums’ strongest tracks. Also worth noting is Hasta Manana. While the group opted not to enter the Eurovision with it, it remains an innocent, bittersweet ballad in which the attention to details once again impresses.

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A more joyful song – and with lyrics like I feel like I wanna sing,/ When you do your thing, maybe not that innocent – is Honey, Honey. Agnetha & Anni-Frid once again share lead vocals, and the outcome is another great song, one that will most likely put a smile on your face because it’s just so much fun.

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So while the album has a few duds, there are hidden gems as well. Besides, it’s an ABBA album nonetheless; at least one listening is required.

Ring, Ring – ABBA calling!

In 1972, ABBA – or Bjorn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid, as they were known then – released their first single, People Need Love. At that time, all four members were involved in several other projects, yet because of the potential of the girls’ voices combined with the boys’ songwriting abilities, they decided to record an LP.

In 1973, they entered the Melodifestivalen (an annual Swedish competition which determines the country’s representative for the Eurovision Song Contest) with the song Ring, Ring. Despite coming in third and missing out on that year’s ESC, the song became quite a hit in Scandinavian countries, so the four decided to work as a permanent group from there on and proceeded to record their first album – Ring, Ring. Said albumwent on to enjoy a fair amount of success in South Africa and parts of Europe – especially Belgium, where it topped the albums chart.

This album contains a lot of lesser-known songs of the group, most of which don’t have that ‘timeless quality’ of many other ABBA songs. An interesting thing about Ring, Ring is that it features Bjorn and Benny as lead singers on quite a few of its songs; She’s My Kind of Girl may be the one song where the lack of softness usually provided by the girls’ voices is most apparent. Still, hearing the boys sing more than the usual backing vocals could hardly be deemed a bad thing. The album is more unique because of it and their voices do fit these songs. Probably the only common denominator this and the other ABBA albums have is the clever use of backing vocals and arrangements. I have always appreciated the care and attention this band allotted for those.

An interesting song from this album is Disillusion, which stands out asbeing the only ABBA song Agnetha co-authored. A haunting melody and lyrics such as ‘Wishing, hoping, chasing shadows…/Did I see your face somewhere in the crowd?‘ make it the best of the (few) ballads on this album. From the more gleeful songs, worth mentioning are People Need Love and Love Isn’t Easy (But It Sure Is Hard Enough) – both are testimony of the group’s energy and love they had for each other.

Still, the two gems of the album are He is Your Brother and the lead single, Ring, Ring. The first one sees all four members share lead vocals. It has a lovely melody and conveys a great message, summarized best by the lyrics: Treat him well, he is your brother,/ Love him that’s the only way. While Ring, Ring‘s lyrics aren’t unheard of (they are about a woman waiting for her lover to call her and wondering if he still loves her), they give the song the universal appeal that ABBA was after. That, coupled with the great beat and harmonies make it quite an addictive song. I like to look at both songs as a foreshadow of what was to come from ABBA – in terms of musical composition, lyrics, vocals.

To sum it all up, Ring, Ring is a good first album: joyful, enjoyable and sprinkled with awesome tracks.

I am curios, what is your favorite song from this album? Also, a review for Waterloo should be up in another few days, so keep an eye out for it.

One year of ABBA

Exactly one year ago, my younger self listened for the first time to an ABBA song. Given that since then this band has grown to be my all-time favorite, I thought a short blog post was necessary to celebrate the event.

Why short? Because in this one, I will only tell you about general stuff (e.g. how I discovered the band, why I like it so much). The next nine or ten posts, in which I will review each and every album they had ever released, will come up sometime during the next few weeks. This should be fun and at the same time easier than putting together a list of my favorite twenty songs, which was what I initially wanted to do.

Left to right: Agnetha, Benny, Frida, Bjorn

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock until two minutes ago… ABBA was one of the most successful music groups of the ’70s, consisting of Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. They explored diverse musical genres and styles during the ten years they worked together; from pop to disco, they have spawned numerous hits that climbed the charts all over the world. It is also worth noting that they are the first band coming from a non-English-speaking country to enjoy constant success in English-speaking countries. For example, in Australia their popularity equaled that of The Beatles at one point.

In other words, they are awesome; they are the ones who gave pop music a good name. At a first listening, their songs seem simple, catchy and easy to remember. But the more you listen to them, the more you become aware of their complexity. Agnetha and Frida’s voices blend perfectly and they make great use of backing vocals as well. This, along with the use of clever arrangements are evident from their first compositions (such as in I Saw It In The Mirror). Through the lyrics, Bjorn and Benny always tell so much using relatively simple words. While they get better and better over time, their talent also shines through in their early songs (Disillusion, Waterloo).

I am somewhat ashamed to say I did not know of the band’s existence until a year ago. And I have to thank Lady Gaga for this, actually. The music video for Alejandro was released around then. I was talking with someone about it and at one point she mentioned it had a similar sound to ABBA’s (statement with which I disagree completely now). Now, I don’t remember why I decided to look them up at that time, considering I am not -and never was- a Lady Gaga fan. It doesn’t even matter, to be honest; all that matters is that later that day, I went on Youtube and typed ‘Abba’. The first video that came up was the music video for The Winner Takes It All. That one song was all it took to hook me (and it hadn’t been enough, I then listened to SOS). A few days later, I borrowed the ABBA Gold: Greatest Hits compilation album from my brother. From then since somewhere around January or February, I kept on discovering and falling in love with other songs until I had nothing else to listen to. Then, I just started all over again. The only reason it took me so long to make my way through their discography was because most of their songs are so good once I had listened to them, I couldn’t stop and had to play them over and over again. It was not uncommon to listen to the same few songs for weeks before moving on to others.

There really isn’t much not to like about ABBA. They were (and still are) role models; they never did drugs, they were never photographed drunk in clubs at five in the morning and they never performed in their underwear. They were sweet, kind people who tried to do what they knew best: create masterpiece after masterpiece.

Perhaps the one thing one could complain about is their reluctance to sing live. Nobody that has watched ABBA: The Movie or a DVD of one of their concerts can say Agnetha and Frida can’t sing. They always gave

A concert in 1979

riveting, powerful performances. However, because of Agnetha’s fear of flying, they only had a handful of concerts. On top of that, most of their TV performances were playbacks – although you can find enough in which they actually sing live. But the thing is, there still are not as many live versions of their songs as one would like.

That would be pretty much it… for now. My review of their first album – Ring, Ring – should be up next week.

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