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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Here’s to awesome things in 2013. As for 2012… good riddance! I never loved you anyway.

Bonus song: Auld Lang Syne, sung by Pink Martini.

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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.

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.

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