Without a song or a dance what are we?

Two weeks ago I was driving in a rented car through Scotland. I turned on the car radio, and the first station I found was having an ‘Abba hour’ – all of the songs they were playing were from the 1970s Swedish band. The one just on was ‘Knowing me, knowing you’, and having heard about three bars I put out my hand to change the station, but my hand froze and I didn’t; and if I can be honest, I’ll have to say that I stayed with it for the whole hour, cheerfully (and if anyone had been there, embarrassingly) singing along to every single song. I was even sorry when it was over, but I was in any case pulling in to my destination.

The curious thing is that I would never ever have considered myself to be an Abba fan. Back in the 1970s I was aware enough of Abba, but I never bought any of their singles or albums. But then again, you could not negotiate the 1970s without becoming familiar with Abba. Wherever you turned, there they were, awful glittery clothes and slightly strange on-stage performances. But hey, I was into Jethro Tull,, Deep Purple and the Doors, and the easy pop of Abba would have been a million miles away from my turntable. Well, actually, when my sister bought their album ‘Arrival’, I would occasionally ‘borrow’ it without her knowledge and listen to it; it was my guilty secret.

Surely, surely, this musical act was an ephemeral one, destined to attract a certain type of teenager in 1976, and then destined for storing in the attic, and oblivion in the new musical world of CDs. No, indeed. Right now, in this new millennium, Abba is still there, spawning new musicals, continuously selling albums, and ‘Abba hours’ on Scottish radio stations. How can this be?

If you forget about the clothes and the act, there is something inexplicably timeless about Abba. You think of the tunes as bubblegum, and yet you know they are not, they are clever and musical and, curiously and infuriatingly, they stay fresh, even after you have heard them again and again. The lyrics are exactly what you would expect from Swedes who didn’t speak much English; or are they? No, of course they are not, they are annoyingly poetic and they resonate with people’s feelings, hopes and sense of humanity.

I am not along in thinking this way; Ben Macintyre of the Times newspaper has a very similar perspective. Hell, millions do. So what can I say? That I have resisted the charms of Abba?

My, my, I tried to hold you back but you were stronger
Oh yeah, and now it seems my only chance is giving up the fight

But should you ask, I’m a Deep Purple man. Or maybe Aerosmith.

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10 Comments on “Without a song or a dance what are we?”

  1. owen59 Says:

    Turning 50 this week, I have some Doors who were played in my childhood, and Jethro Tull. When at boarding school as a teenager there was a lot of playing of Blacksabbath, deep purple, etc. Every budding guitar player trained on ‘Smoke on the Water’. Still in love with Minnie Ripperton, God rest her soul. But ABBA had everyone’s interest, and still virtually impossible on the karoake floor. I agree, I like them more now and since some documentaries on their life – strange to say, but so real.

  2. Perry Share Says:

    Ha, a metalhead then. Don’t think that this is going to lead your correspondents into potentially embarrassing revelations of a similar nature!

    But it is worth noting that the success of Abba, via the Cardigans, the Concretes and Lykke Li, and numerous others, has made the Swedish pop music industry the third most dominant in the world, after the US and the UK.

    Shows that there are other ways to build an economy than just maths and engineering, though the Swedes are pretty good on that front too.

  3. DCU Alumnus Says:

    Hi Dr. von Prondzynski,

    thank you for another great blog! Recently, I rented out the movie “Mamma Mia”. My wife loves musicals and period dramas and had been waiting to watch this movie for a long time, so I rented it to surprise her one evening. I had intended to review some articles with the film playing as backdrop, but to my wife’s surprise, I was singing to all the tunes, AND I knew the words! My wife couldn’t get over it. Needless to say, I didn’t get through the articles that night. However, we definitely had a fun, upbeat, and enjoyable night.
    If you do get an evening to spare and wouldn’t be too embarrassed belting out ABBA songs, rent it out for the fun.
    Best regards.

  4. Vincent Says:

    They say that every man gets to a point where he cares little what the world thinks of him. At that point he has a shed normally. Sheds are ultra important and must look like something a blacksmith with knife issues might put together. His wife considers him a lost cause not a work in progress and shifts focus to grandsons.
    Roger Whittaker/Abba discography and the utter unwillingness to put up with the lute, -this latter rising visions of the player wearing same,- mark this time.
    The poet of choice for this period is Marcus Valerius Martialis.

  5. Aidan Says:

    I was in love with Agnetha when I was a boy and along with many other Irish boys in the 1980s I had a penpal in Sweden. I spent a good deal of my younger years looking for a version of Agnetha but then I found her and it didn’t work out and I married a Polish brunette.
    Abba did great things for pop music in general and they seem to have left a lasting legacy in Sweden. Sweden has produced so many internationally successful pop groups (The Cardigans, Europe, Roxette, Ace of Bass, Alphabeat….) that it is hard to fathom.
    Maybe Swedish artist do better internationally because the language is so similar to English. Often when I hear people speaking Swedish from afar I think that they are speaking English. Holland has more than twice the Swedish population but besides Golden Earring and 2 Unlimited Dutch bands have a very hard time breaking through.

    • Heaven help us, the Dutch have had some truly awful English language bands – I remember (though I try to suppress) ‘Mouth and McNeal’. In fairness they have had some pretty good Dutch language music.

    • Funnily enough, I was different from others in that I always preferred Anni-Frid Lyngstad (‘Frida’). I always thought she’d look great in the Deep Purple line-up 🙂

  6. Vincent Says:

    What with Robert Plant accepting a CBE, however far we travel can be nothing like that journey.

  7. Stephen Says:

    well making a more modern day comparison, it was very uncool to like “take that” as a guy in the 90s but how many guys now know the words to the songs they shunned back in the day and sing along when it’s pumped out in pubs and clubs?!

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