album cover

The Craft of the Hit Song

An entire industry has grown up around the worship of ABBA, the two former couples from Sweden who became one of the pop powerhouses of the 1970s. There's the long-running Broadway revue Mamma Mia!, books, anthologies, and even a museum in Stockholm, all dedicated to the glory of pop songs that can seem, to unbelievers, like light-weight, airbrushed nothingness.

Love or hate ABBA, this much is difficult to dispute: The singles this quartet released between 1974 and 1979 are models of impeccable craft, ranking with the most carefully sculpted radio fare of all time. Principal songwriters Bjoern Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson started out like many in Europe circa 1970—they learned to sing in English, and tried to imitate the radiant refrains and gilded vocal harmonies of the Beatles. They got good at it right away (see "Waterloo," the first worldwide hit from 1974) and grafted that stuff onto the beats of the 1970s, notably disco and Euro-style funk. Then ABBA polished everything to a blinding sheen.

That gloss explains some of the success, especially considering that in terms of nuts and bolts, songs like "Mamma Mia" are fairly inconsequential. But some of the group's other massive singles—"SOS," "Knowing Me, Knowing You," and the unstoppably buoyant, often overlooked "Fernando"—contain refrains so damn giddy they can't be easily purged from the brain. These tightly scripted songs are an excellent starter kit for those wanting to investigate the DNA of post-Beatles pop.

Genre: Pop
Released: 1992, Polar/Polydor
Key Tracks: "SOS," "Dancing Queen," "Waterloo," "Take a Chance on Me," "Fernando"
Catalog Choice: Arrival
Next Stop: The Cardigans: Life
After That: Duran Duran: Rio
Book Page: 2

Buy this Recording

Share this page:


#1 from Suzuki Fairings - 09/25/2008 5:14

I got this CD like 10 years ago and I have to say I’m never tired of it. So fresh and the songs are just melodic that you can hear it from 1 to 19 without being bored.

#2 from Paulo Cunha, Brazil - 11/13/2008 1:13

If you love Music, and does the Music your love, this guide is the perfect wine.

Thank you Tom;

Best from Brazil!


#3 from John Adcock, UK - 10/14/2009 11:13

How refreshing that musical “must have” books now have room for ABBA.  Throughout the time they were at their peak, critics scorned them, but the public knew better.  Since they broke up, they’ve enjoyed something of a re-appraisal, and the music is revealed as being timeless, well-crafted and simple, which is a sure sign of genius at work.  For me, The Visitors was their finest achievement - a move on from the sugary pop of the early years, to songs that dealt with more serious issues - but still with that wonderful musicality.  If I had to choose one ABBA album - The Visitors would be the one.

#4 from Laura - 12/31/2009 9:26

I recently purchased the book for my Kindle, and I’m trying to find some of the music.  Is there a service that would have the missing links?  Rhapsody seems to be falling short on this.

#5 from Dave - 01/07/2010 1:14

This album ALWAYS puts me in a better mood, no bad mood a little abba cant fix.

#6 from Mike Hunter, London - 03/11/2010 1:18

well, ABBA is classics to me nowadays… I’m only 16, a new generation so to say;) but love and respect for this great band came to me from my parents. time changes and you change with them, it’s inevitable, but if you have a good music taste (I’m so grateful to my parents for that!) you won’t lost in the torrent of new styles and directions. few ABBA recordings are left in our collection (the work of time again…), but I eagerly download all the songs I can find by music search engine (don’t blame me for that!:) right, everything changes, but still smth remains, smth good.

#7 from Jeux, France - 05/31/2010 8:28

Throughout the time they were at their peak, critics scorned them, but the public knew better.  Since they broke up, they’ve enjoyed something of a re-appraisal, and the music is revealed as being timeless, well-crafted and simple, which is a sure sign of genius at work.

#8 from Ed Smith - 06/29/2010 3:40

ABBA was one of the top groups - well they were record breakers in 80’s and the whole world rocked with them—- their melodious music with their very own style, lyrics I believe mainly written by themselves and their dazzzling colourful presence on the stage—mesmorised many—- their music has a universal appeal—- and is timeless. The pleasure is endless and for any age group—-
On personal note - it won’t be an exageration to say that they kept me going against the adversities of life - major contributors to my survival——I lived on this music—- and even kept smiling—- I am in their gratitude always—-

#9 from Sandy, Gulfport, MS - 06/30/2010 1:46

This is the only thing of theirs I have I’ve not really got any desire to get any of their studio albums, but I love almost every song on Gold. Favourite songs, Dancing Queen, Fernando and Waterloo.

#10 from Syan, USA - 07/09/2010 5:16

I’m not a big “Dancing Queen” fan, so that starts the whole business off rather poorly from my perspective. I think I don’t like it because my 45 had this horrible hiss that 45s were prone to have for the first few seconds of a song (when queuing up for radio airplay), completely ruining the opening piano slide. I never got over it and eventually grew to dislike the song.

One of my best friends stole the 45 from the local Musicland back in ‘77 because he loved “Dancing Queen” so much. I never got that. Why not “The Things We Do For Love” instead?

Admittedly, Gold is a good collection, but it’s missing two key tracks that I’ve always felt should have been included for a greatest hits collection: “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” and “Honey Honey,” found later on More ABBA Gold: More ABBA Hits.

And I think Gold gets terribly boring from “Chiquitita” onward until you hit the grand slam song “Waterloo,” one of my all-time favorite singles. I could throw all of Gold in the crapper, but give me “Waterloo.” Hell, I would have stolen “Waterloo!”

Fun album, I guess, but I’ve never listened to it alone without my chick around. My wife loves it, and I like anything that makes her happy and smile.

#11 from Oxy, Russia - 07/09/2010 5:20

Since I’m an 18-year-old male (at the time of writing), you can reasonably expect me to have had some fairly painful experiences over the last few years.

One of the top 5 worst of these was being forced to watch the film Mamma Mia in the cinema in the autumn of 2008.  I won’t bore you with the details of exactly how this came to happen, but suffice it to say that it gave me a terrible first experience of ABBA.  However, the one thing about the film that did make an impression was the opening music.

Some weeks later, I decided to give ABBA another chance and downloaded this compilation on  Listening to ABBA outside of the context of that cinematic abomination, I soon found I actually quite liked them.  They will probably never be among my favourites, but there are many excellent songs to be found on ABBA Gold.  It soon became clear that the song from the movie that had really stuck with me was “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)”, which I shall get to later.

I daresay that if this album’s opener “Dancing Queen” had been my first exposure to ABBA, I would never have had anything against the group.  Despite being pure pop, it’s sure what I’d call quality.  Standout: that bass line - quite worthy of a Paul McCartney.

After “Knowing Me, Knowing You” (good) and “Take a Chance on Me” (not so good - I’m not a fan of all that chanting) we come to “Mamma Mia”, which is probably my overall favourite ABBA song.  How ironic that it should have supplied the title of the worst movie I ever sat through…  But I digress.  The song itself is absolutely fantastic.  It’s one of the band’s most energetic performances, with the electric guitar uncharacteristically prominent.  And, of course, the hooks are everywhere.

The rest?  “Lay All Your Love on Me” teases you with a grandiose, classical-style keyboard intro, before turning into a cute little pop ditty.  “Super Trouper” and “I Have a Dream” are a bit disappointing for me, and not quite what I’d call memorable.  Then there’s “The Winner Takes It All”.  At least two of my ABBA-loving friends like this one best, and I can sort of hear why: glorious, soaring melody, beautifully sung, and even the lyrics (not usually a standout feature of this band) are good here.  My slight beef with the song is that it’s a bit too long and repetitive, and I’m not quite convinced by the abrupt change of arrangement around 1:19 in.  Still, a good song.

“Money, Money, Money”?  Somewhat Broadway-ish in melody if not in arrangement, which means you will either hate it or adore it.  I’ll just say it does a good job of showing off ABBA’s eclecticism.  “SOS”?  Better, despite the silly title and lyrics.  The contrast between slow piano balladeering and double-tempo passages sounds less forced here than on “The Winner Takes It All”, to these ears at least.  “Chiquitita”?  Nice classical guitar intro, overall one of the best-arranged tunes here.  It largely gets by on the lovely piano arpeggios.  A shade too long though.

“Fernando”?  Some lovely flute work here, although I’m sure I’ve already heard the chord progression earlier on this compilation.  Also, it would appear to rip off the bass line from the Beatles’ “The Ballad of John and Yoko” during the up-tempo section.  “Voulez-Vous”?  This is where we enter disco territory.  Luckily, I have nothing against that in and of itself, and the opening guitar/synth riff is quite majestic.  However, as far as disco goes, I far prefer the following “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!”.  As noted earlier, this was the one song that stuck with me after seeing that disgusting film.  You’ve got one of the all-time great instrumental hooks at :17, a cool-as-hell vocal performance, and a somewhat eerie instrumental break starting at 2:52.  It just might be my second-favourite ABBA song overall, with “Mamma Mia” at #1 as noted earlier.

Next comes “Does Your Mother Know”.  This is an absolute lyrical low point, but musically it’s a decent effort, especially considering that it’s definitely a rock song, not something that ABBA did very often (or well!).  That ABBA were much better as a pop band, though, is confirmed by the fact that I feel so much better hearing the gentle “One of Us”, which comes next, despite my preference for rock over pop in general.

Three songs to go… “The Name of the Game”?  Cool synth/drum groove, making for quite a weird effect when contrasted with the usual mellow vocals.  Listen out for some tasty hidden guitar licks starting around 2:09.  Finally “Thank You for the Music” and “Waterloo” are a rather disappointing way to finish off.  Before giving this album a listen, I had been under the impression that ABBA in general were a tacky band.  Yet it is only on these last two songs that I get that impression while listening.  “...Music” is listenable, but the verses are somewhat Broadway-ish, again.  And “Waterloo”, ironically the band’s big breakthrough single, hasn’t aged well at all.  It’s probably my least favourite song here, with the vocals sounding rather obnoxious (apparently the girls had’t quite found their styles by then).

Overall, however, after actually listening to ABBA I feel duly humbled after having carried a nasty bias against them for so long.  Not all the songs here are to my taste, but on the whole I quite like this disc.  Buy it even if you’re not a fan of this kind of music in general.  Dare I say, especially if you’re not a fan.  It’s worth it.

Commenting is not available in this content area entry.
site design: Juxtaprose