Like most people, I do like the odd Abba song. ‘SOS’ was the one that did it for me and I was hooked: my collection of 70s vinyl singles is the proof. You see, even at the time, I judged that Abba were really a singles band and never bought an LP of theirs except for the singles compilation double LP ‘The First Ten Years’, released when they had thrown in the towel (probably of Ikea design). And I think I was right. Madness was another such band. Great singles band but name me a killer Madness album? (On second thoughts, don’t bother – it’s probably ‘Rise and Fall’)
But unlike most people - and yet again I find myself a little off kilter with the great general public – I have two distinct Abba quirks. First, I can’t stand ‘Dancing Queen’, by general consensus most people’s favourite. Never have, never will. It would not be on any Abba ‘Best Of’ that had me as a compiler and I would be more than glad if I never heard it again. The fact that my most hated person on the planet, Bono, attempted a version of it has nothing to do with it. When that dreadful leaden intro starts up my heart sinks, after all there are so many other decent tunes to pick, so why that one?
Second, despite the undoubted fact that they served up some corking stuff from ‘Waterloo’ onwards (although actually ‘Waterloo’ is also on my Very Iffy list…along with ‘Ring Ring’ but let’s not dwell on this), my real preference is for the material they were writing just at the very end, around the time of ‘The Visitors’. ‘One of Us’, ‘Head Over Heels’, ‘Under Attack’ and the sublime ‘Day Before You Came’ are the songs that really get to me. Magnificent slabs of Scandinavian melancholy without the over-extrovert backing tracks. It’s obvious that I’m swimming against the tide here as these were the singles that sold in fewer and fewer quantities as the public deserted them and must have played a big part in the decision to pack it in.
Which is a shame. There is something about their song writing at this point that was just coming to the boil. Bjorn’s lyrics were darker and more literate as he mastered the obtuse English language and Benny’s music, whilst still veering towards the whimsical, had an edge to it. The bleak Swedish railway station in the film-noir video for ‘Day Before You Came’ just about sums up where they were at that point but it is a fascinating place, artistically. The final single, ‘Under Attack’ is one of their finest yet it sold very poorly (peaked at 26!) and suddenly they were gone. But what a note to end on!