Abba: Belly to Belly, Butt to Butt, Sweden Sends Us Rock and Roll Smut

A LOT OF PEOPLE didn’t like Napoleon, but nobody doesn’t like gurls. Which may account for the success with which Abba’s top five smash of 1974, ‘Waterloo’, swept across country after country. Flo and Eddie faves Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson are the writers behind the ’70s most under-rated hit factor. And Abba-ettes Frieda, a ravishing redhead, and Anna, a pulverizing platinum blonde, are the vivaciously vocal reasons you want to send any kind of help they need the minute ‘S. O. S.’, their current smash, hooks you like no bunch of Bay City boychicks has yet managed.

Much has been made of the Rollers’ American TV debut, with comparisons to the Beatles’ Sullivan show inevitable, but after winning the Eurovision songwriting competition, Abba performed ‘Waterloo’ before a TV audience of 600 million. It was after this seductive sight and sound event that Anna and Frieda’s belly to belly, butt to butt delivery conquered Europe like a rock ‘n’ roll reich. ‘Cuz not only can you dance to their tunes and hum ’em on the way to work, but Abba have created a musical reflection of the “Lez be in forever” fad sweeping the Continent’s pop culture from Penthouse pix of girls together outrageously to the Sweet’s ‘A.C./D.C’. Not since the Shangri-Las has a girl group had so much potential to dominate teen dreams.

Anna and Frieda could sell anything from shaving cream to little cigars, but the material that Bjorn and Benny write, perform and produce is a product that sells itself – infectious, clever, and above all, musical. Abba’s repertoire can make you wonder, just as you did after you first heard ‘Downtown’ or ‘Girl Don’t Come’. While Abba recently had both the No.1 and No. 2 singles in Australia, Americans still seem to be looking for a rockstar they could elect president. Your Stateside progressive listener seems to be asking “how can anything that tastes so good be so good for you?” Yet Abba are the best example in years of the difference between distinctive pop and decadent pap.

Pop is no more or less than fantasy fodder, and it is the setting and sound of these fantasies that makes a record a hit. ‘Short Shorts’ by the Royal Teens or Elton’s ‘Rocket Man’ are merely melodic skits based on a premise anyone can immed-iately understand. But to the teen audience at which pop has always been directed, a hit has the power to become their song: paradoxically, the more popular a record gets, the more personally it’s taken. If nothing else, the Abba aesthetic entails two adorable cuties singing “I” a lot about “you” to some of the catchiest melodies ever written outside of Brooklyn, Liverpool, or Southern California (not to mention Cleveland).

On the album covers, live, or on TV, Anna and Frieda evoke instant sex appeal, as much as the male stars like Jagger or Bowie who’ve come to epitomize rock as rape. And strangely, despite their cute enough to eat looks and sweetly nasal voices, Abba’s songs are just as into the hurts-so-good/chains of love dynamic as ‘Cracked Actor’ or ‘Live with Me’. What’s missing is the pretension and macho that makes rock “raunchy”. Even though the most romantically adolescent emotions are evoked by Abba with convincing sincerity, they’re undercut by silly unexpected puns or a slyly pseudo-classical arrangement.

Bombastically entertaining like Elton and just as quick with a hook, they take an old cliché like “do unto others” and translate the golden rule into ‘Bang-A-Boomerang’, which takes all the lessons of Phil Spector’s Ronettes records and re-mixes them so that each musical brick in the wall of sound becomes evident. Plus, like every Abba song, there are so many good ideas that keep moving the tune along, that just when you think it can’t get any better, it jumps the track completely and while you’re. still catching your breath from surprise and laughter, it slides right back into the hook. These guys can make Sparks look like tragedians, and cunnin’ as he may be, either of the girls is twice the man that Russell Mael is.

There’s one big difference between the girl groups of the ’60s and Abba, however, and that’s that Anna and Frieda aren’t rebel rebels, or even hot tramps. They weren’t born to run or to sympathize with the devil; they just know a good thing when they see, feel, and hear it, and they want it to last. Like the Crystals or the Shangri-Las (those pitiable victims of rock chauvinism), Abba were born to love, but as happy healthy Swedes they don’t see why everyone shouldn’t have multiple orgasms. And although Anna and Frieda are married to Bjorn and Benny, it’s the winks the girls give each other that must make young Australian girls watch their boyfriends as they both watch Anna and Frieda watch each other. Abba-tunes, such as ‘Honey Honey’, ‘Ring Ring’, and ‘Mama Mia’ are as much of a hoot as colored condoms. Before you catch your kid sister and her boyfriend making out to Black Sabbath, buy her an Abba record. It’ll give her ideas about what she’s got and some suggestions about where to put it. But by all means, if you walk in on her listening to Abba, don’t take it away and give her Greetings From Asbury Park. She can’t even register ’til she’s 18.

© Ron RossPhonograph Record, December 1975

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