Adoring ABBA

“ABBA IS the most exciting pop phenomenon of the ‘70s,” claims their bio, and for once it’s no hype. My admiration for this group knows few bounds. Here’s a group who can create pop songs as super-charged and overpowering as anything this side of the Philles label, making everybody else from Peter Frampton to the Runaways look incredibly lame in comparison, in addition to which they produce their own records with a sound so pure and dynamic and uniquely their own that they should long since have been acknowledged as among the world’s most brilliant producers.

ABBA’s story goes back to the beginnings of Swedish rock, to 1965 when Benny Andersson was in the Hep Stars. He met Bjorn Ulvaeus in 1966, they began writing together, and eventually both joined the Hootenanny singers, breaking away in 1971 as a duo called Bjorn & Benny. Soon their wives, Agnetha and Annifred began appearing on the records as backup singers, and by 1973 it had become ABBA, with the girls out front and equal billing for all.

Once the format was settled, it was one of those showbiz success stories. ABBA won Eurovision with ‘Waterloo’ and began raking in countless gold records and every other conceivable kind of award. All over Europe and the world they scored hit after monster hit. The only thing they haven’t won is true critical recognition.

One problem they’ve faced in gaining acceptance from progressive-minded fans is their overtly pop orientation. And to be honest, I miss rock & roll foundation that’s been diminishing since the early records. The songs that won me over – ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Band’, ‘Ring Ring’, ‘S.O.S.’, ‘Waterloo’, and the monumental ‘So Long’– featured a wall of sound no hard rock fan could fail to be shaken by. I was enormously excited at what I surmised they were up to, namely taking their influences (‘50s rock, early ‘60s groups, west coast harmonies) and. not unlike Roy Wood (who shared these same influences) molding a new style of rock & roll pop for the ‘70s, taking advantage of advances in recording and production techniques.

I’d been a fan since Bjorn & Benny days and before, of course, and ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Band’ was one of my favorite records of 1973. When ‘Waterloo’ came out I was just floored; finally someone had done it, remarried that long-estranged couple, rock & roll and pop. Excitement mounted with every release, which in those days as now had to be tracked down in Swedish and British pressings months before they came out here. ‘Ring Ring’ was brilliant: such energy, what sound. The louder you played these records the better they got. ‘Honey Honey’ was also sensational, with its ‘Sugar Sugar’ connotations and the absurdity of those pristine voices cooing of carnal delights.

The supreme triumph came with ‘So Long’. When my copy arrived from England and I rushed to put it on, it was like the first time I’d heard ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ or ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’. Anything revolutionary in rock 6- roll is a matter of sound above all, and this was the biggest, hottest, most overwhelming sound that had hit me in ages.

Unfortunately, my fantasies failed to take shape. ‘So Long’ was a relatively small hit and for the next 45 they released ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’ a rather syrupy ballad of the type they had been wont to use as album tracks. It became a smash hit, influencing the group’s future recordings in a direction very different from that in which they’d been leading. ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘Fernando’, though they had an atmospheric quality I found quite appealing, were non rockers, as is ‘Dancing Queen’, their latest in Europe and an outright disco number – tho not without the usual ABBA touch of class.

I hope this proves to be only a temporary phase, because ABBA has the potential to create real classics that will live for years, and they shouldn’t be satisfied with mere pop hits. Meanwhile fans of the ABBA sound should try to find the Swedish solo LPs by Agnetha and Annifried, and the 2 Svenne & Lotta LPs on, all on Polar, with many unusual oldies and variation on ABBA songs.

© Greg ShawPhonograph Record, 1977

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