10 ABBA songs you should know
– by Shawn Conner
Thanks to Mamma Mia! (movie and Broadway musical), countless cover bands, and the strength of the songs, ABBA has never completely gone out of style.
But most people know the Swedish band for its singles. “Waterloo”, “Dancing Queen”, “Money Money Money” – an endless array of joyously hummable pop, incorporating elements of disco, new wave, rock, folk and European music.
However, there are plenty of ABBA songs that have flown under the radar of casual listeners and Mamma Mia! fans. ABBA was a singles band, and a great one; but Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson were master craftsman with plenty of songwriting experience behind them when they formed ABBA. And there are plenty of deep cuts that demonstrate the power, variety and growing sophistication of the band as it matured over the course of eight albums, from the playful silliness of their 1973 debut Ring Ring to their mature swan song, 1981’s The Visitors.
Here, in no particular order, are ten ABBA songs you should know, if you don’t already.
“If it Wasn’t for the Nights” (Voulez-Vous, 1979) – Sandwiched between “Does Your Mother Know?” and “Chiquitita”, this one never had a chance. However, it’s a near-perfect pop song, from lyrics to chorus to disco backbeat. Glorious and endlessly repeatable (if you’re in the right mood).
“Two for the Price of One” (The Visitors, 1981) – A story song with a lead vocal by Bjorn. With its personal ad and twist ending, the lyrics are somewhat reminiscent of “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” (Rupert Holmes, 1979). Standout elements are the chorus (“If you dream of the girl for you/Then call us and get two/For the price of one”), the yacht-rock guitar and the big oompah-pah ending – far from being a generic pop band (as some have accused them of), ABBA snuck in all kinds of clever musical (often European) references into their songs.
“What About Livingstone” (Waterloo, 1974) – An upbeat early one, and a salute to pioneering adventurers, of all things.
“The Visitors” (The Visitors) – New wave ABBA. The lush, psychedelic atmosphere is unusual for the band. This is the one to play for people who don’t think they like ABBA.
“The Day Before You Came” (single) – One of the last songs recorded by the band, “The Day Before You Came” is truly haunting. Lyrically, it’s made up of quotidian details that are being remembered by the singer, and how someone new can make you forget what came before. ABBA lyrics had by this time become increasingly more adult (though considering early English-language efforts like “King Kong Song”, how could they not?), and this one is bracingly subtle. It’s tricky, too – is the narrator celebrating a new love affair, or mourning an old one (probably the latter, if this lyric is any indication: “It’s funny, but I had no sense of living without pain/The day before you came”). Also, watch for the pop culture references, including one to the TV series Dallas and another to Marilyn French (author of the 1977 feminist novel The Women’s Room).
“When All is Said and Done” (The Visitors) – Okay, we’re cheating a little with this one, since this one’s represented in Mamma Mia! However, the Visitors song is worth noting because it represents the band (by this time, comprised of two couples who had broken up – shades of Rumours! – during the group’s life) at its most heartbreakingly mature. The song also has one of their best lines: “Slightly worn but dignified/And not too old for sex.” Who else would have the balls to sing that? AC/DC? Iron Maiden?
“The Way Old Friends Do” (Super Trouper, 1980) – To paraphrase Bruno Kirby‘s chauffeur character This is Spinal Tap: “When you’ve lived and loved like ABBA have…”
“When I Kissed the Teacher” (Arrival, 1976) – Pure pop bliss. The acoustic guitar intro is sublime. This one precedes “Dancing Queen”, which is the one everyone knows (and was the band’s biggest U.S. hit).
“Hole In Your Soul” (The Album, 1977) – In case you didn’t think ABBA could rock – Exhibit A. Listen to Agnetha Faltskog’s scream.
“Me and I” (Super Trouper) – This last spot could have been occupied by any number of songs. But this one’s a sneaky little number that doesn’t club you over the head with its hooks (but there sure are plenty of them). And it’s got a fun, synth-y arrangement, pointing to the direction the band would go in with their last album, The Visitors.
Any tracks we left out? Let us know! Long live ABBA!