ABBA – Gold (1992)
Well, that’s blown my credibility on day one, hasn’t it? Maybe not. I wonder how many of you reading this own this retrospective of ABBA’s greatest singles? It was very recently in the news that “ABBA Gold” had become the UK’s second biggest selling album of all time and that 5.1 million copies have been sold since it was released in 1992, relegating The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” into third place. Ever since I was a child, ABBA have been an ever-present, radio-friendly part of my life and, even though they were seen as cheesy and a bit naff in the years after they split up, when this album was released they were re-discovered all over again by the world. My ex-wife loved ABBA so much that she drove me crazy with “Gold” and I grew to loathe the sound of them for a few years. However, when we split and she claimed custody of that particular CD, I eventually found myself missing several songs and so had to buy a copy of my own. I’ll be honest with you, I’m not ashamed to love them. Benny and Bjorn are absolutely superb songwriters with a natural talent for melody and harmony. This greatest hits album is absolutely packed full of timeless songs which, I have to admit, I find rather remarkable that they were written by people for whom English isn’t their first language.
It’d actually be easier to list the tracks I don’t really care for on this album than to list my favourite tracks by the super Swedes. Oddly enough, the main two I don’t like come one after the other on “Gold” – “Chiquitita” and “Fernando”. I find them a little too irritatingly twee. You can probably add “I Had A Dream” to that category too. There are so many excellent songs on this collection that they’re a minor mid-album distraction to me, though. ABBA are a group that it’s almost impossible to dislike (although I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who do), even if I wanted to – their music is just so irresistibly enjoyable. They have the knack of writing songs which are both immensely catchy and also memorable. Their songs sound deceptively simplistic, but the vast majority of their music is very cleverly composed and a little more complex than your ears would have you believe.
My absolute favourites from “ABBA Gold” include the ridiculously infectious “Knowing Me, Knowing You”, the foot-tapping harmonic masterpiece, “Take A Chance On Me” and “Mamma Mia” with the glorious, “Yes, I’ve been broken hearted/blue since the day we parted” bridge and the near-trademark trick of taking melancholy lyrics describing the pain of heartbreak and pairing them with a rather uplifting musical soundtrack – “The Winner Takes It All” is another fine example of this. You can add the brilliant “Super Trooper” to the list of the numerous almost annoyingly catchy songs in their repertoire, the contrast between the verse and chorus of “S.O.S.” is approaching genius, especially the powerful, “When you’re gone/how can I even try to go on?” section and both “One Of Us” and the magnificent “The Name Of The Game” document the sad split of the group all too well. Of course, I couldn’t write this without mentioning the song from 1974 that catapulted them to international fame, one of the best winners of Eurovision ever, “Waterloo”. According to The Attractions’ Steve Nieve, “Oliver’s Army” owes that particular song a debt of gratitude.
Despite their popularity and the massive sales of this album, there as still way too many people who dismiss ABBA as being camp, cheesy, throwaway music. Of course, there are plenty of these classics that fit the description of camp and cheesy (“Gimmie! Gimmie! Gimmie! (A Man After Midnight)”, “Voulez-Vous” and “Does Your Mother Know” for example), but throwaway? Never. In absolute honesty, I’d give my right arm to be able to write songs as great as these and they many of the songs have an emotional depth to them that often goes unrecognised. It’s a little strange that the main songwriters in the group didn’t go on afterwards to have a wildly successful post-split success, given their profligacy, although it’s probably not a surprise to many that they ended up writing a musical (“Chess”) and, indeed, having a musical written around their best work (“Mamma Mia”). This is simply the best work of one of the best groups of the 70s and early 80s and, let’s be honest, probably a must for any music collection. It’s certainly not something I’m ashamed to own.