ABBA is the brightest, freshest thing to come out of the rock era! Their music articulates. It lends itself to interpretation. It functions on many levels, from the juvenile to the mature. There are tidbits of the psychological, sociological and spiritual.
What does ABBA music mean? What do they sing about? Basically, their music is about men and women striving in the real world. It is about love, making mistakes and trying again. True, the characters are flawed, but they are the first to admit it. They strive honestly and sincerely in the midst of the human condition. Forgiveness and compassion are hallmarks.
ABBA music reflects that slice of humanity between ages 9 and 39. It speaks of friends, school, military service and work. Work is routine but serves as a means of coping with stress. ABBA lyrics show us the best in people, although the darker side is not neglected. The listener is showered with an array of opposites, subjective responses to given situations.
Opposites are: men/women, life/death, strength/weakness, daylight/darkness, joy/sorrow, freedom/confinement, inspiration/gloom, courage/self-doubt, warm/cold & sun/rain. The video of "One Man, One Woman" illustrates our dual natures. The faces of the singers are shown half lit, half in darkness. Still, ABBA leaves us with a positive feeling. The overall impression is that everything will be okay. ABBA's tolerance may be linked to their country's foreign policy. Sweden has been at peace over 200 years. The Swedes have ties with NATO but maintain neutrality.
ABBA's self-containment is typical of the Swedes. As a people, they are reserved and friendly. There are 9 million of them, and they have a high social consciousness. Their capital city of Stockholm is built on 14 islands.
Sweden's geographical location influenced the music. Northern latitudes bring long summer days and long winter nights. ABBA is conscious of the seasons as well as seasonal changes in human emotions. Allusions are: "Where is the spring and the summer," The summer air was soft and warm," "autumn chill" & "in the winter night."
With ABBA, music is not an end in itself, but a device for dealing with life. It is practical. Still, there is an aesthetic side. Their music as a whole looms like a tapestry. Many of the songs are like paintings, full of detail, light and shadow.
They sing of magic: "It's magic," "You can do magic" & "Something like a magic spell." These incantations accompany the feeling of being in love.
There are references to angels. What are the reasons for invoking these angels? Obviously, they are good omens. They imply innocence. They are fleeting. An angel can be an idea for a song.
Experiencing ABBA's music is like a day at the zoo. Animals are all around. There are species from all 5 groups of vertebrates except amphibians. No frogs or toads! Here is a list of animals in this musical menagerie along evolutionary lines.
Doggone beast...........Honey Honey.................................Our sexuality
The beast.................. Soldiers..........................................Killing instinct
Gorilla....................... King Kong Song.............................Gorillas are apes. No tails.
Monkey......................Sitting In The Palm Tree.................Monkeys have tails
Fox........................... Frida's costume..............................Fox on green costume
Tiger..........................Tiger...............................................2 species: Bengal/Manchurian
Cat............................ Just Like That................................Compares her lover to a cat
Horse........................ Put On Your White Sombrero.........Hoofed mammals are ungulates.
Calf............................I Am The City.................................Fatted calf
Sheep........................ABBA In Australia..........................Sheep ranches in Australia
Rabbit........................Agnetha's costume........................Rabbit on red costume
Kangaroo...................Cover of the album.........................Kangaroos & opossums
Opossum...................ABBA In Australia..........................Marsupials are
primitive mammals, carrying their young in pouches.
Birds of passage........When All Is Said And Done............Human migration
Pretty birds................Take A Chance On Me...................Slang for girls in England
First Birds..................SummerNight City..........................Benny did an album
of bird song in Sweden.
Eagle.........................Eagle, That's Me............................The eagle is a U.S. symbol.
Dove..........................That's Me.......................................Bird of peace
Cockatoo...................ABBA In Australia...........................Species of parrot
Bluebirds...................Tropical Loveland............................I was a bird watcher in 1982.
Seagulls.....................Move On........................................Seagulls in Stockholm Harbor
Snowbird....................Dance (While The Music Still)........Anne Murray song
Duck.................... .....Lay All Your Love On Me................Sitting duck
Reptiles and fish are on the endangered list. The only reptile is the diamond snake Bjorn calls Fernando in ABBA In Australia. The lone fish is the goldfish in "Elaine."
There are invertebrates. The spider in "Man In The Middle" has 8 legs, not to be confused with 6-legged insects. The butterflies of "Andante, Andante" are insects. Agnetha hangs a butterfly picture in the "One Of Us" video.
What about technique? What about the contour of the music? Early albums progressed from Beatle influences to the funky sounds of the mid-1970s. Still, this was not them. ABBA hit their stride in the disco wave of the late 70s. By then, they were producing tightly honed numbers backed by a pulsating beat. Lyrics were sophisticated, and the albums were rich in meaning. If Ring Ring is naive, Super Trouper and The Visitors probe life's mysteries.
Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus are the best songwriters pop music ever produced. Bjorn's lyrics flow naturally from the mood and melody of each piece. Benny's keyboard work is convoluted, yet supportive of the vocals. Suspended and diminished chords accent nuances. The innovative drumming of disco makes the drums a true instrument. The sound of a heartbeat!
As writers, Benny and Bjorn usually stick to the double verse and double chorus formula. Bridges are used sparingly. There is repetition in the titles, 2 or 3 words: "Honey Honey," "Andante Andante," "Money Money Money," & "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" Titles consist of a single word, a phrase or a sentence. The tempo is best described as a moderate rock shuffle.
Rhyme schemes are conventional: sad/bad & you/true/do. There is imaginative rhyming such as "caviar" and "fat cigar." The idea of the song is never forfeited for the sake of rhyme, and that is important. A good song has a core! It is about something, not a string of rhymed cliches. It tells a story or expresses an emotion.
ABBA made language the servant of experience. Their lyrics are not gimmicky. "I was so lonesome. I was blue. I couldn't help it. It had to be you." This is real language. People talk this way.
"Fernando" is well-written. The alliteration comes easy. All those Fs!: "fight for freedom, feel, friend, fire, Fernando." Alliteration is the repetition of initial sounds, and ABBA lyrics abound with it. Look at the Ws in Waterloo: "Waterloo, won the war, wanted to & win when I lose." This gives concreteness to a song. They rhyme entire phrases. Miraculously, the recurring sounds never interfere with the meaning.
Something else they do is to use a word twice with a second or even 2, 3 or 4 words between them.
Every hour, every minute
Knowing Me, Knowing You
feeling lost, feeling blue
A nowhere lane, a nowhere train
People need hope, people need loving
Two friends and two true lovers
The usual place, the usual bunch
Building me a fence, building me a home
A horrible dream some of us will dream
Kiss like I used to kiss you
The early songs reflect the stage. The lyrics are direct, communicative. The later stuff is studio oriented. Benny and Bjorn became observers. They wrote about people rather than to people. The energy of the early years went into content.
Many of the songs are long: The Visitors 5:49; The Day Before You Came 5:50; Eagle 5:51. The longer ones appear on the later albums. The whole continuum is a profusion of melody, caressing the vocals on all sides. All the tracks: guitars, keyboards, horns & drums revel in the celebration of melody. They emanate from it: lacy, decorative, feminine!
It is about purpose and hard work, knowing your music and your musicians. Such unity in the productions is why ABBA's music will last.
I analyzed 110 ABBA songs, dividing them into 9 categories. The categories cut across the albums. They came about after concentrated listening. Certain songs pointed to and coalesced with others with similar themes.
The 110 songs fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Once connected, they form a picture of youth. When ABBA closes their eyes in "Like An Angel Passing Through My Room," they are passing into middle age. Their creative fires burn low from then on.
The 9 categories simplified are: 1 Love songs, 2 Breaking up, 3 Reconciliation, 4 War, 5 Portraits of women, 6 Music, 7 Night life, 8 Childhood, 9 Travel.
LOVE SONGS - SEXUAL FULFILLMENT
1 BANG-A-BOOMERANG - We get love because we give it! The lyrics are reminiscent of 2 Elvis songs: "Surrender" & "Return To Sender." ABBA followed Elvis and The Beatles. Whereas The Beatles failed in bringing their wives into the group, ABBA succeeded. They were the Swedish Fab Four!
2 GONNA SING YOU MY LOVESONG - Jockeying for position in a love triangle. ABBA did an abundance of positive songs, those which show life to be good and love to be attainable. It is uncertain what effect a writer's lyrical content has on his life and on the lives of others, but satisfying relationships should be advertised.
3 HE IS YOUR BROTHER - Humanitarian love. Concern for one's fellow man was a popular theme as public opinion turned against the Vietnam War.
4 HONEY HONEY - Sexy! She wants to know more. He kisses her and does his thing. The love machine thrills her, leaving her dizzy.
5 I DO, I DO, I DO, I DO, I DO - 5 times. Count them. They are remarkably tolerant. No hard feelings.
6 I'VE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU - Agnetha is in ecstasy. She uses words like "thrill, excite, delight, and adore." ABBA means love!
7 JUST A NOTION - Watching and touching. "Just A Notion" came out on the box set, Thank You For The Music, as part of the Undeleted medley.
8 KISSES OF FIRE - Burning, burning! No returning! The moment of orgasm!
9 LAY ALL YOUR LOVE ON ME - This disco anthem describes love to a fault as jealousy and possessiveness set in. It continues the train of thought in "Kisses Of Fire." ABBA music reflects the back and forth romances of the couples. Birds are everywhere, and we find a duck. Agnetha quit smoking after a tonsil operation.
"Lay All Your Love On Me" was on the Super Trouper album. It was big in the dance clubs and went #1 on the Billboard dance charts. There have been many cover versions.
10 LOVELIGHT - The glow that comes from being in love. The verses leading to the choruses show the contrast between darkness and light. The choruses radiate!
11 LOVERS (LIVE A LITTLE LONGER) - Links sex with longevity. Making love is what the doctor ordered, and we have a lady physician. Writing from the female point of view, Benny and Bjorn showed an understanding of and a deep appreciation for women. They are masters of feminine psychology.
12 PEOPLE NEED LOVE - The first real ABBA song. They combine love, trust, faith and hope. Women are compared to flowers. They need men like flowers need rain. The sexuality is implicit. The flower is a vagina. The rain is semen.
13 ROCK ME - Epithet for making love. ABBA songs display a wide range of feelings, always with the utmost taste.
14 SHE'S MY KIND OF GIRL - Bjorn could be singing about Agnetha early in their relationship. We hear the Beatle influence on Benny and Bjorn before they came into their own.
15 TAKE A CHANCE ON ME - The idea of taking a chance is a recurring theme. Determination leads to success in love. The guys chant. I like the instrumentation coinciding with, "It's magic!" This went to number 3 in the States.
16 THE NAME OF THE GAME - Tentative but eager. Her lover helps her express herself. The horn accompaniment is interesting. For Benny and Bjorn, the game became chess.
17 TROPICAL LOVELAND - ABBA's Garden of Eden: rainbow, moon, bluebirds, sky, grass, trees, song and love. An ode to nature.
18 UNDER MY SUN - The sun shines across this soundscape. It is not to be taken for granted in Scandinavia, that great super trouper in the sky.
BREAKING UP - PARTING WAYS
1 ANGELEYES - The feeling of being rejected contrasted with former feelings. We see the fickleness of love. I toured the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1977, the year of ABBA's breakthrough in the States. Their musical mosaic blended well with the paintings of 18th century France: "AngelEyes," "Dum Dum Diddle" & "Elaine." The frills and delicacies of Rococo!.
2 ANOTHER TOWN, ANOTHER TRAIN - Can't settle down. A farewell letter. Cassandra also left in the morning rain.
3 DANCE (WHILE THE MUSIC STILL GOES ON) - Goodbyes are just cases of love running its course. No one is to blame, and there is a mutual acceptance of the inevitable. One last dance or one more toast symbolize parting on friendly terms. Even so, there is sadness as people cling to their last scrap of love.
4 DISILLUSION - Poignant and open! Her lover is no longer accessible. She feels the confusion which attends a broken romance: wishing, hoping, changing, wondering. This is the only ABBA song composed by Agnetha.
5 HAMLET III - Benny's stirring keyboard gives way to painful memories of "happy autumn days." Michael Tretow's working title.
6 I SAW IT IN THE MIRROR - His refection tells him it is over. Bjorn fancied himself a singer on the Ring Ring album. This is ABBA's worst song.
7 IF IT WASN'T FOR THE NIGHTS - Active days, lonely nights! Temper tantrums bring fear. The women in this music have office jobs. They struggle to pay bills.
8 KNOWING ME, KNOWING YOU - The empty house and familiar rooms imply divorce. Children are involved or maybe the couple played like children. Benny and Bjorn were writing about divorce before either had gone through one. You either write about your experiences or experience what you write. Memories flood in during a divorce.
9 LIKE AN ANGEL PASSING THROUGH MY ROOM - Complex song in which many themes converge. We find sleep, even death! The angel is the fading recollection of the ABBA years. The ticking of the clock symbolizes passing time and relentless change, a mingling of past and present. This is the last song on The Visitors, ABBA's final album, and there is a noticeable lack of warmth. We find anxiety, the funny tricks of time and resignation.
The long awaited end is near, and Frida sits alone in the twilight. She is by the fireplace trying to stay warm as the dying embers of ABBA still provide some heat. It is peaceful. The touring is over, and the outside world no longer intrudes. The love she and Benny shared is now perceived as a "prolonged goodbye." Their love was an angel passing through her room. Frida is not sure if she is awake or dreaming. She closes her eyes, and her memories fade. This could be Frida's premonition of death. The music box highlights her sadness.
10 MERRY-GO-ROUND - The circle of falling in and out of love. Without love, life is meaningless.
11 MY LOVE, MY LIFE - Looks convey the unspoken. Eyes mirror the soul. Mirrors and reflections pop up a lot. Even in the way their initials are written, the first B is a mirror image of the second B.
12 OUR LAST SUMMER - Bjorn wrote the lyrics of "Our Last Summer" about an affair he had in Paris before Agnetha. ABBA always treated Agnetha and Frida equally, giving them the same number of lead vocals and the same number of hits. Frida got "Our Last Summer." In it, she has fond memories of a lover who settled down to a conventional life. She was the one afraid of getting old.
This unique song takes us on a tour of Paris. We visit the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Louvre. Frida mimics the smile of Leonardo de Vinci's Mona Lisa while sampling French cuisine. She walks along the Seine and strolls down the Elysee. Lasse Wellander's guitar is spectacular! He is the most underrated guitarist of the rock era.
13 PUT ON YOUR WHITE SOMBRERO - Frida gives her macho Spaniard a tongue lashing! We might wonder about whom she is singing. She dresses her vaquero, not only putting a sombrero on him but donning him all in white with a red bandana. She puts him on a horse and sends him riding into the sunset to impress a meek senorita. She sees him as a caballero trying to live life as if it were a movie. Frida is tough! She is a realist. "Put On Your White Sombrero" belongs to the Super Trouper era but was deemed unworthy of the album. ABBA was peaking! There were fewer worlds to conquer. "In rhyme with his time" may be the worst line in the entire catalog.
14 SHOULD I LAUGH OR CRY - A wife rebelling against her husband, perhaps Frida going up against Benny. She is cold! This is one of those songs from the post-Visitors era. Maybe ABBA meant to do another record, maybe not. But there were no Top 40 candidates. The final songs were cynical in a way that was foreign to the group. "Should I Laugh of Cry" is sarcastic. Still, it is a legitimate response to a partner's tyranny. He vents. She feels contempt. She liked his philosophy in "Our Last Summer," but not now. The title reminds me of the masks representing the dramatic arts. One is laughing, one is crying. Frida laughs, but at Benny, not with him. He stands on his toes to appear taller, while Frida compares him to a balloon, full of hot air. They are preparing for bed, and Benny is in his pajamas. That his trousers are too short indicates that he is trying to tower over Frida. Their marriage is a lie. Of course, both couples divorced. Like The Beatles, ABBA's love songs gave way to serious themes.
15 THE KING HAS LOST HIS CROWN - Mocking, taunting! The guy with the angel eyes gets his. Sweden has a monarchy, and kings and queens pop up. Carl Gustaf XVI is Sweden's king. Silvia is his queen. ABBA performed at their wedding.
16 WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - If "The Winner Takes It All" is about Agnetha's and Bjorn's divorce, "When All Is Said And Done" is about Frida's and Benny's. Mature people going their own ways, Frida and Benny are birds of passage, flying instinctively. The autumn chill is both the weather and love growing cold. The musical blitz preceding "It's so strange" gets our attention.
17 WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE ME - He was serious! She was having fun. He curses his luck. This melody is from "Happy Hawaii."
RECONCILIATION - BREAKING UP & MAKING UP
1 AS GOOD AS NEW - Restoration and continuance of a romance. This kind of retraction is typical. Leaving was a mistake!
2 CRAZY WORLD - He mistakes her brother for a boy friend. Misunderstandings occur even when people are in love.
3 DREAMWORLD - She is upset because her man is unrealistic. She urges him to face reality. The background vocals drive the verses, contrasting with the rest of the song. There are all kinds of checks and balances in ABBA's music. Certain titles are jammed together to distract from what might appear as cliches: "DreamWorld," "SummerNight City," & "AngelEyes." Titles are secondary to this classical approach to rock n roll.
After the movie in 1977, the group may have felt like "stars." If so, their delusions of grandeur were short-lived. They sing "We're not the stars of a Hollywood movie." Reality has a way of putting high expectations in perspective. The ladies are human, not angels in white.
4 HASTA MANANA - The desire for reconciliation. Waiting for a letter. This is Spanish for "until tomorrow."
5 LOVE ISN'T EASY (BUT IT SURE IS HARD ENOUGH) - Love is something to work at. It must be periodically renewed. A country intro.
6 MAMMA MIA - Realization that spats are par for the course and that love endures. No one dreamed that this song would come to represent the ABBA catalog!
7 ONE MAN, ONE WOMAN - Reconciliation is mutual and immediate. Morning grumpiness within the context of a commitment.
8 ONE OF US - Wistful, yearning! She thought her lover was holding her back. "One of us" may refer to her as opposed to him or to one part of her split personality.
9 RING RING - By the telephone! ABBA entered "Ring Ring" in the 1973 Eurovision contest and lost. Agnetha was glad because she was pregnant. They won the Eurovision the following year in Brighton, England. "Ring Ring" was the title track of their first album. Their 4 names were on the cover. Stig had coined the acronym, ABBA, but had to negotiate with a fish canning company of the same name. "ABBA" is a word for father in the Bible, appearing 3 times in the New Testament. Neil Sedaka wrote the English lyrics for "Ring Ring." Listen to Benny run his finger down the keyboard. It is called a "glissando."
10 SOS - The desire to recapture feelings! It could be Save Our Ship or Save Our Souls. Baroque sound! ABBA drew from the rich tradition of European composers, combining classical music with rock n roll. Classical chords lend a shimmering, resilient texture.
11 THE WAY OLD FRIENDS DO - Misunderstandings are inevitable between friends and lovers and must be worked out if relationships are to continue. Are we speaking of the friendship between Agnetha and Frida? Is it the rapport between ABBA and their fans? Most likely, it is the longstanding friendship between Benny and Bjorn. Benny Andersson had the friendliest grin in the music business. Bjorn reminded me of Jimmy Carter, America's president at the time. This song is a hymn!
WAR - BATTLE OF THE SEXES - RESISTANCE & SURRENDER - INVASION - PURSUIT
1 FERNANDO - The Mexican Revolution! The Spanish explored the New World in the 1500s, and their colonies gained independence from Spain just like America broke with Britain. "Fernando" is an inspiring song and a testament that friendship can endure into old age. It celebrates the romance of the stars, "They were shining there for you and me, for liberty." Science only sees hydrogen fusing into helium. ABBA did Spanish versions of several numbers, evidence of their international appeal. They were huge in South America!
2 SITTING IN THE PALMTREE - Humor! Pursuit accompanied by protest. On the Waterloo album, they turned people into monkeys and gorillas.
3 SO LONG - Successful resistance! Her attitude toward money is different from that in "Money Money Money." ABBA knew the value of money but also recognized the importance of a strong work ethic. Note the keyboard riffs at the end.
4 SOLDIERS - War and rumors of war. Dancing is combat. The sight of marching armies is taken for granted as if nothing is wrong. "Soldiers" questions the relationship between reality and fantasy. It is hard to tell if things are real or only happening in our minds. The martial tone of the drumming is a sign of war, and the pale moonlight suggests a cloud cover. Typical of the apocalyptic nature of The Visitors.
Jimmy Carter's presidency was marred by the Iranian hostage crisis. The Cold War flared up, and Ronald Reagan touted a technology called "Star Wars" to defend us from incoming missiles. Carl Sagan envisioned a nuclear winter in which life might become extinct.
"Soldiers" mirrors the international tensions of its time and the threat of nuclear war. "All that thunder and the blinding light" are hydrogen bombs. "In the winter night" is nuclear winter. "The beast" is war.
Benny and Bjorn condemned the Communist government in Poland for its crackdown, making the statement: "Let the Polish rule Poland."
5 THE VISITORS - Someone's home is being invaded. There are political overtones with secret meetings and hopes of freedom. I speculated endlessly before learning the real meaning of the song. I thought the KGB might be after a defector and that it might be the Russian chess player. I thought it might be a paranoid Elvis crackin' up at Graceland, Napoleon at Waterloo or even King Kong being abducted from his island. I imagined the visitors to be in-laws ransacking someone's house. It finally came out that Benny and Bjorn were writing about Poland. There was a resurgence of the Cold War in the 1980s, and we all got political. Only with the fall of the Berlin Wall did the Soviet Union loosen its grip on eastern Europe.
The woman here harbored dissidents. They plotted to overthrow the government. She knew she was in danger and expected the police. They finally came, and her friends disappeared. She panics! We look around to see the trappings of someone who might engage in underground activities: books and paintings. An intellectual! She is numb as the police take her away.
I contrasted the isolation of "The Visitors" with the gregariousness of "Eagle." It is a 180 degree turn. The cover of The Visitors album shows the space that has grown between Agnetha, Benny, Bjorn and Frida. They are unaware of each other.
6 THE WINNER TAKES IT ALL - Fate controlling our lives! There are cards and dice, winners and losers, judges and rules. Love is a gamble. Agnetha liked the way it rolls on with no beginning or ending. "The Winner Takes It All" is on the Super Trouper album and went to number 8 in the Billboard charts. This gigantic, pop song is about Agnetha's and Bjorn's divorce after 7 years and 2 kids. The pressure of world fame took its toll on Sweden's golden couple. The Swedes are honest people, and that honesty is evident here. Like Bjorn said, "You don't write from nothing." It took courage for Agnetha to sing it.
7 UNDER ATTACK - Shaky resistance. No strategy. She is on the eve of Waterloo! Sexual images: taking cover, about to crack, on my track, defenses (hymen) breaking.
8 WATCH OUT - Pursuit! At first, the explosion at the end seems to be tacked on. Then, we realize it is the man's penetration of the woman, the sound of an ejaculation amplified. Sexuality is at our core! It is a compelling part of our psychology. The penis seeks out the vagina. The vagina longs for it. This is the most logical, well thought out music ever. Every note has meaning. The Sexual Revolution began with Elvis and continued through The Beatles and ABBA.
9 WATERLOO - The battle of the sexes is compared to the Napoleonic Wars. The woman surrenders. The difference is that she likes it. Waterloo is in Belgium. Napoleon was defeated there in 1815, after escaping from Elba. Following Waterloo, he was exiled on the island of St. Helena. Both Napoleon and ABBA are associated with islands. Waterloo reached number 6 in the U.S.
10 YOU OWE ME ONE - Frida is resisting! She wants Benny to send her on a vacation. Spending time in the Swedish archipelago, it is no wonder that islands creep up in their music, whether they are the Bahamas or Hawaii.
PORTRAITS OF WOMEN
1 A SIMPLE FOUR LETTER WORD - They are doing comedy. Each member introduces and describes him or herself.
2 CASSANDRA - Cassandra prophesied the fall of Troy. No one believed her, and the Greeks ransacked the city in the Trojan War. Homer told the story in "The Iliad."
ABBA's Cassandra leaves on a ship at sunrise. It is raining, and her eyes reveal pain. Trojan Cassandra was taken by Greek Agamemnon as his mistress.
The song hints at predestination as we are told Cassandra was lost from the start. Shadows fill ABBA's music, and here the future casts a shadow.
Which one of the girls is Cassandra? Probably both because both Benny and Bjorn moved on to marriages with other women. There is reference to Cassandra's father. Frida's father, Alfred Hasse, came into her life after she got famous. She stopped seeing him when ABBA broke up.
"Cassandra" makes use of alliteration: street, singing, shouting, staying, shame, suffer, secrets, sorry, sleep, ship, sailing, sister, sunrise, sails, slack. This is poetry!
ABBA was the city (Stockholm) incarnate. If the city is dead, so is ABBA. The last day has dawned. The final hour! Troy and ABBA fall together!
3 ELAINE - A study in frustration: dead-end street, goldfish in a bowl, tied hands and feet. No reason for the frustration is given.
4 HEAD OVER HEELS - A motivated lady in an age of women's liberation. Some situations call for assertiveness: "pushing through unknown jungles," "pushing through the darkness" & "pushing through the crowd."
5 HEY HEY HELEN - Single parent. She has bought her freedom but will one day sing "Slipping Through My Fingers."
6 I AM JUST A GIRL - Similar to "Thank You For The Music" except that her consolation is a boy friend rather than talent. The song shows humility and self-acceptance. Average people can find love!
7 JUST LIKE THAT - This is the girl in "The Day Before You Came." It is remarkable how ABBA blends clever lyrics with smooth melodies. Even with a lot of words and heavy rhyming, the recurring sounds never interfere with emotions or ideas. Agnetha delivers an aching, yearning feeling, sharing her triumph and her disappointment. The women in ABBA guard their private lives. They have secrets, and it is by these secrets, probably sexual, that they identify their inner selves. There is a desire to open up on one hand and a fear of doing so on the other.
1 "They wouldn't know her little secrets" - "Nina, Pretty Ballerina"
2 "Secrets that my paradise can bring" - "Tropical Loveland"
3 "Suffer and sell our secrets" - "Cassandra"
4 "My secrets he learned" - "Just Like That"
Who throws dust in our eyes? The sandman! Agnetha was hypnotized when this gigolo walked in, smug as a cat. He was handsome, and looks are everything. Even though Agnetha gave this womanizer a home, she knew it was just an affair! Her life would assume its predestinated course. There were tears, and she thinks about the rolling stone and wonders where he is. "Just Like That" is a great song and looms large with fans. Raphael Ravenscroft played the winding, twisting sax.
8 ME AND I - This is Carrie contemplating her split personality. Sigmund Freud invented psychoanalysis. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." 19th century dudes!
9 MONEY MONEY MONEY - Frida dreams of a wealthy man and winning a fortune, both unrealistic. Las Vegas is her goal. ABBA has a way of voicing the hopes and fears of average people. That they made big money was well-publicized. The joke was that they did more for the Swedish economy than Volvo. They paid taxes far beyond what they would have, had they been an American group. Their loyalty was rewarded when Sweden issued a stamp in their honor.
10 NINA, PRETTY BALLERINA - A working girl lives for the weekend. Like Cinderella, she goes from a drab existence to a night out.
11 THAT'S ME - Carrie wants love but knows she is not perfect. The dove is feminine. The eagle is masculine. They complement one another. I like the banjo.
12 THE DAY BEFORE YOU CAME - Fans cite "The Day Before You Came" as their second favorite after "The Winner Takes It All." This is extraordinary because it is monotonous. There is no soaring chorus as in earlier songs. At the same time, there is a hypnotic quality that makes it irresistible.
It is an hour to hour description of the daily routine. The workaday world is dull, and Agnetha's aversion to politics is seen in the frown brought on by the editorial. Perhaps she is displeased with a particular brand of politics. She likes Dallas, television's number one show during the later ABBA years. Chinese was the favorite food of Dallas character Cliff Barnes. They should have let J.R. die when he was shot and ended it! Marilyn French was a novelist in the women's movement. Topicalities date material! "The Day Before You Came" was the last song ABBA recorded, August 20, 1982. The lights were low as Agnetha added her vocal, and everyone knew it was over.
The affair in this song may have been good or bad. I suspect it was bad because all of Agnetha's relationships end that way. She looks back to a time when she was lonely but did not have a broken heart.
13 TWO FOR THE PRICE OF ONE - Portrays both a woman and a man. We see the extent to which Alice Whiting will go to get a husband. The piece ends with a wedding march even while we are given the feeling that marriage is a trap. Our protagonist works in a train station. Trains are a major means of transportation in ABBA, and an idiosyncrasy of Euro-Scandinavian lyrics.
1 ANDANTE ANDANTE - Fulfillment of the woman's wish in "Dum Dum Diddle." The man plays her like an instrument. Andante means slowly, and that is how she wants it, eye contact and foreplay. He covers her like the night. Music and sex are synonymous.
2 DUM DUM DIDDLE - The woman wants to be played like an instrument. Her female figure is violin-shaped.
3 HOLE IN YOUR SOUL - Music makes us feel better. ABBA addresses their critics, defending their romanticism and their eclectic taste. Songwriting is compared to painting.
4 I HAVE A DREAM - The power of the imagination in helping us achieve goals. Inspiration comes from songs, fantasies and fairy tales. Patience is a virtue since things only happen when the time is right. ABBA's emphasis on family makes them ideal for children. During the 1979 tour, they used a children's choir for "I Have A Dream." It is Frida's answer to "Thank You For The Music."
5 I LET THE MUSIC SPEAK - Benny Andersson said his face was frozen in a smile for 10 years. But by 1981, smiles were turning to frowns. Both couples were divorced, and although they agreed to continue as a group, things had become increasingly strained in the studio. Bjorn, reacting to criticism, made a conscious effort to write deeper, more thoughtful lyrics. As a result, their final album was different from what had gone before. Agnetha and Frida continued as vocalists, but gone was the romance that characterized young ABBA. Frida did the lead on "I Let The Music Speak," a song that borders on opera.
More than a song about songwriting, "I Let The Music Speak" explores the nature of creativity itself. It sees the composer as a medium through which music passes. It assumes music (art) to have a pre-existence into which the artist tunes. The piece hints at music's capacity to enhance reality and to reconcile. Note the imagery! Streets take the artist from the city into the country. She is blind, lost in a valley. Her inspiration is gone. Writer's block, depression! Dry leaves imply death! Then, music comes to the rescue, and again we see the sexual imagery! Music is her lover: "I take it to me and let it flow through me." Music is life, the voice of God! This is ABBA's most elegant song. Music, painting and poetry are one.
6 INTERMEZZO NO 1 - An affair! Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman starred in a film called Intermezzo. She played a music teacher in love with a violinist. Benny's instrumental is jarring compared to his usual fluid melodies.
7 KING KONG SONG - Songwriting! In the original King Kong, there is a scene with natives draped in gorilla skins. "We can make gorillas out of people." In the original, Kong climbs the Empire State Building. In the 1976 remake, he ascends the World Trade Center. In the post-9/11 remake, he again climbs the Empire State Building. Kong is mentioned in "I'm A Marionette." Like ABBA and Napoleon, he is an islander. Agnetha bears a resemblance to Fay Wray.
8 MEDLEY (PICK A BALE OF COTTON, ON TOP OF OLD SMOKY, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL) - The B-side of SummerNight City was done for cancer research. Frida gives me goose bumps when she breaks into "On Top Of Old Smoky."
9 OPUS 10 - Was this the instrumental title track for the 1982 album that never materialized? It became "Anthem" in CHESS.
10 RIKKY ROCK N' ROLLER - Rikky is having fun, still working on her first million.
11 ROCK N' ROLL BAND - Music unites people and brings happiness. These songs contain scenarios with action between characters. A blueprint for "Voulez-Vous."
12 RUBBER BALL MAN - A galloping bass and the slapping drums of disco in an age of polyester.
13 SUPER TROUPER - ABBA released Super Trouper as their 7th studio album. They had toured Europe, U.S., Australia, and Japan. They were tired! In the title track, Bjorn admits the discomforts of touring and performing before large audiences. One special person is worth an audience of 20,000. By now, Bjorn and Agnetha were estranged, and Bjorn's special woman was Lena Kallersjo. It was she whom he called from Glasgow. Bjorn and Lena stayed married and have 2 children. The super trouper is the big spotlight, but ABBA was the real trouper for going on with the show. An acappella intro!
14 THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC - The discovery and celebration of talent. Modesty and gratitude! Agnetha's pride seeps through when she exclaims she is the girl with golden hair.
Musical instruments in ABBA songs:
Tom-tom - "King Kong Song"
Tambourine - "Dancing Queen"
Guitar - "Fernando"
Violin - "Dum Dum Diddle"
Fiddle - "Dum Dum Diddle"
Pipe - "The Piper"
Horns - "Soldiers"
Bugle - "Soldiers"
Drums - "Soldiers"
15 THE PIPER - Most Americans have misconceptions about Swedish ABBA. I have talked to people who thought they had 2 or 3 hits. Actually, ABBA was The Beatles of the 1970s! They had 9 number ones in the UK and have sold 400 million records worldwide. Sure, their early songs were about boy/girl relationships, but so were the early songs of The Beatles. ABBA matured as the years rolled on. By the time Super Trouper came out, lyrics were sophisticated and even political.
"The Piper" explores the grip music has on an audience. The piper may be the spirit of music ABBA is following or he may be Napoleon. That the piper seduced everybody in the land suggests that he is not nice. While Sweden managed to stay out of World War II, Norway, Frida's native land, was overrun by the Germans. In which case, we might think of the piper as Adolf Hitler. We have seen the tapes of Hitler's harangues at Nazi rallies. The fire in his eyes! Hitler's weapons of fear were Communism, Jews and the specter of depression that haunted the world in the 1930s. Such horrors were something baby boomers could not fathom.
1 DANCING QUEEN - A young girl gets out for some innocent fun. ABBA was at the root of disco-mania even if this fact is not generally recognized in America. "Dancing Queen" was their only number one record in the States. Besides being the biggest act western Europe has ever seen, their music penetrated and had a liberalizing effect on the countries of the Soviet bloc.
2 GIMME! GIMME! GIMME! (A MAN AFTER MIDNIGHT) - This is about the fear of being alone, and Agnetha laments the gap between her life and the lives of movie stars. Her preoccupation is with their glamorous lives. Movie stars appear in "Honey Honey," "DreamWorld," "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" & "Put On Your White Sombrero." The Swedes watch American movies.
The climate in Scandinavia is always a factor. It is after midnight, and autumn winds blow outside Agnetha's window. She is watching the late show. It is gloomy. Shadows are everywhere, and she prays. Since Swedes are largely atheist, she has no reason to believe her prayer is heard. She wants a man!
Agnetha opens the window and looks into the night. She needs a man to take her through the darkness. Sex is implied! The effect of long winter nights on the Swedish psyche cannot be overestimated. 19 hours of darkness make for a high suicide rate. Agnetha's mother committed suicide, something fans do not like to talk about.
"Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" is one of those repeating titles for which ABBA was famous. Dick Clark alluded to them when the group appeared on American Bandstand.
3 HAPPY NEW YEAR - "Happy New Year" documents the let-down that follows a celebration, particularly a New Year's Eve party. The champagne is gone, and the morning is grey. Dreams are realized, and confetti is on the floor. All we can do is look to the future. Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" was a futuristic nightmare. He got his title from Shakespeare's "The Tempest." "O brave new world that has such people in it," exclaims Miranda. Pessimism and cynicism claim ABBA's song in the end. Man is a fool, going astray on feet of clay. The great flaw in "Happy New Year" is that Benny and Bjorn dated it with "in the end of '89." It will not be relevant again until 2089.
There is the theme of death, which might be expected as the old year (1979) is dying and the new year (1980) is being born. I feel ABBA takes it farther. They sing "We might as well lay down and die," "in the ashes of our lives," & "The dreams we had before are all dead." I was too young in 1980 to anticipate death. In my 70s, however, and with my parents gone, I think about it.
We use the Gregorian calendar, decreed by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. Catholic countries adopted it first, then England and America. It is now international.
4 MAN IN THE MIDDLE - The pimp's 17-year-old is not the dancing queen. ABBA music is a course in human nature. Such strong characters! This man is evil, a spider in a cobweb. This is as close to street violence as we get. Lobster and caviar tell us the importance of seafood to the Swedes.
5 ON AND ON AND ON - She talks to 2 men at a party. One is a proud preacher. The other flirts with her. She wants to be picked up. This may be the party in "Happy New Year." The displaced preacher foreshadows the Electronic Church. Human rights interest him as much as the gospel.
6 SUMMERNIGHT CITY - Anticipation of a night on the town with the understanding that it will not last. This and "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" were on the heels of Voulez-Vous. ABBA was riding a wave! Disco was rampant with its throbbing, pulsating beat, and sexual encounters were easy!
Benny and Bjorn were not satisfied with this song. They felt it sounded too much like The Bee Gees' "Staying Alive." I have never seen the resemblance. Maybe the overt hedonism bothered them. The song is about prowling Stockholm looking for sex. "Soul dancing and "love making!"
Summer nights in Stockholm are short, so you get your sex while you can. Morning comes, and birds drive the party crowd home. The previous night is a dream, not unlike Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." "Scattered driftwood on the beach" adds to the unrealness. There is always tomorrow night!
7 TIGER - The tiger represents the dangers of night life. It could be alcoholism, prostitution or the loss of one's identity. The city is a jungle! Shadows take the tiger's shape, and headlights become his yellow eyes. Still, ABBA are city folk and cease to function without it.
8 VOULEZ-VOUS - Heat! A woman tells what it is like being picked up in a bar. She expects no promises and has no regrets. These rules are very different from the ones in "The Winner Takes It All." "Voulez-Vous" is French for "Do you want it?" There are plenty of the "ahas" which embellish ABBA's music.
CHILDHOOD - YOUTH
1 CHIQUITITA - Shows a capacity for sympathy, a shoulder to cry on. ABBA had a special relationship with children and gave UNICEF the rights to this song. When an article came out saying that ABBA might move to America, children all over Sweden reacted with tears. Chiquitita mean "little girl."
2 DOES YOUR MOTHER KNOW - A young girl tempting a mature male. Is this the dancing queen biting off more than she can chew? Bjorn reminds himself of her age.
3 ME AND BOBBY AND BOBBY'S BROTHER - Longing for the innocence of youth! This is Suzy-Hang-Around after she was accepted.
4 MY MAMMA SAID - Generation gap. The teenager wants out. Mother/daughter relationships are a frequent theme although rebellion plays a small part. Mainly, ABBA's music serves as a mirror in which the mainstream can view itself.
5 SLIPPING THROUGH MY FINGERS - Agnetha is sad that her daughter is growing up. She wonders if she has done all she could. Bjorn wrote "Slipping Through My Fingers" about their daughter Linda, born in 1973, so by the time this song was released, Linda was in school. Bjorn, barely awake, has breakfast with her and sees her off to class. He experiences that odd melancholy for which Swedes are famous. He feels guilty that he was not the father he wanted to be. And yet, he is grateful for the laughter they shared. Kids grow up! Parents cannot freeze the picture. Bjorn remarried and had 2 daughters by a second wife. The guilt he felt about Linda foreshadowed his divided loyalty.
6 SUZY-HAND-AROUND - Prepubescent battles! The innocence of the Ring Ring and Waterloo albums is disarming. This is the only song on which Benny sang the lead.
7 WHEN I KISSED THE TEACHER - The girl with the absent-minded smile! It is okay if her kiss causes embarrassment. The beauty of this music is that it shows people in real life situations. 3 songs cover 3 levels of education. The girls in "Slipping Through My Fingers" and "When I Kissed The Teacher" are in elementary and high school. Annie in "Hole In Your Soul" is in college.
TRAVEL - EXPLORATION - CHANGE - MOVEMENT
1 ARRIVAL - Two instrumentals were released. This one heralded their arrival on the international music scene. It sounds like bagpipes.
2 EAGLE - ABBA is out of the studio here and on the world tour that took them to Australia. Air travel turns them into eagles! Geology becomes reality: mountains, forests and seas. Who came flying from far away? Vikings? Swedish emigrants? ABBA? "Eagle" conveys the amazement of young people who have burst out and are seeing the world for the first time. Vikings came to America in 1006 A.D., long before Columbus. Leif Ericsson discovered Newfoundland. Norse mythology was the religion of these Scandinavian explorers, and they told stories of their gods: Odin, Thor, Baldur & Freya. The Vikings dominated Europe between the 8th and 11th centuries, at which time they adopted Christianity. The Normans, or Norsemen, or Northmen, who invaded England in 1066 under William the Conqueror, were descended from Vikings who had settled in northern France. In the 19th century, a quarter of Sweden's population came to America. The eagle is a U.S. symbol, and ABBA knew their kind of music originated in the U.S. Listening through a headset, the guitar goes in one ear and out the other, an eagle flying through your head.
3 EVERY GOOD MAN NEEDS A HELPING HAND - The same melody as "Heaven Help My Heart." Some CHESS songs were intended for ABBA.
4 GET ON THE CAROUSEL - Performed in Australia in the mini-musical, The Girl With The Golden Hair.
5 HAPPY HAWAII - Excitement about taking a trip. I scanned the lyrics for means of transportation. There is a car in "So Long," a limousine in "Man In The Middle," a plane in "Happy Hawaii," a bus in "On And On And On," a balloon in "Should I Laugh Or Cry," a train in "The Day Before You Came," & a ship in "Cassandra."
6 I AM THE CITY - ABBA's identification with the city is complete. The city throbs, and so does the beat. They are singing of Stockholm, and the island city extends its invitation. Bjorn is obviously flying back to Stockholm and ready to land at Arlanda Airport. He looks through the clouds at this giant creature. It is a revelation, beautiful! It forever grows even if it is due to illegal immigration. I came to bustling Nashville during the ABBA era and grew familiar with crowded streets and never ending noise. I contributed to this melting pot, walking streets and talking the language of country music. I also walked the streets of Stockholm. The 2 cites have much in common: people, cars, hotels, parks & funny smells.
7 I WONDER (DEPARTURE)- Introspection and hesitation about leaving home. Frida knows she must face the challenge. The song paints a community. We see a town with houses, streets and a park. ABBA music transcends disco. There is a coherence which elevates it to the realm of fine art. A show tune sound.
8 I'M A MARIONETTE - The loss of control in achieving stardom. The performer is a doll, puppet, pet, clown. ABBA liked to travel and to play and sing. Songs like "I'm A Marionette" came from being tired, one too many countries or one too many shows. The solo is a train.
9 MOVE ON - Life is constant change! Wind, waves and the spinning, turning, rotating earth. Where there is a will, there is a way! Some reach their destinations by traveling. Others get there by settling down. Characteristic of ABBA The Album.
10 SANTA ROSA - A 60s sound. The theme is familiar. The artist wants to retreat to the security of the past.
11 WHAT ABOUT LIVINGSTONE - Agnetha compares space travel to past explorers. David Livingstone explored Africa and was found by Henry Stanley, a journalist. Richard Burton traveled up the Nile to Lake Victoria, its source. 500 years of history went down with World War II when European empires broke up. The explorers who opened up the world between the Renaissance and early 20th century gave way to American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts. There were 6 moon landing between 1969 and 1972, and 12 men walked on its surface. Agnetha shares their sense of adventure! The moon rises in "People Need Love," "What About Livingstone," "Tropical Loveland," "SummerNight City," "The Piper," "Should I Laugh Or Cry" & "Soldiers." I located 3 rivers on ABBA's musical map: the Nile, Seine and Rio Grande, each on a different continent. Agnetha's life is a river in "Just Like that." The river may be her menstrual flow, which ceased after she got pregnant.
Bahamas - "You Owe Me One"
Dallas - "The Day Before You Came"
Glasgow - "Super Trouper"
Hawaii - "Happy Hawaii"
Hollywood - "DreamWorld"
Honolulu - "Happy Hawaii"
Houston - "Midnight Special"
Las Vegas - "Money Money Money"
Monaco - "Money Money Money"
Nile - "What About Livingstone"
Paris - "Our Last Summer"
Rio Grande - "Fernando"
Santa Rosa - "Santa Rosa"
Seine - "Our Last Summer"
Waterloo - "Waterloo"