❚ ON THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY of Abba winning the Eurovision song contest with their Waterloo wall of sound and their self-selected kitsch costumes from the age before stylists had been invented we celebrate how this deeply uncool Swedish group turned into a much-loved cult. From the vaults we’ve dug out The Sunday Times’s assessment of Abba published in its encyclopedic Abba-to-Zappa partwork 1000 Makers of Music in 1997 – the decade of Britpop in which they were suddenly rehabilitated by music’s opinion formers.
FROM 1000 MAKERS OF MUSIC, 1997
Swedish, 1973-82, vocal group
As cheesy now as when they won the Eurovision song contest singing Waterloo, Abba embody a perennial contradiction: you may make the quintessential pop music of the decade but you must remain for ever a bad joke if that era proves as tasteless as the 1970s. Abba’s lovingly coupled foursome – the acme of glitz in their satins and flares – were derided because Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, as journeymen songsmiths, wrote singalong melodies epitomising Europe’s dreaded folkloric tradition. Worse, their sentimental lyrics about love and money – in English – nauseated purists who preferred Anglo-American guitar heroes who mouthed youthful dissent.
Yet Abba scored eight consecutive No 1 albums in Britain and 25 Top 40 singles so catchy that everybody can hum one. In 1992 Abba’s hits were revived ironically by Erasure and ingenuously by a tribute band called Björn Again. Today Abba enjoy cult status in Britain as new generations, numbed by the joylessness of techno, recycle yesteryear’s kitsch to discover ecstasy in pure pop.
❏ Keywork: Knowing Me, Knowing You (1977)