❚ ON THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY of The Sunday Times publishing its encyclopedic Abba-to-Zappa partwork, 1000 Makers of Music, let’s recall the first pop biography in its 1,000 music-makers. The Swedish four-piece Abba won the Eurovision contest in 1974 with their Waterloo wall of sound, not to mention instant celebrity for their self-selected kitsch costumes from the age before stylists had been invented. We’ve dug out from the vaults my assessment of Abba to remind us how these deeply embarrassing Scandinavians went on to transform their reputation from cheesemakers to the most ironic definition of Pure-Popsters!
Within a decade Abba were utterly rehabilitated in the UK by London’s subcultural opinion formers. Most memorably, Shapersofthe80s witnessed (sadly without a camera to hand) an immaculate recreation of Abba’s Dancing Queen video by clubland’s coolest Blitz Kids cutting the rug at designer Fiona Dealey’s 1983 birthday party. Spontaneously, movers and shapers such as Dylan Jones not only fell into dance formation but knew all the words, plus Agnetha and Anni-Frid’s hand moves too! It was, in that frozen moment of time, a shockingly unbelievable sight. It marked the birth of a much-loved cult.
FROM 1000 MAKERS OF MUSIC, MAY 1997:
Abba – Swedish, 1973-82, vocal group
As cheesy now as when they won the 1974 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 and talent contests, recycle yesteryear’s kitsch to discover ecstasy in pure pop.
❏ Keywork: Knowing Me, Knowing You (1977)