❚ 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.
1000 Makers of Music: six-week partwork from The Sunday Times
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.
Conchita aka Tom: a bearded lady in the Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen
❚ THE PRIVATE PERSON TOM NEUWIRTH was born in Austria in 1988 and the art personality Conchita Wurst in 2011, the same year Tom graduated from the Graz School of Fashion. In last night’s second semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest, the bearded drag performer Conchita won her place to represent Austria in Saturday’s final by singing what could pass gloriously as a Bond theme, Rise Like a Phoenix.
The homophobic backlash could have been predicted from conservative nations such as Ukraine, Belarus and Russia where petitions have urged her removal from the competition. Russian politician Vitaly Milonov called her a “pervert” adding: “It is not normal but a person cannot be punished in Russia for being homosexual, or to live with a dog, with a horse, with a sheep, whatever.”
Ms Wurst answered her critics: “I can only say ‘Thank you for your attention’. If this is only about me and my person, I can live with it. I’m just a singer in a fabulous dress, with great hair and a beard.
“I created this bearded lady to show the world that you can do whatever you want,” she said at a press conference in Copenhagen. Although the German word Wurst routinely means “sausage”, its idiomatic meaning is “irrelevant” so signalling that Conchita’s sexuality is a non-issue. She makes a statement for tolerance and acceptance while 25-year-old Tom’s motto is: “Be the best version of yourself rather than a bad copy of someone else.”
Conchita Wurst victorious: she was second favourite to win going into the contest (PA)
➢ BBC News reports: Austrian drag act Conchita Wurst has been crowned the winner of the 59th Eurovision Song Contest: “The singer, whose real name is Tom Neuwirth, won with the song Rise Like a Phoenix, collecting 290 points. The Netherlands finished second with 238 points, with Sweden in third place with 218 points. Wurst had been the second favourite to win behind Sweden going in to the competition, with many predicting the act could be too divisive among voters. However she was the clear winner, with her victory announced after 34 of the 37 countries had submitted their scores.”
❚ 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
1000 Makers of Music: Abba assessed by The Sunday Times
Abba 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.
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MORE INTERESTING THAN MOST PEOPLE’S FANTASIES — THE SWINGING EIGHTIES 1978-1984
They didn’t call themselves New Romantics, or the Blitz Kids – but other people did.
“I’d find people at the Blitz who were possible only in my imagination. But they were real” — Stephen Jones, hatmaker, 1983. (Illustration courtesy Iain R Webb, 1983)
“The truth about those Blitz club people was more interesting than most people’s fantasies” — Steve Dagger, pop group manager, 1983
“See David Johnson’s fabulously detailed website Shapers of the 80s to which I am hugely indebted” – Political historian Dominic Sandbrook, in his book Who Dares Wins, 2019
“The (velvet) goldmine that is Shapers of the 80s” – Verdict of Chris O’Leary, respected author and blogger who analyses Bowie song by song at Pushing Ahead of the Dame
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VINCENT ON AIR 2022
✱ Deejay legend Robbie Vincent returned to JazzFM on Sundays 1-3pm in 2021… Catch Robbie’s JazzFM August Bank Holiday 2020 session thanks to AhhhhhSoul with four hours of “nothing but essential rhythms of soul, jazz and funk”.
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UNTOLD BLITZ STORIES
✱ If you thought there was no more to know about the birth of Blitz culture in 1980 then get your hands on a sensational book by an obsessive music fan called David Barrat. It is gripping, original and epic – a spooky tale of coincidence and parallel lives as mind-tingling as a Sherlock Holmes yarn. Titled both New Romantics Who Never Were and The Untold Story of Spandau Ballet! Sample this initial taster here at Shapers of the 80s
CHEWING THE FAT
✱ Jawing at Soho Radio on the 80s clubland revolution (from 32 mins) and on art (@55 mins) is probably the most influential shaper of the 80s, former Wag-club director Chris Sullivan (pictured) with editor of this website David Johnson
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