I came to a realization a few days ago.
I like ABBA.
I mean, I REALLY like ABBA.
How could I have made it through almost thirty years of my life without knowing that I liked ABBA?
ABBA never really entered into my consciousness until March 2008. Up until that point, the only ABBA songs I’d ever encountered were “Dancing Queen” (because if you know one ABBA song, it’s that one) and, for some reason, “Fernando.”
In March 2008, I was but a wee 20-year-old, and I was in Las Vegas with my parents for spring break. Mom, her friend Mary-Ann, my sister, and I went to a performance of Mamma Mia at Mandalay Bay. The only thing I knew about Mamma Mia is that it was a musical comprised of solely ABBA songs – and as you’ll recall, I only actually knew two ABBA songs. Off we went to what would be my first Las Vegas show (I say that like I have a long history of Las Vegas shows… in fact, it was my first of two total Las Vegas shows).
And you know what?
It was spectacular.
As a young Midwesterner, I had never seen that kind of production before. I’d been to plenty of community theatre performances, even more SDSU theatre/Prairie Repertory summer shows, and a handful of professional theatre at the Washington Pavilion. But nothing compared to what I saw in Las Vegas that day – and why would they, because this is Las Vegas we’re talking about. The costumes were elaborate, the singing was spot-on, and the choreography! I will never forget the feeling of pure awe I felt when the dancers can-canned in wearing flippers and singing “Lay All Your Love on Me.”
And the songs! I finally learned just what I had been missing, and I was smitten with ABBA. I spent the following weeks listening to ABBA on repeat on my trusty iPod video. (remember those? with the scrolly wheel?)
The movie came out.
Mamma Mia (the movie) was released in summer 2008, mere months after I had seen the show in Las Vegas. Mom and I, still riding the high from the Las Vegas performance, went to see the movie. Our expectations were probably unfairly high, with the memory of the Vegas show still fresh in our minds – but I think we can all agree that the movie was pretty terrible. And let’s be honest, the plot of Mamma Mia is pretty weak to begin with: after all, it was written around ABBA’s catalog. If you’re not familiar with the plot, it goes thusly: a young woman is getting married, and she doesn’t know who her father is. She sends wedding invitations to the three men she think could be her father. Chaos ensues. Happy endings are received.
But we all forgive the tenuous story because of the songs. The songs are outstanding – except when they’re sung by Pierce Brosnan, because YIKES.
After Mamma Mia (the movie), my nonstop ABBA listening kick continued for a few months, and then tapered off. But last week, Mom, her friend Carol, and I saw Mamma Mia at the Washington Pavilion. It was delightful! We sat in the second row, and the costumes, singing, and dancing brought me right back to Las Vegas. (This show even had the can-canning flipper guys.)
And my love affair with ABBA has resumed.
But this time, it’s different. When I saw Mamma Mia for the first time, all I knew was that I liked the songs. I didn’t need to know any more than that. This time, now that I’m older and wiser, I’ve given it more thought… and I realized that my love for ABBA is an anomaly.
There are precious few musicians that I love enough to write a whole blog post about, let alone choose ten of their songs to present. There are plenty of musicians that I love, yes, but very few of them pass the ten-song test. For example: I love Prince, but are there ten of his songs that I love enough to expound upon them in this blog? No. So far, the only musicians/bands that have made the cut are Simon and Garfunkel, David Bowie, and the Clash.
One of these things is not like the other.
As a rule, I tend not to like bands who only sing about love. While I most certainly appreciate a good love song, I prefer my songs to have some substance. Simon and Garfunkel, David Bowie, and the Clash have substance for days.
ABBA? Not so much.
I’ve been listening to ABBA a lot in the past few days, and I have to say: the lyrics are terrible. TERRIBLE. Most of the lyrics are there just for the sake of rhyming, and almost all of the songs are about nothing but love. And normally, this drives me crazy. But there’s something about ABBA that makes it ok.
ABBA’s songs are some of the catchiest damn things to come out of the radio. Seriously: I dare you to listen to any one of them and not have it stuck in your head for days. These are the songs that you can’t help but dance to, even if it’s just you in your car on the way to work. (Guilty.) They make you sing at the top of your lungs, and they make you feel like a Swedish rock star. ABBA makes you feel amazing.
And that is why they are one of my favorite bands. I used to be ashamed, but no more. Here it is, for the world to see: I love ABBA.
As promised, I have ten of my favorite ABBA songs for you today. However, as they are all pretty much nothing but super catchy pop-tactular fluff, I don’t have a whole lot to say about each individual song. (But I will be giving you some fun facts courtesy of Wikipedia!) Either way, you’d better have your ABBA greatest hits CD nearby at the end, because I promise you that you’re going to want to listen to it on repeat.
“Chiquitita” is a Spanish term of endearment meaning “little one.” This song was featured at a UNICEF concert in 1979 – and 50% of the proceeds of the song STILL go to UNICEF.
Does Your Mother Know
This song is about an older man responding to a flirtatious younger woman – but in Mamma Mia, it becomes an older woman singing to a younger man. If you ask me, it’s much better/less creepy that way.
Knowing Me, Knowing You
“Knowing Me, Knowing You” is one of those songs that you almost have to shout-sing while making wild hand-gestures. You know what I mean.
Lay All Your Love on Me
Like I said earlier, this is the song that gave Mamma Mia a place in my heart forever, thanks to the flipper can-canning. I can’t listen to this song without picturing that, and it makes me smile every time.
“Mamma Mia,” as you probably know, is an interjection in Italian. (Look at all the culture you’re getting from ABBA!) I mostly love this song because it’s got a marimba. I can’t resist the marimba.
One of Us
This is ABBA’s last major hit, and it’s not nearly as light and fluffy as the rest of the songs on this list. (Spoiler alert: it’s because they were ALL GETTING DIVORCED FROM EACH OTHER. Awkward.)
I just learned (thanks to Wikipedia!) that this song opens in D-minor, which (as everyone knows, courtesy of This Is Spinal Tap) is the saddest of all keys. I also learned (Wikipedia!) that basically everyone loves this song, including John Lennon, Pete Townshend (of the Who), and Ray Davies (of the Kinks). Last fun Wikipedia fact: this is the only top 100 single in which the title of the song (SOS), the name of the band (ABBA), and the genre (pop) are palindromes.
I’m pretty positive that this song gets stuck in my head more often and for a longer period of time than any other ABBA song. You’re welcome.
Take a Chance on Me
If I had to choose a favorite ABBA song, it would be this one. And trust me: it's hard to choose.
I really have to try and ignore the lyrics to “Waterloo” – it’s about a woman surrendering to a man’s demands (like Napoleon surrendered at Waterloo). ICK. But DAMMIT it’s so catchy. Shitty lyrics aside, it’s one of the best-selling singles of all time.
Now go and listen to ABBA and sing with all your heart. Because you are the dancing queen.