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Gold - Abba
Member Name: Hishyeness
Gold - Abba
Advantages: A comprehensive compendium of the greatest hits
Disadvantages: None to speak of
Writing a review about a greatest hits album from one of the world's most loved, recognised and famous bands should be a doddle, as there is very little most people don't know about ABBA - in many cases, whether they want to or not. The Swedish foursome managed to find a perfect combination of songwriting and melodies to create some of the most endearing and durable pop records of the last forty years.
In a way, that's what makes writing about them so difficult - everyone already has an opinion, everyone has their favourites, and most have already decided whether they will tap their feet to the catchy beat when ABBA comes on the radio, or mutter under their breath and resolutely change the station.
I was introduced to ABBA as a child, when, in more innocent times, my grandfather used to put on some of their records (with a sprinkling of Boney M - remember them?) for me and my cousins to cavort, dance and "jive" to as six year old kids having some fun. Their music stayed with me, in the background, throughout my life - very much a guilty pleasure during the times when I was way "too cool" to like them, or I was clever enough to realise that open acknowledgement of my soft spot would probably be social suicide.
However, when I stopped caring about what other people thought, and when it became trendy and retro to like them again (coincidentally, when ABBA Gold came out) they made a spectacular comeback into my record collection.
Apart from the nostalgia and happy childhood memories, ABBA Gold had a more contemporary relevance to me. In the summer of 1997, one of my good friends from uni was getting married to an Italian aristocrat in a lovely walled Tuscan village called Campagnatico, so my friend Jezza and I decided to hire a car and make a week of it, driving around Northern Italy. On our travels, we took in Florence, Sienna, Pisa and ultimately Venice.
The car had a tape player and a radio, and after deciding that we could not endure Italian pop any longer, we decided to buy a tape - any tape - at the next service station we popped in to. Nestled amongst all of the trashy looking crap that obviously (along with double espressos) served to keep Italian HGV drivers awake, was ABBA Gold. No contest.
We then spent the rest of our trip playing the tape over and over, and by the end of it, we remembered all the words we'd forgotten and learned all of the ones we didn't know. We must have looked a sight, bombing down the motorways, windows down, belting out ABBA at the top of our lungs and camping it up for good effect.
The proof, if any was ever needed, of the universality of ABBA, came when we got stuck in a horrendous traffic jam in the middle of nowhere on our return from Venice to Pisa airport. It was one of those incidents where people eventually start getting out of their cars and milling about.
In an inspired moment, Jezza turned on the radio, popped in the tape, and as the first strains of Dancing Queen penetrated the aural passages of the gathering crowd, some sort of race memory kicked into overdrive, and before we knew it, we were having a bit of a rave up amongst the cars in the middle of Tuscany - making friends, getting down with strangers, and even dancing with old biddies in black. Sadly, all too soon (I think it was in the middle of "Mamma Mia") traffic started moving again, and we had a plane to catch - but the experience will live with me forever.
Following the 30th anniversary of their first UK hit "Waterloo" in 1974, ABBA re-released the 19-track CD version of ABBA GOLD in 2004 (the original CD was released in 1994) and it has become a staple of most record collections ever since. Every one of the songs on the album, which span the period between 1974 and 1981, is instantly recognisable, which speaks both to their universal appeal and their copious and productive output.
The success of this compilation spawned the follow-up More ABBA Gold in 1994 which has some of their less recognisable material, so for the novice "Gold" is a great starting point, and at £5.68 from Amazon, you can hardly go wrong. The CD includes a very good booklet with a potted history of the band, as well as the genesis of the ABBA Gold album.
Of course, the musical "Mamma Mia" and the film based on it have exposed ABBA to a whole new generation of fans. It is doubtful that Agnetha, Bjorn, Benni and Anni-Frid will need to worry about their retirement.
At 19 songs, the album represents fantastic value, but the sheer number makes it impractical to cover each one. As such, here are my top five.
> Knowing Me, Knowing You
ABBA career has always been punctuated by the personal relationships between the band members (Bjorn and Agnetha, and then Benni and Anni-Frid married and divorced) and a lot of their material hides an emotional depth - born of their experiences - under the slick, pop veneer. "KMKY" is one such song. It is a melancholy ballad, with its source material obvious from its raw and punchy lyrics, but it's hard to refrain from singing along with the catchy chorus and its characteristic harmonies.
"No more carefree laughter. Silence ever after. Walking through an empty house, tears in my eyes. Here is where the story ends. This is goodbye. Knowing me, knowing You, there is nothing we can do."
> Super Trouper
My favourite mondegreen comes from this song (not a typo - but the fancy name for a misheard lyric). ABBA were a very busy band during their 70's heyday, and this song speaks to the endless grind of performing and touring. Another catchy number (aren't they all) which will have you tripping over your tongue trying to emulate Benni and Bjorn's background "Suppapappa Troopappa". As for that mondegreen? "I was sick and tired of everything when I called you last night from Tesco". That's, erm "Glasgow" actually...
"Facing 20,000 of your friends, how can anyone feel so lonely? Part of a success that never ends, still I'm thinking about you only..."
> The Winner Takes it All
Another of ABBA's "divorce ballads" this is a heartfelt, powerful and emotional song that has resonated with many who have found themselves in similar circumstances. You can almost feel the hurt through its exceptional lyrics and delivery. The singer is trying desperately to be brave, to face the truth, to banish regrets and move on ("it's simple and it's plain, why should I complain?") but you know - and feel - that she can't - not really. An outstanding track.
"I don't want to talk, if it makes you feel sad, and I understand, you've come to shake my hand. I apologise if it makes you feel bad, seeing me so tense, no self confidence, but you see, the winner takes it all."
ABBA tell stories in their songs exceptionally well, and Fernando is a fine example of their art. In a short, four minute window, they manage to create a rich and colourful Latin American tableau for the listener. The lyrics and the music together do a masterful job of transporting you back to a different time and era. This is the international appeal of ABBA at its most obvious - and in my view at least - best.
"There was something in the air that night, the stars were bright Fernando. They were shining there for you and me, for liberty, Fernando. Though we never thought that we could lose, there's no regret..."
> Thank You For The Music
This a lovely, simple little piano led number, with none of the razzmatazz usually associated with some of the fuller and busier ABBA songs. It would have been a fitting end-note type tribute for the band's success (and their appreciation for their undoubted talent) but it was actually written in 1977 - in their heyday. It showcases Agnetha's excellent voice - something you don't really expect given most of their material.
"And I've often wondered, how did it all start? Who found that that nothing can capture a heart like a melody can? Well, whoever it was, I'm a fan!"
From "Waterloo", which kicked it off at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, until they "took a break" in 1982 which ended up being permanent, ABBA enjoyed almost unparalleled and continuous worldwide success. They have entertained generations of fans in a way that very few groups ever have, and for that they are, and always will be legends of pop. The excellent ABBA Gold is a perfect introduction to those who want to hear a bit more.
Quoting their own words to them would be a fitting way to end this piece, so "Thank you for the music" ABBA, "for giving it to me".
FULL TRACK LISTING
Dancing Queen (1976)
Knowing Me, Knowing You (1976)
Take A Chance On Me (1977)
Mamma Mia (1975)
Lay All Your Love On Me (1980)
Super Trouper (1980)
I Have A Dream (1979)
The Winner Takes It All (1980)
Money, Money, Money (1976)
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (1979)
Does Your Mother Know (1979)
One of Us (1981)
The Name of The Game (1977)
Thank You For The Music (1977)
© Hishyeness 2009
Summary: The definitive collection of ABBA's most loved songs