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#RSEssential10: ABBA

The pop legends have managed to retain their star power for nearly six decades

Amit Vaidya Nov 05, 2021

ABBA. Photo: Baillie Walsh

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40 years after their last studio release, ABBA have released “Voyage” and well, there’s no better time than to create yet another #RSEssentail10 list. ABBA have undoubtedly managed to retain their star power nearly six decades in and much of that can be attributed to the music. The foursome never really were the traditional flashy “rockstars” in the Seventies sense, had little pomp and circumstance with the emphasis always being on melodically driven pop. People sang and danced along and have been doing so for decades now (of course, the musical, first for stage, then for film, Mamma Mia, helped their music reach a completely different level).

While it’s hard to pick just 10 tracks from their amazing discography, we had to try. Here’s our best of the best.

10. “Fernando”

While melodically it is the sister track to “Chiquitita” (which also almost cracked the Top 10), “Fernando” was the OG of the two and that’s why it gets the higher ranking. The song was originally released as a solo track by Frida (aka Anni-Frid Lyngstad) but then re-recorded by the full band in Swedish, Spanish and English. The song actually narrates the heartbreak story of a lover named Fernando in their native language while the latter two focus on a conversation between two soldiers during the Mexican Revolution war. Regardless of the different storylines, the song is a classic and the name “Fernando” is forever attached to the band (as it is name-dropped in the ABBA-influenced hit by Lady Gaga – “Alejandro”).

9. “Mamma Mia”

An ABBA classic that’s wholly responsible for a good chunk of the entire band’s catalog becoming so legendary in the last 20 years. From the Broadway musical to the Meryl Streep/Amanda Seyfried film, “Mamma Mia” isn’t their best song, even their most melodic but its place in music and musical history has become so defining that there is simply no way not to include the sing-along anthem on this chart.

8. “Money Money Money”

“Fiddler on the Roof” is the inspiration here as ABBA have fun musically in this extremely theatrical hit from 1976. Much like many of the great storytelling tales of pop hits in the Seventies (like Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves”), the song is performed from the perspective of a woman who works really hard but can hardly support herself, thus she needs a man in a “rich man’s world.” The song was a huge global hit for the band at a time when disco was overtaking the interesting tales heard on radio and not surprisingly is one of their most revered songs.

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7. “Waterloo”

One of their earlier hits, “Waterloo” released in 1974 was a great indicator of what was to come from the foursome. The song incorporated elements of dance, rock and jazz, something that wasn’t typical for the band or for commercial radio. But the song clicked and sonically became a benchmark of sorts for the risks the band were willing to take incorporating various styles and genres into their music, expertly integrating them all the while sounding like ABBA.

6. “One of Us”

“One of Us” was written by the two men Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson about their very open divorces from their bandmates Agentha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad respectively. The single, the first from their 1981 album The Visitors had a much darker feel. But the shift was rewardingly embraced by audiences and it stands as the last #1 hit for the band (unless they top the charts with any track from the new album). While sadder and far more somber, the sweet melody and heartbreaking harmonies in the chorus make it one of their best songs to date.

5. “Knowing Me Knowing You”

“Knowing Me Knowing You” has perhaps one of ABBA’s catchiest choruses. Between the guitar riffs, the power chords, and soaring vocals, the song is like Swedish Hit 101. It is in many ways the quintessential formula hitmaker Max Martin used for a good part of his Kelly Clarkson/Katy Perry/Taylor Swift era. The song oddly served as a sort of premonition for the divorces the bandmates reach years later, but the song remains an incredibly catchy track that if remade today, would likely be as big a hit. You reading this Max?

4. “S.O.S.”

Personally one of my favorite ABBA tracks mostly because of the seamless way in which the single progresses from a minor key in the verses into an anthemic chorus in a major key. The song is a standout in the band’s discography as it beautifully was able to balance the layered melodies with the atmospheric instrumentation that created that unique ABBA-style sound. Quite possibly Agentha Faltskog best vocals are on this track and you can feel the depths of her emotions in her pleas of “SOS.”

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3. “Take a Chance on Me”

Part Queen, part disco, but all ABBA, “Take A Chance On Me” was actually quite a departure for the band. As they moved to darker lyrical content while maintaining their core melodic sound, the single is one of the few ABBA tracks that sounds as fresh today as it did when originally released in 1981. The opening a cappella, the reverbed harmonies and the trippy synthesizer showcased yet again the magic of the band’s artistry – somehow putting together elements that usually would be unable to come together – actually come together and work oh so fantastically.  

2. “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)”

Pure pop at its absolute best. “Gimme!” is actually as atypical an ABBA song can be but that’s what works here. The combination of amazing harmonies and the hypnotic production (amidst those minor chords) is just brilliant. The song no doubt was ahead of its time and became a template for so many artists and of course, amazingly sampled (with their blessing!) by Madonna for 2005’s monster smash hit “Hung Up”. Much of that song’s success is the ABBA sample which just showed to the world yet again, how the Swedish hitmakers had a pulse of what modern music is and will be for decades to come.

1. “Dancing Queen”

Who doesn’t instantly recognize this song from the minute that intro starts playing? “Dancing Queen” fit perfectly into the Disco era but somehow unlike many disco hits of the time, has become a modern dance masterpiece. The 1976 global hit helped the band finally hit #1 in America with a song that stood apart because it so perfectly blended perfect harmonies and an incredibly catchy chorus with the storytelling zest the band was able to bring to so many of their chart-topping mega hits. Perhaps Sweden’s greatest export (besides IKEA), “Dancing Queen” is the best representative for the band and frankly the nation of how any song, with any lyrical topic but with solid vocals and a lasting melody will stand the test of time. ABBA’s greatest gift was that they never felt the need to follow a trend, it was their ability to sing anything and make us feel it by getting us to sing along, no matter what.

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