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Pattaya Daily News

08 August 2009 :: 23:08:25 pm 2337

Dancing Queen: ABBA

Abba made their international breakthrough at what was then called the Eurovision Song Contest, at Brighton, England, in 1974, with their song ‘Waterloo‘. But unlike most Eurovision winners, Benny, Bjørn, Frida and Agnetha had much more to offer.
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Throughout the remainder of the 1970s they delivered hit after hit, made some of the finest pop songs of our time, and from a pop music point of view Abba are probably the ‘sound of the seventies’. Legend has it that in 1978, Abba were Sweden’s highest export earners, knocking car producer Volvo into second place! Of all their hits, one of the most instantly commercial was ‘Dancing Queen’ from 1976. Without doubt one of the best pop singles ever released, it contained all the ingredients a hit record needs – from the instantly recognisable introduction, to the catchy chorus, symphonic piano chords and classy production. Titled ‘Boogaloo’, until the final lyrics were written, ‘Dancing Queen’ topped the charts in virtually every country of release.

Benny Andersson and Bjørn Ulvaeus were the musical brains behind Abba, while a lot of the success of the Abba sound must be attributed to their studio producer Michael. B. Tretow. The group’s first success came naturally enough in their home market of Scandinavia, in 1973. Asked to submit a song for the Swedish heat of Eurovision, and performing as Bjørn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid, ‘Ring Ring’ only came second, robbing the quartet of a place in the international contest. However, it became a huge hit all over Scandinavia, and an English language version of the song was recorded with lyrical assistance from Neil Sedaka and Phil Cody. This English version of ‘Ring Ring’ topped the charts in Australia, Holland, Belgium and South Africa, however, record companies in London were fairly nonplussed. Way back in 1962, Decca records turned down the Beatles, who became the biggest selling act of the 1960s. In 1973, the London office of Polydor, who had the rights to Abba via a European agreement, made the same mistake, turning down ‘Ring Ring’. In fact three different labels in London turned down the group before CBS decided to “take a chance”, and were rewarded with a string of British Number 1’s from the most successful pop group of the 1970s.

Entering Eurovision once again in 1974, this time the group, and not least their manager Stig Anderson, were determined to plan carefully and ensure a place in the finals. In fact, two songs were considered for entry, the other being ‘Hasta Manana’ – perhaps the more obvious Eurovision type of song – but in the end it was ‘Waterloo’ that was chosen precisely because it wasn’t the usual Eurovision fodder. (Thereafter, songs like ‘Waterloo’ became the typical Euro-fodder.)

This was also the first record on which the four Swedes officially became, “ABBA”, an acronym Stig Anderson had been using for a while. (Incidentally, like many of Abba’s songs, ‘Waterloo’ began life with a different title and a completely different set of lyrics. Stig Anderson, who wrote or co-wrote many of the group’s early lyrics had originally thrown together a draft, for the most part taken from a conveniently handy cookery book, and at first settled upon the title ‘Honey Pie’.) Once they had made up their minds which song to use, the group were quietly confident of success in the national finals. However, the international final was another thing entirely – most of the Abba entourage thought Holland would win, so everyone was overjoyed when ‘Waterloo’ won the vote, launching Abba’s international career and giving Sweden their very first Eurovision win. (Probably purely a coincidence, the chorus of ‘Waterloo’ does however bear a striking resemblance to that of Tony Macaulay’s composition ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’, a hit for the Foundations in 1968, though Macaulay was more flattered than irritated and didn’t bother to take action.)

Following the Eurovision triumph there was something of a hiccup as Epic in London struggled to find the right follow-up. A re-issued ‘Ring Ring’ scraped into the Top 40, but when ‘I Do I Do I Do’ (the closest Abba ever came to the Swedish ‘Danseband’ sound and hardly appropriate for the British market) flopped in 1975 it was beginning to look as if Abba might be suffering from Eurovision backlash. And the group had some grand plans. John Tobler who was Press Officer at Epic’s London office at the time recalls that they expressed interest in arranging a concert at the London Palladium and says, “It seemed uncertain whether they could fill a bus, let alone the Palladium!” Fortunately, and perhaps just in time, Benny & Bjørn were now moving into their golden era and in 1975 they delivered ‘S.O.S’, ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘Fernando’ in quick succession, and from that point on there was no looking back. This trio of worldwide hits were followed by a shrewdly strategic Greatest Hits collection summing up their career to that point, before the group launched their most memorable single, ‘Dancing Queen’, in 1976. Abba vocalist Agnetha Faltskog recalls the first time she heard the song: “Benny brought home the backing track without any vocals on it – it was so beautiful I started to cry. I mean even without lyrics or voices on it, it was outstanding.”

Demonstrating just how prolific Benny and Bjørn had become as writers, both ‘Fernando’ and ‘Dancing Queen’ had been written and recorded and were available for release towards the end of 1975. (‘Dancing Queen’ was actually recorded before ‘Fernando’.) ‘Fernando’ had originally appeared in Swedish as ‘Tango’ on a solo Frida album, but was then given an English lyric and converted into an Abba song. With these two recordings in the can and a decision over a new single to be made, the group decided to release the ballad in conjunction with the aforementioned ‘Greatest Hits’ album rather than follow up their last hit ‘Mamma Mia’ with the similarly up-tempo ‘Dancing Queen’. The latter was shelved for an entire year until its’ release in August 1976.

‘Dancing Queen’ was first performed in public by Abba at a pre-wedding day gala for Swedish King Carl Gustav XVI and his future Queen, Silvia Sommerlath in June 1976. This led to the myth that the song was especially written for the future Queen, even though she was 33, and not “seventeen” as the song declared. Such was not the case, but as Benny Andersson explained, “If you have a song called ‘Dancing Queen’, you naturally choose to perform it on an occasion like that gala.” Andersson later revealed that the drum track for ‘Dancing Queen’ was influenced by George McCrae’s disco smash ‘Rock Your Baby’ from 1974 (see separate story) and indeed, when Abba’s studio recordings were reviewed in 1994 in preparation for the 4CD box-set Thank You For The Music, it was discovered that a portion of McRae’s hit preceded the start of ‘Dancing Queen’ on the original master tapes. Whatever the influences, Abba had constructed another bona fide hit of their own, which rose immediately to the top of charts around the world upon its release in the summer of 1976, and became their only American Number 1.

Epic EPC 4499 (UK) / Atlantic 3372 (USA)
Released August 1976
Writers Benny Andersson, Bjørn Ulvaeus & Stig Anderson
Producers Benny Andersson & Bjørn Ulvaeus
UK #1 4th September 1976 6 weeks / USA #1 9th April 1977 1 week

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : Internet   Category : Lifestyle

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