I haven't kept up with the times. Is it cool to love ABBA again, or not? Are we supposed to just dismiss them as happy "Bang-a-Boomerang" fluffsters, or is it alright to acknowledge their songs about single parenthood ("Hey Hey Helen"), spousal abuse ("Should I Laugh or Cry") and Soviet dissidents living in fear ("The Visitors")?
Should we be focussing on Agnetha's "sexiest bottom of 1977" award, or on her charity work and strangely reclusive, almost withdrawn lifestyle? Was Frida just a bad haircut with odd teeth or did she have one of the best jazz voices around? Was Benny chubby and Bjorn short, or did they write a string of brilliant songs...in their second language? Wasn't their Swedish accent silly, or did they have a more lyrical grasp of English than most of us could ever hope to achieve? Was their engineer (Michael Tretow) a guy with an apallingly bad sense of humour who should never have been allowed to write liner notes for a box set, or did he meticulously create a sound so distinctive that nobody's heard the like of it since?
Okay, yes, Bjorn WAS short.
I would buy anything by ABBA, either as a group or as solo musicians. This includes interview discs, remastered versions, and -- yes -- "Oro" and "Mas Oro," as well as Benny & Bjorn's "Lycka" and the pre-fame albums by Agnetha and Frida (aka "Connie Francis" and, erm, "Frida"). I'd buy albums by "The Hep Stars" and "The Hootenany Singers" if I ever saw them in front of me.
In celebration of ABBA, here are clips from both sides of their career: "The End" and "The Beginning."
First here's "The Day Before You Came." It was their second-last single and wasn't even on the final album...this song -- along with the wealth of unfinished material that ended up on the box set -- is evidence that ABBA had a lot of music left in them before they called it quits. This is my favourite ABBA single by far: beautiful in its minimal production and visuals. Life-affirming but somehow sad.
"There's not, I think, a single episode of Dallas that I didn't see." This is obviously part of Benny & Bjorn's movement toward musicals. It's long and wordy, it doesn't repeat, it has no chorus, and the theme is rigidly maintained throughout.
Now, in contrast, here's some terrifying pre-ABBA cabaret by Frida. It's "Baby Love," featuring "two glamorous backup singers." Frida, Benny, and Bjorn all mourn the bad cabaret they did early in their careers...and now we know why.