Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! another Abba epidemic

Abba may be considering a reunion next year
Abba may be considering a reunion next year

I was at primary school when I received the best two Christmas presents of my life. Maybe it was their joint arrival that sealed their top spot. The first was a 'record player in a briefcase'.

Basically, when not in use, the speakers clicked into place, closing over the turntable, giving you a hi-fi easily carried round by its handle to your friend's house. Except that no-one would ever get to share the magnificence of its engineering.

This was the freedom to play the music you wanted whenever you wanted without having to scrap with your older brother to turn off Led Zeppelin or Lynyrd Skynyrd. And the music I wanted to play? Abba. Hence, the joy of the second present I unwrapped that year – the band's new album, Super Trouper.

Well before 9am on Christmas Day I'd played both sides through several times. Of course, I was word perfect on the previously released singles, Super Trouper and The Winner Takes It All, but – as I'd known even before I gently prised this disc from its paper sleeve with all the lyrics printed on it – there wasn't a single dud on Side A or B.

Indeed, the album even included the best ever song written about New Year's Eve, Happy New Year, a song steeped in melancholy, foreboding and loathing, perfect for the anticipated end of the festive school holidays.

Abba were never trendy, not even when they were clocking up hit after mega hit. I knew you didn't go around telling people you were an Abba fan.

But I was.

A few years earlier on a family holiday that started in Dublin, we passed a cinema with a poster for Abba: the Movie. I begged my parents. To my brother's fury, soon we were watching a film that brought all my passions together – a plot that centred on a reporter desperate to secure an interview with the band, spliced with performances from their tour.

That was also the summer that Voulez Vous/Angel Eyes was a double-A single. Frozen by the record player, the single in hand, unable to play either track because it was impossible to choose between them.

For a brief period, I went public with my love for the Swedish superstars. In the grip of an obsession, I no longer cared who knew. Myself and a friend – I shall not mortify her by naming her – would turn our table tennis table into a makeshift stage and run through hit after hit.

We loved Take A Chance On Me, because we could replicate much of the dance routine from the video. Bored with Spirograph, we worked on ornate Abba's, turning the Bs around in trademark style. We bought endless pairs of legwarmers and little trays of Rimmel blue eye shadow.

And it was strange, because although very few people ever admitted to loving Abba, they were everywhere. A poster of Agnetha and Frida in risque blue Lycra stared down incongruously at us in the church hall where Sunday School was held.

They were always on the cover of Look-In, which hinted at a private island and nude sunbathing. Their respective marriage splits made all the front pages.

And why? Because they had great songs. Yes, their music was 'catchy', 'pop', even 'disco' (Does Your Mother Know?). But they were also songs of genuine emotional rawness.

The lyrics were incredible, all the moreso for having been written in English by Swedes. "Chiquitita, tell me what's wrong/You're enchained by your own sorrow..." Who doesn't want to hear the next line? The rhymes are amazing – 'show' and 'Glasgow' in Super Trouper. And that's the thing – the songs tell stories, not just the enclosed psychobabble of most pop songs.

Super Trouper was semi-autobiographical, about a star weary of life on the road. Fernando was about a war. Knowing Me, Knowing You anatomises a break-up, "Walk into an empty house, tears in my eyes", the music hauntingly beautiful. The Day Before You Came is an astonishing account of loneliness. I once read that The Pet Shop Boys based every song of theirs upon its structure. And all of these sung in beautifully enunciated English, with a hint of other worldliness – of Swedish glamour and raciness.

It's 30 years since Abba broke up, the gap between filled with tribute bands, then the global success of Mamma Mia, musical and movie; most recently, blonde Agnetha's well-received solo album. Now, there's the 'ultimate photo book' of the band.

Is it just me, or is all this leading up to a reunion? A tour? A new album? Maybe it's unhealthy to want something so old-fashioned so much.

But I do, I do, I do, I do, I do.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Latest News

Latest Sport

Latest Showbiz