This year ABBA finally became cool. What took so long?
asks Jude Rogers. It’s music to make your heart sing...
How lucky are we that pop music has always sparkled in our lives? It’s magical stuff: just a few notes of it can suddenly transport us to distant memories and places, especially in songs that we’ve carried from the rosy days of our childhoods to being all grown-up. My first ever memory involves a gorgeous song playing from the radio in my grandmother’s kitchen – a song about a Super Trouper, shining like the sun. As I grew up, I realised it was by a band called ABBA. As I got older still, I learnt it was a song about loneliness and longing, crackling with adult emotions. Even now, when I hear it on the TV and the radio – and that’s a lot, nearly 30 years on – my heart still sings. And how incredible it is that so many other hearts sing to it, too.
As a music journalist, I’m well-versed in checking out the hip and the new, but I know that ABBA’s music endures because it’s so gloriously good. Its greatest power is that it bonds so many different kinds of people together. Take a huge array of musicians, including Madonna, whose popular 2005 smash hit, Hung Up, sampled ABBA’s beloved disco single Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight). Hip hop icons The Fugees, did similarly with 1977’s The Name Of The Game. And although they were pilloried by the cool kids for years, ABBA had some surprising devotees: punk icons The Sex Pistols even referenced 1975’s S.O.S. in the opening to their hit single Pretty Vacant (they were genuine fans).
ABBA also bonds us ordinary souls. We’ve all experienced the stampede to the dancefloor at weddings as Dancing Queen explodes into life, usually with both grandparents and grandchildren in tow. ABBA’s music bonds the generations, and also grows with us, because it reveals new colours constantly. Take my favourite song of theirs, 1980’s epic ballad The Winner Takes It All: a beautiful, breathlessly sad song about a couple breaking up, as ABBA’s two pairings were at the time, that nevertheless teems with resilience and strength. Or there’s lesser-known jewels like 1982’s incredible The Day Before You Came, describing a woman’s day in detail before a mysterious event changes her life forever. This depth in ABBA’s lyrics, and the oceans of musical wonder they sail upon, make me yearn for the band’s upcoming songs to lead to something more – maybe a new album next year? It seems a distant dream so far, but with ABBA at the helm, who knows what magic can happen.
I know for a fact that new fans will keep embracing their brilliance, too. I see one of them regularly, dancing with unbridled joy to Voulez-Vous in my kitchen – my four-year-old son, responding to that same primal joy his mother felt so many years ago. As you once put it so wonderfully yourselves, ABBA, thank you for the music, and those songs we’re still singing.
Jude Rogers is a music and arts journalist for The Guardian and Observer, and was a scriptwriter for the Southbank Centre’s recent ABBA exhibition.