There was a time, many moons ago, when the best Abba tribute we could come up with was Thank Abba for the Music, a medley single performed by Steps, Tina Cousins, Cleopatra, B*Witched and Billie Piper, and Westlife’s eerie and misguided cover of I Have a Dream. Both released in 1999, those singles were very much victims of their time and… they weren’t very good. Left clinging onto the dry comedy of Muriel’s Wedding and kissing our worn copies of Abba Gold to get through these darks times, we were so unaware that there was something so much bigger and brighter on the horizon.
To say that the Mamma Mia franchise has changed the course of Abba appreciation and pop culture in general is a very fair and accurate observation. Despite that slight blip in 1999, which we will rightfully blame on that pesky Y2K bug, the music of Abba has an everlasting hold on us, throwing us back to cherished moments in our childhood and bonding us even closer with our friends, who we knew we liked an awful lot already. Swimming in a sea of Abba love, 2018 is the year that we finally showed those beautiful and talented Swedish bastards just how much they mean to us and all it took was some out-of-tune yet loveable actors giving extra meaning to already multifaceted lyrics in a caper with no real storyline at all. With each honk from Pierce Brosnan and salty quip from Christine Baranski, our hearts grew lighter and our sing songs, well, they just got drunker and much, much louder.
My 2018 literally started with Abba. On New Year’s Day, I spent the day in bed with three of my friends in Galway, eating takeaway and watching Mamma Mia on Netflix, rewinding and replaying our favourite bits. We were so nervous about the forthcoming release of Mamma Mia 2 that we foolishly doubted the charms that won us over the first time around. “I hear Cher is going to be in it”, we said worriedly between slices of pizza overladen with garlic sauce. Little did we know then that Mamma Mia! 2: Here We Go Again would bring with it a bounty of joys, including an entirely new era of Cher. Dancing Queen, Cher’s collection of Abba covers, is due to be released on September 28th and her version of Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) is the disco-fever hit that will heal the world of all its woes. Well, some of them. Temporarily. The world is falling apart but at least we have Abba and Cher, right?
Songs about life
Like a recently single celebrity who wants to clear up some rumours about her love life, I “took” to Twitter last night and asked: “Tell me this, and expand all you like, what is your favourite Abba song? I will take stories, subcategories and even soundtrack versions.” The replies came in thick and fast, with people incapable of narrowing it down to less than three songs or people so defiant in their one choice that they’d go to war if anyone dare challenge them. Because these songs are passed down through the generations, each song comes with a memory. Jenn Gannon appointed Head Over Heels as her all-time fave because she used to dance to it with her sisters when they were little kiddos and John Collins quite brilliantly explains the power of The Winner Takes It All. “Catches the sadness, regret, practicalities of divorce in a few verses. And the air is suitably haunting,” he says. Marian McHugh claims that Knowing Me, Knowing You “rivals anything Fleetwood Mac produced for pure heartbroken messiness” and she’s dead right.
But your favourite can change over the course of your life because Abba have songs for all the seasons. One tweeter (@orchidsbudget) explained that while Dancing Queen is her top pick, Slipping Through My Fingers is her current favourite because her kid has just started school… and well, heartstrings are there to be pulled, aren’t they? And Abba yank those heartstrings. Titans of the sad pop song, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus have a particular penchant for penning songs that are so desperately heartbreaking but their uplifting melodies come at you like a warm hug. Case and point: Dancing Queen, seemingly just a song about dancing but actually just the saddest song in the world. The song is in fact about the 17-year-old Dancing Queen who is being watched on by a former Dancing Queen that’s now mourning the passage of time. A song sung through teary eyes and holding a half-empty glass of martini, its beauty is in former glories and lost hope.
While I’ve always declared S.O.S and Lay All Your Love on Me to be my favourites, Chiquitita physically stopped me in my tracks yesterday. It was like I had never heard its chorus before in my life and I had to lean against a wall for a second. When Agnetha Fältskog’s solo verse joins forces with Lyngstad’s for the barreling chorus, it grabbed hold of my chest and I was overwhelmed by the companionship and encouragement it boasts to mend a broken heart. Don’t take this lightly when I say that Abba’s music makes me feel like I am drugs and that chorus… I’d be banned from entering the Olympics if I was ever tested in the aftermath of Chiquitita.
The thing with Abba is that they created songs about life. With the release of Mamma Mia 2, we get to see those familiar songs from a new perspective, from Brosnan sorrowfully singing S.O.S to Baranski and Julie Walters charmingly telling their tale of deception via Angel Eyes. Matching our pace in life, the music of Abba touches on the many emotional milestones that we all go through. So whether their music is there to catch our tears or encourage us to get back on the dance floor, Abba have more or less soundtracked the best and worst times of our life. While Steps, Tina Cousins, Cleopatra, B*Witched and Billie Piper already did their best to thank Abba for the music, I want to thank them for guiding us through life instead.