Knowing me, knowing you, we’re bound to love Abba

PUBLISHED: 09:54 04 May 2018

Pictured in 1974: (left to right) Benny Andersson, Agnetha Faltskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Bjorn Ulvaeus of the Swedish pop group Abba in Brighton for the Eurovision Song Contest. Picture: PA

Pictured in 1974: (left to right) Benny Andersson, Agnetha Faltskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Bjorn Ulvaeus of the Swedish pop group Abba in Brighton for the Eurovision Song Contest. Picture: PA

PA Archive/PA Images

Nick Conrad on the abiding appeal of Swedish pop royalty Abba.

Just when you thought Korea was last week’s biggest reunion, Abba just topped it!

OMG…They’re back! They have delighted their legion of loyal fans by announcing that they will record new material. Ironically the news was released last Friday, just after the two Korean states had initiated promising talks about trying to settle their dispute.

If it’s legitimate to gauge the ‘impact’ of both stories by the social media reaction, the promise of more hits from the Swedish sensation is a bigger event than settling an on-going international hostility. In short, the reunification of Abba is bigger than reuniting the Koreas! Ridiculously bonkers, yes…however it does demonstrate the phenomenal success of this mega band.

They met in a studio in secret and recorded two new songs. The first, ‘I Still Have Faith In You’, will be performed in a BBC TV special at the end of the year. What has surprised many fans is the rapid thawing towards the idea of re-grouping, having long refused any possibility of coming back since their final live performance in 1982. Previously, each member was at pains to dismiss the rumours and distance themselves from any speculation about re-forming. What is so deliciously tempting for their management is their longevity in every sense of the term. The music is still popular, there has been an intriguingly long three-decade-gap and all original members are still alive and healthy.

The facts are pretty staggering…the Swedish quartet have sold in excess of 380 million albums and singles since they first came to prominence 40 years ago this month, winning the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with a performance of Waterloo. Many argue that victory still ranks as the high point of the much-maligned transcontinental cheese-fest! At their commercial zenith in the late 1970s, Abba were reputedly second only to Volvo in their contribution to Sweden’s exports.

Such was the demand for their music that their management had to arrange for royalties from the Soviet Union to be paid in oil commodity rights rather than the embargoed rouble.

This vast income may have deterred any previous appetite to reform. Simply, they didn’t need any more Money, Money, Money! After years of courting the spotlight, it was suggested that Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha and Anni-Frid were happy to live out their days separately and quietly.

So clearly something has changed! But how can they come back and new music be anywhere near as good as their original back catalogue? In my opinion it cannot. The melodic dance floor fillers are genius, however, the elevated status in our cultural music back catalogue has been gained from how Abba’s music makes you feel.

Anyone who has witnessed reluctant dancers morph into John Travolta at the opening bars of ‘Dancing Queen’ knows what I mean. It’s more than music, it’s a call to action.

It only takes a single exposure, and in an instant, you’re hooked, whether you like the song or not. The infection is rapid and feels potentially unending. I know it’s not cool to admit, but the world is full of closet Abba fans.

Only a few musicians have had this level or financial or cultural success. Even those who loathe them begrudgingly accept their unrivalled status. The Abba recipe is simple yet impossible to re-create. Firstly, the band has made songs that became more like anthems for people around the world. The narrative is simple and easy to identify with. Second, musicality. The clever repetitive melody makes their songs easy to remember. Third, the harmonies they created, technically difficult and fabulously tight, were delivered with a lot of feelings and emotion. Fourth, the lyrics were in simple English and always smooth.

I’d also argue that we’re programmed to like Abba. As hard as many of you will find this to take…it’s natural to love their music and there might be something wrong with you if you don’t! The multi-tracked harmonies awaken the part of our inner caveman brains.

According to scientist Daniel Levitin, author of ‘This Is Your Brain on Music,’ when early man heard music we heard groups singing it, and simple melodies. Levitin claims the Abba model of the multiple voices is much closer to stimulating these evolutionary echoes which unwittingly triggers a reaction in our brains.

In other words, if a caveman encased in ice were to be thawed out, revived, and immediately given a full iPod, he would respond more immediately to Abba or a gospel choir than, say, free jazz or rock. The glossy production and compositional patterns of Sweden’s fab four set off different neurological reactions that have medicinal powers.

Long may the fizzy melodies giving listeners a powerful hit of happy juice remain. Abba is good for the soul and even better for music industry bank balances!

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