ABBA. The name alone invokes long summer nights, inebriated dance routines and the tackiest Sweden has to offer. But the iconic foursome – of Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Benny and Björn – is one powerhouse of a group, and one of those rare bands that can churn out great hit after great hit. Over their (surprisingly short) career, they’ve released nine no. 1s in the UK and four Top Tens in the States and, accumulatively, have seen their albums go platinum over fourth times worldwide.
So in honour of the titanic Swedes, we’re looking at the ten best songs they ever did, across all of their albums. Spoiler alert: you may be disappointed if you love the band’s biggest hits. Some of these choices are… surprising, to put them mildly. But hopefully you’ll agree with some of these and – who knows? – maybe even discover a gem you hadn’t heard. Without further ado…
10. One of Us (1981, The Visitors) – The Visitors was ABBA’s last and, in many ways, darkest album to date. But ‘One of Us’ is perhaps the saddest single the band ever put out. It was their final no. 1, and deals with someone trying to revive a broken, beat-up relationship – influenced by real world romantic turmoil plaguing the band’s members. ‘One of us is crying/ One of us is lying in her lonely bed’ says it all, really. You’d think it was depressing to put on, but when that delightfully Spanish-influenced chorus appears, you realise that, no, actually, ABBA can’t release a truly sorrowful tune. It’s catchy.
9. Ring Ring (1973, Ring Ring) – To the other end of the band’s career now. ABBA’s arrival to many European territories, ‘Ring Ring’ hails from the group’s 1973 debut. And what a debut, too. It’s unmistakable pomp and Swedish swagger make for one Hell of a song, with catchy, memorable chorus. The song was actually entered into the Eurovision selection process that year, and finished third, scuppering the group’s chances to win the iconic contest. To date, the names ‘ABBA’ and ‘Eurovision’ have never been in the same sentence together. Not once. I think. Either way, ‘Ring Ring’ has all that flamboyance and love-torn-asunder content you could expect from such a vulgar display of kitsch as Eurovision. Wonder how ‘Ring Ring’ got that grandiose, almost orchestral sound? The backing track was simply played twice and the instruments were put ever-so-slightly out of tune. Genius.
8. Arrival (1976, Arrival) – Arrival has no shortage of stand-out tracks, from ‘Dancing Queen’ to ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’. But even more magical than both of those, if you can believe it, is this real labour of love from Benny Andersson. The album’s title track (which followed the naming of the album and not vice versa) is one of the group’s only two lyrically-sparse songs – that is to say, featuring no lyrics at all. It’s choral arrangements and traditional folky roots propel you into another world, of fantasy and pure magic. It’s a staggeringly beautiful composition, and more than worthy of a mention. No, you won’t be swaying to it under a glitterball. But all the same, it’s enthralling.
7. S.O.S. (1975, ABBA) – By 1975, ABBA were global megastars. ‘Waterloo’ secured a Eurovision win under their belt and their third album, fittingly eponymous, gave us ‘S.O.S.’ and ‘Mammia Mia’, the former of which is nothing short of brilliant. Agnetha does a sterling job conveying the pain and emotional tumult of a breaking relationship. But that jangly guitar and sporadic piano makes for a truly special heartbreak anthem. Sure, Pierce Brosnan ruined it a bit, but it’s virtually unrivalled on the ABBA arena grounds (except it is, of course, or else it wouldn’t be at number seven).
6. Does Your Mother Know (1979, Voulez-Vous) – It’s dance. It’s rock. It’s deliciously dubious in lyrical nature. ‘Does Your Mother Know’ features Björn predominantly on lead vocals, as this glittering stomp of Swedish power pop just builds and builds, kicking like a mule and flirting a little maybe with prison time. As ‘raunchy’ as ABBA ever get, it’s got to be one of their best, and still forgotten about when pitted against ‘Dancing Queen’ or ‘Mamma Mia’.
5. On and On and On (1980, Super Trouper) – 1980’s Super Trouper was the best-selling album of the year in the UK, and spawned two no. 1’s, in ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and its title track. It’s also home to ‘On and On and On’, a thumping, pop rock favourite oft forgotten by other Top Tens (we don’t like to toot our own trumpet here at Splendid Fred, but our word is scripture and that’s that). Both girls of the group sing on lead vocals, detailing the people our narrators meet on a busy, dance-punctuated night out. It’s just a good ABBA song. Which is to say, a pretty awesome song.
4. Voulez-Vous (1979, Voulez-Vous) – Undoubtedly one of ABBA’s best (and that’s saying something), Voulez-Vous is a testament to the band’s dual personalities; from the high ballads (‘I Have A Dream’) to synth-studded soundscapes (‘Does Your Mother Know’, ‘Angeleyes’). But, come on, the title track is the best part about it. From that defining, opening guitar to misty, 70s shimmer and explosive chorus, ‘Voulez-Vous’ is on a whole other level to the rest of its parent record. You can put dance numbers to it, you can chant drunkenly over the title line. What you can’t do is have a bad time while it’s on. Somehow, in the canon of ABBA, it didn’t do that well, which will probably be one of life’s greatest mysteries, like Atlantis, the stock market, and why glass toasters aren’t more mainstream.
3. The Visitors (1981, The Visitors) – By the time 1981 rolled around, it really was the end of ABBA. Both couples of the group (Björn and Agnetha, and Benny and Anni-Frid) had by now divorced and recording sessions for what would become the group’s final record were… frosty, to say the least. The Visitors shows a markedly darker, more complex sound; something akin to Styx in many ways – but that doesn’t mean it’s any less infectious. The title track, at nearly six minutes in length, is actually about political dissidents in countries hammered by communist regimes; constantly living in fear of police raiding their homes. Hell, ‘The Visitors” chorus is about as dark as the group ever get (‘Now I hear them moving/ Muffled noises coming, through the door I feel I’m/ Cracking up/ Voices growing louder, irritation building/ And I’m close to fainting…’). But when it hits, it’s any dancefloor favourite, and grooves with the best of them. Delightfully weird and robotic throughout, hiding something darker below. That’s ABBA.
2. Summer Night City (1979, Single) – The group’s second stand-alone single, ‘Summer Night City’ is just groove on stilts. It’s driving, incredibly 70s backbeat proves contagious, and, though ABBA were reluctant to ever release it, remains one of the band’s highlights. ‘Can’t resist that strange attraction/ From that giant dynamo…’ is a particularly cryptic line, but one that seems so resonant when the song gets going. It wasn’t one of ABBA’s biggest hits, and is perhaps the group’s swan song – their last no. 1 in their home country – but nevertheless, I defy anyone to sit still throughout. It’s a constant wall of fleeting sound that never lets up. Relentlessly funky, and the mainstay of any ‘going out’ playlist.
1. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) (1979, Single) – Could there be any other winner? Well, probably. I know some of you were swearing it had to be ‘Waterloo’, ‘Super Trouper’ or ‘Dancing Queen’. And, to be fair, they are great songs. But ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ is just… better. That iconic melody is downright viral in any club, pub or round of predrinks. That driving, funkadelic bassline mimics ones heartbeat as the loner’s anthem chugs on in full force. Fältskog takes over on lead vocals, delivering a particularly powerful song on how her life pales in comparison to the silver screen. But we don’t care about that. We’re just tapping and jiving. In one song, ABBA captures all the romance and heartbreak, chaos and mystique of a memorable night out. Perfection.
Honourable Mentions (AKA songs that are still too good not to mention in some capacity):
Waterloo (1974, Waterloo)
So Long (1975, ABBA)
Money, Money, Money (1976, Single)
The Name of the Game (1977, The Album)
Super Trouper (1980, Super Trouper)
Slipping Through My Fingers, The Day Before You Came (1981, The Visitors)