With the release of the new film Mamma Mia!, ABBA fever has returned: the soundtrack, which features the Swedish quartet’s songs, has just hit #1 on the U.K. album chart, and the now-classic ABBA Gold just jumped back into the Top 5. While John McCain recently took some heat for admitting to enjoying a little ABBA now and then, I’ll happily admit to ABBA-love. Not only am I gay, but I was just becoming aware of popular music during the band’s heyday; and, perhaps most importantly, I’m half-Swedish. Ikea, meatballs, Bergman, it’s all good. However, my admiration for ABBA is somewhat selective: I’ve always felt some of their songs were as transcendent as pop music can be, while others were either hyperactive and shrill or maudlin and overdramatic. Everybody’s got their favorites, I’m sure, but here are mine.
5. “Take a Chance On Me” (from The Album, 1978)
One of my very first favorite songs (I was 7!), this song exemplifies my favorite thing ABBA did: soaring vocal harmonies. They’re given free reign in an a capella intro that’s one of the great openings in pop music history.
4. “Arrival” (from Arrival, 1977)
Hey Sigur Ros fans: ABBA was doing it better 30 years ago.
3. “Super Trouper” (from Super Trouper, 1980)
Supposedly the Beach Boys were fans of this song, and it’s easy to see why: not only is the production astonishingly crisp for 1980, the vocal harmonies are so precise they’re almost invisible.
2. “Does Your Mother Know” (from Voulez-Vous, 1979)
With Bjorn and Benny on vocals, this song is already unusual for ABBA, but it’s made unique by its nods to ’50s rock, ending up sounding like the distillation of every great song made in 1979, in one ecstatic package.
1. “Knowing Me, Knowing You” (from Arrival, 1977)
The perfect balance of all things ABBA: a heartfelt ballad and a propulsive rhythm, overlaid with perfect production and awe-inspiring harmonies. See if you can stop yourself from getting chills during the otherwise-repetitive line, “We just have to face it this time, we do,” as one vocal melody slowly slides down the scale. It’s one of the grandest gestures of melancholy ever put on tape.
Okay, Riffers, have at it: I left out the big ballads and the disco stompers, I know. But if anyone wants to make a case for “The Name of the Game” or “Gimme Gimme Gimme,” I’m all ears.