It is unlikely to have been a child, teenager or youth during the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s and not having a strong memory of the popular music produced in these decades. From the 1990s onwards, the music world seems to have entered into a recycling period that is still happening. Nothing compares to the creativity and innovation of the previous decades.
We are talking about the urban western popular music from the postwar period, hegemonized by the cultural production in English language, with American and British origins and a phenomenon that was allowed by the unprecedented technological advancements of the global communication vehicles and media such as the vinyl record.
The song Dancing Queen, by the Swedish group Abba, is just an episode in this whole process.
Today, August 6th 2016, it’s been 40 years since it was released on England (*1), the biggest hit on Abba’s career, their song that has “marked and remained”. It’s the same with other songs in English (Abba used to sing in that language) that have equally market the 1070s decade and “survive” until nowadays: Stairway to Heaven (1971), by Led Zeppelin (*2); Hotel California (1976), by the Eagles; and Another Brick In The Wall – part II (1979), by Pink Floyd. And certainly not by coincidence, just like the songs above, Dancing Queen is a work from de golden phase of the group’s creativity, recorded in their fourth Long Play (*3).
On the strictly pop scene, Abba may have been the great name of that decade, side by side with the Bee Gees (*4) and the Swedish group with greatest worldwide popularity until today. The couples Agnetha Fältskog/Björn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid Lyngstad/Benny Andersson formed the group, which made their recordings using the innovative “wall of sound” technique of the American producer Phil Spector (*5), by merit of their recording technician Michael Tretow. Björn – guitar – and Benny – piano and keyboards – were the composers while “Frida” and Agnetha created the distinctive vocal harmony in duet, Abba’s trademark.
Michael Tretow and Abba, Polar Music studio
The beginning of what would become Abba happened in June of 1966, fifty years ago, when Benny and Björn, who played in different successful bands in Sweden (respectively Hep Stars and Hootenanny Singers), met each other in a party and reunited a few days after at Björn’s parents house in order to compose something together. The result was the song It Isn’t Easy to Say, recorded in Hep Stars’ third LP. On December 26th, they shared the stage for the first time when Björn was called to replace temporarily the Stars’ guitarist in a few shows.
Noticing the affinity between the two, the visionary, obstinate, ambitious Hootenanny’s music executive Stig Anderson told them to work together, saying: “one day you’ll write a song that will be a worldwide success”. They all went to Polar Music, Stig’s studio, whose owner would become Abba’s music executive. Agnetha and Frida were young singers with recorded albums, the first being a promising talent of the Swedish pop music.
After the marriages, what happened is Abba’s history, which had its starting point with the song Ring Ring, composed to the Eurovision Song Contest (*6) of 1973. However, the beginning of the international success would come in 1974, with the song Waterloo, which has won the Eurovision of that year.
Stig Anderson and Abba
Thus, as we said in the beginning of this text, when Dancing Queen was released in England as a single (small vinyl record with one song on each side, a “compact”), Abba was already a famous and well-known group in Europe and North America and particularly in Australia (*7), due to successes such as SOS, Mamma Mia, I Do I Do I Do I Do I Do (songs from the LP ABBA – 1975) and the single Fernando (1976). In the same year, Dancing Queen was included in the LP Arrival (1976). Benny and Björn initially called it “Boogaloo” when the song was starting to be recorded, in the end of 1975, inspired on the LP Rock Your Baby by George McCrea, which had been a success in the United States and the United Kingdom in the previous year. Stig Anderson listened to the song when only the melody and harmony were composed and gave it the name by which it is known today (*8). After that, Björn wrote the lyrics. In the beginning of 1976 the song was finished and waiting for its release as a single and the TV clip, which was made by the Swedish director Lasse Hallström (*9).
Dancing Queen, the single, reached the first place on the lists of thirteen countries, including USA (*10) and England, the biggest markets of pop music. It’s one of the most popular of Abba’s songs in Brazil, too, together with SOS, Fernando, Chiquitita (1979), I Have a Dream (1979) and The Winner Takes It All (1980).
The Swedish quartet finished its activities in the end of 1982, following the breakups of the couples who formed it. Actually, they made a pause in the group’s work and never reunited again.
In 1989, Stig Anderson sold Polar Music to Polygram, which released in 1992 the CD ABBA Gold, with 19 successes of the group. Until the year of 2008, Gold had sold around 25 million copies around the world. It renewed the public interest on Abba during the decades of 1990 and 2000. In 1992, the British duo Erasure recorded an EP (*11) with four of Abba’s songs, even parodying some of their video clips, such as Take a Chance on Me. In March 2008, Dancing Queen was elected by popular vote as being the gayest song of all history, in a contest promoted by an Australian site celebrating the 30th anniversary of Sidney’s Gay Parade.
Dancing Queen still has a reserved place on the schedule of vintage radio stations, such as Continental FM 98.3 MHz (*12) from Porto Alegre, capitol of Rio Grande do Sul. Thus, it is a masterpiece. A dancing queen for 40 years through the dance floors and sound waves of pop music. It is not a small thing, especially for a quartet that has come from the distant Sweden and that has become part of the history of pop music as a factory of hits from the 1970s.
*1 – “Released first on England on August 6th 1976, followed by Australia (on August 9th) and Sweden (August 16th), it went to the top of the lists of basically all the countries where it was released, including Australia, Germany, Norway, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, New Zealand and the most important, the United States (where it reached the first place on May 1977)”. – Daniel Couri, blog ABBA Brazil. *2 –Something that many people don’t know is that the last LP recorded by Led Zeppelin, In Through The Out Door (1979), was recorded in Polar studios, in Stockholm. In this LP, where John Paul Jones’ keyboards dominate the sound of the band (as it’s seen in songs such as All My Love), there’s an interesting detail about the musical moment of Led Zeppelin and Abba: Yamaha released in the music market a few units of a very expensive prototype, the synthesizer GX-1, which was bought by Stevie Wonder, John Paul Jones, Benny Andersson and others. That’s the reason for the emphasis on the keyboards in that Led’s LP. In Abba’s case, this synthesizer set the tune and the musical atmosphere on the LP Super Trouper (1980). *3 –Long Play is the vinyl record with many songs on each side, commonly four or five. It was generally called album. It was the great musical media during the 1970s. *4 –There’s a lot of contradictory data about disc sales in the 1970s. In many places, Abba appears ahead of the Bee Gees; in others, the Bee Gees. Since the majority of the lists show the Swedish group as the winner, I used the evaluation that seemed more accurate to me – the one that is in Wikipedia’s article “Lista de músicos recordistas de vendas” (in Portuguese), where Abba appears with sales between 200 and 150 million copies while the Bee Gees have a total of 120 million sold copies. *5 –In 1972, Tretow bought the book “The Sound Of Phil Spector” by Richard Williams, whereby he studied his method of production and thenceforth created a “Nordic vision” about the “wall of sound” technique. *6 –The Eurovision is an annual music festival that since 1956 reunites songs from all Europe. It’s transmitted through radio and television to the European countries. *7 –In Australia, where the clips of Waterloo, Ring Ring, Mamma Mia, SOS, I Do I Do I Do I Do I Do and Bang-A-Boomerang had an excellent repercussion in 1975, Abba has experimented the greatest popular success of its whole career. In March 1976, when the clip of Fernando had just been released, the group traveled to the country to participate in TV shows and the members were welcomed with hysteria by the local fans. However, in February 1977, all the popularity boundaries were overcome during a show tour in the country and a real “Abbamania” dominated Australia. Some newspapers even said that the country should be named “Abbaustralia”. In the movie Abba – The Movie, directed by Lasse Hallström, filmed during the tour, it’s possible to perceive all that. However, surprisingly, this overwhelming passion of the Australian people for the group faded during the following years. *8 –In July 1978, Abba presented Dancing Queen during the pre-wedding ceremony of Swedish king Carl XVI with Silvia Sommerlath, which caused a bit of confusion about the inspiration for the song. Some people understood that it was a tribute to the future queen, but it wasn’t: although the music had not been released yet, the group realized that the title was the most appropriate for the occasion. Moreover, the song is about a young and sweet seventeen year-old girl, which was not the case of the royal bride, whose was around 30. This video can be easily found on the Internet and in the DVD ABBA – The Definitive Collection. *9 –The clip of Dancing Queen was recorded at Alexandra club, a trendy nightclub in Stockholm with a “discoteque” atmosphere, perfectly matching with the time and the rhythm of the song. Lasse Hallström directed almost all of Abba’s clips, creating a visual language to them that became associated with the group’s image. *10 – Dancing Queen was the only of Abba’s hits that achieved 1st place in the US lists. *11– EP stands for Extended Play, vinyl record bigger than the single and smaller than the LP. *12 – http://www.redepampa.com.br/novo/radiosonline/continental.php