The four members of ABBA have released a statement announcing the fact that they have gotten back together and recorded two new songs. Right now the media is having a field day. Everyone loves a good reunion, especially one that’s taken well over thirty years to come to fruition. But other than satisfying those curious to know what they sound like (and look like) now, how significant is this news? Indeed, how significant were ABBA? What is their legacy and why should we care about them now?
Some acts’ perceived importance fades over time, while other’s somehow increases exponentially. ABBA has been one of the lucky ones who seem to have seen their currency rise decade by decade.
It’s true that the group put out some very catchy records and sold millions of them. But, let’s face it, musically, songs like Mamma Mia, Knowing Me, Knowing You and SOS are well-crafted pop songs, but really no better and no worse than other radio fodder of the time…I’m thinking of songs like Billy, Don’t Be A Hero, Knock Three Times, Seasons In The Sun or Baby Come Back. Yet, no one is clamouring for a reunion of Player or The Poppy Family.
What set ABBA apart wasn’t the music, but the package that came with it. Four very attractive Swedish performers who had the good sense to make a few well-produced video clips that have become YouTube staples. Add to the mix the fact that they were two couples who eventually split up and you’ve got yourself a perfect cultural storm. It’s the Fleetwood Mac effect…everyone wants to see them together…Will it be awkward? Will romances rekindle? Who has aged the best…and the worst?
Of course none of this has anything to do with the music.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good cheesy pop song. ABBA’s brand of catchy, singalong, highly-polished pop can act as a gateway drug for teenybopper to go on and discover all types of more substantial music.
I realize this may sound snobbish, but hear me out. I speak from experience. When I was 12 or 13, I absolutely loved Gary Puckett & The Union Gap. They had a string of hits in the late 60s with titles like Young Girl, Don’t Give In To Him and This Girl Is A Woman Now. I know, I know, mildly salacious and misogynistic stuff, but that’s another story. The fact is I listened to Mr Puckett’s booming baritone as much as I could for about two years. It was the first concert I ever attended. But even at that tender age, I knew that this was not the stuff of musical genius. And as the years went by and I discovered Bowie and Patti and Neil, I still enjoyed throwing on a little Puckett every now and then and singing along until I was hoarse.
The point I’m trying to make is that, to my mind, ABBA initially served the same purpose for millions of teens and pre-teens growing up in the 70s. To the best of my recollection, back then, no one was going on about what geniuses they were, they just looked at them as another hit-making machine.
It’s only been in hindsight that Bjorn and Benny have been cited as groundbreaking writers and producers. My feeling is that this is only feeding the myth that the media has enjoyed building around the group.
The use of ABBA’s music in film and television….especially the Mamma Mia film franchise…has only fanned the flames. Meanwhile the four members of the group have wisely played the idea of a reunion close to the vest.
I’m as curious as anyone to hear these two new songs that ABBA has recorded and I hope they bring nostalgic feelings rushing back to everyone who every danced along to Dancing Queen or sang along to Fernando.
Have fun, sing yourselves silly, but don’t fool yourselves into thinking that this is anything more culturally significant than an exercise in nostalgia.
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