This, of course, is a cover of ABBA’s Eurovision-wining song from 1974 – a fairly faithful rendition, as it happens, accompanied by a promotional clip starring the Anadin Brothers as dead-ringers for Agnetha and Frida. Having a band like Doctor And The Medics covering one of your songs isn’t necessarily a good thing. Did they genuinely love the song and want to see it back in the charts? Was the release steeped in irony? Was there are special significance to the inclusion of the song in their live sets, that justified a studio recording? Were they just taking the piss? We will never really be sure, and this is partly because of the timing of the single’s release. At the end of 1986, ABBA’s popularity in Britain was probably the lowest it had been since their first release here in 1973. The group had fizzled out four years earlier, and the era of budget compilation albums of ABBA hits was upon us. In that sense, the Doctor And The Medics single could be seen as less a tribute, and more a mocking of ABBA’s past glory. On the other hand, Clive Jackson and his band mates could occasionally be quite visionary, and perhaps they had anticipated the big ABBA revival six years before it happened. In October 1992, Gold – Greatest Hits, a collection of hit singles, went to #1 in the UK when previous collections with similar track listings over the past ten years had sold very modestly. It’s still selling today, and in the 23 years since its release, a critical consensus has finally been reached. ABBA made a hugely important contribution to popular music.
At the start of the 1980s, everything seemed to be as it should be for the eight year old band. Their first two singles of the new decade both went to #1 in the UK, the album they were taken from, Super Trouper, was a huge hit, and the quality of the sound – always high – was now second to none, with Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus using state-of-the-art studios and technology to record their brilliantly composed songs. Having already produced one classic single, the exuberant party favourite Dancing Queen in 1976, they then delivered a second in 1980 with the melancholy #1 The Winner Takes It All; they were as adept at producing music for the dance floor as they were making records to be listened to during a quiet evening at home. The latter was the preferred style for ABBA in 1980. Although there was still music you could dance to on Super Trouper (the album’s third single Lay All Your Love On Me was released as a 12” only, for exactly that purpose), the emphasis was on more reflective offerings such as the album’s title track (the other #1 single of 1980). While always referred to as ‘the girls’, Agentha Faltskog and Frida Lyngstad were women with some considerable life experience by the time of this album’s appearance, and Ulvaeus and Andersson were writing lyrics that were mature enough for them to sing.
This was even more apparent on the final ABBA studio album, The Visitors. One of the best records of the 1980s, it yielded only one big hit single, One Of Us, which peaked at #3 at the end of 1981. Sales of the album, a huge hit at Christmas that year, probably prevented it from climbing any higher. But follow-up single Head Over Heels, released a couple of months later, only made it to #25, the first time ABBA hadn’t made the Top 10 since 1975. Although work on a ninth studio album did begin in 1982, it was evident to all that no one’s heart was truly in it. The sessions were abandoned, with just a couple of tracks from them appearing as minor hit singles towards the end of the year. There was nothing wrong with the songs – The Day Before You Came, with its simple but disturbing lyrics, was superb – and nothing wrong with the performances either, but the group decided to call it a day.
The partnership of Ulvaeus and Andersson continued, however, and in 1985 they proved their ability to write a #1 single when I Know Him So Well, taken from their musical ‘Chess’, topped the chart. Again, they had written a song for two women to sing (this time Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson, with lyrics by Tim Rice). The studio recording of ‘Chess’, released as a double album in 1984, was a big hit and several other songs from it were issued as singles, including One Night In Bangkok by Murray Head, another big hit internationally. Their songs also appeared on two albums for brother-and-sister act Gemini, and Andersson released two solo albums of Swedish folk music. Faltskog released three solo albums, Wrap Your Arms Around Me (1983), Eyes Of A Woman (1985) and I Stand Alone (1988), but these were only minor hits here. She had more success with them in her native Sweden, where she also released Nu Tandas Tusen Juleljus with her daughter Linda in 1981, and Kom Folj Med I Var Karusell with her son Christian in 1987, both in her first language. Lyngstad made two albums, the first of which (Something’s Going On) was released before ABBA split and contained the excellent single I Know There’s Something Going On, which inexplicably fell short of the Top 40. Follow-up LP Shine sold poorly. In the second half of the 1980s, ABBA simply weren’t credible. There was no backlash as such (as there often is against once hugely popular acts), but it was too early for a critical reappraisal of their work. Nostalgia would open the door to their return to popularity in the 1990s, Gold – Greatest Hits would offer the CD generation an opportunity to really hear how technically competent those recordings were, and a musical at the end of the decade called ‘Mamma Mia’ would showcase the songs in a different setting, confirming once and for all how important ABBA were and remain.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Nov. 10
CLASSIX NOUVEAUX (Sal Solo) Nasty Little Green Men (United Artists BP378)
Bob MARLEY Redemption Song (Island WIP6653)
DOCTOR AND THE MEDICS (Clive Jackson) Waterloo (IRS IRM125)
FIVE STAR If I Say Yes (Tent PB40981)
FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD Warriors (Of The Wasteland) (ZTT ZTAS25)
The HUMAN LEAGUE I Need Your Loving (Virgin VS900)
Gary NUMAN I Still Remember (Numa NU21)
ULTRAVOX (Midge Ure) All Fall Down (Chrysalis UV5)