ABBA: Best of the Rest – Part 2

Yesterday I ranked the songs that didn’t quite make my Top 10 of ABBA’s non-#1s. Here, then, is the main event…

10. ‘Does Your Mother Know’ – reached #4 in 1979

The only ABBA hit on which one of the boys took lead vocals, and their final glam-rock stomper. The lyrics are very of their time BUT, crucially, Bjorn acts like a true gentleman towards this teenage tearaway. Take it easy… Does your mother know? You can picture him helping the girl out the club, giving her a bottle of water, and waiting with her until the Uber arrives.

9. ‘Under Attack’ – reached #26 in 1982

One that benefits from not being over-played… This was the last single released before the band split up in December 1982. Sadly it didn’t help them go out with a bang, and limped to a Top 30 peak over Christmas. I love it though: it keeps the moodiness from ‘The Visitors’ album in the verses before dishing out a classic ABBA chorus. Never has a line like: Under attack, I’m being taken… sounded so positive.

8. ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ / ‘I Still Have Faith in You’ – reached #9 / # 14 in 2021

The comeback hits. One of which, astonishingly, restored ABBA to the Top 10 for the first time in forty years. I’m treating them as a double-‘A’, as in days gone by that’s presumably what they would have been released as. I don’t really know where to place them, how to assess them with regards to the rest of their output yet, so have plonked them right in the middle. One things for sure: both songs hold their own with those from decades before. ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’, to my ears, combines ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘One of Us’, two of the band’s best. ‘I Still Have Faith in You’ I found a little underwhelming on first listen, but in time it’s grown into an epic that could only have been created by one band.

7. ‘Head Over Heels’ – reached #25 in 1982

The single that broke their run of 18 uninterrupted Top 10 hits… But I think it’s a mini-classic. It’s ABBA at their frothiest, and is definitely the lightest moment on ‘The Visitors’ album. It helps that you rarely hear it these days – perhaps if it was as played as ‘Dancing Queen’ I’d be ranking it lower. The video, in which Frida plays a messy It girl, is cheap and cheerful, but Good God those jumpsuits! She’s extreme, If you know, What I mean…

6. ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’ – reached #3 in 1979

Until their re-evaluation in the ’90s, the ABBA flame was kept alight in gay bars. Most claim ‘Dancing Queen’ to be their gay anthem, for obvious reasons, but surely they were never gayer than when Frida and Agnetha were demanding a man after midnight. Those exclamation marks after each ‘Gimme’ in the title are everything, as is the pounding, horse-hoof beat, that sounds as close as disco ever came to splicing with a spaghetti-western soundtrack. It was later sampled by Madonna for one of her best songs, however I can’t listen to it now without hearing it sung in the style of Kathy Burke.

5. ‘SOS’ – reached #6 in 1975

I’ve heard this referred to as ABBA’s heavy-metal moment, ABBA’s emo moment, ABBA’s finest moment… I’d say it’s simply pure power-pop perfection. ‘SOS’ was their first big post-‘Waterloo’ hit, and it set them up for half a decade of chart domination. Even this early in their career, with both couples still happily together, ABBA’s melodies and hooks were underscored by melancholy. Even Pierce Brosnan couldn’t ruin this one…

4. ‘The Day Before You Came’ – reached #32 in 1982

Just what is this record about…? Is it the day before meeting the man of your dreams? Is it the day before your death? Your murder? Suicide?? A biting satire on the meat-grinder that capitalism throws us through in the name of a career…? Whatever it might be about, this six-minute, chorus-less epic is probably the most experimental moment of ABBA’s career. The hits were drying up, so why bother trying to write a hit? It was also the very last song they ever recorded (until the comeback). Legend has it that Agnetha recorded her vocals alone, in a darkened recording studio, before walking out and drawing ABBA to a close. Those vocals contain some of the band’s best lines, picking out the mundanity of this woman’s life. I must have lit my seventh cigarette at half past two… and There’s not, I think, a single episode of ‘Dallas’ that I didn’t see… She isn’t at all sure of what happened that day, really; a very unreliable narrator. You could write a dissertation on the many way this song can be interpreted. Who know, someone might already have. Strange, sinister perfection.

3. ‘Voulez-Vous’ / ‘Angeleyes’ – reached #3 in 1979

Apart, neither ‘Voulez-Vous’ nor ‘Angeleyes’ would get this high… As a double-‘A’ side, though, their combined forces get third place. (And, without giving the game away, the highest-placing of ABBA’s ’70s hits…) Both songs are disco heaven, and both are about a sleaze-ball of a man. The same sleaze-ball? In ‘Angeleyes’ the girls want to warn his new lover not to trust him, to warn her away… While in ‘Voulez-Vous’, in the heat of the dance floor, they give in and ask him bluntly: Voulez-vous? Take it now or leave it…

2. ‘Lay All Your Love on Me’ – reached #7 in 1981

In which ABBA move from disco, into electronic dance. The bass slaps (I believe that’s the term), the beat is unrepentant, and the lyrics are classic ABBA (how many dance tracks have words like ‘incomprehensible’ in them…?) My favourite bits are the violins that come in at the end, and the synthesised drops before the choruses, but really it’s all great. This was never intended to be a single, and when it was released it was only put out on 12″, which explains the relatively low peak. Though it was, at the time, the best selling 12″ record ever.

1. ‘One of Us’ – reached #3 in 1981

The first song the band released as two divorced couples; and the last genuine hit single they had. A coincidence…? It has everything you want from an ABBA single: singing through the tears, glorious harmonising from the girls, just the right number of cheesy touches (the parping bass, for example). I’m not sure it’s their best song, but something about it just hits a sweet spot – the Wishing she was somewhere else instead… line is perfection – and so it gives me great pleasure to name ‘One of Us’ as the best of ABBA’s rest.

14 thoughts on “ABBA: Best of the Rest – Part 2

  1. I can hardly bring myself to dislike anything by ABBA, though ‘Thank You For The Music’ (too cheesy for me, I’m afraid) comes close. So I can hardly argue with these choices, though I would have put ‘Does Your Mother Know’ very near the top, if not actually there – surely the best 70s song that Status Quo omitted to cover (can you imagine them doing it with some if not all of ABBA on vocals?). Honorary mentions for ‘The Visitors’ itself, which was almost an honorary B-side, to ‘Head Over Heels’ – a really creepy, chilling, but amazing song about dissidents dreading a knock on the door from the KGB, apparently. Also on 45cat.com there is a debate about the one UK single that flopped, unless it really made the breakers list of records bubbling under the Top 50 – ‘So Long’, which may sound like ‘Waterloo’ Part 2 but is still a powerhouse of a belter of the first order to these ears. (And also worth £40 according to their valuation if anyone out there has a copy). https://www.45cat.com/record/epc2484

    • ‘So Long’ is a cracker. Yes it sounds a bit like ‘Waterloo’, but that’s a cracker too!

      Interesting shout for ‘Does Your Mother…’ at the top! I would like to hear Status Quo giving it a makeover, but ABBA are notoriously stingy with allowing covers/samples, I think. Madonna being allowed one was big news, if I remember correctly… Doesn’t explain why on earth they let Westlife near ‘I Have a Dream Though’!

      • I stand corrected, but I don’t think songwriters can block cover versions (they do after all get the composing royalties!), but they have to give permission if their records are sampled. For ‘Hung Up’, Madonna was given permission (c’mon, who would turn Madonna down when everything she touched turned to big big dollars?). I also vaguely remember ‘Bring me Edelweiss’ in 1988 which either sampled or was a partial rewrite of ‘SOS’, but if you are an ABBA fan you don’t really WANT to remember that one.

  2. I might quibble about does your mother know being overplayed – and the b side i loved more than the a side, kisses of fire is another missed single opportunity. I might quibble about head over heels being a bit lightweight given the rest of the visitors, when all is said and done would have been a bigger hit. But i cant quibble with the comments and tidbits, cos i agree with it all:)

    And thanks john for so long info, i do have a copy of it. Not that i would sell it, but its nice to have collectible stuff i just bought cos i liked it. Think i paid about 30p around jan or feb 1975.

    • Thanks! ‘Does Your Mother Know’ is a funny one because I don’t want to like it that much – it’s a bit of a throwback, the lyrics are borderline creepy – but then I listen to it and remember it’s great.

      ‘Head Over Heels’ probably stands out because it IS the cheeriest moment on ‘The Visitors’ (plus I haven’t heard it anywhere as near as often as some of their bigger hits…)

  3. In another sign of people’s growing appreciation of ABBA, the Grammys last week nominated “I Still Have Faith In You” for one of the four major categories Record of the Year at the upcoming 2022 awards making it the first nomination ABBA has ever received which I mentioned in my latest post about the Raising Sand album fits into that great Grammys tradition of nominating legacy acts for their forgettable later work as a way of making it up for not nominating them during their prime.

    • Yes I saw that. Finally the US embraces them…! I would quibble with calling it ‘forgettable’, though, as it is a really well-crafted, highbrow piece of pop, if not as instant as ‘Dancing Queen’.

      • Yeah “I Still Have Faith In You” is fine but it’s nothing on ABBA’s peak work in the ‘70s and ‘80s and for the Grammys, its nomination is basically a way of making it up to them for not nominating them during their prime rather than for the song itself

  4. #10, I went and bought the 45 on that one. I loved that the guy(s) were singing. It is a high energy song. #9, I vaguely remember. #8 & #7 are all new to me and I just love Anni-Frid’s David Bowie hairdo. #6 & #5 I absolutely love! #4, I vaguely remember. #3, both of them I love. I had that album (remember my mentioning that I wanted the jackets they were selling). I vaguely remember #2 and loved #1.

    One song missing from your list is Eagle, the longest song they ever recorded, with The Day Before You Came being one minute shorter. I could listen to Eagle, over and over.

    Nice posts. I am a hopeless ABBA fan.

    • Sadly ‘Eagle’ was never released as a single in the UK, so couldn’t be on my list… And I like it, but it wouldn’t make the top of this list.

      Thanks! Spotify just told me that ABBA were the act I listened to most this year… Probably the prep I did for writing these two posts.

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