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.