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Mamma Mia: Scratching the Surface with ABBA

Tuesday 7th March 2017 by DJAJSantini

There is a huge bump on the back of my neck. I’m not sure if it’s a pimple, or a cyst, or maybe a spider bite… I keep squeezing it and an opaque, semi-tan liquid is coming out, along with some blood, and it doesn’t seem to be getting smaller. Actually, when I was applying what felt like super-human pressure to it last night, it divided itself into three smaller bumps. The same happened tonight, and so I dunked a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol in hopes it would dry up, but I think it’s just going to come back and annoy me again tomorrow, possibly shinier, with more prominence, and I’ll just walk around looking like the beginning of a YouTube video your unemployed friend shares on social media where they assume you can’t make it through the viewing of various dermatology procedures where membranous sacs are drained. Maybe I should have worn latex gloves…

Anyway, this is what I think about when I think about explaining the music of ABBA.

While no inflamed spots of skin on my epidermis have ever won the Eurovision song contest, or been requested to play at a wedding, the analogy seems fitting.

I just spent an hour and forty minutes in my car listening to various ABBA songs, and while that might not seem extravagant, you should know that I had nowhere specific to be. As of this writing, it is 2 AM on a Thursday morning and there was literally no reason for me to be galavanting around, crossing state lines, except for the fact that in my twisted logic, it makes sense to drive forty minutes one way, cross a cantilever bridge, and pay a five dollar port authority toll, all to save about twenty cents per gallon on gasoline.

It makes about as much sense as a thirty-four year old male spending an entire week listening to ABBA to write this piece.

ABBA broke up after abandoning a half-finished album the year I was born (1982), so I can’t say listening to them makes me feel nostalgic. I also do not listen to ABBA ironically. In fact, nothing I do is, in the hipster/millennial vein of being “ironic” (and those are quotations for emphasis, not irony, both usages I despise, but ironically, I used simply to include this scathing parenthetical on misuse of quotation marks).

I find appreciation of popular culture for ironic purposes quite a bore, in all honesty. To shit all over something a vast majority of people enjoy simply to point and giggle with your closest companions to achieve an acute, holier-than-thou self-value boost is sadder than the mainstream mediocrity you claim to be better than. So hopefully you will find anything I write about or amateurishly appreciate or scathingly criticize void of those comparisons.

Speaking of comparisons, a number of which come to mind when I reminisce on my almost two hour experience with the Swedish stock exchange’s former hot commodity, ABBA. Almost every song reminded me of something else, be it another song or an entire genre, but the vast majority of those similarities were post-dated from the ABBA release, which leads me to believe (and, again, I am not being nostalgic), that ABBA was, and still is, one of the most influential pop groups of the twentieth century.

There were songs that sounded like the precursor to the ‘80s power ballad. There were synths that could have easily fit on an industrial Nine Inch Nails EP. Some songs were so theatrical, I could envision a story playing out just beyond the darkened trees that lined the road my car’s tires were hugging. There were even songs to which I found myself head-banging (“Mamma Mia” if you must know… “Just (bang) one (bang) look (bang) and I can hear a bell ring…”). The point I’m trying to make is that through the darkness of the night, there was something borderline creepy at times (the final song on my aimless journey that rattled my ossicles being “The Day Before You Came,” where I found myself generally concerned that the singer, Agnetha Fältskog had suffered some sort of brain injury since she could not iterate definitively whether or not she had participated in seemingly mundane tasks, and then I began spiraling into thoughts of whether that concern was genuine, since I had just spent an hour and thirty five minutes with this quartet of Swedes, or if my own paranoia had captured my thought patterns as I had now been awake almost twenty hours and was about seven large coffees and a Rockstar Fruit Punch into caffeinated delirium.)

I think a deer ran into the back of my car during “Super Trouper.” I didn’t stop to check on my vehicle or the possibly made up hoofed beast which either misjudged its road-crossing timing or simply did not like me for personal reasons it failed to properly relay. So I continued on, just as ABBA had done after band members Agnetha and Björn Ulvaeus divorced in 1979 and other members Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad also split later in 1981 after a nine year engagement and two year marriage. I knew I had a good thing going with this trip and the pop-power of the tunes kept me rolling on. (“‘Does Your Mother Know’ would not be out of place on a Cheap Trick album”, I thought to myself, apropos of a dyslexic reading of the words power pop.)

That’s what’s so striking about ABBA.

Most of my life, I wrote off this group as “those girls that sing ‘Dancing Queen,’” which, if that is what you’ve done, I hope I am encouraging you to not, but it wasn’t until I read Chuck Klosterman’s essay ABBA 1, World 0 in his collection “Eating the Dinosaur” in which he compared ABBA to AC/DC, that it clicked. I loved AC/DC for the exact reason he compares them to ABBA (and I apologize for summarizing or stealing any of his material subconsciously). AC/DC is not just a band, they are a brand and a genre in-and-of themselves. The case is made, in said essay, that ABBA are of the same ilk, albeit in a more pop-sensible fashion. Although, upon further listening, I would be confidant in both agreeing whole-heartedly with that sentiment, and also completely refuting it simultaneously.

ABBA not only has more range than AC/DC, but was also more influential on popular music, as a whole. There were songs I heard which completely borrowed from the past (i.e. mimic of genres from before the song’s release, such as “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do,” which it seems completely ludicrous that this song has not beed used in a film’s pre-credit sequence which freeze-frames on all the main characters and describes what they went on to accomplish in life post-narrative, a-la-“American Graffiti” or the “Hot for Teacher” video), but there were songs which also seemed like pre-cursors to so many styles and songs that would come after (in fact, there was one song that I swore was the spirit animal parent of Pat Benatar’s “We Belong” and cannot now, for the life of me, remember which one).

This was just day one of my weeklong relationship with ABBA, and what’s promising to me about this self-assigned journey, is that even after digesting those 25 songs, I still want to watch the Community episode “Epidemiology,” in which, along with being a brilliant George Takei-narrated zombie-spoof, is also driven by various selections from the discography of this award-winning four-piece of Scandinavians about which you are reading.

Which reminds me, I should probably clarify my opening analogy.

The reason ABBA is like a skin lesion, or at least the reason that makes sense to me, is that, personally, I enjoy popping pimples. It’s not for everyone. But even when people were burning disco records and shitting all over ABBA in their heyday, they came back with better music, much of which was ahead of its time, they made music videos before many other acts, and they knew how to write a perfect goddamn pop song. They made perfect sense in their time. But, at least in today’s society, ABBA doesn’t make sense anymore. Some people, no matter how much you poke and prod and push, just will not get into pop music. They feel it’s beneath them. Had you told me, a decade or more ago, that I would purposely put myself in a car and drive around listening to ABBA for a week (let alone even the length of the ‘90s revival collection ABBA Gold, I would have thought you an idiot. But here we are…)

Here is the playlist from my first day. It was more than enjoyable, and quite frankly, I look forward to seeing what tomorrow will bring.

Thank you for the music, Agnetha, Björn, Benny, and Anni-Frid

(A.B.B.A… get it?)