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The return of Abba

Abba’s decision to release an album of new songs and to prepare a new live show for London next spring led me straight into a row with an old friend who thinks the idea of turning themselves into “avatars” via motion-capture and de-ageing technology is pathetic. I disagree. While nothing would persuade me to attend a show featuring a hologram of a dead artist — Elvis, Amy, Roy Orbison, Michael Jackson — I’m fine with Abba doing it. That’s for two reasons. First, they’re still alive: the decision is entirely theirs. Second, I’m guessing that they’re not attracted by the idea of taking the stage 40 years after their last shows and doing versions of the routines they performed when they were in their twenties and thirties. They want to give us something that is both themselves and true to our memories of them.

This isn’t like Bob Dylan performing into his eighties, unafraid of showing his signs of age. Abba are a pop band, almost a cartoon of the genre, as the Monkees were 10 years before them. What made them different was the self-generated outpouring of great songs that captured a worldwide audience who responded not just to the glittery surface but to the real feelings inside “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and “The Name of the Game”. Perhaps I’m being too generous, but it seems to me that the avatar business is a way of respecting their audience’s vision of them. With career sales of 400 million records, it can’t be about the money.

I saw them at the Albert Hall in 1977, when they were, I suppose, in their prime. Afterwards I drove from Knightsbridge back to the office of The Times on Gray’s Inn Road to tap out a review that appeared in the next morning’s paper. I’m amused to see that I mentioned the influence of Phil Spector, many years before I discovered — via a biography of the band — that something their studio engineer had read in my 1972 book on Spector had influenced the way they made their records, right from the beginning. (If you think I’ve written about this before, you’re right. But I’m not going to let it go…)

Anyway, amid this morning’s lavish coverage of their announcement is a piece in The Times purporting to list their top 20 greatest singles. It excludes “The Day Before You Came”, which might just be their masterpiece. Honestly, I don’t know where they find them these days.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nor did the Times mention their final, wonderful single ‘Under Attack’, released in December 1982.

    September 3, 2021
  2. Tim Adkin #

    Ye gods – I’d clean forgotten about Armand and Michaela Denis and I’m not sure I’ll be able to ‘reforget’ them!!
    Agree wholeheartedly about ‘The Day Before You Came’. Didn’t they have the estimable Janne Schaffer in the band back then?

    September 3, 2021
  3. I couldn’t agree more. I’m envious you were at the RAH because I never saw them on stage. Then again, I didn’t really come to appreciate them until after they’d split up. Editing the book to which you refer turned me into a big fan and you’re right about ‘The Day Before You Came’, their best song after ‘Winner Takes It All’.

    September 3, 2021
  4. How exciting to have seen them live in such a terrific setting at the peak of their (first) wave of popularity! Our family in the USA had several of their albums. Thank you for sharing your perspective(s) on ABBA — then and now.

    September 3, 2021
  5. I don’t think this is such a surprise: ABBA have always said they want their fans to remember them performing in their prime, so once the technology developed to a high enough standard, we might’ve thought they would do this.
    What is a turn-up is an album of new material. Those first two songs sound good, and it also has the effect of showing up all those old bands who are just happy to sit on their back catalogue and milk the fans by playing the hits instead making a bit of effort (looking at you, Genesis).
    Totally agree re The Day Before You Came, fab track.

    September 3, 2021
  6. Sedat Nemli #

    I have always found “Voulez-Vous” to be their most appealing song.

    September 3, 2021
  7. Nostalgic wallow in another gem of a cutting – a very good read, even 44 years on. Richard, I’m trying to find a postal address to send you a new music book that might tickle your fancy… celebrating the late 60s era of suburban London pub sounds.

    September 3, 2021
  8. michael hine #

    Ah, Armand and Michaela Denis. But what of Hans and Lotte Hass?

    September 4, 2021

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