Thursday, 8 July 2010

My My, How Can I Resist Ya?

God.  Mamma Mia is such a pile of shite.  Dreadful, egregious nonsense with absolutely nothing to recommend it.  Every time I think about it I get depressed - and not only depressed, but livid too.  Moody and aggressive.  Not a good combination for Jimmy Catsup, let me tell you.

I'm not, of course, talking about one of the greatest pop songs ever written - the one with the lovely syncopated piano opening and the wonderful circular melody.  I'm talking about that musical.  And that film - the one with Pierce Brosnan (shudder) in it.  Pierce himself would be reason enough to detest it, but he's not the reason in this case.  It's because ABBA seem, in the popular consciousness, to have become Mamma Mia.  In people's minds they are about hen nights and bottles of Lambrini.  Terrible dance routines and kitschy costumes.  A bit of harmless fun.  But, my god, they are so much more than that.

For too long you weren't allowed to take ABBA seriously in any way, shape or form.  For most of the 80s they epitomised naff - to say you were an ABBA fan was pretty much the same thing as admitting that you were actually Pat Sharpe.  And then things changed.  It might have been Erasure or it might have been Muriel's Wedding, but something happened and people started to reassess them.  People started to think they might be quite good after all.  Musicologists started to point out how perfectly crafted their melodies are.  There was even talk about how their lyrics weren't just cheese after all - they had something to say.

No more.  That musical has fucked all that up.  Suddenly ABBA are just a bit of fun again.  And I think that's bloody unfair.

So let me lay my cards on the table right now.  I believe that Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus are the greatest songwriting partnership of all time.  That's right - I believe they are better than Lennon and McCartney, than Morrissey and Marr (obvs), than George and Ira Gerschwin, than Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht (just) and than Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

Now, the thing is, it's true that I have got nothing to lose because I don't care.  I'm nearly 40 years old and I'm not bothered if anyone thinks I'm cool or not.  And I'm also well aware that that also means I am probably preaching to the converted in the sense that the only people who will take any of this seriously are the people who know I am right.  

It's nice to be validated, though, so I did a bit of internet research to see if there was any consensus about this.  There is.  Deborah Harry said, for instance, that "Blondie would never have known a pop sensibility if we hadn't heard ABBA."  The Long Blondes cite them as a major influence (and, let's face it, even if they hadn't, the Blondie connection would have been enough to convince me of that).  Madonna, of course, has their attitude and ear for melody written all over her early and early-ish songs - Open Your Heart is basically an ABBA song with someone else singing it.  Stock Aitken and Waterman openly admit that they learnt half of what they knew about songwriting from listening to ABBA songs (and the other half listening to Motown and Northern Soul) - no surprise there, but it's worth remembering that SAW were the biggest hitmakers throughout the entire period when ABBA were considered the epitome of naff.  Even Rufus Wainwright is one record as saying The Winner Takes It All  is one of the best songs ever written.

But, really, who cares?  All I know is that Super Trooper made me very happy indeed when I was 9 years old.  It made me dance and sing along.  And now that I am 39 years old it has lost none of its power and perhaps has even gained some.  Those lyrics are beautiful ("So I'll be there when you arrive / The sight of you will prove to me I'm still alive" - anyone who has ever missed anyone will know that that is such a perfectly succinct expression of it) and that too fast electro bassline really shouldn't work, but it does.  Then there's Fernando - basically a folk song, but also the only pop record that I ever remember my Mother's Mother expressing a love for.  And that opening piano glissando on Dancing Queen (a song, incidentally, that is quite open about the fact that it's okay to go clubbing and get off your face when you're only 17).  And those lyrics to The Day Before You Came - the only decent and proper song about Existentialism in the whole pop music canon.

I could go on and on (and on, keep on rockin' baby) - but I won't.  The purpose of this is not to convince anyone who doesn't already love ABBA that they should feel any differently.  But it is a call to arms to the people who know how spectacular they are.  Let's reclaim them - let's take some of the greatest songs that were ever written and do everything we can to disassociate them in people's minds from that terrible musical and even more terrible film.  These songs deserve to be heard for what they are - perfectly crafted pop songs of a calibre that has very rarely been bettered since.  That is all.

As a postscript, I won't tell the story of the part that ABBA played in my best friend's conception, because that would embarrass him.  But do ask me about it if you see me.  It's a tremendous story.

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