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Monday, March 26, 2007


Continuing my long tradition of bringing you things you didn’t ask for, today I feel it is necessary to take you through some history of what many people call the greatest group in the history of pop, the Swedish foursome that is and was Abba.

What led me to this? Mostly, my new book, which takes place in New York and has shades of disco grandeur, so of course I had to listen to lots of lots of wonderful Abba for inspiration. As a tiny mj, I spent many hours dancing around my room to “Dancing Queen” and “Take a Chance on Me.” And now, as a fully-grown mj, I still do. I eagerly await the opening of the Abba museum in Sweden. I am so going to that.

The kings and queens of the 70s from left to right: Benny, Anna-Frid, Anna, and Bjorn. Benny and Anna-Frid were married, as were Anna and Bjorn.

Just look how happy they are. Compare this natural joy with a picture of The Cure trying to smile and see the difference. You can’t fake joy like that.

We are really very happy.

At the height of their powers, Abba was constantly packed up and shipped around the planet. This was before the internet, back when you actually had to go to places to make any kind of an impact. You get the feeling that Abba were shoved in front of the camera as quickly as humanly possible and made to DO SOMETHING. This has resulted in a massive catalog of utterly fantastic television appearances from around the world. There is just nothing like this on television today.

As a service to you, I’ve trolled Youtube and brought five of these performances here, analyzed them, and listed them in order of decreasing sanity and coherence. Some may call this effort of mine procrastination, but I call it public service. I do it for you. This is a fantastic waste of fifteen minutes. You’re welcome.

Tiger, 1976, Polish television

To be fair, Benny and Bjorn aren’t native English speakers, so you almost feel bad questioning the purpose behind lyrics like:

The city is a nightmare, a horrible dream
Some of us will dream it forever.
Turn around the corner and try not to scream
It’s me!
I am behind you, I always find you,
I am the tiger.
And if I meet you, what if I eat you?
I am the tiger!

The question of relevance evaporates in the face of this video, in which Abba’s on the road travails are made very literal. It appears that they have been packed in a giant box full of those packing air cushions, and are fighting their way out to perform. Every time they seem to get free, the packing cushions attack. It’s kind of heartbreaking to watch them struggle.

You would think if they were the scary tigers they are claiming to be, this would not be a problem. Tigers have claws and teeth and can easily pop air bags. And yet they wrestle for three mesmerizing minutes. Do they ever stop singing? Not for a heartbeat! They are total pros. Justin Timberlake may have put his you-know-what in a box, but he never had to deal with anything like this.

Ring, Ring, 1973, a yard in Sweden

Hey, guys! I have an idea. Let’s stand Abba out in the backyard of my house and have them sing a song about getting a call. I have some big wicker chairs out there, and two old-timey telephones that aren’t connected to anything. It’s pretty sunny out, so their shiny tin foil clothing may be sort of uncomfortable, baking them like potatoes and causing them to squint a lot. It may even make them start lip-synching all the wrong words. But I don’t think that should stop us. We’ve come up with this plan, and I think we should roll with it.

And you know what would be great? Let’s have the guys sneak out of the foliage and creep up behind the girls. And can we make sure they’re leering, and generally as shady-looking as possible? And can we just have them linger in the back, like stalkers about to graduate to the next level?

We can? Oh, great.

Honey Honey, 1973, unknown country (possibly Transylvania)

Why is Count Dracula hosting this show? And why is he holding a huge Napoleon hat?

I guess we can’t even answer those questions, not when these outfits give us so much to think about. They show a certain lack of restraint, a bit of a lack of thematic focus. I think even Elton John would have called them “a little flamboyant.”

Bjorn has come to the party dressed as a superhero. He’s Captain Spiky Guitar! He has a cape and silver arm bands! Maybe he developed this superhero persona in response to the time that they were trapped with all those air bags.

Anna is a genie. Or a pirate. Or just someone in little red shorts and silver boots who is also covered from head to thigh in silver circles. I don’t think there is a word for that, except maybe for hotttt. Note the nice little wolf call that comes out of the audience when she is introduced.

Anni-Frid is some kind of . . . space ho? It’s unclear. She’s definitely Star Trek hotttt.

Benny is wearing the roller skating jacket I wanted when I was eight, except I wanted it in pink, and I would have requested that the massive feather boa be removed. Silver platform boots? Oh, yes please!

Now, the dancing. We need to discuss. Those walking trees in the Lord of the Rings shook it more than this. Anni-Frid is the only one who appears to have any va-va-voom. This junior high-style, edge of the gym floor, slight overbite, swaying dance does not cut the mustard. If you’re going to put on that much shiny stuff, I think you should be wielding a flamethrower as you skate around an ice disco. Anything less is a disappointment.

But let’s give Abba some credit here. They are being forced to wear nine-inch platforms that probably legally qualify as scaffolding. Next time, they should just have stuck them on stilts, or maybe up in space, and been done with it.

Let’s not mention the obvious fade out at the end. Just let them escape.

Waterloo, 1974, Spanish television

If you have ever been diagnosed with any kind of borderline psychiatric condition, you may not want to watch this. This video seems designed to cause a psychic break and destroy your mind to a happy disco beat.

We see here a reappearance of the Napoleon hats . . . but that makes sense. The name Waterloo refers to the famous battle at which Napoleon was defeated. But those dancing hats that start off the video are just plain creepy. The spiky guitar is back. However, the cape is gone, and now Bjorn is wearing the Hulk’s pants.

Then the confusion comes. Who’s on the stripey-stripey piano? Is it Bjorn? No, it’s Anni-Frid! No, it’s Bjorn! It’s Anni-Frid! No, it’s neither! They’re all under one of those creepy hat illustrations! Anni-Frid comes out of Napoleon’s chest! This freaks Napoleon out, but then, HE LIKES IT.

Then the hats march in! Then come the coordinated disco dancers in vaguely Germanic pastoral outfits! Oh, the hats! The dancers! The hats! The dancers! Bjorn, beat them off with your spiky guitar!

And all the while, Benny smiles creepily.

The return of Ring, Ring, same show

Okay. We admit it. In the past, mistakes were made. Like the first time when we recorded this song in a yard, and Bjorn and Benny ended up looking like serial killer stalkers, and Anna and Anni-Frid got sunburn and had to stay inside for a week. We Swedes are very pale and should be more careful. We live many months in darkness, you know, and sometimes we get overexcited by the sunlight, like those kids in “All Summer in a Day.” Do you know that story? Anyway . . .

About that Waterloo performance on this show that caused so many of you to end up on prescription antipsychotics . . . we are really very, very sorry. We’ve fired the whole crew and have gotten this AV club from the local high school to do all the tech work on this performance, which we promise will not be scary or give anyone skin cancer.

Ready? Okay. Here we go . . .

I was sitting by the phone . . .
I was waiting all alone . . .

LIGHTS, guys! Turn on the lights! No, not just for the backdrop. For us.

Okay. Thanks. A bumpy start, but still, this performance is going a lot better already, right? Wait . . . who is messing with the pointy-pointy camera effect? Would you stop that? Don’t you think between that and the disturbing stripes and lines we’ve got going on behind us that we might give someone a seizure? Oh, this isn’t going as we had hoped. Just bring the dancers back in.

Hold on. What are they wearing? Are their outfits really covered in SWIRLY EYES? And why the jumping? And the mirrors? And the shattered lens . . . is that blood coming out of it?


Oh, I can feel it coming. My limbs are twitching. Make it stop! I want my mommy! I AM NAPOLEAN!

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Blogger Justine Larbalestier said...

Insightful brilliant analysis as usual. My one quibble is your implication that the lyrics to Tiger do not make sense. Excuse me?! Tiger is their most brilliant and sophisticated song with its evocation of contemporary urban terror juxtaposed with the clear references to William Blake's Tyger Tyger. I'm shocked, Maureen, that you could imply it is written in ESL.

Mmmmm, Abba.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Trish said...

What is it about the internet that makes me admit shameful things? I don't know, but I do know that when I was a kid I was OBSESSED with Abba. I wanted to BE Abba. I know this kills my punk rock credibility now... but it's totally true.

3:35 PM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

When I was reading this, I exclaimed to my sister, "I'm watching Abba!"

Get this: She doesn't know what Abba is.

I know, right? Horrifying. When I explained to her what they are ("That band, you know?" "*shakes head blankly*" "..The Swedish one. With the four people." "Um..." "Omg, they sang Dancing Queen!" "I thought A*Teen sang that.") she said I'm turning into a hippie. I find this offensive.

11:43 PM  
Anonymous Dawn said...

I can openly admit that at one point in time, I also thought that Dancing Queen and Mamma Mia were A*Teen originals. I learned later (though not through an embrassing episode, just being observant) that they are actually from ABBA. Before that, though, I did not know Abba existed. I've certainly learned a lot about Abba today. More than I think I ever wanted to. Thanks? :)

12:20 AM  
Anonymous Becky said...

Wow, Maureen, you've outdone yourself with this entry.

12:20 AM  
Blogger marrije said...

*giggles madly*

Ach, they were so beautiful. And so tired, poor dears.

12:29 AM  
Anonymous Liz said...

I admit to being a small fan of Abba...but that final clip needs a warning on it: "Do not watch if you wear perscription lens, have a history with dizziness, or really hate bad effects." I think I almost went cross-eyed because of that pointy-pointy effect. (But it's not like I stopped watching it--who can stop Abba?!)

2:36 AM  
Blogger Joanna said...

Finally, photographic proof that the entire continent of Europe was on heavy halucinogenic drugs during the years 1972-1975.

4:38 AM  
Blogger Becs said...

I used to think the A*Teens sung "Dancing Queen" as well. In fact, it was years before I figured out that the entire CD was a cover of Abba.

6:07 AM  
Anonymous Cameron said...

You have far too much time on your hands, young lady. You need to go out and get a proper job.

(BTW you missed a classic. In Australia they did an all singing ad for National electronics to the tune of Fernando. Still send shivers down my spine).

3:25 AM  
Anonymous Cameron said...

Here's the link

3:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that you ought to head on over to the West Coast. We in California CAN'T WAIT until your new book come out! I am placing an order AHEAD of time so I beat EVERYONE to the book. PLLEEEEEEEEAAAAAAASSSSSSSEEEEEEEE come to CALI!

7:09 AM  
Blogger Hoolie said...

When I was in high school, we went on a two-week choir tour of Russia and Romania. We flew to Bucharest on an airline called TAROM, which was short for Romanian Air Transport. The aisle carpet and the curtains that separated first class from coach were the same extraordinarily loud and shiny (yes, shiny) green and orange jungle print, and they piped in ABBA for the ENTIRE THIRTEEN HOUR FLIGHT (first class section yes, fancy movies on plane, no. Welcome to Romanian Air Transport.)

Come to think of it, that carpet was probably recycled ABBA costumes. Come to think of it, maybe that used to be ABBA's plane! Holy crap! I flew to Romania on ABBA's cast-off band jet!

I can't believe it took me so long to realize this. Thank you, Maureen.

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