Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Two Men, Two Women

There are plenty of things I want to post about, but I think we need to lighten the mood a little again, so here are my half-dozen all-time favourite Abba songs. Because we all need some Abba in our lives.

1) One Of Us

From what Lisa described as Abba's "magisterially depressing" period, otherwise known as their final album The Visitors. Abba's last big worldwide hit, and still popular due to its preservation in Mamma Mia! One of Agnetha's best vocal performances, with a reggae-ish beat and the uneven phrase lengths which had become an Abba trademark. Woman breaks up with man and owns up that she regrets it. The way the title phrase is used in the lyric is sheer genius (but Bjorn had got pretty good at songwriting by then).

2) The Day Before You Came

The last song Abba ever recorded. Released as a single, it had mixed success, doing well in Europe but failing to make the top 30 in the UK, traditionally a haven of Abba fandom. Now a bonus track on The Visitors, where it fits the generally sombre mood perfectly, though it isn't actually a sad song. I can never decide whether it's the brilliance of the lyrics that keeps me enthralled - the way the song is about a new man in a woman's life but never mentions him directly, confining itself to describing the humdrum routine that he has subverted - or the music (minor key modulating to relative major and back, with the vocal line almost totally uncoupled rhythmically from the accompaniment, like a recitative). Something keeps me coming back to this one, anyway. The video doesn't hurt either: railway commuters in black and white. (No longer available! But this one I found is surprisingly close to the spirit of the original.)

3) My Love, My Life

Here (embedding disabled)

This one never came out as a single: you need to hunt it down on Arrival. Where One Of Us would be about a woman regretting ending a relationship, here we have a woman who knows that her man wants to end it but is finding it hard, so she helps him by being resigned and self-sacrificing. It sounds schmaltzy, but they bring it off. Great swirl of cellos leading into the refrain, too.

4) That's Me

I have a weakness for song lyrics that start in mid-flow, dropping you into the middle of a conversation (think of the Beatles' We Can Work It Out). Here it's "Are you sure you wanna hear more?" from a girl who likes to do her own thing but seemingly has no confidence that any man could be interested in her because she's not just a bimbo. A complex lyric married to a catchy and clever tune with those uneven phrase lengths again. Never a single, it appeared on Arrival.

5) Move On

Another one that wasn't released as a single (it's on Abba: The Album) so has remained comparatively obscure. As a big fan of Heraclitus how could I not love this one on first hearing? "All things move and nothing remains still". A concept known to Buddhists as anicca.

And I do like what I think of as the "Yippee-ki-yay" backing vocals on the last chorus.

6) When All Is Said And Done

OK, so this song contains one of the worst rhymes ever, never mind in the Abba canon. "In our life, we have walked some strange and lonely treks / Slightly worn, but dignified, and not too old for sex". But apart from that (Mrs Lincoln), it has one of Abba's best melodies, a terrific introduction with the angelic choir (and am I alone in hearing the faintest of nostalgic nods to the Eurovision ident in the first few bars?), one of Frida's very best performances, and a wonderful feeling of resignation about the lyrics. Bjorn wrote the words not long after Benny and Frida had announced their divorce, and while he didn't consciously write it about them he admits that their situation must have had an effect. ("Hi, Frida: sorry to hear about you and Benny. I've got this new song for you to try out...")

As a bonus for my daughter if she drops by, here is the Spanish version of When All Is Said And Done. - No Hay A Quien Culpar. She likes foreign language versions, especially when done by the origonal artists as this clearly is.


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