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ABBA'S "Gold": The Second Greatest Greatest Hits Album Of All Time



There are two things that have to be said.

1. ABBA was a singles band


2. Abba was singles band.

Before they got big and after they got big, ABBA was not very good over an entire album. Like a Motown band, like even early Smokey Robinson, there was a lot of fluff and filler, and while, unlike Motown it probably wasn’t intentional, still…

Their first album Ring, Ring was negligible and their second album Waterloo, salted with the Eurovision song contest winner, had “Honey Honey” as well, and a remix of “Ring Ring” for the never fully penetrated US market. With Waterloo they had in place the ABBA singers, two girl singers, Agnetha Fältskog, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad sharing and changing up the lead, two boys , Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson writing the songs and taking the bottom. The sound was pop symphonies, if you listen to Robyn today, you’ll know how ABBA’s sound evolved through 80s synth bands to modern pop EDM. But there was not enough substance to the album.

Album # 3, Abba, has three classic major pieces of work and some vaguely proggy pop instrumentals. With Arrival in 1976, ABBA completely caught onto disco, took out the funk and the sting of US bands and added hooks galore and when the hooks hooked they were pretty golden and when they didn’t… did I mention they weren’t an album band. From 1973 to 1981, they never maintained it over an entire album.

But over a Greatest Hits?

ABBA’s Gold: Greatest Hits from 1992 is the second greatest greatest hits of all time, only Bob Dylan Greatest Hits Volume Two is better. And there are two differences, Dylan isn’t a single artist and Dylan had a handful of new songs on his.

Oh, and Abba sold 28 million copies, I don’t believe Dylan managed that sort of number.

But the reason ABBA is such a great greatest hits is its sculling of the albums for the best tracks. Björn and Benny were inconsistent songwriters, though Brill Building genius when the mood took them, their mix of cracked English and crackling hooks were hit and miss. Figure The Visitor was very late in the day, 1981, and unlistenable for that reason, but what about Super Trooper? Two great great pop songs and then “On And On And On” –the lamest rocker you will ever here. The aklbum crash and burns.

Indeed, ABBA’s album career is so bad (they were made for the 2010s) the only way to enjoy them is on Gold. 19 songs, opening with their biggest, the disco dream of a song, a track so big it conquered everywhere. According to Wikipediathe song went to the top in “Sweden (where it spent 14 weeks at the top), Australia, Belgium, Brazil, West Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Mexico the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway (where it charted for 32 weeks, making it the 11th best-performing single of all time in that country, South Africa and Rhodesia. “Dancing Queen” also topped the charts in the United States, ABBA’s only #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was a Top 5 hit in Austria, Canada, Finland, France and Switzerland. “

Plus it is a huge anthem and made for women, for girls, it is a “Sweet Little Sixteen” for a different generation. The album ends with their breakthrough song “Waterloo”. The song tears open, it gallops out on a piano glissando with the two girls taking a full tilt at the love song. Obviously, being the best song at the Eurovision Song Contest… of all time… is kinda like being the nicest Nazi but even so everything hooks you in, even the horns are a hook, woooh wooh woohs build to a soaring bridge (yes, bridge) and the piano just tears it up.

In between there are 17 songs, personal fave “Take A chance On Me” , when, as Helen Bach, somebody convinced them to sound like a train on the “cha-chas” and the language is not quite perfect: “if you change your mind, I’ll be first, and honey I’m still free…” What sort of a come on is that?

Included is their best ballad ever, “The Winner takes It All” –again the syntax is off putting but here it is like the hysteria has overwhelmed the emotions, like she is crying so hard she isn’t coherent , “The gods may throw the dice, their minds as cold as ice…” Eh, okay… But it is a really painful song, “somewhere deep inside you must know I miss you…”Plus, to see the game of love as a mythic amusement for the fates is a pretty excellent concept. The song itself rolls like waves of piano flourishes back and forth until her sorrow is completely overwhelming. It is probably their best song.

The penultimate song of the album, “Thank You For The Music” is a benediction for a band which like the Beatles, who they resemble, they never came back, they never played together again and they never recorded again and the legend built and built. But it is a legend unsustainable through the albums except for Gold. Gold is all you need in a rich man’s world.

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