Time To Play B-Sides: ABBA

For a big chunk of the second half of the 70s, you could count me among those enraptured by singles from ABBA. It began with “SOS” in the fall of 1975 (I don’t have specific recollections of hearing “Waterloo” on the radio a year earlier, though it may have gotten play in Cincinnati); the piano introduction, the melody, and the harmonies in the chorus are all fantastic, but it might be the part starting with “When you’re gone/How can I even try to go on?” that most charmed 11-year-old me. It’s still among my very favorites of theirs.

While follow-up “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” was fine enough, the next four singles, charting in the U.S. between June 1976 and August 1977–“Mamma Mia,” “Fernando,” “Dancing Queen,” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You”–all completely blew me away. My sister bought Arrival, which allowed me to discover the magnificent “My Love, My Life.” “The Name of the Game” was another huge winner in early 1978, while “Take a Chance on Me” was maybe a notch below. By the time Voulez-Vous was released in the middle of 1979, my ardor for ABBA’s craft was beginning to cool, and truth be told, maybe the middle-teen I was began to think he was too cool for them (I don’t believe I was the only one, either). Their last two U.S. Top 40 hits, “The Winner Takes It All” and “When All Is Said and Done,” don’t do much for me now.

I didn’t leave ABBA completely behind, though. I had college friends who had never wavered as fans, and I learned from them about lesser singles or album cuts (“Angeleyes,” “Eagle”) they greatly enjoyed. Somewhere in the mid-80s I picked up a drill-hole copy of the cassette I Love ABBA, which I listened to occasionally in the car between Illinois and Kentucky during the grad school years (seemingly always while driving the I-465 beltway around Indianapolis). Probably purchased it for “My Love, My Life,” but I remember it most now for introducing me to the infernal “Slipping Through My Fingers.” More recently, I was more than happy to purchase the 2-CD ABBA Forever Gold when I was assembling my Ten Years of AT40 Songs collection about a decade ago. Like many others, I’ve come to embrace my ABBA fandom of the 70s; I’ve got a CD copy of Voyage on my Christmas wish list.

The three ABBA 45s I bought way back when were “Fernando,” “Dancing Queen,” and “The Name of the Game.” I’m pretty sure that “Dancing Queen” came first, with “Fernando” getting picked up several months after it had charted. 1977 was the year I did most of my checking out of flip sides, and both of these had memorable songs on the back. For “Fernando,” it was “Rock Me,” from ABBA. Björn sings a rough, almost lascivious lead; the tune has the feel of a cabaret number. It wasn’t the ABBA I was used to, but I liked it anyway.

“That’s Me,” the other side of “Dancing Queen,” remains one of the great discoveries I made flipping my 45s over. I’ve wondered over the years what makes our narrator “not the kind of girl you’d marry”–a closer read of the lyrics makes me wonder if Carrie isn’t really meaning that he’s not the kind of guy she’d marry?

Maybe it’s just me, but I would have chosen “That’s Me” as third single from Arrival over “Money, Money, Money.”

Even if it was just a year later, I was already investigating B-sides much less often by the time “The Name of the Game” got added to my burgeoning collection of 7″ vinyl. Thus it wasn’t until I Love ABBA that I regularly listened to “I Wonder (Departure).” While this one is not nearly as much my style, in looking through the comments on the video embedded below I was struck time and again how the song has spoke to people across the years as they embarked on new adventures. “But who the hell am I if I don’t even try?” I see the appeal, and understand the sentiment.

It’s been fun watching, reading, and listening as ABBA has returned to style over the last 25+ years. I rented Muriel’s Wedding from Blockbuster in the 90s, saw Mamma Mia! when it was the high school musical during my son’s senior year. I can’t foresee ever checking out the upcoming hologram show in London, but the memories and CDs will suffice–they can do magic, after all.

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