There's lots of talk surrounding ABBA for things that have nothing to do with their music. Do yourself a favor and start buying their albums and learn for yourself why they were one of the biggest acts in the world. Many people call them a "singles band." They put out great singles, of course, but they put out even more amazing albums: song-for-song greatness.

see Benny Andersson / Bjorn Ulvaeus

Information: ABBA The Site
Suggested first purchase/best of: The Definitive Collection
Suggested first album: Arrival

Ring Ring (1973) -- This album chronicles the transition between Björn and Benny, Agnetha and Frida (the name the album was originally credited to in 1973) to the supergroup (as all four members had previously been Swedish stars in their own rights) ABBA.  "She's My Kind of Girl" was released as a single before the girls even hooked up with the boys (it was recorded for a movie) and many of the other songs feature Benny and Björn singing as much as Agnetha and Frida.  The very good songs "Another Town, Another Train," "People Need Love," Me and Bobby and Bobby's Brother," and "He Is Your Brother" fit the old "Europop" traditions of the late 60s and early 70s, while other bear the sound of the ABBA we've come to know, the most famous song "Ring Ring" being the most obvious example.  "Nina, Pretty Ballerina" is a precursor to "Dancing Queen" (lyrically) and has some of the complicated arrangements that make ABBA so continually interesting to listen to (though simple songs like "I Am Just a Girl" also are great in an early 70s movie montage kind of way).  All of the songs here are good, showing that Benny and Björn (and Agnetha, in her one ABBA writing credit in the song "Disillusion") were already pros before forming this group.  The perfectly-put-together 2001 CD releases of all the ABBA albums are remarkable, and this one features two B-sides from the singles of the time as well as the hit Swedish version of "Ring Ring." A

Waterloo (1974) -- A very weird little album, with the songs varied in both musical and lyrical content. The title song is the biggest hit, and even it's -- as Stephin Merritt once pointed out -- a comparison between romance and one of the bloodiest battles in history. "Sitting in the Palmtree" is a minimal Caribbean song about a guy doing what the song title implies until his girl loves him. "King Kong Song" is a very likeable novelty song, almost a children's song. "My Mama Said" would seem like a regular teens can't get what they want song if it weren't for the creepy music and weird underbelly of the lyrics. "Gonna Sing You My Love Song" would be a straightforward (and good) love song if it weren't for the bizarre time signature (it's in eight, or something). "Suzy-Hang-Around" (the only Benny-lead) is about how a guy mistreated his sister as a child, though there's only a touch of an implied apology. The weirdest song of all is "What About Livingstone," a defense of astronauts. The weirdness of the album only adds to the coolness of these great songs. At first, the sounds seem a bit underdeveloped if you're used to later ABBA records, but then they sink in a little more. Other hits on the record are "Hasta Manana," "Dance (While the Music Still Goes On)," and "Honey Honey," one of the best ABBA songs ever recorded. The only kinda bad song on the record is "Watch Out," which isn't horrible. The 2001 re-issue includes an interesting remix of "Ring Ring" and the Swedish versions of "Waterloo" and "Honey Honey." A

ABBA (1975) -- The huge hits are here: "Mamma Mia," "SOS," "Bang-a-Boomerang" (well, it should have been a huge hit), "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do," "I've Been Waiting for You," and "So Long." In addition to those well-known songs, which of course are perfect, there's also the very singable "Hey, Hey Helen," cutesy "Tropical Loveland," funky and fun "Man in the Middle," classical-based and "Intermezzo No. 1." The 2001 re-release of this album features two bonus tracks: the good song with sappy lyrics called "Crazy World" and the all-out goofy (in a good way) "Medley: Pick a Bale of Cotton/On Top of Old Smokey/Midnight Special." Wow, such good stuff. A

Arrival (1976) -- This album includes "When I Kissed the Teacher," "My Love, My Life," "Money, Money, Money," "That's Me," as well as the lesser-known (but great) songs "Dum Dum Diddle," "Why Did It Have To Be Me?," "Tiger," and the even better than previous instrumental, "Arrival." The album also includes one of their first brilliant pop songs for adults, "Knowing Me, Knowing You." And of course there's "Dancing Queen." Everyone says "Dancing Queen" is the ABBA song, but -- although I think it's fantastic -- I think it's really a reductive thing to pin everything on this one little song. Anyway, it's another perfect album, and the 2001 re-release includes bonuses of the essential single from the era, "Fernando," as well as "Happy Hawaii," an earlier (and potentially better) incarnation of "Why Did It Have To Be Me?" Yummy! A

The Album (1977) -- To coincide with ABBA: The Movie, this one was called ABBA: The Album. But more than that, this seems to be ABBA playing at the idea of "the album" versus "the song." So we've got some epics in here, and the last three songs are actually called a "mini-musical" called "The Girl with the Golden Hair." Those mini-musical songs aren't as good as regular ABBA songs. "Thank You for the Music" grows on you a little, but it's never great. "I Wonder (Departure)" is fine, but too slow and typical-musical to get you going. The final song, "I'm a Marionette" sounds like it belongs on Chess, which isn't entirely a bad thing. The biggest epic on the album proper is "Eagle," one of the few ABBA songs I just simply don't like. But then there's the rest of the album. "Take a Chance on Me," of course, is the biggest hit here, and the best song on the album. "One Man, One Woman" is a great slow song. "The Name of the Game" pulses along nicely. "Move On" has a goofy opening, but is charming in spite and because of it. And "Hole in Your Soul" is a great little rocker. So there's some stuff that gets in the way, but by the time the album is over, you've barely noticed. A

Voulez-Vous (1979) -- Their disco album, much of it sounding like a tribute to The Bee Gees... and that's not a bad thing, since ABBA puts their own weird spin on the genre and brings out the best of it. The well-known deserving hits are "Voulez-Vous," I Have a Dream," "Angeleyes," "Does Your Mother Know," and "Chiquitita." "As Good as New" would have been a hit if they'd released it, a perfect pairing of ABBA's classical leanings, European pop music, and disco. "If It Wasn't for the Night" is the most Bee-Gee-ish of all, sounding like it would have fit perfectly on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack... the difference is in the lyrics, where the night is a time for missing your love rather than for dancing. The other three tracks aren't as much of standouts, but still really good. The bonus tracks included in the 2001 version of this album are essential, not just thrown-ins. "Summer Night City" and "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" were non-album singles that were released during this time period, and "Lovelight" is the B-side to "Chiquitita," and arguably a better song. Perfect and blue. A

Super Trouper (1980) -- The album (and title song) was named after those bright stage lights, so of course this is meant to be sort of a huge arena album, showing their huge success at this point (as well as their weariness of it).  "Super Trouper" itself was a big hit, as well as "On and On and On," "Lay All Your Love On Me," and one of their most famous (and sad) songs, "The Winner Takes It All."  Many of the other songs contain a similar melancholy, whether in a big way or a quiet way: including "Happy New Year" (the saddest celebration song ever), "Our Last Summer," and "The Way Old Friends Do."  As with most ABBA albums, all the songs are fantastic and put together as if they were meant to stand on their own as 45s.  The bonus tracks are the B-side "Elaine" and the song that never was released at the time of it's recording, "Put On Your White Sombrero." A

The Visitors (1981) -- The final album, and their saddest, even though they didn't know it would be the last while making it.  As opposed to songs like "Dancing Queen" about teenagers, this album contains pop songs for adults, "When All Is Said and Done" being perhaps the best example, a mature approach to relationship deterioration, with just a touch of world-wise nastiness but mostly understanding and love.  "One of Us" is the biggest hit from the album, and similar in tone, but more sad since it's soon after a breakup and about regrets rather than the moving forward of the previous song.  The other themes here are adult as well.  "The Visitors" is about Benny and Björn's increasing interest in Communism (that would later be in Chess); "Head Over Heels" is about an aging, "spunky" woman; "Soldiers" is a war song; and "Slipping Through My Fingers" is about a child that is growing up and slipping away from the parent (though it could easily be about other things).  The last two songs are connected by a ticking clock, referring more to the passing of time and approaching, if not old age, then middle-age.  All of this is even more poignant if you've followed ABBA's personal history as well as the history of their characters.  But in spite of the sadness, and because of it, the album sounds amazing and the music is put together as perfectly as it always is.  Only "I Let the Music Speak" gets too crazy with the musical-stuff: everything else is either danceable or simply lovely.  The bonus tracks are the remaining singles, including "Under Attack," the last we would ever hear from ABBA. A

Gold: Greatest Hits (1993) -- A wonderful collection when it came out, because it's many of ABBA's best songs and because it helped the ABBA renaissance of the mid-1990s, but not the greatest greatest hits since it's not in chronological order and also because many many songs are missing here.  But until the superior Thank You for the Music and The Definitive Collection, this was the one to have. B

Thank You for the Music (1995) -- A perfect box set, even for those who have all the albums, since it offers lots crazy rarities (including "Hej Gamle Man," the pre-ABBA song that the four recorded together) on the fourth disc, and because the first three discs are chronologically-ordered singles and other tracks released: one fantastic song after another.  A perfect collection for those who don't want all the albums but don't want to just settle for the smaller The Definitive Collection. A

The Definitive Collection (2001) -- The box set Thank You for the Music is certainly more comprehensive and offers some stuff that you won't even get if you collect all the albums, but this is smaller, more digestible collection: all their singles and nothing more (aside from a couple of bonus tracks), remastered with the same clarity that the 2001 re-releases of the albums have. Nothing is missing for anyone who wants just one ABBA collection. Everyone should have this. A

Copyright (c) Nov 2000 - Jun 2006 by Rusty Likes Music