The Definitive Collection by ABBA (2001)
Favorite Tracks: "Ring Ring" and "Waterloo" and "Honey, Honey" and "SOS" and "Mamma Mia" and "Fernando" and "Money, Money, Money" and "Knowing Me, Knowing You" and "Take A Chance On Me" and "Chiquitita" and "Does Your Mother Know" and "Rock Me" and "Voulez-Vous" and "Angeleyes" and "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" and "The Winner Takes it All" and "Super Trouper" and "Lay All Your Love On Me" and "One of Us" and "When All Is Said and Done" and "The Visitors" and "Under Attack" and "Thank You For The Music"
Thoughts: Thank God (and Sweden) for ABBA. Pop perfection. Growing up I thought their only hit was "Dancing Queen" and it was just silly disco. Now I know they were some of the hardest working people in the music industry (their 'definitive collection' is a whopping 39 songs) and I fucking love disco. It makes you want to dance and have a good time. People who like to blame it for the decline of good rock in the 70s are ridiculous. There's plenty of room on the airwaves for music that rocks and music that makes you dance (or both).
Background: as I stated previously, the first ABBA song I knew was "Dancing Queen." Didn't everyone boogie to that at their church youth group's dances? No? Well, I did. I mean, the song is on the first disc of the Pure Disco series! It's serious. I myself used to own Pure Disco 2, which has my most beloved ABBA song: "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)." By day I was trying to hand out purity rings to my fellow high schoolers (slight exaggeration), but by night I would dance to pop songs about booty calls/one night stands. "Ok," I thought, "ABBA has TWO good songs." Then I saw Muriel's Wedding (who can hear "Waterloo" without thinking of it?) and finally I went with friends to see the touring Broadway of Mamma Mia!, and my ABBA love grew deep and wide in the span of 2 hours. Did I love the movie adaptation? Yes. Do I think it's better than the show? No. (More on that in a bit.)
So while I now know more than a handful of ABBA songs, I was excited to listen to this album and discover some new favorites. I must say that for me, the best part of listening to ABBA is the women's voices--Agnetha's and Anni-Frid's. Of course the guys wrote the great songs for them to sing and provided excellent back-up/accompaniment, but there's something about the ladies' harmonizing that is so unique and thrilling.
I know I already told you about dancing to "Dancing Queen" in high school, but then my freshman year of college my dorm floor and I did a routine to it in front of all the other freshman. It was terrible. My associations with the song did not get better until I saw Mamma Mia! (2008) in theaters. It's the moment (at 2:36 in this youtube video) where all the women on the island sing this song and dance down to the docks. When I was actually 17, this song was just fun and cheesy. But when you see a matronly old woman throw a bundle of sticks off her back and sing "Oh yeah!" it's as if the song has the power to transport any woman to when she was young and less burdened, free and independent. They throw off their aprons to go and dance with complete abandon. I cry every time.
Also, can we talk about "Does Your Mother Know"? That song is completely perfect. The Beach Boys should wish they wrote that song. In fact, I'm calling it right now: ABBA wrote better pop songs than The Beach Boys. BOOM! ABBA is underrated and The Beach Boys are overrated. Truth, double true.
But, back to my main beef with the film version of Mamma Mia!. In the stage show Donna sings this heartbreaking tune--"The Winner Takes It All"--to Sam in her room at the hotel as she gets ready for her daughter's wedding. She looks disheveled in her bathrobe midst the decaying walls of her hotel, the one she had dreamed of running with Sam. With this mis-en-scene the lyrics feel real and ring true: Sam is successful in his work and has his wife and sons, whereas she is alone, spread to thin, and barely getting by. She actually feels and looks like the loser. But for the film they decided to shoot the scene on this GORGEOUS rock face with unbelievably beautiful vistas as the sun sets. Donna is already dressed in her wedding clothes and looks stunning. Any empathy or charity I felt for Donna is gone--you see the breathtakingly awesome place she lives, her glorious independence and think, "Um, if this the definition of a 'loser' the rest of us are in real trouble." (Here's the movie scene in case you need a refresher. It's the most cringe-worthy part of the film for me to watch. Pierce Brosnan's reaction shots are the best part of the whole scene.)
Is This Better Than Fleetwood Mac?: As it's a compilation album it's not fair to make a comparison. But listening to it was pure delight, and these are songs that belong in every person's music library.