If you turn on a radio and tune it to any music channel, chances are after a while you’ll hear an ABBA song. The Swedish band shot to fame after winning the Eurovision in 1974 with the song “Waterloo”. You’re probably able to recite every word of “Waterloo”, even if you weren’t aware of that. The release of ABBA Gold in 1992 caused a huge revival in ABBA’s music. ABBA Gold has gone on to become the second bestselling album of all time in the UK (just behind Queen’s Greatest Hits). The songs on ABBA Gold have become staples of popular culture, you have Dancing Queen, Fernando, Mamma Mia, and of course, Waterloo. Delve deeper into ABBA’s discography and you find that they released 8 studio albums and close to 100 songs between 1972 and 1982. I have listened to all of these songs numerous times, in fact according to my Spotify Year in Music for 2015 I listened to ABBA 1,717 times, which averages out to me listening to each song at least 17 times. ABBA Gold may be a compilation of their bestselling tracks but it definitely isn’t where the titular gold lies. So here is a list of ten ABBA songs that you may have never even heard before but most definitely deserve your attention.
1. He Is Your Brother (1972)
This is very early ABBA. So early in fact that they weren’t even called ABBA yet, they were known as “Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid”. Yes, two ampersands and a comma. Their first official album as a group, Ring Ring, can retrospectively be viewed as their weakest. It’s a mish-mash of folk, jazz, pop, there’s even some yodelling. “He Is Your Brother” is the track in which it all comes together however. Featuring vocals by all four members, it includes those harmonies between Agnetha and Frida that will go on become one of ABBA’s signature sounds. “He Is Your Brother” was chosen as one of the tracks for the 1976 compilation album Greatest Hits which was the bestselling album of 1976 in the UK.
2. Watch Out (1974)
A song which was recorded on the same day as “Waterloo”, “Watch Out” is ABBA’s ode to rock. Electric guitar riffs and drums ahoy, this song is lead by Björn with Agnetha and Frida only contributing backing vocals. While we don’t associate Benny and Björn as being the “singers” in the band, it was very common for the guys to have lead vocals in the pre-Eurovision days. Then Waterloo happened and they never really looked back. Luckily, Björn earns his glory in 1979 by leading the massive hit “Does Your Mother Know”. Make note of how “Watch Out” finishes, the song crescendos into literal thunderclap, followed by the sounds of wind and rain before fading out. If I ever meet Benny, I’ve decided one of the questions I must ask him is why it ends like that. It’s always perturbed me.
3. So Long (1974)
You’d think that after winning the Eurovision with “Waterloo” Britain would have gone mad for more ABBA tracks. ABBA delivered “So Long” a couple of months after their win and it didn’t even chart. Eurovision bands were (and still are) seen as one-hit wonders so you can say that it took a while for them to be seen as serious musicians. “So Long” is of the same ilk as “Waterloo”. It moves along with a thunderous pace and has that familiar rock/pop sound. It was strange that this track never took off due to just how ABBA it sounds. This one was also included on the Greatest Hits compilation album.
4. Hey, Hey Helen (1975)
A song which champions the idea of women leaving their stagnant relationships and taking their children with them was a risky choice for a pop/rock song in the 1970s. I like to think “Hey, Hey Helen” is a response to second-wave feminism. Seriously. The chorus is probably the most politically progressive of ABBA’s works until their Cold War influenced album The Visitors in 1981. “Hey, hey Helen, now you live on your own, hey, hey Helen, can you make it alone?” followed by the refrain “Yes you can”, how can those words be interpreted in any other way than progressive? There’s also a little funk-influenced solo in there so I’m definitely classifying this as one of the first feminist funk songs.
5. Tiger (1976)
The Arrival album from 1976 was ABBA’s biggest album until Gold. It gave us “Dancing Queen”, “Knowing Me, Knowing You”, “Money, Money, Money” and (in some regions) “Fernando”. When ABBA went on their famous 1977 tour of Australia the speakers at the beginning of every show would play the sounds of helicopters which would then morph into the beginning of “Tiger”. It’s the perfect concert opener. The high-octane pace and booming drums give a sense that ABBA are officially here. This one also has a peculiar ending in that it ends with Agnetha and Frida reaching one of the highest notes of any ABBA song. It’s more scream than note and is just wonderful.
6. Hole In Your Soul (1977)
“It’s gotta be rock and roll to fill the hole in your soul”. I must admit that “Hole In Your Soul” is one of my all-time favourite ABBA songs. It contains a harmony (starting at 2:25 in the above video) that is one of the greatest sounds that ABBA ever produced. This could have been one of ABBA’s hits. It was originally meant to be the lead single used to promote their 1977 album The Album, but that decision was controversially changed and “The Name of the Game” became the promo single. Oh well, I suppose that’s the name of the game.
7. As Good As New (1979)
What happens when you mix baroque music with late 1970s disco? You get “As Good As New”. The song begins like the opening to the Antiques Roadshow but then a funk-inspired guitar riff comes in, creating one of ABBA’s strangest genre mash-ups since their upbeat pop cover of “Pick A Bail of Cotton“. “As Good As New” was the opening track to their 1979 album Voulez-Vous. The whole Voulez-Vous was highly influenced by disco, which was in its hay-day during the album’s creation. The album begins as it ends, with another forgotten disco track, which leads me on to…
8. Kisses of Fire (1979)
Just like on “As Good As New”, “Kisses of Fire” has somewhat of a false start. You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a ballad in the ilk of “I Have A Dream” or “Chiquitita” (two songs also from the Voulez-Vous album) but the quiet and melodious opening eventually “drops” into a loud, pop chorus which genuinely gave me quite a fright when I first listened to it. “Kisses of Fire” was released as a B-side to “Does You Mother Know”, so it did achieve some success from that but it sadly never charted independently.
9. Elaine (1980)
“Elaine” is classic 80s ABBA – synth, synth, synth. A song that was originally meant to be on 1980’s Super Trouper album, “Elaine” only appeared as a B-side to “The Winner Takes It All”. Being a non-album track really doesn’t help any song, especially when it has to compete with one of ABBA’s most famous hits. The song’s lyrics tell a strange tale of a woman trying to get away from a man who in love with her. However, lines such as “It’s a dead end street, they tie your hands and tie your feet” may be some of Björn’s most questionable, the constant duet between Agnetha and Frida throughout the whole song save it from being a forgotten track.
10. The Visitors (1982)
I throughout believe that “The Visitors” is ABBA’s greatest work. Ten years of work have cumulated in this near six-minute track. A song lead solely by Frida, the whole track is a dark and moody work. As I said earlier on, the whole The Visitors album was inspired by the fear and dread of the Cold War. The song is about the danger and fear of people living in the Soviet Union at the time. Lyrics such as, “I hear the doorbell ring and suddenly the panic takes me” and “these walls have witnessed all the anguish of humiliation, and seen the hope of freedom glow in shining faces” show that this is a deeply political work. In fact, The Visitors album was banned in the Soviet Union due to these themes. The whole album is a masterpiece, I mean, it isn’t a coincidence that this blog is called The Visitor.
I hope that this list shows you that a lot of ABBA’s gold isn’t actually on ABBA Gold. If this post receives a good reception I may write a sequel because there are many, many more ABBA songs out there. All of the facts in this post are taken from Bright Lights, Dark Shadows: The Real Story of ABBA by Carl Magnus Palm, a book which I cannot recommend higher as it is the Bible of ABBA studies. I’ve included a Spotify playlist below of all the songs in this post, if you prefer that to YouTube, enjoy!