..few weeks before the ABBA Museum in Stockholm opens SuperSwede meets his Waterloo with ABBA:

The first time I became aware of the existence of ABBA my family and I, with friends, were glued to the television set watching the Eurovision Song Contest. At the time, our family had moved from Sweden to Austria, but we did a lot of traveling, so I can’t say for certain if we watched this monumental event in Sweden or Switzerland, as ABBA drove through its competitors like a tank with the song “Waterloo.”
I remember the event was cause for great celebration, not necessarily because the music was great but because Sweden had won. Our victory in that living room was as frenzied, tumultuous, on-top-of-the-world as if we had just watched Sweden’s national hockey team beat the Soviet Union.


In fairness to ABBA, as if ABBA needed fair treatment, I did find the rolling, driving force of the tempo of the song, along with the persistent, somewhat too-sweet repetition of “Waterloo” and “oh oh oh” to be interesting and memorable. I am sure I was not the only Swede or European to walk around with the tune stuck in my head for weeks on end. As a matter of fact, as I write this column, the music of ABBA visits me like a familiar guest. But like a guest, after only a short stay, it begins to stink like a fish, to rephrase very liberally an old Mediterranean saying.
I was about 12 when “Waterloo” first hit me, and other ABBA hits in rapid-fire succession invaded my pre-pubescent and then teenage years. “Money, money, money, . . . it’s a rich man’s world,” I sing now from memory. The track switches in my head: “Take a chance on me . . .” Scary, a whole lexicon laid open, just like that.
I remember mostly key phrases from ABBA’s songs, and that is no small feat for a group to be able to pull off. The only other group whose music I remember that way are the Beatles. I am not what you would call a musical man, and for me to have remembered anything from music is quite a feat to have accomplished, by the musicians. I do not know if the success of ABBA stems from the group’s ability to create memorable jingles and catchy phrases. Perhaps. Because what really is the difference between “I do, I do, I do, I do . . .” and “Hamburger Helper, when you need a helping hand.” Obviously, a glove and a piece of meat, and in the case of ABBA, two beautiful ladies as I remember them from my brother’s sizeable double LP cover. No, Hamburger Helper jingles and “Money, money, money, . . . it’s a rich man’s world” should go down as some of Western Civilization’s highlights.

Humming along ... at the time
Way back then, in a different century, I was humming and singing along to 33 1/3 rotations of ABBA per minute, and even more often, ABBA ran through my head while I was walking or doing just about anything. Remember, those were the days before iPod, even Sony Walkman, barrages.
It was with some trepidation I recently turned to looking at ABBA lyrics. Trepidation not necessarily because of anticipatory avalanches of reader hate mail but because I did not want to find out if the text, or lyrics as musically educated people say, accompanying the catchy phrases and jingle moments would be cause for disappointment.
The “Money, Money, Money” lyrics were a big disappointment. All I learned is that it is a rich man’s world, it would be great to live in it, the “I” of the song works all day and does not have enough money. Even plans to marry someone rich would fall through. Throw in a consideration of going to Las Vegas or Monaco to win and a not-so-original observation that “my life would never be the same,” and we have nothing but a pastiche of clichés. Thank God the “Money, money, money” and “it’s a rich man’s world” refrain make a memorable jingle.
“I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” (just how many dos are there?) offers nothing but cries of reassurance that a person loves another. The song would be meaningful beyond its jingle factor if maybe these polite protestations are really a battle in which the narrator is attempting to reassure herself that she really is capable of loving someone.
Abba’s “Voulez-Vous” sadly does not even a memorable jingle make. It employs the cheap device of using French to create a risqué title that would not have been permissible or sounded as good in English or Swedish.
“Nina, Pretty Ballerina”—I can hear the refrain coming from my brother’s room—how nice a variation on the more troubled character of John Travolta who does a different kind of dancing in Saturday Night Fever just a few years down the road.
I kept on reading lyrics of the quite large catalog of ABBA and I was becoming, as I did not want to, disappointed. ABBA was and is good for memorable jingles but for a song to hold up overall, with interrelated imagery and sudden nuances—forget it.
On the other hand, to be fair—I did say does ABBA really need fairness—how much more artistic merit does the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” hold. I am afraid the answer is a whole lot more. The lyrics, score, performance by the Stones is felt, whereas ABBA is all safe auto-pilot with a thick wax coating and travel in a safety-minded car, in comparison. Even the Beatles, with their tamer sound, evoke emotions that ABBA simply does not.
Perhaps the success off ABBA stems from its jingles you can’t get out of your head, while the rest of the song, unfortunately, is filler.
But it is delightful to be Swedish and around the world to have it known that ABBA is the name of a Swedish group and not only seafood. But I sure liked those fiskbullar when I was a child. They were safe and soft to eat and delicious, not hard to digest at all.