ABBA - "Dancing Queen" (1976)
I honestly thought that I'd posted something about this track before, but all I could find was its inclusion in the 45 45s feature from a decade ago now.
ABBA had first come to wider attention after winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974, but had had some difficulty following up that success until late '75. For the next six months or so after that, though, they had one top ten and two number one singles in the UK charts.
But there was one smash to come, and it arrived in the form of one of the most perfect pop records ever made.
Dancing Queen was released in August of 1976, when I had not long turned fourteen. To hear it now is still to be transported back to the days of going to school of a morning on one of Hanmer's coaches, with Terry Wogan's Radio 2 show on the radio. It got, as they say, 'heavy rotation'; but unlike most other records which appear for a time to be ubiquitous, this one never palled on me.
I mean, just listen to the start of it; nothing self-effacing about the mighty descending piano glissando which kicks it off. It's about as distincive and ear-catching an introduction as you can get. And then we go - not into the first verse - but the chorus, which grooves along powerfully at just over 100BPM; too slow perhaps for today's dancers' tastes, but no less dynamic.
When we get to the first verse, although the tempo remains the same, the ambience changes completely. The very first line, "Friday night, and the lights are low" sets the scene for a dancehall feel. As the song goes on, the lyric both celebrates the vitality of liberated youth (in the persona of the seventeen-year-old Dancing Queen herself), and has a slightly melancholic undertone as her flirtatious behaviour is described by an observer, hinting perhaps at an emptiness beneath the glamour.
The instrumentation and arrangement are strong, with Benny Andersson's piano counterpoints hinting at the actual complexity of the music, and Björn Ulvæus' guitar occasionally peeping out to give us some feedback (particularly leading into the final verse).
The singing of Anni-Frid ('Frida') Lyngstad and Agnetha Fältskog is, of course, of the highest calibre, and the production points up the song's strengths (it doesn't have any weaknesses).
To listen to it now, forty-one years after it was a hit, and forty-two after it was recorded, is to hear a four-minute masterpiece of popular music, and is to be whisked back to my uneasy adolescence (my mate Alan fancied Agnetha, but I always thought there was something odd about the shape of her mouth, although I may have been missing something in my naïvety; of the two, I much preferred Frida).
The following video - presumably contemporary and 'official' - is slightly troubling, in that it shows grown men and little girls dancing in close proximity to one another. But then, it was the 1970s and it was Sweden; they may have ordered these things differently there and then.
Nonetheless, listen, enjoy, marvel and understand why, when Benny took the backing track tape home for Frida to listen to (they were an 'item' at the time), she burst into tears; and that all four of them knew when they were laying it down that the record was going to be huge. "See that girl, watch that scene...".