The first album I ever bought was by Valdy, a barely remembered Canadian folk artist, and it wasn’t even the album with that one hit. I have no idea what prompted me to buy it. I mean, Side 1 was live. Live! Live folk music!
My second album was a comedy album by Bill Cosby. People used to buy comedy on vinyl back then and listen over and over. I knew those Cosby skits pretty much by heart. These days, vinyl is making a comeback. Bill Cosby: probably not.
The third album I bought was by ABBA. It was ABBA: The Album, as opposed to ABBA: The Shoe Store or ABBA: The Particle Accelerator. I believe I purchased this because I liked the single, “Take a Chance on Me,” a song that was introduced to my Grade 6 class by our music teacher, who especially noted how the male voices (“Take a chance, take a chance, take a chance chance chance…”) acted as a sort of rhythm section.
(This teacher, by the way, also introduced us to Harry Nilsson – the album Son of Schmilsson, to be precise, but not that song! – so she was way cooler than her ABBA indoctrination may have led you to believe.)
This was not my first exposure to ABBA. I remember hearing “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” on our local radio station. Did I think, even at the age of 10, that this was a terribly dorky song? I did, I did, I did, I did, I did.
Then came “Dancing Queen.” Released in 1976, the song was everywhere (still is), immediately becoming emblematic of the disco era with all its edges air-brushed off. My friend David had a copy of “Dancing Queen” and one particular evening we played it over and over as we danced around his house. Amazingly, we are both straight.
I purged many of my albums in the late eighties, sloughing off some of my more embarrassing purchases. I got rid of an album called Good Girl Gone Bad by (not Rihanna) Terry Crawford, purchased solely because the artist looked trampy on the cover and I was a horny 80s boy. That’s probably the only reason I remember that album at all, and, trust me, it took all my internet sleuthing skills to even come up with the name of the performer.
For whatever reason, though, I never purged ABBA: The Album. I’ve carted it about and stored it for over 40 years – and haven’t played it for about as long. Why didn’t I sell it along with the rest?
Likely because deep down I appreciate that ABBA is actually quite… good. As pop songs go, they are masterfully created and slickly produced, and you can still hear their influence today. Listen to the intro to “Everything Now” by Arcade Fire and you’d swear you were hearing something straight outta Sweden.
Shiny like their suits, clear like their skin, uncomplicated like their looks, ABBA made music to be enjoyed. And people have been enjoying it for generations now. My wife is one of those people. Deb used to put on ABBA’s greatest hits album to torture me, but it was a kind of death by pleasantness, targeting my cynical nervous system. For a while there, she even carried around a CD in her car – an ABBA cover band. Cover band!
This summer, Deb has been all up in her ABBA as part of the ensemble of Borderline Players’ production of Mamma Mia!, which is essentially ABBA: The Musical. Licences became available for community theatres and high schools only last year, so this summer you can’t throw a platform shoe without hitting a production. Nearby, it has already been performed in Knowlton and Burlington, with the Haskell Opera House production opening last weekend and continuing this. A production in Stowe, Vt takes place at the end of the month.
It’s ABBA über alles.
But I wouldn’t call it an ABBA glut. (Do you suffer from ABBA glut? See your doctor.) Supply is responding to demand, and demand is high for these beloved songs wrapped around a charming plot about a girl on the eve of her wedding hoping to figure out which of three men is her actual father. Tragedy ensues. Of course not! It’s ABBA!
Ultimately, there are certain songs – and even albums, if you still believe in those things – that become indelible thanks in part to their innocence. And these days, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a little innocence.
Just don’t hold your breath for a Valdy musical.
To learn more about Borderline Players’ production of Mamma Mia!, visit http://borderlineplayers.org.