ABBA: THE NAME OF THE GAME Andrew Oldham et al. Sidgwick & Jackson £14.99
Saturday 01 April 1995
Clearly we are intended to rise to the bait here, leaping from our seats screaming "But what about Gilbert O'Sullivan?" and the like. As an attempt to ignite controversy, this gambit might have worked 20 years ago. But in 1995 Sweden's top popsters are thoroughly rehabilitated. There's nothing to be furtive about. We are all Abba fans now.
The book travels from the seminal Ring Ring album in 1973 to the terminal The Visitors in 1981. It goes deep into history, to Benny and Bjorn's rocky apprenticeship in various unspeakable Nordic combos (The Hootenanny Singers, for goodness sake) and to the early, solo successes of "the girls": Agnetha with the catchy "Snovit Och De Sju Dvargarna", Frida with the 1967 smash, "Din". We read of their loves, their lives, their bank accounts and of the part played in their success by the comeliness of Agnetha's behind. At the same time, there are dark references to the "dirty-minded observers" who noticed such details. This is cheeky. No-one ever went on about Agnetha's bum as much as this book does.
Abba were eons ahead of their time. The year "Waterloo" romped home in the Eurovision Song Contest was the year Germany fielded a husband and wife duo called Cindy & Bert. The closest Britain came to matching Abba was the Brotherhood of Man, who followed "Fernando" with their own "Angelo", but then got stuck, released a song called "Figaro" and faded. Abba stormed on: "Honey Honey'', "Money Money Money'', "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!''
It ended, inevitably, in divorce. Bjorn and Agnetha's separation was, our authors speculate, foreshadowed in the lines of "SOS": "Whatever happened to our love? I wish I understood/ It used to be so nice, it used to be so good." As our authors explain: "How else does a lyricist write if not by drawing on personal experience? Unless, of course, you're Kate Bush and you read loads of heavy books." Yeah, right.
Abba: the Name of the Game is not a heavy book. It's a very light book - light on heavy things like analysis and editing and style. The authors have a snappy way with a clich. Abba's manager, Stig Anderson, was a "human dynamo" who "ran a watertight ship" and who could, at times, be found running around "like a cat on a hot tin roof".
Still, it's heartening to know that, post-Abba, Bjorn married a Swedish advertising executive and developed an interest in bird-spotting. I'm sad to have missed the album of Swedish folk music Benny released in the late Eighties - Klinga Mina Klocka (literally, "Toll My Bell"). Taken whole, this is a tale with the traditional pop trajectory: the rapid arc from glory and wealth and happiness into misery and tax evasion and share disasters - a narrative to warn us all. As the authors say, "Somebody has to pay the piper." Indeed. Ask not for whom the klocka klingas. It klingas for thee.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 2 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 3 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
- 4 The most powerful passports in the world
- 5 Chinese student carries disabled friend to school every day for three years
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
Oldest footage of London landmarks released
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove