Dancing queens

ABBA: THE NAME OF THE GAME Andrew Oldham et al. Sidgwick & Jackson £14.99
How many people does it take to write a biography of Abba? Three, apparently: one rock journalist (Colin Irwin) to operate the word-processor and two former rock group managers (Andrew Oldham and Tony Calder) to do we can only guess what. In Abba: The Name of the Game, this trio takes a look at the people who brought us "Dancing Queen", "Voulez- Vous" and "Det Kan Ingen Doktor Hjalpa" (literally, "It Cannot Be Remedied By A Doctor", an early Benny & Bjorn effort) and declares after, ooh, at least nine pages of detailed consideration: "They're the greatest songwriters of the twentieth century."

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.

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