Thank you for the music

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Abba's string of pop classics now makes them look like the Beatles of the Seventies. With `Mamma Mia!', a musical based on their songs, marking the 25th anniversary of their Eurovision breakthrough, we ask: what's your favourite?

CATHERINE JOHNSON Playwright, `Mamma Mia!'

"Like An Angel Passing Through My Room" (1981) has all the lushness of the well-known Abba tracks, but there's something very spooky about it as well. It begins with a clock ticking and a music box playing, like that lovely bit from one of the Spaghetti Westerns. There's something about musical boxes that I think is a bit scary. It's all about sitting alone in your room and looking back on your life. It's quite sad but sad in a slightly eerie way: it feels like a dark angel rather than a benign angel. It talks about how "in this peaceful solitude, all the outside world subdued, everything comes back to me again in the gloom like an angel passing through my room". It gives the feeling that she can't get out of the room. I might be completely misinterpreting it but to me it seems like one of their very darkest songs.


I have always liked "Thank You For The Music", the closing song in my staging of Abba's music, Abbacadabra, which had a successful run at the Lyric Ham-mersmith starring Elaine Paige in the 1980s. It is eminently hummable, instantly embracing, and the perfect title for a group who have given us so many wonderful popular songs.

CHARLIE HIGSON Comedian, former member of The Higsons

"The Day Before You Came" seemed a bit less poppy than their other ones. Usually Abba lyrics are pretty crass. They don't actually mean anything. But a couple of the lines struck me as being quite interesting. It's all about doing mundane things and not realising that your life is about to change. It's quite good on mundanity. But why in the video is she packing everything up?


"Fernando" is a bit cheesy but I do really like it. I met Benny Andersson on Suede's first tour of Scandinavia. The record company took us straight from the airport up to his famous studio, which was kind of weird, but I did get to have a go on the big white piano he used in the videos and on stage.

PHYLLIDA LLOYD Director, `Mamma Mia!'

I've always loved "One of Us". It's just a really fantastic chorus with these mega harmonies: "One of us is crying, one of us is lying in her lonely bed, staring at the ceiling, wishing she was somewhere else instead." It touches a chord not so much for the content: it's purely for the sound. I've also discovered "Slipping Through My Fingers," in which a mum sings of her sorrow at watching her daughter grow up and away from her. For weeks we couldn't hear this in rehearsals without someone bursting into tears, saying, "I'm sorry, I miss my mum". It seems to touch something fundamental in all of us about loss, through a melody and a lyric and exquisite harmonies. I'm not even a parent, but it just gets everybody going. We've had to really steel ourselves to stop being moved by it now.


"Super Trouper" is the only Abba song that I vaguely know, because we did a spoof on Not The Nine O'Clock News called "Super Dooper", which must have been written by Richard Curtis and Howard Goodall. I was never caught up in the Abba thing, although the spoof left me with the knowledge that if I applied a bar of damp soap to my eyebrows, I could pass as the brunette.

JOHN DISCO Guitarist, Bis

I broke my arm when I was three; I was sitting in the house with a sling and my mum would force me to listen to Abba to make my arm get better. They were my favourite group until I was about 10. Abba dabbled in disco for a while. I picked up all the records again in 1993. I got very into it for about a year and listened to all their records. You can't deny their place in pop music. "Voulez Vous" was a quality disco thing with a heavy metal guitar. It is about wanting to go to bed with someone. I never really listened to the lyrics, to be honest. They were too funny. I'm sure they make sense to somebody, somewhere.

VICTOR BOCKRIS Biographer of Keith Richards and Patti Smith

I saw Abba once in Australia in 1977. There was so much music washing back and forth at that time that was really exciting so the fact that their sound pierced one's consciousness says a lot for it. I liked "Dancing Queen" for its anthemic quality. It reminds me a lot of Blondie's music: they are a band that make hits. I have a book about Abba that I've read about five times. I don't think there's that much difference between Abba and Public Image Limited.

KATE THORNTON Presenter, `Top of the Pops'

Not only will "Waterloo" go down in history as a pop classic that has more than stood the test of time, but it will also be remembered as the first and last good song to have come out of the Eurovision Song Contest. It is textbook pop - catchy, memorable, danceable, and perfect for karaoke.

RUPERT CHRISTIANSEN Opera critic, `Daily Telegraph'

It's fashionable to say that Abba songs are full of psychodrama, but "The Day Before You Came" really has got an extraordinary narrative tension - the way it builds up without ever reaching the moment when the lover does appear. It's all about the day before the rest of your life. The details are wonderful. The other thing that's not often said about Bjorn and Benny is that they are very good at writing in the voice of women - much better than a lot of novelists, in fact. Really it's the way that the climax of the song never comes; the lover never comes through the door. It's evasive musically and lyrically. It's a sort of trick song. You keep thinking something is going to happen and it doesn't. It is a bit like Tennyson's "Mariana" at the Moated Grange. He is coming, but not yet.


"Take A Chance on Me" is a very important gay anthem. Not only is it an insidious tune that I couldn't get out of my brain, but at some point in the late Eighties I was in New York and heard it sung at a West Village docklands drag club, called the Silver Snood, by a Portuguese drag queen called Teresa-My-Heart. There was a fight like a terrible John Ford macho comedy - two Brazilian sailors clobbered each other trying to get at the Portuguese drag queen. "Take A Chance on Me" has absolutely stayed in my brain both for its merits as a song and because that's an image I cannot forget.


I like the way that "Mamma Mia!" uses lots of minor chords. I first heard it on my Abba Gold album I got for Christmas years and years ago from my Auntie Heather.

GILES SMITH Author, `Lost In Music'

For approximately two months in 1975, I did very little except play the opening of "SOS" on a piano, over and over again. Just the opening, mind, because it all got a bit complicated after that. The verse used tricky minor chords. The chorus was major, but it didn't seem any easier. And then there was the wiggly synth part leading into the last chorus, which one didn't have a cat's chance in hell of duplicating. They spoiled us, they really did. We won't hear the like of "SOS" again because it contains more hooks per square centimetre than current European regulations permit.


Normally, hanging out on the dance floor and making an idiot of myself is furthest from my mind. With "Dancing Queen" the idea of going to a disco suddenly becomes appealing.

JOHN AIZLEWOOD Senior editor, `Q' Magazine

"The Day Before You Came" is a long, complex single, and lyrically it's the most unkitsch thing that Abba ever did. In it the blonde one (probably) describes the actual day before she meets her current love, and it goes into great detail enumerating the tiny mundane things she did. It builds up into this complex pic- ture. She watched Dallas on TV and went for a walk and she had no idea that this guy would turn up the next day. The next day he does turn up and it changes her life for ever. Now because it is "the day before you came" all these things she did have special resonance. It's realistic but it also has this dreamlike tone. It was their penultimate chart entry before they split up.


"The Name of the Game", the chorus of which any composers of pop music, with the possible exception of Lennon and McCartney, would kill for.

NICHOLAS BARBER `Independent on Sunday' critic

Abba's expertise is still under-rated, but they are a bit spoilt for me because when I was a student they were becoming very trendy again in an ironic sort of way, and all their most upbeat songs bring back grue- some memories of college discos. I'd have to go for one with less kitsch appeal. In second place would be "The Day Before You Came". But the winner would be "The Winner Takes It All", just because it's a classic heartbreak song. And my fav-ourite of the women is Agnetha.

PAUL TUCKER Lighthouse Family

I heard "Dancing Queen" when I was about seven. It's like a little movie to me - one of the first songs to invoke a strong visual image. I always see a night-time cityscape when I hear it.

BJORN ULVAEUS Abba member and songwriter

It's very difficult for me to choose. It's the cliche - which one of your children do you like best? But a track which means a lot to me right now is "Slipping Through My Fingers". I wrote it about my seven-year-old daughter Linda when she left home to go to school all by herself for the first time. The image of her turning back to us with a slight wave on her way to school, which was just five minutes away - she was slipping through my fingers. Benny and I wrote the music. I wrote the lyric. It means a lot to me now because it is an emotional highlight in "Mamma Mia!" It comes in the middle of the second act. The show is about a mother and a daughter and this is the moment when the mother Donna is helping Sophie to get into her wedding dress and I'm feeling she is getting away from me, I'll be losing her, and why didn't I do all these things that I wanted to do and we had planned to do? It's the sort of thing that any parent would go through. Linda is now 26.

`Mamma Mia!': Prince Edward Theatre, W1 (0171 447 5400); previews from Tuesday, opens 6 April.

`The Singles Collection', a CD boxed set of all 28 Abba singles, including A and B sides, is released by Polydor on 6 April at pounds 75.