Media chatterers love to talk about 'important' albums, 'important' artists etc etc. I guess we kind of all know what they mean. And, despite the subjectivity, we can generally spot an 'important' album when we hear one - 'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars', 'Dark Side of the Moon' and so on. Of course, these don't have to be profound works of art. You could probably make a decent case for 'Thriller' being an 'important' album. But does an 'important' album need to be good? Does it need to be influential? Does it just need to be a key milestone in the development of an exceptional artist? Or just the ultimate summation of their craft? My question would be, which ABBA album/albums could lay the best claim to being 'important'. If so, why? Or if not, why not?
In the UK, it really boils down to 3 albums for different reasons.
1. Greatest Hits vol 1.. extremely big seller for the time, very memorable gatefold sleeve, 11 weeks at number 1. Downside.. well truthfully not really a Greatest Hits, as many tracks never a single and rarely heard.
2. Arrival, possibly the best candidate, iconic, again memorable cover, most remember the one with the " helicopter on"" , had the biggest hits, DQ, KMKY, MMM, 10 weeks at number one, great seller.hung around for 90weeks.
3. Gold, enough said really 5.5 million sold, 8 weeks at number 1, over 800 weeks in the top 100, full of hits.
That all said with 2 being greatest hits I have to go for Arrival, to answer your question, a world class break through for the time, full of great tracks, such an iconic album cover and ABBA at their peak musically and dare I say physically, the white jump suits, the helicopter, nearly everything was right for that album, potentially only one or two odd tracks depending on your own taste, Dum Dum Diddle and title track Arrival , otherwise near perfection.
But all said and done most people other than "us" would vote for Gold.
Last Edit: Sept 16, 2017 11:05:56 GMT by foreverfan
Post by thisboycries on Sept 16, 2017 11:28:55 GMT
Great answer. In terms of the wider world's perception of ABBA, I'd agree on 'Arrival'. In terms of their own career trajectory, though, I think I'd argue for 'ABBA' being the 'important' one - the biggest single leap they made. (NB I think the 'Waterloo' album is pretty dire!) In terms of their own artistry, it did for them what albums like 'The Man Who Sold the World' and 'Hunky Dory' did for Bowie - representing a big creative jump that wasn't necessarily reflected in the sales figures at the time. Perhaps the parallel breaks down a little because 'Hunky Dory' is ridiculously good and 'ABBA' still has its share of blemishes.
Interestingly, if 'Chess' had been a genuine mega-success on a 'Phantom of the Opera' scale, and had led to a string of Broadway / West End blockbusters, I think 'The Visitors' may have been widely acknowledged as another 'important' album.
ABBA: The Album was released in late 1977, around the same time as the Sex Pistols' first and last studio album. Which one sold the most? ABBA. Which one am I still listening to 40 years later? ABBA. Which one would I choose for my Desert Island? ABBA. Which was the more 'important'? Sex Pistols, surely! We will never get agreement on the definition of an 'important' album but, as you say, we know when we hear one.
ABBA appears no less than three times in the list of UK best selling albums of the 1970s. Yet, sad to say, they are one of the few artists on the list that would struggle to make any claim to an important or classic (not the same?) album. Look at the competition: Bridge Over Troubled Water, Tubular Bells, Dark Side, Rumours, A Night At The Opera, Hotel California, Songs In The Key of Life, Ziggy, and Imagine. Saturday Night Fever and a clutch of others would have a shout. Then you have Elvis, The Beatles and Beach Boys, who had already done their bit.
It's not as if B & B didn't have their eye on the prize. Benny would cite Sgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds as favourites, and they put enormous effort into engineering and production. The Visitors could have done it, if they had focused on it and pushed through the difficult period that would have followed. But B & B's problem from 1977 onwards, I would argue, is that they couldn't decide which direction to follow. They wanted to write a musical. They wanted to retain their commercial audience. And they wanted to push the envelope. 'The Visitors' is the opening track of an 'important' album. STMF and LAAPTMR are the closing tracks on an 'important' album. Soldiers could just about keep its place; WAISAD less so, for me. One of Us is a brilliant and tantalising echo of past pop perfection. I Let The Music Speak has its eyes on their future in musical theatre. HOH and TFTPOO are way below standard, whatever they were aiming for with them.
It's a shame, because they could have reinvented themselves for the 1980s. Instead, the vacuum they left was swiftly filled by acts and producers reprising the least 'important' aspects of their creative genius.
Post by thisboycries on Sept 16, 2017 16:11:42 GMT
Great call on The Sex Pistols. (Actually, I do still give NMTB an occasional spin, though I skip a couple of tracks.) To play devil's advocate, was NMTB actually as 'important' as is generally assumed? Did it have a genuinely lasting legacy, in terms of shaping music, in the same way as (say) Kraftwerk's 'Trans-Europe Express' did? Or was it just a flash across the sky? Not sure. You're absolutely right - 'important' and 'classic' aren't the same. Just as 'important' and 'good' aren't the same. I mean, I can see that the New York Dolls were important, but I've never wanted to listen to them for more than about 15 seconds.
Actually, your two 'Visitors' lowlights are both mini-masterpieces for me! I think 'The Visitors' is NEARLY an important album. It might even have been widely seen as an 'important' album if someone trendier had recorded it. (And, in my view, if 'One of Us' wasn't on it!)
Out of your excellent list of 70s albums, personally I'd concur that all are 'important' (in some sense). Maybe 'Hotel California' has the weakest claim - for me, it's basically just a musical cash register! Possibly 'Rumours' too - though it's sheer selling power certainly makes it 'important' in at least a commercial way.
Just to widen it a bit, I think you could argue that ABBA were an 'important' band who never made a truly 'important' album. But that's far from unique - Roxy Music are another great 70s example (though 'For Your Pleasure' perhaps comes fairly close).
I would say exactly that about ABBA: 'an 'important' band who never made a truly 'important' album'. My favourite is Arrival, the only one I bought in the 1970s. Mind you, I hid it in my younger sister's collection, in case it was seen next to Give 'Em Enough Rope and All Mod Cons. I would hardly call it an 'important' album although, arguing with myself for a moment, few pieces of music have offered so much pleasure and exhilaration to so many people across the world as DQ. How much more important can you get?
As if you haven't raised enough talking points, one might speculate on whether The Visitors could be made 'important' by swapping out certain tracks for other ABBA songs that came earlier or later. TDBYC and The Piper maybe? KMKY and TNOTG? I'm afraid that TFTPOO would just have to make way for something else in my 'important' line-up. The reveal reminds me of Escape (The Piña Colada Song), which was possibly the most annoying song of the 1970s, bar Dean Friedman's Lucky Stars
So, what do you reckon an 'important' ABBA album track listing would look like, if we could pick and choose from their oeuvre?
I’d like to join the discussion, but shouldn’t we try to agree on the concept of ‘important’? It seems like several definitions are in play. If it means what the authorities (i.e. NME and Rolling Stone) decide, then it’s a moot point. It can’t be the best selling albums, because that would be circular reasoning, or tautology. And if it means 100 % sterling tracks, then I must say even Sgt Pepper, Pet Sounds and Ziggy Stardust contain some weak numbers.
The most ınfluential albums, if that’s what it means, don’t seem to be always the most commercially succesfully ones: I’m thinking of Velvet Underground, Ramones, Stooges…
Anyway, if ABBA were ‘important’ as I too think they were, a group that’s stood the test of time and been very ‘important’ to a lot of people all over the world, then I go for Arrival!
If important is "innovative", "progressive" and "out there", it would be "The Album" if it wasn't for reducing "The Girl with the Golden Hair" to a mini-musical (where some people might misinterpret that Thank You For the Music was written to boost Agnetha's ego), but to be made of a full musical.. or a concept album. It's like... After she's leaving her hometown for fame and she becomes "a marionette", what's she going to do now?
If important is "influential" to generally the pop music we know today, it would be "The Visitors".
If important is "sales", it's Arrival, without a doubt.
But then again, the general definition of "important" is diverse, it could be one of them...
- 'Lucky Stars' would surely make it onto 'Any Sensible Person's All-Time Bottom 10'! I rationalise my enjoyment of TFTPOO by thinking of it as 'post-modern'... Let's call our imaginary album 'The Importance of Being ABBA' and limit it to LP, not CD, length. I might go for:
Side 1: The Visitors / The Winner Takes It All / Lay All Your Love On Me / Knowing Me Knowing You Side 2: I Let the Music Speak / The Girl With the Golden Hair: Three Scenes from a Mini-Musical (can I include 'Get on the Carousel' and make it 'Four Scenes...'?) / Slipping Through My Fingers / Like An Angel Passing through My Room
Other songs I toyed with including were 'Disillusion', 'Money Money Money' and, of course, 'The Day Before You Came'. The latter could be slotted where I've stuck LAYLOM, but I didn't want Side 1 to sound too one-paced.
- Defining 'important' is indeed a thankless task! I suppose, personally, if I were to put a few boundaries on it, I'd go for three main criteria: 1) did an album somehow 'change' the way people thought of, or indeed made, popular music; and/or 2) did it represent a vital step or a key achievement in the career of an influential/seminal artist; and/or 3) did it represent the distillation of an important time/genre in the history of popular music? So not necessarily mega-sellers or uniformly brilliant albums.
I do think ABBA were an important group. For a group from a non-Anglophone country to 'nail' English-language pop and ship industrial quantities of their output on a worldwide basis should, alone, secure that status. Add to that the fact that many of their songs are recognised classics of undoubtedly 'quality' (whatever THAT means!) and have effortlessly stood the test of time for 40-odd years. And add the fact that their approach to production/studio practice was (as I understand it) highly influential. Well, for me, that's a legacy that made/makes them 'important'.
- Actually, you'll see I've put 'The Girl with the Golden Hair' on my 'important' ABBA album! TYFTM wouldn't get anywhere near it as an individual song. 'I Wonder' just might. 'I'm a Marionette', however, would probably make it as a stand-alone. But the 'mini-musical' idea was fairly innovative (within reason), especially for a pop album, hence my inclusion of the full suite. Obviously, the 70s saw loads of concept albums, 'suites' etc etc - but was the term 'mini-musical' ever used elsewhere on a pop or rock album? It'd be great if someone could tell me the answer!
There's definitely another potential thread in the 'what happened post-Marionette?' idea!
I see them as having a very long-lasting legacy, particularly in Europe. However in the States they werent as influential. They were seen as pop fluff or later disco, and wasnt until the last 20 years or so that they were viewed as masters of pop perfection. So, not that influential, perhaps equals not that "important"... at least in terms of critics.
I do agree they were an historically important group, for other reasons, especially being the first group from the Nordics to have any kind of impact... without the benefit of a brit or USA manager or label or studio. Quite an achievement.
I dont care if their albums are important to critics or not. I mean, they all fawn over Pet Sounds and that one doesnt do much for me.
Critics usually make me barf anyway. I like Abba's albums, and thats enough for me.
I dont care if their albums are important to critics or not. I mean, they all fawn over Pet Sounds and that one doesnt do much for me.
100% with you on 'Pet Sounds'. I never 'got' The Beach Boys at all, TBH. Except for the intro to 'Lady Lynda' and that's Bach's!
And yes - I'm always surprised how much attention is paid to critics' opinions. I mean, they have views and they can be fun to read. But the chances of a critic's opinions mapping precisely onto yours, mine or anyone else's are pretty much zero.
So, moving things on a little, I'm wondering if any of ABBA's albums are 'important' to me, personally (i.e. for personal reasons etc). Possibly 'The Album' as it was the first ABBA LP I got and it represented a massive step for me, as a teenager, to break out of the rock straitjacket and buy a 'pop' album. And then to admit it to my mates! It was the first step to broadening musical horizons and within 18 months or so my collection had diversified quite a bit. I suppose you could say if it hadn't been ABBA it would have been something else. But it wasn't - it was 'The Album', so that has a personal importance for me.
"Supertrouper" maybe for the most important for me, because it was the first one I put under headphones and realized what recording geniuses they were. After that I think it was "Gold". Hooked after those two.
This was probably 30-40 years after hearing them on the radio and hating them for being a disco band. Time has a strange way of changing things.
I love the Beach Boys old surf music stuff, I can often hear the influence on Abba, in some ways. Beatles too of course. I wonder if Benny would say, no, it wasnt the surf music at all, it was Pet Sounds haha.
The 'morris bells' put me off. More seriously, it's a bit over-sentimental for me and I never liked The Beach Boys' 'sound', even toned down. TBH, I find 'God Only Knows' quite suffocating. When I hear it I always think "this man needs a pint!"
Not remotely doubting the 'importance' of The Beach Boys or of 'Pet Sounds'. Loads of people cite the album as an influence/inspiration. But I'll continue to sidestep it.
In 1966 God Only Knows was daringly unsentimental for a love song. With 'I may not always love you' as the first line, it was hardly standard fare. Similarly in the second verse, it resists the formulaic goodbye/cry/break-down-and-die doggerel: life would still go on. It would have been so easy for the lyricist to go for 'God only knows just how much I love you' or '...how I'd live without you', rather than '...what I'd be without you'. For me, this rare (in 1960s pop) honesty and uncertainty strikes home, making it all the more powerful emotionally; it's the relative under-sentimentality that makes it over-sentimental
The composition uses diminished and inverted chords, such that it's not easy to even establish which key it is in, let alone where the song is going next. One of the main challenges in writing a complex pop song is trying to get back home to the next verse; check out the game that Benny has with TKHLHC. Hundreds of otherwise classic tracks will have been discarded because of this, never to be heard beyond the songwriter. Brian Wilson, like the surgeon in The Naked Lunch, deliberately risks his patient when he launches into the bridge, just to show what he can do. There doesn't seem to be an obvious way to rescue it when the subsequent 'God only knows what I'd be without you' ends up in a different key. Yet he resolves this so smoothly that nobody notices, and off goes the final verse in the original key. He worked the whole thing out in 45 minutes apparently, aged 23.
But perhaps the most impressive thing of all is that over the top of this complicated structure the melody appears to float, simple and serene. Brian Wilson gifted the lead to Carl instead of himself, because he knew it would sound better.
Interesting stuff - thanks for that. If it had been me writing it, I'd just have focused on ensuring there was plenty of chugging guitar, lots of hi-hat and lashings of walking bass.
Picking up on the point that Wilson wrote his masterpiece aged 23, here's a massive generalisation: why do most (not all) popsinger-songwriters write their classics young, while pure songwriters and indeed classical composers (not all) write their best stuff as they get a bit (sometimes a lot) older? I'm not just highlighting the likes of Dvořák and Beethoven (say) whose 9th symphonies (say) are significantly superior to their 1st symphonies (say). The great 20th century songwriters like the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Harry Warren etc all took their time to warm up to their very best work. I actually think it's a bit sad when a writer 'peaks' so young. Just to add some pop names, Bowie, Lennon, Dylan etc had all done almost all of their most essential work by the age of 30. Yet there's absolutely no reason why that should be. If anything, B&B buck the pop trend by 'peaking' in their early 30s. What was different about them?
God Only Knows is a sublime song, with both a beautiful tune and beautiful lyrics. But I always thought that Pet Sounds was overrated, even though I am quite a fan of the Beach Boys. I only really like the 'famous' songs on it, and the rest sound like filler to me. But I also think that Sgt Pepper - often considered the best album of all time - is overrated. The first side (referring to vinyl here) is great, but the second side has some real clunkers.
And yes, it is a bit sad that most, if not all, of the great pop songwriters seem to peak very young.
And in answer to this thread's original question, I think the answer is 'no', unfortunately. While I personally think at least four ABBA albums are virtually perfect, there are reasons why they never feature in lists of the greatest albums of all time. Although there may be some snobbery involved, I don't think ABBA's music is very influential. It's merely wonderful!