I often ask me this question time and time again. Why was it so "uncool" to appreciate ABBA's music from the mid-eighties onwards. ABBA have always been the epitome of pop music yet the likes of Stock Aitken and Waterman were favoured over ABBA during the mid to late eighties. This has always remained incomprehensible to me. I am so glad that acts such as U2, Erasure and Roxette paid homage to ABBA and started a revival of their music with the release of ABBA "Gold" and scores of tribute bands performing their timeless songs. Even their critics succumbed to the charms of their incredible music. ABBA definitely merit a place in pop history.
I think immediately appealing pop has often been seen, by some, as uncool, obvious - even trite and and not worth listening to. If you can get it on first hearing, it's somehow regarded as not up to much. As if tunefulness, in itself, is not a gift to be admired and enjoyed! But of course ABBA suffered from this nonsensical attitude big-time. Fortunately that has changed in recent years. You only have listen: songs written with true craftsmanship, great melodies, fantastic singing, and so many interesting things going on in the recordings.
I'm sure it's that immediate appeal that for a long time stopped a lot of people from hearing with unprejudiced ears the sheer talent and ability and art that went into ABBA's popular music.
There are a lot of factors that come into play here though. Some of ABBA’s own doing and others they had no control over.
Firstly, the 1980s was this new, vibrant (and quite selfish) decade and there was a desire to forget the economic gloom of the 1970s and everything that went with it. ABBA were firmly put into that category.
Secondly, ABBA’s tired and middle-aged early 1980s image ultimately helped cause a hefty fall from grace as a singles act in 1982. Thankfully they chose to exit after a year of that but the damage was done.
Thirdly, Agnetha’s and Frida’s solo albums were mostly below par. After The Winner Takes It All (and others), these albums (Agnetha’s more than Frida’s) seemed very impersonal. And the fact that they chose whichever producer was deemed successful at the time in the hope of getting a hit seemed to smack of desperation. The lack of success of these albums cemented the belief that ABBA were best left in the past.
Lastly, CBS-Epic’s handling of the ABBA catalogue in the 1980s left a bit to be desired. They licensed ABBA’s recordings to budget labels such as Pickwick, Telstar, Reader’s Digest and presumably any other company that asked. This quite literally cheapened ABBA’s legacy. CBS kept hold of the albums but gave these their own budget price reissue treatment. To be fair, CBS can’t really be blamed for this as, having renewed their three-year Polar contract three times during the 1980s, they had little option but to try and maximise their diminishing returns.
Even amongst us fans there was a feeling of being stuck in the past by still liking ABBA. In the latter half of the 1980s I was in my teens and no one I knew liked ABBA anymore. I remarked on this on here at the time, but the Top of The Pops repeats on BBC Four reached 1985 a couple of years ago. Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson were introduced as “performing Tim Rice’s song”. This somehow seemed the ultimate insult. It was more cool to mention Tim Rice than it was Björn and Benny or ABBA!
I know there’s that old and tired argument that “Queen came back in the mid-80s after a bad 1982”, but it’s a poor comparison. Queen were a pop-rock band and, rightly or wrongly, rock ages better than pop. The idea that ABBA, had they stayed together, could have come back in the mid-80s is quite frankly wishful thinking. Yep, they might have had a hit album but in comparison with their previous successes it would have paled.
It’s been 28 years but I’m still surprised, even now, that they managed to bring ABBA back to the masses so successfully with ABBA Gold, and sustain it for so long since. In the 80s this would have seemed impossible.
Of course, even in their heyday, with the hits rolling in, ABBA were regarded by many as uncool. That characterisation of them didn't suddenly appear after the hits dried up and they came to an end as an active group. I didn't take much notice of ABBA when they were at the height of their success. I can remember liking the lead voice in Super Trouper (but I would have had no idea whether that it was Agnetha or Frida singing that lead), and finding a song such as Mamma Mia quite catchy, but that was about it. The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan - and The Beatles from the 60s - interested me far more. It was only later that I came to appreciate how special ABBA are when it comes to pop music. And I find what is regarded as cool, or not, in popular music both fascinating and puzzling a lot of the time!
Various reasons. The advent of electronic groups and the New Romantic movement helped to put the nail in ABBA's coffin. We had Soft Cell and The Human League and X Ray Spex and so much more. I embraced all the new music. A lot of blame can be placed upon Agnetha and Frida's perms and overnight mumsy look. The fact that Björn grinned like the Cheshire Cat in every picture didn't help. ABBA just weren't cool. They couldn't pretend to be edgy or grungy. They couldn't hope to be. They HAD been, I hasten to add. Arguably, during the 1977 tour they were at the height of their prowess and beauty. But they aged and became old hat once the 1980's began. They had a few more triumphs musically, of course. But they'd run out of steam as a unit. That's just the way it goes. They needed to disappear for a while for the world to grasp once again how truly amazing and timeless the music was/is. Even the fashion was forgiven and embraced. Now, ABBA are beyond such labels. They have become that corny line -"living legends". They can do no wrong. It doesn't matter now about the fashion horrors or the horrendous haircuts. And, to be fair, there are many many photographs where the group look classy and sophisticated. No one gets it right ALL the time. Now, we find we're actually fond of those clumsy outfits and dance routines. It's part of the charm.
I think as new groups like Duran Duran and culture club were becoming popular Teenagers were into them more. Which is natural that they would like new singers. Bjorn growing that beard wouldn't have helped either, the first time I saw that I was shocked.
@edmfio76, You mention Stock/Aitken/Waterman. We’re currently at 1989 in the BBC Four Top Of The Pops repeats, and this was the peak of SAW’s success. Barely an episode goes by without one of their acts being on it. 1989 was where they really started to take the p**s, with the Reynolds Girls dissing classic acts (not ABBA) and later in the year, Big Fun (surely one of the worst boy bands ever). Thankfully, by the start of 1990, SAW fell heavily from this peak. Only Kylie kept them afloat for a few more years, and this was just as ABBA were resurrected. There’s no real connection, but it is coincidental. ABBA fell on their faces in 1982 and SAW did so from 1990. ABBA then got the crown back.
But other than that, ABBA and SAW in the same sentence is unforgivable.
Alan, I am glad ABBA retrieved their crown. Bjorn and Benny composed and produced all of the ABBA songs with Agnetha and Frida contributing via their dynamic vocals and story-telling. SAW were just a glorified songwriting team who penned second rate tunes for different people who were trying to get on the band wagon in the mid to late eighties excluding Donna Summer and Cliff Richard. I am not really a fan of Kylie. It is unforgivable to put ABBA and SAW in the same sentence.