Aug 11

ABBA: “S.O.S.”


The members of ABBA in the less-commonly seen "BAAB" formation.

As I hinted at recently when featuring Komeda, I have a few musical skeletons in my closet (but really, who doesn’t?). I take the viewpoint, however, that you should never be too embarrassed about music you liked at any point in your life. Anyone who enjoys music embarks on a musical journey from their first exposure to it, be it their parents’ old Beatles albums or “Itsy Bitsy Spider” in preschool, that will probably lead them into a variety of places, depending on a variety of random influences and inclinations toward certain sounds and trends along the way. And really, why not embrace all those past musical loves as the shapers of your musical self that they are? Sure, maybe you’ve moved on, but there will always be a part of you that will continue to appreciate something about the music, no matter how much you’ve since disowned it.

That said, you’ll never find me going around identifying myself as an ABBA fan (although note how I still capitalize all the letters and know without even looking it up that the acronym stands for “Agnetha,” “Benny,” “Bjorn,” and “Anni-Frid”). But I will readily admit to having gone through a pre-high school, pre-discovery-of-new-wave/punk/alternative stage, lasting at least a couple of years, where I might have actually said that they were my second favorite group behind the Beatles(!). They were one of the first groups I “discovered” all on my own (along with several million other people) around the time that I first stopped relying on the radio to hear new music and started actually buying my own records. I’m fairly sure I got at least a couple of their albums through the mail-order Columbia House Record Club. Oh, how I loved to see those flat, square cardboard boxes show up at our door! Especially when it was the introductory offer of 13 LPs (plus one more at half-price, counting toward the purchase requirement of 6 more over 3 years). But I digress.

I’m not sure what it was about ABBA that initially made me such a fan – I think it was simply their very catchy songs with the great choruses, their energetic delivery, and maybe just a little because of Agnetha and Anni-Frid. (Although I was a bit young at first to be interested in them in “that” way, really. Maybe I should say, rather, that they were what kept me interested in ABBA’s music a year or two longer than I might have been otherwise.) I knew that Benny and Bjorn were the masterminds behind the music, but I never cared very much about those two in particular, certainly not in the way that I worshiped Lennon and McCartney. So yes, Agnetha and Anna-Frid may have played a part.

All ABBA albums tend to blend together into one seamless whole, although by the time of albums like Super Trouper and The Visitor, I was long gone already, so I’m really only counting albums up through 1979. I guess my favorite of their ’70s studio albums would have to have been 1977’s Arrival (the one where they’re all sitting in a helicopter, and that features the great “Knowing Me, Knowing You” – and “Dancing Queen,” but that was never really a favorite of mine); but my first exposure to them is still sort of my favorite: the 1976 Greatest Hits compilation. And the best of the best on that album is the lead track, “S.O.S.,” originally from their 1975 album, ABBA. It’s a marvel of pop craftsmanship, from its minor-key piano intro through its masterpiece of a chorus (yes, “masterpiece”; I think it’s one of the catchiest choruses ever, and strongly suspect that it’s the root of my appreciation for acoustic guitar strums mixed into rock songs, although that might also be partially due to ELO’s instrumental, “Fire on High”). That chorus blasts out of the speakers like a supersonic jet (taking off from Sweden, naturally). I still consider “S.O.S.” to be one of the great pop songs of all time, no matter that my enthusiasm for ABBA on the whole may have mellowed considerably.


  1. Judy K says:

    Somewhere in my basement lurks several ABBA 45’s. Wow, I’m dating myself. I remember the Columbia House Record Club but I never got the nerve to join. I didn’t want to pay all the fees for the albums I would have to return. Time to dig out my old records, Dave.

    1. Dave Gershman says:

      I’m sure I had to pay return postage a few times, but I think I was usually pretty good about sending the form back. It was worth the risk…

  2. zot says:

    I was really impressed by “Waterloo” when it came out. It sounded so much better than the dreck on the top 40 radio stations at the time. I might have become a fan, but I was spending my meager allowance on the Beatles and the 60s back then. I don’t think they are anything to be embarrassed about, they still sound a lot better than a lot of the music of the time.

    1. Dave Gershman says:

      “Waterloo” is definitely another high point in ’70s pop…excellent song. And true, there are many other bands that would be more truly embarrassing — I guess it’s more that I associate ABBA with my younger musical tastes. Maybe it’s the inherent cheesiness of their act. In any case, I certainly still appreciate the greatness of some of their songs…

  3. Vassilis says:

    Probably my favourite ABBA song as well. And apart from arrival (which Mike Oldfield did a version!) , “the album” is my favourite album! (for Thank you for the music and Eagle and Take a chance on me) I think that they are great and although people feel ashamed of admitting that they like ABBA,the fact is that they are still heard until this day! And at least to movies use extensively the music. Mamma mia (won’t even bother seeing it) and Muriel;s weddibg (fantastic you should see it!) Funnily enough I was listening to Out of the blue by ELO today, and I see that you mention them!

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