It was tough growing up in the late 70s/early 80s as an ABBA fan in America.
Yâ€™see, while the Swede popsters were next to the Beatles and Elvis in pop chart dominance worldwide, in the States they were relegated to the occasional Top 10 or Top 40 hit, with many, many more singles falling far short of that. â€œMamma Mia,â€ a single that everyone now retroactively adores? Peaked at a wimpy #32. â€œMoney, Money, Moneyâ€? #56. â€œVoulez-Vousâ€? #80. As a young, ahem, homo I proudly called ABBA my all-time favorite group, much to the puzzled stares of my grade school classmates, most of whom were mocking and/or clueless.
Sure, each new ABBA album would have one or two hits here, but as the group aged, the hits got smaller and smaller â€“ â€œWhen All Is Said And Doneâ€, the lead-off single from the groupâ€™s final studio album The Visitors, peaked at a paltry #28, hardly the way to introduce the American public to what may be your most mature, cohesive album.
Thatâ€™s right â€“ The Visitors was a big step for ABBA, as the quartet finished off their first decade as a group and their second album of the 80s. The title track was an immediate declaration that the band was moving in a new, grown-up direction. Gone were the Dancing Queens and Ring Ring campiness, replaced by a dark, synth-driven New Wave number about the terror faced by Russian dissidents of the time. It was a thematic turn for ABBA, which makes the fact that it was chosen as a second single from the album in America baffling and/or encouraging (the rest of the world got â€œOne of Usâ€ as the first single and â€œHead Over Heelsâ€ for the second). Iâ€™d like to think Atlantic, the groupâ€™s U.S. label, was behind this mature direction. They supplemented â€œThe Visitorsâ€ single release by releasing a 12â€ to the clubs, where it got considerable play. Joe. My. God. was kind enough to forward this ultra-rare, DJ-only Disconet Remix.
The Visitors LP was a relative stiff worldwide, especially coming off the hugely popular Super Trouper. ABBA was feeling creative fatigue as well, so they took a break before working on their tenth studio album. A few tracks in, malaise set in again, so the group stopped recording and culled two of the new tracks for inclusion on a career-spanning greatest hits collection called The First Ten Years. Both songs were released as singles, and the first of those, â€œThe Day Before You Cameâ€, was, despite the groupâ€™s feelings about the proceedings, another leap forward into adulthood for the group, both in subject matter and presentation. It was 1982, and ABBA finally entered the MTV age, as the single was accompanied with a full-blown film production, complete with an aerial helicopter shot and artful direction, as opposed to the videotaped â€œstand in front of this backdrop and mime the lyricsâ€ style of their earlier promo clips:
Perhaps it was the dour tone of the song (which is actually quite upbeat if you listen to it carefully â€“ itâ€™s the day before [he] came, so it has a happy ending, see) or the length (it tops out at just under six minutes), but â€œThe Day Before You Cameâ€ fared poorly on the charts worldwide (to be fair, it was a huge hit in some smaller territories) and didnâ€™t even chart in the States. Were people over ABBA, or just not on board with â€œadultâ€ ABBA? More importantly, was ABBA over ABBA?
The second new single to be pulled from The First Ten Years, â€œUnder Attackâ€, did even worse. Atlantic didnâ€™t even bother to release it in the States. It wasnâ€™t bad per se, it just wasnâ€™t anything Olivia Newton-John wasnâ€™t doing slightly better at the time. Itâ€™s interesting to note the prominence of synthesizers in both new songs â€“ this was truly synthpop. â€œHuh, wha, huh?â€ you exclaim? Think about it â€“ synth-based pop = synthpop. Ask the Human League about ABBAâ€™s influence and I rest my case.
I love ABBAâ€™s late videos. Agnetha (the â€œpretty oneâ€) started to hit the wall and wasnâ€™t so bubbly cute anymore and I swear to God, Frida smelled blood and pounced, cutting her bad perm into a punky, spiked mulletish do, and dear Lord, in the â€œUnder Attackâ€ video sporting pink and purple streaks in her hair:
It was like after ten years of being ignored, the shy, plain, brainy girl who used to draw Hello, Kitty on all her Trapper Keepers in the back of the class went totally goth her sophomore year.
Unfortunately, we didnâ€™t get a chance to watch ABBA enter their full-blown adult New Wave phase. Creatively beat and disillusioned by the muted response to their last few releases, the group took a sabbatical, from which it never returned. The remainder of the aborted tenth album’s songs have trickled out here and there â€“ â€œCassandraâ€ and â€œShould I Laugh Or Cryâ€ were used as b-sides for the final two singles, the somewhat bizarre â€œI Am The Cityâ€ finally surfaced as a track on More Gold and “You Owe Me One” and a snippet of â€œJust Like Thatâ€ (which remains unreleased in its full form) appeared as part of the Thank You For The Music box set. Benny and Bjorn went on to fulfill their dream of writing a hit musical (?) by penning Chess with Tim Rice and Agnetha and Frida went on to release solo works which weâ€™ll definitely cover here in the future (guess who was more successful? Itâ€™s always the quiet onesâ€¦).
What would an ABBA reunion be like? Awful. I think any momentum would be lost and weâ€™d get a nostalgia show, nothing more. What do you think? Comment away.
â€The Visitorsâ€ peaked at #63 on the Billboard Pop Singles Chart and at #8 on the Club Play Chart in 1982.
Neither â€œThe Day Before You Cameâ€ nor â€œUnder Attackâ€ charted.
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