Tuesday, 16 November 2010

From Knowing Me, Knowing You to a-ha

Today The Beatles finally agreed to the inevitable, selling their back catalogue on iTunes (Apple on Apple). Anyone who loves pop music and doesn't acknowledge the Liverpudlian foursome's contribution is a moron but why are all Beatles fans into rock music? Perhaps it's a generational thing, but I don't know anyone hooked on the Fab Four with an interest in fab pop. This makes me wonder if Revolver (1966) or Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) could count as the greatest pop album of all time.

I've no doubt shot myself in the foot having suggested that Thomas Dolby's slightly obscure The Golden Age of Wireless represents the highpoint of turn-of-the-1980s synthpop, but I'd like to put forward Abba's The Visitors as the best pop album ever. An outstanding roster of hits, including Take a Chance On Me, Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man after Midnight), Lay All Your Love On Me, has its high point with my favourite single of all time, The Winner Takes It All.

In the wake of well-documented splits within the band, this poppiest of pop groups aired its marital trauma for all the world to hear; it's heartbreaking to think of the words put into the mouths of performers Agnetha Falkstog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad from the opening, 'I don't wanna talk/ About the things we've gone through...', to lines 'But tell me does she kiss/ Like I used to kiss you?' and 'Somewhere deep inside/ You must know I miss you'.

This was the spirit songwriters Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus took into their eighth, and final, studio album, creating an unlikely masterpiece. (The only other group I can think of who quit on the heels of their best album is Gangway.) The Visitors, much like The Golden Age of Wireless, pitches the battleground of relationships against global politics. While Dolby's is the more modern album, with its overt use of synths for their own sake, thematically The Golden Age... is the more backward-looking as it harks back to the Second World War, while Abba's 1981 work is set against the backdrop of the contemporary Cold War.

It's a template that has been followed most succesfully by a-ha on album Scoundrel Days (1986), from angular, titular, opener through excellent single I've Been Losing You and epic The Weight of the Wind to the lighter ending, tonally and emotionally; Maybe Maybe for Abba's Two for the Price of One. (Abba, a-ha and Gangway are all Scandinavian - the full compliment of Swedes, Norwegians and Danes, respectively - make of that what you will; I no doubt will make something of it at some point.) Abba would still produce one great, autobiographical, single - The Day Before You Came - before calling it a day. Remarkably, it's a decision they've never gone back on.

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