Classic Rock Apocrypha - ABBA

You think I'm fucking with you don't you? "Ha ha ha," you say, "ABBA is a classic cornerstone of music history. Very funny, now go do a post on the Eagles or something." Well fuck your shit; I'm going to take the time to carefully explain how ABBA is the single most important dance/club group of all time.

Laughing again? Like it or not, dance music has been one of the most important parts of pop music since the classical era. Most of the pieces we regard today as 'art' was deliberately designed to be background music for a shindig. This is why virtually every symphony (including the much venerated "Fifth Symphony") includes a movement based on a common dance rhythm.

Shit, why do you think people liked jazz music? Up until Coltrane got all uppity with his artsy mumbo-jumbo jazz was made for a bunch of people to dance to. Remember when swing came back for ten minutes back in the late-90s and that one guy you knew started going to swing dance classes? Dancing, not the rockin' horn section, gave swing its popularity.

You can nail down rhythm as key through pop music history, from jazz all the way down to contemporary R&B. People don't like Ke$ha, the Black Eyed Peas, or Lady Gaga for their talent (I hope), but because their music's got a good beat and they can dance to it. This is why no one gives a shit about shoegaze, drone, speed/black/scream/anything-after-second-wave metal, or art rock; you can't dance to it.

And of course, when you talk about dance/club music, you absolutely must discuss disco. Why? Because disco was the original contemporary R&B. Both genres require minimal effort (drum machines and synth, later to be joined by the hated Autotune) and often have empty lyrics about sex/drugs. Same shit, different name. So why do I love ABBA?

Let me first address something; certain bands have the special distinction of being household names. They are bands that have transcended mere popularity and have entered into the public consciousness on a very basic level. In many cases, the names of these bands have become adjectives.

ABBA is, quite obviously, part of this list. Everyone knows about ABBA. There's an entire musical devoted to them; not even Sinatra got that kind of attention. It's proof of what I'm talking about with dance music, because ABBA is very definitely a pop group. They weren't particularly experimental or interesting. What they had going for them were hooks. Tons of hooks. Shit-tons of hooks. They were a goddamn tackle box.

First, they are a singles group among singles groups. This is one distinction ABBA shares with pre-Beatles pop music; no one can name a single one of their albums. The only album ABBA put out that the modern music-lover cares about is Gold, one of the unquestionably perfect greatest hits compilations of all time (along with the one for Al Green).

Second, they are absolutely fundamental to modern day pop music. Their work helped make synthesizes ubiquitous to the modern sound, and firmly established the soaring female tenor that gripped contemporary pop since the classic era. More admirably, they helped expand the range of emotions available to pop musicians, from simple ("Dancing Queen") to the historical/political ("Fernando") to the depressed/bitter ("The Winner Takes It All") and finally to the self-assured ("One Of Us", "Thank You For The Music").

So why are they in the Apocrypha, the category I use for the obscure and underrated? It's because popularity is a continuum, and if Scott Walker defines one end of the spectrum, ABBA defines the other. They are so well known, so ingrained in our lives, that we no longer care about the actual music they produced. Not in a historical sense anyway. Maybe it's because so many music critics are incurable snobs, but the more popular a band becomes, the more likely people are to dismiss them. Look at what happened to Elvis; one of the most popular and innovative (remember, John Lennon attributed all of rock music to him) performers of all time became a grotesque joke in the public consciousness. His music faded into the background, and by 1977 we no longer cared about his contributions, only his failures. The same was true about Michael Jackson; it took his unexpected death to cure people of their associations, to remove his music from purgatory and put it back on the towering pedestal where it rightly belongs.

So what about ABBA? Are we supposed to dismiss them just because they have a museum, Broadway musical, and film dedicated to them? Or should we accept that no band could get this popular without having some measure of talent? Just because disco was popular doesn't mean it was all a wash. I'm not saying there wasn't a lot of pointless drivel produced in that genre; there was, just like every other popular genre. From the right angle, every genre known to man is shit. A pointless waste of time. Looking at things that way, music doesn't seem to have much of a point at all. The important thing is to look at what is good, and has persisted among us because of some inherent quality. I may not like Journey, but I don't deny their significance in music history.

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