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The Dark, Creepy side of ABBA
June 7, 2013 5:21 PM   Subscribe

Starting from their very first album, ABBA was recording songs which opened a door onto a darker side than one might be familiar with from their hits. The first of these is Ring, Ring's track Another Town, Another Train, wherein a lover is left while still asleep with only a note to explain the departure of their now-long-gone beau. But that's nothing compared to what was to come across their career...

ABBA's next album, Waterloo, had the track Suzy-Hang-Around, full of childhood younger-child bullying and ineffective parental intervention.

Hey, Hey Helen, from ABBA's next release, the eponymous ABBA, outlined the life of a divorced woman with children and questioned whether her choices were wise.

Arrival includes the track Tiger, which warns of the dangers of urban life and predators which may lurk in the shadows.

Perhaps their best known dark song comes from The Album. I'm A Marionette, part of the mini-musical Girl With The Golden Hair (previously), is a bleak depiction of a singer being used by the industry and the audience for their own selfish gains.

Their next album, Voulez Vous, has two contenders for this list: The King Has Lost His Crown, about a pickup artist who has lost his touch, and Does Your Mother Know, an upbeat ditty about jailbait in a disco club.

The Piper comes from Super Trooper. It's a song about being entranced by magickal music and losing one's will to the player.

Saving the best for last, ABBA's final album The Visitors featured the sort-of title track The Visitors (Crackin' Up), a song about paranoia perhaps in the face of an oppressive government or perhaps just fear of The Other.

After all that darkness, let's change gears with the darkly humorous Two For The Price Of One, also from their final album.
posted by hippybear (56 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite

 
'Cassandra' isn't exactly a happy song either...
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 5:30 PM on June 7, 2013


In an alternate universe somewhere, Yanni joined ABBA as a keyboardist.
posted by Nomyte at 5:35 PM on June 7, 2013


This is a big reason why the Throbbing Gristle gang were such fans. Great post, hippybear.

My favourite has always been Tiger, and the video of our four Swedes playing a tough gang slathered in star filters only adds to my love for that tune. What I'd like to know is where the video for The Visitors comes from, since they're obviously singing a completely different song. The non-band footage is quite intriguing.
posted by Chichibio at 5:40 PM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Knowing Me Knowing You is pretty bleak, too.

"No more carefree laughter
Silence ever after
Walking through an empty house, tears in my eyes
Here is where the story ends, this is goodbye
Knowing me, knowing you (ah-haa)
There is nothing we can do... "
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 5:44 PM on June 7, 2013


And Money, Money, Money isn't actually about having money, as the chorus might suggest, but rather about only being able to fantasize about money (or, more specifically, fantasizing about marrying into money) when you're a member of the working poor.
posted by scody at 5:59 PM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I didn't even have to look down before I knew who had posted this.
posted by The Whelk at 6:04 PM on June 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


The Day Before You Came is at the top of this list.

The singer tells of her life before someone entered it, but she was going through life so unconsciously, she can't remember what she was doing at all. She 'must' have done this or that, she 'usually' did such and such, all routine, nothing memorable. She was sleepwalking through life. Presumably, she finally found happiness once the 'you' arrived, but the lyrics and the tone certainly don't suggest that. She wasn't happy before, so is she happy now?

It's all one existential blur of despair -- it's fantastic!
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:18 PM on June 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


It's surprising how dark much of their music was. You wouldn't expect it from the reputation they have for light and fluffy music. 'I'm a Marionette" was one of my favorite songs off that album when I was a kid, and I think it was maybe the first time I really noticed how music and lyrics to pop songs could have a dark edge.

"The Winner Takes It All" is another really bleak one, though definitely lacking in the creepy department. The heartbreak in it is just devastating.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 6:25 PM on June 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


I was so excited the other day when my ABBA box set came up in the iTunes rotation...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:26 PM on June 7, 2013


Also from The Visitors, I always found Like An Angel Passing Through My Room desperately sad. (Also, Frida's held notes on the last verse: omygod.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 6:28 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the great thing about ABBA is they sound very upbeat and happy but are actually pretty dark. Even their popular upbeat songs are bittersweet. "Take A Chance on Me" is's basically saying, "Hey, I know you don't love me like I love you, but I'm going to wait here for you anyway. Y'know, just in case." Christ, that's sad.

Man, I love ABBA.
posted by mokin at 6:30 PM on June 7, 2013 [13 favorites]


Fernando is about war
S.O.S is about a crashing relationship
Dancing Queen is about a lonely girl who needs to dance and tease.

"Oh yeah", ABBA is a lot darker that you realize at first.
posted by djrock3k at 6:34 PM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's funny; I desperately love ABBA, until I don't. It's like a titration lab in a chemistry class. Each song is another drop to the solution. Love, love, love, love, love, love,revulsion Ohmygodwhere'sthemuteIcan'ttakethisanymore?!?!
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 6:35 PM on June 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


One of us is crying.
posted by Melismata at 6:38 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes! I've always found Abba's music to be incredibly depressing. I mean, they are Scandinavian, are they not?

But yeah, when I was kindergarten age, I recall my mother changing into her leotard, throwing some Abba tapes onto the hifi, and working out with abandon to "Winner Takes it All" in our living room. I (also leotard clad) would just sit in the corner watching her, listen to the lyrics, and feel vaguely bummed out.
posted by medeine at 6:38 PM on June 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


Oh, and my favorite is "If it wasn't for the nights," I think that I could make it.
posted by Melismata at 6:52 PM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sweetness and fright.
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 7:26 PM on June 7, 2013


> I mean, they are Scandinavian, are they not?

That's it! They're Kierkegaard in four part close harmony.
posted by jfuller at 7:33 PM on June 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


I don't wanna talk
About the things we've gone through
Though it's hurting me
Now it's history
I've played all my cards
And that's what you've done too
Nothing more to say
No more ace to play

The winner takes it all
The loser standing small
Beside the victory
That's her destiny

I was in your arms
Thinking I belonged there
I figured it made sense
Building me a fence
Building me a home
Thinking I'd be strong there
But I was a fool
Playing by the rules

The gods may throw a dice
Their minds as cold as ice
And someone way down here
Loses someone dear
The winner takes it all
The loser has to fall
It's simple and it's plain
Why should I complain.

But tell me does she kiss
Like I used to kiss you?
Does it feel the same
When she calls your name?
Somewhere deep inside
You must know I miss you
But what can I say
Rules must be obeyed

The judges will decide
The likes of me abide
Spectators of the show
Always staying low
The game is on again
A lover or a friend
A big thing or a small
The winner takes it all

I don't wanna talk
If it makes you feel sad
And I understand
You've come to shake my hand
I apologize
If it makes you feel bad
Seeing me so tense
No self-confidence
But you see
The winner takes it all
The winner takes it all......
posted by Slothrup at 7:38 PM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


And "Mamma Mia" is basically "you're a total fucker and I keep trying to dump you but I'm too attracted to you to stay broken up." Super dysfunctional, but also danceable!
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:08 PM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Knock Knock"
"Who's there?"
"Waterloo."
"Waterloo who?"
"Waterloo, couldn't escape if I wanted to..."
posted by ovvl at 8:12 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Come to think of it, all of my crappy past relationships have a corresponding ABBA song.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:18 PM on June 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


If AskMe ever really considered the lyrics to Waterloo, the calls for THERAPY NOW would be audible from the '70s.
posted by pompomtom at 8:58 PM on June 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


My parents listened to all of these records in the rumpus room.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:16 PM on June 7, 2013


"Does Your Mother Know" is one of the more fucked-up songs in the ABBA canon.
posted by mynameisluka at 9:21 PM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


My favorite, from the peppy disco song Summer Night City...

In the pale light of the morning
Nothing's worth remembering
It's a dream, it's out of reach
Scattered driftwood on the beach
posted by jabah at 9:40 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wait, are you suggesting there is a side OTHER than a dark creepy one?
posted by evilDoug at 10:00 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, definitely... that bright-white jumpsuit creepy side. Way creepier than anything dark.
posted by pompomtom at 10:45 PM on June 7, 2013


"Does Your Mother Know" is one of the more fucked-up songs in the ABBA canon.

To be fair, until about 20 years ago it was pretty common to have songs about having sex with underage boys and girls, hit pop songs.
posted by bongo_x at 10:48 PM on June 7, 2013


Annifrid is one of Hitler's lebensborn.
posted by Tarn at 11:16 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Compared to other songs from that era, does your mother know seems kinda 21st century.

Given that the whole song seems to be about treating a young woman as an adult, but refusing to have a sexual relationship with her because she's too young.

Distinctly uncreepy if you ask me. I wish more pop stars from that era had had the same attitude.
posted by zoo at 11:50 PM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


You hate, you scream, you swear
And still you never reach 'em
You curse, you try to scare
But you can never teach 'em

Elaine, Elaine, Elaine
You know they're gonna get you
You try to break away
But they will never let you
It's a dead end street
They tie your hands and tie your feet
And the street is narrow
A nowhere lane
A nowhere train for Elaine, Elaine, Elaine
You're like a goldfish in a bowl
Elaine, Elaine, Elaine
They have your mind, they'll take your soul

You come, you stay, you go
It really doesn't matter
You've done it all before
By now they'll know the pattern

It's a dead end street
They tie your hands and tie your feet
And the street is narrow
A nowhere lane
A nowhere train for Elaine, Elaine, Elaine
You're like a goldfish in a bowl
Elaine, Elaine, Elaine
They have your mind, they'll take your soul
Now that you're gone, you know they're gonna get you
Now that you're gone, you know they'll never let you
posted by Tarn at 11:55 PM on June 7, 2013


Fernando is about war

More to the point, for me, is that Fernando is about losing a war.
posted by telstar at 12:44 AM on June 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Disillusion is kinda bleak too. Angel Eyes is about an apparently controlling partner. The Day Before You Came is a rather bleak song about what life was like before the singer's new partner came into their life.
posted by Solomon at 1:39 AM on June 8, 2013


"Soldiers" is pretty dark, as well. Great song.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 3:10 AM on June 8, 2013


My mother thought that ABBA was a nice clean band, and it was the only music she ever bought me. Of course because it was that nasty sounding rock & roll, I had to listen to it with headphones on, so she never found out that the only album she ever bought me had this song on it.

Two for the price on one.

...

If you dream of the girl for you
Then call us and get two for the price of one
We're the answer if you feel blue
So call us and get two for the price of one
If you dream of the girl for you
...

She said, 'i'm sure we must be perfect for each other
And if you doubt it you'll be certain when you meet my mother'

It was a learning experience, for innocent teen me.
posted by b33j at 5:02 AM on June 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


"One Night in Bangkok" might be added to the appendix if not the list.
posted by texorama at 6:17 AM on June 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Maybe it was a long running inside joke because the musical tone is sweetness to the borderline of children's hymns Jesus Loves the LIttle Children and when they are on stage they are smiling like Cheshire Cats and nobody really pays attention to the lyrics of pop songs.

Did they ever have a press conference or Oprah interview where the questioner was persistent about WTF is going on with the lyrics here you people? Was there ever a real life reveal like John Lennon at the primal scream therapist?
posted by bukvich at 7:47 AM on June 8, 2013


Oh man, Elaine, such an upbeat song about paranoia and persecution!
posted by The Whelk at 8:50 AM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh wow, this thread has opened my eyes.

My mom loves Chiquitita, which is of course about severe depression.
posted by ipsative at 9:02 AM on June 8, 2013


I've always thought S.O.S. would be a good soundtrack for a graphic stalking/home invasion/murder scene on a cable TV show. I thought that made me the morbid creepy one but maybe ABBA is creepier than I thought.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 9:24 AM on June 8, 2013


I was surprised to learn that for a while ABBA was the largest revenue-generating corporation in Sweden, beating out such slackers as Volvo, Electrolux, SKF, and Ericsson.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:39 AM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lush did a great version of Hey Hey Helen
posted by jonathanbell at 10:18 AM on June 8, 2013


texorama wrote: "One Night in Bangkok" might be added to the appendix if not the list.

Three quarters of ABBA with Murray Head, still no Yul Brynner...
posted by 1367 at 11:41 AM on June 8, 2013


Under Attack belongs on the dark and creepy list as well.

To say nothing of When I Kissed The Teacher.
posted by SisterHavana at 12:04 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


They don't seem to have a video of it up, but Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby did a great cover of Fernando on their Two-Way Family Favourites CD.
posted by maurice at 3:49 PM on June 8, 2013


When I dream of the video for "Waterloo," I see jumpsuited-clad blondes singing on a smoky hillside with Napoleon's wounded soldiers kicklining behind them.
posted by Bill Peschel at 4:14 PM on June 8, 2013


Oh fuck ABBA was involved in any way with the tragedy that is "One Night In Bangkok"??

I am very disappointed.

One night in Bangkok and you just might visit the night market and eat the seafood of your dreams.
posted by telstar at 2:13 AM on June 9, 2013


ABBA in Hindi
posted by omnidrew at 8:03 AM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Heh, telstar, One Night In Bankok (and the whole musical Chess) was written by Benny and Bjorn, with lyrics by Tim Rice. Pretty much 70s all over it, there.

This is a great post about ABBA, one of my all time favorite bands. Yeah, dark at times, but with all that bright, bright, packaging, who cares?
posted by lhauser at 11:21 AM on June 9, 2013


Well, technically... Chess wasn't started until after ABBA's final album which was released in 1981. The concept album came out in 1984.

So yeah, it does have a lot of 70s legacy behind it, but it's pretty much a pure product of the early 1980s. (CHESS, previously on Metafilter)
posted by hippybear at 11:27 AM on June 9, 2013


This belongs here: frenetic's grim cover of S.O.S.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:40 PM on June 9, 2013


This is heartbreaking.
posted by monkey closet at 7:04 AM on June 10, 2013


One interesting thing about the video for The Tiger is that it's Agnetha driving and Frida in the passenger seat, while Benny and Björn are cosied up together in the back seat.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:25 AM on June 10, 2013


Late to the convo, but The Day Before You Came definitely tops my list as well. It seems to infer something good, but NO.

A couple of years ago I read this ABBA biography, which was really good, pretty extensive, and very entertaining.
posted by New England Cultist at 5:17 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Holy shit you guys, I'd forgotten half these songs existed and hadn't heard the other half. This is the best post ever.
posted by edheil at 7:42 PM on June 11, 2013


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