When I was at school at the turn of the decade, a number of sinister forces roamed free. From 1979 to 1981, hormones ruled, self-image was more important than the Cold War and if you weren’t into punk or the New Wave of British Heavy Metal you were the lowest of the low. An absolute maggot. And you were made to pay.
The cruelest people on earth are teenagers between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. At school I watched people I once knew turn into monsters over the summer holidays. I left them at the end of the fourth year cheery and innocent; when I saw them again at the start of the fifth year they had regressed to grunting savages hell bent on murder and pillage whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Imagine, if you will, the torment endured by anyone who let it slip they might have a soft spot for the music of Abba.
The summers of 1976 (and 1977 and 1978) were golden years. It didn’t rain at that time, and there were no draughts either. The world was perpetually sunny and nice. And the soundtrack to this nirvana was the combined effect of the albums Abba the Album, Arrival and Voulez Vous. Such was the innocence, my mate Tucker came to the pictures to see Abba the Movie. Tucker would go on to be a fan of punk and John Cooper Clark, but in 1978 he had no problem watching an Abba film.
Tucker bailed out just before the Dark Ages fell upon us, but like the one victim trapped outside the pod as the doors closed and the alien monsters moved in, I slipped and fell, held on to my liking for Abba and people found out. They found out at the worst possible time in human history to be a fan of Abba. 1981.
Life was so bad I contemplated becoming a monk. And even now I still whisper it; I like Abba. I also like Rammstein and Children of Bodom, I’ve got a weird fascination with Blutengel and Laibach, and you will have read about my unconditional respect for Mark E Smith and The Fall.
Some people grew up with Elvis, others had the Beatles ringing in their childhood ears. Me, it was Abba. And I’m not going to complain about that. Dancing Queen and The Winner Takes It All are two of the greatest pop songs ever written. But am I safe admitting this? Here we are in 2015, liberated and cosmopolitan; all post-modern and ironic. Mamma Mia has been and gone, breaking Broadway and West End records everywhere. No one laughs at Bjorn Ulvaeus’s hair anymore and there are more Abba tribute bands than soft mick. (I saw Bjorn Again at Southport’s Floral Hall a few years ago.)
But the fact I’m writing this blog article with a question mark in the title suggests that we’re not out of the woods yet. As if Abba are tolerated, not revered, as if liking them gets you an understanding nod rather than an ecstatic agreement. Patronising. Like talking loudly to an elderly deaf relative: YES, WE LIKE ABBA ASWELL, DON’T WE MALCOLM!
I don’t know if Tucker still listens to Abba. I’m not even sure if he listened to them when we saw the film in 1978. But I still listen to them. Still find Frida’s attempts at dancing comical, still find Agnetha’s enigmatic delivery dizzying. And I still don’t really take much notice of the two superfluous blokes in the background, even if they did pen all the masterpieces.
Abba were and are special. Their music has an innocence perfectly suited to childhood and acts as a welcome antidote to the serious crap of being grown up. A world without Abba would be a joyless place. Every so often you need a bit of Dum Dum Diddle to balance the Hate Crew Deathroll.
Come on, come clean; what’s your favourite song by Abba?