Part 1: Can you hear the drums? – It’s ABBA in the Jungle
I grew up in a time warp.
I grew up in a small town in East Java. We had views of volcanoes and rice fields. We had no television. We didn’t go to the movies. And we knew only handful of other Westerners. Happy, but simple days.
In the meantime, apparently the 70’s were happening in much of the world. Apparently it was a world where discos were hip, where mullets were growing wild on much of the population (adults, teenagers, children – it did not discriminate), and where bell bottoms were all the rage.
And there was music going on. Apparently funky stuff.
Apparently a whole range of stuff. The Bee Gees, Queen, Billy Joel, The Bay City Rollers, Led Zeppelin, and ABBA.
I was oblivious to all of the above.
Somehow, when the Western world’s cultural influences were passing me by, ABBA still managed to penetrate their way through the small backwaters of Java.
Even more remarkable was that they made their way through to an even more remote outpost. When I was 8 & 9 we lived on the intrepid island of Sulawesi. The town we lived in was literally surrounded by forest and jungle, and not accessible by road. They had not seen a ‘white man’ for 40 years. But when my sister wore her ABBA t-shirt, they all pointed in recognition.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the power of ABBA.
Part 2: Knowing Me, Knowing ABBA
When I think about the music that has influenced me most in my life, hands down it’s U2. I’ve been a big fan since my teens. But predating U2 in my life, is ABBA. From my earliest memories ABBA have been there. My sisters and I dancing in our kitchen in Java – that was ABBA. Trying to remember all the words to The Winner Takes it All while singing into my hairbrush – that was ABBA.
I remember arriving from my time warp onto Australian soil when I was 10. It was 1982. We lived in Adelaide for the best part of that year. As culturally unhip as I was, I told some kids at school that ABBA was my favourite group (because they were) and the kids just laughed at me. They’d moved on to KISS and much cooler things. And as one dimensional as my musical taste was, I was okay with it. Even if I wasn’t up with the latest, ABBA seemed pretty cool company to keep.
Inevitably, the 80’s took over and I left ABBA aside while I embraced the exciting pop world of Wham!, A-ha, and Duran Duran (to name a few). And of course this was followed by my love affair with U2.
But then in the early 90’s we were all given permission to like ABBA again. The nostalgia was hypnotic. With movies like Muriel’s Wedding and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, ABBA was cool again.
Of course they were cool. Daggy cool. They always were. We just needed a decade to buffer ourselves from them and look back and say… You know what? That music was pretty darn catchy.
A group that can come back from a decade of being under the radar and revive their popularity without even releasing another hit? A group that evokes the nostalgic pop simplicity of my childhood? A group that has etched themselves forever into my brain so that I can sing along to all of their songs effortlessly?
The power of ABBA.
Part 3: Take a Chance on ABBA
Fast forward a few years, to when I was in my mid 20’s.
A friend and I took a spontaneous drive down the Great Ocean Road one weekend. We were young, happy and care-free. It was Thelma and Louise, though we weren’t running away from anything and we certainly weren’t going over any cliffs, but we were singing along to some fabulous music in the car.
After staying at a Youth Hostel we met a backpacker called Tim (quickly given the name Organic Tim). Nice enough lad, a fruit picker, so we agreed to give him a lift to the next town. After a few minutes of awkward ice-breaker conversations, it was time to get on with the business of partying in the car. ABBA it was. Take a Chance on Me.
Did he mind us playing music? No.
Did he mind us singing along?
Before we could ask, we heard some backing vocals warbling from the back seat… Organic Tim was earnestly channelling Benny & Bjorn and doing the “Take-a-take-a-take-a-chance” part. Nothing could stop him, he had ABBA in his veins.
We continued belting it out. Two girlfriends and a complete stranger. The whole car rocking in pop-heaven unison.
The power of ABBA.
Part 4: Chiquitita Tell Me the Truth
In recent years, ABBA have been somewhat quiet in my universe. Except for a few occasional moments of popping into my life. That is, until recently.
A few months ago, I made the mistake of playing a ‘party mix’ tape (yes tape) in the car. It contained, among other questionable songs, a lesser known ABBA tune called Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight).
It was an instant hit for Miss 3. According to her it was “The Best Song in the World”. I tried to explain to her that ABBA’s extensive catalogue of hits spanned greater heights than Gimme Gimme Gimme. But to no avail.
I began to be concerned for my sanity whilst driving the car. My backseat DJ was requesting back to back playing of the song. I feared that the ABBA part of my brain was in overload. It was also a case of epic parental fail when you hear Miss 3 sing to herself “Gimme gimme gimme a man after midnight”.
Realising the dire situation, I sat her down at the computer, surfed You Tube and played Dancing Queen, Waterloo, and Mamma Mia for her. You know, to expose her to the cool stuff.
They were immediately rejected as “too noisy”. In fact, Dancing Queen was met with a low growling “Turn. It. Off. Mummy.”
We usually have a bit of a dance after dinner, so the other night I persisted with my ABBA conversion project and put ABBA’s Best Of CD on. Vehement rejections of the hits once again. It was Gimme Gimme Gimme or nothing! We had a stand-off.
So we played Gimme Gimme Gimme… and let the next song run… and eventually it wore her down… she was curious. For every song that followed she asked “What’s this one called?”. Then my personal favourite started, Chiquitita. I picked her up in my arms and we danced ourselves silly. The chorus is so uplifting…“The sun is still in the sky and it’s shining above you!”. And I swayed her dramatically to the catchy piano bits at the end. She laughed hysterically. She bubbled over. She loved it.
How could anyone resist?
The power of ABBA.