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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Diggin' The Dancing Queen

Today’s Sunday Jukebox feature will focus on a band that I admittedly used to poke fun at every opportunity I could get.

Mind you, I would often poke fun at most bands and artists who tackled at least one song during the dreaded “disco era” of the late 1970s.

I was too young to experience life in which disco records flooded music stores and where there seemed to be disco clubs with mirrored balls and flashing lights on every street corner.  I was born two years after disco “died”, but if I had lived during that time period, I suppose that I would have been one of the ones cheering everybody on as they smashed thousands of disco records on the streets.

No, actually, come to think of it, I probably wouldn’t.  But I really didn’t have any love for disco music.  When I was growing up, whenever I heard a disco song, I found it cheesy and laughable.  With songs like “Disco Duck” and “Do The Hustle”, I found it quite hard to take them seriously.

(Then again, I grew up during the 1980s and 1990s, where people likely found it hard to take songs like “Barbie Girl” and “The Macarena” seriously.)

It really wasn’t until I grew a little older that I started to see disco in a whole new light.  Looking back on it, some of the most recognizable disco songs had great melodies and really got you on your feet.  In most cases, the disco era generated songs that were all about love, passion, and having a good time.  Certainly there were some exceptions, but I’d like to think that the disco era provided us with songs that had some of the most positive messages ever heard.  The disco era of the 1970s was certainly a far cry from the grunge era of the early 1990s, where most songs were depressing and dark.

(Though both periods did have one thing in common.  Heavy drug use.)

I guess the point that I am trying to make is that my preconceived notions about disco music began to wane as I grew older, and now I can readily accept the fact that the disco movement of the 1970s was highly influential in the world of music and pop culture.  Even in song releases from 2012, there are still traces of the classic 1970s disco beat.  Just listen to any song by Lady Gaga, and you’ll understand what I mean.

So, for today’s entry, I thought that we’d take a look at one of the biggest disco acts of the late 1970s and early 1980s.  This group enjoyed a lot of success in the music business.  This is a band that has sold over 370 million records worldwide during their entire career, making them one of the most successful music artists of all time.  The band first formed in Sweden in 1972, and 40 years later, they are still making their mark on the music industry despite breaking up thirty years ago.

The stats for this band are mighty impressive.  The band released eight studio albums between 1973 and 1981, one live album, seven compilation albums, three box sets, four video albums, thirty-three music videos, and a massive seventy-three singles!  Not only were they one of the biggest music acts of the 1970s, but they were apparently one of the biggest!

In the United States, this Swedish pop group managed to have four Top 10 hits, but their success was evident in other countries as well.  In the United Kingdom, this band ended up having a total of nine #1 hits.  In Australia, the band had a total of six #1 hits.  And, in the band’s native Sweden, ten of their singles hit the Top 10, several of which peaked at the top of the charts.

And, to think that this band was first discovered at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest!  It’s true!  The song that the band played was a little ditty known as “Waterloo”, which ended up being crowned the winning song that year!  The song ended up topping the charts in Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, and the United Kingdom, and reached #6 on the Billboard Charts. 

And just two years later, our featured band would have their first (and only) American #1 hit single with this release.

SONG:  Dancing Queen
ALBUM:  Arrival
DATE RELEASED:  August 16, 1976

The song “Dancing Queen” managed to top the charts in twelve other countries aside from the United States, and many would consider the song to be the signature hit for the Swedish band, ABBA!

And, here is a picture of ABBA below.

(Oh, wait...that’s the 1990s Swedish band, Ace of Base, who eerily resembles ABBA...)

No, here’s the real, ABBA.  The band name came from the first initials of the four members of the band.  From left to right, we have Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid “Frida” Lyngstad. 

Get it?  ABBA?  Neat, huh?

Here’s another piece of trivia for you all.  Did you know that ABBA was made up of two married couples?  It’s true!  At the time, Agnetha and Bjorn were married, as were Benny and Frida.  Sadly, both marriages ended in divorce (which likely caused the band to split up in 1982, as both marriages had dissolved by 1981).

Anyway, “Dancing Queen” was the song that really put ABBA on the map.  As I said before, the song topped the charts in a number of countries, and some people would say that the song ended up being their signature hit.

Although the song was released in the summer of 1976 in Sweden (the song saw a stateside release in November of that year), the early beginnings of the song took place almost a full year prior, in August 1975.  Would you believe that the original title of the demo that would eventually become “Dancing Queen” was “Boogaloo”?  Somehow, I don’t think “Boogaloo” would have had quite the same ring to it.  It sounded too much like “Waterloo”.

The instrumental demo was completed first, and during the recording sessions, Benny brought the demo home to play for Frida.  Immediately upon playing the song, Frida began to cry.  She was deeply moved by the song, stating that she found it “so beautiful”, and that it was a song that went straight to her heart.

It was decided fairly quickly afterwards that the song would be included in the band’s 1976 album “Arrival”.

But did you know that the song that we all recognize as “Dancing Queen” was actually an updated version?  It turns out that the second verse of “Dancing Queen” was not the original verse for the song.  Through lost footage during a recording session, we now know what the original second verse was supposed to be.  Instead of the “You’re a tease...” verse, this was what we could have heard for verse #2.

Baby, baby, you’re out of sight,
Hey, you’re looking alright tonight.
When you come to the party,
Listen to the guys,
They’ve got the look in their eyes...

I wonder if the song would have still been a hit had the second verse been untouched.  I suppose we’ll never know now.

At any rate, “Dancing Queen” became one of the biggest hits of late 1976 and early 1977, and even years after the song was released, it still manages to have a huge impact on pop culture.  In 1993, in celebration of the 50th birthday of Queen Silvia of Sweden, Anni-Frid Lyngstad performed the song a cappella, which received rave reviews and impressed the Swedish royal family.

The song actually re-entered the UK charts in September 1992, peaking at #16, likely spawned by the fact that around that time, a UK based group known as “Erasure” had a hit with a cover version of another ABBA classic “Take A Chance On Me”.

The song ended up making Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, ranking at #171.

And just to make it known just how popular the song was, it was covered by several artists over the years.  A Swedish group known as the A*Teens released a cover version of the ABBA classic in March 2000, which had some minor airplay in the United States.  Other artists who have covered “Dancing Queen” include Kylie Minogue, Belinda Carlisle, S Club 7, and Sixpence None The Richer.

And that’s our look back on one of the most influential and popular disco classics of all that I now have a new appreciation for.  J

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