10 Best ABBA Songs

Swedish quartet ABBA were massively popular from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. They were effectively a supergroup when they formed in 1972 – Agnetha Fältskog was already a solo star in Sweden while songwriting team Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson had served their apprenticeships in 1960s folk acts.

The quartet took a couple of albums to get going, but once they nailed their sophisticated pop sound they produced hit after hit. After the first couple of albums, the male songwriting team only sang occasionally. The group’s key asset was the vocal blend of Anni-Frid Lyngstad mezzo-soprano and Fältskog’s soprano.

The quartet recently announced the imminent arrival of their ninth album Voyage – their first for forty years. The double single released this week is surprisingly good, even if it’s not a contender for this list of their ten best songs. I’ve started with a few deep cuts, but this list is mostly the big hit singles; hardly surprising for a pop-oriented band. Great music and dated fashion sense – here are ten of ABBA’s best.

10 Best ABBA Songs

#11 – Slipping Through My Fingers

from The Visitors, 1981
The title said ten best, but it seemed unfair to neglect ABBA’s final album of their initial run, The Visitors. It’s light on hits compared to most of their records, and it’s more introspective and strange than their other work. Yet it’s their most consistent album and deserves recognition. ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ is gorgeous and ethereal. I assumed it was another dissection of the couples’ relationships – The Visitors also boasts ‘One Of Us’ and ‘When All Is Said and Done’ – but it’s actually about their daughter growing up.


#10 – Eagle

from ABBA: The Album, 1977
ABBA were huge by 1977, but instead of another album of hits, they delivered the more ambitious ABBA: The Album. Much of the second half is dedicated to the mini-musical The Girl With The Golden Hair, while the record opens with the six-minute ‘Eagle’. It’s much closer to progressive rock than you’d expect from ABBA, with dual lead guitars. ABBA’s melodic sense is still intact despite the different format – the chorus is as hummable as anything else in their oeuvre.


#9 – Under Attack

from The Singles: The First Ten Years, 1982
ABBA abandoned sessions for their 9th album in 1982, feeling that their material wasn’t as strong as before. Instead two singles were taken from the sessions and added to the compilation The Singles: The First Ten Years. ABBA were suited better than any other established 1970s band for the 1980s – the synth-heavy sound suited their sophisticated pop sound.


#8 – Me And I

from Super Trouper, 1980
Seven of the ten tracks of Super Trouper were released as singles, but inexplicably ‘Me And I’ remained a deep cut. The lyrics are darker than usual for ABBA, but musically it’s bouncy and tuneful. The synth stabs in the chorus provide a great hook. ‘Me And I’ was used for BBC’s bowls coverage during the 1980s.


#7 – Dancing Queen

from Arrival, 1976
Everyone knows this song already – it’s one of the most ubiquitous hits of the 1970s. It’s joyful and life-affirming, right from the opening piano glissando, a piece of arranging genius. ABBA were massively popular during their initial tenure, but ‘Dancing Queen’ was their only chart-topper in the US, and only for a single week.


#6 – The Winner Takes It All

from Super Trouper, 1980
ABBA were originally a cozy band of two couples, but both couples split during their heyday. ‘The Winner Takes It All’ was inspired by Ulvaeus and Fältskog’s break-up – the music video was shot 10 days after their divorce. Ulvaeus has stated that the lyrics of ‘The Winner Takes It All’ weren’t specifically about their divorce, but that heartbreak inspired a whiskey-fuelled writing session.


#5 – SOS

from ABBA, 1975
ABBA’s first albums are wildly inconsistent, a talented writing team trying to best frame their songs. Taken from ABBA’s third album, ‘SOS’ is the song that defined their sophisticated pop sound. ABBA were in danger of becoming a one-hit-wonder after ‘Waterloo’, but ‘SOS’ returned them to the charts. It’s the only song to chart in the top 100 where the band name and song name are both palindromes.


#4 – Chiquitita

from Voulez-Vous, 1979
The first single from 1979’s Voulez-Vous, ‘Chiquitita’ is an oddball song. A glossy late 1970s production and arrangement is applied to what’s essentially a Spanish folk song – it was inspired by Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘El Condor Pasa’. The vocals are especially gorgeous, and all royalties from the song are donated to UNICEF.


#3 – Take A Chance On Me

from ABBA: The Album, 1977
The acapella introduction of ‘Take A Chance on Me’ is brilliant, setting the tone of another irresistible pop concoction. The song came from a “tck-a-ch” rhythm that Ulvaeus used to pace himself while running. It’s not their most complicated composition, but it just keeps moving along inexorably.


#2 – The Name of the Game

from ABBA: The Album, 1977
Many of ABBA’s early songs are lyrically trite – as you’ll know if you’ve heard ‘Nina Pretty Ballerina’ or ‘Bang-A-Boomerang’. But they became more sophisticated, and ‘The Name of the Game’ is a great example. There’s a laid-back west coast vibe to the track, but the French Horn part in the bridge is reminiscent of the Beatles’ baroque era.


#1 – Knowing Me, Knowing You

from Arrival, 1976
‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ predates ABBA’s romantic troubles, but it showcased an added depth to ABBA’s music. It mixed a lovelorn lyric with a bright melody. The vocal arrangement is amazing – often ABBA’s best when the men leave the singing to Anni-Frid and Agnetha, but their counterpoint vocals are impressive on the fantastic chorus.

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Aphoristical
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande.
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56 Comments

  1. I respect them but won’t be of much use in commenting.

    Both the band and song are palindromes? I would love to know who initially figured that out. It’s a great music trivia question except that it’s way too difficult – like finding a needle in a haystack

    • I guess not many other band names are palindromes. I can’t think of many off the top of my head.

    • I thought they were totally cheesy for a long time – it didn’t help that they became popular in NZ and Australia well before other places, so cheesy stuff like Ring Ring got a lot of play.

  2. 1. Knowing Me, Knowing You
    2. The Name of the Game
    3. Waterloo
    4. I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do
    5. Move On
    6. Dancing Queen
    7. Fernando
    8. SOS
    9. Chiquitita
    10. Hole In Your Soul

    • Our top two are the same. You have less late period stuff than I do though – nothing from the 1980s?

      • The only 80s one I really liked is Lay All Your Love On Me. They weren’t any fun anymore after the 70s stuff. lol. The music on the earlier stuff was a lot more appealing to me than the music on the later stuff

        • You don’t have anything from the first couple of albums either though – apart from Waterloo. Lots of ABBA: The Album – which is the peak of their popularity. Apparently it exhausted Poland’s supply of foreign currency!

          • Yeah I do. I have two from the album Abba and two from Arrival. To tell the truth I didn’t even know there was an album before Waterloo. So I don’t even know what’s on it.
            Poland was still Communist at that time, so maybe that would explain the shortage of currency. Ha ha

          • ABBA and Arrival are the 3rd and 4th albums though – no one really talks about the first two albums, apart from the Waterloo single, because they’re not that good.

          • Ok. Now I looked and the first album is Ring Ring. So that’s where all those dumb songs like Nina Ballerina come from. You know what though? Even on the next few albums the singles were the only ones that I thought were good. They had all those songs about Hasta Manana and tropical islands and Honey Honey Money Money and Dum Diddle Dum or whatever they’re called. ABBA: The Album is the only one where I kind of like some of the non-single tracks.

  3. While I wouldn’t call myself a fan of ABBA and probably liked them more when they were famous than I do now, there’s no denying they had brilliantly crafted pop songs. Their music has remained surprisingly popular, and their reunion undoubtedly will make their fans happy.

    What I do find a bit weird is that concept of the ABBAtars. Yes, supposedly they were designed based on present performances by the actual members, but I still find it a strange thought you are looking at digital creations rather than actual artists.

    What’s next, WHOvatars?

    • I think ABBA might be able to pull of the ABBAtar thing OK – it makes more sense for a pop band than it would say for Led Zeppelin.

      • You’re probably right that Zeptars would be an even more tricky position. Still, there’s just something that rubs me the wrong way about it.

        Perhaps I’m a bit narrow-minded here, but I feel if you decide to perform, it should be the actual you, not some digital creation of yourself.

        I just cannot imagine I would ever see a show like this, not even if it would be The Beatles. I would rather go and see a great tribute band.

        • ABBA all agreed to it and can choreograph themselves. I don’t think Lennon and Harrison would have liked the idea of The Beatles doing it.

          • I’m glad ABBA have control over the project, so there’s no disagreement over this aspect. It’s the thought of watching digital ABBAtars instead of the real members that doesn’t appeal to me.

          • I’m not going to be queueing up to see it either, but I’m interested to see how it goes.

  4. I only know the Abba songs delivered by American radio, so for me they were always 1970s lightweight bubblegum. In the mid to late ’70s I was immersed in hard rock, prog, and ’60s psychedelic. My musical palette’s much broader now, so some of your deep cuts might be interesting to examine. (That being said, I’ve always liked the wall-of-sound chorus of “Fernando.”)

    • Eagle is the one song on the list that’s more toward prog/hard rock. They were a pop band, so naturally most of their best songs were singles.

  5. I think the brilliance of ABBA’s music has come to be appreciated more, especially in the U.S., in the wake of the smash Broadway hit ‘Mamma Mia’, which really showcased the brilliance of Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson’s songwriting. To all those who dismiss them, I say screw off! I generally agree with most of your picks for the top 11.

    • When I first became aware of them in the late 1980s, they were massively uncool. Their stock has really risen more recently – along with Queen, they’ve translated to younger generations successfully.

  6. I never thought about ABBA in the terms of albums…only hits.
    My top 5 would be

    Take A Chance on Me
    Knowing Me Knowing You
    SOS
    Dancing Queen
    The Name of the Game

    It seems like a lot of people were backed into admitting they liked them. I’m one of those people. At first I would not admit it but then after listening to them…it dawned on me what great pop singles they were producing. They didn’t have the cool factor but they had the chops.

    I have played SOS on stage with two guitars, bass, and drums…it translates well. That is when I knew…these are great songs that adapt to different arrangements.

    • When I was first aware of them it was the late 1980s and they were at the pit of their popularity. They came back a lot if the 1990s – down under we had the Australian movie Muriel’s Wedding and the Flying Nun tribute album ABBA-solutely Fabulous.

      I got to like them when I saw an ABBA tribute band live.

      • I was 10 years in front of you…they were not exactly hip in the late seventies but not down as far as they got in the 80s.

        Tribute bands…sometimes they sound almost as good as the original…and pretty soon that will be our only choice.

        • Their fashion sense was always tragic too. Apparently their fashion choices were tax-motivated – you could only get a tax rebate if they clearly couldn’t be worn on the street.

  7. Anni-Frid Lyngstad has an interesting history – the product of her mother’s liaison with a Nazi soldier in occupied Norway, she eventually married a German aristocrat called The Prince of Reuss (or something like that) and, after his death, assumed the title of Dowager Countess of Reuss (again – or something like that).

    Regarding their latest release, I Still Have Faith In You, there’s a point where the two septuagenarian “girls” voices burst into life on the chorus which is truly spine-tingling. The bit where they sing “we do have it in us”. Not half you do. Great to have you back.

    1.The Day Before You Came
    2. The Name Of The Game
    3. Knowing Me Knowing You
    4. Our Last Summer
    5. When All Is Said And Done
    6. Mamma Mia
    7. The Winner Takes It All
    8. Under Attack
    9. The Way Old Friends Do
    10. SOS

    Also a shout out for the lyrically surprising Two For The Price Of One – about a special offer on prostitutes.

    • Apparently Anna-Frid was the only member who actually enjoyed the spotlight too.

      You have both 1982 singles in your selection – it’s a shame they didn’t keep going.

      You get the mum for free, apparently…..

  8. Clean, attractive, very well produced entertainment for all the family. My wife love it as well as my mother in law. They have influenced the pop music from the 80: Madonna, etc.
    My all time favorite song from them, as a sweet reminder of my chilhood, is the Spanish version of Chiquitita.
    “Chiquitita dime porqué…. “

  9. I am sure they will make a fortune with their avaters!: I grew up with my mom listening to the Arrival, and now my wife and teenage daughter went off to see Mamma Mia 2 when it came out at the cinema. One benefit of being so distinctive is that they can sidestep trends and become almost timeless and will endure.

  10. I like Abba. I did read about their comeback. This is huge, given their fan base. I think “Waterloo” may be the best pop song ever written. I’m stunned you don’t have it. Conversely, I hate, hate, hate “Dancing Queen.” In no particular order: (I don’t have 10 but then I don’t know all their tunes.)

    SOS
    Fernando
    I Do, I Do, etc.
    Knowing Me, Knowing You
    Take a Chance on Me
    The Winer Takes it All
    Waterloo

    • I didn’t really want to include Dancing Queen because everyone knows it already, but I like how joyful it is. Our lists are pretty similar otherwise.

      • And so you doubtless know that Steve Nieve acknowledged that the piano intro to “Oliver’s Army” was inspired by “Dancing Queen.” I can’t help but notice you’ve ducked the “Waterloo” question. So, do you feel about it like I do about “Queen?”

        • I didn’t know that actually.

          I don’t mind Waterloo – I can see why it’s popular even if it’s not a favourite of mine. I’m not very keen on I Do I Do I Do I Do though.

          • I don’t love it but it’s catchy. I really like “Fernando.” I was in England when I first heard it and so it brings back memories.

          • I think that I Do I Do is one of the best cuz the tune is good all the way through. A lot of times even their best songs only really come alive on the choruses and the verses aren’t as strong. Sometimes they even go from lame to great. Especially on songs like Chiquitita or Fernando that go back and forth between quiet and loud. But on I Do Do it’s like one big long great chorus.

          • I find it less emotionally nuanced that some of their other stuff – it’s relentlessly upbeat. Just like a three minute sugar rush.

          • Nothing overly complex about ABBA anyway. My only regret about them is it eventually led to Max Martin who, IMHO, produces swill.

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