ABBA: Albums Ranked from Worst to Best

In November 2021, ABBA released their ninth studio album Voyage. It was the Swedish quartet’s first studio album in almost 40 years – an unprecedented gap in output for a superstar group. It’s not the longest gap between releases – niche groups like The Sonics, Fanny, Strawberry Alarm Clock, and The Standells have all taken longer between releases, but to ar less fanfare. On this list, Voyage is compared to the run of albums that the group released between 1973 and 1981.

The quartet of Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Ulvaeus and Andersson both had enjoyed success in folk bands in the 1960s and formed ABBA’s songwriting team. Fältskog was already a solo star in Sweden, while Lyngstad had enjoyed smaller-scale success as a jazz singer. Pooling their talents the four became phenomenally popular in the 1970s, scoring worldwide hits like ‘SOS’, ‘Dancing Queen’, and ‘Take A Chance On Me’.

ABBA have a reputation as a singles band rather than an albums band. This is justified with regards to their early work – they were creating worldwide hits like ‘Waterloo’ before they started making solid albums. But looking back at their career in retrospect, they have albums that are enjoyable the whole way through. Here are ABBA’s nine studio albums, ranked from worst to best.

#9 Ring Ring

1973
ABBA didn’t yet have a name when they released their debut album – it was credited to Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Frida. Despite the group’s collective talents, they hadn’t figured out their act – the men sing more often than on subsequent releases, and they try everything from country on ‘He Is Your Brother’ to a show tune on ‘I Am Just A Girl’. The single ‘Ring Ring’ was a minor hit, but it’s primitive compared to later triumphs.


#8 Waterloo

1974
The title track of Waterloo famously won ABBA the Eurovision Song Contest, and it’s their first classic song. But like Ring Ring, Waterloo is the inconsistent output of a group searching for its identity. There’s oddball material like the reggae of ‘Sitting In A Palm Tree’ and the glam of ‘King Kong Song’. The minor hit ‘Honey Honey’ is pretty, but ABBA would shortly release much stronger albums.


#7 Voyage

2021
It’s unprecedented for a major group to release a new album after more than half a lifetime away. To ABBA’s credit, Voyage is a dignified return; it follows the ABBA formula of catchy songs with dark undercurrents and it doesn’t chase trendy sounds. It’s often more kitsch than their 1970s heyday; ‘Ode to Freedom’, ‘Bumblebee’ and the children’s choir of ‘Little Things’ all could have come from stage musicals. But there’s some genuinely strong material – ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ is propulsive, the 1970s leftover ‘Just A Notion’ is a worthy addition to their stellar catalogue, and ‘Keep An Eye On Dan’ is fascinating. Despite the impressive achievement of creating a worthy comeback after so long away, Voyage still ranks in the lower half of ABBA’s discography.


#6 ABBA

1975
ABBA started to hit their peak with their third album – Ulvaeus later said that “ABBA found its identity as a pop group with the release of “SOS””. ‘SOS’ wasn’t the only hit from ABBA – there’s also ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’, while the forgotten glam of ‘So Long’ was actually the first single released from the record. There are still some awkward moments, like another venture into reggae on ‘Tropical Loveland’, but it just about sustains its momentum for a full album.


#5 Voulez-Vous

1979
ABBA embraced disco on their sixth album – the title track and ‘Angeleyes’ followed The Bee Gees onto the dance floor. It’s not all disco – there’s the torch song ‘I Have A Dream’, while ‘Does Your Mother Know’ is the only ABBA hit to feature the vocals of Ulvaeus. Best of all is ‘Chiquitita’, a ballad with an arrangement inspired by Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘El Condor Pasa’ that showcases the gorgeous vocals of Fältskog and Lyngstad.


#4 Arrival

1976
ABBA’s fourth album is arguably their most hit-laden – ‘Dancing Queen’ is their signature song, while ‘Money Money Money’, ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’, and on some editions ‘Fernando’, are also present. The cover, with the group in a helicopter, is their most iconic. It’s notable for songs that are much stronger than their titles suggest, like ‘Dum Dum Diddle’ and the excellent opener ‘When I Kissed the Teacher’. ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ is the first emotionally wrenching ABBA song – there’d be more to follow on their more mature later albums.


#3 Super Trouper

1980
The cheeriness of Voulez-Vous largely concealed the issues within the ABBA camp. On Super Trouper, however, the sadness of Agnetha and Ulvaeus’ divorce is reflected in ‘The Winner Takes It All’. Super Trouper often comes across as an improved version of Voulez-Vous – ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’ is a great dance floor filler, and ‘Our Last Summer’ is a stronger ballad than anything on Voulez-Vous. The synth-pop of ‘Me And I’ is one of ABBA’s best deep cuts – it should have been a hit single.


#2 ABBA: The Album

1977
ABBA: The Album accompanied ABBA: The Movie, a documentary about the group’s tour of Australia. It marked the peak of the group’s success – in communist Poland, sales of the album exhausted the country’s supply of foreign currency. The first side is magnificent – the opener ‘Eagle’ soars close to progressive rock, while ‘Take a Chance on Me’ and ‘The Name of the Game’ are brilliant and sophisticated pop. The suite that closes the second side – The Girl with the Golden Hair: Three Scenes From a Mini-Musical – is a slight letdown compared to the rest of the record.


#1 The Visitors

1981
ABBA’s final album from their initial tenure is their weirdest, but also their most consistent. It’s almost as though Ulvaeus and Andersson stopped chasing hits and instead wrote music for themselves. The single ‘One of Us’ is well crafted but less buoyant than ABBA’s best work. The Visitors, however, i’s laden with enjoyable album cuts like the gorgeous ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’. Synth-laden tracks like the title track and ‘I Let The Music Speak’ show the group adapting successfully to 1980s music trends. Later editions add ABBA’s final singles as bonus tracks – ‘Under Attack’, ‘The Day Before You Came’, and ‘Should I Laugh Or Cry?’ are all first-rate ABBA songs.

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Aphoristical

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

Aphoristic Album Reviews features many Reviews and Blog Posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.

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23 Comments

  1. I must admit I always think of them more as a singles band. I would give an album a chance though. They did have some of the best pop songs of the 70s.

  2. I’m with Max. They were a singles band for me and never ventured in to the albums. Glad to see you say the new one isn’t half bad. And crazy that 40 years later they do one final swan song.

      • I think the list tends to reward bands that have before/after records – like Nirvana’s Nevermind followed by In Utero or Pulp’s Different Class followed by This is Hardcore.
        So having the different tone of Arrival and Visitors fits with that sort of bias.
        But when it means including all of the above albums, I’m ok with such biases!

  3. They weren’t as consistent hitmakers as ABBA but Strawberry Alarm Clock, which had a roughly 43-year gap between their studio albums Good Morning Starshine from 1969 and Wake Up Where You Are from 2012, is a band I at least have heard of long before I checked to see whether there were any major bands that had a longer gap between studio albums than ABBA.

  4. The new album is interesting, and it’s great to see a legendary band make a comeback. It really made me think, too. About how ready people are right now for something big and epic and the soon to come Music Revolution. Overall, you always worry about whether people could handle such things, but it’s looking like now is the perfect time and people will hopefully embrace it! 😃

    • I know. It sounded like they went from their kiddie 70s music to ’80s Adult Contemporary. I like the older stuff better.

  5. So glad to see “The Visitors”, my favourite ABBA album ranking at number 1, on the other side I’m sad to see “Voyage” ranking so low : all their albums from “The Album” to “Voyage” are their best to me.

    • Sorry – for me The Visitors was a valiant effort, but the old magic was only there sometimes. Just a Notion and Don’t Shut Me Down are great efforts though.

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