ABBA GOLD by Elisabeth Vincentelli

Pop is the opium of the masses, the sweetener that makes you swallow the status quo-and that comforting attitude is reflected in pop's reliance on tried-and-true song structure, including the obligation to build up to a memorable chorus. The chorus is what sells the song, it's the part that's supposed to become imprinted in your head as it caps a sweet, sweet momentum. Starting a song with the chorus is the equivalent of drawing your gun too early in a shoot-out, of revealing your hand too hastily in a poker game: Once you've given everything you have, where's the pay off? And yet "Dancing Queen" doesn't flag after its flamboyant beginning: The chorus acts as both teaser and pay off. Ironically for a band that was supposed to be a bunch of control freaks with a solution to every technical or musical conundrum, it later surfaced that "Dancing Queen" starts with the chorus because Abba just couldn't figure out how to make it work any other way.

Perhaps more than any other Greatest Hits compilation, Abba Gold has come to define a band's career on one disk. More than that, its release in 1992 heralded the critical rehabilitation of a group which had, since its demise a decade earlier, become little more than a memory of trashy costumes and cheesy tunes to many people. Here, Elisabeth Vincentelli charts the circumstances surrounding the birth of Abba Gold, looks at the impact it had on the music world, and tells the stories behind some of the greatest pop songs ever recorded.

Elisabeth Vincentelli is Senior Editor at Time Out New York. She's perversely delighted to contribute to both the experimental-music primer The Wire and the pop-culture bible Entertainment Weekly.

USA publication date: 15 March 2004. Available in the UK and rest of world after May 2004.

From Continuum Books.

A compelling look at ABBA's biggest selling album

ABBA GOLD by Elisabeth Vincentelli is a fascinating in-depth look at the phenomenally successful compilation CD ABBA GOLD, first released in 1992 and which to date has reportedly sold over 25 million copies worldwide. The author delves into the songs themselves, the original context of the songs and where they fit into the history of the group, the albums the songs originally appeared on, the creation of the ABBA GOLD CD and the ABBA revival that coincided with and was fed by its release. She also goes into great detail on why this compilation, rather than any of ABBA’s eight studio albums, should qualify as a “classic” album. It’s obvious from the text that Elisabeth is a fan of pop music in general and ABBA in particular – she declares ‘SOS’ to be her favourite song, ever. But it’s not all blind praise – if negative critical comment is warranted, it’s made, but in a constructive manner. The author justifies her arguments in a persuasive manner that the reader may not necessarily agree with, but can find little to argue about. 

As a long-term ABBA fan, and contributor to the book, I found it an interesting and compelling read. ABBA GOLD played a huge part in the ABBA revival and the rehabilitation of ABBA in the eyes of the general public, and this book covers that in more detail than anything that’s come before. All in all, something different in the ABBA bibliography. Highly recommended for ABBA fans or just fans of great music.

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