May 08

ABBA – “Dancing Queen”

FT + Popular/241 comments • 17,337 views

#394, 4th September 1976

In my teens I read a science fiction novel with a startlingly elegant twist. (I won’t mention the book’s name in case you come across it yourself.) It was about a brilliant scientist who vanishes: the book’s protagonist goes looking for clues to what happened, and becomes close to the scientist’s wife. And at a crucial juncture in the plot, the narration shifts, mid-paragraph, from third person to first: the scientist’s “vanishing” was literal, and with a thrill of horror you realise he’s been observing the action all along.

What on earth does this have to do with “Dancing Queen”? The song turns on a similar effect. Of all ABBA’s twenty or so hit singles this is the only one with no first-person content – none of the “I” or “me” or “us” that populate almost all their records. Of course on one level this is coincidence – but the apparent lack of personal perspective is very unusual for ABBA. They’re a band who like to ground their songs in experience and who pay close attention to a lyric’s perspective; even a character song like “Head Over Heels” makes sure to establish its subject’s relationship to the singer, right in the first line. “Dancing Queen” is entirely in the second-person – the song is directly addressed to a girl, but its narrator has, like the scientist in the novel, become invisible.

And yet there she is, all through the song, the prism for its observation – watching the dancing queen from the sidelines, vicariously feeling her freedom, her peak. What makes “Dancing Queen” a masterpiece is how it is both joy and the witnessing or memory of joy, and so much of this is down to the seamless, extraordinary shared lead vocal: Frida and Agnetha’s voices combining to strengthen the chorus as it arcs upwards, but also shifting to softer, fonder registers as they wistfully look on – “leave them burning and then you’re – gone…”.

The music, when she first heard it, made Frida cry – but to stress the sadness in “Dancing Queen” would be to do it a disservice. It’s not envious, or regretful, or bittersweet – it’s a more generous ache, the recognition that “having the time of your life” is literal, that this moment might be as good as it gets, but still being warmed by the moment’s incandescence. “Dancing Queen”, like “Teenage Kicks”, is one of those songs that captures the feeling that being young, dancing, loving is also to be living more intensely and wonderfully than anything else. But “Dancing Queen” goes further, tries to share that fire – “You can dance! You can jive!”, suddenly the “you” is, well, you. And him and her and me.

The vocals in “Dancing Queen” betray that this inclusiveness is, ultimately, doomed: the music does its best to deny that. Certainly its beat is democratic – you rarely see anyone dance well to “Dancing Queen”, which is a different thing from the cheap shot of its being ‘undanceable’. Everything in the arrangement is vibrant, exciting – the trilling intro, the sashaying keyboards in the “turn him on” verse – but of course it’s all in service to the magnificent piano part, its fusion of rock rhythm with light classical swagger, its top-end chords as pure a joy as anything pop’s given us.

That piano line turned up again three years later, changed slightly in a pop world that seemed overturned, and it almost pushed Elvis Costello – a perennial sideline-lurker who’d long seen the tears as well as the grins in ABBA – to Number One himself. Even by then “Dancing Queen” had become ABBA’s monolith, and by their 90s revival it was omnipresent. There’s an irony, maybe, that a song about the fleet intense beauty of youth, love and movement should have become such an ossified monument to ‘perfect pop’ – but when I play it that really never seems to matter.



  1. 1
    and everybody elses Mark G on 13 May 2008 #

    I remember when this was going to come out, expecting some fast disco number!

    When I finally got to hear it, it sounded so boring!

    I think this was the last song I seriously thought had lines of noise: “sorma senio la dermiwoh” as I would sing to myself…

    Magic Ten? Get a grip! OK, it’s possibly the abba song I dislike least, but hey. Also, the only one I like more with age…

    Also, re the ‘no first person’ theory: I always took it to be that the two singers were talking to each other (as per the video): “See that girl! Watch that scene” and so on…

    (OK, so I got comment number one, and all this is going in via edit!)

  2. 2
    SteveM on 13 May 2008 #

    I love the drum beat – is Abba’s occasional funkiness overlooked? It fits with ‘More More More’ and numerous other slow disco hits from the time (and obv the early 70s black funk they were inspired by).

  3. 3
    Drucius on 13 May 2008 #

    It kind of passed me by at the time, but has grown on me a bit as the years have gone by. The girlies all loved it in our year and all had complex dance routines that they would gleefully perform at the weekend hop.

    It’s a bit pedestrian really, innit?

  4. 4
    Billy Smart on 13 May 2008 #

    That’s as fantastic a critique as such a fantastic record deserves, Tom. Well done!

    A couple of stray observations;

    The one really incongrous period detail of this is that she goes to dance “where they play the ROCK music” It’s unlikely that even a few years later the dancing queen would be going to a place that wasn’t orientated around pop/dance music. Perhaps things are different in Sweden, though.

    There’s a slight sexual ache to the observation of the dancing queen. Not only is she a tease and she turns them on, but *anybody* could be that guy – but there’s no sense that the observer as positioning himself as that anybody.

    In that sense, I always think of ‘Does Your Mother Know That Your Out?’ as being the bad other of this song, sung by a more jaded and opportunistic lecher.

    And, speaking from experience, this note of personal hurt present in the pleasure of seeing the dancing queen is easily found in the song even when you’re still young, let alone when you’re old enough to be a seventeen-year old’s father!

  5. 5
    Tom on 13 May 2008 #

    Haha yes it is a ROCK club BUT there’s a really funny little detail in the song where (just before the last verse I think) you get an ELECTRIC GUITAR kind of growling away for a second or two at the bottom of the song and then vanishing, as if it’s poking its head round the corner of the club, seeing the gorgeous pop queen dancing and thinking “blimey I’m out of my league here”.

  6. 6
    SteveM on 13 May 2008 #

    Up there with BoRap in the ubiquitous cliched party monsters I can never hate but never need to hear – maybe a 1 and 2 respectively. And both still a few years before I was born.

    The seconds from ‘feel the beat from the tambourine’ to ‘having the time of your life’ are perfect and dizzying – like so much monolithic soul (‘Nothing But A Heartache’) AND lighter stringy disco (‘Love Hangover’). I get images of sunshine and skyscrapers (looking down from or soaring inbetween rather than gazing up at, as towering and monumental as the sound is) from these anthems more than anything else.

    But for Disco, a much more futuristic and sexually charged template is coming into view (and like Punk probably ‘had’ to happen)…

  7. 7
    Tom on 13 May 2008 #

    Yeah I don’t think I need to hear it again at a party, to be honest, but it still moves me close to tears pretty much every time I hear it on headphones etc.

  8. 8
    Kat but logged out innit on 13 May 2008 #

    I was one of those 90s revivalists. Me and Kirsty made up a dance and everything. And went to see Bjorn Again at the Watford Colosseum! I never rated this as much as Waterloo but the wedding-bell piano chime is still wonderful.

  9. 9
    Waldo on 13 May 2008 #

    The Swedes’ finest hour by the length of Broadway, an appropriate cliché since it was number one in the States too. An almost faultless pop song, which managed to tick the disco box as well. As a grizzled old lag, I have no trouble in declaring my admiration for DQ, even though it is recognised today as the anthem for everything my sexuality is not (in any case back in the day the girls both looked impossibly beautiful). Ultimately, none of this matters. The fact of the matter is that DQ was one of the highlights of the year and indeed of the decade. No seventies night should be without it and normally isn’t.

  10. 10
    Billy Smart on 13 May 2008 #

    Number 2 watch; 2 further weeks of ‘Let ‘Em In’, a week of Rod Stewart’s ‘Killing of Georgie’ and The Real Thing continued their recent run of success with 2 weeks of ‘Can’t Get By Without You’.

  11. 11
    Billy Smart on 13 May 2008 #

    TOTP Watch: By this stage, ABBA understandably had bigger fish to fry than appearing regularly on the BBC, so their appearance on the Christmas day edition of 1976 was the first time that they’d been on it since January.

    Infuriatingly, the decision was taken for them to do ‘Mamma Mia’ and not ‘Dancing Queen’, which was instead interpreted by Legs & Co (who also danced to ‘Jungle Rock’). Also in the studio were Slik, JJ Barrie, Tina Charles, Cliff Richard, Pussycat and Demis Roussos. The show was hosted by Noel Edmunds and Dave Lee Travis, and survives in the archives.

  12. 12
    Matthew H on 13 May 2008 #

    Feel a bit removed here as I don’t remember being aware of ‘Dancing Queen’ at the time, even though I was definitely familiar with ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ – possibly says more about my mum’s taste.

    It’s a thing of lush beauty, but I never paid it much mind until I picked up their Greatest Hits vol.2 LP when I was 18 and mixed it with ‘Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing’. It works! Or at least I thought it did, through a studenty haze. For me, bigger ABBA treats to come.

  13. 13
    rosie on 13 May 2008 #

    Yes, I was expecting it and I can’t quibble with it at all. Others will disagree but nothing else quite sums up the second half of the decade for me quite as well as this one, and I’m certain that although I won’t be typical of everybody, I won’t be alone by any means. It’s something more than a well-crafted pop song. It’s one of those artefacts that artlessly hangs together perfectly, as if all the ingredients came together and peaked at just the right moment.

    I won’t say it’s the best the late seventies would come up with (and we’ve a while to go), and if I have a quibble it’s the bloody ubiquity of the thing and, if I’m honest, a bit of sour grapes from the Janis Ian seventeen-year-old that lurks within, even into my dotage!

    So, it’s not just me emerging into full-blown adulthood then! From this point on I, newly-qualified, newly-employed teacher, will have a finger on the pulse of pop for the first time since the late 60s. Amongst other things I’ve just acquired pastoral responsibility for a group of what would now be called Year 8; it is not lost on me that this was Marcello’s cohort! ;)

    Here beginneth my second phase of chartwatching after a six-year hiatus.

  14. 14
    Tom on 13 May 2008 #

    I think there are better ABBA songs than this too (though not very many). And better late 70s songs (though still not a huge number). Did anything in either category get to No.1? Wait and see :)

  15. 15
    lex on 13 May 2008 #

    I’d love to hear someone cover this song and make it their own. Because when a song becomes a standard of this magnitude – and there are very few which have! I certainly would not count the loathsome ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ because all right-minded people actually HATE it – it’s very hard to cut through the collective ownership of it, to own it yourself; and so it’s hard for me to imagine this as a personal favourite, because it seems to be everyone else’s first, even more so than Abba themselves, and the sheer oveerwhelming numbers kind of leech the meaning out of it for me (or to be accurate they ensured the song reached me already stripped of meaning).

    (I’m not even sure if I’ve heard the song in any great detail, as opposed to as…background, I guess: other people karaokeing it, through a drunken fug in a club, through tinny speakers in shops.)

    So yeah, I can appreciate it but I actively don’t want to hear it again.

  16. 16
    Tom on 13 May 2008 #

    I completely understand that reaction to it Lex but it really is worth hearing in detail, because a lot of the depth and detail in the recording (and nuance in the performance) is what makes it amazing.

    It’s been covered by surprisingly few notable acts really.

  17. 17
    lex on 13 May 2008 #

    Yeah I meant to say, it struck me that you focused on the production details, because that’s exactly what you miss/never get to hear when a song is turned into this sort of standard – but production details are such a huge thing about why a song gets to be a personal favourite, so it feels like the song’s been hoist on its own petard somewhat.

    I can imagine several of my own favourites, which I’ve been around at the time for, turning into a ‘Dancing Queen’ type several years henceforth – ‘Baby One More Time’ and ‘Crazy In Love’ are the obvious examples – and I can imagine a younger version of me (EEK) thinking as I do about this.

  18. 18
    Billy Smart on 13 May 2008 #

    Oddly, the first time that I was ever exposed to this song was through a cover version!

    It was performed by The Communards on Channel 4’s ‘Friday Night Live’ in early 1988. They wore comedy seventies costumes. Once they’d been on, Ben Elton said that he’d been a dancing queen in the seventies and made an unfunny joke about flared trousers.

    This inauspicious experience didn’t lead me to realise that Dancing Queen was one of the absolute pinnacles of popular music. Indeed, it probably served to discourage me from investigating Abba for a few years.

  19. 19
    rosie on 13 May 2008 #

    I think plenty have had a go but really, nobody could make it their own. This is one of the cases where song and singer are fused together as one; it’s always Abba’s Dancing Queen.

    Quoth lex: I certainly would not count the loathsome ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ because all right-minded people actually HATE it

    [FX: Rolls eyes, counts to ten under breath, walks away]

    Oh yes – I also think there are better records than this already dealt with that didn’t get a 10.

  20. 20
    Tom on 13 May 2008 #

    Haha Rosie that is quite the right response to The Lex on the topic of rock music: he makes Marcello look like the Buddha.

  21. 21
    Lena on 13 May 2008 #

    Thank you, Tom, for giving this a 10 – it’s the most awesome #1 of the 70s, the best…it breaks the ground for so much to come, even as it stands on its own (the only other song that does the same for me is Chic’s “Good Times” which I can mention as sadly, it didn’t get to #1 in the UK, just the US).

  22. 22
    Waldo on 13 May 2008 #

    Billy # 11 – BUNNY!

  23. 23
    crag on 13 May 2008 #

    Not much i feel the need to add at this point on the excellence of both the track and Tom’s comment on it except the matter of the second person point of view. Doesnt it actually change perspective from present tense second person narrtive for the line “see that girl”-if not than who is the ‘girl’ the Dancing Queen is seeing? Personlly, i like to think it’s describing a moment of dance-fuelled out of body euphoria though i know this is probably wishful thinking on my part…

    Re#8- I saw Bjorn Again live in the mid 90s too, kat! They did a cover of Supergrass’ “Alright” which was v v odd.

    Re#15- I recall seeing U2 covering this live on telly, again in the mid90s w/ Benny and Bjorn joining them on stage. It wasnt very good…

  24. 24
    Tom on 13 May 2008 #

    The you in the song switches from girl to audience (both club audience and you lot listening – it ‘breaks the fourth wall’ except I’m not sure there is a fourth wall in pop music.)

  25. 25
    DJ Punctum on 13 May 2008 #

    This is another entry freely adapted from my not-to-be-published work in progress When Blackpool Tower Gazes At The CN Tower And Realises It Has Been Looking In A Mirror:

    So it started with a “Rock Your Baby” rhythm but then drummer Roger Palm decided to add a second shuffling layer inspired by Dr John’s Gris-Gris. Above the roots flourishes the orchard, a Jane Austen theme park ballroom-cum-grotto of untouched elegance – those keyboards sound free of direct hand input – and then

    The voices, a forest of voices, yet only emanating from two voices, but they are particles travelling at different speeds (if not completely independently) and some of these sounds are real and others synthetic but it’s too late to worry about that now

    because this is


    Not a gross gargoyle of grandeur such as been witnessed on so many of 1976’s limp-not-limpid number ones but natural aristocracy of grace in hallucinatory corridors

    (four oxymorons in one line – not a bad haul, but BSJ would scoff if he’d been smart enough to survive to ’76)

    and in that aquarium of a corridor dances ALL past, present and future pop music.

    Look at what pop had been and what it was still going to be and “Dancing Queen” is the link because it is utterly against FORCE or CYNICISM and well they were trying to make a disco record but they don’t quite do that yet what they do make is a greater good which illuminates everything*…the Miami pool of TK turns into an arena within kissing distance of Olympus

    (and hey! the Montreal Olympics!!)

    *(just as J Meek and Brian W would have wanted)

    Gunnarson’s arched eyebrow of a bass rising below “See that girl, watch that scene” – a subtle yet firm question mark under the “queen”‘s idealistic dreams of love, that strange, harsh electronic echo which suddenly snaps and recedes just after the second chorus, the synthesised triplets in the second half of each verse


    …like a glittering prize

    …on a cleared day?

    “Dancing Queen” and “Anarchy” – which was the more radical single of ’76? Remember how quick and easy it was for punk to fit into the leather tapestry, whereas the bridge of “DQ” somehow rises above it, a never missing link between every pop record made before it and every (NEW) (POP) record made after it from the Tornados to Scooter, from Alma Cogan to Natasha Bedingfield, from Edison to Estelle…

    …because here, let us not forget, is a group so brilliantly open and stealthy that, unlike the Bay City Rollers a year previously, they can rhyme “queen” with “seventeen” and even “tambourine” and not only do you not mind it, but the cunning bastards make it sound as though they were the first musicians ever to think of that rhyming scheme. And they go even further back than that – “You can dance, you can jive/Having the time of your life!” Jive! A couplet straight out of Bill Haley (or maybe Wizzard?). But there was no dim drape jacket pseudo-revivalism here; everything about the record points to a future, something brighter and HIGHER than what had gone before…

    (worship payoff)

    …since “Dancing Queen” is virtually the apogee of the pop song as hymn. Those choirs, which sounded so tacky backing Demis Roussos’ winsome warble, now sound like Rachmaninov’s Vespers, arising so tenderly and fully behind and finally above the song. There is within the record’s bones a sense of worship; few other number ones make you feel so completely dwelling within a cathedral (“You’ve come to look for a king”)…

    …yet there is also doubt and potential pain. The dancing queen herself is, when scrutinised in close-up, not at all certain about what or whom she’s looking for, or what she wants (“Anybody could be that guy”). As it is, she proves that she is unlikely to find any happiness, truth or reality outside her protective cocoon of pop (“With a bit of rock music/Everything is fine” – even though one of the most celebratory “rock” records sounds nothing like rock, except perhaps how it might be perceived in an adjacent galaxy), and she is eventually on a hiding to nothing (“Leave ‘em burning and then you’re gone/Looking out for another/Anyone will do”). So that seemingly triumphant cry – and it does sound so touchingly like a cry – of “Having the time of your life” carries within it the warning that this may be the only time in her life that she is truly alive.

    And still, sceptics applaud politely but dismiss Abba as skilled but heartless pop artisans. How does that explain Frida bursting into floods of tears when first she heard the instrumental track? It stands so high above the timid pabulum which surrounds it in this year of decision, and yet so naturally among the shoulders of the records discussed on this website which have mattered, and those which will in turn be shown to matter. Emotionally there is something wrong with “Dancing Queen,” and as a record there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. THIS is where Abba leave their forlorn dreams of the Seekers behind and really soar. No one else, not even Phil Spector or Roy Wood, and not yet Trevor Horn, could have made a record like “Dancing Queen”; so few records weave all these disparate good strands together so effortlessly and fruitfully. Forget about appending guilt to the business of pleasure; as with that extended formal ball which takes up nearly all of the final third of Visconti’s The Leopard, “Dancing Queen” defies the listener to blaspheme against its unanswerable grace and regal, if not Olympian, enormity. And Abba would sound this happy (even if it is qualified happiness) only very rarely through the remainder of their career. When next we meet them, Ingmar Bergman will have begun to win out over Ingrid Bergman; and these records of course have their own attendant greatness. But in the perfect world where they always “play the right music,” “Dancing Queen” is one of the greatest and grandest pop records ever made.

  26. 26
    Billy Smart on 13 May 2008 #

    Waldo re 11: Aha! Only one of the 2 featured acts not yet mentioned got to number 1 in 1976. Use your skill and judgment to anticipate which…

  27. 27
    fivelongdays on 13 May 2008 #

    In one respect, this is Abba’s apex – nothing they did was as successful as this, and this is the song that most people would name if asked to name one of their songs – and yet, IMHO, it’s their nadir.

    OK, OK, you’re all thinking – FLD doesn’t like Abba, he’s told us he doesn’t like Abba, and he especially doesn’t like this song, but what gives? Show some constructive criticism, you whinging provincial!

    So I will. Or at least I shall try to. (NB, this stuff is part thought out and part off the cuff, so hold on – and try to decipher).

    I could do the somewhat dull criticism of it being vapid and frothy. I mean, it is vapid and frothy, but were I to work out my top 100 songs ever some – most – of them would be vapid and frothy. At least as vapid and frothy as this is, if not more so. So that doesn’t explain it.

    Dancing Queen seems to reinforce a kind of enforced happiness, a kind of ‘everyone is having a good time, so you will have a good time too’ which seamlessly (and seemlessly) translates into ‘everyone likes this, you will like this too’ which quickly takes on the subtext of ‘and if you don’t like this, there is evidently something wrong with you’.

    There we have the -by which I, of course, mean my- overarching problem with this record. It always feels that if you fit in with this record, the Dancing Queen is more than willing let you dance with her, buy her a drink, and leave you wanting to come back the next Friday night to do it all over again. And if you don’t, the Dancing Queen looks at you with a withering contempt, tells you to get your hair cut, and runs off, laughing at you, with her friends.

    (Which, in a neat sidestep, shows how wonderfully personal and yet universal the best sort of music criticism is. While Tom sees unstoppable glory, I see irrefutable dross. Where Tom sees a longing for the transient moment, I see a snide inclusivity that is, in fact, utterly exclusive. Which is the fun of the thing, and why, I’m sure, this whole Popular thing is here.)

    I think that Tom hit the nail on the head when he compares this to Teenage Kicks. The only thing is is that I adore the (oh sod it!) frothy vapidity of Teenage Kicks, whereas I utterly loathe (and I mean loathe – there’s only maybe a handful of records across the whole of Popular, past and future, that I dislike more than this) this record. But I think I can tell you why Teenage Kicks never fails to make me smile, whereas I’d leave the room if this ever came on the office radio.

    Put simply, Teenage Kicks is a record for people like me, whereas Dancing Queen is for people who are not only not like me, but who would, I think, not ever want to be like me. And you know what? I don’t think I’d ever want to be like them.

    It’s not a matter of taste (well, it is a matter of taste, but you know what I’m saying), and it’s not a matter of culture, but it is a matter of mindset.

    So am I in the minority? Yes. Is that a bad thing? Well, the Dancing Queen, all shiny and cool, ready to wage war on the terminally unhip, might disagree, but I don’t think so.

    It’s not a case of Explain-this-to-me-I-pray-to-God-I’ll-never-understand, but it is, I think, a case of You’ve-explained-this–and-I-don’t-care-if-I-understand, the one great refusal of the utterly uncool. Which, ironically, is a category Abba were in for some years. And I think the tale of how they were repositioned would be one worth telling.

    If this did sound rather mean-spirited, I’ll leave you guys with one thought – at least my utter detestation of this record has inspired me to set out my stall. And, in a twisted way, that has to be a positive. Hell, it is a positive. I’m genuinely sorry, but it’s the only positive I can find here.


    (love to see what everyone’s response is…)

  28. 28
    Billy Smart on 13 May 2008 #

    The thing about the dancing queen is that you have to separate her from any trying hen party that you may have tried to sidestep dancing to her song.

    She may be something of a tease, but she is open to all experience and of profound feeling. That *anybody* could be that guy means that if she crossed the path of a misfit like… well, me, and I would suspect many other Popular correspondents might see themselves as, she might respond to what is good in us.

    Neither Dancing Queen or Teenage Kicks are really frothy or vapid, surely? You might as well say that being a teenager and having what seems like an excess of what might be adult feeling is insubstantial.

    Feel free to dislike it, but I’m not sure whether its wise to make it an either/or argument. I think that both songs are for a person like me!

  29. 29
    fivelongdays on 13 May 2008 #

    That’s an interesting set of points there Billy, and it just goes to show how generally ace it is when people get completely different things from songs.

    I honestly wasn’t thinking about the ‘trying hen parties’ but I will say that music, more than any other artistic endeavour (Oh God, I sound like a right pretentious arse when I write the words ‘artistic endeavour’, don’t I?) is linked in with context. And I’ve always associated the context of this song with something that I wouldn’t be. Along, of course with “anybody can be that guy” having the unsung following line of ‘so long as he’s cool’.

    Because I am a cantankerous young fogey sometimes.

    And I’m being somewhat pillocky when I use the term frothy and vapid, but I wouldn’t say they were bad things, nor were they good things. It all depends on (yes!) context.

    Oh, and it’s totally awesome that you like TK and DQ at the same time- and I can understand why someone might well do. It’s just that I, personally, don’t.

  30. 30
    LondonLee on 13 May 2008 #

    This song is indestructible, unlike other over-played pop chestnuts I never get tired of hearing it.

    Never understood why it gets tagged as “disco” though, it’s too slow.

  31. 31
    rosie on 13 May 2008 #

    Probably the best thing to do with tags is to ignore them, really. Everytime I think something I can grasp seems to be emerging from the fog that is the Popular comments pool it proves to be as insubstantial as ever, and the best way to approach these things is to take each on its merits and not try to engage with the turf wars.

    And so, yes, it doesn’t make sense to label this ‘disco’. Partly because it’s a lot more than that, but partly because, as Tom and others have already pointed out, it’s actually not a very danceable piece. Not that a skilled dancer couldn’t, and hasn’t ever, interpreted it well, but for the average dancer it just doesn’t work that way. It’s too slow for a high-spirited bop at the wedding/summer school/end-of-term bash. It’s too fast for a smoocher. You can do a passable slow leroc to it but it isn’t ideal and doesn’t offer much for the high-speed twirler. It demands to be listened to more than a true dance track should, and doesn’t lend itself to suffusing the body with energy and rhythm.

  32. 32
    SteveM on 13 May 2008 #

    What about ‘More More More’? I know the Disco tag isn’t technically right but it seems as if these slower records were touched by it’s presence in some way.

    But they’re roughly the same tempo as ‘Night Fever’ which may explain it, as well as many Funk tracks, tho that tag feels even less appropriate. Can you not dance to them in the same way you would ‘Family Affair’, at least in a very casual style – less gyrating/thrusting. The similarity only goes as far as bpm – Funk being generally regarded as Sexier.

  33. 33
    Tom on 13 May 2008 #

    FLD – very interesting post, I promise I’ll reply to it but possibly not tonight: nappies to change, suppers to cook, etc!

  34. 34
    wwolfe on 13 May 2008 #

    What a wonderful review. Thanks.

    Two points to which I can try to offer some response. First:

    “…it’s a more generous ache, the recognition that ‘having the time of your life’ is literal, that this moment might be as good as it gets, but still being warmed by the moment’s incandescence.”

    This made me think of the last time I saw “A Hard Day’s Night.” On what was probably my 30th viewing, or thereabouts, what most struck me were the shots of the young girls screaming in the concluding concert scene. Specifically, I found myself wondering what had happened to all these girls in the ensuing years, and was this exact, precise moment the very peak of their entire lives? If so, well…that wouldn’t be so bad, would it? In fact, that’s a pretty nice thing to have as a peak moment. Likewise, the dancer in ABBA’s song.


    “There’s an irony, maybe, that a song about the fleet intense beauty of youth, love and movement should have become such an ossified monument to ‘perfect pop’ – but when I play it that really never seems to matter.”

    That made me think of the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around.” That song – espcially when taken in tandem with it’s B-side, “Don’t Worry Baby” – has always struck me as that great band’s greatest moment. Odd coincidence that it, too, is about “the fleet intense beauty of youth, love and movement.” That surely says something about which subject matters Pop, at its best, speaks best about. Or perhaps, casting a wider view, good artists in any field are naturally drawn to that same subject.

  35. 35
    Tom on 13 May 2008 #

    Obviously this doesn’t apply to Rosie, but I wonder if for people who grew up on house and rave music disco isn’t generally pretty slow sounding?

    (On the other hand, hip-hop is often slow and highly danceable)

  36. 36
    SteveM on 13 May 2008 #

    Of course my examples may not be good here, curse of the DJ age is how easy it is to speed tracks up or down to suit needs at the time, both in your mind and on the decks (or indeed laptop).

  37. 37
    fivelongdays on 13 May 2008 #

    wwolfe – good point about the best music taking a certain time of life and making people who hit that point respond to it, regardless how far removed they are, timewise, from it.

    Billy – Forgot to add that the whole frothy/vapid thing isn’t really the same as teenage-having-excess-of-‘adult-feeling, as that’s (from my own experience) what really hits you. A subconscious test for me is ‘were I ten years younger, would I adore this record?’ Which, it has to be said, is a GRATE excuse for me to listen to My Chemical Romance. Yup.

    Tom – really looking forward to what your thoughts are. I also have to say that this was a great review, even if I can’t abide the song, what you have to say about it did make me smile rather!

  38. 38
    Waldo on 13 May 2008 #

    Billy – I just don’t want either of us to be savaged by that lop-earred fiend, something which I had to face as a Popular virgin, unschooled in the blog’s etiquette. Flippancy (as at # 26) only makes him angry. And he does terrible things when he’s angry…

  39. 39
    Waldo on 13 May 2008 #

    Marcello – Please can you just clear something up which always confuses me with regards Ingmar Bergman and Ingrid Bergman:

    Which one of them knocked out Floyd Patterson?

  40. 40
    lex on 13 May 2008 #

    It’s not a case of Explain-this-to-me-I-pray-to-God-I’ll-never-understand, but it is, I think, a case of You’ve-explained-this–and-I-don’t-care-if-I-understand

    I totally get this feeling, though not with this song. It’s worse than just not getting why people like a track, which can be frustrating enough, it’s when the realisation dawns that the reasons they like it are precisely the reasons you hate it.

    I don’t think this is an uncool position. I mean, I get this with Slade, and as far as I’m concerned my proud and lone disgust for them makes me a lot cooler than anyone else.

  41. 41
    lex on 13 May 2008 #

    Obviously this doesn’t apply to Rosie, but I wonder if for people who grew up on house and rave music disco isn’t generally pretty slow sounding?

    It doesn’t really (although actually ‘Dancing Queen’ does) – I mean, I can hear the bpm is slower, but it doesn’t make it any less danceable or propulsive.

  42. 42
    LondonLee on 13 May 2008 #

    It has the swishy 4/4 beat of Disco but it shuffles more than it grooves (are those the technical terms?)

  43. 43
    SteveM on 13 May 2008 #

    sure enough, listening to DQ now and it is indeed much slower than it’s been in my head all thru this thread until this point gah.

  44. 44
    fivelongdays on 13 May 2008 #

    Lex – well said! What is interesting (and related to the whole matter of coolness, absurd as it is) is that it all depends on our old friend Mr Context.

    For instance, were I to have expressed my opinions on this song 20 years ago, I’d be onthe road to hipster heaven, but at any point since (RANDOM DATE TIME!) 1993, it condemns me to the hell of one who knows not the glories of Abba The Ultimate POP! Band (TM).

    Whereas I’d argue your case with Slade is more neutral. Or summat.

  45. 45
    SteveM on 13 May 2008 #

    ‘it’s when the realisation dawns that the reasons they like it are precisely the reasons you hate it. I don’t think this is an uncool position. I mean, I get this with Slade, and as far as I’m concerned my proud and lone disgust for them makes me a lot cooler than anyone else.’

    but then why bother continuing to repeat such proclamations again and again? hoping people will be convinced of your argument? or just exercising the need to stand out?

    just reminds me too much of a well known troll who mercifully does not contribute to Popular comments much (so far)!

  46. 46
    crag on 13 May 2008 #

    Re#35- I don’t find disco too slow to dance to at all- in fact Stayin Alive came on in the pub on Sunday while i was coming in from outside post-ciggie and at that moment the tempo seemed so completely right and in tune with my steps i innvoluntarily slid into a Travoltaesque strut and had to call on all my willpower not to lay down some funky moves there and then-you’ll be glad to know i controlled myself and my fellow drinkers were spared the sight…

  47. 47
    Billy Smart on 13 May 2008 #

    Abba in time: Younger readers may be astonished to read this, but there was a time, in the 1980s, when Abba were not so revered or listened to as they are now.

    I knew a bit about old pop music when I was in my teens, but I don’t remember hearing this until 1990, when I was seventeen, a state of ignorance which I can’t imagine any present-day 17 year-old living in.

    It was an odd circumstance. I was at only my second ever proper grown-up gig in a paying venue, seeing They Might Be Giants at ULU. The support, The Popinjays, had just been booed off and the DJ filled in the time by playing this. It polarised our party – those of us with parents who were raised on it responded immediately, and those of us who hadn’t were bemused – it sounded so slow and plinky and not of our time. So my very first reaction to it was one of incongruity and quaintness.

    (I remember Jonathan King being at the concert, but mercifully I failed to catch his eye. I also vividly remember ticketless fans offering us the astronomical sum of £50 for a ticket, but us deciding that having gone up to town to do this, we were going to do this.)

    The ABBA revival can be pinpointed to the precise moment in time of spring 1992, and the release of ‘ABBA Gold’. One cause of this (hop! hop!) we’ll eventually go on to discuss in the fullness of time, but Epic were very canny in creating a demand through withdrawing all ABBA albums from sale for a year or so beforehand, sanctioning the screening of ABBA The Movie on Channel 4, and this being a time when many people had got rid of their turntables but only just moved onto CDs. A similar situation happened with The Smiths at precisely the same time, which resulted in Dancing Queen and This Charming Man appearing on the same edition of Top Of The Pops!

    ‘ABBA Gold’ is a much better compiled Greatest Hits than The Smiths’ ‘Best 1’, however, which may well be Exhibit A in any demonstration of how not to do this sort of thing.

  48. 48
    crag on 13 May 2008 #

    As a fellow 17 year old in 1990, Billy, I’m suprised you hadnt heard DQ by this stage- do you have an older sister?If not, perhaps that explains it-I’m sure i first became acquainted w/ it thru my sis owning a copy of “Arrival”.

    I think the future #1 you elude to was more the kick off of the revival rather than “Abba Gold” which was merely a cash in on this success(and was actually released in Sept 92!). The increasing popularity of Bjorn Again who by the start of ’92 were begining to get coverage in the mainstream music press and even played the Reading Festival that Summer (at the request of Kurt Cobain apparently)played a big part too.

  49. 49
    SteveM on 13 May 2008 #

    re #47, I grew up with the idea that Abba were deeply uncool – I probably associated them as one of the last bands my Mum would’ve liked before losing interest in popular music after having my brother and I at the end of the decade. In fact I’m not sure she purchased any albums in the 80s except for ‘Flowers In The Dirt’ and ‘Introducing The Hardline…’ and maybe a couple of compilations on tape. Judge lest not etc.

    In my last few years at school there was a boy a year or two below, tubby and vaguely camp to our minds. He was playfully mocked rather than abused for the most part (or so it seemed) but it emerged that he was a big Abba fan. I wasn’t aware of anyone else liking or caring about them tho, so this preference was almost refreshing (but I really did eschew all attention on pre 80s bands at this point). I continued to think Abba were a bit naff or just irrelevant right up until ’02 baptism of Trigfire to be honest.

  50. 50
    wwolfe on 13 May 2008 #

    “Muriel’s Wedding,” released in 1994, was another important moment in the rise of ABBA to the status of unstoppable Pop immortals. I don’t know about England, but it was a big hit in America, and as such served as the gateway drug for a lot of hitherto un-ABBA’d music lovers.

  51. 51
    vinylscot on 13 May 2008 #

    Like many of the above (I suspect) I thought I knew this one like the back of my hand, but some of the earlier comments drove me to actually LISTEN to it, rather than just remembering having heard it.

    It IS slower than I remember, even though I must have heard it a dozen times this year at least. I can’t get quite as enthusiastic as Tom about it, but it just brings a smile to my face every time I hear it; I honestly didn’t like it much at the time – Abba were definitely “uncool” (copyright 1977 Jo Callis), and by now were established enough that there was a bit of an anti-Abba backlash beginning.

    There are one or two heavy hints in the vocal delivery that we’re not dealing with English speakers here, and while in some of their songs (e.g. The Day Before You Came) that can be a rather endearing little foible, here it just irritates. Once you’ve noticed it once, you’ll always notice it. (like the production error on Red Box’s “Lean on Me” – A favourite of yours I believe Tom – “The Circle and the Square” must surely be one of the greatest “Pop” albums of the 80s, or any decade?)

    I also hadn’t noticed the Oliver’s Army bit, and will no doubt never get away from that either now.

    My own take on it is not quite so romantic as some outlined above – just a couple of girls, going out on the town to have a good time teasing the boys, and probably not going any further because 1) they are only seventeen, and 2) this is Abba we’re talking about!

    Not a 10, but a definite 7… or maybe an 8.

  52. 52
    pink champale on 13 May 2008 #

    i was 17 in 1990 too and don’t remember ever not knowing DQ, and i think have pretty much always thought – as i still do now – that it was the greatest record ever made. as lots of people have said, it’s the joy and it’s the joy in seeing the joy, and it’s the sadness in seeing the joy and it’s the sadness in knowing the joy will become sadness, but for all of that, there’s no bitterness, the narrator is still there digging the dancing queen. and i can’t see how anyone is excluded – this is trancedence happening in some crappy suburban club – that plays rock music for gawds sake – the dancing queen isn’t some exotic creature gliding round studio 54.

    bjorn again at reading was by a mile the highlight of the festival for me – i remember standing there with that stupid grin, lump in the throat and tears in the eyes that i wouldn’t experience again until i saw jonathan richman for the first time ten years later.

  53. 53
    Billy Smart on 13 May 2008 #

    Re: 48 – In 1976 my big sister (who had the wild adolescence that I manifestly didn’t a decade or so later) was listening to things like Hawkwind and Roy Harper – a terrifying din to my three-year old self! ABBA was not the sort of thing that she’d give the time of day to. And as for my parents; my mother has never liked any popular music, while my father lost interest in pop once the skiffle boom was over!

  54. 54
    pink champale on 13 May 2008 #

    in nine or so years, of course, we’ll be getting another wonderful, wonderful song where the dancing queen tells us what it’s like to be her.

  55. 55
    crag on 13 May 2008 #

    I was at Reading 92(my first ever festival!) but didnt see Bjorn Again or indeed anybody on the Sunday they performed due to a classic piece of teen stupidity on me and my friends part. The bus back to Edinburgh was IIRC only 10 minutes after the end of the headliners set so we figured the ‘sensible’ thing to do(since the whole day was filled w/ bands we wanted to see on the main stage-Nirvana, Pavement..erm, cant remember the rest now) was to pack up first thing and head into the performance area early doors,taking our tent,ludicrously overpacked rucksacks(first ever festival remember.i know better now-bring a change of socks? Madness!) etc with us. Unfortunately we were turned away at the door due to our enormous luggage and so we merely wandered around feeling sorry for ourselves, catching vague snippets of sound on the wind for the next 7 hours..Not my proudest moment…

  56. 56
    wichita lineman on 13 May 2008 #

    Hats off to everyone. This is a fabulous thread.

    My memory of Dancing Queen on its release is that it was a mediocre disappointment to one and all. It seemed (intriguingly, after just two consecutive number ones) that Abba were already expected to produce instant pop classics to me, my parents, and my pop loving Gran. Can’t think of anyone with that weight of expectation previously, me being just too young to miss out on The Beatles.

    The chart positions bear this out. In at 23, up to 16… in the olden days when you could work this kinda thing out with a slide rule it should’ve been no.10, possibly 9, the following week.

    Instead, the UK suddenly cottoned on. From number 16 to number 1 inside seven days.

    Take the ubiquity away and this may suggest, on top of everything else, Dancing Queen has great subtlety as well as real grandeur. No small feat for a song that is entirely made up of hooks – and so many – from start to finish. A solid 10.

    And Abba had no real precedent. Unlike any other pre-76 million-selling act they were unknowable and, Agnetha’s bum aside, seemed character-free and charmless. No David Essex in their ranks, for sure. But at this juncture everyone (hip dudes aside) wondered what their next 45 would sound like. They still confuse me.

  57. 57
    Doctor Mod on 14 May 2008 #
  58. 58
    Doctor Mod on 14 May 2008 #

    I recently took an Aussie friend to dinner. Almost simultaneously, we heard something in the background that made us look at each other rather archly. It was, of course, “Dancing Queen.” “Oh my God!” she said, dropping her fork on the plate, “It’s the Australian national anthem!”

    Well, indeed.

    As far as I’m concerned, Tom’s spot on with his critique. If this isn’t the perfect pop single, I don’t know what is.

  59. 59
    rosie on 14 May 2008 #

    May I, since he has been mentioned obliquely in this thread, put on the record how sad I am that Elvis Costello won’t be troubling the scorers here. Along with The Who, he is one of the two toweringly influential acts never to have had a number one and his influence on the very best of what is to come can’t be underestimated. He is also an accomplished craftsman, a superb writer of songs, and a consummate musician.

    For what it’s worth!

  60. 60
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    I think you’re mixing up Elvis Costello with Billy Fury here.

    EC was all right up until about Imperial Bedroom after which he became Julian Barnes for Q readers.

  61. 61
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 14 May 2008 #

    yet again i pimp the link to my oliver’s army review, where the problem of excellence of craft as a limitation is (at last somewhat) explored, and plus (a little) EC’s relationship to ABBA

    disclaimer: comments thread gets boggeed down a bit in definitions of phrases like “considered art”, where i think i make things less rather than more clear as i try and explore what i was talkin abt

  62. 62
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 14 May 2008 #

    a boggee is a kind of friendly troll

  63. 63
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    More examination needed of Nick Lowe’s urgent and key involvement in OA and early EC in general, especially as OA seems to be a reflection/refraction/parallel personal-made-public sequel to NL’s “Little Hitler.”

    On a deeper level I would have been much happier if one of the earlier more abrasive single – a Detectives, a Chelsea – had been EC’s “hit” (since in the wider Radio 2/Gold-friendly world he is essentially a one hit wonder in the Joe Brown sense, i.e. tons of hits IRL but this is the only one that People Remember).

    On a baser level EC’s stupid pub rock twang voice is as big a barrier as it has ever been – his pronunciation of “work” and the “burg” of “Johannesburg” is precisely what has always put me off this record and recent EC work (i.e. last quarter century) in general.

  64. 64
    vinylscot on 14 May 2008 #


    I know it’s not quite the same, but “Watching the Detectives” did make No1 on the Luxy 208 chart, strange beast that it was (the chart, not the song)

  65. 65
    Billy Smart on 14 May 2008 #

    There’s an entertaining piece by Nick Lowe in this month’s Word about making ‘Oliver’s Army’.

  66. 66
    Tom on 14 May 2008 #

    Yeah I broadly follow the “early funny stuff” line on EC too – in fact I’d draw the line earlier than Marcello, probably at or just after Get Happy! (though there are good tracks on everything up to King of America at least)

    His voice becomes a problem for me when he starts using it more expressively – I think he fits the glossy Armed Forces production pretty well!

    (I was a big fan of Costello in my mid-teens but have never really fully returned to him as an adult.)

  67. 67
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    Sadly I missed that since I boycotted the Fab 208 chart after they kept out “God Save The Queen” until they grudgingly put it in at number ten one week with much grumbling from the presenter. In the same week they had “Halfway Down The Stairs” by the Muppets at number one.

  68. 68
    vinylscot on 14 May 2008 #

    The Luxy chart was basically just Tony Prince’s “guess” at what next week’s BBC chart would be, with a slight bias towards their own playlist and, for some reason against certain songs (e.g. “Eye Level” never made the top 30, and neither of the Travolta/Olivia duets made no1). Perhaps they knew GSTQ wouldn’t be allowed to be an official no1. (More likely they just didn’t realise the importance of the single, being by now populated mainly by early middle-aged types.)

    It was obviously not a particularly scientific way of compiling a chart, but gave us some no.1s we wouldn’t otherwise have had, for example in this year alone (among others) – “A Glass of Champagne”, both “Convoy”s, “S-S-S-Single Bed”, “Silver Star”, “My Resistance Is Low”, “Silly Love Songs”, “Young Hearts Run Free”, “Jeans On”, “In Zaire”, “Can’t Get By Without You”, “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing”, and “Somebody To Love”. Some good, some bad, and an interesting diversion, I always thought.

    To return to the point, “Dancing Queen” only got one week at No1 on the Luxy chart!

  69. 69
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    Has anyone actually put the Luxembourg chart stats online yet?

    I remember from extreme youth in the very early seventies that back then 208 used to play the charts downwards, i.e. from 1 to 30. The bizarre chart topper that I remember at that time was “Song Of Joy” by Miguel Rios which only got to #13 or thereabouts on BMRB.

  70. 70
    vinylscot on 14 May 2008 #

    … and if I can correct an earlier error of mine – it was “Chelsea” which made No1 on Luxy, not “Detectives” – sorry!

  71. 71
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    In school at the time of “Detectives” it was all “eh, Marcello, that guy ye keep going on about who looks like you – he’s in the charts!”

    (and indeed ’77 EC looked EXACTLY like 13-year-old MC – I was pretty keen on him at the time)

  72. 72
    vinylscot on 14 May 2008 #


    They are partly online. The guy who put them up doesn’t want the link published, to conserve bandwidth, but I’ll email it to you if we can do that through the site. I don’t know if it’s OK to post email addresses on here, so if it is, please do so and I’ll drop you a line. Alternatively I’m sure the site’s admin would forward an email from you to me – they will have my email address.

  73. 73
    Tom on 14 May 2008 #

    Openly publishing emails is fine by me – at the user’s own discretion – but spell them out (i.e freakytrigger at gmail dot com) or else the Spam Bunny will be paying you a regular visit.

  74. 74
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    Yes, that would be very much appreciated, VS, many thanks – it’s marcellocarlin at hotmail dot com.

  75. 75
    vinylscot on 14 May 2008 #

    I’ve just sent you a link by email Marcello.

  76. 76
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    Wow, tip top stuff! Received with much thanks!!

    (and don’t worry, I’ll keep it hush hush)

    (hmm…I see that the Muppets were actually number six in that Pistols-included chart; my memory really is going out the window…)

  77. 77
    rosie on 14 May 2008 #

    As with Tom Waits, I like to think of Elvis Costello as Pop noir. L’il ol’ crimewriter me has Alison as a personal favourite EC song. So what if it’s not down there with the kool kids ;)

  78. 78
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    I was listening to Radcliffe and Maconie burbling on about Tom Waits the other night apropos hot new Scarlett Johansson sings TW album and they noted that:

    a) TW’s songs sound so much better when someone else is singing them;

    b) he’s painted himself in recent years into a paradoxically safe marimba/hobo dwarf/Partch/Largactil corner and (when) will he ever do anything as simple and beautiful as “Jonesburg, Illinois” again?

    I think much the same could be said about EC (is what he’s been doing in recent years really “pop”?) and, from last night’s evidence on Later With Jools, Cuddly Ageing Rock Reprobate Elect Nick Cave.

  79. 79
    Kat but logged out innit on 14 May 2008 #

    crag – I think Bjorn Again did their Erasure cover and a few other non-ABBA songs but what I remember most is their banter! They knew exactly how ridiculous they were and revelled in it.

    Also the support was a Simon & Garfunkel tribute act! They went down very well.

  80. 80
    rosie on 14 May 2008 #

    Who cares? I’ll enjoy what I enjoy and won’t be told what to think by the Kool Police.

  81. 81
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    It’s not enough at this late stage.

  82. 82
    rosie on 14 May 2008 #

    What’s not enough?

  83. 83
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    You mustn’t only think of yourself, you know. You have a responsibility.

  84. 84
    crag on 14 May 2008 #

    Re#68- Wow!I certainly would have prefered “S-S-S-Single Bed”, “A Glass of Champagne”and“Somebody To Love” to have reached the top and came under the Popular microscope rather than “No Charge”, “Combine Harvester” or Rousous!

  85. 85
    Kat but logged out innit on 14 May 2008 #

    As a Child Of The Rave (nb not literally) I’d say it’s not so much the slower tempo as satisfying my short attention span! If there’s enough layers of stuff/bells & whistles going on in the song (which there definitely is in Dancing Queen) then my addled dancing feet will happily bosh away no matter how slow it is, but speeding things up can definitely help (indeed, I am often heard to shout out ‘PLUS 24!!!!’ when I get bored of something).

  86. 86
    rosie on 14 May 2008 #

    A responsibility? What the fuck? Ah yes, I see. I have a responsibility to go out into the world and convince people of the value of thinking for themselves instead of being herded by the marketing folks and the style gurus. And to persuade them that nothing is inaccessible if you really want to go there, provided that you don’t accept externally-imposed limits to your aspirations.

  87. 87
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    Good, you are honest. That is of use here. Honesty attracts confidence. And confidences are the core of our business. See how honest I’m being with you!

  88. 88
    lex on 14 May 2008 #

    a) TW’s songs sound so much better when someone else is singing them

    this is nonsense – I mean, they often can sound better, Waits often writes very classic melodies which a lot of people can make their own, but it’s not as if Waits is a bad performer himself! I have the Scarlett Johansson album but haven’t got round to listening – looking fwd to it, she’s chosen some fairly esoteric Waits tracks.

    b) he’s painted himself in recent years into a paradoxically safe marimba/hobo dwarf/Partch/Largactil corner and (when) will he ever do anything as simple and beautiful as “Jonesburg, Illinois” agai

    this is v true however (though it took him far longer than you’d expect to actually reach the point where it all tipped into self-parody).

    I think pop noir is a great phrase to describe that mix of…that theatrical take on “the seamy underbelly of life”, quotemarks v much in place, eccentric character studies, deeply personal romances and classicist songwriting which Waits did. I don’t think I’ve ever knowingly heard any Elvis Costello though.

  89. 89
    crag on 14 May 2008 #

    Re;Bjorn Again’s onstage banter – i remember reading the real Bjorn complaining that the BA version of him sounded like “the chef from the muppets”!

    “Plus 24”,kat? Explain, please..

  90. 90
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    It’s just nice to hear how good Waits’ songs are when not “sung” by a voice which resembles Bruce Springsteen falling off an oil rig and attempting to cling to the faltering structure by means of a vermillion tongue coated with fortified Lea and Perrin’s sauce and the beating wings of several angry moths.

  91. 91
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 14 May 2008 #

    i think this is partly what my oliver’s army piece is about — that what’s fascinating about costello’s work is that it passed through this period when its inaccessiblity (or shall we say its complexity) and its accessiblity pretty much coincided — that for a while he made difficulty and darkness part of the pop hook, that the flash of reach-out excitement was intimately woven into the learned craft dimension, and then somehow he lost the knack (or the need) to work on and through this element

    (i like the crossword-puzzle element of imperial bedroom, in fact, and i think it has some great songs on it: but punch the clock, which is much more populist in demeanour, i went off years ago — i don’t feel there’s anything he did later that offers that shock of recognition to an outsider, to someone innocent of his music; he’s working for people who already appreciate him, and the crafts he’s chosen to refine… given that one of the gifts he once had was this uncanny outreach, to pop passerby, as it were, it’s a pity he hasn’t pursued this side of himself more; but i imagine it’s the most dispiriting not to hit when you want it…)

  92. 92
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    Well, Punch The Clock, which not entirely uncoincidentally was voted NME album of the year in ’83, sounds so half-hearted in its unfeeling pretending to be pop when really it’s effectively the record the NME soulboys/worthyboys of the period wanted EC to make with lots of SOUL and SIGNIFIERS and AFRODIZIAK ON BACKING VOCALS (it’s the NME No Parlez basically) as violently put into focus by EC’s ultra-hammy rendition of “Shipbuilding” (whereas Wyatt never sounds trying, or as though he’s trying).

  93. 93
    Kat but logged out innit on 14 May 2008 #

    The first time I DJed at Poptimism, I was <s>sozzled with cheap gin</s> er, unfamiliar with the decks at the Polar Bear and accidentally pressed ‘pause’ on the wrong deck. I hadn’t cued up my first song on the other deck yet so I unpaused, but alas that made the track start again. The track was ‘Emerge’ by Fischerspooner and it had been halfway through, so I decided to play the track at +24 speed to get it up to the point where it had been when I paused it. This had a rapturous reaction from the dancefloor (and warmed them up nicely for the forthcoming bosh set I had planned).

  94. 94
    Tom on 14 May 2008 #

    I am completely unable to listen to Punch The Clock now, nothing to do with EC’s soulboy affectactions or not but because it was my summer soundtrack to reading The Belgariad by David Eddings, probably the worst books I have ever enjoyed, and the two are now hideously fused together in my mind.

  95. 95
    Billy Smart on 14 May 2008 #

    How would a pop passerby respond to ‘I Want You’, I wonder? I think that they might find it a bit disconcerting. We need to get Lex to listen to that one first to find out!

    For me, ‘Spike’ is the point where he jumped the shark… His first album after a few years off, not uncoincidentally.

  96. 96
    Billy Smart on 14 May 2008 #

    There’s a good Stuart Maconie line about ‘Punch The Clock’ – “The first Costello album where fans could really understand what other people didn’t like about him”

  97. 97
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    I think Lowe is way more important to the EC pop story than is usually acknowledged – as further evidenced that Blood And Chocolate, the ONLY EC album of the last 25 years to which I can listen ALL the way through (and which houses aforementioned “I Want You”), had Saint Nick back in the producer’s chair.

  98. 98
    Billy Smart on 14 May 2008 #

    Is Brutal Youth any good then? I remember thinking in 1994 “Oh good. Elvis back with the right people again” and then being really disappointed. I haven’t heard it since then.

    The only two Costello moments since 1986 that I’ve really felt have been ‘London’s Brilliant’ and ‘Do You Know What I’m Saying?’ on the Wendy James album.

  99. 99
    Tom on 14 May 2008 #

    I found the darkness of B&C really self-conscious and wearying – “I Want You” is a standout but there’s nothing so galling as someone trying hard to be misanthropic (13 years debating on the Interwebs have confirmed this opinion!)

    Spike got 10/10 in NME. THANKS A BUNCH NME. I tried very hard with it for a few months.

  100. 100
    crag on 14 May 2008 #

    “How would a pop passerby respond to ‘I Want You’, I wonder?”
    I remember someone like Adrian Juste or even DLT playing it on a Radio1 weekend morning at the time it was (unsuccessfully) released as a single. IIRC the jock described it as “a lovely song” or words to that effect!..

  101. 101
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 14 May 2008 #

    to be honest (as SOMEONE WHO WAS THERE duh duh DAAH) i associate the in-house soulboy hegemony (as a problem) with a few years later: collapsing it too sharply risks getting into reynolds territory *spits melodramatically and self-parodically* (hi simon!)

    PtC attempts a dexy’s surface effect, i think — bright and immediate and upfront and poppy — but it feels like wheelspinning, even when it’s striking (i *liked* afrodizia), and it certainly doesn’t have any of kev’;s obsessive of-a-kind weirdness: i think i’m probably responding to — or against — the EC voice a lot less than most here , but i’m not sure he can be soulboyish AND pub-rock-ordinaire? (i like him when he’s quiet more than when he’s loud, that definitely true)

  102. 102
    Lena on 14 May 2008 #

    Yes, Billy, the Wendy James album is very fine and apparently he wrote it all in a weekend or something! The songs were for her to sing, not himself…that was from ’93 and it’s the only album by him I’ve owned…

  103. 103
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    Down to featuring the actual Dexy’s horn section as well but as with Chet Baker where-am-I cameo it’s all cut and squashed together in too artificially worthy a manner.

    (also I think Carla Bley would like a quiet word with EC re. arrangement of his “Shipbuilding” – see “Caucasian Bird Riffles” on Tropic Appetites)

  104. 104
    Billy Smart on 14 May 2008 #

    Punch the Clock is also a response to declining sales and the pressing need to have a hit, Imperial Bedroom conspicuously having failed to have registered with the wider public.

    I do think that Pills & Soap is pretty much as good as it was seen as being at the time, though.

  105. 105
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 14 May 2008 #

    PtC producer: clive langer — NOT IMO a soul (or soulboy) producer –> responsible up till then for madness, teardrop explodes and too-rye-aye

    also: DEAF SCHOOL lovely deaf school haha

  106. 106
    Kat but logged out innit on 14 May 2008 #

    I’ve just gone and had a listen to ‘I Want You’ on Youtube. It’s… emo? His voice sounds emotional but more controlled than on other stuff of EC’s I’ve heard (ie less sneery). Is the ‘Boredom’ guitar solo there on purpose?

    It sound a lot like ‘Token Slow Song’ a number played by 80% of bad support bands in toilet venues up and down the country – but I guess this is what they’re probably copying? This doesn’t do anything for me I’m afraid, but it’s not awful.

  107. 107
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 14 May 2008 #

    billy i think that’s the point i’m making — EC seems at this point in a weird way to have lost trust in his OWN ear for “what makes a pop hit” and is too much relying on someone else’s

  108. 108
    vinylscot on 14 May 2008 #

    “I Want You” is one of the most powerful songs I have heard. The menace is palpable, and the impreciseness, innuendo and paranoia are quite disturbing.

    It didn’t help that when I first heard it I rather fancied I was going through a rather similar situation myself, albeit somewhat less eloquently.

    I have to confess at first I thought EC was meant to be just a joke, he arrived around the same time, and with a similar name, to Elton Motello, and the first couple of singles rather passed me by – I heard them, quite liked them, but was still waiting for the punchlines. The fact that his arrival also rather coincided with the death of The Big Elvis probably didn’t help. I soon caught up and bought all the albums up to and including “Almost Blue”, but since then only one or two if the notion took me, including the temporary return to form that was “Blood and Chocolate”. (plus the rather wonderful Wendy James album of course)

  109. 109
    LondonLee on 14 May 2008 #

    I’m not sure EC cares about the “pop hit” anymore and thinks he’s too old to play that game. He’s comfortably settled in Q/Mojo land with Van Morrison and Dylan.

    I don’t mind really, as with Bowie I’m happy to let him do what he wants without caring about what I want because he gave me enough great records in the past.

    “Blood and Chocolate” is a great album, I don’t know what Nick Lowe did to the guitars but they sound ferocious.

  110. 110
    wichita lineman on 14 May 2008 #

    I’ve always lumped Waits, Cave and Costello in together as well. It goes beyond the theatrical aspect; I’m uncomfortable with the way they set themselves out to be taken extremely seriously. It isn’t just the musical outsider-affectation that bothers me- I love Tindersticks for instance, who always have a slightly self-deprecating air to their Franco-London noir – but, in a nutshell, these artistes demand to be taken seriously and are, which means they’ll always get more exposure than Pure Pop acts who may be capable of at least as much emotional depth. Ergo, it’s good salesmanship as much as anything.

    Having said that… I’d never heard I Want You until just now but have read a lot about it. It’s astonishing, makes the case for Costello single-handedly. I always read that it was about a stalker, but (please back me up on this!) I reckon it’s a little more universal than that. Not that you’d ever choose to feel that way.

    Number Two Alert: The Killing Of Georgie by Rod S, yet another multi-part hit in ’76. Could this be related to the Beach Boys revival of that year, or Bo Rhap’s short-lived pre-punk influence? Or the benign influence of Prog? Probably a bit late for that. But an intriguing sub-genre. Shame Jimmy Webb didn’t cash in. Can anyone think of any non-hits that year with similar ambitious arrangements?

  111. 111
    rosie on 14 May 2008 #

    If one Popular contributor has heard the wonderful I Want You for the first time and been astonished, then despite everything my contribution to this thread has been worthwhile! :)

  112. 112
    Billy Smart on 14 May 2008 #

    I don’t think that ‘I Want You’ is about a stalker at all, but an excoriating and relentless cataloging of his feelings by a betrayed lover. Most of the rest of the album (apart from ‘Tokyo Storm Warning’ and Battered Old Bird’) is also about sexual jealousy, but has a bit more levity to it!

    A rum sort of album for my 14-year old self to have fallen for, in retrospect…

  113. 113
    Erithian on 14 May 2008 #

    Gratifying to see a group of people on here happy to praise the Wendy James album. On the strength of a favourable interview with James in Q, I got the album and was highly impressed. Q described it as the best thing either of them had done in five years, but was notably sniffy about it in later years. Lena (#102) re how long it took to write: James said she’d asked Elvis to write her a track, Elvis went to the park with Cait O’Riordan, came back and said “We’ve written you an album.”

    Going back to Abba via a roundabout way: I don’t suppose many people make any kind of link between Abba and “Original Pirate Material”, and I certainly didn’t expect to be reminded of The Streets when reading this thread; but that’s what happened when I read fivelongdays’ comment at 27. Just as my reaction on hearing the Streets album was “thank Christ that’s not my lifestyle” but I could appreciate the skill with which it was conveyed, I would be theoretically excluded from the Dancing Queen’s lifestyle on the grounds of having been way too ugly and unco-ordinated to be anything other than one of those she teases – but I don’t feel excluded from the song because of its sheer effervescence. Besides, you get the impression she’s not teasing them in order to be a callous bitch, but because she’s more into having fun and the music’s the main thing.

    And just a comment on that video – whereas my thoughts on Frida would be , as Ali G said about Madonna, “I definitely would”, Agnetha just looks like the most gorgeous thing ever to walk the earth.

  114. 114
    wichita lineman on 14 May 2008 #

    On top of discovering I Want You, I’m watching Scenes From A Marriage for the first time. Perfect summer viewing/listening!

  115. 115
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 14 May 2008 #

    actually i think when it’s worked the strength of all three is a lot more like a species of “is it serious? or is it funny?” clowning — but comedy shtick can get burdensome, and some comedians get fed up that people are “only” laughing

    things i don’t really like about blood and chocolate:
    A: it just seems utterly pitilessly joyless throughout (he was once very good at vivid funny anger)
    B: part of the problem being the “chamber-rock” recording ambience makes everything sound the same as everything else — rock really isn’t EC’s strong suit anyway (i think his guitar sounds like someone po-facedly imitating marc ribot) and this turning away from the richer artificial space of recorded pop possibility has a kind of moral puritanism to it that (i think) actually disses his own earlier insights and guesswork
    C: everything in place, old team, old producer, EC on top of all his talents (his voice a very subtly expressive and controlled instrument now, with an amazing potential range of affect), and just nothing there at all that reaches out and tweaks me, not once
    D: which translates (to me) as nothing ever reaching out and surprising HIM during the making of it :(

    consensus is fairly solid that B&C is a great EC LP and a great LP in its own right: i just played it back again and had the same feeling — don’t get it; am totally missing it; wd love to like it but don’t know how

  116. 116
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 14 May 2008 #

    (“all three” in my post = wichita linesman’s trio of cave, waits, costello)

  117. 117
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    It was maybe a great LP in the context of ’86 darkness; i.e. put next to e.g. Test Dept’s Unacceptable Face Of Freedom, Diamanda Galas’ Divine Punishment or Swans’ Greed/Holy Money or first Schoolly-D album it made a perfect soundtrack for venturing through shivery, Tell Sid/M25/Big Bang/AIDS as iceberg metaphor 1986 London.

  118. 118
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 14 May 2008 #

    yeah, actually i wz gnna say something abt his loss of faith in “the pop hit” maybe relating to extreme estrangement from the political chart-topper of the day (ie the govt, if this is too cryptic): read the “betrayed” as EC, and the excoriated betraying lover as the UK AUDIENCE AT LARGE, voting for maggie instead of, well, costello’s ideals, so how cvan pop be good any more

    but even thru such a carmodian grid it just doesn’t chime with me in content (as opposed to allegorical stance)

  119. 119
    Brian on 14 May 2008 #

    A Tom Wait’s concert at Massey Hall, Toronto ( around the time of Rain Dogs, i think ) remains in the top of 5 of concerts that I have ever seen. A trip through his head was a scary delight. The bare lightbulbs, voice through megaphone, drummer playing a garbage can lid, Tom’s skewed hat and unshaven face. He is the real deal.

    Good covers of Tom Waits also by John Hammond Jr. on
    ” Wicked Grin” and Stever Earle covered ” Down in the Hole ” on his most recent CD.

    ANd thanks forthe mention of Red Box ( #51 ). I have just resurrected my turntable and over 1000 vinyl LP recordings from the 60’s, 70’s so I’ll have to mount a search for that wee gem.

  120. 120
    Dan R on 14 May 2008 #

    I also don’t think there’s any hint of straining for effect or indeed affect in ‘I Want You’. It sounds to me like someone quite unselfconsciously expressing their darkest feelings when left by a faithless lover. The darkest, most misogynistic moments, the self-pity turned outward as hatred. Which means it’s not an enormously edifying song, nor is it straightforwardly pleasurable, but remains a rather fine document of masculinity in all of its byzantine braggadocio (in an astringent category with the other Elvis’s ‘You’ll Think of Me’ and then in other media with something like Strindberg’s The Father).

    And another Popular entry cruises to its century and beyond. Though does it count given than barely a handful of the last 70 entries remembers to discuss Abba’s Dancing Queen? a song I have to say is a guilty displeasure: I adore Abba but this one leaves me cold. It may be overfamiliarity, or the slightly muddy production (to my muddy ears), or the way it has become a bullyingly feelgood song (when the tone of it seems to me a mixture of wistfulness and lust). For whatever reasons, it unfailingly makes me feel rather grumpy, an effect heightened by my awareness that this says something bad about me, not about the song.

  121. 121
    LondonLee on 14 May 2008 #

    I saw a video of them singing it on Japanese television the other day and the two girls looked so damn happy. It made me think that was why two such gorgeous women would fall for those two plain-looking blokes, they gave them songs like that to sing.

    God, Frida was sexy. Watch her move


  122. 122
    lonepilgrim on 14 May 2008 #

    re#119 I saw TW around that time as well and enjoyed the show too though I wouldn’t describe it as scary…
    he used to make it more obvious that the hipster/beatnik persona was more of a pose than a reality (kind of the lie that tells the truth) but somewhere along the line – the Frank’s Wild Years album for me – the mask got stuck and he/the audience took it way too seriously

    there’s a similar problem for me with elvis costello in that once the persona of ‘elvis costello’ solidified into this lyrically verbose, musically versatile character he became less interesting and despite adopting new musical styles has never done so with the conviction of dylan or bowie. there’s another telling of the dancing queen /olivers army connection in the latest ‘word’ magazine – there was also a bbc programme recently where glen matlock admitted to basing the opening riff of pretty vacant on an abba song though i don’t think it was DQ

    at the time Dancing Queen came out i didn’t pay it too much attention and probably came to appreciate it’s happy/sad mix with muriel’s wedding

  123. 123
    wwolfe on 14 May 2008 #

    “…in a nutshell, these artistes demand to be taken seriously and are, which means they’ll always get more exposure than Pure Pop acts who may be capable of at least as much emotional depth. Ergo, it’s good salesmanship as much as anything.”

    This is the best capsule summary of “Sting: Why I Dislike Him and All His Works” that I’ve ever read.

  124. 124
    rosie on 15 May 2008 #

    Ah, Sting! He who can come and do my washing up any time he likes! Sexy beast.

    I winced along with everybody else when he made his foray into John Dowland country but there’s still a bit of me that says, kudos to him for trying. It didn’t work but what the hell? I doubt whether he did it for the money and I can well understand why he might want to try something new even if it doesn’t come off and doesn’t bear repetition; his problem of course is that whatever he does, and he is the kind of person who wants to explore different things, he will be under scrutiny and subject to the sneers of his many critics. However, Mr Sumner is bunny-fodder in the not-too-distant future and I look forward to some colourful exchanges when we get there.

    Meanwhile, I have never claimed expert musical knowledge in these pages; my interest was originally in the pop I grew up with (Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks, Beach Boys, Motown in all its glory; to be young was very heaven), and latterly in the sociological aspects of pop (and isn’t it all hanging out now!). I know more about writing because that’s what I aspire to, and despite the claims that music, and especially pop music, is sui generis amongst the arts, I think there are very strong parallels in that world.

    A friend of mine, a very talented writer and critic of the writing of others, churns out Mills & Boon Modern Extras (the spicier end of the Romantic Fiction niche) by the yard. Although she enjoys producing these, she finds them very limiting because they are essentially written to a strict formula, and they also take up all of her time because having cracked that very difficult market her publishers demand that the product keeps coming, and her readership have very precise expectations and would be up in arms if she strayed from the path and gave them something a little bit unexpected, never mind challenging or thought-provoking. I’m guilty myself in a way – I consume large quantities of crime fiction and sometimes have been annoyed when a favourite crime writer – Reg Hill, say – gets too clever by half. But I don’t get too annoyed because as a would-be crime writer myself I know exactly the yearning to set oneself apart from the crowd, and how difficult it is to experiment when others have such precise expectations of you.

    I suppose a literary equivalent of ‘prog’ might be the Booker Prize and its contenders. It’s not a good parallel because those who win the the Booker aren’t generally blockbusting superstars of the literary world, and part of the idea of the Booker is to provide some kind of remuneration for the talented in a world where none but a few can afford to give up the day job. Nevertheless, every autumn when the shortlist is announced, there’s an outcry; it’s elitist, it’s not representing the kind of books that ‘ordinary people’ (whoever they are); inevitably that the Booker winner is ‘unreadable’. I have to say that I haven’t read all the Booker winners by any means but those that I have, haven’t disappointed me. Years ago I stayed up all night to finish Midnight’s Children. Schindler’s Ark wasn’t a pleasant read but it is unforgettable. Possession, Last Orders, The God of Small Things, Amsterdam; all stonking good reads. How Late It Was, How Late evokes the grittiness of Glasgow better than any noir crime story. And so on.

    The problem with the anti-elitist line is that it starts from a false premise; that anything different or challenging is remote from the masses. Well, how condescending and elitist can you get than that! Nothing is out of the reach of anybody who wants to break free of their mind-forg’d manacles (what would William Blake have made of Popular, I wonder?). It’s easier to risk failure from obscurity, however, than to fail under the spotlight of popular scrutiny. I have nothing but admiration for those who would take that risk.

  125. 125
    Tom on 15 May 2008 #

    It’s odd, though, cos another criticism that tends to get made of the Booker is that it’s middlebrow, it backs the wrong horses, it’s not rewarding genuinely challenging work, etc. I don’t really like the word “middlebrow” (speaking as someone who used to fling it around a LOT in hotheaded younger days) but I think ‘art rock’ (for want of a better word) suffers from the same perception and the same squeeze: respectable in comparison to the mass market but still treading familiar, though more rarefied, ground.

    Right, now I am going to do my promised reply to Five Long Days and then it’s onwards!

  126. 126
    Waldo on 15 May 2008 #

    Marcello – I notice that your contribution at # 87 was a right old free for all.

    And many thanks for your clarification at #78. It was, of course, neither Ingmar Bergman nor Ingrid Bergman who knocked out Floyd Patterson. It was indeed Scarlett Johansson!

    Cheers, buddy!

  127. 127
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 15 May 2008 #

    yes my answer also would be — or would have been — that the charge against prog wasn’t “oh this is too challenging” so much as “this thinks itself very challenging but really it isn’t” — and noting that eg Trout Mask Replica remained a touchstone before during and after punk (which is not at all to say that all punks loved or treasured or cared about it): since i now (by contrast) quite strongly feel that something* got lost in the humiliation of prog, i am less inclined to argue that punk’s drive was towards nothing but better, deeper, truer difficulty, tho that is CERTAINLY what i told myself at the time (as well, of course, as getting same to the top of the charts)

    *what exactly though? i think a hard-to-specify 60s-utopian open-endedness — and i think that prog itself had, in practice, actually rather squished this open-endedness, as it lost momentum, found its own limits of capability, got defensive…

  128. 128
    pink champale on 15 May 2008 #

    #122 i think the ‘pretty vacant’ intro is supposed to be inspired by SOS, though i’ve never quite seen it myself.

    the pop equivalent to the booker prize is probably the mercury prize, which i’m fairly sure is consciously modelled on the booker – both have the same remit of “quality over sales” and as a result do rather set themselves up for accusations of being middlebrow and existing only to provide people who don’t follow contemporary music or literature that closely with a pre-approved shortcut cutting-edgeness. personally (and as someone who increasingly fits into the demographic!) i don’t see much wrong with that.

    i’d say the literary equivalent to prog is the kind of sci-fi that has pretensions to “dealing with” weighty issues. however, i was born in 1973 and have pretty much no first-hand experience of prog (and so am still prey to what the nme thought about it in 1989) and have read almost no sci-fi. so it is just possible that there are some holes in this argument!

  129. 129
    Billy Smart on 15 May 2008 #

    In the 1990s, there were a few years when the prize money for the Booker, Mercury and Turner Prizes was identical – £20,000, which must say something or other about the equivalence of status between the three.

  130. 130
    DJ Punctum on 15 May 2008 #

    What about prog needing to be humiliated in order to be resuscitated by post-punk since what were PiL, JD if not etc. etc.

    (note how in America this never represented a problem since the likes of Rocket from the Tombs/Ubu, Heads, Patti, Suicide &c. were exactly the same sort of unplaceable WTFness which would have arisen from the early catalogue of Virgin Records here before punk happened – I’m finding it hard to think of direct US early seventies equivalents to Yes, Tull, ELP etc. and was this the dividing line here, this extra layer of favours-owed-from-the-sixties-but-no-longer-actively-any-aesthetic-use prog timeservers?)

  131. 131
    pink champale on 15 May 2008 #

    i suppose one of the things it says is that the award is intended to be given to someone who wouild find £20,000 a significant amount of money, i.e. the up and coming rather than the superstar. though i think you have to be a pretty stella in the world of literary fiction before you start making any money at all.

  132. 132
    Tom on 15 May 2008 #

    The US though had this enormous layer of adult non-progressive rock which we’ll run smack into in a couple of entries so I’ll say no more.

  133. 133
    rosie on 15 May 2008 #

    Perhaps in retrospect comparing Prog and the Booker wasn’t particularly apt. Prog covers a lot of ground – some of it very good indeed – and perhaps the best and most apt comparison to some of the worst excesses of Prog is The Lord of the Rings, a work which I detest because it’s huge and baggy, badly-written, self-indulgent and desperately in need of heavy editing. But I also take the point about the science-fiction novel with an axe to grind.

    Will we accept, maybe, that the equivalent of the 3-minute pop song is the 300-page genre novel, whether it’s Romance, Chick-lit, Lad-lit, Detective, Cyberpunk or whatever? Some of which are very good and some much less so, but to restrict oneself to these and these alone is to miss out on some wonderful, or perhaps distressing or eye-opening, experiences.

    There’s nothing wrong with liking or disliking any of these but there’s a lot wrong with restricting oneself to a narrow range of what one feels safe with. Same with music.

  134. 134
    DJ Punctum on 15 May 2008 #

    What I’m more interested in, though, is where the two overlap and start to blend – a good literary comparison starting point might be Lanark by Alastair Gray which non-coincidentally is my favourite book or anything (well, most things) by David Peace.

    Either/or is always a dodgy dealer.

  135. 135
    DJ Punctum on 15 May 2008 #

    (and yes, either/or spirit of punk haha but the spillage was more colourful by being kept under didactic wraps)

  136. 136
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 15 May 2008 #

    the distinction between US and Uk is that i don’t in the US the deep suspicion of musicality as a value ever took hold, as it did in the UK (it’s right there dead centre in free improv, punk and post-punk): i think the contrariness and contradiction is interesting and produced enormously valuable stuff, but it’s weirdly underexamined — no one ever steps back and looks at it (whence the hostility, whence the fear?)

    proto-prog in the US = zappa, the dead maybe, even jefferson airplane (all pre-date brit-prog main wave)
    parallel to prog in time (but not prog) = jazzrock and fusion, return to forever, weather report blah blah
    US next-wave-prog of course does exist viz rush (except they’re canadian)

  137. 137
    pink champale on 15 May 2008 #

    i’ve never got more than 20 pages into lotr (though tolkein went to my school so it was something of a presence in my youth) but i’d always kind of assumed that the audience for it and prog were basically the same – wasn’t lotr was pretty much forgotten until the late sixties when it got taken up by hippies who were then inspired to write concept albums about goblins in the seventies. then punk came along and drove them both underground until the unlikely resurrection of lotr a few years ago – i could never quite get used to suddenly seeing twenty something women on the tube with their heads buried in frodo.

  138. 138
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 15 May 2008 #

    (vital and exciting radioshow discussing the sf equivalent of the 3-minute-single HERE of course pimp pimp) :D

  139. 139
    DJ Punctum on 15 May 2008 #

    well you know, elijah wood…

  140. 140
    DJ Punctum on 15 May 2008 #

    yes it’s probably wise to keep CanCon out of this at the moment since amongst other things it would drag in supremely awkward argument-demolisher n**l y***g…

  141. 141
    and everybody elses Mark G on 15 May 2008 #

    OK, how about KonKan?

  142. 142
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 15 May 2008 #

    punk = orc-rock, it was only elves that were driven underground

  143. 143
    pink champale on 15 May 2008 #

    rosie, sorry i missed your second paragraph first time around. i don’t think i would agree with this, as for me the best 3 minute pop song is the absolute pinnacle of what music can be (and dancing queen is,er, the pinnacle of this pinnacle) whereas i don’t think the genre novel is ever the pinnacle of what literature can be. or i suppose what i mean is that i honestly feel i get the same out of ‘dancing queen’ as someone else might get out of the best bit ‘tristan and isolde’ but i don’t think that anyone can get as much out of a dan brown novel as you can out of a fitzgerald novel. though a dan brown novel could still be better than [insert literary novelist who’s no good]. i suppose i’m some sort of book rockist.

  144. 144
    rosie on 15 May 2008 #

    I wrote a short story once (it probably doesn’t bear reviving but I might think about it) called The Assassination of Aragorn, which deals with ill-treatment, enslavement and subsequent uprising of the Orcs in the Kingdom of Gondor!

  145. 145
    DJ Punctum on 15 May 2008 #

    Now come on Rosie, be honest – was it inspired by the Grunwick dispute?

  146. 146
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 15 May 2008 #

    ash nazg durbatulûk/ash nazg gimbatul/ash nazg thrakatulûk/ash burzum-ishi krimpatul


    i am the antichrist/i am an anarchist/don’t know what i want but i know how to get it/i wanna destroy passersby

    (johnny rotten = gollum, DISCUSS)

    [must. stop. now. my grand theory of craft vs anti-craft in art and music threatens to drag entire universe into black hole of absurd connections]

  147. 147
    Tom on 15 May 2008 #

    OK this is a reply to Five Long Days at #27:

    FLD’s basic point (as I understand it) is that the Dancing Queen is exclusionary – she is one of the beautiful people, enforcing her kind of fun.

    I think this is slightly defused by the invisible-narrator I talked about – the DQ is the centre of the song, but the narrator is generous enough to celebrate her even though the narrator can’t join in. The inclusive element is the “You can dance!” bit in the chorus – telling everyone that they can have that Dancing Queen moment, in which case anyone really could be that guy, because anyone could be the DQ too.

    Obviously though there is a point at which democratic fun becomes forced fun – the conga-line horror of the office Christmas party. “Who gets to have fun?” and “who gets to be pop?” and “who gets to be cool?” are big underlying questions for Popular, and for the split between ‘pop music’ and the rest of it (prog, or art rock, or indie, or soul). This split is never ever total – critically or commercially – but it’s easy for particular records to seem to symbolise one side or the other of it. Especially “Dancing Queen” because ABBA’s critical arc – tolerated to mocked to celebrated – is semi shared by pop too.

    Personally I’ve always been torn between the sides. My favourite band for a long time was The Smiths, because (paradoxically by drawing on pre-Beatles ultra-sanitised pop) they offered an alternative to the fun and dancing and pop that alienated and terrified me – but then at the same time that stuff attracted me. I’d have been laughed away from Studio 54 before I’d so much as sniffed the doorman’s aftershave but my stock ‘favourite single’ answer for ages is “Good Times” by Chic, because the aspirational gorgeousness of it was so powerful.

    One of the things about pop is that it has a joint-status as commodity and art but as both it behaves very oddly: something crucial but little remarked on is that it all costs the same. In pretty much every other market (and in the original art market), price functions as an indicator of status, but a consumer pays approximately the same for Trout Mask Replica as she does for The Best Of The Undertones or for an ABBA album. So scarcity becomes the main indicator of status – and here TMR is higher status than ABBA because less people have heard it.

    But then you run into problems because pop – the low status, low scarcity end of the market – is seen as flashier and more expensive and more status-conscious and less grass-roots than the high-scarcity stuff often is. (This is why the pop:fast-food analogy doesn’t work)

    So pop throws questions of status and inclusiveness into some confusion anyway, even before you start looking at how it’s been received as art.

    This is all a very rambling way of saying that if “Dancing Queen” (or indeed “Good Times”) is an elitist, exclusionary record then it’s an apalling failure as one – it is a colossal hit known and danced to by millions! But I know that isn’t really FLD’s point – his point is simply that he feels alienated by this definition of pop. To which I can only say, yes, fair enough, I don’t! But I think the issues raised by feeling alienated from pop are going to come up more and more often.

  148. 148
    DJ Punctum on 15 May 2008 #

    I merely point out that “Anarchy” was in the hit parade at the same time as Can’s “I Want More.”

  149. 149
    Tom on 15 May 2008 #

    Pink Champale at #143: there is a point though where the 3 minute pop song DOES become a kind of genre-novel equivalent, when songmakers internalise the idea of “the 3 minute pop song” as the height of music and start trying to make ‘perfect pop’ records. Why is this different from what ABBA did? Aha, there you get onto very tricky and difficult ground unfortunately :(

  150. 150
    DJ Punctum on 15 May 2008 #

    Well, not quite – Chic were always very clear that “Good Times” was intended to be ironic, not just because of the impending recession but also because of the fact that they had very publicly been refused admission to Studio 54 even though they were playing and dancing to their records inside.

  151. 151
    Tom on 15 May 2008 #

    Hooray indie cred preserved! :(

    (I still like Chic because they sound opulent as fuck though)

  152. 152
    pink champale on 15 May 2008 #

    tom – you’re right there. ‘perfect pop’ is generally made in opposition to ‘imperfect pop’ , where ‘perfect’ means “a bit like merseybeat” and ‘imperfect’ means “whatever is actually in the charts”.

  153. 153
    rosie on 15 May 2008 #

    An academic (the same academic, oddly enough, who told me one shouldn’t read Heart of Darkness because it was racist) remarked to me once that she liked the Blackpool Tower Ballroom because it was one place where she saw working-class people looking beautiful. Leaving aside the breathtaking condescension of it all, there’s a grain of truth there that connects to my reading of Dancing Queen: the Dancing Queen herself isn’t a member of a exclusionary set, she’s the careworn, downtrodden checkout girl at Fine Fare during the week but on Friday night she puts on her finery and then, out there on the floor not at Annabelles but at the local Locarno, she blossoms.

  154. 154
    Mark M on 15 May 2008 #

    According to the story that Nile tells on every documentary ever made, it was Freak Out a/k/a Fuck Off! that was directly inspired by not getting into Studio 54.

  155. 155
    Tim on 15 May 2008 #

    “Perfect pop” = pop in the perfect tense. (Twenty years ago I’d have got into a proper fight with anyone who said that.)

  156. 156
    Erithian on 15 May 2008 #

    That’s what I hear too, Rosie – an ordinary girl transformed into the Dancing Queen by the music (for which, thank you!), but attractive enough to turn the men on for fun. In fact, much as one would imagine a 17-year-old Agnetha (although the teenage Agnetha wasn’t as much of a goddess as the polished mid-20s pop star was). What kind of milieu would Benny and Bjorn have been picturing? – probably not a Studio 54 type of place or anywhere for the exclusive set, but a dancefloor full of young (and no doubt attractive) Swedes just having the time of their lives.

  157. 157
    DJ Punctum on 15 May 2008 #

    Oh yes, “Le Freak.”

    S Maconie: “Studio 54? What was that all about? Where were the other 53 then? Did they build them in Kidderminster for tax reasons? Bet it wasn’t as good as the Wigan Casino. I mean, OK, you had Andy Warhol and Marjorie Proops going in there, but I bet they never sold Tizer! Call yourself a disco and you don’t sell Tizer and Spangles? Eh? Eh?”

  158. 158
    rosie on 15 May 2008 #

    There was a pizza and cocktails joint in Cambridge called Pseudio 54. That about sums it up.

  159. 159
    pink champale on 15 May 2008 #

    ha, i was just about to make a maconie reference inspired by rosie’s excellent use of “fine fare” and “locarno” in the same sentence.

  160. 160
    LondonLee on 15 May 2008 #

    For some reason I’m reminded of this speech from Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco

    Josh: Disco will never be over. It will always live in our minds and hearts. Something like this, that was this big, and this important, and this great, will never die. Oh, for a few years – maybe many years – it’ll be considered passé and ridiculous. It will be misrepresented and caricatured and sneered at, or – worse – completely ignored. People will laugh about John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, white polyester suits and platform shoes and people going like *this* [strikes disco pose]. But we had nothing to do with those things and still loved disco. Those who didn’t understand will never understand: disco was much more, and much better, than all that. Disco was too great, and too much fun, to be gone forever! It’s got to come back someday. I just hope it will be in our own lifetimes.

  161. 161
    Billy Smart on 15 May 2008 #

    Hurray! And some of the best futuredisco from the generations after the original disco shall be brought to the attentions of Popular.

  162. 162
    pink champale on 15 May 2008 #

    the last days of disco! i love that speech, and i love that film. it’s sort of relevant to the exclusivity debate about dancing queen as well, as one of the points about the film (if i remember it right) was that the protaganists were kind of geeky (though this is relative, they seemed fearsomely cool to me) and the only reason they could get anywhere near studio 54 was that disco was already passe, but nonetheless their love for disco was real and admirable.

  163. 163
    lex on 15 May 2008 #

    I wish ‘Dancing Queen’ was a MORE elitist record! When it comes to pop stars, beautiful people acting like divas >>>>> ordinary people blah blah blah.

  164. 164
    LondonLee on 15 May 2008 #

    Susanne and Joanne from the Human League are probably the best pop example of the “Fine Fare girls at the Locarno” type. Phil Oakey did actually find them at a disco called The Crazy Daisy on Sheffield High Street.

  165. 165
    DJ Punctum on 15 May 2008 #

    How long, I wonder, before the guitar player turns to rock and roll?

  166. 166
    Tom on 15 May 2008 #

    I’d give it twenty minutes.

  167. 167
    Erithian on 15 May 2008 #

    Reminds me of a classic story about Muriel Gray. She and a pal spotted Madonna using a portaloo backstage at Live Aid, stood outside waiting for her to emerge and then declared, not addressed to Madge but intended for her hearing, “I’d give it ten minutes if I were you”.

  168. 168
    rosie on 15 May 2008 #

    LondonLee @ 160: s/Disco/Rock’n’Roll/ and that speech could have been made in 1966!

  169. 169
    DJ Punctum on 15 May 2008 #

    Trad will never be over. It will always live in our minds and hearts. Something like this, that was this big, and this important, and this great, will never die. Oh, for a few years – maybe many years – it’ll be considered passé and ridiculous. It will be misrepresented and caricatured and sneered at, or – worse – completely ignored. People will laugh about Kenny Ball, Mr Acker Bilk, bowler hats and striped waistcoats and people going like *this* [blows imaginary trumpet]. But we had nothing to do with those things and still loved trad. Those who didn’t understand will never understand: trad was much more, and much better, than all that. Trad was too great, and too much fun, to be gone forever! It’s got to come back someday. I just hope it will be in our own lifetimes.

  170. 170
    LondonLee on 15 May 2008 #

    With one crucial difference, also from that movie:

    “You know the Woodstock generation of the 1960s that were so full of themselves and conceited? None of those people could dance.”

  171. 171
    DJ Punctum on 15 May 2008 #

    What Happened To Ban The Bomb Trad, Dad? The Scandalous Truth Revealed:


  172. 172
    rosie on 15 May 2008 #

    We will, of course, be having another – radically changed – variant on the Fine Fare girl at the Locarno anon.

  173. 173

    […] Thursday, 15 May 2008 Over at Popular, wwolfe writes: […]

  174. 174
    Erithian on 16 May 2008 #

    I spotted last night one of those clips shows for which Freeview was made – “TV’s Funniest Musical Moments” on ITV2, no doubt to be repeated soon if you’re interested. Some well-worn regulars, but the gold among them were a sequence of clips of Peter Glaze and Don Maclean on Crackerjack (CRACKERJACK!). We were treated to their versions of “Dancing Queen”, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Video Killed the Radio Star” and, weirdest of all, “Golden Years” – Peter Glaze sings Bowie…

  175. 175
    DJ Punctum on 16 May 2008 #

    I once had a dream where I was watching a nineties edition of Crackerjack and Glaze and “Not American Pie” Maclean were performing their version of an iconic nineties number one (obviously I’m not going to say which one until we get there) and it looked and sounded eerily logical. The man is much missed.

  176. 176
    Waldo on 16 May 2008 #

    I thought the pious bastard was still alive, Marcello.

    Rosie – There were two branches of Fine Fare in Clapham High Street back in the sixties. Long long gone. Even seeing the name brought back memories. I take it they still exist in your remote corner of perfidious albion?

  177. 177
    DJ Punctum on 16 May 2008 #

    Mr Glaze passed on in February 1983, depriving a grieving public of the opportunity to witness his inimitable interpretation of Hayzi Fantayzee’s “Shiny Shiny.”

  178. 178
    Billy Smart on 16 May 2008 #

    Peter Glaze can also be heard, if not seen, as a Sensorite in a poorly regarded 1964 Doctor Who story. Even from behind a rubber mask, and hobbled by having circular saucer feet, its still very clear that its him.

  179. 179
    Waldo on 16 May 2008 #

    Err.. I rather fancy I was talking about t’other bloke. Peter Glaze was, of course, a comic genius. I’d love to see him featured in the “Curse of..” series but I’m not holding my breath. Ditto Lord Varney of Crouch End, who was still very much with us last time I looked.

  180. 180
    DJ Punctum on 16 May 2008 #

    Ah yes, I beg your pardon – pious Don “Not Vincent” Maclean who is certainly still walking amongst the living with his rib-fracturing humour and when not engaged in Crackerjack or Black And White Minstrel Show business – I’m sure he has stated many dozens of times that the latter was “not racialist” and that, look, we had “my coloured Brummie chum Lenny Henry” on the show (cue sternly worded letter from Mr Henry’s lawyers, swiftly followed by a letter of dismissal addressed to Mr Henry’s agent following the Premier Inns ad) – was to be found in such endeavours as Supersavers, a lunchtime ITV show which featured him wandering around the Co-Op in Solihull with a woman whose name I’ve long forgotten looking at the prices of cod and Omo. These days it would get an hour on peak-time Channel 4.

  181. 181
    rosie on 16 May 2008 #

    Waldo: I haven’t seen a Fine Fare in many, many years. The last one I remember was in Hull in the late 70s. I believe it got subsumed in the empire that is now Somerfield.

    The HQ of Fine Fare was in Welwyn Garden City where I spent my teenage years and rare was the teenager of wasn’t employed by them in one capacity or another at some point. They also owned the Welwyn Stores, purveyor of gramophone records amongst many other things, and if you hung out in the record department of a Saturday, eventually you would meet everybody you knew.

    Welwyn Stores is now John Lewis Welwyn, I believe, and no longer sells gramophone records.

  182. 182
    Alan on 16 May 2008 #

    hurrah, i have just found independent internets confirmation of my childhood memory of the crackerjack performance of Sparks “Something for the Girl with Everything” (possibly a sparks ‘medley’. it would probs have been in 75)

  183. 183

    my mum grew up in welwyn, among other places, and every now and then we still find a tiny little “welwyn stores” sticker on some item that’s knockin round dad’s house

    they lived in sherrards park road

  184. 184
    pink champale on 16 May 2008 #

    ah, Don “the other one” Maclean. Without fail referred to as “Solihull funnyman Don Maclean” in local newspapers round our way.

  185. 185
    DJ Punctum on 16 May 2008 #

    Time for a checklist of all those words and expressions used in newspapers and never IRL:


  186. 186
    SteveM on 16 May 2008 #

    love rat
    rap (as in ‘Avram faces FA rap’)

  187. 187
    vinylscot on 16 May 2008 #

    a sex-act

  188. 188
    Billy Smart on 16 May 2008 #

    I’ve seen Michael Barrymore described as the “The disgraced funnyman, 54”.

    Paul Jewell’s recent travails got the headline “PREM. BOSS IN KINKY ROMP WITH MYSTERY BLONDE”, which I thought packed a lot of narrative into a few words.

  189. 189
    SteveM on 16 May 2008 #

    I like the ‘mystery blonde’ bit, as if we are expected to know who Paul Jewell usually romps kinkily with.

  190. 190
    SteveM on 16 May 2008 #

    another one: leggy

  191. 191
    Tom on 16 May 2008 #

    tot (as in infant, not rum)

  192. 192
    lex on 16 May 2008 #


    (i hate all these words, i could never work on a tabloid)

  193. 193
    Erithian on 16 May 2008 #

    probe (usually precedes a “rap”)
    Kop (as shorthand for Liverpool FC so the headline can be bigger)
    Now (in the context of: the Mail gets even more aerated then previously at what the PC brigade is doing “now”)

  194. 194
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 16 May 2008 #


    is there a tabloid-hed fridge-magnet poetry set? i absolutely adore the energy of the compression to this kind of stuff, it is a weird semi-evil artform

  195. 195
    Billy Smart on 16 May 2008 #

    In the summer of 1997 The Sun had what I still think of as the greatest of these cover stories; “RUNAWAY PERVERT LEERED AT MY TOTS”

  196. 196
    intothefireuk on 17 May 2008 #

    Nearly 200 comments on this and I’m only registering my first – fashionably late as always. So, ABBA, good looking blonde and her mate and a couple of dodgy looking geezers. Yes they can write a decent tune and yes I fancied the blonde. Unfortunately I don’t fancy this song much. It just doesn’t move me in the right areas. I can’t dance to it (and I don’t want to), the lyrics aren’t particularly interesting (I haven’t personally felt the beat of a tambourine), I don’t like the lead synth sound, piano flourishes or dodgy vocal phrasing & I just can’t relate to the general upbeat nature of it. At this stage of their career it didn’t really matter – if you didn’t like this one then you didn’t have to wait too long until another one came along. Of course this just happened to be Money, Money, Money which I did like (a lot better than this). The fact that it is now totally over-played and IMHO over-hyped has not helped me to like it any better in the intervening years. 4

  197. 197
    Waldo on 17 May 2008 #

    Rosie # 181 – Thanks for that. My family went shopping in Brixton too, particularly the “Arcade”, which was an amazing place and two department stores, Morleys and Bon Marche, which was anything but!

  198. 198
    crag on 17 May 2008 #

    “a checklist of all those words and expressions used in newspapers and never IRL”-suprised no one has mentioned my favorite- the classic ‘bedded’ as in “Theakston bedded the 21 year old stunner”…

  199. 199
    richard thompson on 17 May 2008 #

    when Dancing Queen was number one,it was a wednesday when the chart was announced because of the bank holiday, Agnetha was known as Anna then, my 14 year old self found her attractive as well, if it had been 2000 it would have come straight in at no.1.
    The last time I saw Crackerjack Peter Glaze was singing Arts for Arts sake, Ed Stewart was dressed up as Harpo Marx, no idea why.

  200. 200
    Waldo on 17 May 2008 #

    For my five cents’ worth, how ’bout “tubbed”, meaning pregnant (as in: “CARAVAN MOTHER OF TWELVE TUBBED AGAIN!”)

  201. 201
    DJ Punctum on 17 May 2008 #

    “a checklist of all those words and expressions used in newspapers and never IRL”-suprised no one has mentioned my favorite- the classic ‘bedded’ as in “Theakston bedded the 21 year old stunner”…

    I think you’ll find that DJ Punctum mentioned it in post #185.

  202. 202
    Billy Smart on 17 May 2008 #

    Oh here’s a useful rule of thumb: If ever a headline is about the doings of a ‘TOP TORY’ then the story will be about a politician that you’ve never heard of.

    If they really were a top Tory, then their name would have been used, because the reader would have recognised it.

  203. 203
    DJ Punctum on 17 May 2008 #

    Not necessarily the case with Top Tory Drummer Bev “Bev” Bevan, of course…

  204. 204
    Caledonianne on 17 May 2008 #

    I don’t dance, can’t dance, get panicky at the thought of dancing. But need to be welded to my seat when this ccomes on. It’s just so life-affirming.

    Surely at some stage in her life every right-thinking girl has a gay best friend who’s ever-keen to prime her with lavish G&Ts, all the better to share the spotlight when DQ grabs the floor?

    Must be a 10.

    (BTW I played I Want You from youtube just before I went to bed the other night. Big mistake. Kept me awake and not because of my usual aversion to Mr Costello’s voice – OA apart). Powerful stuff.

  205. 205
    intothefireuk on 17 May 2008 #

    Maybe that’s where I’m going wrong – I obviously need a gay friend.

  206. 206
    crag on 18 May 2008 #

    re#201-Oops! had to read the list again twice before i saw it- must be going blind in my old age…

  207. 207
    LondonLee on 19 May 2008 #

    I’m pretty sure I have used the word “romp” in real life (never referring to sexual doings though), but that could just be part of my suave-Brit-in-America persona, I also use “groovy” a lot.

  208. 208
    DJ Punctum on 19 May 2008 #

    “Probe” of course more often than not preceded by “shock horror youth cult.”

  209. 209
    Erithian on 23 Jun 2008 #

    There was a story last week that the Queen – that’s THE Queen – was seen dancing to this at Peter Phillips’ wedding reception on Cup Final day. A few awkward glances at the “you’re a teaser, you turn them on” line, I guess. (Who the hell gets married on Cup Final day? – apart from my mate who asked me to be best man and made me miss the Coventry-Spurs classic in 1987. But I digress.)

    I know a number of us on this site are or have been DJs. So here’s a challenge. You’re behind the decks at a Royal bash, you’re playing “Dancing Queen” and you spot Queenie strutting her stuff on the dancefloor. What do you cue up next to see whether she stays out there or sits it out? (A certain controversial Number 2 hit is not allowed on the grounds that (a) it’s too obvious and (b) it could earn you a spell in the Tower.)

  210. 210
    mike on 23 Jun 2008 #

    I’d go with “Honky Tonk Woman”, with high hopes of a Betty/Camilla dance-off during the first verse.

  211. 211
    Billy Smart on 23 Jun 2008 #

    ‘The Crown’ by Gary Byrd?

    She’s not really the intended audience, but the chorus (“You wear the crown!”) would fit.

  212. 212
    DJ Punctum on 23 Jun 2008 #

    “I Hate The White Man” by Roy Harper.

  213. 213
    Lena on 23 Jun 2008 #

    I’m not a DJ but I would pick “In The Navy” or “Macho Man” as I’ve just begun to appreciate the New Poppishness of the Village People. To see if Her Majesty wants to actually get down, “I Love Music” would be good.

  214. 214
    DJ Punctum on 23 Jun 2008 #

    Not a DJ yet… ;-)

    “I Want You” by the Inspiral Carpets and Mark E Smith.

  215. 215
    Erithian on 23 Jun 2008 #

    No Royal connection, but I’d fancy trying “Can Can” by Bad Manners.

  216. 216
    DJ Punctum on 23 Jun 2008 #

    don’t try it

  217. 217
    Ken on 26 Apr 2009 #

    I really can’t explain why, but I loathe this song with a passion nowadays. When it first came out, I remember quite liking it without being overwhelmed, especially those Pertwee-era Radiophonic Workshop-esque twiddles/fanfares between the lines of the verses.

    It’s probably down to the ossification that you so correctly pinpoint. This has become so much a song regarded as “Perfect Pop Music – END OF!!!” – when it really isn’t – that it’s changed for me from a pleasant if throwaway distraction to a pain in the arse. How many times? – NO MORE FUCKING ABBA!!!!

  218. 218
    sydney on 30 May 2009 #

    That`s stupid

  219. 219
    inakamono on 3 Oct 2009 #

    So I guess I was 16 when this came out, and they were part of the landscape, remembering them from Eurovision and all, and of course it was all over the radio and TOTP and stuff, and they were already commercially huge; but evidently I didn’t connect with this “instant pop classic” at the time.

    I remember the moment I did connect with it — more than 20 years later, on a summer holiday lazing in a beach-bar on an island in Thailand, and this came on (coz they played ABBA for all the Australian tourists) and my reaction was, “You know, when you come to think about it, maybe they were quite good after all.”

    I think that is the core of my issue with this song, and the rest of the ABBA canon. It never felt relevant to me when it came out, even though, as a 70s teenager, I was their target audience.

    Trying to think yourself back into your mindset more than 30 years ago is bound to be selective, but I know my mental bookmarks at the time were saying “ABBA, Boney M, stuff like that” — which was undoubtedly better than the bookmark that said “Chicago, David Soul, boring stuff like that” or the bookmark that said “Bay City Rollers, crap like that” — but it was still filed away in a general category of “not for me.”

    Listening to it now, I can see that it is very good, and I can feel what has been described here as the sadness it contains– although it seems more like wistfulness to me — in a way I never felt at the time. But still my problem is, why it took 20 years before I realized it was “quite good really, after all”?

    So, I reckon, it comes to a question of relevance.

    ABBA were never relevant to me, at the time. Nothing they did ever spoke to anything that was happening in my life. They were always there, cute songs on the radio, but they never meant anything. They never spoke to me.

    To me, the sadness — wistfulness — is that they only started to speak to me 20 years later. Was that what they intended?

    Still, it’s “quite good really, after all,” I suppose.

  220. 220
    Ian on 13 Nov 2009 #

    Abba, some nice sounds, out of a whole lot of great stuff around this time. The best thing about Abba by far was the blonde – the best singer and, hands down, best looking woman in Abba and in pop at that time.

  221. 221
    Tom on 13 Nov 2009 #

    #219: well, they were adults, late 20s, early 30s, and they were writing as that – not aiming it at teenagers, I think. At families sometimes, sure, but that’s a different thing.

  222. 222
    swanstep on 8 Dec 2009 #

    Brilliant lead-off essay by Tom. Reading it originally hooked me on Popular….so, thanks! The song is, of course, a complete wonder – an absolute, gold standard 10. DQ is the first single I ever bought, and it remains a favorite. The vid. has a special moment that is worth remarking on, which I don’t think anyone’s mentioned above: the camera’s in relatively tight on Frida for the ‘Anybody could be that guyyyyyy…’ line. She looks directly at us and smilingly wrinkles her nose as she hits the ‘Anybody’ (she’s talking to *you*, pal). It’s a deliciously flirtatious, sexy moment. As a pre-pubescent I wasn’t *quite* plugged into this at the time, but I did register something. It was certainly the beginning of my awareness that the media emphasis on Agnetha as ‘the hot one’/the fetishized blonde swede was quite misplaced. It was Frida who, for whatever reason, was happier, more fun, confident, more comfortable with being a sexy singer/front-woman, etc.., and it all made sense when it emerged (early in 1977 IIRC) that all was not well between Bjorn and Agnetha.

  223. 223
    thefatgit on 8 Dec 2009 #

    I was 10 years old, running around like a mad thing. That summer we lost a cat, our dog lost her virginity on holiday in Devon. She got summarily speyed as soon as we got home. It had been a summer of stand-pipes, skateboards, go-karts, long country walks, visits to the beach, the best deep brown tan of my life, lidos and then…back to school. I’ll always remember DQ as a back to school song, but no doubt that would never take the shine off it. It was on the radio in my Dad’s Capri (mk 1). It was a joyous time for me at least. I had no knowledge of money troubles or that being the last summer that Mum and Dad would holiday together. Next year, Dad would get a contract abroad that would take him away for 2 years and burden him with a sizeable tax-debt as well. 10 year old kids have no knowledge of stuff like that. I do remember 76 being the last year everything was really good (not even the cat passing could take the shine off it).
    DQ was part of that perfect summer, and I always smile when I hear it. Carefree days! Nailed on 10.

  224. 224
    scott on 29 Dec 2009 #

    Dancing Queen grows in importance. Something about it, the joy, the vibrance marks a halcyon period in Western Civilisation. Could that song be written now? I doubt it!

  225. 225
    swanstep on 11 Feb 2010 #

    Dancing Queen had an awesome B-side, ‘That’s me'(which is also on Arrival). That song is great but has an infamous main couplet, ‘I’m Carrie not the kind of girl you’d marry/ That’s me’ which has always mildly embarrassed, or made listeners uncomfortable because it’s a painful note to strike (very characteristic of latter Abba as it happens). Anyhow, I just stumbled across a v. fun 7 min dance remix of ‘That’s me’ on youtube which kind of solves this problem (such as it is) for the song by dilating for its whole length on 12 bars of piano from the song, and just using the two word title (i.e., omitting the carrie/marry stuff). The vid’s pretty nifty too. Go here if you’re interested.

  226. 226
    Nixon on 13 Apr 2011 #

    Having 0 points of reference, discovering this circa 1989 via stealing my parents’ shonky cassette copy of an Abba best-of –

    (digression: I never knew what the original source of this was, my parents had clearly copied it off one of their mates at some stage, but I was never quite sure if it was a real compilation or just a load of stuff taped from records and the radio – either way it had clearly been edited and added to because some DJ’s voice appeared in the gap before the last song (“Under Attack” missing a few seconds off the beginning), with two different comments spliced together giving half a chart position (“…ba, down from number thDown this week from… BOM BOM BOM BOM BOM BOM BOM BOM Don’t know how to take it don’t know where to go”, I can still remember that perfectly)

    – I thought this was pretty much perfect. I had no points of reference and knew nothing about Abba, so when some tabloid ran a Eurovision-themed competition asking which song Abba had won the title with (is it A. Waterloo, B. Super Trouper, C. Dancing Queen), I entered by answering C, because this would so clearly have swept all competition before it.

    I didn’t win.

  227. 227
    abaffledrepublic on 4 Sep 2011 #

    More tabloid-only words.


  228. 228
    Billy Smart on 4 Sep 2011 #

    My attempt to present the tabloid headline lexicon in 130 words; http://drunkennessofthingsbeingvarious.blogspot.com/2011/01/few-years-ago-i-read-headline-top.html

  229. 229
    Billy Smart on 7 Sep 2011 #

    On the subject of headlines – http://necktiemurcererstrikesagain.blogspot.com/

  230. 230
    punctum on 12 Jul 2012 #

    Going to put another link to my Arrival piece here, just to make sure it doesn’t get lost or missed.

  231. 231
    DanH on 19 Jan 2013 #

    I remember having to sing this in some ’70s medley for 6th grade (along with such evergreens as You Light Up My Life and Tie a Yellow Ribbon), and I and a friend ended up singing ‘dig up the dancing queen,’ like digging her dead corpse from a grave. 12 year old me found this HILARIOUS.

  232. 232
    hectorthebat on 18 Jul 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Blender (USA) – Standout Tracks from the 500 CDs You Must Own (2003)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 16
    Michaelangelo Matos (USA) – Top 100 Singles of the 1970s (2001) 67
    Pause & Play (USA) – 10 Songs of the 70’s (2003)
    Pause & Play (USA) – Songs Inducted into a Time Capsule, One Track at Each Week
    RIAA and NEA (USA) – 365 Songs of the Century (2001) 148
    Rolling Stone & MTV (USA) – The 100 Greatest Pop Songs Since the Beatles (2000) 44
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 171
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 174
    Stephin Merritt (Magnetic Fields) – The Best Recordings from 1900 to 1999
    BBC (UK) – Pop on Trial, Top 50 Songs from the 1970s (2008)
    New Musical Express (UK) – Classic Singles (magazine feature 2006-2007)
    New Musical Express (UK) – NME Rock Years, Single of the Year 1963-99 (2000)
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 100 Singles of All Time (2002) 32
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 38
    Q (UK) – The Ultimate Music Collection (2005)
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Nerikes Allehanda (Sweden) – The 50 Best Rock Songs of All Time (1992) 47
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 2
    Les Inrockuptibles (France) – 1000 Indispensable Songs (2006)
    Volume (France) – 200 Records that Changed the World, 2008 (38 songs)
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – The Top 150 Songs from the 20th Century (1998) 25
    Rocks Musiczine (Spain) – The 100 Best Rock Songs in History (1995) 75
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  233. 233
    Larry on 17 Nov 2014 #

    Great reading all these.

    Maybe “with a bit of rock music” is Bjorn and Benny’s gibe at disco, with a Lou Reedian implication of “her life was saved by rock and roll.”

  234. 234
    Red Seeker on 2 Dec 2014 #

    Pop music’s pinnacle. Grew up with Abba but the brilliance of this only surfaced on holiday around ’94 . The perfect pop song for the perfect moment in time – the force of the double vocals backed by the music is sublime. Also has a proper ending which I love in a song.

  235. 235
    Inanimate Carbon God on 4 Jan 2015 #

    No intro to this, no Motorcycle Emptiness. For which I will always be eternally grateful.

  236. 236
    Inanimate Carbon God on 5 Jan 2015 #

    I mean, I was grateful that Motorcycle Emptiness did happen because of DQ rather than wishing it didn’t. More when we hear from those fiery Welshmen again, in the not too distant future.

    Many moons ago, not quite understanding this new-fangled MP3 thing, wrote a furious letter to Q yelling “Putting M.E., their best ever song under “burn this” must be a misprint. Are you out of your minds?” “Simon, we didn’t mean ‘burn’ as in ‘immolate’..”

    (Tom – in bumped threads, are we allowed to discuss bands ‘bunnied’ at the time of the OP but not now?)

  237. 237
    Jimmy the Swede on 30 Jun 2017 #

    So it’s farewell to a true dancing queen – Ruth Pearson of Pans People at the early age of 70. Ruth was the “short dark one” and from all accounts the joker in the pack. Lovely tributes from both Babs and Dee Dee to whom Ruth remained close right up to the end. Dear Ruth, she could dance, she could jive, and she had the time of her life. RIP.

  238. 238
    lonepilgrim on 5 Oct 2018 #

    The song’s Teflon appeal may have been pushed to its limits as the soundtrack to Theresa May’s arrhythmic contortions at the Tory Party Conference

  239. 239
    Tommy Mack on 5 Oct 2018 #

    Sickening wasn’t it? The logical conclusion of this modern malaise where being a good sport is more important in politics than values or even competence.

  240. 240
    Lazarus on 5 Oct 2018 #

    One media site even revealed that she ‘waltzed’ onto the stage, as opposed to ‘walked on doing some weird robotic thing with her arms.’ I’m not sure Craig Revel Horwood would have concurred.

  241. 241
    Gareth Parker on 7 Jun 2021 #

    Dead cert 10/10 for me. About as good as pop music gets.

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