ABBA were one of the greatest pop acts in global history, and part of what made them so impressive was their prolific output of hit songs. The foursome, made up of two real-life couples (Björn Ulvaeus was married to Agnetha Fältskog and Benny Andersson to Anni-Frid Lyngstad), churned out eight albums during their ten-year recording career before the respective marriages failed by the early ‘80s. The band’s songs chronicled the ups and downs of their relationships, often pairing misery and hopelessness with their big, flashy pop sound. In honor of the museum dedicated to the band that opened in Stockholm last week, as well as this week’s Eurovision Song Contest — which launched ABBA’s worldwide success — here’s a look at the band’s most popular hits in descending order from glee to despair.
ABBA’s most popular song is also their happiest. Its saccharine, fun-loving sentiments can, at times, become joyfully grating.
The band’s first big hit — which won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 — is, of course, a breakup song. But those guitars! That piano! That sax! It’s nearly impossible to tune out while toe tapping along to this jam.
There probably isn’t a greater subgenre of music than the existential party song, and ABBA’s offering is a glorious five minutes of synths, harmonies, and French 101 vocabulary.
In a rare pop song about making a relationship work, “Mamma Mia” focuses on how love sometimes does conquer all. Like the rest of the ABBA catalog, it has an unfortunate connotation with a certain jukebox musical about which we will not speak.
“Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (A Man After Midnight)”
Sure, there’s a pretty heavy undercurrent of desperation here, but this song is all about looking for someone to spend some good time with. It just happens to be a late-night call for company. I’m sure everything here is super innocent.
“Does Your Mother Know”
This rare ABBA song featuring male vocals is almost a response to “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,” with some old stuffy dude turning down the previous song’s pleas for having a good time.
“Thank You For the Music”
Even though it’s not one of their usual high-energy bangers, this is perhaps the most joyful and self-congratulatory of ABBA’s oeuvre.
“The Name of the Game”
ABBA’s take on Fleetwood Mac-style AM Gold is neither depressing nor gleeful, but rather a pretty spot-on take on the confusing dance people do during courtship.
“I Have a Dream”
I don’t want to shame ABBA for dealing with the emotional roller coaster of life by believing in magic and angels and stuff, but these crazy kids were clearly dealing with some heavy emotional baggage and had to find comfort somewhere.
Oh, you know, just a song in which a Swedish woman reminisces about the Mexican revolution. This would qualify as a jubilant tune if it weren’t so weird.
“Take a Chance on Me”
This one’s a big of a ringer: while it sounds pretty upbeat and fun, it’s all about convincing the object of your affection to just settle on you as Plan B. The desperation, luckily, isn’t as catchy as the chanting.
With a pretty bleak refrain (“When you’re gone / How can I even try to go on?”), “S.O.S.” represents codependency of a specifically Swedish nature — the song is, after all, about calling for your lover’s help when he’s right there in front of you.
“Money, Money, Money”
This odd track sounds like a weird show tune (which it eventually, of course, became), and is a heavy-handed capitalist bummer.
“Lay All Your Love on Me”
This isn’t sad so much as it is potentially terrifying. The song is about a woman who is jealous and possessive of her partner, and it borders on Fatal Attraction territory.
On the surface it sounds happy (“But I won’t feel blue / Like I always do / ‘Cause somewhere in the crowd there’s you”), but then there’s the back-handed bragging (“Facing twenty-thousand of your friends / How can anyone be so lonely / Part of success that never ends / Still I’m thinking of you only”). Basically, super-douper successful people need lovin’, too.
“Knowing Me, Knowing You”
Another breakup song from the Swedish masters of the Dear John genre. Business as usual: breaking up is hard to do.
“One of Us”
You know how much of a bummer it is when you break up with someone and at first feel elated and relieved, only to later to realize how much it sucks to be single? Yeah, well, ABBA gets it.
In a surprise move, the ladies of ABBA take a break from singing about their own despair and offer solace to their little Spanish pal. I suppose when ABBA were touring the world, they made a lot of multicultural friends (and misery certainly loves company).
“The Winner Takes It All”
Of all of ABBA’s breakup songs, this one stings the most. Perhaps it’s because it seems to be sung from a healthy distance of time and space, but the lyrics, which look back on a failed relationship, are some of the band’s most poignant.