Updated: Apr 8
ABBA. Potentially the most pervasive thing to emerge from the fjords of Scandinavia since the Vikings spilled out of their longboats to terrorize the coastlines and capitals of Medieval Europe. Such Scandinavian cultural impact and prevalence can only really be rivalled by the Lego brick and a quartet of singing Swedes that burst onto the scene during the 1970’s. This famous foursome’s musical merits are extensive, perhaps more encapsulating than one might have imagined, finding themselves in the midst of the best-selling musical artists of all time all the while hailing from a non-anglophonic nation. Whilst ABBA really did achieve a constellation of considerable achievements, this is not the foundation upon which I seek to build this contentious case. Rather, I would suggest that ABBA is the greatest band of all time due to the relatability and effect of their lyrics not only to the wider world and all those inhabiting it, but also to the unique microcosm that is St Andrews.
ABBA have a song for every occasion, unlike the Beatles and Pink Floyd, much of whose music is best enjoyed when a little je ne sais quoi has been dissolved on one’s tongue or when there’s a suspicious amount of mossy material stuffed into a cigarette. ABBA is pure unadulterated pop and is fun for all the family; its melodies are so infectious they entirely transcend the need for mind-altering visual effects or mental sedation to accompany their effortlessly cheerful or gently melancholic motifs. Similarly, ABBA’s music has a unique ability to rouse people from a plethora of demographics, the old, the young, the middle-aged, but, sadly, not yet the deceased. Nonetheless, a hipless grandmother may, in miraculous fashion, have her arthritic joints lubricated by the musical WD40 that is ‘Dancing Queen’, much to Grandpa’s delight. Meanwhile, a belligerent drunkard may have his aggression alleviated by the anthem that is ‘Mamma Mia’, harking him back to days sunburning on the beaches of Benidorm with his beau who has since slipped through his fingers. Another example, ‘Waterloo’, a Eurovision song contest winner and ABBA’s first single, serves not only as a remarkably catchy composition but also as a worldwide reminder of British superiority over the French, something for which I am most appreciative.
Turning my lens to St Andrews, there are a number of ABBA hits that may play out in one’s mind at the unfolding of a certain uniquely St Andrew’s scenario. Consider this: another calamitous night out at the Union, Vic or (insert ludicrously expensive event) is coming to a close, the flames that once fuelled the night are dwindling into their embers. You have been written off as missing in action by your friends; leave no man (or woman) behind, a central code of combat, has been long forgotten, eroded by the waves of inebriation lashing at your sense of self. The world may well be spinning. An insidious existential dread is building as you contemplate the solo venture back to your hovelly St Andrew’s home. You’re determined to find someone, anyone, to accompany you on this journey. It is at this critical moment that the gentlemen are subconsciously singing ‘Take A Chance on Me’, meanwhile the ladies’ heads are ringing with rapacious renditions of ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’. Of course, telepathy is not yet realised and thus despite mutually matching intentions both parties all too often go their separate ways, condemned to solitude by a crippling fear of rejection. All that’s really needed is a brave soul to ask with word or shameless gyrations — ‘Voulez-vous’ — another hit translated from that linguistic aberration they call French, to mean ‘Do you want?’. Also a valuable lesson in consent might I add. Even more pertinent to the St Andrew’s experience is when an academic child, one of your own brood or a friend’s progeny perhaps, rather unabashedly sticks it on one of their elders. Here, my personal favourite ABBA song offers itself seamlessly, for ‘Does Your Mother Know’ could well be deployed to defuse the young ‘un. Tragically however, this tune all too often slips one’s mental meshes and nets, necessitating subsequently the renowned remedy of a dip in the North Sea. ABBA further seems to speak the language of the town, communicating fluently with certain pockets of its inner residents. University management, landlords and a healthy dose of our much loved American populace are united quite endearingly by their passion for monolinguistics, summarized nicely by the song ‘Money, Money, Money’.
The lamentations of the losing of a student flat to a colleague can similarly be represented aptly by the frustrated but accepting motifs of ‘The Winner Takes it All’. For one naturally doesn’t want to talk about the things they’ve been through in the audacious pursuit of local property, certainly since betrayal is a given and assault was considered. Equally, Abba’s song ‘I do, I do, I do, I do, I do’ epitomizes my response perfectly when I knowingly accept the alluring but illusory offer of ‘Do You Want to go For a Pint’, knowing that I am tacitly agreeing to several jars of golden nectar under the guise of but one after a long and grueling day of contributing next to nothing to society.
Thus, it seems ABBA speaks the language of the St Andrews attendee and for that we should be appreciative, so I say, ‘Thank You For the Music’.
Illustration: Jordan Anderson