Joel Goldenberg: Abba's Super Trouper

Agnetha Faltskog performs The Winner Takes It All.

In the two weeks since the A to Z list of Retro Roundup's favourite songs by particular artists and groups reached its conclusion, I internally debated myself on how the notable albums series would be presented.

Would it be A to Z like the previous series, or would I be more random? (I'm choosing the latter, notwithstanding our choice to inaugurate the series.)

Would it be just the, in my opinion, best albums of all time, or ones that made an impression on me? (Again, I'm choosing the latter, because there's no shortage of books proclaiming what are the best LPs from the medium's launch in 1948 to today.)

My aim here is to provide some personal background on how I came to buy particular albums, and my thoughts about them.

So here we go, starting with the 1980 Abba album Super Trouper.

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Longtime singer Donny Osmond recently asked his followers on Twitter to identify the first album they ever bought with their own money. I responded that my first, on cassette (from The Bay, by the way), was Abba's Greatest Hits Vol. 2, which contained such massive hits as Dancing Queen, The Name of the Game, Chiquitita and many others on what was quite a long album.

(I also pointed out to Donny that as we already had K-Tel's Donny Osmond Superstar compilation in our household, I was able to listen to that for free. That may have prompted Donny to like my tweet.)

In any case, in 1980 or so, I was so enamoured with Abba's Greatest Hits Vol. 2, and somewhat admired Abba's then-big hit The Winner Takes It All, that when I saw the Super Trouper album at the now long-gone A & A in St. Laurent's Place Vertu mall, my interest was piqued.

I then asked the salesperson to play a cut from the album, and it turned out to be song #1 on Side 2 of the LP, Happy New Year. What caught my attention most was how the chorus, in which the title was sung, seemed to have been done in a yodeling style. (Happy New-Hew-Year, Happy New-Hew-Year).

I was immediately turned off. I forgot about the album for a few years. Then I made the plunge a few years later when I liked Abba better, buying a used version of theLP.

My instincts were somewhat right about the album. In fact, the whole package leaves a distinct impression.

The front cover photo is of the Abba members (two of whom, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Faltskog, were divorced at the time), dressed to the nines,  at some sort of circus event, and the Super Trouper (actually a brand of spotlight) is on them.

The impression I get from the cover is one of snobbiness and a heavy European influence, and that kind of reflects the music on the album.

Whereas the early Abba albums were inspired by light American girl group, Super Trouper had a heavier, somewhat ponderous sound as a whole. Over the years, I've grown to somewhat like the album, but I like other Abba albums better.

Here's my impression of some of the songs:

Super Trouper: A nice melody, but the snobbish tone, in the singing, is here in spades.

The Winner Takes It All: Very commercial, and although Bjorn says the song is not autobiographical, it's clearly inspired by his divorce from Agnetha. The atmosphere in the studio must have been interesting.

On and On and On- One of the more fun songs on the album, with a chorus clearly inspired — musically and vocally — by the Beach Boys' 1968 hit Do It Again. Mike Love of the Beach Boys returned the compliment by covering On and On and On on his 1981 solo album.

Andante, Andante-Obviously heavily European but light in feel. I actually first heard this song on an Abba compilation of their songs in Spanish.

Me and I- For me, far away the best song on the album, at least in terms of musical tension and vocal arrangements. Yes, the sound seems heavy and ponderous, but the overall effect is very compelling. Lead singing is by Frida Lyngstad.

Happy New Year- I like this song marginally better as a whole than I did in 1980, but the yodeling chorus is still irritating. Also, the lyrics are downright depressing. "Seems to me now/That the dreams we had before/Are all dead, nothing more/Than confetti on the floor." Yikes!

Our Last Summer: Somewhat compelling musically, and poignant.

The Piper: Gak!

Lay All Your Love on Me: Although this is a dance song, it reflects everything I don't like about the album. It has a funereal feel, and is so heavily European it could have inspired a Brexit 36 years before the fact. To me, this has the biggest connection with the album cover in illustrating what this album's all about.

The Way Old Friends Do: And I feel the same way about this song in terms of atmosphere, although it's completely different. It's a live performance, and is dominated by vocals. But it's oh, so heavy and elitist sounding...

Next time: James Brown's Hell album.

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