(*Does the music from Mamma Mia class as a cover? For the purpose of this article, yes.)
On Friday the landscape of pop music as we know it changed forever, as Cher dropped her ABBA covers album, Dancing Queen. Some might call it cashing in on her triumphant appearance in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again – where she gave Fernando (the song, not the character) such a good seeing to that Björn Ulvaues announced that it is now her song (he did a similar thing when Meryl nailed The Winner Takes It All – you have to wonder how happy Agnetha and Frida are about their songs being snatched away) – others would quite rightfully say that it’s the greatest meeting of the greats since PB & J, Jay Z & Bey or, well, Benny & Björn.
But Cher is of course not the first person to cover ABBA, and she’s certainly not the first to release an entire collection of reworkings. Take our hand (and a chance on us) as we head back through the last few decades, and a hell of a lot of singers thanking ABBA for the music.
A decade after ABBA’s last release (which is almost exactly the time when Björn thought that their music would “fall into oblivion”), Erasure played their part in bringing them back from the brink with ABBA-Esque, a covers EP released in 1992 BG (before Gold… ABBA Gold, which was released 3 months later). It gave the duo (Vince Clarke and Andy Bell) their first number 1 on the UK singles chart (confusingly for a four-track release, but this is what pre-streaming times were like) with early 90s dance beats underlying the classic disco tunes. Not that they were first to do this, as dance producers Almighty (famed for remixing everyone from Steps to Agnetha Fältskog) dropped their first ABBAcadabra release in 1991.
Clearly disgusted with Erasure’s release, long-term ABBA-parody Björn Again released Erasure-ish (including covers of A Little Respect and Stop) later that year. Throughout the 90s ABBA’s influence failed to shy away, particularly in Björn Again’s native Australia, where it played a huge part in 1994 films Muriel’s Wedding and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (neither as good as the other famous ABBA Australia-set film, ABBA: The Movie), while in the UK it’d be another half decade before ABBAMania really ramped up.
With mere months left of the millennium and Y2K looming, it’s as if the UK music biz suddenly realised they hadn’t quite celebrated ABBA enough. At the 1999 Brit Awards, four of the biggest pop acts of the time – Steps, B*Witched, Billie (pre-Piper, Chris Evans and Doctor Who) and Cleopatra – joined Tina Cousins for a medley of four of ABBA’s greats: Take A Chance On Me, Dancing Queen, Mamma Mia and Thank You For The Music. And it wasn’t even for charity. While it proved to be a moderate chart success, it was also a rather clumsy addition to Now 42, billed as Starring: Steps, Tina Cousins, Cleopatra, B*Witched & Billie – Thank Abba (note, not ABBA) For The Music.
The Brit Award medley was apparently planned to coincide with a new musical based on the songs of ABBA, and sure enough a fortnight later a little known show called Mamma Mia! premiered on the West End. As you might have heard, it was a bit of success, with a soundtrack featuring the best of ABBA Gold, as well as a few from More ABBA Gold (Honey, Honey, Our Last Summer, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do) and even some Not ABBA Gold numbers (Slipping Through My Fingers, When All I Said Done). The show has been played in 50 countries.
Six months after Thank ABBA For The Music, three of the contributors would appear on the ITV show ABBAMania, with Steps contributing not only Lay All Your Love On Me, but the Ulvaeus/Anderson written I Know Him So Well (which would oddly get a single release 2 years later…). Perhaps the band felt they had some making up to do, after it was reported that Björn Ulvaeus daughter had incorrectly commented that “ABBA sound like Steps” — her father quickly corrected her and flipped the comparison round. Others on the show, and the album that followed, included Westlife with their Christmas #1 I Have A Dream, Culture Club, and Denise Van Outen. The less said about ABBAMania 2, featuring British soap stars and some of the Nolan sisters, the better.
Regardless of whether Steps sounded like ABBA or ABBA sounded like Steps, The A*Teens sounded like both of them. The Swedish four-piece, initially called The ABBA Teens, were also a product of ’99, and released an album of 11 ABBA classics. While trying to find the male vocals was about as easy as trying to find Agnetha in the ‘90s, they’d later release original material where the lads were given a (small) chance to shine… A similar amount to Lee from Steps, to be precise. If you get round to listening to it, Halfway Round The World is a bit of a belter.
As with the rest of us, ABBA survived the millennium bug, and reportedly turned down $1 billion in 2000 to reunite for a tour. So much for their music not even lasting a decade after their split. With Madonna sampling them in 2005 and Kylie Minogue enlisting her sister to cover them in 2008, it was obvious that with the greats tipping their hats to the iconic four-piece (namely Dannii), ABBA’s influence could only continue.
Also in 2008, Mamma Mia! (the movie based on the musical based on the songs of ABBA) premiered, which was very similar to the musical, but with less quite-literally moving scenes, or bone dry actors in snorkelling gear. With Meryl Streep, Julie Walters and the now infamous crooner Piece Brosnan on board, it was like seeing A listers at an ABBA-only karaoke bar off-broadway, but proved successful with the film becoming the ninth highest grossing of all time in the UK, and the soundtrack finishing the year as the #1 compilation. Now That’s What I Call A Success!
But for those ABBA fans who consider themselves a little more sophisticated, there are options. In 2010, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recorded ABBAphonic (you can catch them performing it live at the Royal Albert Hall next year), while Benny Andersson himself provided ABBAception by releasing Piano in 2017, an album of ABBA reworkings (amongst some of his other compositions), featuring more obscure tracks I Let The Music Speak, My Love, My Life and their last recording (or so we thought at the time) The Day Before You Came.
Perhaps more than coincidentally, My Love, My Life and The Day Before You Came (in its new, piano reworking) appeared on the soundtrack to Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again earlier this year, the soundtrack to the movie that followed the movie based on the musical based on the songs of ABBA. Quite clearly influenced by the huge box office performance of the original, Here We Go Again benefits from a stellar catalogue from ABBA, which allows timeless non-hits like I’ve Been Waiting For You and Why Did It Have To Be Me? to be heard by brand new audiences, whether they’re fans of ABBA, Mamma Mia! or both. Here’s hoping we’ll soon get an original cast recording too when Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again! The Musical! Based On The… well, you get the idea.
Oh, and did we mention that Cher had a part? Dancing Queen is currently sitting at #1 on the worldwide iTunes album chart, making it not only a milestone in her own career, but another marker in the ongoing celebration of ABBA’s music. And with new music coming from them later this year, we can only wonder how long it will be until someone covers these songs, and plays their part in ensuring that ABBA lasts forever.
Competition: We’ve got two tickets to give away for Björn Again’s UK 30th Anniversary Tour, which kicks off in Brighton next month. For a chance to enter look out for the pinned post on our Facebook and Twitter pages. T&Cs: The competition closes at midnight on Tuesday 9th October 2018, the winner will be contacted by Friday 12th October 2018. The prize is for two tickets to one show of Björn Again’s 30th Anniversary Tour, for a UK date of the winner’s choice. Travel and accommodation are not provided.