Almost exploding - the drumming on The Winner Takes It All

Published May 05, 2016

In a fairly recent Swedish interview with ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus, reporter Niklas Natt och Dag posed a question about The Winner Takes It All. On the recording, drummer Ola Brunkert does a double-beat on his tom-toms at a certain juncture (circa 03:57/58), which the reporter and his friends had noted only happens at that point and never anywhere else in the song. The theory was that although the song was so tightly arranged, Brunkert just couldn't stop himself from doing that double-beat, and the reporter now hoped that Björn could clarify.

He couldn't, of course, but reading this reminded me of how much I love Ola's drumming on The Winner Takes It All. What's so special about someone just playing a steady beat throughout a song with very little in the shape of showing off, I hear you ask. Well, that's just the point. Sure, for most of the song Ola simply provides a steady disco beat, driving the song along, but at the end of some of the couplets in both the verses and the choruses, he does these little double beats and extra drumming on the snare and the tom-toms. It's especially noticeable and effective towards the end of the song, during the final chorus repeats. What I hear is someone wanting to just explode like Animal in The Muppets, but knowing that he has to hold back - and it is that tension that makes it so damned powerful.

So if there was an additional double-beat in there, the reporter was probably on to something: Ola just couldn't help himself.

The background story of Winner Takes It All and every other ABBA recording is discussed in detail in the revised and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, which you can pre-order here:

The interview with Björn is here: Thanks to Tom Hase of the Facebook group The Hootenanny Singers (Björn, Tonny, Hansi and Johan) for the alert.