How important are the lyrics?

Published July 22, 2016

In my continuing work on the revised and expanded edition of ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, I recently completed a text about ABBA's lyrics; a companion piece, if you will, to the essay about writing the music (the subject of another recent blog). In the essay I explore the methods used for lyric writing, how Björn's attitude to his work changed during the ABBA era, Stig's involvement, and much more.

Writing it made me think more about song lyrics and their function in general, a query I've never quite been able to resolve. I've always felt that music is music first, lyrics second. For me to enjoy a song, it's not necessary I also feel that the lyrics are great. There are many songs I absolutely love that have fairly inconsequential lyrics. Then again, if I feel the lyrics are annoying in some way - illogical within their own context, or if there are too many bad rhymes - that might disturb me. But, in the case of ABBA, I don't enjoy, say, 'King Kong Song' any less than I do the other songs on the Waterloo album. The King Kong lyrics aren't saying anything important, but they carry the melody forward and, since there are so many other great things about that track (singing, production, the tune itself), sometimes that's all we need. Björn said in a recent interview that he feels lyrics should primarily be regarded as part of the song: one half of a complete package. They should not be judged as poetry, and I agree with him.

I know others feel differently: for some, if they can't relate to the lyrics, they can't enjoy the song. I think great lyrics can certainly enhance a song, and sloppy lyrics can definitely be detrimental - but that's sloppy as in "they don't quite work" or "they don't sound right", not necessarily in terms of message or emotional content.

Björn has been quite eloquent about the subject of writing lyrics over the years and I even found some unused, really good stuff in my original 1993 interview with him (for the first edition of the current book), so it's been fun putting this "Writing the lyrics" essay together. It currently stands at about 5,500 words and, even if I say so myself, it is actually quite interesting. It will, of course, be available to read in ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions.

You can pre-order your signed copy here: Every little pre-order helps make the book better. Many thanks in advance!


Agnetha and Björn discussing lyrics at Polar Music Studio, 1980.