They were good because they worked hard

Published June 08, 2015

My current bedside reading is Bob Stanley's magnificent Yeah Yeah Yeah - The Story Of Modern Pop, originally published a couple of years ago. Briefly, the book traces the history of pop (including rock, soul etc.) from the early 1950s until the present day. I have enjoyed many of the CDs curated by Mr Stanley over the years (alone or as part of Saint Etienne, the group of which he is a member), and, also, from what I've read of his writings I have a feeling our tastes in music overlap a great deal, so I find his non-rockist take on popular music history very refreshing. 

I have just finished the chapter about ABBA - so far in the book, they're about the only act devoted a chapter of their own, which I suspect is mainly because they can't easily be placed into the historical or cultural context of American and British pop music. If you'd like to read some intelligent writing about ABBA and a myriad of other artists, I suggest you invest in this book. You may not agree with the author's every word, but that's hardly the point.

Personally, I especially liked Stanley's answer to the question why ABBA were so huge: "Nobody has ever worked harder, that's all." To some extent, it mirrors my own answer in recent years to the question why we're still listening to ABBA: "Because they were good." While it's tempting to come up with all sorts of sociological explanations - and certainly, nostalgia may play a part, even when it's nostalgia for a period you never lived through - I think in ABBA's case it was that they thought every single track was worthy of their best efforts in the studio. They may not have been satisfied with the end result, and sometimes nor were their listeners, but they did indeed work hard, and, in both the short- and long-term perspective, it paid off .

I was reminded of this fact recently when I listened to one of those "early-songs-sung-by-Björn-and/or-Benny" that are so easy to dismiss, namely 'Sitting In The Palmtree" from the Waterloo album. There are so many little keyboard riffs and backing harmonies going on in there that you just can't call it "filler", whether you like the song or not. They'd worked too hard on the recording for that label to be appropriate

But enough about me. Use the ordering links to the right to order your copy of Yeah Yeah Yeah: the ABBA chapter is only a part of a great book that I feel deserves the epithet "instant classic".