Marcus Dowling appreciates…ABBA

by Marcus K. Dowling

I believe that new is boring and that history is inspirational. These opinions are not necessarily the views of the Couch Sessions. “Marcus Dowling appreciates…” celebrates the memories that define the future. Enjoy.

The four kids pictured above could easily be, cat sweaters, mullets and awkward beards included, a blogged about, Google unsearchable indie band from 2011. However, that’s Swedish supergroup ABBA in 1975. I love how when foreign customs become Americanized they lose all semblance of the minimal, carefully-planned excellence that initially brought them to the table. In saying that, there’s something that’s terribly right about the appreciated 70s AM radio darlings that’s terribly wrong about much of what has recently come to pass in their wake.

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The hipster generation brought a multitude of fresh faced, awkward and smiling professionals to the popular forefront, yet none truly made the leap to superstardom. Acts like Matt and Kim and Sleigh Bells succeeded in being power pop heavyweights with lightweight veneers, the kind of kids you’d cheerfully let into you your home only to have them blow out your speakers and break all your windows with their extravagant noise. In valuing edgy punk over heart-warming soul, so many American indie pop acts continuously shoehorn themselves into careers with minimal chance for mainstream success. In embracing some of the values of the past, the next top independent darlings can preserve themselves in the present and advance into the future.

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ABBA were way more than famous disco crossover “Dancing Queen.” Winners of 1974’s multi-national Eurovision musical competition with saccharine pop winner “Waterloo,” the eventually married quartet of Agneta, Bjorn, Benny and Anni-Frid’s sounds were considered anachronistic even by 1974’s standards. By the time the group his #1 with “Dancing Queen” in 1976, the sound was nearing grating. By the time “Lay All Your Love On Me” signaled the end of the marriages within the group and the band’s international pop dominance, they represented an acquiesced to and universally dominant notion of international excellence.

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It must be foremost stated that commercially dominant pop is inherently disposable. However, this does not mean that it’s terrible. Quite the opposite. In order to create music that can strike the emotional core of a plethora of different people at the exact same time, there’s something in the production of song and in writing of lyric that has to be note-perfect in every way. In creating songs with effervescent piano trills, heavy handed abuse of minor chord instrumental progressions, and layered vocals that are the sonic equivalent of romantic satin sheets on a lover’s mattress, they aimed at the typical emotional core and struck all the right nerves along the way.

Whatever happened to bands playing music that didn’t need to be remixed by beta males in suburban bedrooms to be commercially viable? Whatever happened to artists without the initial influence of major label wrangling creating music that didn’t apologize in grabbing the average person by the jugular and not letting go? Whatever happened to multiple part harmonies that are easily replicated in the live realm? It’s okay to wear your grandmother’s clothes and curry the favor of rich people in broad shouldered suits. In appreciating non-ironic, simple, non-progressive music featuring painstaking levels of construction, indie pop can cross over, and poor kids with big dreams can excel. The “Dancing Queen” creators should still rule the roost of inspiration.