383. ‘Mamma Mia’, by ABBA

Into 1976! And we hop from one well-worn classic, to another.

Mamma Mia, by ABBA (their 2nd of nine #1s)

2 weeks, from 25th January – 8th February 1976

It’s a dramatic intro – do dee do dee do dee do dee – that sounds a bit like the soundtrack to a murder mystery. But that also, somehow, lets you know straight off the bat that this is going to be fun. It’s a different sound from their first #1 – less glam, slightly more rock – but it still has that trademark ABBA flamboyance. It’s a cliché, I know, but every one of their hits has a hint (often more than a hint) of camp.

‘Waterloo’ was almost two years ago, and since then ABBA have retreated into the background, scoring a few minor hits but looking like they might be best remembered in Britain as ‘those Swedish Eurovision winners’. Until now. ‘Mamma Mia’ kicks off an era of chart dominance: eight number one singles in under five years. The Age of ABBA begins here.

I’ve been cheated by you since I don’t know when, So I made up my mind it must come to an end… One of my favourite things about ABBA is their English: it’s perfect; yet idiosyncratic. No native English speaker speaks like an ABBA song; yet we know exactly what they mean. (Forgive me, I’m an English teacher…) Yes, I’ve been broken-hearted, Blue since the day we parted…

Like its predecessor ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Mamma Mia’ suffers slightly from its ubiquity. Sitting down and listening to it now, I realise just how close it comes to perfect pop. Those power chords leading up to the chorus: Just! One! Look! And I forget everything… In fact, the whole song is a power chord, every note and instrument programmed to hit you right in the sweet spot. The title really should have an exclamation mark.

Mamma Mia! Here I go again! How can I resist ya…! Is there a more ridiculous chorus? First off, why are we using Italian? Do Italians even say ‘Mamma Mia’?? Then there’s the fact that the entire song is an admission of weakness: I want to walk out the door and leave you but, mamma mia, you know I ain’t gonna… It’s the musical equivalent of a knowing wink, a roll of the eyes and a theatrical shrug.

There are better ABBA songs to come in this countdown (as a band they definitely saved the best for last) but this one is undeniable. And in recent years I think it’s probably usurped ‘Dancing Queen’ as their signature tune. That’s all down to the musical (which does have the appropriate exclamation mark!) and its success on both stage and screen. Yes it’s silly, yes it’s been overplayed, but boy if it isn’t a fantastic pop song…

Catch up with all the number ones, from 1952-1975, here:

14 thoughts on “383. ‘Mamma Mia’, by ABBA

  1. The Mamma Mia video marked the point at which my love for Abba turned into all-out adoration. It topped my personal charts for around 2 months and every single and album they released afterwards I duly bought and loved. Over-saturation has diluted the impact of this one since the musical and movie made loads of dosh and passed the baton down to new generations – Abba Gold, it has to be said, is beloved across the ages: my 93 grandmother loved them and the songs, and kids in their teens and 20’s know the songs and in many cases love ’em too. Which gives me immense smug satisfaction that all the rock critics of the time who dismissed them as disposable Eurotat, albeit a cut above the usual pop tat, were absolutely left to eat their words. You don’t remain popular and appeal to new generations of music fans nearly 50 years on if you ain’t special!

    Unlike Bo Rap, I can still hear this one and love it, though, and this and previous hit SOS had shown Abba had shifted up more than a gear since Waterloo. Even The Sex Pistols proudly nicked the riff from SOS to usher in a thing called Punk Rock…

    1. Your love for ABBA is coming through loud and clear… Of all the tapes/CDs I enjoyed/endured on long car journeys as a kid, ABBA Gold was always the one I liked most, and would pick if I was allowed the choice. That, or ‘Bat Out of Hell’…

  2. badfinger20 (Max)

    Hmmm, two number one songs with the phrase “Mamma Mia” in both songs back to back…I wonder how many times that happened? It’s a great pop song but not one of my favorites by them. They are coming up I’m sure.

  3. You can definitely draw a straight line from ABBA to fellow Swede Max Martin decades later with how they manage to make catchy and effective pop music out of their limited and imperfect use of English. I also never realized how the lyrics of “Mamma Mia” were sad when the music sounds like a perfectly upbeat song with not a hint of sadness which I’ve read is a big part of ABBA’s legacy. You’re right that the singers in ABBA deliver “Mamma Mia” with a knowing wink letting us know they’re not taking the lyrics seriously and we don’t have to either. Just another enjoyable ABBA song that’s probably right next to “Dancing Queen” as their most recognizable song despite peaking at a modest #32 in America though being the song that’s the name of the big musical probably doesn’t hurt.

    1. Yes, the Swedes do have a knack for catchy pop. There’s also Ace of Base in the 90s, and Roxette, threaded along that cord. I think that the stage show/movies have shoved ‘Mamma Mia’ to the forefront as ABBA’s signature hit. Before that it was ‘Dancing Queen’, or maybe ‘Take a Chance on Me’.

      1. Ace of Base & Roxette were awesome, too! And, interestingly enough, AoB had a similar backstory to ABBA. I saw a documentary on ABBA about their struggles. Agnetha had a lot of trouble with fame but, Frida loved it. The two women with AoB had the same struggle. I think VH1 covered them. One loved being a star, the other had stage fright. The difference between groups was, the women in AoB weren’t married to the guys.

        The Swedes know how to make music and we in the “Engrish” speaking world don’t mind singing along with a Swedish accent.

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