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: