394. ‘Dancing Queen’, by ABBA

As a kid my first exposure to ABBA was through ‘ABBA Gold’, the band’s early-nineties greatest hits, track 1 on which is ‘Dancing Queen’. The CD would slide in, there would be that second of scanning, the little whirr… and then bam!

Dancing Queen, by ABBA (their 4th of nine #1s)

6 weeks, from 29th August – 10th October 1976

It’s not the first song you’d think of if asked to name ‘Great Intros’, but it should be. It is a record that strides into the room – the glissando is the door slamming open – with complete confidence. ‘ABBA’s here!’, it announces, ‘With their biggest hit!’ Then the vocals come in, and it’s not just the chorus, but the middle of the chorus, the main hook, thrown out within the first twenty seconds: You can dance, You can ji-ive, Having the time of your life…

I know nothing about musical terms – I can barely tell a pre-chorus from a bridge – but whatever it is that ABBA do in the verses, at the end of every second line, when the key slips lower: Lookin’ out for a place to go… and You’ve come to look for a King… It’s gold. Then they do the opposite, swooping up on the Night is young and the music’s hi-igh… And it’s even better. It’s pure ABBA, in that most other songwriters might think it a bit obvious, going higher on the word ‘high’, while Benny and Bjorn simply shrug and say ‘nope, that’ll be catchy!’

‘Dancing Queen’ doesn’t need me to sell it. It also probably doesn’t need to be written about any more, but hey, I gotta cover them all. Throughout this blog, I’ve referred to ‘Perfect Pop’ when writing about #1s like ‘Stupid Cupid’, ‘Cathy’s Clown’, and ‘See My Baby Jive’. Up until this point, I would have had ‘She Loves You’ as the most perfect pop moment so far. But ‘Dancing Queen’ usurps The Beatles to take, if you’ll pardon the pun, the crown. A crown I’m not sure it’ll ever relinquish.

Why is that? What makes this the ultimate pop song? I think it’s the nugget of sadness beating away at the heart of the record. The main character is a seventeen-year-old girl who seems to be running away from something. She doesn’t know where she’s going, or who she’s going to be dancing with… It doesn’t sound as if she’s got any friends with her. She flirts with one guy, she leaves them burning and then she’s gone… Or maybe not. Maybe I’m misreading it completely! Maybe she’s really just having the time of her life. Maybe she doesn’t need a boy, or a friend. Maybe she just needs to dance. To dance for the sheer joy of it!

Either way, the song has layers, ones that you’re still noticing even after hearing it for the three hundredth time. I could complain about ‘Dancing Queen’ being overplayed, and it is, but when a DJ sticks this on at a party nobody sits down, even though they’re hearing it for the three hundredth and first time. Last time I was a tourist in London, watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, the band played the chorus of ‘Dancing Queen’ as the soldiers marched past.

Of course this record got to number one. ‘Dancing Queen’ is the dictionary definition of a number one hit. If you’re ever on ‘Pointless’ and the category is ‘#1 Singles of the 1970s’, don’t give ‘Dancing Queen’ as an answer. In the US it was ABBA’s one and only chart-topper (shame on you, America!) My only surprise stems from the fact that, in the UK, it took two weeks to climb to the top. If ever a song was going to enter in pole position, I’d have thought it would have been this. Click. Glissando. Bam.

11 thoughts on “394. ‘Dancing Queen’, by ABBA

  1. badfinger20 (Max)

    It is a great pop song…and yes their top one…it’s not my favorite by them but I get it! Take A Chance is my favorite but that is neither here nor there…it is one of those perfect pop singles that only comes along once in a while.

    1. It’s not my favourite either – ‘The Winner Takes It All’ for me. But choosing the best ABBA is up there with choosing the best Beatles or Stones, I think, in terms of difficulty.

  2. Yes, sheer perfection. It can’t be improved on. I still remember the excitement of hearing this for the first time as an exclusive on Radio 1, Abba having already topped my personal charts 3 times and I was a already a huge fan. This was clearly stepping it up a gear when I didn’t think there was even a gear to step up to! 10 weeks on top of my personal charts, the first record to do that since…See My Baby Jive. When you’re right you’re right! 🙂

    After this one, no music critic could have any foundation for denying the quality, and the public stayed in love with Abba….ever since, with new fans coming along every generation. As an aside, the B Side That’s Me was as good as any other act of the era’s A side – and it’s not even that well known. Dancing Queen was a hit all over again in the UK when it came out to plug Abba Gold, and had a another 8 weeks on top of my charts. Of all the chart points “sales” of every record I’ve charted since 1968, Dancing Queen is the clear winner. It’s not even close.

    Hyperbole over! Nostalgia anecdote time? In the middle of it’s run at the top of the UK charts, I went on a 6th form Geography field trip to the Lake District for a week. It was fab. In the Keswick Hotel, a bunch of us gathered to watch Top Of The Pops while I continued to worship the video. I’m not saying it’s because I was unabashed Abba fan when It still wasn’t cool to love Abba…but my room-mate let the lads into our room late at night and they thought it would be a whizz to move my bed while I was asleep in it. I’m always a bit grumpy when I’m woken up, and they didn’t get far with the attempt but I suppose I could have laughed it off, at least… :).

    1. I do kind of wish I was alive to have anecdotes around these songs… Though then I’d be much older than I am now! (No offence!)

      If I remember correctly, though, this wasn’t #1 when you did your ABBA top 100, was it?

      1. Oh no worries, your anecdotes will be coming up in later decades when mine run out 🙂

        You remember correctly, 1 or 2 other Abba tracks are just that bit fresher from a 2020 vantage point, but that’s down to them not being heard quite as often – whereas DQ had 2 long chart runs and then a 3rd one on top. The 2nd issue had Eagle as a B side – so for my purposes it was a double A side and a chance to chart my fave Abba album track (UK has never had it as a single, other territories did) 🙂

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