The Winner Takes It All

On a day when much of the Western World is trying to figure out who the big winner in the US will be, this blog has nothing whatsoever to do with the election.

I have already alluded to that in my preview for today’s new podcast episode, which features Niamh Crowley.

Instead, I’m writing, as I have done before in these pages about the ABBA hit song, which if you listen is ironically quite a sad song, and is actually far more about the loser than the winner.

In a very Fleetwood Mac storyline, one of the men who wrote the song (Bjorn Ulvaeus) and the lead singer (Agnetha Faltskog) had just divorced when it was recorded. Ulvaeus stresses that the lyrics shouldn’t be taken literally, but that the divorce was nonetheless an influence. Faltskog agrees, saying that there was no winner in their break-up, especially as there were children involved.

It’s very interesting musically, or maybe not so, but certainly worth noting, as the other songwriter says – it only really has two phrases. From…

“It’s the simplest song,” Andersson said. “It has two phrases – that’s it. And they just go round and round. Now it also has, around those two phrases, this counterpoint thing going on” – Andersson then played the descending theme that opens the song, runs beneath the chorus and, modulated, responds to the verse’s vocal melody – “and without a doubt, without that, it would not have been a song. Music is not only melody; music is everything you hear, everything you put together. But without the core of a strong and preferably original melody, it doesn’t matter what you dress it with, it has nothing to lean on.” Andersson went on to say that for a long time, there were only the two phrases, the latter (the chorus) with each line following immediately after the one before. “And then one day,” he went on to say as he played the song again, “we were out in the country, and I suddenly played the chorus like this, pausing each time for the phrase to gather itself, and all of a sudden it was a song. Björn and I played around with it for hours, just feeling that there was something in it that was talking to us. Then we recorded it, but still without the counterpoint, and it still was no good. It was only when, finally, I played this other part that it really made sense.”

Whatever you think of it, it certainly had a huge impact and is considered by many to by ABBA’s signature song.

It’s the featured song this week on my online tuition website, and you can find a 6-question ear challenge on it here.

I'm Kieran and I play piano. Actually I do a bit more than just playing - I teach others how to play, and I write music, arrange it and host/produce shows.