Sinterklaas Day evening 1976, 40 years ago
Sinterklaas Day is a (national) holiday in The Netherlands, specifically targeted to children, which takes place each year on December 5th. It’s a long running tradition. On this day gifts are exchanged, oftentimes hidden in (homemade) surprise-packages. Prominently featured on my list of suggested gifts was ABBA’s Dancing Queen. My desire was so intense that I, whenever my parents were out of the house, I went about my search for the Sinterklaas Day gifts. After a while I found them!
Lo and behold, there it was: the single! I was going to get it!! Because of my curiosity (or is it that I hate surprises, and maybe disappointments?) I kept on going back to the cabinet that contained the gifts.
I must have gone back too often, or maybe I was careless or misplced an item, but one day I opened the door and there was a note: Erwin, were you able to find what you’re looking for?, or something along those lines. The handwriting was clearly my mother’s! Shit, she found out! I was completely embarrassed and deeply ashamed. My mother never said a word about it (me neither!).
I never went on a gift search again…
Anyway, after Sinterklaas Day 1976 I was the proud owner of Dancing Queen. One week prior, after 15 weeks, to that day it had finally left the top 40. It spent 5 weeks at the number 1 position. It sold an astonishing 8.8 million copies worldwide.
The song was released as a single in August 1976. The real première (the song was already shown on television in Japan and Germany in the spring of 1976) of the song was on June 18th of 1976 during a televised gala-event at the Swedish Royal Opera, commemorating the imminent wedding between king Carl Gustaf and queen Silvia. The images were regularly shown on Dutch music show Toppop, just like the official videoclip.
Just like many of the ABBA-hits Dancing Queen was written at the insel of Viggsö, about 20 miles outside of Stockholm, at the ABBA-cottage, during the fall of 1975. The song was initially called Boogaloo. George McCrae’s classic Rock Your Baby and the drumming on Dr. John’s album Dr.John’s Gumbo were the inspiration for the rhythm. Delay techniques were utilized for echo.
The song has a wide range. The verses are sung in a low register, and en route to the refrains, it goes up and up. The difference is a few octaves. The result is stunning. During the recording the ABBA-members knew it would be an huge hit.
- Anni-Frid Lyngstad: I found the song so beautiful. It’s one of those songs that goes straight to your heart.
- Agnetha Fältskog: It’s often difficult to know what will be a hit. The exception was ‘Dancing Queen.’ We all knew it was going to be massive.
- Benny Andersson: It’s one of those songs where you know during the sessions that it’s going to be a smash hit.
The lyrics to the song are nothing special: It is about a night out at a discotheque. Despite that fact, it still is a classic lyric; you can almost hear the music within the lyric:
You are the Dancing Queen / Young and sweet / Only seventeen
Dancing Queen / Feel the beat from the tambourine, oh yeah
You can dance / You can jive / Having the time of your life
Ooh, see that girl / Watch that scene / Dig in the Dancing Queen
(© 1976 ABBA – Dancing Queen)
The original first verse never made it into the final version, but can be heard on (televised) recordings by the Swedish national broadcasting service, who were allowed access to studio-sessions. One of these sessions was the recording of Dancing Queen.
Baby, baby, you’re out of sight / Hey, you’re looking all right tonight
When you come to the party / Listen to the guys / They’ve got the look in their eyes…
(© 1975 scrapped first verse to ABBA’s Dancing Queen)
Dancing Queen is on the album Arrival, which, probably boosted by Dancing Queen, became ABBA’s first real big album. It also proved that ABBA was no one-hit-wonder. After Waterloo ABBA had some small hits, but all not with the same kind of impact that Waterloo had. In 1975 however, S.O.S. was released, a beautiful song that indicated that ABBA might become something more than standard Eurovision Songcontest material.
It all became abundantly clear in 1976. Fernando and, particularly, the beautiful Knowing Me, Knowing You (of which I also own the single, which I probably got for my 11th birthday in March of 1977) were the singles surrounding Dancing Queen. Just for these three songs alone it had to be clear that ABBA were a special musical phenomenon.
Nothing could be further from the truth, well, according to the critics anyway. Arrival was(almost) unanimously slashed in the press. Lightweight, mediocre throw-away pop, without impact, played for money. As is often the case, the critics were way off.
The funny thing is that the opinion of, at times the same as all those years before, critics, at the time of the start of re-releasing remastered versions of the original ABBA-albums, which started around 2001, had made a U-turn. The albums were acclaimed for their craftsmanship, compositions and musical refinement. Several ABBA songs are regularly added to lists containing the best songs of all time. Times change…
Comments? Yes, please!
ABBA – Dancing Queen, 06/18/1976: abbaontv.com
ABBA – Dancing Queen – videoclip: blogqpot.com
ABBA – Dancing Queen (single) image: ultratop.be
ABBA – Arrival image: cduniverse.com