Melodies are the most important part of music. No matter how beautiful the singers voice is, how good the band plays, if the melody doesn’t capture, the whole is not worth listening. In reverse some artists scored hits, only because they had a good melody. Benny and Björn’s melodies are always catchy, also when they are sung not by Agnetha and Frida. Take for instance Does your mother know where Björn takes the lead. Or She’s my kind of girl, one of the very first.
What is the secret of a good melody? The funny thing is, often good melodies are quit simple. Maybe the best melodies are simple. The question is why we appreciate the one simple melody and disregard the other. It is genius to find a simple melody that has never been found before and that appears to be beautiful. That’s the Mozart-effect. Brilliance in simplicity.
Once you’ve heard them, you want to sing along ABBA’s melodies the whole day. I still remember how excited I felt when a new ABBA-single had been released. In the morning, before going to school, you heard on the radio the new one of ABBA, at school you talked about it: “Have you heard already?” and you couldn’t wait to turn the record many many times. You always were anxious to get to know what they made of it this time and at first hearing it always sounded strange, very special and very good. I always needed some time to get acquainted to the melody. It was so new it was sometimes hard to reproduce immediately, maybe because of my eagerness to have the music fully in my mind, maybe because of the rather long phrases in the music. After listening a couple of times the melody didn’t sound strange anymore, but familiar. You couldn’t imagine the world without that melody in it.
In the television special AbbaDabbaDoo Björn told about their process in composing. Benny and Björn never wrote down the notes, because if you forget a melody, it appearantly wasn’t worth remembering.
They composed their melodies by trial endlessly. A verse or a chorus seems to be an entirety when finished, but during the process of composing it exists out of a number of short pieces. Listen to the song Dream world. It contains a few notes from Does your mother know. Another example is Just like that. In the tryouts you’ll hear a piece that was left out when Benny and Björn produced the song for Gemini. For a listener a song has one melody, as if there were no other possibilities. For Benny and Björn as composers, it must sound as chunks of notes that can be combined in various ways. If you hear a chunk, like “Take it easy, better slow down girl, take it nice and slow, does your mother know”, it seems there is only one possible continuation. But if you hear the same chunk in Dream world, the song continues differently, yet natural as well. Endlessly they combined these chunks (short pieces of melodies) like it were jigsaw puzzles, until they reached the result we know. Eventually each chunk is used only in one song. Dream world was actually a never released song! You’ll never catch ABBA on using old material. Benny’s mind must be some sort of database containing thousands of elementary short melodies.
Michael Tretow, sound engineer, once said in an interview that Benny could improvize for hours playing the piano without ever rehearsing himself. I like the end of Lay all your love on me. The chorus lines are repeated and shortly before the fade out, a very nice synthesizer tune sounds, moving round the main melody up and down as if woven through it. While the chorus lines are repeated again and again, the synthesizer never repeates but plays various new tunes. On the album Super Trouper it vanishes when the applause for the live-song comes up (The way old friends do). Later on a long version was released, the melody kept on varying further until it dies. How long would Benny have been able to continue improvising without ever rehearsing himselve?
Of course there is more to tell about the music of ABBA. The next article will appear at july the 1-st 2014, midnight (Stockholm time).
© 2014 Reinhard Beskers