Be original. Never try to repeat yourself, because the listeners will hear it and loose their attention. Benny and Björn wrote all songs themselves. All ABBA songs sound original. No two melodies are alike, they never are like any existing melody, they never are like any other ABBA-melody. They were very stringent to their own writing, they never repeated even the smallest parts of previous melodies. They wrote startling melodies, simple and yet so surprisingly beautiful that it makes you wonder why nobody has found them before. And even more, they were stringent about rythms. Take the rythm of Dancing Queen. This one is special, you’ll hear it in no other song, it’s a unique Dancing Queen rythm. The same counts for the rythm of One of us. These rythms are typical for this particular song.
The most original song might be The winner takes it all. It’s only three small themes, which are repeated, modified, and repeated. They sound like ad-libs, endlessly repeated and extended. The base is simple, but the most impressive thing is, you don’t hear it! Every verse and chorus is sung differently and the intrumental accompanying is built up. Only in the second verse the drums start to play. The counter melody is beautiful as well, it is tones of one and a half count, thus alternately hitting the beat or getting in between. This makes the counter melody a counter rythm as well, while the drums play a strong one-beat disco rythm. In the third verse piano chords are added and then everything seems to fade away in some sad resignation. The fourth verse has no drums, like the first, but this time it gets finalised by desperately sounding long high organ points, accompanied by different chords by the orchestra. Another funny thing are the choruses. Usually verses are alternated by choruses and the chorus has one lyric to be repeated. The winner takes it all has an original twist: some parts sound like a chorus, but the lyrics are changing! The lyrics move on as an ongoing storyline. At a certain point the counter melody changes from sheer instrumental to vocal with lyrics. At the end of the song the roles are reversed: the orchestra took the main melody and the choir (with a lot of Agnetha’s and Frida’s) take the counter melody. And all of this is unique for this song, the counter rythm, the organ points, the repeat of a very short theme over and over again, changing lanes of voices and orchestra, you won’t hear it elsewhere.
That’s the secret of ABBA, every song has unique characteristics in melody, rythm, instrumental accompanying, sometimes interesting musical tricks that are used only in one song. Every song has a unique identity, even after more than hundred songs.
The funny thing is you have to take care not to be too original. You would get to weird and this is quite a challenge. You don’t have this problem with other secrets, you can’t be a too good singer, you can’t write too good melodies or lyrics, but you would have a problem if you were too original. In some way you have to find a balance and that’s particular with originality. Being original is not easy, also because it is competitive with other demands. Check out next month!
This is the first of four pieces in a mini-series about competitive challenges. The next one is to appear on november 1st, 2014.
© 2014 Reinhard Beskers