I know - the cynics and cool cats among you will twist a wry smile, and
chortle that tears of derision were an altogether appropriate response to
that moment of northern-European pop supremacy, but I'm out and proud - I
loved them then, and they still move me.
We've had all sorts of anniversaries of seminal pop moments - the Beatles
in 1964, Led Zeppelin in '72, the Nirvana visitation of 1992. Plenty of
people reminisced ecstatically on radio and in print, 30 and 40 years on,
about the Beatles - even describing fondly the shamefully short sets at
Festival Hall, inaudible, thanks to screaming teens.
My screaming teendom was 1977 at the Perth Entertainment Centre and I'm
celebrating 30 years.
Yes, I know I'm a year late, but I've been waiting for someone to take up
this angle and no one has. There was a bomb scare and we were evacuated
halfway through the show. I can see myself with my dear friend Merrill,
standing in the foyer talking excitedly about what was going to happen. It
took about 40 minutes to check under every seat in the house, and the band
was doing another show that night - there wouldn't be time for them to play
the rest of the gig for us. But they did.
Of course, that confirmed everything we loved about them - they were
thoughtful and generous, and we boomeranged the love and thanks with
I would hazard that the Abba tour was the last time Australia was utterly
consumed by visitors. Royal visits haven't really had the same impact since
'54, and bands come and go with such frequency now you can think to
yourself, "it's OK if I don't see them this time, they'll be back in a
couple of years".
We had urgency then. We knew this was the biggest thing to come our way
in a long time and that they wouldn't be back soon, if at all. I know it's
the nature of being new to fandom - every budding generation is breathless
with anticipation at the arrival of their heroes, but this time the whole
nation was complicit. And the parallels with the Beatles tour were cemented
with their appearance on the balcony of the Melbourne Town Hall - bringing
the CBD to a grinding halt.
Abba, wherever they went, was front-page news. Journos were assigned to
the tour. Renown Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom even made his first
feature film about it, starring the guy from Hey Dad!. So how come we
didn't hear talkback on the 30th anniversary of the Abba tour? How come
there weren't paeons in the papers by grey-haired music writers reflecting
on the cultural impact?
Or are we a bit embarrassed?
We've had the Mamma Mia reprise - with full houses singing along
to their teenage soundtrack turned into romantic comedy - but somehow Abba
is still regarded as quaint, not worthy of unqualified embrace. Because it's
"girl music", perhaps? But I love them. I do, I do, I do. They transport me
utterly to that state of first commitment - the first time you make a choice
to sign up to something beyond home, school and neighbourhood.
Of course, the marketeers outdid themselves with Abba, and some true
fashion atrocities were committed in their name. There were the usual
T-shirts and souvenir mags, of course, but in the 30 years since I don't
think we've seen a band emblazoned on white knee-high socks. And I'm kicking
myself I didn't buy any.
After Abba I went racing to the other end of the spectrum, and spent
years harrumphing when some obscure personal discovery suddenly made the
playlist on a commercial radio station - where my once arcane faves would
get all grubbied with broad popularity.
The irony is that musically Abba is undeniably outstanding, and as a
result their material will hum along under the cultural radar for
generations to come - and I will listen and love for decades to come. The
tunes, the arrangements, the lyrics - brilliant ... OK, sometimes the words
are a bit silly - but how would you go with rhyming couplets in Swedish?
Lynne Haultain is a communications consultant and a former ABC