Still in love with the other Fab Four

Lynne Haultain - The Age 15 April 2008

Bjorn, Benny, Frida and Agnetha.TRUE confession: Abba the Movie has brought me to tears ... during the opening credits.

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 interest.

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 broadcaster.

© 2008 The Age