Abba: Gold [DVD]


It is difficult to overstate just how brilliant Abba was. Anchored by the songwriting genius of Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, and brought to life by the voices of Agneth Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Abba took Europe by storm and even charted hits in the United States without the support of extensive touring. The fact that they could score hit singles on the other side of the ocean in the absence of physical support was a testament to the durability of their highly polished pop songs.

Originally released in 1993 on VHS, Gold collects 19 of Abba’s videos that were filmed as promotional material to capture foreign markets that the group couldn’t or wouldn’t visit in person. Abba made more than 30 such videos — even for songs that weren’t released as singles — and these can be found on the more comprehensive Definitive Collection DVD. However, for fans who just want the hits, Gold is a great DVD that collects the songs that immediately come to mind when you hear the name Abba.

Directed by a pre-Hollywood Lasse Hallstrom (My Life As a Dog, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Chocolat), Abba’s videos pre-dated MTV by a good decade and were no doubt an influence on the videos that North American and British pop groups would launch in the ’80s. Less cinematic in scope than contemporary videos, Abba’s promotional mini-movies were largely shot on a soundstage with occasional forays into actual locations. Very basic in their design and approach, the videos usually feature all four members extravagantly outfitted and lip-synching to the numbers, with the women often performing simple, choreographed dance steps.

Watching these videos now, it’s striking how much the face of pop music has changed. Abba are by no means ugly, but compared with the primped and preened pop groups today that ooze sexuality, they are almost innocent. In today’s pop music atmosphere, there just wouldn’t be any room for the likes of Abba. Agneth and Anni-Frid are beautiful women, but by no means are they like the nubile pop princesses that dominate MTV’s airwaves. Björn and Benny are at best ruggedly handsome, and there is no way you would find their faces today on the cover of Spin or Rolling Stone.

Again, it comes right back to just how good Abba’s songs really are. Equally inspired by the wall of sound production of Phil Spector and the vision of the Beach Boys, Abba really brought something unique to the pop landscape. Intelligent songwriting combined with undeniable pop hooks won over audiences and critics alike. A whole other review could be dedicated to single songs alone, such as the way the chorus in “Dancing Queen” brilliantly starts the song almost as if the listener had just missed the opening few notes, or the way “S.O.S.” does an about face in the chorus, changing the song from a ballad to a shimmery pop tune.

Even more than 20 years later, Abba’s songwriting and production remain benchmarks that pop songsmiths aspire to. Inspiring artists like Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields, Future Bible Heroes), Rufus Wainwright, and Mark Robinson (Unrest, Air Miami), Abba continue to remain relevant, ranking them up among the Beach Boys and Beatles as reference points for contemporary artists.

Gold is a fine DVD collection featuring many of Abba’s most well known songs. There is a bonus feature documentary that is largely Björn Ulvaeus and recording engineer Michael Tretow reminiscing on the history of the group. For a more focused account of Abba’s history, fans need to pick up the Winner Takes It All DVD that also acknowledges Anni-Frid Lyngstad’s reclusion following the breakup of the group. However, for those looking to relive these ’70s smashes, Gold is a great place to start.