In Pune a couple of weeks ago, we celebrated a retro night dedicated to only ABBA numbers at Parth's house. The major participants were all the 40s gang so everyone knew the songs or at least recognised them as most of us grew up with them. ABBA made a big impression on us in the late 1970s when the group started making some wonderful music. But what differentiated the group was that they were also experts at marketing it. For example a movie called 'ABBA the Movie' sparked off in me an everlasting love for the group, for western music and it is because of that movie that ABBA remained bigger than any other contemporary group in my mind after that. The movie has Peter Fonda (since corrected by Anon below, it is Robert Hughes, and Aussie actor) as a journalist trying to get an interview with the pop group as they travel Australia and perhaps other places. The crowd hysteria, the songs, the glamour of the group and of the lead singers, the catchy numbers, the presentation, the live shows were incredible and left an indelible mark on me.
I remember most songs from the movie - Tiger, Eagle, Ring Ring, Mama Mia, Thank you for the music, I do I do, Fernando and so many more. The visuals during 'Eagle' stayed with me during my school days and the song haunted me for many years. When I was first commissioned by my family members to buy western music for our turntable the first LP I bought was an ABBA's Greatest Hits. The first cassette I bought when we bought a tape player was also an ABBA Greatest Hits. We all knew the songs by heart, picked up new songs from our friends, listened to ABBA on the radio. I remember my good friend Mohan's elder sister Asha playing ABBA's 'Ring Ring' on the radio in a program called 'My Choice'.
So we played as many ABBA numbers as we could that night in Pune and I remembered how enamoured I was with Frida, how I found Agnetha unbearably sexy as she danced in her spandex bottoms, Bjorn prancing with his guitar and Benny on his keyboards. We played all the songs again - Fernando, Take a chance on me, I do I do, Waterloo, Gimme gimme a man after midnight, Ring Ring, Mama Mia, Hasta Manana, Eagle, Rock Me, Honey Honey, Money Money Money, SOS, Nine Pretty Ballerina, People Need Love, Bang a Boomerang, and sang along with all of them getting the lyrics mixed up and having a lovely time.
The next day I was pretty moved by the whole experience and saw a few more videos on youtube including my old favourite 'Tiger'. As I watched more and more songs this time I started falling in love with Agnetha and not so much Frida. There was something in Agnetha's eyes that made her look so different. I read up their history on the net and how they were all individual performers. How Benny and Bjorn met together and tried out singing together. How Agnetha who was already married to Bjorn, and Frida who was with Benny, joined the group as support players and became the lead singers. The story of ABBA was simply fascinating to read and I was wondering and looking at these four people like normal humans for the first time in my life, with their own aspirations, their fears and tragedies. Both couples split up later in their career. It was great fun watching the pictures of the group with Meryl Streep when the movie 'Mama Mia' was released, they all still look fit and fine.
But most of all I remember how this group from Sweden took over my world and introduced me to a world of happy music where people just went from happy to insane as their magic took over. From ABBA I moved on to Beegees, Boney M and then the floodgates to western music really opened, opening up a new page, a new culture; of free love, of rebelliousness, of no rules, of no norms, of a different, irreverent way of looking at and dealing with life. Of perhaps just being happy reacting to life instead of behaving as if one carried the burdens of all mankind on our shoulders. When my friend and fellow music aficionado Naresh Raghavan told me that ABBA had come with a new album sometime in 1983-84 I went all the way to his house in Padmarao Nagar and we solemnly listened to 'Super Trouper' and its foot tapping numbers which sounded sharper and better.
ABBA faded away after that. Despite hundreds of groups coming into my life and thousands of songs, ABBA's records and cassettes and CDs and the digital versions in my ipod remain with me, reminding me always of the wonderful times that this group has given me. It is amazing how music and literature and all things pertaining to culture can pervade countries, continents and make themselves a part of a reality for people far far away. Reading Haruki Murakami's books always is interesting as he keeps peppering them with songs from his era, or rather, my era.
And finally a big thank you to ABBA for all those lovely moments they gave and will continue to give!