The Top 10 ABBA Songs

Photo by RB / Redferns
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10. "Mamma Mia" - 1975

ABBA Mamma Mia
ABBA - "Mamma Mia". Courtesy Polar Music

Many consider "Mamma Mia" a song that "saved" ABBA. Following the Eurovision success of "Waterloo," many dismissed the group as a bit of a one-hit wonder. However, in 1975 the single "SOS" hit the top 10 in the UK and then it was followed by "Mamma Mia" that became the group's second #1 in the UK. In the US it had more modest success climbing to #32. The phrase "Mamma Mia" is derived from the Italian language and is often used to indicate surprise or excitement. The song was not originally intended to be a single. When RCA of Australia asked that it be promoted as a single, ABBA's Polar Music company initially refused until co-songwriter Stig Anderson intervened. Ultimately, "Mamma Mia" spent ten weeks at #1 on the Australian pop chart. "Mamma Mia" was the song that ended the #1 reign in the UK of Queen's legendary "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Today "Mamma Mia" is best known as the title song for the phenomenally successful musical Mamma Mia based on ABBA's songs. The memorable sound in the opening of "Mamma Mia" is a marimba. It was the last song recorded for the group's self-titled third album and the opening track when the album is played. 

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9. "The Winner Takes It All" - 1980

ABBA The Winner Takes It All
ABBA - "The Winner Takes It All". Courtesy Polar Music

Although many fans believe "The Winner Takes It All," in its depiction of the bitter end of a relationship, was written to reflect the divorce of members Bjorn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Faltskog, Ulvaeus himself says the song is fiction and only depicts the experience of divorce. He stated there was no winner or loser in the end of their relationship. Agnetha Ulvaeus has said publicly multiple times that this is her favorite ABBA song. The song has a nearly overwhelming aura of sadness and pain. "The Winner Takes It All" was a #1 hit in the UK and one of only four top 10 hits for the group in the US. It became the second ABBA song to reach #1 on the adult contemporary chart in the US after "Fernando." "The Winner Takes It All" was the lead single for the seventh ABBA studio album Super Trouper.

The accompanying music video for "The Winner Takes It All" was directed by acclaimed Swedish film director Lasse Hallstrom known for his work on My Life As a Dog, for which he earned a Best Director Academy Award nomination and Cider House Rules.

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8. "Does Your Mother Know" - 1979

ABBA Does Your Mother Know
ABBA - "Does Your Mother Know". Courtesy Polar Music

ABBA created a rock disco approach for "Does Your Mother Know." It also references the classic rock and roll of the 1950s and early 1960s. Unlike most ABBA classics, the lead vocal is taken by Bjorn Ulvaeus instead of the women in the group. Perhaps because of the deviation from the classic ABBA sound, "Does Your Mother Know" only reached #4 in the UK instead of topping the pop singles chart. It was also a top 20 hit in the US. "Does Your Mother Know" was the second single released from the Voulez-Vous album. 

The album Voluez-Vous was the first ABBA album to have been partially recorded outside of Sweden. Some of the songs were written and demo recordings created at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas, and the title song was recorded in Miami. Voulez-Vous was the group's third consecutive #1 charting studio album in the UK and they are third in a row to reach the top 20 in the US.

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7. "Fernando" - 1976

ABBA Fernando
ABBA - "Fernando". Courtesy Polar Music

"Fernando" was originally written and recorded in Swedish by ABBA member Anni-Frid Lyngstad as a solo effort. Due to the success of that version in Sweden, the group decided to record it in English as an ABBA record. The nostalgic feel of "Fernando" helped the song to become one of ABBA's biggest hits. It spent an incredible 14 weeks at #1 in Australia remains one of the biggest pop hits of all time there. "Fernando" reached #1 in the UK and climbed to #13 in the US. The song was the first by the group to hit #1 on the adult contemporary chart in the US. It became the group's bestselling single worldwide of their entire career. No one is sure which specific war is referred to in the song. The two most often mentioned are the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and the Spanish Civil War of 1936. 

"Fernando" is considered to be one of less than forty singles to have sold more than ten million physical copies worldwide. It hit #1 in at least thirteen different countries. "Fernando" was included on ABBA's Spanish Language album Gracias Por La Musica.

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6. "Waterloo" - 1974

ABBA Waterloo
ABBA - "Waterloo". Courtesy Polar Music

"Waterloo" brought ABBA their first worldwide fame when it won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest for Sweden. It was one of the first upbeat pop songs to win the contest. "Waterloo" shot straight to the top of the UK pop singles chart and also became the group's first top 10 hit in the US. It was the title song from the group's second studio album. The lyrics of the song draw a parallel between emotional surrender in a relationship and Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The song was originally titled "Honey Pie." At the 50th anniversary of the Eurovision Song Contest, voters picked "Waterloo" as the best song in the history of the competition. 

"Waterloo" was the first single released under the name ABBA. The group's debut album was credited to Bjorn & Benny, Agnetha and Frida. The group credited the British glam rock band Wizzard as a major influence on "Waterloo." It hit #1 in countries across Europe while climbing to #6 on the US pop chart.

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5. "Lay All Your Love On Me" - 1981

ABBA. Photo by RB / Redferns

This song was not intended to be released as a single at all. However, a remixed version of "Lay All Your Love On Me" put together by the Disconet DJ service soared on the American dance charts resulting in a commercial 12-inch single. The song landed at #1 on the US dance chart and reached the top 10 in the UK becoming the biggest selling 12-inch single there to date reaching #7 on the pop singles chart. The descending sound of the vocals at the end of each verse coupled with a hymn-like chorus make "Lay All Your Love On Me" the most memorable of ABBA's songs to not be released as a standard single. The descending vocal effect was created by putting the vocal through a device which created a slightly lower-pitched recording of the vocal. The church congregation sound singing the chorus was created with a vocoder. "Lay All Your Love On Me" was included on the Super Trouper album. The electronic pop band Information Society brought "Lay All Your Love On Me" to the Billboard Hot 100 in 1989 peaking at #83.

The music video for "Lay All Your Love On Me" created by Epic Records used segments of other ABBA videos including "Take a Chance On Me," "Voulez-Vous," and "The Winner Takes It All."


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4. "SOS" - 1975

ABBA - "SOS". Courtesy Polar Music

"SOS" is one of ABBA's songs that has been highly praised by peers. In particular, John Lennon and Pete Townshend publicly stated their esteem for the song. There is an ominous sound in the rhythm and chord structure leading off in a minor key that led to more sophistication in the sound of ABBA's pop hits. Group member Bjorn Ulvaeus said that "SOS" was the song in which ABBA found their pop identity after three years of trying. "SOS" reached the top 10 in the UK and the top 20 in the US. The group's appearance on American Bandstand to perform "SOS" in 1975 is credited with a surge in the group's popularity in the US. 

The accompanying music video was directed by Swedish film director Lasse Hallstrom. He used special camera effects including filming the band from an overhead camera and using distortion of the group members' faces. "SOS" is the only charting hit single in the US in which both the title and the name of the artist are a palindrome.

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3. "Knowing Me Knowing You" - 1977

ABBA Knowing Me Knowing You
ABBA - "Knowing Me Knowing You". Courtesy Polar Music

This is perhaps the most elegant of ABBA's breakup songs and it was one of their first to deal with the topic. It was actually recorded before relationship issues between the members were made public. The song is filled with the gloom of an empty house, the lack of laughter, and bad days. "Knowing Me Knowing You" was a top 20 pop hit in the US and a #1 smash in the UK. It also broke into the top 10 on the US adult contemporary chart peaking at #7. Group member Benny Andersson counts it as one of ABBA's best recordings. The accompanying music video was directed by Lasse Hallstrom who later gained fame for directing the film My Life As a Dog.

"Knowing Me Knowing You" was included on ABBA's fourth studio album Arrival which proved to be a major chart breakthrough in the US hitting #20 and became the group's first #1 charting album in the UK. It also includes the #1 smash hit single "Dancing Queen." The album cover is an iconic one for the group showing the members inside a helicopter. The album also introduced the group logo with "mirrored" B's facing opposite directions.

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2. "Take a Chance On Me" - 1978

ABBA Take a Chance On Me
ABBA - "Take a Chance On Me". Courtesy Polar Music

"Take a Chance On Me" is instantly memorable for the "take a chance, take a chance, take a chance chance" rhythmic backing vocals. The opening had its origins in a rhythm that group member Bjorn Ulvaeus would chant to himself while running. The song was one of the group's most successful on pop charts landing at #1 for three weeks in the UK and reaching the top 3 in the US. It also peaked at #9 on the US adult contemporary chart. The group Erasure brought "Take a Chance On Me" back to #1 in 1992 in the UK with their cover version.

"Take a Chance On Me" was the biggest hit single from ABBA's fifth studio album ABBA: The Album. It was originally planned to be released in the UK in December 1977, but pressing plants could not produce enough copies to meet demand before Christmas, so the album was not released in the UK until January. The album spent seven weeks at #1 in the UK and peaked at #14 in the US, the highest charting of all of the group's studio albums. 

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1. "Dancing Queen" - 1976

ABBA Dancing Queen
ABBA - "Dancing Queen". Courtesy Polar Music

From the opening keyboard glissando, "Dancing Queen" is pure pop elegance. It was debuted in 1976 on Swedish TV at a live gala in honor of the upcoming wedding of King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and Silvia Sommerlath. The song went to #1 around the world including both the US and UK. One of the inspirations for writing and recording the song was George McCrae's disco smash "Rock Your Baby." The original demo for "Dancing Queen" was titled "Boogaloo." The group members have stated they knew it would be a hit while recording it in the studio. "Dancing Queen" was the lead single from ABBA's fourth studio album Arrival.

"Dancing Queen" has been identified as a precursor to what became Eurodisco, European disco music inspired by but distinctively different from American disco music. "Dancing Queen" is ABBA's only song listed by Rolling Stone as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2015. "Dancing Queen" sold more than one million physical copies for a gold certification in the US. Since the rise of digital music, "Dancing Queen" has sold more than 500,000 digital copies.