ABBA Dabba Do!

You can't stop the Swedish supergroup. You can only hope our culture contains them.

Mamma Mia! State Theatre, 1519 Euclid Avenue Plays through August 4. Show times are 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. $25 to $57; call 216-241-6000.
Take a chance on them: ABBA, via Mamma - Mia!, at the State Theatre.
Take a chance on them: ABBA, via Mamma Mia!, at the State Theatre.
Love 'em or hate 'em, ABBA has burrowed so deep into our pop culture, it will take years of nonstop listening to ragged garage rockers to remove the band's sugary-sweet confections from our heads. The Swedish combo behind songs such as "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do" and "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" has inspired ecstatic movie moments and prompted a teen-pop group to sing nothing but ABBA tunes on its debut album.

There's even a hit Broadway musical, Mamma Mia! (written by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, the middle parts of ABBA's name), centered on the music of ABBA. "These are very intricate pop songs," says James Kall, a Maple Heights native appearing in the national touring production of Mamma Mia!, which is playing at the State Theatre through August 4.

In celebration of this blessed event, we've compiled the all-time Top 5 nuggets of ABBA ecstasy. They're so plentiful, we didn't even have room for this bit of profound optimism from "Waterloo": "I feel like I win when I lose." We all win with ABBA.

1. The song "Dancing Queen" (1976) -- "You're a teaser, you turn 'em on/Leave them burning and then you're gone," they say of the titular rug-cutter. And we know from the start exactly what they're talking about. It's ABBA's only No. 1 song in the U.S., and it's their most timeless four minutes. It's so powerful, even self-appointed messiahs U2 covered it. And really, who can argue with the sweeping sentiment of its equally sweeping chorus? "You can dance, you can jive/Having the time of your life." Amen.

2. The song "SOS" (1975) -- Its verses are so sparse and the singing is so fragile that its monster chorus initially catches you off guard. It doesn't even build; it just sorta plops down right there between the weepy verses, with a hook the size of Stockholm.

3. The film Together (2001) -- "SOS" again. This time it figures into the climactic conclusion of one of last year's best films. A Swedish commune, circa 1975, fights and laughs its way through a series of life's ups and downs. The movie winds up with a soccer game played in the snow, all to the swelling sounds of ABBA's hit single. It's a joyous scene. And it sure beats Muriel's Wedding.

4. Erasure's "Abba-esque" EP (1992) -- The half-gay duo reinvents one of the world's most gay-friendly groups as electropoppers for modern club kids on this tribute EP.

5. ABBA: Arrival's cover photo (1976) -- The jacket of the group's fourth album features the hirsute quartet stuffed into a helicopter, posing for its close-up. More than any other album -- except for maybe the Beatles' debut, with its we-have-huge-faces-because-we-are-huge portrait -- Arrival screams, "Look at us. We are here. Pay attention to us now. Or we will start up our sleek aircraft and fly away and never come back."

Thanks for staying, ABBA. And thanks for the music.

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