Would we all boogie to Boogaloo? Believe it or not, that’s what ABBA’s Dancing Queen was originally called. And as it’s voted the greatest floor-filler ever, you’ll love the story of how it was Bjorn
There is a moment — at every wedding, bar mitzvah, 18th, 21st, 40th, 50th, 60th, and occasionally 70th birthday, and even Tory Party Conference — when the opening piano riff of ABBA’s 1976 hit Dancing Queen triggers a stampede to the dance floor.
Drinks are abandoned. Chats are aborted mid-flow. The queue for the loo evaporates. Chairs are knocked over. Heavy-petting sessions are put on hold. Political rivalries are forgotten.
Before Frida Lyngstad and Agnetha Faltskog even start singing: ‘You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life…’, the dance floor, marquee or sitting room carpet is rammed.
Everyone is dancing. Everyone knows the words — or, at least, their own version of the words. Everyone is grinning, throwing their best (if not always most stylish) moves and revelling in the catchy, nostalgic song.
There is a moment — at every wedding, bar mitzvah, 18th, 21st, 40th, 50th, 60th, and occasionally 70th birthday, and even Tory Party Conference — when the opening piano riff of ABBA’s 1976 hit Dancing Queen triggers a stampede to the dance floor
So in many ways, the news this week that Dancing Queen has been voted ‘greatest dance floor-filler’ of all time — beating Beyonce, Queen, Taylor Swift, the Bee Gees and even Dexys Midnight Runners’ Come On Eileen — came as no great surprise.
In fact, the only shock was that the formal recognition, thanks to a survey commissioned to mark the return of the Virgin Media V Festival this week, has taken so long.
Upon release, Dancing Queen became a monster hit. It sold more than three million copies; was the Swedish group’s only U.S. number one; and propelled their fourth album, Arrival, skywards.
Everyone loved it, and they still do. The song’s video has been watched more than 436 million times on YouTube.
Everyone from former Prime Minister Theresa May to Boris Johnson’s partner Carrie Symonds — it was at her ABBA-themed 30th birthday party that Boris did his most energetic disco-dancing to catch her eye — to the late U.S. Senator John McCain, has counted it among their favourite tracks.
Her Majesty the (real) Queen is reportedly a fan, too. DJ Chris Evans says when it came on after a dinner party at Windsor Castle in 2008 she leapt up, despite being 82, to wiggle her hips and declared: ‘I always try to dance when this comes on because I am the Queen and I like to dance!’
But would our monarch be quite so keen to jiggle across her Persian rugs belting out ‘You are the dancing queen / Young and sweet, only 17’, had the song kept its original title of… Boogaloo?
Or, for that matter, retained the rather less catchy verse which started: ‘Baby, baby, you’re out of sight / Hey, you’re looking all right tonight’? Who knows? It might not even have been a hit.
Dancing Queen was originally titled Boogaloo and its verse started ‘Baby, baby, you’re out of sight / Hey, you’re looking all right tonight’
The genesis came when Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson sat down together to write.
In the early days, this would happen in their ‘cubbyhole’ of an office in Stockholm — or, as Bjorn described it, ‘a very small room with a piano, a chair and a guitar’.
He said: ‘At least 95 per cent that came out was rubbish! It is the most important part of the creative process, to clear out that which wasn’t agreeable.’
But as Benny pointed out, sometimes they felt they were onto something. ‘And if you’re lucky — like with Dancing Queen — if you work hard, it comes out better than you would have imagined.’
To begin with, Stig Anderson — ABBA’s manager and the chap who came up with the new title — didn’t rate it that highly.
In March 1976, both Dancing Queen and Fernando were ready for release, and he insisted Fernando was the one to put forward. It duly went to number one.
After Benny (right) and Bjorn (left) had written Dancing Queen, they had no idea it would be the greatest dance song ever
Meanwhile, Dancing Queen had to wait until August — even though studio engineer Michael B. Tretow had given the song, as he once put it, ‘as much music as possible for the money’, with added synthesisers, strings and a clavinet (an electrically amplified clavichord) to create the distinct dance-floor shimmer.
To be fair, after Benny and Bjorn had written Dancing Queen, they had no idea it would be the greatest dance song ever.
But Benny’s then wife Frida Lyngstad (the brunette one) knew. When he took a demo tape home to play her, she burst into tears. She said she did so ‘out of pure happiness that I would get to sing that song, which is absolutely the best song Abba have ever done’.
Agnetha (the blonde) felt much the same way. ‘It’s often difficult to know what will be a hit. The exception was Dancing Queen. We knew it was going to be massive,’ she said. And, of course, it was.
Dancing Queen has been voted ‘greatest dance floor-filler’ of all time — beating Beyonce, Queen, Taylor Swift, the Bee Gees and even Dexys Midnight Runners’ Come On Eileen — came as no great surprise
The live premiere was particularly apt. ABBA performed at a gala to celebrate the wedding of Sweden’s King Carl XVI to his queen, Silvia, in June 1976. Frida and Agnetha were dressed in Elizabethan-style hooped dresses and bonnets.
The group’s outrageous stage outfits were actually part of a canny money-saving ruse. Under Swedish law, clothes were tax-deductible if their owners could prove they were not used for daily wear.
Within weeks, Dancing Queen was number one in the UK, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Germany and Zimbabwe.
Even so, no one could have predicted that for nearly half a century it would give joy to people of all sexes, ages, nationalities, classes, and even musical tastes.
Who can forget the Sex Pistols’ 1996 reunion show in Finsbury Park, North London, where the public-address system blasted out ABBA’s Dancing Queen so all the punks could sneer — and instead they began singing along, word perfect?
While it may be tempting to dismiss Dancing Queen as nostalgic, feel-good cheese, musical experts hail the song’s professionalism
Equally, no one could have foreseen the boost the song would receive from Mamma Mia!, the musical created by Judy Craymer.
Judy is working on the third Mamma Mia! film and insists that, even if she made 55, she’d include Dancing Queen in every one.
‘It is in everyone’s DNA,’ she says. ‘It is such an important pop song. It’s a glorious melody with glorious harmonies. It’s got an incredible alchemy, and gives an endorphin high to anyone who listens. There is a huge “wink” in the title. Every diversity claims it as their own — it pulls in everyone.’
While some bands have a tendency to become snooty when asked about their biggest hits, ABBA is not among them. In fact, privately, the members still pop on Dancing Queen and dance.
Judy Craymer recalls a wedding anniversary party for Bjorn before the stage show opened in 1999. Dancing Queen came on and ‘the party erupted on to the dance floor’.
Everyone from former Prime Minister Theresa May to Boris Johnson’s partner Carrie Symonds — it was at her ABBA-themed 30th birthday party that Boris did his most energetic disco-dancing to catch her eye — to the late U.S. Senator John McCain, has counted it among their favourite tracks
DJ Pete Waterman, too, said: ‘Whenever I lost the floor, I stuck Dancing Queen on.’
Is it just a great toe-tapping song, or does it have an ingredient that people simply can’t resist?
Some claim it’s the lyrics, which combine the joyful compulsion to dance with wistful memories of a lost youth.
Others think there may be something about the chorus, with two women singing in unison and creating an impulse to sing along.
And while it may be tempting to dismiss Dancing Queen as nostalgic, feel-good cheese, musical experts hail the song’s professionalism. They rave about its sincerity and musicality, its production standards. They say it has echoes of Elton John, The Beatles and the Bee Gees, and has inspired everyone from Blondie to Elvis Costello.
Most of us, though — including the Queen — just think it’s a bloody good song. Even if we haven’t all quite mastered the lyrics.
Because, as well as the most danced-to, Dancing Queen is also one of the most misheard songs of all time, with one in ten fans feeling ‘the beat from the tangerine’ instead of ‘tambourine’, and others singing ‘Chicken the Dancing Queen’ instead of ‘Digging the Dancing Queen’. Which, some might say, detracts slightly from the romance of it all.
But then again, does it really matter, when you’re up out of your chair, in the mood for a dance and, once again, feeling young and sweet, only 17?
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