40 years after ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” topped the U.S. charts, Grammy-winning producer, remixer and DJ Dave Audé explains why it is still the pinnacle of pop music.
“Dancing Queen” could be the best pop song ever written with one of the most memorable and enjoyable toplines (melody/lyrics) of all time. It captures a sound and a feeling and translates that through a recording, which is very hard to do. The song, production, recording, musicianship, vocals, and mixing all came together to create a perfect combination of pop.
I didn’t get into this song until I started playing old-school sets (70s, 80s). This one, along with the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rappers Delight,” are probably my biggest floor fillers from the 70s! It’s my favorite ABBA song, along with ‘The Winner Takes It All.’ I feel so sad when I listen to that one and I have no idea why. Both songs capture the perfect amount of everything you want in a song. I can’t describe it any other way. ABBA were in the zone and these songs struck that chord inside of me that made me want to listen to their songs over and over.
ABBA, “Dancing Queen”
It’s rare that I would ever pick one hook as my favorite out of any song, but the “Having the time of your life” hook speaks to me with its heart-tugging nostalgia. There are maybe five songs that give me goosebumps and this is one of them. This song is the epitome of pop, “pop” meaning something you might not want to like but can’t help falling in love with over and over, because it’s so infectious and draws you in every single time! At some point, every one of us stops trying to be cool and admits how much we love this song.
There was an article in the Guardian last year titled “Why Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ Is the Best Pop Song Ever,” and the writer, Tim Jonze, claimed the song was a combination of “sonic euphoria meeting what Bjorn Ulvaeus calls ‘that Nordic melancholic feeling.’” I trace the melancholy everywhere: in the stacked vocals, the strings, the reverb, the octave piano line, the guitar, the lead synth. I especially love the high piano accents and the string rise into the chorus. Oh yeah, and the snare skip—don’t forget that! Those Swedes were so funky too—damn! It was the height of the disco era in the U.S. and ABBA were most likely inspired by disco when they made this. Hence, it was the perfect song to break them in the U.S. Elements from it can be identified in the songs of just about every Swedish pop act that followed: Ace of Base, Roxette, Avicii, September, Icona Pop, Robyn, Tove Lo, Zara Larsson.
Young songwriters, producers and engineers can learn a lot from “Dancing Queen.” From arranging and mixing vocals up front, to getting the background vocals to perfectly set up the lead vocal, ABBA got it right. Bass melody, drama and dynamics are all included in this perfect production. So listen, then listen again, then listen a hundred more times, and hope “Dancing Queen” triggers that utter genius inside of you too.
Want more from Dave Audé? Watch him open his remix of Chris Brown’s “Don’t Judge Me.”